Monday, May 06, 2013

Magic and Evolution

Consider Umezawa's Jitte. It's rated a solid 4.67 out of 5.00 on Wizard of the Coast's Gatherer.  People love Umezawa's Jitte, or "Jitte," as it's often called. Jitte is not a 4.67. I you play Jitte in a standard tournament, you won't just lose the game, you will lose the tournament quicker than you can say "split second." Certainly, none of my friends have dropped it in a casual, multiplayer game without creating an impromptu 3:1 archenemy encounter.

Sure, Jitte is good-to-broken in almost any other format—it's probably higher than 4.67 in those formats—but its value is 0.00 in others. Congregate on the other hand, is rated much lower, but it's a multiplayer powerhouse. The value of each card is determined by its environment.

That disconnect between perceived worth and environment reminds me of evolution. I've seen people put a lot of stock in the notion of the human race being the pinnacle of iterative biological development. They seem to think that evolution made society exactly as it was in The United States during 19XX.

The concept of evolution as a linear process is a wrong as putting a Jitte in your modern deck. Organisms evolve for an environment and they're successful as long as they can continue reproducing in that environment.

Common knowledge might make ancient sharks, the badasses of the sea, into the top of a certain food chain. There's a case that could be made for that. Yet the horseshoe crab is much older than the shark, and it could only be considered badass if it could flip onto its back and cast Invoke Nightmare as an at-will power.

I guess H. R. Gieger wasn't drawing genitalia 100% of the time.

You can cite the combination of indifferent biological tautology (that which survives survives) and a slightly-less-than-unbiased value on sapience as a letter of marque to act without regard for the rest of the world and halt social change, but you'd be an idiot for doing it. Evolution is the "how" of our existence, explaining that link between our environment and our biology. It's not the "why" that gives us a cause or even the "what" that explains what we and our society should look like.

Apes have culture and that was about six million years ago, or about 240,000 generations, for us. Since that time, genetic selection in humans has been determined by social factors. That would be a strong case for evolutionarily defined behavioral traits based on prevailing social factors. That requires a belief in a single society serving as a test tube for human biology. One with a poor level of cultural mutability and a homogenous global reach in an age where smoke signals were reserved for showing off blanket technologies and drawing cloudy sky-penises (you know it happened).

A quick look at the variety of human cultures, both across the most recent 4,000 years and a today's global society tells us that this simply isn't so. There is no society which could have had such an enduring and prevailing effect on all human evolution simply because societies are large factor, but they're never enduring.

Natural selection of desirable human genetic traits has been determined by arbitrary social mores, economic opportunities, inherited power, and a dozen other factors not directly tied to genetic expression since recorded time. There are pockets of different genetic expression, obviously, but there is no single direction of social evolution since we became human about 200,000 years ago (8,000 generations).

Anyway, even if we all have ingrained social roles retained since we were kissing cousins with chimps, we'd be doing ourselves a great disservice by shrugging and adopting them out of sheer, idiotic lack of self-determination.

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