Survival of the fittest!

Dr A S Bhatia

It was the year of 1869 when British Naturalist Charles Darwin published his paper, On the Origin of Species, and the term Survival of the fittest, made him famous. Darwin suggested that the organisms best adjusted to their environment are most successful in surviving and reproducing. The term Survival of the Fittest was first used by English sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer, who first used relative term in his book Principles of Biology published in 1864. It is very interesting to note that Spencer came up with this phrase only after reading Darwin’s work. Darwin did not consider the process of evolution as the survival of the fittest; he regarded it as survival of the fitter, because the “struggle for existence” a term he took from English economist and demographer Thomas Malthus is relative and thus not absolute. Instead, the winners with respect to species within ecosystems could become losers with a change of circumstances. For example, fossil evidence supports the notion that the mammoth (Mammuthus) was more fit during the most recent ice age (which ended roughly 11,700 years ago), but it became less fit as humans hunted it and the world’s climate warmed; fossil evidence suggests that the mammoth succumbed to extinction a few thousand years later.
The logic of survival of the fittest was thought to be transferable to humanity. So it was perceived that more intelligent would rule less intelligent, and to realize this perspective, Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton a British scientist who coined the term eugenics (derived from the word well – born) established Eugenics Education Society of London in 1907. But The theory of survival of fittest was hijacked by Adolf Hitler when he wrote in Mein Kampf in 1925 that, “positive steps should be taken to encourage the flourishing of fitter, because the system itself worked against them.” And tried to twist the tenets of Darwinism to support his fascist view and worked on the principal of negative eugenics , preventing the bad breeding. And Hitler went for Genocide and ethnic cleansing of European Jews during 1941-1945 and around 6 million Jews were murdered by shooting or suffocating in Gas chambers.
In view of prevailing pandemic, has the Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest Has some role to decide, which Race, which Region or which Community or which Individual will survive the onslaught of the virus! While going through the different aspects of the pandemic, it became evident that in its desire to survive the pandemic, the humans have become very insensitive and indifferent also. The desire to survive has sometimes shaken the basic values of life. The memories of a mob attacking the Ambulance carrying the dead body of the Neurosurgeon in a south city of India are still alive in the mind of many right thinking persons. Was it the desire to survive, that made the mob so insensitive and indifferent that they forgot the all good doings of the neurosurgeon, who had dedicated whole of his life to his profession for the sake of serving the ailing mankind and people of his area. Never ever, he would have imagined that his dead body will be given such type of treatment by his own people and would be denied a respectful funeral! we lost so many heath care workers due to corona pandemic. The list is endless. But I will try to concentrate in the union terriroty of Jammu and Kashmir only. We lost a post graduate student from Radiology department Govternment Medical College Jammu. I am perplexed, was that young man in twenties was not fit to survive as per Darwin Theory? Another young strongly build medico posted at Banihal lost his battle to corona . Again I wondered, was he not fit to survive?
Then there was a case, where desire to survive made a young man along with his wife, to throw his elderly mother out of his house in the mid of dark night on the mere suspicion that the old lady was suffering from the corona virus. To my perception these people have not read the Darwin’s Theory, as it’s survival of the fittest and NOT the survival of the insensitive and indifferent!
But is it justified that in a desire to survive, should we throw all human values to wind? Is it necessary to become insensitive and indifferent to the persons suffering from Covid – 19? Children are refusing to take care of their old parents infected with virus. In many instances in the hospitals and covid care centers, the elderly patients are dumped by their relatives, never to revisit again. Very touching to see that young medicos trying to wipe off the tears from tired and lusterless eyes on a face filled with wrinkles, telling the untold story of struggle these old people have done in their life for the upbringing of the children who now have disowned them! The scene of young doctors and paramedics in PPE kits behaving both as doctors as well as care takers give you a feeling that the war against corona will be won when you have persons like them on the fore front, while working with this dedication and sense of responsibility. The misguided people don’t understand that by abandoning their nears and dears will not give them protection against corona. This action of theirs will not make their chances of survival better!! By resorting to such type of actions they are simply making life of covid positive patients more miserable, pathetic and painful, once they come out of this disease. All their belief in human values will be thrown to winds! Their faith in the GOD will be torn! I wonder if their action is more civilized form of negative eugenics and in accordance with Adolf Hitler’s thinking.
Darwin pointed out in his theory of Natural selection or survival of the fittest, the best race survived by evolution. In this pandemic Darwin’s theory also holds equally good with only change that the best person who is well informed about how to keep the virus at bay and the one who is dedicated, sincere about following the standard operative procedures (SOPs) for covid -19 pandemic and with his mind in full control of his body will survive the pandemic. So while transferring the logic of survival of the fittest in the present scenario, it can be perceived that well informed will survive than ill informed, Well planned will survive than badly planned, and a society governed by an intelligent administrator has more chances of survival than the one having inexperienced administrator.
As Charles Darwin popularized the concept of survival of the fittest and organisms with best genes suited to the environment are selected for survival and now we can say that when a new infection like corona pandemic erupts, the process of natural selection will begin once again. Many educated societies have begun to understand that only scientific approaches to overcome the pandemic will work and unscientific don’t. It is pleasant to see that even ultra conservative and science rejecting world leaders are supporting world scientists to speed up the vaccine production. Although non scientific ways adopted throughout the world during the pandemic like banging of utensils or claps from balconies have tremendous effect in boosting the morale of health care providers and should be a continuous exercise as morale boosting will help in boosting the immune response .
In summary, since the emergence of life on the this Green planet, the fight for survival is a continuous process and each and every generation at some given point of time has faced such situation to maintain its existence.
As the struggle for existence continues right from the era of mammoth of ice age on this planet to till date of 2020 of corona -19 pandemic, the verse of Mirza Ghalib is ahead of its time:
Kisi Ne Ghalib Se Pucha
Kaise Ho?
Ghalib Ne Haskar Kaha,
“Zindagi Mein Ghum Hai”
“Ghum Mein Dard Hai”
” Dard Mein Maza Hai”
” Maze Mein Hum Hai”
And the struggle for existence continues from ice age to till date!
(The author is Vice President Indian Academy of Biomedical Sciences, India
and Professor and Head Department
of Biochemistry, Government
Medical College Jammu.)