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BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL EVOLUTION WILUAM R. HAZZARD* As a biologist, I am concerned at the rate and extent ofsocial evolution within my lifetime. A fundamental principle of the Darwinian theory of evolution contends that the survival of the species is promoted by gradual change; a corollary states that dramatic change, even by mutation , is usually disastrous and hence self-limiting, either preventing survival until the age of reproduction or preventing reproduction per se. As a biologist, I also respect the concept that evolution preserves that which is successful; conversely, that which has evolved must be assumed to have the highest probability of success in a given environment. Barring major change in the environment, major change in the species is thus to be avoided. As a biologist, I also contend that social systems are the product of evolution. It is clear, for instance, that the success of certain organisms—for example, bees—has depended on the evolution of complex social systems requiring, for example, extensive and intricate cooperation , expression of dominance and submission, and the restriction of specialized functions to certain individuals. The lessons of comparative biology suggest that such social patterns extend to the primates, clearly including man (and woman). The challenge to biologists has been to determine the complex mechanisms, presumably genetic, which underlie such social evolution.1 In the human species these principles of gradual, genetically controlled evolution are under great contemporary challenge. Clearly the environment, largely because of man's influence, cannot be considered stable. Equally clearly, adaptation to changes in the environment cannot be entrusted entirely to the time-consuming, traditional forces of random , minor genetic change and reproductive superfluity. Nevertheless, * Department of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland 21205. 1 These concepts are among those of a relatively new and somewhat controversial discipline , sociobiology [1], recently discussed in [2, 3],© 1983 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 003 1-5982/84/2701-0368$01 .00 22 I William R. Hazzard · Biological and Social Evolution I contend that radical, rapid change, even in the cause of our greatest national heritage, the pursuit of individual freedom, invites social, even biological, disaster. Proceeding from these arguments, I suggest that those social structures which have evolved to the present should be assumed to have survival value and not be casually abandoned. This translates, for example , into preservation of the family as the basic unit of society. It also translates into respect for traditional roles within the family and careful contemplation ofthe potential impact ofchanges in these roles—notably those related to sex. As a biologist and especially as a gerontologist, I have the greatest respect for (and am more than a little bit envious of) the female of our species. Not only does she retain the premier biological privilege of bearing young, she outlives us men as well. She seems biologically relatively immune to those forces which curtail the longevity of her male counterparts, especially in the contemporary world in which the risks of childbearing have been minimized and raw physical strength relates poorly to survival or even personal success. As a biologist, I therefore suggest that the unique and essential contributions of women not be sacrificed in the blind, fruitless pursuit of complete sexual equality. As one committed to the related fields of gerontology and geriatric medicine (which are almost certain to become the domain principally of women), I am constantly aware of the cruel pressures which beset young women entering these disciplines, pressures from spouse and family, pressures to begin or to defer childbearing , pressures to compete and advance professionally. And I am constantly in awe of these women as they balance and respond successfully to these pressures. Despite the ability of "superwomen" to overcome such stress, I conclude that the survival of our species will be best promoted by retention of relatively traditional roles for most women (and men). To expect men to abandon their traditional roles and assume those traditionally assigned to women on a completely equal basis is unrealistic not only from the standpoint ofsexual politics but also from the biological perspective. The sexes have evolved both biologically and socially over many eons...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 22-24
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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