I am writing this piece from a Dubai mall surrounded by all the glitter that the world has to offer. From million dollar wristwatches to thousand dollar perfumes, the place is full of stuff that no human being would ever need to survive on this planet. And yet, I am sure that millions have toiled to put it together and billions are sacrificing their daily happiness just to be able to afford the vanity on offer here.
As it is a sickening display of human wastefulness, it reminds me of Charles Darwin, who felt the same looking at a peacock feather.
Though Darwin is more famous for coining “survival of the fittest”, the broader understanding of his theory of evolution suggests that nature prefers optimisation and disallows deployment of resources on anything not utilisable for survival. As carrying an useless feature would result in wasting precious energy that a creature needs to work hard to attain, Darwin saw no sense in peacock having evolved such an elaborate tail. As the tale of peacock tail did not make sense, he found it to be justifiably nauseating.
Tail of a peacock has no real use but to please peahens. Such a heavy tail that renders it almost flightless is a dangerous hinderance when the bird is chased by a predator. And yet, as peahens judges a peacock by its tail, every peacock is in an evolutionary race with other males to develop a bigger and heavier tail than the rest. So, from evolutionary perspective, this tail-race is a journey obviously heading towards self-destruction.
As Darwin knew that nature is ruthless to those who violate rules of survival, he was forced to find a justification for peacock’s tail. So he concluded that a large tail must be an indicator of a hidden quality that swings peahen’s opinion in favour of its bearer.
Many justifications have come forward on this matter till date, but the most accepted one is that such a disproportionate risk-taking by peacock proves that he has huge amount of surplus resources and thus a strong genetic makeup. Hence a good hen should opt for the DNA of a male that has most outrageously unaffordable tail, because he must have so much more in him that helps him survive even after taking such an extreme risk.
It is easy to see that this logic is not limited to peahens, as human females also consider owners of meaninglessly expensive watches or cars more attractive. Any owner of a million dollar watch is bound to have many more millions stashed somewhere and thus a partner worth having children with.
It makes perfect evolutionary sense that female preference for males able to afford the unnecessarily expensive stuff has created the market of such wasteful products, and as it is a constant game of oneupmanship, such markets are bound to get more and more absurd over time.
Though it is an interesting quirk of nature, in case of humans it has a scary downside. A peacock makes his tail using limited resources of nature that it can consume as food; but, in case of a human, there is no such a limit. This mad race of proving superiority has made us the most wasteful creatures that walked the Earth.
Looking at its mechanism, there can be no satiation of such a hunger, and it can easily lead us to rapidly destroy this lovely planet that has limited resources available for us and our progeny to survive. So, the need of the hour is to understand the irrationality of this evolutionary mechanism and escape it before it is too late.