Writers: how to put evolution and culture to good use

cheetah - Writers: how to put evolution and culture to good useEvolution, plain and simple

Think of a gazelle. It relies on its speed to flee predators. Just as a lion relies on secrecy to get as close as possible to its prey and hunt it down.

In fact, although several predators can run faster than a gazelle, they can do so only over extremely short distances.

If, for some glitch in the clockwork of evolution, a gazelle sat perfectly still in plain sight hoping to be overlooked by a predator… Well, that gazelle would most likely be the first and the last of its line.

In fact, stillness is only one ingredient of the complex cocktail required for near perfect camouflage.

From what I just exposed it seems quite obvious that in nature animals, insects, and plants all play on their respective strengths to keep safe and well. For sure, no gazelle has ever started to train to fight back a predator.

Just imagine: I’m fed up with those fucking lions. Let’s see what happens if I start kicking their asses.. Sure, dream on.
The reason such a kicking never takes place is simple. Evolution is a sort of trial and error process which takes an exceedingly long time.

So, even if over million of years of evolution a gazelle might develop claws, long canines, and a thicker skin, right now no gazelle can afford to experiment with fighting tactics.

At least, not if it isn’t contemplating suicide.

angry cat - writersCulture – evolution spurred by language

We humans can communicate to each other with a degree of complexity that has no equivalent in the rest of the natural kingdom.

This language of ours has made the emergence of culture possible. And culture in turn, working like a sort of external DNA to which we all can draw, has granted us the opportunity to learn a vast array of new ideas and, in case we decide to, modify our behaviors accordingly.

It is therefore correct to say that thanks to language we can evolve, as a manner of speaking, over the course of our life. We no longer need to wait eons. Indeed, we can even learn how to do things we are not even that good at to start with.

Just think of a child reared without any meaningful contact with language and, consequently not having full access to culture, and compare her with a child enjoying instead of a normal childhood.

I think the case of Genie is emblematic–as it is also apparent that researchers are a bit too often only interested in the subject of their research and don’t care that much about the well being of the people they are studying.

In any case, language is so powerful that even though from a purely biological point of view we all remain extremely similar one another, from the point of view of what we can do and what we can think the differences can be jaw-dropping.


Cypresses by Vincent Van Gogh via Wikipedia

For example, we have athletes running a marathon in two hours, and divers able to hold their breath for as long as 20 minutes. Besides, just imagine how different the world can appear to the eyes of an astrophysics with respect to a philosopher or a cook or a painter.

How writers can make use of culture and evolution

This ductility can be empowering, but it can also be a bit too inebriating. I mean, it could lead us to believe that, provided we put in the right amount of effort, we can do just everything.

Alas, this isn’t the whole truth. In fact, even if it’s true that if we work hard we can improve in any field we decide to, our biology, our natural inclinations, and who knows what else, still define us.

This means that if I work hard to improve my time in the 100-meters dash I’m surely going to notice some progress. But if my twitching fibers are for the most part red ones, the slow twitching ones, I would still find it impossible to win an Olympic gold against athletes who have worked as hard as me but are naturally endowed with white fast-twitching fibers.

For writers the same principle applies. While there’s no denying that the more writers write the better they get, it’s also true that, to quote Stephen King, “it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer.” So if  one hasn’t it in himself, then he should maybe think of some alternative career.

In fact, efforts, strenuous efforts, should pay off in clearly perceivable ways, if one is to keep going for a long time.

For example, writers should be able to clearly notice how much their style has improved over the last year. Or how much easier it is for them to come up with a neater first draft. They should feel that things keep improving, evolving, at least at a reasonable pace.

This evolutive principle also applies to all those writers who can already write damn well. I mean, instead of trying hard to exclusively overcome those parts of the writing process in which they show some weaknesses, they should work just as hard on honing their strengths.

In fact, keeping on improving at what we already do quite well is a great way to keep at bay our doubts, and to boost our self-esteem. It is in short a great way to metaphorically recharge our mental batteries.

In this way, when we begin to work also on those areas of our writing that aren’t our forte–to make an understatement–we are less susceptible to feel disheartened and lose our drive.

I mean, after all we already know we are quite good, we just want to become even… gooder.

Okay. Okay. Maybe it’s time I call it a day. No more evolution for me today. Only rest, some good reading, and a friendly ear to blab to.

Images: Vincent Van Gogh – Sponchia – ClkerFreeVectorImages


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