"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Selfish Gini


[First Animal]

Suddenly evolution isn't what it

used to be.



While Walter Truett Anderson

tries to wrap his head around

the squishy science of

bioinformation, a team of

intrepid geneticists has

recalculated the biological Big

Bang, tracing the birth of the

animal kingdom back 1.2 billion

years. Our earliest ancestors,

say the researchers from Stony

Brook, were soft-bodied

protospecies that swam the

primordial soup long before the

first mollusk left its

exoskeleton locked in limestone.

Fuck the fossil record, forget

the Martian microbes - the

cutting edge of life on Earth is

mathematical modeling.


Rewriting history through

statistical analysis, of course,

is one heck of a labor-saving

device, shuffling what's given

and what's made without getting

bogged down in inconvenient

details. A good dose of

aggressive accounting can prove

once and for all that the bad

news is lies, whether the medium

is a presumptuous prospectus or

a perspicacious endpaper for a

weekly magazine.



Case in point: George Will's

recent Last Word on "Healthy

Inequality." Rather than indulge

in the dewy divinations of the

digerati, the cold-eyed

commentator turns his back to

the future, explaining why the

widening income gap is good by

looking to the technological

past. Like the economic

efficiencies introduced by the

steam engine and electricity,

today's "information machines"

produce an "incentive to invest

in self-improvement."

Unsurprisingly, Will's

"revelations" have long been

held as holy writ throughout the

wired world: paradigm shifts set

off a "discomforting but

creative turbulence" in society

at large.


The concentration of wealth, in

other words, accelerates in

periods of technological

transition - this is as it

should be. The new American

poverty is a small price to pay

for progress; stratification

begets sophistication. And

though members of the shrinking

middle class may hate to admit

it, they should be thankful that

capital accrues to the upper

crust: It gives the downsized

demographic license to update

its skill set. Time may stand

still in America's castles, but

for everyone else it's adapt or

die. Besides, until the

destitute exercise the freedom

to make themselves useful,

they're not qualified to keep

working - or complain.


Indeed, any attack on the new

top-heavy taxonomy smacks of

academics unaccustomed to

viewing the poor in their

natural state; likewise,

heartfelt pleas for caritas feel

woefully out of step with the

redistributed reality. It seems

the only hope for reconciling

compassion and competition lies

in embracing the selfish Gini's

simple rules and complex

behaviors as part of the Grand




Take the Pope's newfound peace

with Charles Darwin. While the

petit bourgeois brain trust

babbles on PBS about biblical

beginnings, John Paul concedes

that the lasting value of

Genesis is its rich symbology,

not its creative methodology.

And while neocreationists

connect the missing links of

macroevolution in a theological

chain, the pontiff accepts that

a broad-based scientific

"convergence" has made God's

will Nature's way.



That the Vatican views the

universe as a hybrid of Holy

Trinity and double helix rightly

attests the ascension of

neobiological civilization.

Whether the field is metaphysics

or agorics, the big thoughts of

our time have increasingly taken

shape in the language of

self-organizing systems. And

like the income bifurcation that

accompanied the digital

revolution, the bionomics boom

dovetails neatly with an equally

"natural" concentration of




Of course, Sugarscape simulations

only confirm what H. G. Wells

discovered long ago with his

time machine: The state of

nature quickly favors a

structural separation between

peerage and steerage, a great

divide that becomes a permanent

feature of the economy as

ecosystem. But instead of the

entropy that is the prime mover

of the cosmos, the bit-driven

worldview seems to have a

built-in deus ex machina that

saves it from the catastrophic

consequences of limitless

growth. The steeply climbing

curves of recent history,

however, belie the natural

tendency toward system




Unlike most short-term prophets,

Ronald Freeman and Bernard

Berelson saw civilization as a

flat, straight line with a

narrow upward spike straddling

the millennium. Without the aid

of the invisible hand, it turns

out, there's little evidence

that modern times have seen a

quantum leap in consciousness,

that Moore's Law has supplanted

Newton's on the path to

enlightenment. Perhaps the march

of human progress is but a brief

aberration, the biomechanical

fallout of a neo-Cambrian

explosion that was solitary,

poor, nasty, brutish - and short.

courtesy of Bartleby