Thursday, November 22, 2007

Unnatural Selection

PBS premiered a powerful 2 hour NOVA program on Nov 13, 2007. The program is called Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial that follows the late 2005 landmark US federal court case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District regarding the inclusion of intelligent design in the Dover high school science/biology curriculum. I learned quite a bit from watching this two-hour program, not to mention that the frog was mentioned more than once as an amphibian that is in between fish and land animals by Darwin’s evolution theory.

As a first generation non-religious immigrant, I was a little surprised to learn the famous 1925 test case Scopes Monkey Trial challenged the Tennessee’s Butler bill, the nation’s first, that banned the teaching of Darwin’s evolution theory. Butler’s act was eventually repealed but not until 1967, my senior year in high school when I thought the most advanced math and science textbook material came from US! While the value and importance of Christianity's teachings should not depend on the narrow and literal interpretation of creationism, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for some to deal with the scientific theories and discovery of supporting data.

It is interesting to note that according to a recent news report, an estimated 40% of US population do not accept the statement: "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals". This figure is the 2nd highest among 33 European countries and Japan surveyed and has not changed much for the last two decades! Further analysis of findings of this and earlier surveys can be found in an article by Professor Jon Miller in Aug 11, 2006 issue of Science that attributes it in part to the unique non-hierarchical congregational Protestant churches in US who are free to choose their own ministers and espouse their own beliefs.

Indeed the debate of evolution vs. creationism or intelligent design has been going on for a long time and continues to-date. The delicate balance of political and religious forces has been maintained by and large by the judicial branch of the government. The Supreme court has stood up to the tyranny of majority (via legislative branch) each time thus far and ruled such acts violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that calls for the separation of church and state. One must give credit to the wisdom and critical thinking of the founding fathers’: the implementation, and the willingness to adhere and evolve the laws by most people no matter how imperfect the laws may be at the time of rulings. Nevertheless how could we allow local legislative bodies to decide educational issues such as what can and cannot be taught in science classes? Why not leave those to the professionals where there is more universal knowledge and objective criteria?

Central to Darwin’s theory as described in his groundbreaking 1859 book The Origin of Species is Natural Selection, a process through which the resulting environment appear as if nature had selected the more adaptive species and allowed them to survive and prosper. Such a process and parallel can be found in human organizations and entities as well. I will call it Unnatural Selection since the environment, interaction, and selection process are man-made in this case.

Consider any typical hierarchical business or political organization. Each of us who joined such an organization all went through adaptations to survive and advance by some vague values and selection processes. Those who manage to adapt or align themselves sooner and better tend to thrive more and those who don’t, hopefully have other environment or organization to migrate to.

More interestingly perhaps, you may ask who define and shape the values? In my opinion, it is all stake holders (not SHARE holders!) including every individual in the organization although those closer to the root of the (local) tree in the hierarchy do have more influence through decision-making channels or power (thus more responsibility and accountability!). This may sound too idealistic but there is plenty of evidence for it if you just reflect upon your own experience for a moment.

For example, in the business world we are often a part of a regular communication and data collection process with peers, reports and upper management about ideas, thoughts, progress, accomplishments, etc. There is no secret that we engage in, regardless our ranks and intention, some level of “spin” ranging from what we want to hear (confirmed bias), what we want our upper management to hear (good news only), and what we think they want to hear. This is how perception of values is created, shaped, propagated and amplified, up and down the line. Yes, I firmly believe that each of us can affect the outcome throughout the hierarchy, no matter how invisible the influence might be at the origin. Yes, rotten root of a tree produce rotten fruits and good managers promote good people and values. Each of us must do our part with our hearts as much as we can in order for the organization to be healthy and constantly moving towards to a better place through unnatural selection.

What I am also saying is there is no we vs. they, no company vs. employees, no government vs. people. All these abstract “external” entities such as nation, government, company and management are just creations of our own minds as we all participate in these entities, and knowingly or not, shaped and changed the outcomes. There are no external entity or beings who are ever going to come and save us miraculously. The buck stops with each of us and we are the ones who hold the ultimate power!

Happy Thanksgiving and talk to you soon!

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