death and evolution

Sat, 14 May 1994 22:12:53 EDT

populations. But with biological evolution is not evolution *of* populations.
As organisms die more frequently by consequence of their carring some alleles
rather than others in their genotypes such that their phenotypes render them
susceptible to earlier death from lethal mutation, parasites, disease,
predators, or whatever other reason prior to adulthood, or failure at sexual
selection thereafter, the genotypes of the survivors spread in the population
relative to those failing to reproduce.

Cultural evolution, if it existed, would necessarily be the evolution of
something shared by a population, where said population has no good reason
to be necessarily biologically related to those people wherefrom the culture
was acquired. Matthew Hill adduces the differentiation of Norse culture into
Icelandic culture, Faeroes Islands culture, and so on, as apparently analogous
to the speciation observed by Darwin in long-separated populations. Here we
do have migrants from an ancestral population settling on scattered islands
with little or no aboriginal populations. This is however not entirely
typical. Let's use the Norwegians again. The year is 1014.

Brian Boru, like all Irish heroes, got killed. Uniquely, in getting killed,
he also won. Had he not got killed, he might have consolidated the High
Kingship (*ard ri*) into a real monarchical state, as existed already in
England. Had he *lost*, at the Battle of Clontarf, the presumption is that
Ireland would have been as Norwegianized as parts of England had become
Danified in the ninth century. More impressively, Ireland would have served
as a permanent base for Norse rule in England, which Sweyn Forkbeard had just
about, from 1014, wrested from the feeble hand of Ethelred II The Useless
(not "The Unready"), de facto; and following the brief but doomed resistance
of Ethelred's son, Edmund Ironside, d. 1016, de jure, under Knut "The Great."
Without question, the Norse would have reversed the assimilation of the newly
subjugated (by the House of Wessex in the ninth century) Danelaw; and this,
with the Irish base, would have perpetuated the Norwegian Empire far longer
than it actually lasted (1016-1042 in England; attempted recovery by Harold
Hardrada foiled by Harold Godwineson in 1066 at Stamford Bridge). This would
be written in a language with many more Scandinavian loanwords than it actually
has, if not in a Scandinavian-descended language, depending on how many Norse
settlers came over to watch the English do the work, and how much the English
feared the Norse would go *berserk* if feeling dissed.

Daniel A. Foss