Further Thoughts ‘On Aggression’ 1 – Evolutionary Blind Alleys

by , under Emerging Church

‘On Aggression’ is proving to be an interesting read, and I wanted to link some themes that crop up within the book with some of the thinking on city life in The Complex Christ.

An expert in the field of animal behaviour, Lorenz discusses the strange case of the argus pheasant. Lorenz notes that:

“Wherever we find exaggerated development of colourful feathers in the male we may suspect that the males no longer fight, but that the last word in the choice of a mate is spoken by the female.”

The argus males have developed just such feathers, but to such an exaggerated extent that they actually put the species at risk, as the unwieldy plooms leave them as easy prey for predators.

As Lorenz continues:

“One could well imagine an argus hen (female) that reacted to a small red spot on the wings of the male, which would disappear when he folded his wings and interfere neither with his flying capacity nor with his protective colour, but the evolution of the argus pheasant has run itself into a blind alley. The males continue to compete in producing the largest possible wing feathers, and these birds will never reach a sensible solution and decide to stop this nonsense at once.”

He ends by recalling one of his mentors who said that next to the wings of the argus pheasant, the hectic life of western civilization – the rushed, industrialized, commercialized existence that we have precipitated ourselves into – is the most stupid product of this ‘inter-specific selection’… In other words, an evolutionary blind alley that we simply cannot escape from as we compete with one another.

This appears to connect well with the thoughts in the book on the ‘local maximum’ that evolving systems can reach. If emerging churches are going to truly emerge then they must avoid these ‘evolutionary blind alleys’. We must not become unwieldy beasts, boasting huge displays of outrageous feathers which actually can end up doing the ‘species’ harm.

Thinking on this re-affirms my belief that stopping Vaux was the right thing. We were evolving in a direction that was difficult to change, and this was perhaps meaning that we weren’t actually becoming what we’d set out to be. So we’ve pressed reset, and can now allow something new to grow.

It’s this same archetype that we see in the idea of the jubilee and even in the crucifixion. Though the disciples couldn’t see it at the time, Christ had to die in order for something new and better to grow. And its this higher ideal of sacrifice – of letting something go that appears to vital – that separates us from the argus pheasants, who blindly go on growing longer feathers. Feathers that might keep them getting action, but stop them flying.


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  1. Kester

    I’m impressed. Thought it might take you a little longer to sniff me out ;p
    How’s Joel doing? Great bit of animation you should get him to show you.