I've had several conversations with people about my recent blog post: "The Coming Darkness", and I have to say I am more than a little shocked at some of the questions and reactions I got.  No one was insensed or offended, or even terribly skeptical about the premise of another Dark Age.  I was actually quite surprised by the willingness people demonstrated to accept, what many might normally consider to be, an alarmist idea.  But this surprise was quickly dispelled by these questions I mentioned.  As an example, a few people asked me about the accessibility of food and water, security, medicine, and child rearing.  Normally I would be heartened by these questions, but the reaction to the responses were equally as disheartening.  Those reactions taught me one important fact: Acknowledging or accepting a new reality is not the same thing as adapting to one.



       With all of the talk lately about "prepping", people we used to mockingly refer to as "survival nuts", it is easy to imagine dramatic shifts in our day to day lives.  Zombie films and movies about post apocalyptic worlds have got us thinking about the obvious changes in our lives such as the absence of Starbucks lattes, 24 hour grocery stores, and other advantages that first world living has granted us.  A few of us may even be considering something a bit more drastic such as a life without electricity or running water.  I for one, cannot watch any of those films without wondering how bad everyone must be smelling.

      There is something beyond what we have considered, or are willing to consider.  Even when we look at our own capacity to do violence, or committ an act of cannibalism, I think we are just beginning to scratch the surface.  It doesn't take much to imagine oneself shooting or knifing another person in order to secure a loaf of bread.  It is also easy to imagine going for days or weeks without showering, or eating things we wouldn't otherwise consider such as rotting food.  I don't thing it would be terribly difficult for people to adapt to the absence of lights, television, or videogames.

 

       In the case of a massive and sudden shift in living conditions I think that family and sexual dynamics would be the hardest for humans to adapt to.  People seem to forget that the existing dynamics in this area were formulated out of belief and necessity over centuries.  If we were to insert a nuclear war, zombie apocalypse, or an asteroid slamming into Earth we would likely see issues adapting to this particular new reality.  When we take into account the destruction such events would create we would be looking at a major reduction in the mean population density of planet.  Which begs the questions: What does population density have to do with family and sexual dynamics?  What do family dynamics have to do with sexual dynamics?

       In our current paradigm (the death of the nuclear family aside), one has to have sex to procreate.  Procreation leads to families.  Even in the case of adoption, that child had to have come from somewhere.  If population density levels were to remain more or less consistent post apocalypse, then human civilizations would more or less be allowed to continue in much the same way it has in terms of family dynamics.  People would pair off make some attempt at monagamy and have children.  This does not account for any of the other post apocalyptic hazards such as roving bands of biker rapists, increased infant mortality rates due to lack of medical care and starvation etc.

          But we are looking at a global catastrophe such as nuclear war.  Entire portions of the population will be simply wiped out.  Admittedly it would be impossible to offer any real numbers on the dispersal patterns of post apocalyptic populations.  Let's assume for the time being that most human populations would aggregate in numbers no greater than several dozen.  We assume this because of the scarcity of resources and the lack of infrastructure necessary to support a large population.  Populations would simply shrink to accomodate the available resources.  What we would have in these cases is an extremely shallow gene pool from which to perpetuate the species.  If people paired off in the traditional way, it would only be a couple of generations before inbreeding began to take place.  This theory doesn't even factor in the basic lack of genetic diversity or random occurrences of particular genes, also known as "genetic drift".

          Even if we were to create an active breeding model and conscientiously track all of the offspring from the initial gene pool, there would be no way to avoid eventual inbreeding.  Now several dozen people can certainly allow people to avoide pairing with their first cousins but the occurrence of mutations in such a small population would be fairly predictable and, in this case, bad.  Let's also take into account vastly increased potential for death from other factors. Despite this populations resizing to accomodate available resources it still doesn't completely mitigate the possibility of death from scarcity of resources or attrition.  This means that given the small number of people contributing to the overall gene pool, the death of even a handful of people would result in a gaping hole in this particular groups long term survivability.  Do you see where I am going with this?

         Sex.  Lots of sex.  That is the answer to the question of genetic depletion.  Not wantonly of course.  As mentioned there needs to be a plan.  And this plan is where many people will have a problem.  Based on the limited research I did for this blog post the human population could be perpetuated with as little as 80 people. Some have proposed that you would need at least ten times that number.  But let's plug the smallest possible number into our scenario: 80.  We still have two potentially crippling factors in this scenario. Where is the problem?  We could build a fire, kill a wild boar, and dance around in a wild fit of post apocalyptic orgiastic delight.  Not even for purposes of practicality, some people would simply have a problem with that.  Imagine couples that have survived.  Most people aren't going to want to share their wives with someone else, let alone a dozen someone elses.  Then there are siblings.  Again, the same puritanical morality that espouses monogamy and modesty would cause many people's stomachs to churn.  Some people would simply flat out refuse to participate.

         The marriage and sibling issue is going to be self compounding by the fact that married couples are more likely to have offspring.  And siblings would obviously also be related.  The reason why this is a problem is that families represent an immediate shallowing of the gene pool.  The likelihood of this cannot be calculated.  But we can easily assume that survivors are going to tend to group around familial lines at least in terms of marriage.  In the broader sense, urban areas are often populated along ethnic lines which means there is likely going to be a much larger representation of one ethnicity in a given population.  When you add the potential, within those populations, for people to group along family lines, you might find you have a serious problem when it comes to procreation.

        Going back to the issue of shifting sexual dynamics, I think people would have a much harder time dealing with this than they would with murder.  What are we talking about in terms of the requisite sexual activity anyway?  Certainly the foremost concern for most people would not be procreation.  A sudden reinsertion into the food chain, or the creation of a far more insular one might make child rearing damn near impossible.  And when such things do become possible, it would stand to reason that one would only hazard a growth in the population when resources can support it.  Once that day does arrive people will not only have to discard their, now irrelevant, morality but they will also need to be extremely methodical about it.  What will occur will, in fact, look nothing like an orgy. 

        Breeding schedules would need to be created and attachment to individual progeny will likely become a thing of the past.  In order to remove the bottleneck and ensure the highest level of genetic diversity, and therefore survivability, the offspring from pairings would need to be meticulously tracked and recorded.  As those offspring achieve maturity, they would need to consult those records to avoid, as much as possible, any inbreeding.  It isn't the most ideal situation but hey, it's an apocalypse after all.  What is?


 

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J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
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That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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