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The currency of evolution is neither hunger nor pain, but rather copies of DNA helixes. Just as the economic success of a company is measured only by the number of dollars in its bank account, not by the happiness of its employees, so the evolutionary success of a species is measured by the number of copies of its DNA. If no more DNA copies remain, the species is extinct, just as a company without money is bankrupt. If a species boasts many DNA copies, it is a success, and the species flourishes. From such a perspective, 1,000 copies are always better than a hundred copies. This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.

Yet why should individuals care about this evolutionary calculus? Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the Homo sapiens genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the Agricultural Revolution was a trap.

如果要衡量某种物种演化成功与否,评断标准就在于世界上其 DNA 螺旋的拷贝数的多寡。这很类似于货币的概念,就像今天如果要说某家公司行不行,我们看的是它的市值有多少钱,而不是它的员工开不开心;物种的演化成功,看的就是这个物种 DNA 拷贝数在世界上的多寡。如果世界上不再有某物种的 DNA 拷贝,就代表该物种已经绝种,也等于公司没有钱而宣告倒闭。而如果某个物种还有许多个体带着它的 DNA 拷贝存在于这个世上,就代表着这个物种演化成功、欣欣向荣。从这种角度看来,1000 份 DNA 拷贝永远都强过 100 份。这正是农业革命真正的本质:让更多的人却以更糟的状况活下去。


The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

种种想让生活变得轻松的努力,反而给人带来无穷的麻烦;而且这可不是史上的最后一次。就算今天,仍然如此。有多少年轻的大学毕业生投身大企业、从事各种劳心劳力的工作,发誓要努力赚钱,好在 35 岁就退休,去从事他们真正有兴趣的事业?但等他们到了 35 岁,却发现自己背着巨额贷款,要付子女的学费,要养在高级住宅区的豪宅,每家得有两部车,而且觉得生活里不能没有高级红酒和去国外的假期。他们该怎么做?他们会放下一切,回去野外采果子挖树根吗?当然不可能,而是加倍努力,继续把自己累得半死。

Unfortunately, the evolutionary perspective is an incomplete measure of success. It judges everything by the criteria of survival and reproduction, with no regard for individual suffering and happiness. Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived. The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueler with the passing of the centuries.


Yet from the viewpoint of the herd, rather than that of the shepherd, it’s hard to avoid the impression that for the vast majority of domesticated animals, the Agricultural Revolution was a terrible catastrophe. Their evolutionary ‘success’ is meaningless. A rare wild rhinoceros on the brink of extinction is probably more satisfied than a calf who spends its short life inside a tiny box, fattened to produce juicy steaks. The contented rhinoceros is no less content for being among the last of its kind. The numerical success of the calf’s species is little consolation for the suffering the individual endures.


Yuval Noah Harari. 2011. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
尤瓦尔·赫拉利《人类简史:从动物到上帝》 林俊宏 译

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