Sunday 19 November 2023

WD Hamilton's "Hospital Society" has already arrived - it cannot be prevented, therefore our task is 'spiritually' to learn from it

The Hospital Society, where almost everybody is ill, was predicted by the great evolutionary theorist WD Hamilton, as an inevitable consequence of mutation accumulation, mainly (but not wholly) due to the decline in the massively reduced selection-out of deleterious genes from a reduction in child mortality rates from more than 50% to about 1%. 

Hamilton predicted that the Hospital Society would at first be the more-impaired being looked-after by the less-impaired; but as things proceeded, firstly the less-impaired would fail to look-after their sicker compatriots, and then the less-impaired be unable to look after themselves...

At which point current civilization would collapse utterly; and some other form of living - presumably much poorer, simpler, smaller scale - would eventually supervene.  

The Hospital Society is already here, and the trajectory is as Hamilton described; except that the illnesses are mostly "psychiatric" - that is, they are impairments in fitness; visible in sexual and social pathologies of behaviour. 

In other words; the major form of - presumably genetic - illness in the current West (and perhaps elsewhere) is seen in the endemic majority suffering from a wide range of psychological impairments that effect even, or especially, the youngest generations... 

With each generation more extremely and pervasively impaired in their biological fitness than the one before.  

It is important to clarify that biological fitness is an objective concept; which is a measure of the chance of reproductive success in a given human society. 

Reproductive success requires first survival, but then fertility of more than the threshold of replacement fertility (somewhat more than two children per woman, the exact number depending on societal child mortality rates). 

Furthermore, the more-than-two offspring must themselves be reproductively viable (i.e. the offspring must want-to, and be-able-to, themselves reproduce above replacement). In practice, this means an average of at least three surviving children per woman. 

The problem with mutation accumulation is that it can become terminal, when mutations accumulate faster than natural selection can sieve them out; and this will happen much more rapidly and inevitably when populations are shrinking; since natural selection can then only be very weak and slow. 

Looking around at the world, I see that genuine biological fitness has become extremely rare among adolescents and adults; and those who are among the most "health and fitness" focused are among the most psychologically pathological. 

We live in a world of sickness; a society where sickness is the norm and viable levels of biological fitness are almost unknown. 

My own impression is that the situation has become irrevocable; not least because in a world where everyone is psychiatrically impaired (to a greater or lesser extent) then (almost inevitably) the mainstream societal ideology becomes one in which psychological (sexual and social) pathologies are defended, rationalized - then promoted and supported. 

A genuinely spiritual religion - that recognized a world beyond the material and the possibility of eternal life - might be able to provide a world view in which Mankind could honestly face this reality, and learn from it in ways that would be of benefit to our life beyond death...

But there is no such religion at the social level; and therefore the social and individual experience of the Hospital Society is likely to be almost wholly negative: a matter of more and more material suffering and relentless collapsing of physical functionality. 

What positive perspective might we adopt as such a scenario unfolds? As long as there is life, there are reasons to live - or else God would not be sustaining us alive. 

Rather than focusing primarily or exclusively on present happiness and physical survival, which can - at best - be a merely temporary extension of our finite mortality; we need to understand and learn from what is happening. 

And by learning, I means spiritual learning - the learning of fundamental lessons such as those concerning the human condition, divine creation, and God.   


William Wildblood said...

I don't recall anyone 40 years ago talking about "mental health". Now it's everywhere. We say it's because we are more aware which may be true but the fact is we talk about it for 2 main reasons. One, we as a society are much more narcissistic which is a result of having no religion, and two, people really are less fit from a psychological pov. It seems to be rife in universities with students being diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety etc in astonishing numbers. Much this will be down to the pressure of social media and the general corruption of the modern world but some of it really does seem to be for the reasons you give, a mutational overload increasing with each generation.

hdv said...

If genetic deterioration is a real phenomenon, what would be a Christian way to address it to increase human flourishing and avoid a GATTACA like dystopia?


Bruce Charlton said...

@hdv - I discuss this a bit in the mouse utopia essay that I linked. I find it it is a rather pointlessly hypothetical question to discuss, when it is both too late and there is zero social desire to admit the reality, let alone address, the problem.

It would involve a whole alternative history, stretching back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution; an alternative history which I presume was the one that God would have wanted for us; and which would have involved The West en masse choosing Romantic Christianity, instead of dividing into an inexorably declining Traditional Christianity and a relentlessly triumphant atheist-leftist-materialism.

This is, of course, a scenario in which humans pursue primarily spiritual rather than material/ physical goals - so society would be extremely different in innumerable ways. I suspect that there would still be some deleterious mutation accumulation whenever the major preventive factor of mutation-selection was removed (i.e. child mortality); but this would be much slower if it was not fatally exacerbated by the sub-replacement fertility - starting and most extreme among the genetically-fittest of the population, and then population decline.

Francis Berger said...

If the claims made by many anti-peck blogs contain even a shred of truth, then genetic mutation has or will go into overdrive mode soon, thereby accelerating the process you have outlined. Even if it doesn't, the birdemic put the psychiatric illnesses and psychological impairments on full display, which is enough on its own.

None of this bodes well from a strictly biological/material/pyschological/social perspective, but as you note, "we need to understand and learn from what is happening. And by learning, I mean spiritual learning - the learning of fundamental lessons such as those concerning the human condition, divine creation, and God."

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about what I need to understand and learn from all of this.

Bruce Charlton said...

William - Of course, I've been interested in 'mental health' for ages, since the late 1970s when I was a medical student. But my main interest was the psychoses. What we are seeing now, in vast proportions, is people with behavioural and subjective disorders. So much so, that this is almost universal - including among most of those who (clearly) regard themselves as exemplars of health, fitness and common sense!

All this is probably exacerbated rather than helped by the many psychotropic drugs prescribed, including to a lot of school aged teens, all of which produce dependence and some of which produce suicidality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - People are, mostly, very reluctant to admit that everything in this world (our civilization, nations, the living world, the planet) are finite. It's always a question of when, not if, things die.

Some Christians are, I believe, confused by the idea of second coming; into supposing that this earth must be eternal; but as you know I regard this as mistaken.

Heaven is the only eternity; and Heaven is already in existence.

Geir said...

Thank you for posting this. I will try to find Hamilton's books. I find the 'Hospital Society' has largely happened here in Norway and while the nation receives most of its enormous income from oil and gas, there are not enough doctors any more, not enough nurses, and local hospitals lose more and more functions. There is an uproar among people, but of course, politicians don't care. I re-read the long Mouse-Utopia post and find it horribly true. However, I actually think the development of the eradication of intelligent thinking has come so far now that politicians are not any longer required to make simple arithmetics; they are number-blind which means they have no ability to make a picture in their mind of the differences of a million and a billion for instance. It seems it has also been proved (so I am told) that more than half of the people have no understanding whatsoever of a graph; you could as well show them a page written in a foreign alphabet and they don't know what to do with it. It seems that most people experience psychoses from the catastrophic climate scenarios as well as from the birdemic scare. Our country is slowly torn asunder. However, I wonder whether watching TV and reading on social media/mainstream media actually reduces your intelligence there and then, or whether intelligence as such is independent from using it?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Geir - I think the importance of the mutation accumulation idea is that it is an underlying and inevitable trend - underneath all the more 'superficial' (and, theoretically, somewhat soluble) socio-political aspects.

The other aspect is my conviction (this isn't 'generally accepted'!) that we would expect that *a variety* (because of the 'randomness' of mutations) of social and sexual dysfunctionalities would come earlier, and perhaps more severely, than physical illnesses and the decline of general-intelligence.

Ron Tomlinson said...

As a counterpoint, couldn't we just... sample a husband and wife's genomes via skin cells or suchlike. Edit the deleterious genes or gene combinations in silico by comparing the sequences obtained to a database of known mutations.

Alternatively, or in addition, overwrite random portions of the husband's genome with averaged stretches taken from 18th century genomes, so that the proportion of renewed genome over-compensates for the hypothesised rate of decay (i.e. the rate at which harmful mutations are accumulating). This would deal with the as-yet-unidentified faults while still allowing the husband to become a biological father. Manufacture pessaries of identical/monozygotic sperm and make these available for artificial insemination.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RT - If you really think it through at a population level (Hamilton did this), it wouldn't work (even if it was technically possible, which it isn't). Nothing known can replace natural selection...

Although the biologically-excluded originative power of divine creation is what underpins the whole thing; and who knows what That could do?