By Cornelius Ndubuisi
Whenever the phrase “survival of the fittest” is used, three names almost immediately come to mind: English Thomas Hobbes, Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli, American Robert Greene. Especially because their political philosophies and writings suggest an arrangement where one needs to be (one of) the “fittest” around in order to survive. In the Hobbesian state of nature, for instance, where life was poor, nasty, brutish and short, one needed to be really fit – in the sense of ruthlessness and deviousness – to survive. Machiavelli’s Prince must be a hybrid of the lion and fox to stand a chance of preserving and perpetuating his principality. And Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and The 50th Law (with the American rapper, 50 Cent) are not in short supply of examples that agree with Hobbes and Machiavelli.
And so, the average youth looks up to the above individuals for inspiration on how to get by and around the intrigues of life, but being ignorant of this problem: the phrase, “survival of the fittest,” didn’t come from any one of the trio. Not Hobbes. Not Machiavelli. And certainly not Robert Greene. To the contrary, the phrase was first used by Herbert Spencer in his book, Principles of Biology – following a reading of, and inspired by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Interestingly too, the context of usage of the word “fittest,” evolutional theory, meant something quite different from its usage in popular parlance. Actually, the more ad rem synonym for Darwinian “fitness” is “adaptation.” For Darwin, who went on to adopt Spencer’s phrase in a later edition of his On the Origin of Species, fitness connotes ease of adaptability, the ability to adjust to new conditions in order to survive.
Now, Darwin had employed the idea of “survival of the fittest” to describe the mechanism of natural selection, wherein the limited resources available to a population get to engender competition among the members of the same or different species, as they struggle to survive. Consequently, members of the population who fail to adapt to prevailing conditions die out – with only those who get to adapt surviving the onslaught of the prevailing adverse condition(s). The endgame of “survival of the fittest” is reproductive success. And “variation” was the key, being different from the rest of the pack in a really good way.
It is of importance to reiterate at this point, that the Darwinian use of “fittest” meant “better adapted to the immediate, local environment” – and not what is thought of in the common usage of the “survival of the fittest” phrase, such as “in the best physical shape.” It is more about positive inherent characteristics than about muscular stature. It is about the ability to produce longer-lasting results and passing this ability down to successive generations. It is more like puzzle pieces fitting together than an athlete racing the tracks with finesse.
The coronavirus pandemic has left us wondering what the rest of our lives would be like. Right now, the phrase “new normal” appears to have made a home in the heart and mind of next to everyone. This isn’t just any other change. It is a revolution, a tsunami. It got to ground the global economy. Humbled policymakers. Overwhelmed the healthcare industry. Questioned humanity’s preparedness for worst case scenarios. And has left the average youth second guessing their future; jobs are being lost in their millions at a time when very little can be done about it in a really long time from now.
There is the place of the ‘third world factor’ in this coronavirus onslaught. While developed nations have found ways and adopted strategies to mitigate the damning effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on their citizens (such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the US stimulus cheques, and the UK’s coronavirus furlough scheme), countries like Nigeria are still paying lip service to the huge losses incurred across board of the economy. Schools remain closed, jobs are being lost, businesses are bleeding dry, and hunger ravages on… And, at no other time as now would the fittest survive, those who’d speedily adapt to the situation, riding on the wings of the wind of this change.
At a time like this, the Nigerian youth must wholeheartedly embrace and strategically position for what is now the “new normal,” the fact that things have drastically changed from the way they used to be and will remain so until something bigger happens. For instance, many companies have come to realize that they didn’t even need office spaces in the first place, following how operations flowed seamlessly while the lockdown lasted.
Twitter, for example, seeing that nothing really changed having its staff work from home over the lockdown period, has asked them to keep working from home going forward. Of course, the implication of this sort of shift is big, as Twitter can as well begin to offshore normal office operations; people from everywhere would be able to seek employment anywhere – with dire consequences for local employability and remuneration.
More so, the skillset needed for the digital economy are markedly different from what the traditional education system is still dishing out. The combined forces of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data promises to completely render traditional classrooms useless, leaving the student (and even graduates) only one option: personal reinvention. It will simply be the case of reinvent or die. At a time like this, to lack working knowledge of the workings of the internet infrastructure and not to be in personal possession of any in demand digital skill is a crime against personal survival. Whether it is web development, data analysis, photo and video editing, user experience, and whatnots, one must ensure to secure a piece of this future that has come upon us for oneself.
Furthermore, the current state of affairs demands that such intelligence domains as emotional intelligence, social intelligence, financial intelligence, and other such intelligences, be raised to the status as before now has been enjoyed by the ‘almighty’ Intelligent Quotient, IQ.
Now, more than ever, the heart must be as intelligent as the head. With the rise of robotics and the infinite possibilities of deep learning, more need is being had for what is distinctively human about us, our humaneness. This future that is now here with us needs people who are high on such sterling qualities as teachability, empathy, sociability, etc.
Indeed, those who will survive the future are those who will either create it by themselves or adapt to it speedily.
Dear Nigerian youth, the choice is yours. If you can’t create the future, if you can’t speedily adapt to it, then there’s a third option left on the table, one that’d thrust itself on you: extinction. And since being Nigerian makes it harder, then you need to be tougher, to be the fittest.