From something as totally meaningless, yet deeply and personally painful, as a lost football game to something full of real misery, wanton cruelty, and utter waste.

Elephant seals.

Male elephant seals are repugnant. There’s simply no other way to put it. They’re grotesquely fat, dirty, and often covered in blood and scars. Male elephant seals are polygamous. They gather as many females as they possibly can, mate with them, and fight off any other male who comes anywhere near. They have vicious teeth and use them to inflict horrible wounds on each other. The males are so eager to fight off any other male who might come near that they often crush to death the pups, the very creatures they’re trying to create with their profligate mating.

elephant seals

According to Bryan Sykes in Adam’s Curse, only 4% of the elephant seal males have 80% of the sex, and the majority of elephant seal males have no sex at all. Meaning they don’t reproduce at all. Meaning they are an evolutionary dead end.

Sykes makes the point that this is evolution at its most wasteful and inefficient. Huge amounts of food go into building these enormous male elephant seal bodies, most of which will never accomplish their one goal, reproduction. They fight each other for every possible mate, even killing their own offspring in the process. Why? Because that’s what their fathers did, and the biggest, meanest, most jealous elephant seals were the ones that passed on their genes. What difference does it make if I crush a few pups? I’ve made lots, and better to kill three or four of my own than allow even one to carry his genes. I can make more, once I’ve gotten rid of him.

We sometimes hear about the efficiency of nature, or, more poetically, Nature’s Way. Don’t believe it! Evolution has no plan. Nature is horribly inefficient, profligately wasteful. There is no gentle hand guiding all of creation, there is no all-knowing life force. There is only cause and effect, ruthless and unfeeling when it needs to be, yet also able to create a flower or a butterfly, if such things serve. Stare evolution straight in the eye and see it for what it is.

Now, once you’ve done that, don’t go and blow your brains out. Read my next post instead.

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