By Christopher Cudworth
My brother-in-law is a funny guy. He likes to tease about certain things. One of them is the concept of perfection. He maintains there is no such thing. Given the generally messed up state of the world, one generally has to agree. Perfection may exist in concept or principle, but not in nature. It cannot. The world is always changing and that dictates that perfection cannot physically exist. No temporary thing can be perfect.
Life as we know it exists for the present. The next generation may or may not mimic what went before. As proof of that fact, we now know that 99% of all living things that ever existed on the earth are now extinct.
That’s a lot of failed experiments. It is also proof that the evolutionary forces shaping our world could care less us or the philosophical crap that goes with it.
Our vestigial selves
Evidence that the human race is still a work in progress is apparent in the interesting array of vestigial traits still hanging around in our bodies. If you’re not familiar with the whole concept of vestigial traits, the dictionary definition goes like this:
Vestigial: forming a very small remnant of something that was once much larger or more noticeable.
We refer to certain parts of our bodies as “vestigial” because its seems they no longer have a function or behave as part of an original design as they did in earlier iterations of evolutionary history.
Intelligent Design or shit just happens?
Of course we use the term “design” judiciously here, so as not to confuse the notion of design in nature with the inane and chronically overwrought concept known as “Intelligent Design,” which is non-scientific mumbo jumbo for… “We don’t now how it works but we know that what you say has got to be wrong because nature is just too complex for it to happen on its own.”
But shit happens, and that’s how we got here.
Stupid Design Theory
So we could just as easily posit an idea called Stupid Design Theory to account for all the things the supposed Great Designer essentially f’d up, including retardation and profound physical disabilities in human beings, birds that don’t fly and fish that can’t see, pelvic bones disconnected from limbs in whales and an entire social disorder in Homo Sapiens that led to Honey Boo Boo and her fatass ridiculously obnoxious mom. But we digress.
Have at it humans
Here’s the only fact you really need to remember. Evolution is the result of trillions of experimental imperfections that spit us out into the relative present with no more concern or ceremony than an ostrich chewing grass seeds. Ptoo. Now have at it, humans. Nature really doesn’t give a shit if you make something of yourself or not. Really. Now deal with it. That’s what God is for.
Why we compete
The realization that none of us is that special in the evolutionary scheme of things does help explain why we’re so competitive by nature.
Competition also drives us to set up races where our imperfect bodies can be tested against hundreds of other imperfect bodies while paying $200 for the right to do it in the streets. Cause the cops don’t work for free.
It’s not a perfect imitation of the evolutionary process, mind you, but it’s the best we’ve got. So get out there and enjoy it.
Triathlons and evolution
Any race of beings built on the trajectory of so much imperfection is bound to be a little competitive by nature. It’s how we keep from going f’n insane from the potential boredom of day-to-day existence.
That also explains is why triathlons were invented, because crushing your knees and feet to death in a marathon or ultramarathon was not sufficient enough torture. We had to invent an event where nothing is left toward the end but a lurching, crawling hunk of human flesh with a head perched on top trying to finish under 12 hours. Then you get an Ironman tattoo for the trouble.
I have personally engaged in similarly tortuous efforts, albeit not as long as an Ironman, and come out feeling like a better person because I am relatively sure I dropped a few vestigial organs along the way. Who says you can’t see evolution in progress?
Evolution in action
It’s a brilliantly messy process, evolution, especially because some of the vestigial shit it leaves behind, like Tea Party candidates and biblical creationists, who frequently die choking on their own anachronisms. Who says we can’t see evolution in action?
Watching our bodies evolve
Of course we all have our own personal evolutionary dramas going on inside our bodies. One of the crowd favorites in terms of vestigial evolutionary leftovers that can f*** you over is the appendix, which can flare up and explode inside your guts. Always good fun on a Sunday afternoon. Then there are heart flaws like the one that took down avid runner and author Jim Fixx.
If you’ve ever fallen on your tailbone it doesn’t help to know that it is perfectly useless these days without a human tail to wag. But without it you might slip down your bike seat so who knows if it is truly vestigial or not?
Think: It would also be fun to grow tails again and have a little slit in the back of our bike shorts so that we could our furry tails flap in the wind at 25mph. The sight of all those tails flapping behind cyclists in a competitive bike criterium would be grand, to say the least. Just don’t let your tail get caught in the spokes. Rumor has it that can hurt and possibly take you down in a crash, the evolutionary test of every cyclist.
A friend of mine once broke his sacrum in a bike accident. It hurt like hell but he rode 11 miles back home even though the sacrum thing that holds your butt together was busted. That raises the important question about whether we really need a sacrum in the first place, doesn’t it?
Useless shit we don’t need
Yes, we’re forced to carry all this useless vestigial shit around with us when we run and ride, so it’s rather surprising that no weight-obsessed runner or team of cyclists has figured out how to cut out all the useless body parts and gain a competitive advantage. Seriously. Quite a few women dump their ovaries and uterus past a certain age, which accounts for the smiles on the faces of so many women after the age of 55. We could all use a few less body parts, it seems.
Chop out the appendix, for starters. That’s a half a pound or so. Get rid of the tailbone too. That’s another few ounces. Our ears are technically not needed the way they used to be, nor our wisdom teeth. Chop out all the extra stuff and you might be 3-4 pounds lighter. That’s enough to move you up two places at least in the Tour de France or any marathon on the planet.
The vestigial lessons of Wall-E
That’s how evolution works, in a sense. Anything that doesn’t help you survive technically drags you down. So nature tries like hell to get rid of it, or else nature sooner or later gets rid of you. Rid. Run. Ride. There’s a pattern emerging here.
If you’ve seen the movie Wall-E you might recognize the potential dangers of human inactivity. All the people on the spaceship get fat and roly-poly to the point where their skeletal systems become almost vestigial. They’re fed by robots and never exercise. In other words, they look like the Newman character on Seinfeld. Not the height of physical fitness.
Why we run and ride
Those of us who run and ride are therefore involved in an evolutionary experiment of sorts. The manner in which we push our bodies and the endurance activities we engage in are primarily voluntary and not tied to any particular survival trait or environmental pressure. Not that we can see.
But perhaps our collective need to run and ride may be a subtle behavioral response to social pressures. The benefits of exercise are often pitched as a “stress reliever,” a reaction to the “fight or flight” response carved deep into the human nervous system. We are placed in many stressful situations from which there is no escape like the 8 to 5 work schedule and commuting an hour one-way in a car. It can also be very stressful sitting in meetings where everyone feels they have to give an opinion, no matter how stupid that opinion might be. At that point it is fight or flight, baby. First World problems.
Third World sensibilities
Then we come out on the street during lunch to find our favorite commuter bike crunched around a pole because some dickhead doesn’t know how to drive. Now that’s stressful.
Without release from these tensions the stress of life burrows deep into our nervous systems. So we strap on running shoes or don cycling equipment and head out to our respective evolutionary adaptations to stress. It’s not a perfect response, but it’s the best we have.
Circling back to our selves
We run and ride through an imperfect world in an effort to achieve a feeling of being one with nature and at the same time become with ourselves. That is the organic journey to which Walt Whitman refers in his poem, We Two-How Long We Were Fooled.
Please not the italics in this poem have been added for emphasis by this blogger.
|WE two—how long we were fool’d!|
|Now transmuted, we swiftly escape, as Nature escapes;|
|We are Nature—long have we been absent, but now we return;|
|We become plants, leaves, foliage, roots, bark;|
|We are bedded in the ground—we are rocks;||
|We are oaks—we grow in the openings side by side;|
|We browse—we are two among the wild herds, spontaneous as any;|
|We are two fishes swimming in the sea together;|
|We are what the locust blossoms are—we drop scent around the lanes, mornings and evenings;|
|We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals;||
|We are two predatory hawks—we soar above, and look down;|
|We are two resplendent suns—we it is who balance ourselves, orbic and stellar—we are as two comets;|
|We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods—we spring on prey;|
|We are two clouds, forenoons and afternoons, driving overhead;|
|We are seas mingling—we are two of those cheerful waves, rolling over each other, and interwetting each other;||
|We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious:|
|We are snow, rain, cold, darkness—we are each product and influence of the globe;|
|We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again—we two have;|
|We have voided all but freedom, and all but our own joy.|
On rare occasions, despite all the vestigial garbage we carry around in our bodies and our heads, we really do find rare moments of perfection through our running and riding pursuits. They might be fleeting or temporary, but so is everything. What goes around comes around, and we return from whence we came. It’s the journey between that matters.
We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again.
However imperfect it may at times seem, it is all the perfection we will ever need, or will ever know, until we move beyond this world.
But leave your appendix and all that other vestigial shit behind. You won’t need it where you’re going after this life, because you didn’t need it here. Just pray your reincarnate with a more biomechanically blessed body than the one you got this time around.
We all evolve in one way or another. However imperfect that may be.