08-14-08 - 6

The forces that made Europe so interesting and diverse are gone forever. The great variety of food products and specialties and local crafts came largely from isolation, little communities with very little communication with the outside world. People there would hone their skills and pass it down through the generations; even if there were books on the topics, the people in the little towns didn't read them. Occasionally some information would be exchanged through trade.

It occurs to me that this is a lot like the way evolution works on a diverse population. Let's say each little town's cheese-making technique is one genotype. Over time, the cheese makers in that town try things slightly differently - this is the random variation of genome reproduction. Those variations are selected for by the townspeople, the fitter ones succeed and the cheesemakers adopt them and make more of them. Occasionally trade brings two genotypes together and they exchange ideas - this is the "crossing over" and allows for big changes and lucky random variations to get out into the rest of the population.

Contrast to how things work now; we have the huge advantage of rapid communication and recorded knowledge, which means that there's far less variation. You no longer have pockets where people don't have access to the "world's best cheese recipe". If some certain technique is selling the best in towns, everybody adopts that. If you look at American food production, it developed in the age of technology, and you can see the destructive effect of all the producers chasing the most popular product.

Now with the craft movement we have some improvement, but it's still not really a healthy evolution-like system. Crafters tend to be amateurs with money who get into the field; they start by learning from some resource, and then if there is some big improvement in technique, it gets out on the internet and everyone copies it. It's this instant spread of changes which is actually not good for evolutionary development. All the craft agents are not really working independently making their own variations and developing their own favorite method over time.

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