Another scientific law bites the “dust,” sorry, the pun was too obvious to ignore. In the Journal Systematic Biology (March 8, 2013), the study, “Is Permanent Parasitism Reversible? — Critical Evidence from Early Evolution of House Dust Mites,” raises serious doubts against Dollo’s Law, essentially a treatise that states evolution is not reversible. Apparently, Dollo’s Law has been disproved. The lowly dust mite is going backwards.
History, too, has been guilty of pushing a Dollo-esque trend, that human societies continue to evolve, not devolve. But if scientific laws of progress prove incorrect, then what does this say about the agencies of human historical progress? Could Thomas Malthus be right? Just off, perhaps, by a few centuries? Is mankind currently, socially, politically devolving?
Change, certainly, is never easy – and as Dylan sang some fifty years ago – “these times they are a changing.” But this is what historians do, we study change. We study the processes, the origins, and the aftermaths of change. Yet, the conclusions that scholars draw from these episodic bouts of change remain largely confined to other historians.
There are a few brave historians that dare to expand their findings beyond the inner court of Clio to reach a greater audience – sometimes called the masses. And many have been slapped down. William Cronon took lumps when, in his words, he acted upon his “Scholar as Citizen” campaign to point out the obvious: that in 2011 right-wing think tanks and CPACs worked at the local level to influence elections in their favor. The Wisconsin Republican Party then launched an all-out attack on Cronon by demanding that the University of Wisconsin comply with an Open Records Request upon the professor’s emails.
In an atmosphere of tight budgets, in a world where scholastic works pall in comparison to political umbrage and hyperbole… may devolution is the correct prognosis.
But that’s change… so let’s study it.