Usually, when we think of "survival of the fittest," we think about the survival of the biggest, strongest, fastest or smartest. But actually, in evolutionary terms, the "fittest" is just the animal or plant best suited for the circumstances, whether that animal is a lizard uniquely suited for the desert or a Golden Retriever with an uncanny but heartwarming knack for basketball. But you're pretty smart, so you probably knew that already.
What you might not realize is that some of the behaviors that get you swirlied today were survival strategies that kept you alive thousands of years ago. Behaviors such as ...
We're not talking about the strong, silent type who's only shy because he prefers to let his fists/gun/boner do the talking. We're talking about guys who are so unsure of themselves that they can't even look you in the eye. They've been called, "yellow," "shook" and "NERRRRRRD" depending on whether they're being bullied in the 50s, inner city or 80s movies. It all comes down to confidence. The shyer and more easily embarrassed a person is, the less manly they seem.
Check out this confident hunk of manliness.
Its Badass Origins
Have you ever looked a gorilla in the eye? If so, you're either lucky to be alive, or currently being dismembered by a primate. Gorillas hate that shit. Eye contact and smiles are like subtle ways to tell a gorilla you'd like to see them try to kick your ass. And it's not just normal animal skittishness. Gorillas have a serious problem, and it's your stupid face. One zoo even invented special glasses to protect visitors from eye contact -- instead opting to make making look like they're having the most prolonged orgasms ever ...
"We appreciate the gesture guys, but come on. We have to sleep at night too." -- Gorillas
As mankind made its evolutionary transition from ape to human, scientists think that there was a time when a flushed cheek and a downcast eye was a key survival instinct. When one species was still evolving into the other, it meant your genetic line wouldn't end in a dismembered pile of limbs. Blushing would have been especially useful, since it's an involuntary reaction. No matter how hard you tried to maintain eye contact, your blushing face broadcasts just how close you were to soiling your loincloth.
On the other hand, losing bladder control directly on a shark usually has negative repercussions.
Blushing, after all, signals remorse. Since it can't be faked or hidden, researchers think that our ancestors evolved the function as a display of appeasement towards those that we've wronged. Or who could kick our ass. The walk back to the cave might have been shameful, but it was accomplished with fully intact sexual organs -- the only victory that matters when it comes to the gene pool.
The part of the species that averted their eyes and turned beet red no matter how much they wanted to stand up to the big aggressive guy taking their lunch lived to see another day, and breed with the (presumably underwhelmed, but realistic) females of the species. The big guy eating our lunch might have won that battle, but that same unwavering belief in himself was what sent him out in a blaze of monkey-fisted Neanderthal asswhoop. The meek end up inheriting the Earth by default.
"Hmm, it's a choice between that nerd or the chunks of Brad's intestines that were left behind after the ass kicking."
Being called a baby is one of the most stinging insults most of us encounter as kids. Wah-wah. Is little baby gonna cry? they'd chide as we ran home crying for a breast feeding. In the grand sweep of nature, we have good reason to be insecure. Most animals are pretty much able to fend for themselves days after they're born. Anything longer than a week, and they're legally declared dinner. Human babies are completely useless balls of skin, tar poop and weird belly button stumps for years.
Who's an adorable drain on society's resources? You are!
Not only are human babies the failures of the baby world, we stay that way for years, taking longer than any other primate to reach sexual maturity and adulthood. While foals are standing within their first hour of life and lions are banging each other by age four -- humans take their sweet time learning how to do everything that's not crying, farting or being adorable viral video fodder.
Outside the safety of the towns, we're all just fodder for vicious wild animals.
Its Badass Origins
That stupid baby who ruined your flight by crying might actually be the main reason we're sitting on top of the food chain in the first place.
Babies make terrible pilots.
At some point way up the evolutionary chain, our babies probably hit the ground running and screwing too. But as we evolved our super large brains, we also had to evolve larger skulls which required a birth canal you could go bowling in. This led to a sort of anatomical arms race between mom's cha-cha and junior's head. If the heads got too big, mom would lose the ability to run (No. 2 on our list of the 6 Abilities You Didn't Want to Lose in a World Filled With Man-Eating Animals). To keep women ambulatory without losing any of that big-brained goodness on the back end, the species began naturally selecting women who gave birth earlier. The species got to keep our big, tool-operating brains and female hips that wouldn't get clogged in a hula hoop.
The trade-off was that our babies came out stupid and helpless, and had to be taken care of for years if you didn't want them to find the only sharp rock in the entire jungle and try to do a headstand on it. While this extended ankle biting phase might seem like nothing but downside at first, the mixture of big brains and more time spent hanging around made us even smarter.
But still vulnerable.
Scientists believe that this delay actually allows us to reach higher cognitive levels, because it prolongs the types of learning that only juveniles are capable of. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, so you keep the dog a puppy longer, thereby allowing him to learn more tricks overall. And considering those "tricks" are language, culture and the ability to solve a Rubik's cube, being born helpless isn't such a bad trade-off.
It also helps that just being around a baby drugs you into a happy stupor.
Early helplessness is the price we pay for later brilliance. Or, at least our later capacity for non-idiocy.
It seems a little pathetic that some of us can't even handle a light touch to certain parts of our body without peeing our pants a little bit. While we wouldn't say being ticklish makes you a wuss per se, it's hard to picture Teddy Roosevelt squirming around while being attacked by the tickle monster, and it's literally impossible to tickle someone without talking like a Muppet.
He often left himself open to a tickle attack, because he knew no fear.
Its Badass Origins
Ever see dogs play? They tackle and growl at each other, bite and slash at each other's throats, stopping just shy of a playful disembowelment. In fact, in most of the Animal Kingdom, playing looks a lot like two animals trying to murder each other. Now imagine what tickling must look like to them. One person's got their hands on the throat or ribs of another person who is screaming and begging for them to stop. Hell, under the right circumstances, that would look like a murder to just about anyone.
A wedgie is, at best, provoked manslaughter on the grounds that your victim is an insufferable nerd.
In good news for creepy uncles everywhere, tickling totally evolved as a way to hone our self-defense reflexes. One researcher pointed out that the most ticklish parts of our body (our ribs and neck) also tend to be the most open to attack. So when primates evolved the behavior of tickling our little ones, they were actually training their babies to protect their most vulnerable body parts in a safe (and hilarious!) way.
"Laugh it up! This is where the grizzly will strike, son!"
Not only is the behavior of tickling rooted in our evolutionary history, being ticklish was also once the trait of a survivor. Because ancient humans who were highly sensitive to swishing, creeping stimuli were faster to detect predators and parasites and, thus, lived longer. Individuals who had low sensitivity got eaten or infected. In this respect, ticklishness evolved as a form of self-preservation and was a 100-percent-beneficial trait back when the tickle monster was an actual monster.