Since group selection is becoming fashionable once again, I propose that a special group prize be added to the yearly Darwin Awards. According to the banner on the website, “The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.” In the case of groups, self-selection seems to play a far more prominent role than it does for individuals. The word “accidental” should therefore be replaced by “deliberate.” Finally, groups that reduce overall fitness are disqualified. Otherwise the Communists would have no competition, having, in effect, beheaded two whole countries, Cambodia and the Soviet Union.
Religions, being false (except for yours, of course, dear reader), have been prominent throughout history in spawning self-destructive behavior. The Catholic Church should certainly receive a lifetime achievement award for convincing millions of priests and nuns that they should not reproduce. However, a different Christian sect takes the cake. It is described in the Memoirs of Maurice Paleologue, French Ambassador to Russia during World War I as follows:
I recently mentioned the important role played by mystic sects in the religious life of the Russian people. The following description concerns one of the most unusual and obstinate thereof, the sect of the “Skoptsy,” or “the Mutilated Ones.”
They can be traced back to the same religious principles as the “Chlisty”; but whereas the “Flagellants” seek to defeat the flesh by mortification, the Skoptsy free themselves of carnal sin by mutilation. The founder of this sect was a simple peasant, Andrei Ivanovich, who was born around the year 1730 in the vicinity of Orel. Certain words of Christ evoked a remarkable impression on his childish and tortured soul. “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” ” Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.” “For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” Andrei Ivanovich was touch so profoundly by these words, and saw in them such a secure basis for eternal salvation, that he robbed himself of any ability to satisfy his fleshly lusts. As there is no aberration, that isn’t contagious to the Slavic soul, the newly-minted eunuch immediately found 12 disciples, who also castrated themselves in the name of Christ and the Holy Ghost. One of the, Kondrati Selivanov, who was a talented and convincing speaker, became an apostle of his teachings, adding weight to the words of the Gospel via the divine promises handed down to us by Isaiah:
For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
He went from city to city, to Tambov, Tula, Riazan, Moscow, and preached the necessity of redeeming ones self from the hellish temptation of the flesh through a bloody sacrifice. And everywhere he went he found followers. This propaganda eventually took on such proportions, that the government arrested the heretic and, in the year 1774, sent him to the prison of Irkutsk. Andrei Ivanovich died soon thereafter, and left behind a clouded legacy. For Selivanov, however, it was the start of a period of activity as full of wonders as a fairy tale. The rumor that he was the Savior himself, the true incarnation of Jesus Christ, gained more and more believers. Another fairy tale gained currency, according to which Czar Peter III had actually managed to escape his would-be murderers, and that he was under the protection of the mystic prisoner. Even more remarkable stories were whispered in the shadows of churches and cloisters. This unfortunate Peter Feodorovich was not the son of Anna Petrovna: It was said that he was miraculously conceived in the womb of his aunt, who remained a virgin her entire life, through the power of the Holy Ghost, in spite of all the obvious facts that appeared to contradict this story. Panting after chastity, it was only after overcoming a terrible aversion that he agreed to be married. The struggle exhausted him. Immediately after the birth of his son Paul, he castrated himself, so that he would no longer be a prey to the carnal passions of his wife Catherine, who then flew into a rage and murdered him…
The bloody manner in which one joins the sect sets the tone for the entire religious life of the Skoptsy, and is integral to it. Their spiritual and liturgical heirarchy is based entirely on the significance of bodily mutilation. The “brothers” and “sisters” who have agreed to the complete removal of their genitals, thereby destroying in their earthly existence the “playgrounds of the devil,” and referred to as “white lambs” and “white doves.” Their flesh, forever purified, gloriously bears “the great imperial seal.” The timid ones, who have only agreed to a partial operation, are still subject to certain attacks of the devil, and bear only “the lesser seal” on the scars of their imperfect mutilations.
I know of no other mammal that deliberately mutilates its own genitals. Only in humans with their “advanced” brains is it possible. As costly as it is in calories to maintain that brain, it must have given us decisive advantages indeed to evolve so quickly in spite of such occasional drawbacks. Whether it will prove to be an improvement to the fitness of our species in the long term remains to be determined.