Rural america to face masks...
Rural america to face masks... Baris-Ozer/gettyimages.com

Scientists believe that two or three million years ago the bonobo separated from the chimpanzee, a great ape that humans separated from five or six million years ago. The top hypothesis for the form of speciation that resulted in the bonobo/chimpanzee split is categorized as allopatric. What this means is the bonobo and the chimpanzee became "geographically isolated from one another, to the extent that genetic exchange, through mating" was rare or impossible.

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In the case of the bonobo, which separated from the chimpanzee due to the fluctuations of the Congo River, the thinking is that they evolved into a peaceful, matriarchal, and sexy ape because the side of the river they found themselves on had an abundance of fruit and no competition from gorillas. The chimpanzee evolved into (or continued being) the brutal or "aggressive" ape, as the prominent Harvard University primatologist Richard Wrangham put it, because its conditions were far harsher.

That said, I set the background for this post, which concerns the possible cultural evolutionary outcome of the recent spike of coronavirus cases in rural America.

One explanation for this sharp increase is the change from a warm season to a cold one—during the latter, people are spending more time in the warm indoors, an environment that greatly improve the virus' infection chances. But there is another important factor at play in the rural areas (and absent in cities): the politics of mask wearing.

A recently aired CNN report revealed that the majority of people in some rural place in Missouri did not wear masks in public because it would identify them as a Democrat, apparently the worst thing imaginable for many white Americans in the sticks. Also, health officials in this area are seen as the enemy of these people. And so we have story after story saying that the pandemic is ravaging the rural areas. But unlike the urban areas, which were hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic, very little is being done to check its spread.

Rural America has yet to produce an Andrew Cuomo, the current icon of the urban strategic and emotional response to the pandemic. What we are seeing instead are types like Idaho's Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. On October 31, she released a video of herself "sitting in the driver’s seat of a pickup truck, a Bible in her hand [railing] against the coronavirus restrictions carried out in the state she helps lead."


Her state is running out of beds in the intensive care units. But her message, which must represent the opinion of her voters, is to let the dead bury and worry about the dead.

What this means is that rural areas are going to live (and die in large numbers) with the virus solely for political reasons.

One must think about this and then think about that river in the Congo. At one point, it is believed, the level of the river became so low that a bunch of pre-bonobo/pre-chimpanzee apes crossed it. But when the river's level rose again, the waters became uncrossable. This set into motion an allopatric separation that resulted in a new species, the bonobo.

There are other forms of speciation. There's the sympatric split, which does not have geography as its cause but is initiated instead by the exploration and adoption of a niche by a group within a population. (There is, of course, some of this with the bonobo, which was exposed to a new niche by the removal of a competitor, the gorilla.) And there is peripatric speciation, which is when a group becomes, for some reason or another, so small that it experiences the exaggerated genetic effects of a bottleneck.

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The best way to imagine peripatric speciation is to compare flipping 100 coins to flipping just 10. With the former, the heads/tails distribution is going to be pretty much even, where as with 10, the chances of a very uneven distribution are high. It is easy to imagine nine heads on 10 flips than 90 heads on 100 flips.

There are also speciation events caused by sexual selection. This kind of transformation works roughly in this way: Imagine Lupita Nyong'o's type of blackness becomes very desirable to a specific and generally light-skinned group. Over time, this group will become blacker because those who are very black get laid a lot.

It is here, with sexual selection, a major interest of Charles Darwin, that we can see something like the promises of a speciation episode caused by, of all things, a segment of culture categorized as political. The combination of the virus, the deep split caused by a "divisive" political figure, Trump, could resemble that fluctuating river in the darkest of Africa. Of course, we know who, in this scenario, would become the bonobo American.

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