The Uterine Lottery
A Truth We'd Like to Ignore
Welcome to Polymathic Being, a place to explore counterintuitive insights across multiple domains. These essays take common topics and explore them from different perspectives and disciplines and, in doing so, come up with unique insights and solutions. Fundamentally, a Polymath is a type of thinker who spans diverse specialties and weaves together insights that the domain experts often don’t see.
Today's topic builds off a concept we introduced in The Beauty Quandary, namely that our existence is somehow random, part of a ‘Uterine Lottery’ of sorts. Except this really isn’t true. This analysis is part evolutionary biology, part sociology, with a dash of economics and geopolitics just to round it out.
Frequent collaboratorfrom published an essay this past summer entitled Winning the Uterine Lottery in which he writes:
I seem to have won the uterine lottery—I have been born into extremely fortunate circumstances that aren’t a result of anything I could have possibly done.
I’ve encountered this concept in one form or the other over the years with some referring to it as a Passport Lottery or some similar concept that who we are and where we were born is a matter of pure chance. Yet is this actually true? Let’s look at it from the Biological, Economic, Geopolitical, and Sociological implications.1
In The Beauty Quandary, I wrote:
We are literally the manifestations of mate selection, education, health, and life decisions of every person in our genetic line.
This is perfectly aligned with evolutionary biology as well as our study of genetics as well as breeding in animal husbandry. Think of it this way, would anyone suggest that a Triple Crown winning horse was the result of a random, uterine lottery?
To do so, we’d have to ignore the deep intentionality of his pedigree, the attention to detail of his training, the quality of his diet, and the skill of selecting his jokey. This was not some random occurrence but the result of highly intentional selections over time.
Are humans any different than that? My parents selected who they married, they chose what careers to take, and they taught me, and held me accountable in a lot of ways that made me who I am. That’s not random luck, that’s evolutionary biology
Economics and Geopolitics
Something that does have a critical impact, that may seem unfair, is how some people seem to have everything and some people seem to have nothing. Not to trivialize this but back to our horse example, a creature like Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner, is an extreme example of success compared to the rest of horses in a percentage not unlike humans.
In fact, they have a term for this: the Pareto Principle. When applied to economics, we see that 80% of the wealth is held by 20% of the population. Yet it doesn’t stop there. 80% of the top music hits come from 20% of the artists. Further, 80% of those top hits come from a further subset of 20% of those top artists. This concept is at least 2000 years old and captured in the Bible and also called the Matthew Effect:
Matthew 25:29, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
To many, this is a shocking admission of inequality in the Bible but it actually captures an interesting challenge that exists across cultures. This same Paraeto principle exists in America and hunter-gatherer tribes like the Pirahã people in the Amazon. The 20% representing the best hunters bring in 80% of the kills.
This economic disparity quickly turns into biological disparity because the most skilled hunter is much more likely to pair with the highest-skilled female creating a concept called Hereditarianism. (not to be confused with Eugenics) This biological disparity is clearly demonstrated by the fact that your own personal genome represents approximately 80% of potential women over the past 200,000 years and only 40% of potential men.
Geopolitics can either leverage or exacerbate this inequality where European societies, under a Christian political umbrella enforced monogamous marriage, distributing the progeny across more diverse families as well as the underpinnings for a less feudal system starting in 1215 with the Magna Carta among others.
The Middle East maintained an Islamic political structure that allowed tribal heads to aggregate wealth and encouraged polygyny where fewer men were having the majority of the children. Economics and Geopolitics go hand in hand with Evolutionary Biology for mate selection.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, our ancestors made decisions that are heavily grounded in the cultures, traditions, and religions where they came from. This might include not moving to a new country. It might include going to war. It might include who we marry. None of this is random, it’s all highly structured.
For example, my great-grandparents decided to up and leave everything in the Netherlands and move to the US in the early 1900s. Yet they settled near other Dutch population centers where, eventually, my grandparents were in Racine Wisconsin, and Grand Rapids Michigan. Thus my mother and father were born into Dutch communities and they ended up attending Calvin College, a heavily Dutch school due to the Christian Reformed tradition in which both my parents were raised.
None of this was random and the decisions were still bound by sociological structures that resulted in me.
We are literally the manifestations of mate selection, education, health, and life decisions of every person in our genetic line.2
The challenge with this statement, which is evolutionarily true and a driving function of survival of the fittest, is that it results in inequality. The fascinating thing about humans, versus the other creatures we’ve evolved with, is that we have a sense of equality that makes this a bitter pill to swallow.
The cool thing is that we are also equipped to do something about this. But equality is a challenge to achieve if we don’t accept the Biological, Economic, Geopolitical, and Sociological underpinnings of how we individually came to be. Simple randomness can be solved through simple mechanisms… However, the true complexity of who we are requires a more diligent understanding and more tailored solutions.
This doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. It means we can be prepared to do things better that can actually achieve the results we want.
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Further Reading from Authors I really appreciate
I highly recommend the following Substacks for their great content and complementary explorations of topics that Polymathic Being shares.
Goatfury Writes All-around great daily essays
Never Stop Learning Insightful Life Tips and Tricks
Cyborgs Writing Highly useful insights into using AI for writing
One Useful Thing Practical AI
Techno Sapien Great all-around tech topics
Andrew and I have collaborated on several topics in the past and I feel it’s appropriate to provide a counter-opinion to his essay not to attack but to hone our own ideas on the topic.
To believe this is not true quickly tips into the realm of a supernatural lottery where our soul is randomly placed in a body through a process so divine that we have zero control. Yet, even if you take this route, it is still not random since the creator has a plan and intent.