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Darwinian Legislation

Charles Darwin came up with the idea that biological evolution over time is driven by natural selection, in which individuals with characteristics that make them more likely to survive and reproduce often can transmit those characteristics down from generation to generation.

Richard Dawkins has promoted the idea that a similar process takes place culturally, with conceptual units called memes taking the place of genes. The memes that have characteristics that make them more likely to be shared between people are more likely to survive and reproduce over time.

The two concepts come together in the U.S. House of Representatives this year in the form of H. Res. 41, a piece of legislation from Representative Rush Holt that would have given formal recognition to the holiday of Darwin Day on February 12.

As a meme, Darwin Day was more fit than some other congressional memes.

The Darwin Day meme got more social reproduction on Capitol Hill than a resolution encouraging reverential disposal of American flags. It received twice as many cosponsorships as the flag resolution.

Darwin Day also outperformed a resolution to designate St. Louis, Missouri as the official National Chess Capital of the United States of America. The Darwin Day resolution got four times as many cosponsorships.

Nonetheless, this comparative fitness wasn’t enough to ensure the survival of the Darwin Day resolution. It never even received the attention of a hearing by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the committee to which the resolution was referred. The Darwin Day resolution withered and died without ever having the opportunity to conduct the equivalent of a mating ritual.

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