The Theory of Un-natural Selection

Snaps, Buttons and Diguette’s Theory of Un-Natural Selection

by R. Diguette


Every time I put on a pair of summer shorts I find myself wondering about the lowly metal snap.  It seems to be going the way of the Neanderthal, slowly but surely dying out of existence, perhaps eventually one day to be re-discovered as just another unfortunate victim of the march of time.  In its place we have the plastic button.  But why is this happening?  In what way is the plastic button superior to, or better adapted to survive than, the metal snap?

Consider this.  Metal snaps seldom if ever fall off.  The same most assuredly cannot be said for plastic buttons.  For instance, when was the last time a garment of yours came back from the dry cleaners missing a snap?  Never?  But when was the last time a garment came back missing a button?  Last week?  Yesterday?  You see what I mean?  Buttons fall off whereas snaps typically do not.

The English naturalist Charles Darwin theorized that organisms develop variations, and that some resulting variants have a greater propensity for survival than others.  Those variants best adapted to their environment are naturally selected to survive and over time become predominant, while the variants less well adapted to their environment are naturally selected out of existence.

Clearly a metal snap is not an organism, and to that extent Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection does not apply.  Something very much like Natural Selection, however, seems to be at work when it comes to snaps and buttons.  In fact, the apparent demise of the metal snap has led me to formulate a theory of my own, which I (perhaps immodestly) call the Theory of Un-Natural Selection.

The Theory of Un-Natural Selection is not difficult to grasp, and as far as I know there are no competing theories that I must reconcile with my own.  Darwin, as you may recall, had no end of trouble reconciling the particular claims of his theory with those proposed by Lyle, Lamarck and A. R. Wallace among others.  I have no such trouble, and it is a good thing because I am incredibly weak at reconciliation.

What is the Theory of Un-Natural Selection?  Allow me to explain it in the following way.  The demise of the metal snap as the prevailing mode of fastening the waist of a pair of summer shorts has coincided with the emergence of the plastic button as the alternative prevailing mode of doing exactly the same thing.  Thus it would appear that the plastic button is to the snap what Homo sapiens was to the Neanderthal.

It is generally accepted as historical fact that Homo sapiens possessed a larger brain than the Neanderthal.  Skulls have been found and dated that would seem to bear this out.  It is believed, as a result, that Homo sapiens was better adapted to survive than Neanderthal, especially during the successive ice ages that only came to an end during the latter part of the Pleistocene Age, or about 10,000 years ago.  By then the lineage of the Neanderthal had long since run its ill-fated, pigeon-toed course.  The metal snap, however, does not suffer from an infirmity making it less well adapted as a fastener than the plastic button.  In fact, the button seems wholly inferior, or much less well adapted to survive, than the snap mainly because, as previously noted, buttons fall off whereas snaps do not.

According to my Theory of Un-Natural Selection, the button has been artificially allowed to emerge and predominate over the snap for some as yet unexplained reason.  It may be, for instance, that buttons are cheaper to manufacture than snaps, or that buttons are more easily affixed to garments than snaps, or that marketing research has shown buttons to be more appealing than snaps to the average shopper.  These are only three possibilities, one firmly grounded in economics, one in mechanics, and one in aesthetics.  But the fact remains, and on this one salient fact the Theory of Un-Natural Selection hangs its proverbial hat, buttons fall off whereas snaps typically do not.

I am convinced that in the natural world the plastic button would never have emerged to predominate over the metal snap.  I am equally convinced that the button has come to predominate solely because Modern Man, or Homo sapiens contemporaneass, has for some reason decided that buttons are preferable to snaps. My theory, like Darwin’s, will no doubt have its critics.  Some may claim that the Theory of Un-natural Selection is only a theory and thereby swiftly consign it to the dustbin of inconvenient ideas.  But then I am only a theorist with one modest aim:  to promote discussion which may lead to greater understanding.  As Charles Darwin once said, “Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can in any likelihood pursue.”   Darwin was pretty smart.

So consider if you will Diguette’s Theory of Un-Natural Selection the next time you pull on a pair of shorts only to find that the button is loose, or about to fall off, or has fallen off  . . . again!

Copyright © Rick Diguette and Spinozablue, 2008. All Rights Reserved.



The Theory of Un-natural Selection
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