Famed biologist/geologist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) recognized the importance of cross-fertilization in his studies of nature. He followed a progression of scientists who noticed the effect of inbreeding, primarily in agriculture. Studies of genetic progression in plants and animals (including humans) through generations have continued to this day.
“Inbreeding Depression” refers to stagnation and decline of plant and animal populations that are restricted to replicating within a small group of individuals, often relatives. In the field of genetics, recessive, undesirable attributes may become prominent, threatening the health and well-being of a population. The biological term “heterosis” or “hybrid vigor” refers to the dominance of favorable traits that can shield organisms from failings of a detrimental recessive genetic flaw. Legal restriction of family-related marriage is an example of these concerns. However, depending on circumstances, influx of outside influences can also be detrimental (“Outbreeding Depression”) if useful traits in one environment are harmful in another. As with most things in nature, a delicate balance is required for health, strength and sustainability.
The effect of too much inbreeding can be seen in other situations as well. For instance, when political systems resist introduction of new ideas, relying heavily on previous theories or practices, the result can be stagnation and nearsighted adherence to “truths” that may not reflect societal changes. Although basic principles are important and form a solid foundation of beliefs and norms, an influx of competing ideas and interpretations should not only be welcome but create an atmosphere of challenge to either reinvigorate or refine cherished beliefs. At the local city council level, whether new or returning councilmembers, a new term is beginning with the new year. As these elected representatives participate in retreats with their counterparts and staff members to develop strategies for the coming year, hopefully rigid adherence to old policies, alliances and programs will give way to open consideration of changes and possibilities for the future.
Fremont, in particular, has undergone a significant change in council composition and political leanings. In the past, voting blocs have dominated, but the political landscape has changed with district voting and reactions to development proposals. A recent “council retreat” was held to work toward common goals and develop strategies for upcoming challenges. The agenda followed a predictable path toward policies, priorities, “protocols and norms” as might be expected at such gatherings. However, it was interesting to note that one of the facilitators was none other than a previous Fremont city manager, Jan Perkins. It appears that old city managers never die, simply morph into consultants and facilitators.
As with many business groups, links and contacts prevail as a valuable commodity within associations of people who move between cities, counties or other political institutions. This may be an indication of beneficial cross-fertilization or the inverse, rampant inbreeding. Watching how staff and elected officials seem to move between positions and institutions almost effortlessly is at least a cautionary flag that should trigger investigation of how these folks operated previously. Vetting through a resume of prior positions or cronyism is not indicative of someone’s performance during their tenure or value for future considerations. Nature seeks balance and so should our politics.