BIRDS AND GYMNASTS

Parallel evolution is the development of similar traits or behaviors in unrelated species, in response to similar evolutionary pressures. Fish and dolphins have similarly streamlined bodies, and similar tail fins for propulsion. Birds and bats have similarly shaped wings, and they use them to fly in a similar fashion. Flocks of birds, shoals of fish, and swarms of insects, are similar congested masses of individuals that move in unison.in a similar fashion.

There is an analogous sort of similarity between the mating behavior of birds of paradise, and the competitive behavior of human gymnasts. Male birds of paradise grow flamboyant plumage, and perform spectacular mating dances, to attract the females. Contestants at gymnastic competitions perform spectacular routines, to earn points from the judges.

The displays of the birds are, in themselves, quite pointless. They do not serve as protective coloring, or to obtain food, or to fend off predators, or to raise the young -- only to comply with the arbitrary standards imposed by the females. The display is just for show, in the specific context of a mating that only lasts a few seconds.
     The displays of the gymnasts are, in themselves, quite pointless. They do not serve as useful work, or for self-defence, or for interpersonal relationships, or as art -- only to comply with the arbitrary standards imposed by the judges. The display is just for show, in the specific context of a routine that only lasts a minute or two.

The displays of the birds are difficult and unnatural, at the limit of the stress that a bird can endure.
     The displays of the gymnasts are difficult and unnatural, at the limit of the stress that a human can endure.

The displays of the birds are a waste of time and energy. The same resources could have been invested in more realistic goals. The displays may serve the survival of the species, but they impair the chances of survival of the individual bird.
     The displays of the gymnasts are a waste of time and energy. The same resources could have been invested in more realistic goals. Gymnasts retire from competition at an early age, often with health problems, and often without resources for non-gymnastic life (although they may earn a living by teaching the same pointless routines).

The displays of the birds are made possible by an unusually benign habitat, with abundant food and no predators ambushing them. The worst threat they face is from humans, who exploit their colorful feathers for tribal rituals or for decoration.
     The displays of the gymnasts are made possible by mass media, where it is lucrative to please the mass audience with puerile thrills. The worst threat they face is from investors and advertisers who exploit them for profit.

Most of the displays of the birds are unsuccessful. The females are very hard to please, and fly away looking for a better performer.
     Most of the displays of the gymnasts are unsuccessful. The judges are very hard to please, and penalize the contestants for the slightest shortcomings.

The end results are similar, but reversed. The male birds screw the female birds, but the judges screw the contestants.