|Humanist Essay for April 2012
"Can't We Just Evolve Already?"
[Reprinted from the HSNM April 2012 Newsletter.]|
Do you ever find yourself wishing that Homo sapiens sapiens would hurry up and evolve already? Clearly it is the unique quality of the human mind that has given us the evolutionary edge so far. Language, self-awareness, science, imagination -- other species possess intelligence, but none has been able, individually or collectively, to organize theirs in the way that humans have made routine for the past fifty thousand years or more. While the common notion that we only ever use about ten percent of our brains has been soundly debunked, there is evidence that, regardless of how many cylinders are firing, we're dumber in groups.* Why is this?
Humans can work together effectively to build just about anything, to fight wars, to harvest crops and process food, but getting together intellectually is more problematic. New ideas are most often met with some combination of derision and fear. Small groups of curious, broad-minded individuals push forward alongside or close behind a "genius" -- a Plato, DaVinci, Newton, Beethoven, Darwin, Jefferson, Picasso, etc. -- and, in direct proportion to their progress, a great force of reactionary hysterics pulls back to center, to the status quo, and may even try to go backwards. We are seeing that backlash acted out today in multiple arenas.
In groups, we approach problems from the assumption that they exist independently of ourselves, and that solutions will come through manipulating and "fixing" something "out there," in the same way we might adjust the temperature of the oven or put air in a tire. But social order problems do not arise from external forces so much as from the internal makeup of the species attempting to organize. To quote Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Look around at the problems plaguing our communities, nations and humanity itself. Does it seem like every attempt at a solution digs us in deeper? Why is that? Could it be a failure of imagination, of compassion, of some inherent but under-developed capacity of consciousness?
Can we make the next evolutionary leap without going over the cliff and taking a significant portion of nature as we know it with us? I think we can, but like all species that must adapt to new conditions or face extinction, we will need to diversify our gene pool, by which I mean our gene pool of ideas -- our "meme pool" (the word "meme" itself being an example of how concepts evolve). What game-changing ideas have we missed out on, over the course of the last few millennia, by marginalizing the voices of everyone who is not a white, male, Judeo-Christian landowner from the western world? (Note that all of the trailblazers listed above do fall into that elite category.) Perceived in this light, extending equal rights, opportunities and respect to all people, everywhere, is not just a matter of being fair to them, it's a question of survival for all.
* With the exception of groups of humanists, of course... see theme for our next Topical Discussion Meeting! [April topic: 'Snobbery, Elitism and Humanism']