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September 23, 2013


Jared Diamond notes in one of his books that if you took a Cro-Magnon man who did drawings in caves in southern France thousands of years ago, shaved him and gave him a haircut, outfitted him in a suit and tie, and turned him loose on the streets of Paris today – you would not be able to tell him from anyone else there, whether native or tourist. This is not surprising when you consider that (as noted by Richard Powers in his book, Generosity,) we are only 600 generations distant from those who etched on the sides of caves in southern France. In geologic time, that is not yesterday; it’s not even this morning. It can instead be measured in seconds, or at most minutes.

We are much nearer in time than that to the advent of writing, surplus agriculture, government by state rather than by band, tribe or chiefdom etc. We are, as presently constituted, really newcomers on this swirling cinder in space. When out of the rat race and with time to think (rather than text), philosophy trumps spreadsheets and margin calls as we (with mixed success) pry into the secrets of millions of years of time lapses since the Big Bang . (Lucidity is absent among those who date the beginning at 4004 B.C.)

For the most part, we today don’t know with any precision the particulars of just what happened during the interim. We know or can reasonably infer the destruction of the dinosaur age and survival of hominids some 65 million years ago; we know of early irrigation efforts by farmers of (finally) domesticated plants in both Old and New Worlds; we know some of the how but little of the why we are here and how to conduct ourselves during our extremely short sojourn when interacting with our fellow Cro-Magnons (and increasingly, our deportment with regard to the planet itself).

We divide ourselves into townships, states, municipalities, churches, lodges, political parties, economic and cultural barrier, and other such voluntary organizations in order to get beyond ourselves, knowing that we as individuals are powerless. We can gain influence and power in the larger society only insofar as we can influence others to help us attain influence and power. We conform to the edicts of groups whether we believe them or not (see tea party) in order to attain goals we deem to be more important than mere pretense in attaining such goals. We lie not only to others, but to ourselves. We are more prone to lie as the cost of conformity in group settings. We can only wonder if our 600 generation-ago predecessors who etched in caves were similarly untrustworthy. With no writing or other means of communication at the time to be left to posterity, we cannot know – nor even reasonably infer.

Whether we latter day Cro-Magnons will survive the fate of the dinosaurs is up for grabs, and our demise as a race may not be due to atomic war, terrorism run amok, pandemics etc. It may instead eventuate as a result of our collective deportment in how we treat our own home – the planet. We fifty year sojourners (the rest of the average of some 75 years from birth to death is spent growing up and becoming educated) have done incredible damage to the planet, and many of our fellow citizens and non-citizens (e.g., China) wish to do more, claiming freedom to do so based on some supposed right to economic advantage. It appears that we are (literally) in a race to the death between freedom to pursue short term profit versus freedom to breathe; between greed and oxygen.

Time is short. We Cro-Magnons may have outsmarted ourselves with our deviousness in amassing assets for our short foray in the house we would destroy. Do we have a tomorrow? Time will tell.  GERALD  E

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One Comment
  1. Well stated. Your premise has been the foundation of my own life journey. I have journaled almost exactly what you have put so eloquently. I began one essay by stating that the world’s religions would help move things forward if they all just admitted that NO ONE really knows anything about “God” and other theological suppositions that have little to nothing to do with what is the reality of our experience. To be human is to suffer. That is a fact. It needs no theological or supernatural support. If the human race could start at that reality, our mutual suffering, and dialog honestly (that is also a big challenge) about our mutual needs and dependencies as a species interdependent ecologically, then it could, I think, bring mutual benefits. Fear. Fear of our suffering and inevitable demise (death) I believe moves us into the myriad of “tribal” entities as you have mentioned. These associations all have their walls of creedal loyalties. The great historian, Karen Armstrong, sees it this way. We, as a species, will survive only if we can evolve from the reptilian fight or flight brain to the larger compassion based cortex brain. In other words, it will be our ability to think and be compassionate (I.e. feel with) that will make the difference in our survival. I agree with you. The jury is out. Right now, I wouldn’t bet on a good outcome. It is scary to see what is happening in the clear of day that points more and more toward destruction, greed and absence of empathy.

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