Martin LeFevre: Devolving Toward a Breakthrough?
Devolving Toward a Breakthrough?
How did humankind come to this pass? Not just evolutionarily, which is fairly straightforward in a random, herky-jerky kind of way. But rather psychologically, as the separating and separate, fragmenting and fragmented primate standing at a million year crossroads?
The first tools in the fossil record, found in East Africa, date to about 2.5 million years ago. A mere few hundred thousand years later, Homo ergaster, the "plausible ancestor for all subsequent humans" according to anthropologist and author Ian Tattersall, left the only true 'homeland.'
It appears the first wave of our proto-human forebears walked out of Africa two million years ago, using a very crude stone technology called Oldowan. Forests were shrinking, grasslands were expanding, conscious thought was developing in a growing brain, and walking upright was an efficient way to cover ground.
Two million years had elapsed since the "walking chimpanzees" of Lucy fame (Australopithecus afarensis). Climate changes and dietary requirements (brains consume 16 times as much energy as muscle tissue) provided the original impetus to leave our tooth and claw Eden, perhaps to follow migrating herds of antelope and gazelle.
Successive waves of migration occurred as new hominid species emerged in Africa ("the continent that, from the beginning, has been the engine of mainstream innovation in human evolution") and followed the human wanderlust into new lands.
An early offshoot of H. ergaster, Homo erectus, has been found in China dating back nearly 2 million years. The same species has been found in Java dating to as little as 40,000 years ago. If confirmed, modern humans probably drove the first primitive humans to extinction, just as they likely did Neanderthals in Europe.
Bipedalism and the most basic stone technology were apparently enough to start the human story. The ability to scavenge, hunt, and gather, to learn about new animal and plant species in each locality with a growing brain, enabled humans to do what no other animal has ever done: leave the constraints of ecological niche. That is, we left the animal Eden, and became, increasingly, the pillaging primate.
What grips the imagination is the realization that different species of humans came into direct contact with each other. It was a gulf immeasurably wider than the violent and tragic encounters between the races in Africa, the Americas, and Australia during colonial times. But it probably followed the same pattern.
What happened when the big-brained but slow-adapting Neanderthals met up with the technologically and culturally innovative Homo sapiens? Or when our own kind encountered the much more primitive Homo erectus, a distant echo of ourselves?
Given modern humans' willingness to wage war to dominate and exploit a resource-rich area (oh how little things have changed), there was no doubt a lot of killing going on. Sorry, Rousseau.
Is it our human destiny to be planet killers? If destiny is the past determining the present, the answer is yes. Then destiny is a dead end.
Evolution has become conscious in us. But freedom from the darkness of the human past, and present, now requires a conscious leap. An awareness of our evolutionary cul-de-sac has become essential to evolving beyond thought-consciousness.
Humans are devolving so fast that things appear hopeless. But the very rapidity of our ecological destructiveness and spiritual erosion is providing the impetus, in those who still care about the human prospect, to break through the million-year mold of evolution and ten thousand year rut of civilization.
If one focuses horizontally, on just current events, the weight of the past is too much. But focus vertically, on the mystery and dilemma of humankind's evolution, and the way ahead seems clear.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: