Martin LeFevre: Human Evolution
Martin LeFevre: Human Evolution
The physicist Richard Feynman, who famously dunked a little O-ring in ice water and broke it to demonstrate why the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986, was fond of saying, “Don’t fool yourself; and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Lately in America it appears that our so-called leaders, with the possible partial exception of the erstwhile political redeemer Barack Obama, believe it is their duty to fool as many people as they can. Is manipulation a given in politics? For a politician in America, and presumably most other countries, telling the truth as one sees it is seen as political suicide.
The American people, on the other hand, seem to want to be fooled, as long as gas stays below four dollars a gallon, and it’s only the neighbor down the block who loses her house.
Humankind faces the greatest crisis since the emergence of ‘modern man’ 100,000 years ago, and yet the debate revolves around the minutia of militias, foreign and domestic. Is Iran building a nuclear weapon? Will Israel attack before the US election? Will Americans be able to carry concealed weapons into public places?
It’s stupefying to hear both conservatives and liberals blather on about ‘incremental change attuned to particular circumstances’ when the old order has so undeniably collapsed, and the human prospect itself is in question.
It may well be that ‘human nature,’ whatever it actually is, and whatever people really mean by it (which are two very different things), is the most resistant beast to change in all of nature. But without doubt, human nature is at issue. And yet the ‘issues’ of the day that the best minds give their focus and energies are this age’s equivalent of arguing over how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
At the moment of humanity’s greatest peril, a nation founded on a completely non-incremental, revolutionary break with the past, a nation that rose to greatness precisely because its founders strove to articulate universal premises and laws of human governance, has become a beacon of conformity, and a light of mediocrity.
Thomas Jefferson’s truism cum cliché that “without vision a people perish” no longer applies in America. Because now we are faced with the question, what do we do when the people have perished?
By more and more measures, and by fewer and fewer denials, America has lost its soul. And when a nation loses its soul, it is compelled, before it can regain it, to find out both what ‘soul’ means, and how it came to lose it.
I define ‘soul’ as the essential intactness, integration, integrity, and passion of a person, a people, or a sentient species (of which humankind is the only one on this planet in my view). And at a time of crisis and collapse, people are also compelled to examine their assumptions.
Premises are tentatively held views that have been thoroughly examined, and are open to scrutiny and testing. Presumptions are strongly held ideas that have not been examined or tested. And assumptions are rigidly held notions, mostly subconscious, that rarely see the light of day.
Philosophers are needed in times of crisis as much as they are dismissed when things run relatively smoothly because assumptions and presumptions no longer hold, and are thrown forth, falling to the ground like rotten fruit.
One of the biggest subconscious assumptions in the West is of progress. Progress is an assumption that has risen to the level of presumption, where it can at last be questioned. As a premise, the idea of human progress, except scientifically and technologically, does not hold up at all.
In nature evolution works the opposite of ‘progress.’ Environments change, pressures build up in species; and a leap is made or isn’t made. If it’s made, a new adaptation or even a new species emerges. If not, extinction results.
It’s human hubris to think we are exempt from this process, that we stand outside of nature and have mastered the laws of nature.
Consciousness, as we know it, is very recent, even by human evolutionary measures. ‘Modern humans,’ with all their prodigious powers of technological innovation and cultural invention, are probably no more than 100,000 years old.
Homo sap appears to have reached the end of this evolutionary line. Outwardly, the destruction of a diverse, livable earth is one certainty if man continues on this path. Inwardly, the flattening of emotional and spiritual response will go on unabated, and few individuals will survive inwardly intact.
A leap has to be made, and feelings of fear and helplessness are no more an excuse for not making it than conservatism and incrementalism.
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.