Human Adaptiveness Has Become Maladaptive

Published: Wed 6 Mar 2024 11:58 AM
The question of where and how man went wrong has plagued philosophers for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
In modern Western philosophy, the basic view of human nature has alternated between the fatalism of the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and the romanticism of the 18th century Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Proffering optimism in these pessimistic times, anthropologist and activist David Graeber, and professor of comparative archeology David Wengrow, take a decidedly Rousseauian view in their book, “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.”
They begin with the right question: “Were we always like this – war, greed, exploitation and indifference to others’ suffering – or did something, at some point, go terribly wrong?”
The authors do not attempt to address the question however, but try to counter the widespread pessimism about the human prospect with a feel-good narrative of human history, which begins with the first cities at the dawn of agriculture.
In what amounts to a whitewash of human history, Graeber and Wengrow exclaim: “A surprising number of the world’s earliest cities were organized along robustly egalitarian lines.”
After stating the obvious -- that “the past cannot provide instant solutions for the crises and challenges of the present -- they aver: “Though the obstacles are daunting, our research shows we can no longer count the forces of history and evolution among them.” Really?
From that false premise they absurdly assert, “What we need today is another urban revolution to create more just and sustainable ways of living.”
The need to minimize the global challenge humankind faces stems from the same need for control of nature in man that has decimated the Earth. The authors ignore the mass sieges and slaughters that occurred as the first armies clashed in hand-to-hand combat after cities emerged, replicated today in the siege of Gaza by Israel and of Ukraine by Russia.
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of “Sapiens,” was on the Colbert Show last night peddling his new, juvenile book, “The Unstoppable Us.” He offered this bromide: “We just need to change our stories and find things we have in common.” That simply doesn’t cut it.
Skimming over the core question of how and when man went wrong, Graeber, Wengrow and Harari contribute to the human crisis.
Why is gaining insight into how man went wrong necessary? After all, no explanation, however accurate, will change anyone; much less change the disastrous course of humankind.
Because attaining insight into how the only sentient species, which evolved along with all other life in the seamless wholeness of nature, could be fragmenting the earth to the point of bringing about the Sixth Extinction in the history of life on this planet, may point us in the right direction.
Rousseau’s notion that “once upon a time we were hunter-gatherers, living in a state of childlike innocence, as equals,” was naïve even in his time. Graeber and Wengrow go even further, and provide the comforting idea that war, as well as power and wealth disparities began after the emergence of the first cities.
Their implicit claim is that man didn’t actually go wrong, and that all we need to do is return to the model of the first cities and bring about an urban revolution. That isn’t just Rousseauian; it’s purblind.
So did nature go wrong in evolving a creature like Homo sapiens? After all, evolution endowed us with the ultimate adaptive strategy of being able to make separations at will from the seamless whole of nature, which has led to a hellish fragmentation of the earth.
No, the responsibility to use symbolic thought wisely is ours. And human beings now face an unprecedented spiritual and emotional crisis reflected in the planetary ecological crisis of our own making.
To meet it, we have to bring insight into the movement of thought within ourselves, and thereby put it, along with the artificial thought we’ve created in our own image with AI, in their rightful place.
Mass movements are inherently inadequate to meeting the present crisis because the threat symbolic thought poses to the earth and the human being was not planetary before the present age. Therefore radical change will not first come about at the political level, through protest and activism. Nor for that matter at the technological level, through innovation. Then what will bring it about?
We are not separate individuals; we are microcosms of humanity. The totality of human consciousness is enfolded like a hologram within each one of us.
Therefore despite shallow diagnoses and prescriptions like “The Dawn of Everything,” self-knowing people worldwide can ignite a revolution in consciousness that changes the disastrous course of man.
There is no choice. It must happen at some point for humankind to survive and thrive. God help us, and foreseeable future generations, if it doesn’t begin now.
We have the capacity for a higher order of consciousness, flowing from the brain’s tremendous potential for insight. Not just problem-solving insights, or new insights of science adding to the accumulation of knowledge.
Rather, for a state of insight, which arises when the mind is attentively and effortlessly still. Then the brain is bathed in the silence and emptiness that pervades the cosmos, which is synonymous with impersonal love.
Martin LeFevre
Lefevremartin77 at gmail

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