Man and Beast

When you get down to it, evolution is a self-perpetuating process of learning from mistakes (and occasional serendipitous good fortune). Survival of the fittest… Mammals developed the ability to propel themselves out of the water on their flippers — and away from the gaping, razor-toothed, mouths of the sea-dwellers looking for their next meal. The flippers eventually became legs and feet. The fastest to learn this lesson survived, the others perished. Birds took their first clumsy flights to escape the same fate.

We pride ourselves on being the winner of this survival-of-the-fittest contest. We simply outwitted the competition—even though at first they vastly outnumbered us and were much better equipped in size, strength, tooth, and claw. So that makes us the king of the jungle, right? I mean, what could knock us off the top-of-the-food-chain perch?

Well, Pogo had the answer in his cartoon quip “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

Of all the threats to our existence, the biggest by far is us. Forget about comet or asteroid hits. These are once-in-many-millennia events. If we don’t make a behavioral course correction soon our civilization could end in this century.

What it boils down to is a race between our beastly inheritance (all the behavioral warts and sharp edges that made us the winner in the battle of the beasts 50,000 years ago) and our slowly developing social intelligence. The truly reasoning part of our brain “knows” that, in the face of a world population approaching ten billion we have to learn to get along with one another—accept differences (racial, ethnic, colour, creed…) and accept that a truly long view of our future is needed in our political decision-making process—and by long view I mean multi-generational. The beastly side is all about our personal urges, wants and needs NOW and the relatively near future. This view doesn’t spend much time thinking about a future after the subject’s demise (a world without him/her is literally unimaginable) and even when they do they just want to be well-remembered (think gold plated tombstones…).

Theoretically, in the context of the future of our species I should not be overly concerned about today’s list of bad news, because progress on an evolutionary scale generally can not be seen in individual events or even decades. But progress has been achieved in the recent past in such events as the warming of the “cold war”, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the election of a Pope that seems to really believe in Christian principles (even when they cross the lines from Catholicism), the slowly reducing number of detestable dictators, etc…

Despite all this, the election of Donald Trump to the most powerful position on the planet sends shivers through me. I understand that, rationally, I should not think that a mere four years of office will bring the end of civilisation…but my instincts (a compound of beastly intuition and emotion) will not listen. I mean “the Donald” personifies the beast in our past. All he needs to complete my view of him is real hair (all over his body) and frequent grunts and bellows as he beats his chest.

In the battle between our reasoning, civilized, “we first” side and our beastly past, the 2016 presidential contest should be only a blip. It just doesn’t feel that way. “Only four years” doesn’t soothe me. I worry for my children, grandchildren, and their children. Donald Trump doesn’t believe that climate change is real (it’s yet another conspiracy concocted by “them” to take jobs from coal miners and divert riches from his mega-wealthy friends). He proclaims he will pursue “America first” policies that will be isolationist and selfish…disinterested in the misfortune of those caught up in wars, famines, and other natural disasters if providing any human warmth will have a possible downside to Americans.

The real reason that I am so depressed, is not so much that he will become president, it’s that sixty million Americans voted for such a man—a racist and sexist whose character (or lack thereof) was on ranting, bragging, chest-beating display throughout the primaries and the election run. This is a man who actually takes pride in his cleverness at using business tactics that include making money at the expense of creditors and investors conned into his schemes. He declared bankruptcy six times. He doesn’t pay income taxes because he used his failures, even though he dodged personal losses from them, to amass huge tax loss credits. He’s made a lot of money by stiffing those who worked for him. This is the man that millions are betting on…

I’m sorry if this post depresses my readers but my once-optimistic view about our long-term future as a species has been severely shaken. Perhaps the dark clouds will lift eventually. Maybe tomorrow…

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