Reflections on the Last Hurrah of the Hominids
It is still very early and I am the only one here at the Alliance Francaise, Ligue Henri IV on Bush and Polk, other than the receptioniste and a few other discretely hidden staff members--and I am feeling kind of cold. This is not the sort of weather I signed up for when I made this town my home long ago. Maybe it is me, maybe I just got up too early this morning, but I have a distinct case of the chills. Oh, well.
As I woke up, Senator Lamar Alexander was speaking on C-Span and he actually sounded pretty good, for a Publican--in fact, he might make an excellent VP for McCain. He was addressing the dual issues of energy independence and climate change. He said the Republicans tend to emphasize the first, as part of their supply side philosophy, while the Democrats emphasize the second, as part of their demand side philosophy. He acknowledged they are two sides of the same coin--and there is some truth to that.
Lamar was speaking st the Brookings Institution--here is the C-Span reference:
|Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is the featured speaker at a Brookings Institution panel discussion on the energy challenges facing the next president.
Washington, DC : 1 hr. 43 min.
Of course the issue of global warming is far more serious than any one country's energy independence.
Even if we were completely independant in our energy needs, we would still face a terrible situation having to do with global warming, for we are just one nation among many--and most of the other countries would not be energy independant, nor would they, or we, for that matter, necessarily do anything to deal with the impending climatic catastrophy even if every country gained energy independence, which is clearly not in the realm of the possible for a long time to come, if ever.
Energy independance to a Republican might simply mean relying on domestic oil and coal resources--with maybe some nuclear energy mixed in. That does not address the problem of climate change. Lamar did have some excellent comments though, for he added certain principles to the idea of energy independence, namely, that it had to be based on clean and renewable sources.
Still, the larger issue of climate change, emphasized by the Democrats, seems to me to transcend the more narrow focus of the Republicans on energy independence. But please hold that thought while I meander on.
Last night I watched a documentary on the encounter between the Neanderthalers and our own more sophisticated Cro-Magnon (''Grand Cave') crowd--back in those good old days conservatives always yearn for:
Documentary that explores the enduring prehistoric mystery behind the rise and fall of the Neanderthal -- one of the most successful hominids ever to walk the earth. Highly evolved creatures, Neanderthals used tools, created musical instruments and buried the dead with intimate ceremonies. A mix of animation, drama, prosthetics and special effects transports viewers back in time 43,000 years, charting everything from the Neanderthals' rise to their extinction. After 200,000 years, including two Ice Ages, Neanderthals died out suddenly, relinquishing their place to the Cro Magnon -- or so it was previously thought. The program presents the theory that Neanderthals may have interbred with Cro Magnon, long considered to be our ancestors.
It seems that Neanderthalers (those Neander Valley folks, nowadays more inappropriately and more awfully referred to as the Neanderthals (which literally means 'the Neander Valleys' ) were related to the Homines Heidelbergenses, the Heidelberg guys, who were very similar to the Rhodesian man then still living in Africa, Homo rhodesiensis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia --and from whom our own Cro-Magnon folks were descended. They are still working out all the genetic details at the Max Planck Institut, where Teams Work to Decipher Neanderthal DNA : NPR
The relevance of that documentary to our current bout of climate change is that the climate at that time also was indirectly responsible for the eventual disappearance of our cousins from the Neander valley. This is what happened: Our early Cro-Magnon ancestors, while still in Africa, were not much more advanced than the Heidelbergers or the Neanderthalers, their close relatives. But something happened and they managed to evolve a more effective way of using their brain capacity, which actually was a little smaller than the Neanderthalers'. Before that, there had been encounters in the Middle East some of which seem to have ended in a triumph for the Neanderthalers.
This is assumed from the fact that in certain cave dwellings found in what is now Israel, that eternal trouble spot, the initial landlords and occupants, our Cro-magnon family (who had not yet adopted our family name or coat of arms, let me add) seem to have been forcefully evicted by the rival Neanderthalers.
But then that evolution in the mo' better use of our brain capacity took place and by the time the next major encounters took place, in Southern Europe, the Cro-Magnon were able to blow the Neanderthalers away so to say.
The reason for that next encounter seems to have been a drastic climate change, for the Neanderthalers had been living in north central Europe, i.e. in the area of the German Neander river valley after which they were named, but had had to migrate south as the ice sheets grew in area and enveloped most of northern Europe in its inclement embrace.
By the time the remnants of the Neanderthalers that had survived the climate change by migrating to the relatively more balmy regions in southern France and Spain came across their distant cousins, more recently arrived from Africa, with their more elegant ways of brain power application, resulting in superior hunting and fishing methods as well as a superior linguistic communcations ability, the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
We may never know for sure exactly what happened, but the Neanderthalers are gone--and we Cro-Magnon offspring are the last and only human species left on earth. The nomenclature may puzzle you, as it did me--so let me include this link: Cro-Magnons - Why Don't We Call Them Cro-Magnon Any More?
It is possible that we may actually have had some sexual intermingling with our less fortunate cousins, but there is as yet no clear evidence of it. The people at Max Planck will have to come up with more DNA evidence. However, it is clear that even though we were of different human species, we were very close genetically. We just don't know yet whether we were close enough to make babies together:
Did Neanderthals breed with humans? - Science, News - The Independent There is also some very sophisticated research going on of a somewhat different nature: Fossilised human faeces tens of thousands of years old are helping scientists answer one of the most intriguing questions in anthropology: did early humans interbreed with the Neanderthals? Just don't ask me how that kind of research would advance science--you probaly don't want to know. I can still hear my mother say: Vies, bah! Dirty, yech!
When the climate change forced the Neanderthalers south and into a losing competitve struggle for resources with their more elegant and more nuanced thinking cousins, our Cro-Magnon ancestors, their eventual disappearance left only one last, triumphantly surviving human species: our own.
If we are dumb and inelegant enough to let ourselves be destroyed or done in by the currently impending climate change, there won't be another human cousin species to take over from us. It would be the last hurrah of the hominids, for we are indeed the last human and last hominid species. Our next closest cousins are not hominids but apes, the Bonobos of Gabon--and they are unlikely to take over from us after we are gone--even though those Sex-crazed bonobos may be more like humans than thought :
"Bonobos have a greater variety of sexual postures," he [Dr. Frans de Waal] reveals. "The bonobos can do it any way they want – and they can do it face to face also. So positionally – so to speak – they have a richer repertoire. And their sexual behaviour is not just male to female. It's also female-to-female and male-to-male and male-to-juvenile." In fact, they make the human sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies look tame.
Like the Woodstock nation homosapients, Bonobos prefer to make love rather than war. Anyway they can. This is in contrast to our mutual cousins, the Chimpanzees, who seem to be more Republican in that respect.
But let me get back on track: the big issue of our time is not whether homosexuality is natural or not, or whether making love is better than making war, or whether and how we should become energy independent in America, but wether and how our human species will survive the coming bout of climate change.
Of course the last two issues are connected, but they are not equally important. One has to keep things in perspective--and the problem with our Republican cousins is that they don't always seem to do so.
This brings me to a more general discussion of intelligence and ideology.
Let me put it this way. Let's say you see a nice piece of land, ideally located, a great view, lots of resources, great location, and you snap it up. Then you get an architect to build a house for you on that lovely plot.
Once you have built that house, you have reduced the potential of the property, for you have chosen a particular structure that may or may not be what the real estate hominids call the best and highest use: Real estate appraisal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia That should not detract from your enjoyment of your little neo-gothic or victorian palazzo, but if you ever try to sell it, you may not get the high price for it you had hoped, for the next owner may have to tear down the place in order to realize its maximum potential value--which might be a post modern villa, an apartment complex, a mosk, a hospital, a parking lot, a shopping center, or something worse.
In a way, that's what happens when an intelligent individual or group of individuals adopt a basic belief system, an ideology, which may or may not be the most suitable way of looking at the truth, even though it may suit them extremely well. Basic belief systems, foundational belief structures, whatever you may want to call them, can be both good and bad. At best they start out as functional, but eventually, as time passes and circumstances change, they tend to become dysfunctional. And note that sin is just another word 'for missing the mark' --hamartia in Greek, or ondoeltreffendheid in Dutch, which translates to dysfunctionality in English. Let me explain this a little more: doel = goal, treffen = to hit--so ondoeltreffend in Dutch literally means un-goal-hitting, i.e. missing the goal or the mark, i.e. ineffectual, dysfunctional: hamartia, i.e. sinful--separated from the goal, wide off the mark.
Foundational beliefs are great for they give you an intellectual and emotional structure to live in, so to say, to operate with, even make war with, but especially to feel safe in--protected from the unorganized chaos that appears to surround you.
They are bad once you get too attached to these foundational belief structures, so attached that you are unlikely and unwilling to remodel them, for remodelling always brings at least temporary chaos. However, any structure that is not adapted to changing circumstances will eventually no longer be of the best and highest value to the underlying intelligence. It will eventually limit the way one can use one's intelligence.
The far right and the far left have always been more prone to clinging to ideological structures, foundational beliefs, fundamental beliefs, basic beliefs, religious or political ideologies that may in their prime have been wonderful structures that made its owners and inhabitants feel happy, comfortable, proud, safe and secure.
But--what happens when things change around these structures, in these structures? The creaking starts, the ground shifts, the neighbourhood changes--and nothing is done to keep these structures up to date, no modern plumbing is installed, no electric wiring, nothing. My townhouse in Boerum Hill (NYC) was built in 1855 and when Nina and I acquired it a century or so later, it was in a sad state of disrepair. it was no longer functional. It had become an ondoeltreffend, a sinful townhouse! That same thing happens in the the same time span with conceptual structures that are not properly maintained and duly renovated as time passes. They become ondoeltreffend, dysfunctional, sinful! Over longer time spans worse things happen of course.
What's worse is the assumption that the structure one has lived in, perhaps even inherited from one''s ancestors, even from the Cro Magnons, is the only appropriate structure and that every other kind of structure is an affront and an imposition on your own kind--something entirely intolerable to live next to.
There will always be a competitive struggle between the folks who love things just the way they are, and those who thrive on change. But the struggle need not be as venomous as it has sometimes been. Older structures can be remodelled in such a way that the people that love to inhabit them continue to feel at home--provided they are willing to deal with the minor inconvenience remodelling always involves.
A little bit of chaos in one's life is not too high a price to pay for maintaining the functionality of one's physical or conceptual dwelling place. Those who are overly affraid of such remodelling chaos, don't want to take the risk or subject themselves to the inconvenience, will eventually pay a much higher price, or see their sinfully dysfunctional structure simply fall apart. Wat een zonde--what a sin, what a pity!
Those who love change can engage in change as long as they respect the rights of those who prefer traditional life styles. No one needs to step on anyone else's toes. No one will be forced to live in a way not suited to their basic beliefs, their basic structures, or at the cost of their comfort and security. But the respect has to be mutual.
You cannot expect me to respect your rights if you don't accord me the same courtesy.
Mutual lack of such courtesy would result in a dog eats dog world: Middle Eastern style, Mediaeval European style, Northern Ireland style, Balkan style, Darfur style, etc. Have we not seen enough of that?
Intelligent people that limit their capacity to think freely by self imposed--or more likely--society and tradition imposed mental and emotional structures are rarely able to compete in the long run with those who are truly free from such impositions and thus able to develop and maintain more functional physical and conceptual structures that live in peace and harmony side by side with others to mutual satisfaction.
Faith and Reason are both excellent tools to create human reality structures--but we must keep these structures alive and up to date by constantly reviewing them for their continued functionality in the constantly changing and evolving conditions of the fast paced world we are now living in. That was not so in the old days, when change was glacial--and yet, the Neanderthalers with a slightly larger brain capacity lost their world to the Cro-Magnon (or Early Human Beings (EHB) as they are now more properly called) because they (the Neanderthalers) were not using their brain capacity in the most elegant and functional manner. The work on our mental structures is no less important than the upkeep on our more material dwelling places. But make no mistake about it: even intellectual structures, conceptual structures are also material, even though more subtly material than buildings of mud, brick, wood, stone or concrete.
Remember even the internet has weight, as has been observed--hence it is material, made out of matter:
Thoughts and feeling also have some ephemeral materiality, for they too consist of the flow of minute particles which make up the material reality. Even the spiritual or flowing world of dreams, heavens and hells and other bardo's or states of being and awareness is in a sense a more subtle form of what we more ordinarily recognize as part of the material world.
Only the non-manifest is truly non-material--and non-spiritual. It is one, unmoving and indivisable.
Religious dogma is as much a material structure as a mighty fortress. It's just that its bricks are concepts.
So why are we in the West always making such a big distinction between the spiritual and the material? In Eastern world views there is more talk of degrees of subtlty and grossness. That to me seems the more functional point of view, for even modern science has recognized that at the microscopic level there is no clear distinction between waves and particles. At the macroscopic level, given enough time, we can also discover that what seems solid and particular, is actually a part of the flow of reality. Like a glacier that at first impression doesn't move, but oberved over a long enough time lapse clearly is flowing--and the same is true of everything that appears solid to our imperfect awareness.
That's why the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus ( Heraclitus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) a long time ago postulated that everything flows: panta rhei. Yet by the same token, Democritos Democritus - Wikipedia, the free was right in a way as well, when he postulated that in our manifest world everything is made of tiny indivisable particles. And remember that the manifest world includes thoughts and feelings, as well as heavens and hells, gods and demons.
Admittedly these two philosphers may not have seen eye to eye, or flow to particle--and neither one was capable of understanding just how great a compexity they were dealing with--but it does seem to be true that one cannot easily claim spirituality and materiality (flow and stuff) as two entirely different qualities--flow and stuff, wave and particle, spirit and materiality seem to be both essential for an understanding of the manifest world.
To be sure, the more subtle quality of the flow or spirit is senior and prior to the grosser material reality--but as different forms of manifestation there does not seem to be any essential difference between the two.
Reality is full of seeming contradictions--chaos and structure is yet another pair of Siamese twins that cannot be separated--but their distinction seems to be a function of awareness being either focused or unfocused. Focus leads to the perception of structure. Lack of focus to the perception of chaos.
But that's a topic for another day, perhaps. It is almost 8 PM and I think I am calling it quits for now.