This post is an off-the cuff unedited response to a post on my friend Louis’s blog, Ralston Creek Review. Louis is a musicologist and intelligent guy and accomplished scholar, among other things, and I recommend his blog highly.
I am responding to Louis’ post here rather than there because of the length of my response and also because I haven’t taken the time to clean up my own rambling, loose-limbed expressions and produce a reasonably coherent piece of work. I don’t want to pollute his meticulous blog anymore than I already have. His post is located at: http://ralstoncreekreview.com/song-of-the-week-silver-threads-and-golden-needles/ .
Here is the part of Louis’ post I am responding to:
My wife Cathy and I attended a wedding last weekend. The bride was an elementary school teacher and the groom a former tax lawyer who quit his practice to open a chain of marijuana dispensaries. As we drove into the parking lot at the wedding venue, we saw in the spots reserved for the bide and groom a Ferrari sports car and a Porsche SUV – which is a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of transportation. I had no idea that grade school teachers are paid that well.
It was a very nice ceremony and reception, but a few things struck me as sort of strange. For example, the officiant (it was not a very religious ceremony), thought it appropriate to include an old joke in his remarks. It was the one about a woman who accompanied her husband to a medical appointment. After the husband had been examined, the doctor asked to speak to his wife in private. He told her that her husband’s condition was very precarious, and that virtually any stress could have disastrous consequences. The doctor told her that she would have to care for her husband with great love and tenderness, cook him carefully planned meals, prevent him from doing strenuous household chores and generally “baby” him for several months. The wife said she understood, and went to meet her husband in the waiting room. As they were walking out to their car, the husband asked, “What did the doctor have to say?” The wife replied, “He said you’re going to die.”
And here’s my response:
I would have the same thoughts you express if I were exposed to what you witnessed that day. And I have more, of course, which will follow.
A parking lot serving as a trophy case for conspicuous over-consumption by folks who, as they say, just have “too damn much money” is both a sign of the times and a sigh-inspiring observation that things are the same as they ever were in the human paradigm.
And the joke, with its undertones of egocentric precedence and unencumbered, uncommitted selfishness at a ceremony where traditionally two are selflessly united as one is humorous in that sort of subtle, unfunny way which tickles the fears of people and incites nervous laughter – but to me it is more an expression about the overweening sense of personal entitlement which has become prevalent in America, and the larger fatal flaw present in humanity which requires conquest and triumph rather than cooperation and coexistence.
Paul Simon said, observing the empty rounds of unsatisfied, unconscious seekers, “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore.” Neither do I. I just look at it and think, well, that’s just the way it is – for them. And it affects us all.
Your observation is a single, small picture containing things which inspired an extrapolation of a much broader perspective for me. I recently watched the movie “Little Big Man” again, and a documentary series about the development of the American west. Your observations and the reminder of the native American perspective also led me to remember the movie “Koyaanisqatsi”. And of course we both share a good knowledge of human history which can be brought to bear in a larger perspective on this single snapshot, and my musings included that as well.
I think homo sapiens has indeed finally reached the place where it is evident to some of us that all the silver threads and golden needles developed by humanity cannot mend the heart of our evolutionary mandate and what it has delivered us to.
In Little Big Man, the character Old Lodge Skins (played by Chief Dan George) observes: “…the human beings (i.e., the native Americans), my son, they believe everything is alive. Not only man and animals. But also water, earth, stone… but the white man, they believe everything is dead. Stone, earth, animals. And people! Even their own people! If things keep trying to live, the white man will rub them out.”
The native Americans saw the projected outcome of destructive over-consumption, and were bewildered that the social paradigms of the invaders had made them ignorant of the eventual result of their predations on others and the planet.
In the Hopi language, the word koyaanisqatsi means “life of moral corruption and turmoil” or “life out of balance,” and certainly describes the modern ways and means of homo sapiens. In the American documentary film (1982) of the same name, a clear pictorial record of that unbalanced life is presented. Here’s an edited excerpt from Wikipedia describing the film and how the director, Godfrey Reggio, described it:
Reggio stated that “these (the Qatsi trilogy) films have never been about the effect of technology, of industry on people. It’s been that every[thing] – politics, education, things of the financial structure, the nation state structure, language, the culture, religion – all of that exists within the host of technology. …It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” In other words, we are technology.
And when I realize the final, clear point of all of this – that we have become what we are – I am reminded of Robert Oppenheimer’s observation when the first atomic bomb was detonated, when he quoted the words of Shiva from the Bhagavad Gita: “…now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds…”
We are what we are. If the ways and means evolved in the human paradigm in the past six thousand years or so were a social paradigm and not an evolutionary imperative that goes to the very bone of our DNA, my thoughts on the future of homo sapiens might be moderated some. But I don’t think that’s the case. Homo sapiens has realized its own potential and simultaneous downfall in a genetic mandate which calls for its own extinction before it can assume the grace of its origin as depicted in myth by the Garden of Eden.
There is now a demonstrated level of probability that the current human species homo sapiens will prove to be an unsuccessful evolutionary development and will become extinct. Human adaptability as well as the evolutionary development of alternate subsets within a species both constitute a counterbalance to that ultimate development and produce a certain value of hope in the calculation of that probability.
There is a small chance that current levels of homo sapiens adaptability will prove to be capable of effecting long term proactive efforts rather than being simply reactive to developments after the fact, and will collectively rise to a level which will manage a massive transfiguration and readjustment of the ways and means of their present nature and history. But it doesn’t seem to be much of a chance.
Overall it seems to me that even if homo sapiens as a species finds its place in creation and learns to live in balance with the source of its sustenance – the planetary biosphere – there will have to be a cataclysmic adjustment, a culling of population numbers on a nearly unimaginable scale. I think it’s become a nearly unavoidable probability. And I don’t think that homo sapiens will survive the cut.
I do have one solid hope for the future of humanity. The thing is, it doesn’t include the survival of homo sapiens as a species.
Homo sapiens has had a good run, and for awhile its evolved nature has proven successful – at least for a certain value of “successful.” But the timeline of the universe is nearly eternal, and the duration of the human experiment a mote on that scale. If homo sapiens proves, after a seemingly successful run of ten or a hundred thousand years, to in the end be an unsuccessful development, the earth and the universe will not even blink when it disappears. New species will appear, and have their turn.
I think that there is evidence in the historical record of the past six thousand years that a new evolutionary line is developing in the human species. Just as Cro-Magnon superseded the Neanderthal, I think there is a human species already present on earth which shares a great part of the gene pool of homo sapiens and yet has a certain measure of divergent, alternate characteristics which effectively distant it from homo sapiens.
I also think this new species is only just beginning to identify itself and the presence of like others, and that the threshold of conscious recognition of its divergent nature is approaching in part because of the end homo sapiens is arriving at, and in part because the increased connectivity of the technological world has made it possible to see like others in spite of their relative rarity in the masses of homo sapiens.
They are not the reconstituted Übermensch of Nietzsche and the Nazis, or Olaf Stapledon’s “Odd John,” or Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The early history of Heinlein’s Valentine Smith as the child raised by wolves and the characterization of Smith as “homo superior” offers a slight description of what the new species might appear to be in the eyes of homo sapiens, but it is only an inkling.
It has been observed that the internal mental processing environment of a person with a given IQ level can be unfathomable to another person with an IQ level removed as little as ten points either way from that baseline. I think that in the same way it is unfathomable for homo sapiens to divine the nature of the new species within its midst. The hope I have for humanity is not that homo sapiens would identify the new line of “homo nova”, but that these new humans would discover and see each other, and survive the end of homo sapiens, and carry their own human line forward.
The fall of the old line and the ascension of homo nova will be a birth in every sense of the word, an explosive paroxysm, as homo sapiens succumbs to its fatal flaw and homo nova rises from those ashes. It will take awhile. The transcendent vector will be obscure in the short term, and a proven fact in the long run. All we can see right now are the inklings, the precursors, the path behind us, and what it has led to. What comes next is unimaginable to most of us, but it does hold hope for a future for a branch of humanity which is viable, and better than its antecedents.
All of these thoughts probably seem to most as an odd flower to be seeded by the picture you shared, but to me it is as clear and plain as can be.
Anyway, that’s what I thought about in response to your post.
PS: If you’re interested, at one time I was enamored of the cyber punk genre and took a bit of time to attempt it myself. The end result, preliminary and sparse and unfinished, languished in my files unpolished and forgotten, and when I discovered it again I didn’t think much of it and decided it was too much of a mess to mess with. Later I decided to put the thing on the net as a rough seed for something called “The Cyberpunk Novel Project v. 1.0”. It is located at https://novageddon.wordpress.com/ . It has languished in the back channels of cyberspace ever since, and for quite awhile, with nary a taker.
After writing the above thoughts I revisited the site because it does have some of what I’ve reflected on here incorporated into it, particularly in sections which are excerpts from the “Encyclopedia Cumulatus, 2165 (Gregorian)”. Have a look, if you’re so inclined, and perhaps there will be enough substance there to engender some thoughts of your own about the present and future nature of the human species.
I’d be interested in what you think about the subject.