ARE HUMANS STILL EVOLVING?
In this era of global travel and interconnected societies, we no longer have small, isolated populations evolving in different directions, as was the case earlier in human evolution, helping to drive the emergence of new species. The human genome continues to change in minor ways, but under present conditions a new human species more than likely will not emerge.
That depressed the hell out of me. But it also made me think. What if these little hominids had all the same feelings and frustrations that I have? When I was a kid and I learned about people in “the olden days,” I was far too narcissistic to even entertain the idea that they were just like me.
Yesterday it was raining, so I went to see the Greeks. Until May 9th there’s a free exhibit called “Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens” at the Onassis Cultural Center (645 Fifth Avenue, enter on 51st Street, in Manhattan). According to the literature, “the exhibition brings together 155 rare and extraordinary archaeological objects in order to re-examine preconceptions about the exclusion of women from public life in ancient Athens. The story told by these objects, and experienced in the galleries, presents a more nuanced picture than is often seen, showing how women’s participation in cults and festivals contributed not only to personal fulfillment in Classical Greece but also to civic identity.”
As I contemplated this marble statue of the goddess Artemis from 100 B.C., I suddenly wondered who had made her. I’ve always assumed the sculptors of such pieces were men, but what if a woman did this? After all, the point of the exhibit is that women were just as present in cultural life as men. What if this sculptor was like me? What if we’ve basically been what we are since we evolved 150,000 years ago? What if the Tanzanian couple and Artemis’s sculptor worried just like me and bitched about the crummy weather? What if they, too, obsessed about controlling the uncontrollable in their lives? Maybe they didn’t like their food or their jobs or couldn’t figure out what to do with themselves. Maybe the little woman hominid wished her husband were bigger or stronger and could solve all her problems by killing bigger prey. And maybe Artemis’s sculptor had an upset stomach and wished s/he could just stay home and stop slugging rock.
We house our relics in light-proof cases and post uniformed guards to keep people from molesting them. What if one day you and I are in those cases representing this time of enormous flux, destruction, and fear? What will they call it? The Hall of the Great Recession? The Time of Change? The Age of Unknowing?
Imagine the museum docent leading a group of school children through that hall:
“This sculpture/fossil/model of the twenty-first century human marks the end of the Age of Self-Involvement when people assumed that their problems were unique,” she says. And turning to the children, she asks, “What was it these humans learned that changed civilization? Yes, you there in the back in the orange robe.”
“Me?” asks a little boy, wiping his nose on his garment and squirming. “I didn’t raise my hand, I just have—”
“Yes, you,” interrupts the docent, smiling with infinite compassionate patience even though she’s dying for a de-carcinogenized cigarette.
“Well, I think it’s that everything and everyone is connected,” he answers softly, crossing one leg in front of the other and trying not to squirm. “My mom says when one suffers, we all suffer. That we’re only One. Excuse me, miss, but where’s the toilet?”
A Postscript, a day later:
I'm reading the new issue of Light of Consciousness ( summer 2009), an article called "Spontaneous Evolution" by Bruce H. Lipton, Ph.D., and Steve Bhaerman. (Lipton is a cellular biologist and author of the wonderful book, The Biology of Belief.) In this paragraph he seems to address what must happen once we've reached the end of our species' evolution:
Our perception of continuous economic growth as an indicator of the health of our civilization is an unfortunate error in regard to the nature of living systems. When living systems are evolving they are in a very rapid state of growth. However, at some point they reach a state of maturity and the growth rate is necessarily cut back so that the amount of growth is equal to the amount of loss — sustainable growth. If an organism were to mimic our economic system where it had to continually grow to be viable, it would kill the organism. We have to recognize that there is a point where our economy will slow down as a natural consequence of maturity and then sustain itself by recycling already extracted materials.