Original Post (with comments)
As the opening post to this blog, I thought I’d take a moment to describe the setting of this human drama. Here we are in the most prosperous time in the history of our species. The information age is upon us. We are instantly aware of events that transpire on the other side of the globe. We can travel inexpensively to most anywhere and stick a little plastic card in a machine that spits out money – in the right currency, at any time of day. Buildings that rise well beyond the clouds can be financed, designed, and constructed in years that can be counted on one hand. Here in America, food is abundant, cheap, and available at nearly any street corner (even if it isn’t always good for us). The days of back-breaking labor are behind most all wage earners – especially the ones reading this. Yes, life today is light years beyond the dreams of our forefathers. Yet, many of the problems that have plagued mankind are still with us, in full force.
There is still far too much hate and intolerance in this world. There is still far too much insecurity and self-loathing in the minds of men (and women, lest my literary tendencies offend). There is still far too much jealousy and pettiness in human interaction. Group think is as strong as ever. The us against them mentality still reigns supreme in virtually all human endeavors. Ignorance and superstition are still paramount among the masses. How could this be? How could we have come so far as a species and yet the words of Plato and Shakespeare still ring as true today as they did when they first fell upon man’s ears?
Should we not expect that our technological and societal advances would have rendered the words of the great bard and earlier philosophers anachronistic and altogether foreign? After all, they had no Internet. They had no ATMs or drive-thru windows or cell phones or Wal-Marts. In earlier centuries, death was an accepted part of everyday life. Here I am at the age of 33 and I have never lost anyone close to me. This is truly curious. How is it that the great thinkers of the past had such lasting insights into arc of human existence? Though we are adorned much more extravagantly these days, the only possible explanation is that something must be transcending our cultural advances. That something is our genes.
When we examine this curiosity against the backdrop of natural selection, we quickly realize that humanity has remained largely unchanged behaviorally because our genes have not changed to any significant degree for tens of thousands of years. We have the minds of cavemen, which brings me to the point of this blog.
If we are to take the next step as a species, if we are to render the words of Shakespeare historical rather than prescient, then we must understand what it is our genes are up to and take active steps to place the bad ones on the sidelines…for good. Of course, this is an overly simplistic and figurative idea. I do not mean to suggest that there is a specific “gene” for tribalism, for example, that we can identify and excise because we don’t like what it does to humans in a modern world.
The idea is that we must understand that our minds are built by our genes, and that our genes evolved in an environment that does not exist today. That environment promoted the aspects of our nature that have been captured so brilliantly by our philosophers and literary leaders, and many of those aspects are in dire need of an overhaul. But this is not a bad news story.
We have a long history of taming our genes. Birth control, monogamy, the rule of law, capitalism, and gene therapy are all examples of mankind overruling genetic influences in favor the conscious desires of human beings. We can, and must, do the same thing with respect to many of our caveman proclivities. This blog is dedicated to exploring this concept. I have written a book on the subject, but it occurs to me that current events offer excellent opportunities to point out where our ancient minds are doing us harm, and more importantly, to point out what it takes to fix things. If we are successful in transitioning to the next era of Homo sapiens, we will not recognize the human characters in the writings of Shakespeare and Plato centuries from now. Let’s get on with it…