What explains the rise of humans? An interesting topic discussed in a recent TED Talk by one of the world’s current deep thinkers, Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
I just checked the world population – it’s high, 7.7 billion – but I found this even more astounding: it took a whole 200,000 years to get to 1 billion and a mere 200 to get from there to 7 billion. Holy smokes!
I stay awake at night worrying about such things . . . okay, I stay awake at night worrying about a lot of things. But, truly, is there a tipping point? An endgame? A point at which Mother Earth says, that’s it! I can’t handle all of you humans scraping me raw, spewing filth into my waters and atmosphere, building outrageously tall buildings outrageously close to one another while also attempting to build a Tim Hortons on every single corner that there isn’t a Starbucks. Enough already!
Have you thought about how Mother Earth would be perfectly fine without humans? I once said to my husband B, “Have you noticed that Earth is always anxious to swallow things up?” Hence the need for archaeologists, yes? B said, “No. Earth is always growing. Renewing.” He said something like that, I’m probably paraphrasing. (He’s polite, precise and proper, I shouldn’t put words in his mouth.)
Because we think, we think we’re so damned important, but Earth was once perfectly fine without us. (Remember the dinosaurs?) Ah, but remove all the little things, the insects, the bugs? Did you know that 80% of Earth’s plants are what are called “angiosperms”, flowering plants, meaning pollination from bees, butterflies and other insects is necessary. Scientific estimates I came across range from 3 to 50 years, neither one of which is very long in the grand scheme of things. Then? If there are no bugs? Kaputska! All life on Earth ends.
Back to the rise of humans. As Harari says, we’re disappointingly similar to chimps. So why aren’t they running the world? Ever seen 100,000 chimps at a football game? We get along in large numbers (even though we can’t get along with the neighbour who blares rock and roll late into the night and our family at Christmas). You could point out that ants and bees get along, but that is called “rigid cooperation”. Humans engage in flexible cooperation. We do it for good, e.g. our fine cities, and evil, e.g. the holocaust.
There’s another important ingredient to our ascent. Harari says we couldn’t have done it without the benefit of . . . fake news. Well, he didn’t call it fake news, he called it our imaginations. Humans have extraordinary capacity, like (to my chagrin) President Trump, to engage and adopt fictional stories. You love fiction? Then you’re probably fine with this notion, but if you’re like me, and prefer non-fiction, memoir, you’re like, huh? Give me the cold hard facts!
Well, the cold hard facts are that over the years the human imagination has amassed a powerful fictional reality – countries, religions, corporations, politics, economics (cold hard cash, it turns out, is the most successful story ever told) – to run alongside the objective reality – trees, mountains, rivers, clouds – in which we live.
Now B, who couldn’t just accept the fact that only humans believe in fictions, said well, what about some animals? Don’t they have territories that they mark out, adhere to? Hmmm. Maybe. But they don’t have cold hard cash and as Harari points out: there is no amount of convincing that will make a chimp exchange a banana for a worthless piece of paper.
The point to all of this? If you believe the scientists (cold hard facts) we are at the tipping point. The health of our objective reality, Mother Earth, is failing under the overwhelming weight of our fictional reality. Now I know, if we all stopped paying our mortgage payments with cold hard cash there’d be hell to pay. But what a shame it would be, huh? If humans wiped themselves right off the face of a beautiful planet that sustained them so well, for so long, over worthless pieces of paper.