Musings and Mirth
I’ve read several books on the subject of human evolution in an attempt to solve the problem of where we’re going from here. Almost all of the books say the same basic things about our past, with some variation here or there. They all say the same thing about our future, with varying degrees of hope from “we’re totally fucked” to “we might be able to salvage ourselves by getting off the planet” to “we’ll have to invent some adaptations to survive.” Seems pretty dire, right? Apparently, we’ve evolved a trait that makes us all not freak out about what we know is coming. This inability to confront the reality of our alarming situation means we won’t do anything about those things. We’ll just keep on keeping on because that’s what humans do. We take and use as we please, with little regard to the consequences.
Our past can be summed up this way, give or take:
We shared a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis between 800 thousand to 1 million years ago. At some point, that ancestor migrated out of Africa and split off in two different directions. One branch became the Neanderthals roughly 200,000 years ago or so, and the other became the Denisovans.
Homo sapiens (our delightful species) also evolved from the common ancestor and roughly 40,000 years ago or so we migrated out of Africa and came upon both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. We carry in us DNA from both of these human species yet both are considered extinct. There is some debate as to how their extinction came about. Did we obliterate them because we’re so horrible and that’s what we do? Or did we merge with them? Or did we out compete them for food? I’m guessing we destroyed them. I think we probably imprisoned or enslaved them (because that’s what we do, what we’ve done) and used some as sex slaves. That is an extreme hypothesis and one that could never be proven but where humans are concerned, always imagine the worst and work from there.
The combination of homo sapiens with neanderthal or denisovan genes eventually led to our great leap forward – around 30,000 years ago when we domesticated dogs and eventually horses and eventually domestic animals rather than kill. Up until we learned how to domesticate animals we hunted almost all creatures to near extinction. It’s horrifying the way each of these books lays that part of our history out. We just had no clue what we were destroying. And we still don’t.
Cut to – now. Here we are. There are a few factors that will lead to our destruction that we are simply not dealing with. We’re brewing a perfect storm that includes the following three factors:
- antibiotics in meat products, in rivers and streams (among other chemicals), oceans and even cosmetics. They have been used freely and often, lowering our resistance to the point where we will likely be taken out by some pandemic in the next two generations (see this Fresh Air interview). This is the thing that will weaken millions of us.
- population growth all over the world. The target is 11 billion that supposedly the planet cannot sustain. This could lead to mass starvation, world wars — who knows what else.
- climate change, or warming. Another potentially weakening factor that will harm farming all over the world. We won’t stop meat and dairy production so we can’t possibly turn around greenhouse gases. Even if we stopped right now we would only be able to stop the clock about 30%. We’ve been doing this since the 1900s and we’re on a path to total warming so that either the planet will warm to an unlivable temperature (we’d have to go underground or into space) and remain that way for thousands of years, or else it will flip and we’ll head into an ice age. The only thing people agree on is that this shit is going down and we have to act now.
Put all three of them together and you can imagine that things don’t look too good for people. What can we do? We can try to act to make our politicians turn to wind and solar (all republicans think climate change is a hoax), stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible, even if it’s once a week – the market will determine how much meat is produced. Drive a hybrid or don’t drive at all.
Anyway, if you want to know, and you probably don’t, here are some books to read:
I’m writing a novel that takes place 100 years in the future. To do that, I had to read as many books as I could find about what might happen to humans and the planet in a century. When you think about 100 years ago – 1916 – you can imagine all that changed. Two world wars – the Nazis, television, cars, Apple, the internet. Figuring out how things are going to change, evolve and destroy us has been a challenge. I read about six or seven books on human evolution. Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind was the first of these and it was a horrific wake-up call. In looking at how we’ve evolved as a species, I began to put it all together.
About 30,000-50,000 years ago, homo sapiens migrated out of Africa and came upon the Neanderthals. They too were hunters but nothing like us. For instance, there is evidence that homosapiens killed hibernating bears where Neanderthals did not. Meat was a staple for both creatures but no one went at it with as much vigor and opportunism than homosapiens. This is true in any book you read about our evolution and more importantly, where our species might be headed. We killed off most of the land mammals everywhere we went. Just wiped them clean out. The wooly mammoths we killed and ate. Giant birds – done, dead. We killed and ate them mostly because they didn’t see us coming. They had not developed a few of mankind and so they were all easy pickings. Just as humans are today – using whatever they want for their own pleasure and taste — they were back then, yes, even the beloved native Americans. That’s just what humans have always done. Nature pushes back on us, of course. We are stopped even when we can’t stop ourselves (we never stop ourselves, even now).
We domesticated dogs, probably, to help us hunt better. They ate our meat scraps and a lifelong friendship was formed. We domesticated poor horses and enslaved them for thousands of years. Cows, pigs, chickens – you name it, we have not “domesticated” them so much as enslaved them because that’s what people do. Christianity only served to give great justification for the mayhem inflicted on animals.
Once I came upon this unshakable truth about what humans really are, I could no longer eat any kind of meat or dairy – nothing that came from the suffering, drugging, imprisoning and torturing of animals. What we do to pigs to create the bacon that the truly monstrous internet celebrates daily is nothing short of an animal holocaust. We keep them confined to crates for their entirety of their lives in rooms so toxic farmers have to wear gas masks just to walk inside. They are used up and then killed for meat. Dairy cows are forced to have babies over and over throughout their lives, only to have those babies taken from them so we disgusting humans can drink their milk.
That’s just for starters. You can move on from there to animal abuse of domestic pets, not to mention slaughtering dolphins, or capturing orcas for entertainment. To see humans in this pure light as the monsters we really are was a troubling wakeup call. What do you do with that information? You sit there with it and suffer in silence because there is nothing you can do. We are the sixth extinction. We are the monsters. We are the worst invasive species the natural world has ever known.
I could be down with all of the geniuses that have been born, the great artists and such. But to me, the only true humans worth celebrating are those who are actively trying to undo the harm we’ve caused. Jane Goodall is one of those people.
There are roughly 7 billion and change of us grotesque monsters inhabiting the planet. We are growing at a rapid rate, using resources we can’t replace, polluting waters, turning our oceans into plastic aquariums, driving our stupid monster trucks and eating meat or something derived from animal at every meal. We have whole television shows devoted to cooking this way. All I can think when I watch them is – what have we done?
I wish vegans weren’t so annoying – I know, they are. And I wish vegan cheese tasted better. And I wish there were more food options that made it not hard to switch. It is so hard. But the thing is, I no longer get any pleasure out of eating something I know caused another creature great great pain. Look, if you have your own farm or you buy humanely raised meat — I have no problem with that. It’s your choice. But if we all stopped tolerating the factory farms – if we could extend our hearts a little bit to other mammals who love as we do, bond with their babies and nurse those babies as we do, feel pain and sadness and fear and grief – we could start to undo some of the damage we have caused. Maybe in 100 years we will have. I do not think we will, not knowing what I know.
I take only some relief knowing that humans are not long for this world. They can’t possibly be. I predict a maximum of 200 years before we’re all wiped out. And not a moment too soon.
Since we moved I’ve had to drive Emma to school every morning and every afternoon, which takes about an hour. At first I was annoyed. Interstate five is overcrowded with cargo trucks rattling down the congested highway, beater cars cutting in front of you every quarter mile. This part of the valley is an armpit in many ways. It took me a while to figure out that my daughter was about to graduate high school and this might be the last time I have to spend any kind of quality time with her. We could have ridden silently the way we used to through most of her growing up. Me lost in NPR and she with her headphones on chatting on some godforsaken millennial social network. But we just started talking about things. Whatever was the subject for the day, whether it was the upcoming election, or global warming, or the upcoming mass extinction or even mundane things like what it’s like to drive a car, what’s like to live as an adult and what it’s like to fall in love.
My daughter, I’ve come to find, is a bright, compassionate young woman who is actually fun to talk to – she has a lot to say, as it turns out, and not the kind of stuff you listen to politely because you’re talking to someone who is way too young to get it. No, she’s really fun to talk to. She’s learned so much in high school – what we both agree is the ‘9th circle of hell.’ She’s just taken human evolution in one of her AP classes and now we have that to talk about too. She has my skeptical mind, as it turns out, and is not a magical thinker. This makes it much easier for me to chat with her since I don’t have to keep my skepticism – which is a real downer for most people – in check.
Since I’ve been writing a book (a novel, actually) that takes place 100 years in the future, I decided to do some research into what things might look like then. I guess what I thought I’d find out was that the sea level might rise, a few species would be wiped out – but would we still be here? Would we reach 11 billion on earth, that number that isn’t sustainable? Would our overpopulation then turn into some mass catastrophe that would wipe us out. Those things I kind of expected to find from scientists. I didn’t expect to learn so much about human beings – or rather, homosapiens, our past and our bleak looking future. See, we’re developing science faster than anyone could have predicted but we’re killing every other living thing. Those things we aren’t killing we’re torturing in factory farms. So what good will it be to live longer if we’re not going to be living better? What was even more surprising to find out is that we’ve always been this way. Even when we were supposedly peaceful natives we were wiping out land animals on our endless quest for more meat to eat. This has always been the homosapien way.
With each new book I read about evolution and the potential future of mankind the more alarmed I became. I could not understand why this isn’t a bigger deal among people. So many are living in their cloistered realm of happiness seeking because that is what we’re taught to do. But we’re not playing the long game. We’re not even close. We can’t even convince many people that our impact on the environment is accelerating the greenhouse gas effect that has played a part in mass extinctions in the past. Humans didn’t invent the greenhouse gas effect. We’re just making it go faster than it would otherwise and in so doing we have become the sixth extinction. All of the scientists say humans are adaptable and we’ll likely survive this mass extinction. But some say we won’t survive unless we (eventually) get off the planet we’ve rendered uninhabitable.
I guess finding all of this out from the scientific community – not from hokey Facebook memes – freaked me out more than a little. Worse, I started wondering what the point of any of it is. Why build anything, why make anything, why write anything, why endure? Well, because that is what we do. As terrible as savage as we are, as stupid and selfish and indulgent we are, there is always the chance that our highly developed brains will stop us before nature stops us. There is always that chance. While that chance is there we have to pretend that life really is worth living.
Our endless quest for meat that has wiped out 2/3 of the land mammals and is the cause of much abuse, pollution and harm is the very thing that will be our demise. If we all stopped eating meat or dropped our consumption considerably we could at least start to slow the warming. I don’t see any signs so far that people will. No, the answer is to assume we’re headed in the worst case scenario and to plan accordingly.
Don’t worry, I don’t tell my daughter my worst fears about life. We do talk about the good things she has coming. And those will be many. In 100 years I hope that someone, somewhere has helped turn it all around. Until then, it’s time to party like it’s 1999.
Of all the ways I feel frustration as a woman and a feminist none of it has come quite as close as this nonsense “movement” called Free the Nipple. It’s really generated by girls who want to show their boobies on Instagram because they’re NOT ALLOWED. They’ve actually mobilized, gotten Miley Cyrus to sing the song and there is even some kind of movie in the works. First off, there is nothing American men would like more than to oggle the boobies of young women on Instagram. That Instagram won’t let them is nothing to cry about. It is not a movement worth fighting for and all it really amounts to is women wanting to take more pictures of themselves so that people will continue to look at them. What a sorry ass pathetic state of affairs.
This, at the same time actresses like Shailene Woodley and Evangeline Lilly go on and on about how they’re “feminists” because “feminists” want to “be like men.” For fuck’s sake – how can a whole generation be packed with so many stupid role models?
So here’s a list of things they COULD care about and actually do some good in the world — like:
Cleaning up the giant blobs of plastic in our oceans
Overturning Citizens United
Advocating for Choice so that abortion does not become illegal
Helping to end factory farming which is altering our climate and making our environment ultimately inhospitable.
Hanging out with dying kids in hospitals
Fighting corporations that lie to Americans about how they should be on drugs all of the time.
Those are just some suggestions. Stop making women look stupid with Free the Nipple. We are smarter than that. We are better than that.
And by the way, here’s a little tip. Women draw much of their power from their sexuality. Much of that is the allure of the female breast. Take that away and there goes some major leverage. Think about it.
The Serial Podcast has become a major obsession but really, for all the wrong reasons. It has brought out the typical sleuthing mob that all too often mobilizes bored people on the internet with too much access to research materials at their fingertips. This was what happened to many of us (myself included) during the Boston bombing manhunt, and it happened during True Detective, where the desire for there to be a much bigger conspiracy took over the actual plot of the series. And now, it’s overtaken the case of Hae Min Lee and the efforts of the Sayed family to have their son, Adnan Sayed, freed prison for the death of his ex-girlfriend.
The reason is the podcast itself, an excellent work of sometimes objective and sometimes subjective journalism by Sarah Koenig as an offshoot of This American Life. It has brought up so many things during its run, including what most Americans think about Muslims in the post 9/11 world, immigrant parents who shelter their kids from everything to ensure their success in America, teen love, teen crime, friendships, and of course the facts of the case – cell phone records, witness testimony, a now diseased defense attorney who was found to be deliberately throwing cases to make more and more money off the desperate families paying for her services.
The podcast at first takes the stance that its subject, Adnan Syed, could possibly be innocent of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Adnan is a sympathetic subject. He seems like the nicest, sweetest guy who would never hurt anyone. But the problem is — and Koenig admits this if you listen very carefully to what she’s saying and how she says it — the facts of the case do not seem to leave room for reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt in the court sense probably should have gotten Adnan off back in 1999. It seems that the only thing they had on him was the testimony of his friend Jay and cell phone record of his being in Leakin Park where the body was found the night she went missing.
But every piece of hope that Sarah Koenig — or as we refer to her on Reddit SK — turns up ends to not be good for Adnan. The alibi witness says she remembered seeing Adnan in the library on the day Hae went missing. But she remembers it because it was snowing really hard – the first snow of the year she said. There was no school the next day. The problem is that the weather report says it didn’t snow that day. The witness must have been thinking of another day.
Could the cell phone records be false? Well, no, the producers sent the records to the top specialists in the field and they said it was valid. Adnan says you couldn’t leave school, murder someone in roughly 20 minutes. SK and her producer drove the route and found that they could, in fact, make it. They were cutting it close but they made it.
As we went along, chattering away about is he guilty or isn’t he – the most recent episode was revealed. It was called rumors and it not only talked about what some people remember about Adnan but it also revealed how much it bothered him that everything has been dug up and on such a public scale. Adnan is in prison and now he’s famous. Jay, the witness in the case, is now famous. Hae’s family’s tragedy has now become famous.
There is no way SK and her crew thought in a million years Serial would become this popular. No other podcast has ever come anywhere close to being this popular. This last episode, though, with Adnan’s desperate voice to want it all over with left me with a feeling of ickyness. I just felt bad about it – why were we treating this whole thing as entertainment? It isn’t a TV show – it’s real life.
At first I couldn’t stop thinking about, listening to it, googling to find to find clues whether there was a payphone at the Best Buy in Baltimore, MD in 1999. But after the last episode this feeling of being too close to a murder started to creep in. We’re talking about the unimaginable here. It is deeper and scarier than fiction.
This is so awesome. Thank you Yesus for this gift bestowed us - Elizabeth Warren gets really mad, as mad as every woman should be when faced with a sexist conservative pro-corporate radically fundamentalist Christian SCOTUS. She nails them. Right to the wall. "Guys,...
We can say, in fairness, that not all humans ought to be destroyed. But if we're making lists of the first people to get eaten in the zombie apocalypse, I vote for these dumbs cunts, the women who hunt and brag about it. That they hunt big game and then post pictures...
How funny that Dick Cheney and John McCain are piling on now that Iraq has blown up into a giant clusterfuck to try in vain to blame it all on President Obama. It's a cynical, vicious, cowardly finger-pointing move you'd expect from elementary school kids but not...
Yeah, it's like that.