by Jake Block
At the heart of things, one could say that I am a human potentialist. I believe that people can do things far beyond their supposed capabilities without assistance from gods or “higher powers.” Part of the legacy of humanity is the ability to rise above and conquer things that oppose us.
It’s always been that way, from the 1st proto-humans walking upright somewhere around 5-7 million years ago. Little more than apes they found that walking along on the ground on two legs made them an attractive lunch for those carnivorous creatures on all fours who were faster and stronger, so they returned to the trees for safety. But our ancestors found that the slavering beasts below could sometimes climb those trees, so they took to using clubs, simple ripped off branches, to beat the animals and force them to retreat.
Eventually, one of them “poked” his branch at his adversary, and found out that it squealed in pain when the sharp end of that stick pierced its skin. His primitive mind eventually made the connection and he made the end of his stick sharper, probably by grinding it against a rock. Then he found that the next time he stuck an animal, it squealed and died… so he showed his stick to others who ground their own sticks to form the prototypes of spears.
Humanity advances… soon people were poking animals willy-nilly and all of those poked and dead critters became protein to help our ancestors grow. In time, their pelts covered the early humans and protected them from the cold. They called themselves the Hom.
There were, at that time, an abundance of animals to support the growing human population of the planet. But as man’s footprint began to grow, shortages compelled man to explore and, as hunters and gatherers do, hunt an gather. They cooperated with each other, bringing back their spoils to the tribe, and they were hailed as great hunters and heroes until the day “the others” appeared.
The others… another tribe of emerging humanoids, appeared one day in the forest, and they too were hunting and gathering and taking the spoils that the Hom saw as rightfully theirs. They were the “Cor.” The “Cor” is a lost tribe to history, whose probably only real accomplishment was to be fated to being the first humanoids, but far from the last, that the Hom would poke with their sharpened sticks, spilling their blood, there in the wilderness, taking their supplies and even the blood stained furs off of their backs.
Now, this interaction between the Hom and the Cor might just be hallucinations on my part, but the point is that man has always used his intellect, to whatever degree he possesses it, to create tools or structures to help him become more secure and/of conquer things that he sees are a detriment to his survival as a species. We see it as the subject of books and movies, were man is faced with imminent catastrophe on a global basis, but bests nature, be it as plague or asteroid just in the nick of time, using technology or guile to save the planet. And while it’s true that man can, when led by those with insight and wisdom, rise to meet challenges that beset us as a planet, more often than not, we find ways to weaponize each new technological achievement to secure our cultures, or wipe out a portion of our human family that we see as unfit to survive.
Lest we think this is a modern-day mindset, all we have to do is recall the Roman siege of the city of Carthage in 149 BC, during the third Punic War, in which the Roman general Scipio Aemillanus demanded the surrender of the city. Upon refusal of his demands, Scipio’s Legions obliterated the city, killing at will. History teaches us that he then salted the earth so that nothing would ever grow there again, although this has come into question as being historically accurate. The point is that we tend to use our technologies against our fellow man, especially when our technologies are superior to his. Our mythologies tell us that the mighty win because they have right on their side, when in truth the mighty do sometimes lose, right not withstanding, when met by a mighty man with a more formidable weapon at his disposal.
So, while I am, a human potentialist, I have to admit that I am pessimistic that man can ever reach a point where he will abandon his bloodlust in favor of universal liberty, prosperity and peace, although we’ll keep the rhetoric of such a world in our social actions toolbox. While often lacking in content, platitudes of this sort can often be persuasive and impressive, and have the desired effect of getting the listener to lower their guard against whatever faction has the current technological hammer.
Lest one think that I’m getting soft in my old age and want to sit in a circle and sing Kumbayah with my downtrodden brethren, I’m not undergoing some new-agey epiphany. I’m still of the belief that “No man’s death, save he who stands by me, diminishes me… I am involved in growth, and the incompetent dead can at best provide fertilizer. Then, though the land be lesser in size, it will be richer in soil and lusher in visage.” (LaVey) I can’t control the world or those who have the ultimate powers of technologies and politics. All I can do is make the best out of the hand I am given, to benefit me and mine in a world of eternally “trying times.”
I don’t believe that man is going to change in his Homo Sapiens persona. I’m persistently pessimistic, because I know that human inertia is equally persistent, and that without some force kicking it into movement in a different direction, it’s course is set for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in some future unbeknownst to us all, man will evolve and become the “Homo Intellectus” that I wrote about in “Hoofbeats.” Perhaps someday, man will change.
If that time comes, I’ll still be pessimistic, in that I believe that man will always find another way to oppress and subjugate his fellow man. So I’ll remain pessimistic, but adapt to the changes so that whatever they may be, I can make the best of those changes for the benefit of me and mine.