Do we ever learn?

Depending on whose research you accept, human beings of one sort or another have existed on this planet for anywhere from 250,000 to 130,000 years.  I’m defining ‘Human Being’, in this instance, as everything in the Genus Homo from Neanderthal to the present … (if you don’t care to accord Neanderthals the status of ‘Human Being’, I would ask on what you base such a distinction – there’s ample evidence to show that Neanderthals cared for the crippled and elderly, crafted useful tools, ceremonially buried their dead, implying religious or spiritual thought, and interbred with Cro-Magnon, or Early Modern Humans, indicating that they could appreciate how hot the females of our species can be! )

In any case, humans have been around a pretty long time. The recorded history of our race is only a fraction of the actual span of time that we’ve been around, either because it took that long to develop writing, or because early efforts at censorship surpassed even the high standards of the 1950’s.

10,000 years or so. The written history of humanity stretches back about that far. No one really knows how many of those works were ever actually read, once the authors were finished, but they were there, nonetheless.  At some point, some of the brighter humans around began to realize that there was no sense in re-inventing the wheel:  a lot of stuff had already been tried, and the results of those experiments could be discerned from studying markings on clay, stone, papyrus, and parchment (it seems likely that someone, at some point, may have tried preserving history by writing in sand, but THOSE writings haven’t survived, and children end up finding out what happens to sand castles the hard way.)

So. We have smart people trying stuff, and then writing down what happened.  We have other smart people saying “Guys, maybe we should actually read some of that shit, to avoid making the same mistakes” (actually, it would eventually be phrased “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” – but that phrasing was so pompous that most people felt it must have come from an ass-hole who didn’t actually deserve to be right.) I’m fairly certain – though I have no proof of it – that the first advocates of studying history really weren’t listened to until there had been at least several thousand independent discoveries, by trial and error, of how to make a wheel (and the rise of at least ONE society that heard about how lousy wheel-ruts could get, and decided, quite deliberately, not to develop the damned things.)

It is a fact that Da Vinci’s Last Supper was painted using a method of painting that he found detailed in an old text – which is cool: it shows that even a genius should be willing to admit that he doesn’t know everything. It is an equally important fact that the end of the text warned that “This method should not be used for painting on WALLS” – which goes to show that he was too freaking impatient to read the whole thing!

My point is that people actually fall into two categories: those who are willing to learn, and those who are too stubborn, stupid, impatient, or arrogant to bother with the collected wisdom of their forebears.

It seems perfectly obvious to me that the people who are typically entrusted with the responsibility of actually getting stuff done fall almost exclusively into the latter category – along with a VAST horde of people who never actually get anything done.

But why??? I mean failure to accomplish necessary goals is not a useful feature – it’s non-adaptive, in terms of Evolutionary Theory:  a bird that builds a shitty nest is doomed to see its eggs fall through the bottom and spew their yolk all over anything sitting under the tree.  Whatever trait or traits, were responsible for shitty nest-building will, therefore, not be passed on to a new generation, and will eventually be purged from the avian gene-pool.  In a similar way, a bird that builds a freaking AWESOME nest, will smugly mate more often, sire more children, and spread it’s genetic code far and wide…

So how come, after at LEAST 60,000 years of breeding, our race, Homo Sapiens sapiens sapiens, (wise-wise-Wise Man) is still burdened with fuck-ups of every description? Shouldn’t evolution have come into play at some point, and weeded out all the genes that contribute to fucked-upedness?

Sadly, humanity is the ONE species that has the capacity to over-ride evolution – not because we are, as a species, brilliant, but because we are, as a species, lazy!

Look at it this way: someone develops air-conditioning in the sweaty summer of the Florida panhandle … everyone else notices that there’s ONE person in town not sweating freely, and they eventually figure out that it’s because he’s got this contraption he’s built, and no one else has it.  Ok, the raw potential is there:  observation, leads to hypothesis, leads to further observation, leads to conclusion – perfectly valid scientific method!

But, rather than go out and determine how to build one themselves, they pay the first guy to make them one, too. Think about it, for a second:  at least when everyone was re-inventing the wheel, they were actually working at innovation – using their minds. The fact that they lazily accepted the idea that there was ‘no sense in re-inventing the wheel’ is pretty fair evidence that they missed the entire point of the exercise:  reinventing the wheel means using your own mind – and most of these folks were too lazy to think for themselves even to the extent of discovering the obvious flaw in the rationalization they were using to justify not thinking for themselves…

I’m not saying that every human being should independently discover the physics and engineering principles required to invent a wheel – but they should certainly be willing to learn those principles, once someone else has gone to the effort of discovering them, rather than going right to “Dunno why it works, but I’ll take four of them, please,  with reclining power bucket seats, at 6% APR over 60 months…”

That’s ONE way in which humanity overcomes evolutionary forces: by profiting from the brain-power of others … another way is the physical equivalent:  we don’t have to be physically powerful enough to defeat a hungry animal, or a charging horde of savages, we simply have to either be VERY well armed (That’s method 1, profiting from the brain-power of others), or have a bunch of guys who ARE physically powerful enough to do the job positioned between us and the threat!  Basically, again, it’s a matter of economics … where, before, it was “here’s some dough, let me have the advantages of your mind without developing my own”, in this case it becomes, “Here’s some dough, let me benefit from your strength, skill, and courage, without developing my own!”

And then there’s the spiritual dimension.

I mentioned that Neanderthal is known to have cared for crippled members of the clan: we know that, because the bones of a Neanderthal, horribly crippled with what was probably rheumatoid arthritis, were found, the disease at such an advanced state that there is no way this individual could have foraged for himself for years and years prior to his death… In short, his family looked after him, hunted for him, gathered for him, fed him, and must have kept him clean, or he’d have died from infected bedsores, years before he actually DID die, of we know not what…

Totally admirable.  And, in Evolutionary terms, freaking stupid!

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not advocating tossing Granny out of the house when she can no longer get around on her own, or abandoning children with congenital defects, or anything of the sort:  I believe compassion and love are among the highest achievements of humankind – for proof of how horrifying the abandonment of such ideals can be, you need look no farther than Nazi Germany, or any other place where “ethnic cleansing” is taking place!  To my mind, people who can so coldly condemn other humans to death, aren’t really worthy of being CALLED humans!

What I am saying, is this:  compassion is a slippery slope – it’s one thing to provide for the well-being of an individual suffering from something he didn’t bring on himself, but we have gone FAR beyond that, to providing for the health and safety of people too stupid to live!

Case in point: some brilliant individual actually had to go to the effort of developing a device that would prevent the electrocution of someone stupid enough to blow-dry his hair in a tub of water. And society allowed it – indeed, encouraged it, financially! We encourage the survival of people so stupid that they actually have to be WARNED not to pull the vending machine over on themselves – and who  must even be warned in pictures, presumably because they’re too stupid to actually read a printed warning that says “gee, this thing is heavy enough to crush the life out of you, if it falls over on you, so do you REALLY need that Snickers bar so badly? Or are you REALLY so cheap that you can’t abandon $1.25 to avoid DEATH??? We strongly recommend that you PLEASE do not tip the machine!

People now require warnings that coffee is hot. That, however nice it smells, pop-corn fresh out of the microwave produces steam, and steam is 500 times hotter than boiling water, and maybe, just maybe, it might be a bad idea to put your nose over the bag as you open it, because MOST of us have EYES located just above our noses and damn, once those things are scorched, life can be kinda difficult…

I’m sorry, but I strongly feel that our species may be better off if some of those warning labels were replaced with “DIE YOU IGNORANT JERK!”

Except, again unfortunately, in order to realize the truth of this and act upon it, people would have to vote for it, and lots of them are busy trying to get a Snickers bar, or bag of popcorn…

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~ by dourscot on August 2, 2011.

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