Is it human destiny to be planet killers
From Martin LeFevre in California
How did humankind come to this pass? Not just evolutionarily, which is fairly
straightforward in a random, herky-jerky kind of way. But rather
psychologically, as the separating and separate, fragmenting and fragmented
primate standing at a million year crossroads?
The first tools in the fossil record, found in East Africa, date to about 2.5
million years ago. A mere few hundred thousand years later, Homo ergaster, the
"plausible ancestor for all subsequent humans" according to anthropologist and
author Ian Tattersall, left the only true ‘homeland.'
It appears the first wave of our proto-human forebears walked out of Africa two
million years ago, using a very crude stone technology called Oldowan. Forests
were shrinking, grasslands were expanding, conscious thought was developing in a
growing brain, and walking upright was an efficient way to cover ground.
Two million years had elapsed since the "walking chimpanzees" of Lucy fame
(Australopithecus afarensis). Climate changes and dietary requirements (brains
consume 16 times as much energy as muscle tissue) provided the original impetus
to leave our tooth and claw Eden, perhaps to follow migrating herds of antelope
Successive waves of migration occurred as new hominid species emerged in Africa
("the continent that, from the beginning, has been the engine of mainstream
innovation in human evolution") and followed the human wanderlust into new
An early offshoot of H. ergaster, Homo erectus, has been found in China dating
back nearly 2 million years. The same species has been found in Java dating to
as little as 40,000 years ago. If confirmed, modern humans probably drove the
first primitive humans to extinction, just as they likely did Neanderthals in
Bipedalism and the most basic stone technology were apparently enough to start
the human story. The ability to scavenge, hunt, and gather, to learn about new
animal and plant species in each locality with a growing brain, enabled humans
to do what no other animal has ever done: leave the constraints of ecological
niche. That is, we left the animal Eden, and became, increasingly, the pillaging
What grips the imagination is the realization that different species of humans
came into direct contact with each other. It was a gulf immeasurably wider than
the violent and tragic encounters between the races in Africa, the Americas, and
Australia during colonial times. But it probably followed the same pattern.
What happened when the big-brained but slow-adapting Neanderthals met up with
the technologically and culturally innovative Homo sapiens? Or when our own kind
encountered the much more primitive Homo erectus, a distant echo of ourselves?
Given modern humans' willingness to wage war to dominate and exploit a
resource-rich area (oh how little things have changed), there was no doubt a lot
of killing going on. Sorry, Rousseau.
Is it our human destiny to be planet killers? If destiny is the past determining
the present, the answer is yes. Then destiny is a dead end.
Evolution has become conscious in us. But freedom from the darkness of the human
past, and present, now requires a conscious leap. An awareness of our
evolutionary cul-de-sac has become essential to evolving beyond
Humans are devolving so fast that things appear hopeless. But the very rapidity
of our ecological destructiveness and spiritual erosion is providing the
impetus, in those who still care about the human prospect, to break through the
million-year mold of evolution and ten thousand year rut of civilization.
If one focuses horizontally, on just current events, the weight of the past is
too much. But focus vertically, on the mystery and dilemma of humankind's
evolution, and the way ahead seems clear.
The author welcomes comments.