When We All Grow Up

adults2Every major change in life — and probably a lot of the minor ones — is accompanied by something I call Turbulence.

New job, turbulence. New baby, turbulence. Loss of a loved one, MAJOR turbulence.

It’s that period of discomfort and confusion that happens between one steady life state and another. Eventually you get used to new conditions of life — the new job is as familiar and comfortable as the old one — but meanwhile, you suffer the bumpy ride of the necessary transition.

I bring up Turbulence because I think we’re in it, society-wide, worldwide, right now. I suppose the people of every era feel their discomforts, but this one is a one-of-a-kind, first-ever-in-history discomfort, the sign of a BIG transition.

I’m thinking about Humanity on Planet Earth, and the changes in store for us, major ones, some of which are already taking place. What will be the end result of those changes? Where are we going?

Up til now it’s like we’ve been living through the human species’ childhood, where we could explore and play and fight and kill and burn and break and do pretty much anything we pleased, without any very serious repercussions. We could reproduce without limit, experiment with weird beliefs, exotic ways of living, silly fantastic ideas, and see what happened. All the while, we were rich enough in room and resources that our failures made only local differences. We could try out this thing and that thing and the other thing, and no matter how much we broke or burned, we could just walk away from the wreckage and try something new.

But there’s that time to come when we won’t be doing that stuff anymore. The time when we will practice restraint and finally become grownups, comfortable with ourselves and with life on Earth, living more or less gracefully and successfully, into the indefinite future.

I don’t say we’re GOING to make it. But if we do, it will be because we did this other thing, and so became able to survive. It’s like our doctor has said “Your heart is laboring, your liver is shot, your cholesterol if through the roof and your diabetes is getting worse. You’re going to lose 100 pounds or you’re going to die in a matter of months. There is no third choice.”

In the only good future imaginable, in the single survivable scenario, we change. Non-change, or half-assed change, will bring either extinction or something few of us today would want to live through.

The in-between time, the turbulence-riddled NOW, is our teen years. We’re still experimenting, playing and fighting and stumbling and living our rich fantasy lives, but with global warming, Peak Oil, so many other real-life realities being forced upon us, we’re discovering we can’t do just anything. Not forever. We’re finding out some things have uncomfortable, even deadly, results, both to ourselves and to the planet. We’re living in the midst of the transition from carefree childhood to … something.

I’m thinking about that “something” — the full adulthood of humanity, hanging out there in some hopefully not-too-distant future.

What will things be like when the human species is all grown up? What will be necessary? What will be necessarily avoided? How will we live? How will we relate to Planet Earth, and each other?

Humanity’s adulthood is a way off, sadly, and none of us will live to see it. It’s going to require generational changes; more than a few generations will be necessary before a critical mass of grownups appears on the world scene. The lot of us are unfortunately stuck back here in adolescence.

Doesn’t mean we can’t speculate. The fine details of that era are impossible to guess at — there will be arts and careers, entertainments, technology, unimaginable to us today — but I think we can predict something of the bigger picture, because some conclusions are pretty much unavoidable.

There’s a lot of stuff we simply can’t afford, or afford to do, anymore. For instance, we won’t be using fossil fuels in that future, because most of them will just be gone. Used up by we human children in a burning, partying, indulgent spree.

And some things, we just have to hope will be a part of the picture, because otherwise, that future won’t be anything those of us today could enjoy.

So here are some of my guesses about what it will mean for us to be sane and successful grownups on Planet Earth.

Population and Energy

First, like I said, we’re going to give up petroleum, and maybe even nuclear energy. Solar’s the way to go. Everything in our adult future will be powered by the sun.

Or yes, some “might be” futury energy source. But having gotten to 2016 with no sign of widely-available flying cars, which I’ve been reading about since the 1950s, I’m not counting on the rescue of out-of-the-blue science-fictiony solutions. I’d love to see fusion power perfected, but a question I’ve asked myself over the years is: What if it’s just not possible? What if it takes an actual star to keep a fusion reaction going? I’d like to see the research continue, but I don’t think it’s something we can count on.

There are going to be a lot fewer of us. Idiot optimists notwithstanding, Planet Earth just can’t support 7 or 8 or 12 billion humans. My guess is that somewhat less than a billion humans, maybe only a few hundred million, can live on the planet without eventually eating it down to bedrock. And why would we want more? If there are resources enough to allow 500 million people to live like royalty, or 12 billion people to live like slaves, cramped and poor, what good argument is there for NOT living comfortably within our means?

The question for me — and I think grownups in the human future — isn’t “Do people have the right to have as many kids as they want?”, it’s “Do children have the right to be born into a family, or a world, that can support them?” Note that I’m not saying some draconian governmental edict will come along and nix human population growth. I’m saying the real world will enforce some sort of solution, either voluntary on the part of Homo Adultus, or involuntary via any of a number of mass die-off scenarios.

There will be fewer of us.  How we get there is up to conscious decisions by us might-be grownups, or due to the already-in-progress default course set by the equivalent of idiot teenagers refusing to accept responsibility in a world of real consequences.

Education and Equality

We have to have full equality of every human, everywhere on the planet. Everyone has to have the right to vote, to medical care, to an education.

Speaking of education, we’re going to stop treating our kids like they’re children, and start treating them as if they’re going to be fellow adults expected to shoulder the load of making the world work. We’re going to give every one of them a full, free education — which we will expect them to actually work at and benefit from — up to and including college or trade school.

Speaking of medical care, we’re going to live a lot longer than we do now. Think about it: What’s the real goal of the field of medicine? To cure everything. Pretty much every disease is going down, and life extension will become a major focus of research. Because what is aging but just another disease? The end result of that research is going to BE life extension. How much? I like to think it would be well into the hundred-and-somethings.


We’re going to learn to live on Planet Earth without damaging it. Our smaller population will allow us to abandon large areas and allow them to go back to nature. We’ll have a reverence for life, with absolute protection of endangered species with no regard to national borders. Those mountain gorillas, for instance, are not Africa’s mountain gorillas, they’re everybody’s (and nobody’s) mountain gorillas, and we’ll feel they must be protected no matter what.


We’re going to stop tolerating lies. One of the things we haven’t yet understood is that Freedom of Speech has to have this other freedom attached to it, Freedom From Lies. Every person (and corporation) has the right to say whatever they want to say, but that freedom is limited by every OTHER person’s right to hear the truth.

I can lie to you in person and you and I will deal with that privately, but on public airwaves or wires, where millions might hear and be adversely affected by it, there can be no “right” to lie, to incite others to believe falsehoods, and the penalties will be severe.

Lying is a form of pollution, when you think about it. Lies are a poison that destroys human understanding of the truth. It’s like secondhand smoke — when the lies flow over your metaphorical property line and into my life, your right to lie has ended.

(In my view, there is already no right to lie to a child, about any subject or for any reason.)

We’re going to have a common language. English? Probably. Doesn’t mean all the others will go away. Does mean we’re going to talk to each other, all over Earth, in this common language.

We’re going to have a LOT more public transportation, a lot fewer cars. We’re going to spend a LOT less money on wars and weapons.

We’re going to end racism and sexism. Skin color is about the stupidest, most superficial way of judging people, and we — all of us — will eventually realize that. As to sexism, we’ll eliminate the prejudices and limitations based on gender, but we’re also going to accept that men and women each have their own specific needs, and figure that more into the balance.

Our lives are going to be a lot more transparent, but we’re also going to become a lot more comfortable with our own nature and the inevitable foibles which attend it.

We’re going to come to understand that not all cultures and cultural practices are equal. That some are good for human freedom and dignity, some are simply not, and we’re going to abandon the not-goods. Speaking of which:


We’re going to do away with religion and mysticism. Goodbye Islam — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. But also: Goodbye Christianity — don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Schools will teach evolution with gusto, and every kid will grow up knowing he’s connected as family to all life on Earth. The idea of the universe being poofed into existence by a great big guy in the sky is going to seem like a fairy tale straight out of the Dark Ages.

We’re going to end genital mutilation of babies. Sorry Jews and Muslims, snip off the end of your own dick if you want, cut out your own clitoris once you’ve achieved the age of choice, but you can’t do that to kids anymore. They don’t BELONG to you, they belong to the adults they will one day become, and it’s that adult — and only that adult — who has the right to choose to make permanent changes to their bodies. You would no more cut healthy body parts off a baby than you would install garish permanent tattoos on their bodies. In both cases, it’s a trespass on THEIR right to choose.

We’re going to stop being ouchy about sex education for young people. Every kid on Earth is going to receive the full, unaltered Handbook of the Human Body in classes taught from kindergarten onward.

Business and Politics

We’re going to push corporations out of the driver’s seat of government. We’re going to end tax evasion by corporations and the wealthy, and the huge income inequality that flows out of corporate culture. In the coming era of transparency — particularly in international banking — I suspect most organized crime is going to go away.

Science and Technology

We’re going to use space, but probably not move into it. The minimum necessary life support system for humans is probably the size of a planet, and we only know of one. We’ll have robots out there, or humans for short periods, but we’re never going to have humans like you and I living on other planets.

Every person on Earth is going to have full, unfettered access to the Internet, and they will carry it around with them.

It’s almost inevitable that we’ll tinker with our own genes, improving ourselves in countless ways and ushering in an age of transhumanism. Not everyone will change, but everyone will have the chance. Overall, average intelligence is going to go up — we’re going to be a lot smarter.

Speaking of intelligence, we’re going to have Artificial Intelligence. It’s not going to be just like us, but one way or another it’s going to exist. It’s also going to be friendly, an intellectual partner rather than some horror-story master or adversary.


I doubt that nations will go away. Local units of government are better at handling local issues. But a worldwide community of individuals — and yes, I’m thinking Beta Culture — who agree that certain things must happen can make those things happen. Not by undercutting government, but by convincing a critical mass of people in each country that certain things — women’s equality, for instance, but also all this other stuff — absolutely must happen.

Here’s hoping.

A Dark Tide in Human Affairs

Dark Tide copyI was thinking today about large-scale social motion in a negative direction. Not as some sort of accident, but as the result of some deeper human sociological/psychological tides.

I think of bikers and biker culture. The skull motif so penetrates biker culture that it makes its way onto everything — bikes, t-shirts, leather jackets, bandanas, helmets, face masks, even tattoos. It’s interesting to me that this nihilistic image is of such unquestionable importance, and has no positive-direction counterpoint. (For instance, you don’t see Hello Kitty biker art, with the possible exception of the very rare joke.) And I think of bikers as early-adopters of the sort of darkness the skull represents.

But following in the footsteps of those early adopters, that darkness — the studied opposite of health, respect, sanity, goodness, love — has now entered the mainstream. Politics has it. The news media has it. Style has it. Music has it. We have it as tattoos, saggy-ass pants, piercings, trashy dress, repellent physical condition, the easy bile and bullying of online commenters, the vapidity of entertainment, all sorts of other data points, all a part of a powerful counter-culture that insists whatever majority culture we have had is a hate-filled, freedom-restricting malignancy — hell, even the admonition to maintain a good healthy weight is seen as a violent attack on a helpless victim class — and that everything which is NOT majority culture is good.

Currently, there is almost no human practice, however scary, low or disgusting, that someone will not instantly leap to defend, as if some vital issue of freedom is at stake — “People should be allowed to shit in public! It’s perfectly natural! Only a bunch of hateful prudes would say otherwise!” And one of the defensive weapons is the ever-ready “You shouldn’t judge people!” — an admonition that resonates with the opposition to having social or personal standards.

I actually saw the election of George W. Bush as a signifier of something dark going on below the surface of things, and it appears to me that that whatever-it-is is spreading, solidifying its grip and influence. It was almost irrelevant that it was George W. Bush specifically who got elected; anyone of his sort — intellectually dull, pompous, grandiose, incurious, shallow, self-absorbed — could have fit the bill. Because that was what we unconsciously wanted and needed in that moment.

The hate flowing like a firehose at President Obama — a genuinely intelligent, genuinely good man who has served as a target for spitting spite from the first moment he entered the public spotlight — is another data point. This dark whatever-it-is HAS TO attack a decent person, because it can no more tolerate his existence than disease can tolerate antibiotics.

The thing is, I don’t know where this thing is coming from. Like I say, it feels like something weirdly inevitable in this moment — a necessary product of certain factors arising out a confluence of human psychology and the progression of civilization itself. I feel like we made a wrong turn at some point, or started from poisoned initial conditions, but I can’t see what that turn is or those conditions are.

I worry that this whatever-it-is would be see-able by humans slightly brighter, slightly better, and that we’re missing it because we’re just us.

It also disturbs me to think that just-us is tragically unequipped to stop it, and that it will sweep over the human world, damaging everything, as we stand by and observe in busy impotence, always convinced some less-relevant, flavor-of-the-month factor — racism, sexism, ‘the patriarchy’, teabaggers, underpaid teachers, Republicans, Fox News, liberals, video games, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton — is to blame.

The bright spot, to me — the hope — is a Venn Diagram that overlaps the several circles of atheism, reason and education, and an intelligent activism that spotlights these as the necessary foundation of any kind of real-world solution.

Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth

Cowboy DadFor most of the years I knew him, I unconsciously thought of my Cowboy Dad as “the grownup” in my life. Since he died, I’ve realized there were several side-effects of thinking that. One is that I cheated him out of all the years of ME being a grownup, so that we could be … well, friendly equals, fellow MEN together. The other is that I cheated myself out of all those years of me being a grownup. All the endeavors and relationships in my life were approached in some degree of a childish/childlike manner.

None of this was conscious, or by decision. It was something that simply appeared in my attitudes and behavior. If I had stated it in words, it would’ve come out to something like “It’s safe for me to be childish. I can be irresponsible. I can drift, I can put off critical decisions. I can party, I can laze around and not think about my present situation, or my future. If I screw up, he will rescue me. I can safely not worry too much about the people around me, or the larger world, because the Old Man is handling all that.”

I think a lot about religion and the effects it has on people and cultures, and I think my experience of “relating to the grownup as a child” is directly applicable to the experience of people in religion. I doubt we can imagine how much we’ve lost, how much Planet Earth has lost, by us feeling free to not be conscious adults.

In my case, I can’t place the entire blame on myself. I came into our relationship fairly  broken, and I needed the comfort and guidance, the there-for-you-ness, a real parent could provide. But that doesn’t mean the results were any less real, any less damaging.

In the case of we humans, I suppose I can’t place the entire blame there, either. As a species, we grew up without parents or wise guidance of any sort. We stumbled along figuring out things as we went, repeatedly falling back into mistakes and breaking ourselves and the world around us.

But the cost has been incalculable, and it’s something we – and our planet – can’t afford anymore.

A month or so after my Dad died, I woke up one day to the realization “Oh gosh, I have to be a grownup now.” It was a little bit scary, but mostly it was … strength. Determination. A little bit of steel injected into my being with the understanding that I could handle whatever happened, because that’s what grownups do. I understood that I had to relate to my own life and the world around me in an entirely new, entirely responsible way. And I was truly okay with that.

For any individual recovering from religion, I have to believe you have that same epiphany. After your god “dies,” you realize you have to be an adult. You have to deal with the reality of your own life, and the lives of those close to you, and even larger matters out in the world around you. But you also understand that you CAN. You — along with others like you — take each situation into your hands and change it for the better. Or you accept the fact of a bad situation and deal realistically with its cost. Because that’s what grownups do.

As an entire civilization, we’re nowhere near the point of waking up as grownups. Our world full of contentedly religious, drunkenly mystical, calmly unconcerned juveniles is this hapless, directionless child, fumbling around and breaking things, breaking each other and the world we live in, and thinking it’s all okay, because our Parent is dealing with all the hard stuff and picking up the clutter of each destructive act.

I think even most atheists inherit this mindset, and fail to notice they have it. We grow up in the culture that thinks this way, and it’s so deeply embedded we never get around to seeing it, or peeling it out of our own heads.

To all those soft-serve atheists who think we should just live and let live, that atheism will grow or not as events develop, and that meanwhile it’s all good …

I think you have no idea how deadly dangerous is the situation we live within. No idea how damaging it is to let people continue to believe in gods, and stay children. No idea what we’ve DONE, and continue to do, and will soon do.

It’s why I’m not just an atheist, but an anti-theist.

In the same way you have to cure disease in order to be well, we have to cure ourselves of religion, of the childishness of our race, in order to be grownups. In order to live and be well on Planet Earth, in order that the lot of us can wake up and see that we have to be adults now — in order to SURVIVE — our gods have to die.

We have to kill them.

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 8 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


This is the Truth:

In my hunting days, I was headwaiter at a seafood restaurant in a little resort town in the California’s Eastern Sierra mountains. Hunting season had opened several days before, but I’d had to work every day. This was my last evening shift before I had a couple of days off, and I was ready to go.

I had my new Ruger .30-06 rifle with a 7-power scope. I had my pack and my sleeping bag and two days worth of camp food. And I had an intimate knowledge of miles and miles of backcountry trails that would lead me into good hunting country, far away from the lazy, clumsy road-hunters who swarmed the hills every fall.

I had to work until 9 p.m., but the almost-full moon was coming up soon after, and I thought I could get in a good couple of hours hiking under its light. The high-country moon is brilliant enough to read by when full, and it would light the mountain trails to near-daylight certainty.

I hiked in the starlit dark for half an hour, then welcomed the moon like a sunrise on the rocky trails. I trekked on for another hour, then started thinking about pitching camp for the few hours before dawn.

And found myself reluctant to stop. Thinking about it blithely in the previous days, I saw no problem with the plan. But now that I was faced with it, I realized that I had never actually camped out by myself in the wilderness. And I was … afraid.

I traveled onward in the light of the still-rising moon. Another hour passed and it was well past midnight before I convinced myself to at least stop and think about it.

I took off my pack and began laying out my camp with slow, overly careful precision. My movements were mechanical, my body running itself while my mind, weighted with the fear, flowed like glaciers. All my attention was routed through my ears, listening for the slightest suspicious noise. Though I was ravenously hungry, I didn’t want to use my little butane stove, because to do that would mean making a light, which would make me vulnerable by diminishing my night-sight. I rolled out my sleeping bag and lay down in it like a death-row inmate sitting in that last chair, hearing each tooth click as I slooooowly raised the zipper.

I lay like a statue for another hour, while the moon moved across the sky and finally buried its light in the trees overhead. Finally my own body rejected the fear: tiredness overcame frozen panic and I finally asked myself, “What the heck am I afraid of?”

I listed them. Black bears. Mountain lions. Coyotes. Um … well, what else was there?

Not a damned thing.

I stood outside myself and imagined what a bear or mountain lion might think if it came upon me: I was a human being lying suspiciously just off the trail, breathing easily and wrapped in a miasma of strange smells, gun oil and cordite and the stench of human sweat.

Even from my own viewpoint, I looked dangerous. With a loaded, high-powered rifle ready to hand, I was like some comic book villain with Death Vision: Down the barrel of that gun, I could kill anything I could look at.

I suddenly realized that I was the most dangerous animal within five miles, and after 30,000 years or so of living on this continent with Man, everything with a brain bigger than a walnut would damned well know it.

I relaxed in minutes and, cozied down in my sleeping bag, drifted off and slept restfully and well until dawn.

— End —

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


© Hank Fox, 2011 and earlier.  No part of this document may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without explicit written permission of the author.

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 7 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


Stomping Kittens

In America there is a safety-conscious social force backed up by the power of law – and constantly reinforced by frequent and large lawsuits – that decrees that every tiniest hint of danger must be stamped out of every activity. People must be taken care of.

Even in the midst of our riskiest pastimes, we do everything possible – which is always considerable – to eliminate the risk. The requirement for wearing floatation vests and helmets on river rafting trips is a good example.

Yet we love the feeling of exertion, and hazard. It makes us feel more alive. It may even be necessary to our mental health. We so enjoy the excitement of risk that we reduce ourselves to arguing about whether we should allow ourselves to be coerced into wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle, or whether we should be required to wear a seatbelt while driving, or whether we should be forced to put safety locks on the triggers of our guns.

Generally speaking, our lives are so safe (except from other humans) that we have to travel great distances, pay considerable amounts of money, and work very hard to contrive situations that enable us to experience a little real risk. Contending against the ongoing and all-pervasive campaign to make our lives safer and duller, we have to invent ways to experience excitement.

We entertain ourselves with the illusions of risk: We sit through adventurous movies. We ride roller coasters. We pay to enjoy indoor climbing walls.

And we make up scary stories for ourselves and our children, stories of monsters with fearsome teeth and claws, Face Eaters coming at us out of the night. We plaster befanged predators on the fronts of our magazines, and disseminate “true” tales of the menace from the wildlands.

Yet far, far distant from the world created on hunting magazine covers and supermarket tabloids is a place called Reality. In Reality, every bit of wildlife on “our” planet is susceptible to human will. To our anger. To our greed. Even to our carelessness.

And especially to our ignorant fears.

Wild animals are like nothing so much as a litter of newborn kittens left lying in the path of booted millions of marching humans. We can and do tread on them, and their only safety lies in their feeble, ignorant scramble to evade our crushing, world-spanning feet.

The Grizzly’s Gamble

Somewhere out there is a grizzly – any grizzly, every grizzly – who knows nothing about any of this. He has no idea the entire rest of his world is occupied by an incredibly dangerous, barely-in-control (out-of-control?) predator: Man.

The grizzly has his teeth and claws, his own muscle power, a sharply limited intelligence, and no possibility at all of adapting to a changing world. His whole existence is part of a game too vast for him to imagine.

Human beings, on the other hand, have the ultimate hole card – the fact that we are the most incredibly, overpoweringly deadly animal ever to live on this planet.

Drop a human down in grizzly country and see how long he lives. In fact, the experiment happens thousands of times every summer, and with extremely rare exceptions, the man remains healthy for the length of his stay.

Drop a grizzly into the middle of a human habitat, a city, and see how long he lives. The answer would be a matter of hours at most. Which is the more dangerous?

To put a finer point on it:

Humans are so dangerous, we’ll kill predators for decades after a predator attacks just one of us (even a perfect stranger), and we’re so bright we can remember a grudge for generations.

We’re so dangerous, we organize and deputize our killing; we hire people to kill millions upon millions of captive, helpless prey animals – each year.

We’re so dangerous, we have gadgets — traps, snares, landmines — which will kill at random, and without even having a human present, for months or years after being set in action.

We’re so dangerous we produce chemicals which will kill any creature they touch. We produce substances that will deform, cripple or kill anything and everything for decades after we last used them.

We’re so dangerous, we and our children kill – for fun – creatures such as songbirds and ground squirrels which are not only harmless, but absolutely useless for food, fur or anything else.

We’re so dangerous that even our well-fed pets kill – for fun – birds and small mammals in the millions every year.

We’re so dangerous that we in turn kill those pets, in untold numbers, simply because we become bored with them.

We’re so dangerous, we kill by accident, just as a side-effect of traveling on our highways, uncountable millions of animals each year, in this country alone.

We’re so dangerous that merely building homes and growing the food needed for our burgeoning billions results in the deaths of unreckonable numbers of other creatures, as we thoughtlessly consume the habitat they need to survive.

We’re so dangerous that a single juvenile human can torch a thousand square miles of wildlife habitat in one weekend – simply by dropping a lit match.

We’re so dangerous we kill, by accident, even our most beloved family members and acquaintances: our children, wives, husbands, lovers, friends and neighbors – to the tune of thousands each year – in household, auto, playground, school sports, recreation, fire and shooting accidents.

We’re so dangerous, we kill, deliberately, members of our own species in the thousands each year – in the commission of crimes, in law enforcement activity, in military actions, in deliberate murders.

We’re so dangerous, we have the power, via nuclear weapons, to wipe out most life on the planet in a single afternoon.

No animal or collection of animals on earth could ever even conceive of the ability to do this. No other creature on Earth could be so unconsciously, unintentionally destructive. Even with full, constant, murderous intent – virtually nonexistent even among predators – no animal could ever hope to equal the dangerous potential of the world-sized monolith which is Man.

The grizzly is in a game which he cannot hope to win, a game which he doesn’t even know he’s in. He can never even comprehend the stakes: that his entire species — and thousands, perhaps millions, of others — is on the line.

What chance does the grizzly have against human beings?

Out of billions of chances for death, out of near certain extinction, he has this one chance for life: that human beings will choose not to bet against him.


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 6 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


Technological Man

Guns. Fire. Helicopters. Radios. Infrared sights. Light-amplifying night scopes. Binoculars. Poisons. Traps. Electrified fences. Bulldozers. Chainsaws. Fishing nets. Maps.

We humans live in a society where we can draw on the accomplishments and assets not only of our own families, not only of our own acquaintances, but the intellectual fruits of literal geniuses for the last ten thousand years.

Call it the realm of Man-to-the-X-power, where human advantages rise into the exponential, to be multiplied together an unknown number of times.

The question becomes, not “what advantages do we have?” but “what advantages do we NOT have?”

An animal has its own fur, teeth and claws, and only what it can pick up by direct experience. It is 100% naked and defenseless except for what it was born with, and what little it can learn with its tiny, disadvantaged brain.

Through technology, we humans have senses that no animal ever had: comic-booky-but-real senses such as X-ray vision, microscopic and telescopic vision. We have even wilder abilities, such as the ability to hear or see radio waves, connecting to remote eyes and ears that work in the air, on and under the sea, even from space.

On a more everyday level, we can go out in the wilds for a weekend (instead of being permanent residents), and enjoy the advantages of warm, waterproof fabrics; lightweight, everlasting camp food; warm, dry comfortable places to sleep; shoes and gloves to protect our hands and feet; magnifying and spotting scopes; projectile weapons that are simple and lightweight but extraordinarily deadly; vehicles to travel faster than any land animal can run (and also far enough that we can hunt animals thousands of miles from our home range); fire for cooking or lighting or warming; flashlights and lanterns to free us from the confines of daylight; knives with razor edges, sharper than any tooth or claw – and all of it made for us and all of it obtainable with money earned from the tiniest fraction of our daily labor.

A worthless corporate lawyer – someone who cannot even butter a piece of toast on his own – can pay a few hours’ pocket change from his parasitic profession to outfit him instantly with rifle, camp gear and guides. He can depart his Washington, D.C. office on Friday afternoon and be out killing African lions on Saturday.

What chance does our card-playing grizzly have now? Lend him human intelligence for a moment and he might sit wide-eyed with his pair of twos, beginning to realize the terrifying, one-sided truth of his situation. Across from him sits not a single opponent, but an opponent backed up by a host of other men – not just ordinary simpletons like you and I, but brilliant men, geniuses, the best and the brightest and the most accomplished, tens of thousands of  years of inventors and discoverers and creators and captains of manufactury – each standing ready with a technological ace, until our human card player’s hand would overrun with them.

Hyperlinked Man

Like a hypertext document which allows you to click on a link and get a pop-up layer of additional information and meaning, individual humans are connected by hyperlinks to practically the whole of western civilization.

This fact is most evident in the field of information sharing, but human compassion comes a close second. Every person in our culture lives within a complex web of hyperlinks – communication and rescue apparatus assembled to give teeth to our feeling for our fellows.

Drop an 18-month-old girl down a well, as happened in Midland, Texas in October of 1987, and within hours tens of millions of people become tearfully aware of it. Great numbers of volunteers responded personally, backed up by millions of dollars of immediate aid and rescue equipment. “Baby Jessica” McClure was pulled to the surface after 58 hours of effort, and in the ensuing joy at her survival, gifts of money and toys arrived from all over the world.

In 1994, a 40-year-old jogger, Barbara Shoener, was found dead and partially eaten by a mountain lion. Though no one witnessed the attack, it was reported as such – and millions of people knew of it within 24 hours. A vigorous political campaign was mounted within a short time to re-establish sport killing of these menacing predators. It might have cost even more millions of dollars, and it did engage the attention of a large fraction of California voters for months.

Perversely, if that same death had been caused by a domestic cow or a pet dog – both of which happened numerous times in that same year, not just in California but all over the world – the case would receive zero publicity, and no urgent action.

Every person, in this country at least, lives in a web of hyperlinks which includes a safety net of potentially violent, armed, vengeful protectors: police officers, Fish and Game officers, professional trappers and bounty hunters, and even well-armed unofficial volunteers riding out with visions of Wyatt Earp in their heads.

With no effort on the part of the victim, social hyperlinks automatically activate police, fire and search-and-rescue efforts, medical experts, flight resources, and outpourings of compassionate offers to help, console or avenge.

More than this, if we are injured in the wilds, we have a complex network of medical and surgical marvels that will instantly spring into action to repair us or nurse us back to health. A human can literally have his guts ripped open, yet thanks to medical hyperlinks, be walking around on his own power in a matter of weeks or months.

In July of 2001, 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast suffered a shark attack on a Florida beach, in which his arm was bitten off and swallowed by a 7 foot long bull shark. After being given blood to replace the loss of almost all of his own, and having his arm reattached in a 12-hour operation – his uncle wrestled the shark to shore, where it was shot and the arm retrieved – he is alive today. Yes, he suffered significant brain damage from the attack and the ensuing blood loss. The point is not that he recovered fully, but that he lives at all.

An animal that sustained a tenth the damage would be dead within minutes or hours, or at most days. A broken bone is a minor, outpatient matter for humans. We are repaired and sent home, where we suffer worst of all from the boredom of inactivity (or maybe the family’s reaction to our ceaseless whining!). Picture the likely outcome from the same broken bone in a mountain lion, bear or bird: death, death, inevitable death.

Finally, help for victims of natural disasters may come from half-way around the world, it may come at uncountable cost, it may involve everybody from schoolchildren with their pennies and crayon letters to world leaders with grand armies, billions of dollars and shiploads of grain.

Do we need to say it again? Are we tired yet of hearing “no other animal on earth”?

Now our gambling grizzly has to contend not only with the winning hand of his human opponent, not only with the scores of cheerleaders and distracters that stand around poking and pinching him, not only with the ghostly presence and advantage of ten thousand years of human genius, but with a battery of microphones, cellphones and cameras recording and transmitting his every move, eagerly poised to summon an armed cadre of grizzly exterminators if he should play the wrong card.

By no means has every human advantage been mentioned here. In individual advantages and in every conceivable combination, there are simply too many to list. We have the capacity for thoughtful patience, for instance, that few other animals can match – patience that spans hours, days, years. We have the ability to tolerate immense numbers of ourselves, so that we can reproduce virtually unchecked. We happily breed year round (woo-hoo!), and we protect our young with a vicious zeal unmatched in the natural world.

We also have the inestimable advantage of projective forethought, an ability to plan, coupled with all our other advantages, that amounts to the virtual creation of future conditions. Compared to human planning and foresight, a squirrel gathering nuts for winter is a ludicrous cartoon.


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 5 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


Man Plus

How often do human beings come in quantities of one? Certainly a lot of us can feel lonely at times, but we do that even when surrounded by scores of our fellows. Actually being completely alone in today’s world is really not that easy to accomplish. It is almost always the result of conscious choice – and great effort and expense – on the part of the camper, hiker, or cyclist, and usually doesn’t last more than a few hours or days.

At all other times, we come in pairs, threesomes, quintets, hundreds, thousands.

The human animal is tribal, both a herd animal and a pack hunter.

So far, we’ve talked mainly about the advantages of the individual human. Put that individual human in his proper place, though – in the midst of his tribe – and we enter the domain of Man Plus, where a whole new layer of advantages comes into play.


Humans cooperate with each other. Conceiving and refining plans for hunting in a way that no animal could, they combine their intelligence to plan ways to outwit not just individual prey animals but the entire prey animal species. They find ways to conquer the very nature of the animal.

Understanding the basic psychology of the creature, they see the shortcomings of the whole species and use the knowledge to defeat the species for all time. They work together to conquer the nature of the horse, and it becomes a riding animal forever after. They cooperate to conquer the nature of the wild bovine and it becomes a permanent possession, a trouble-free source of meat, milk and leather.

More than intellectual assets are multiplied by cooperation. Every single one of the gifts named so far is multiplied in its effect by men working together. Pyramids, cities, walls a thousand miles long, huge industries of capturing and using animals – or converting their territory into farmland – become possible.

Cooperation and Compassion

Humans have strong feelings for others of their species. Not just for family members, as in most animals – in humans, total strangers reap the benefits of our fellow-feeling. Dynamic lines of passion and compassion flow between us, in a way that mountain lions and bears can never experience … or benefit from. In humans, it can happen that a complete stranger will, without thinking, compassionately put himself in mortal danger to save another. Add in the element of love between the endangered and the rescuer and superhuman efforts become possible, even likely.

If you’re a toothy beastie out there on the edge of the forest, human cooperation and compassion are a huge and dangerous combination. A single child endangered by a predator might result in an open-ended pogrom to eliminate that predator. Not just to kill the one dangerous individual, but to kill every member of the species. Witness the example of California’s Golden Bear, a unique species of grizzly, the last living example of which was cheerfully shot to death in 1922.

Cooperation and Specialization

Every wild animal must be a complete survival mechanism within itself. It must be its own hunter, its own fully-equipped parent, its own nurse. By comparison, even in primitive man there may have been those who knew not a thing about gathering, and who even took pride in the fact. Others may have known nothing about hunting, perhaps even have been forbidden to know and practice the techniques of the kill.

Generally speaking, every adult animal must duplicate the survival efforts of every other. Although some social animals can specialize within their herds or hives (one sex handling the bulk of the hunting as in African lion prides, for instance, or specialized workers handling food gathering or defense as in ants), for the most part each animal has to handle every detail of its own survival.

Yet in his cooperative tribe, Man can specialize so much that certain human individuals can become virtually helpless on their own, even for some of the most basic necessities.

Humans can specialize in any aspect of survival, while other humans handle everything else. The power of specialization is not so much the particular survival-related field that any one person chooses – it is the fact that an unlimited number of other people are handling each and every other aspect of survival for that person.

There are people on this planet who have never done so much as picked and eaten a wild berry – much less attempted to clothe or defend or otherwise feed themselves. Any animal which attempted such a laid-back lifestyle would be dead within days.

Humans can take specialization even one step further from having a single survival-related specialty: consistently backed up by all these other survival specialists, individual humans can, in fact, choose to specialize in fields totally unrelated to survival – being a spoiled rich brat, a beauty queen, a lawyer or televangelist – or even in fields which are in some ways directly opposed to survival – a bull rider or racecar driver.

Memory and Lore

Humans, especially those native peoples we label “primitives” – who, rather than primitive, happen instead to be extreme sophisticates at relating to and surviving in the ecosystem in which they live – have a highly-developed body of stories, instructions and teachings. As mentioned earlier, this body of information is passed among themselves and down to each new generation, and every human learns to survive and prosper in thousands of varied situations and conditions.

By comparison, every single animal that ever lived had the intellectual and physical assets of one or two, or at most a small herd of, its relatives.

Most animals can pick up so little from any other animal, even their mothers, that they can do little more than learn how to find forage or prey animals, hopefully to survive just long enough to find a safe den and a mate before they die. If everything goes right and they succeed at surviving to adulthood – as the majority of siblings or herdmates probably will not – they still have exactly one chance in a lifetime to make a major mistake.

Sadly, due to the lack of human intellectual and social advantages, the example of their mistake might still be lost forever to their species compatriots – even if the entire herd stands watching every second of their unfortunate end. Humans, on the other hand, will be eagerly passing on the lurid story ten generations later.


Our numbers are huge and growing. Place my mythical Face Eater on a trail and start marching humans towards him to have their heads bitten off one by one. He’d die of exhaustion before one small town’s-worth of men were used up.

Once again visit the metaphorical grizzly’s card game, and we see even more clearly the plight of the beast: the grizzly sits alone on his side of the table with his pair of twos. The human, on the other hand, enjoys the advantage not just of his royal flush, but of a score of helpers and cheerleaders to advise him, as well as to tattle on the grizzly’s hand, to pinch and distract and threaten and shout at the bear as he tries to make his near-hopeless play. And waiting in the wings are seven billion new opponents.

Are we done yet in exploring man’s advantages over our gambling grizzly? Not by – pun intended – a long shot.


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 4 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight



Ah, now wimpy little Man begins to really come into his own. Wouldn’t you just know that our ancestors, who didn’t seem to be good at much else compared to the other big beasties, would at least be good at eating?

In fact, they were, and we are. We humans can eat everything from raw plants to long-rotten meat, and just about anything in between. We have versatile dentition that can cut, crush and grind, and an even more versatile digestive tract to go along with it.

Advantage? A darned big one.

We eat roots, seeds, nuts, fruit, bark, leaves, stems and tubers.

We eat birds, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, worms and both the larval and adult forms of insects. (I once told a natural history buff friend that the only type of creature I could think of that people didn’t eat was arachnids, and he promptly told me that the Yanomamo people in Brazil and the Piroa tribesmen of Venezuela include certain large spiders in their diet. Yuck.)

When it comes to edible mammals, we can make a meal out of everything from the skin of its nose to the last kink of its tail.

We eat things from the tops of trees, we eat things we dig up from under the ground. We eat things from the land, we eat things that fly, we eat things from rivers, lakes and oceans. We eat the biggest things – elephants and whales. We eat the smallest things – micro-organisms such as yeasts and molds – in our beer, wine, bread, cheese and yogurt. We eat fungi such as mushrooms.

We can eat things raw. We can eat them cooked. With proper care, we can consume foods from temperatures below freezing to those steaming hot.

Yes there are plenty of plants, a great number of them, that humans can’t eat due to the presence of toxins or indigestible substances. The fact remains that we’re not just omnivores, we’re amazingly gifted omnivores.

When it comes to eating, we’re more versatile than rats – and a helluva lot more voracious. By rights, the human animal should have its own unique designation – rather than “omnivore,” maybe we should be called “megavore” – the animal that consumes anything and everything.

Hands and Arms

Here’s yet another big advantage on Man’s side of the table.

Even if we had few of the other assets named here, human hands and the complex and versatile limbs to which they are attached would still convey an immense competitive advantage.

Hands allow us to tie, tear, twist, throw, push, pound, pinch, pick, rub, roll, choke, squeeze, sew, shake, swing, swim, strike, stroke, dig, drag, drop, weave, wring, bend, break, carry, climb and club. To say nothing of caress and hold.

Hands can be deadly weapons, too. At the age of 27 in 1950, karate master Masutatsu Oyama killed a charging bull with his bare hands. He repeated the stunt 46 more times. (Irreverently, I picture Mas Oyama as a young man forced into the family business, karate, when what he really wanted was to open a chain of meat markets.)

No other animal on the planet can do all these things.

Versatile Intelligence

Here’s another biggie – possibly THE biggie. This is the advantage we crow about. The one we’re proud of, the one that separates Us from Them.

Our intelligence is so well known that it would be a waste to belabor the point. With our big human brains we can plan, learn, think, imagine, remember, calculate, communicate and invent. And not only can we benefit from our own experience, even our most primitive tribal brothers can benefit from an accumulation of human experience that spans generations.

Tigers occasionally attack people from behind in India. Locals discovered a surprisingly effective deterrent: simply wear a facelike mask on the back of the head. Hardwired into being an ambush-type predator, most tigers see the face and are undone. Not only are they not well able to alter their hunting plan to include attacking an otherwise defenseless animal which happens to be facing them, they also have trouble learning that the mask is not a face.

Being unable to acquire the knowledge in the first place, it goes without saying that they’re not well-equipped to pass that knowledge along to other tigers.

Human intelligence and its application are hugely advanced, beyond anything any other creature can manage.

Gifts in Concert

In evaluating advantages large and small, it’s worth making the point that none of our assets exists in isolation. If we really want to make a fair evaluation of relative advantage, we simply can’t consider any one of our assets all on its own.

Add hands to superior intelligence and you end up with the competitive advantage of tools: snares and fire and blades.

Add binocular vision to hands and you get hand-eye coordination that allows accurate throwing of rocks and sticks. Toss in inventive intelligence and you get bows and arrows and other superbly accurate projectile weapons.

Join naked skin and hands and intelligence and you get the ability to occupy virtually any environment on earth. Thanks to our naked skin and the ability to use our entire surface area for evaporative cooling, for instance, we can remain extremely active even in very hot environments. Thanks to the intelligence and manipulative ability that makes us able to cover that naked skin with ever-thicker furs, we can also live in some of the coldest parts of the world.

Combine endurance and fair night vision with the above and you get a predator that can hunt continuously from the pre-dawn hours, into the heat of the day, to twilight and beyond – in summer, spring, fall or winter – on almost any continent.

Add pretty good eyesight to superior intelligence and you get superb pattern recognition. Couple our binocular color vision with the fact that we’re smart enough to understand the concept of camouflage, and we can see through any animal’s protective (or deceptive) coloration. Citified duffer that I am, I once spotted a bull elk at more than a hundred yards in heavy cover, by picking out the tiny spot of its light-colored rump from the visual confusion of surrounding vegetation.

Our assets combine with each other in ways that would have to be considered more than simply additive. Put them all together or in any combination and you get a very, very large body of advantage. Even if you were being immoderately modest, you’d still have to say that we humans are extremely gifted sonsabitches.

Compared to Man in all his glorious complexity, every other animal on earth is disadvantaged.

In fact, out in the real world, the story set-up of Poor Little Man against Big Terrible Grizzly is so incredibly lame that it’s practically a fairy tale for the mentally handicapped – notwithstanding the full-color painting of the ten-foot-tall-grizzly-in-full-attack-mode on the magazine cover, with every tooth and claw showing.

Place a hypothetical grizzly down at the metaphorical card table with a human opponent and what really happens is that Nature seldom deals the grizzly anything more than a pair of twos; the Man gets a royal flush almost every time.

Lurid hunting magazine covers to the contrary, there is ample reason to believe it is very seldom any different.

Having made this point, it might seem like beating a broken drum to go on. But in fact, a true picture of the advantages of humans over animals is still quite a bit further up the descriptive road.

There are orders of magnitude yet to go.


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 3 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


Smell, Hearing and Taste

We won’t find any advantages here. Pity poor Man, all domesticated and dumbed down so that his wild senses, if ever he had any good ones, are now blunted and tamed.

All the other animals, with their razor-sharp sensory gifts beat us all to hell in this area. Even without the ever-present threat of slinking, silent predators, we seem barely well enough equipped to keep from poisoning ourselves with dangerous plants, bad water or tainted meat.

Yet …

We can hear well enough to pick out the individual notes of a single instrument, whether in a soothing symphony or a raging rock song. Could that same inborn talent be used in the primitive wilds to detect the sounds of predators or prey, perhaps even against a noisy jungle background?

We can taste and smell well enough, some of us – which means the ability is innate in the human animal – to tell the difference between consecutive years of the exact same wine. Is that ability the sophisticated remnant of senses formerly tuned to the detecting of edible plants, of drinkable water, or even the safety of scavenged meat?

Whatever the answer, somehow – in a time when dangerous predators ruled the earth – somehow the little human nebbish seems to have squeaked by. Even with his flat nose and his little wrinkled immobile ears, he made it here to this safe modern time.


Again, poor little Man. Against the legendary visual gifts of the hawk or the eagle, compare the dim human vision of our species. We struggle myopically in the wildlands, stumbling along a well-marked trail while all around us animals spy on us, marking our clumsy progress with amusement.

Well, at least give points for our ability to see color, which is not universal among our four-legged compeers. Say a few good words about our forward-aimed binocular vision that gives a pretty fair measure of depth and distance in our environment. And though we can’t match the night sight of specifically nocturnal animals, our eyes do adapt relatively quickly to low light levels, allowing us to function with some confidence on any clear night. Plus, our eyes rest fairly high on our spindly upright frame, giving us a distance advantage, sight-wise, on those with eyes closer to the earth.

Size and Strength

Any schoolchild can name animals larger than humans: whales, lions, elephants, bears, rhinos. Size could certainly not be much of an advantage for humans. It would have to be said to weigh somewhat heavily against man’s continued survival, wouldn’t you think?

Unless, that is, you call the roll of ALL the animals on earth, and discover that humans are actually well up in the top one percent. We are, in fact, fairly large creatures.

Maybe this does nothing, however, but make us just that much bigger a chunk of meat on some predator’s table.


Compared to most other animals, we live a really long time. Science writer Isaac Asimov once penned an essay about man’s longevity. He compared the lifespans of various animals by the total number of heartbeats in an average specimen’s lifetime. Whether mice or dogs or deer, most mammals seem to live about a billion heartbeats long. Yet at 60 beats per minute (my own heart rate is usually higher than that) a 70-year-old human has lived more than two billion.

Big deal. Tortoises live a long time with their own slow-beating hearts — but in human terms it doesn’t seem to do them much good. Other than the ability to think dull reptile thoughts for even longer periods of time, can longevity make any real difference?

Well, admittedly, we fragile humans have the ability to learn about our environment, and to pass along that knowledge to others of our tribe. Living in mutually-supporting tribal groups as we have for most of our history, maybe a learned elder, there to teach and help care for youngsters, would provide enough of an advantage to his small tribe that they were able to stave off extinction by a tiny margin each time. Generations of such elders, passing along hard-won knowledge, might add even a tad bit more to the survival side of the scale.

Add in that part of our longevity is a period of fertility measured in decades – three-plus on the female side, to a conceivable six for the male.

Yet could either of these be “Man’s special something,” the whatever-it-is that kept us alive this long? It’s not enough, is it?


We have the capacity for remarkable endurance. Line up all the land animals on earth for a marathon footrace, and very few would be able to make it past the first few miles. Wolves and horses and a few other critters would be there at the finish line, and not many others. But Man would be.


Well, yes. Endurance works at any speed – humans don’t have to be running to benefit from greater endurance. In pursuing prey, getting out of range of predators, escaping fire, moving away from diminished hunting range, or many other situations that can be imagined – just sitting down and working for hours and hours each day, for instance, something no other predator does – it would have to be considered an advantage.

Okay, we can grudgingly admit to a second small advantage.

But aren’t there at least a few really big ones?


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

Grizzly’s Gamble — Part 2 of 8 (Repost)

Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight


… Okay, it never happened.

I did stand under the streetlight on that lonely highway, right enough. After hours of waiting, I began to study the darkness around me, projecting my fears into it, and as I began to think more and more of things that might lurk out there, I gradually froze into spooked immobility. Though I never saw or heard the merest evidence that anything was out there, I stood locked in place, imagining everything from my rocketing, deadly Face Eater to a pack of rabid wolves, from the eighteen foot tall mutant killer bear I’d see in a movie to a horde of screaming, red-eyed baboons, escaped from some cheap carnival and out for blood.

Locked into the recursive reverberation of my own imaginings, I scared myself at nothing. I allowed florid, fictional images to fill my mind and echo back and forth, growing until I could no longer even think.

Betting Against the Grizzly

Thanks to movie-makers, hunting magazines, and purveyors of other kinds of pop entertainment, whenever we hear talk comparing Man the Animal with other creatures, poor Man usually comes out a weak and fragile nebbish, stuck out in the dangerous wilds, scared and alone. He sits down at Nature’s card game with his measly pair of Jacks (his intelligence), and a host of massive, befanged predators snicker at him over paws full of aces: claws, razor teeth, rocketing speed, eagle eyes, merciless instincts wired to unpredictable rage and a hunger for flesh.

The lurid cover story in a hunting magazine stacks the defenseless little Man against a grizzly. The friendly, harmless human – it might be your own uncle, out for a walk – is introduced in folksy language. Soon the deadly griz enters the tale, big as a Sherman tank and mean as a biker on angel dust. Weights are compared. Strength is described. The number and size of teeth come into the story, and the length of claws.

The fear builds. The hapless human is just out for a little harmless recreation, but the deadly dangerous, unbeatable monster of a grizzly has every murderous intention of stalking, horribly killing, and slowly, over a number of days, consuming the bloody carcass of the poor little Man.

And there’s no doubt it has happened. Wild animals don’t keep records, but humans certainly do. Wikipedia’s entry on bear attacks lists close to 60 fatal attacks by brown bears in the U.S. since the 1870s, with an additional 53 by black bears and seven more by polar bears. (Scarily personal, the list includes someone I actually knew: Tim Treadwell.)

A comparison of griz and man certainly is eyebrow-raising. Though continental grizzlies come in at an already-impressive 900 pounds or so, the tabloid-fodder Alaskan brown bear, Ursus arctos middendorffi, might tip the scales at 1500 pounds and be nine feet long. It  can run at 30 or more miles an hour, propelled across the ground on paws equipped with six inch claws. Its hungry mouth is equipped with fangs inches long.

Compare this to an adult male human, who’d weigh in around 200 pounds. Feeble little fingernails. Flat nubbins of teeth. And not a hope in hell of outrunning this souped-up freight train with fur.

We live today in a pretty safe world. Back in the era of the literally-naked savage, not only did we have nothing in the way of machine-era technology – no weapons that didn’t depend on our own muscle power – but the predators were bigger. Imagine living in North America with the sabertoothed cat and the short-faced bear (think of a grizzly on steroids with some thoroughbred racehorse genes thrown in for speed), or the great variety of predators elsewhere in the world – creatures fiercer, more varied, more numerous, and probably much less afraid of us than anything alive today.

It seems a stroke of wild, improbable luck that we survived to the modern day. What, really, could account for it? Do we have any advantages at all, compared to wild animals? Can we tease out any single trait, other than blind luck, that kept us alive this long?


Parts:  OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight