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Chapter 1 - The Creation of Man and Imperialism. Print
 

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xChapter 1. The Creation of Man

and Imperialism.

Chapter I. The Creation of Man and Imperialism.

  1. Long-term history in one page and one table.

  2. The birth of human life.

  3. Name-calling: Homo sapiens praedator.

  4. The narrow-minded kinship perspective.

  5. The birth of imperialism.

  6. The precariousness of life.

  7. The “Malthusian margin”.

  8. Man’s history – what is it then?

Summary: Life is precarious. Imperialism is our biologically inherited life-saver on the eternal “Malthusian margin”, threatening us with annihilation.

1. Long-term history in one page and one table.

Human life is something very unique and very short. Intelligent human life is even more unique and very much shorter.

In order to understand the Human Condition today a long-term time perspective is useful. I chose five mayor points in time.

“Each cell in my body was once a part of a star”. This beautiful saying is true. But that was long ago. Some 13,7 billion years are gone since the Big Bang and the supernovas filled our universe with the stars out of which our cells are made.

 

The earth on which we live, our basic life-giving resource, cooled down some four billion years ago.

Life in the form of the first bacteria, from which we all descend, appeared shortly after, most experts believe, say 3,6 billion years ago.

Man came six million years ago. For only one 600 part of the existence of life also man has been here. For 599 parts he was not.

Man’s special intelligence started to grow around three million years ago. For 1.199 out of 1.200 parts of life’s existence it could do without any higher brain volume than that of the chimpanzees.

The word “man”, to give my definition, I use as an abbreviation for “human”, including men, women and children of all versions of human species since we separated from the chimpanzees. Often I call us “non-chimps”.

The history of this creature can also be summarized in a small table which I intend to enlarge in this book:

EVENTS

TIME IN YEARS

PERCENTAGE OF ALL

A. Birth of human life

6,000,000 

100

B. Human Intelligence

3,000,000 

 50

C. Out of Africa

 60,000 

 1

D. Agriculture

 12,000 

 0,2

Religion and writing

 4,000 

 0,07

Christianity

 2,000 

 0,035

E1. The Renaissance

 600

 0,01

E1. Founding of the USA

 230 

 0,005

E2. From 2,,5 humans

 60 

 0,001 or 1/100,000 part

Perhaps it is easier to understand man’s long history with the help of a few simple lines.

The first one is man’s “primitive” history in Africa. It comprises 99 percent of our non-chimp existence. The line starts some six million years ago. At the middle of it, man’s specific intelligence starts to grow. At the end of it you find the migration our of Africa. The line should be, but isn’t some 99 times as long as the little figure at its end.

The enlarge version of the little end picture, shows man’s migration out of Africa. It has taken place during some 60,000 years. During the first 45 to 60,000 the small African kinship groups spread out over all the world. Some 10 to 12,000 years ago, the world was filled. Then, only during the latest 0.2 percent or our existence, integration towards today’s globalization, set in.

2. The birth of human life.[1]

Let’s now take it a bit more slowly with a few details added. 

Those who are not very happy about seeing themselves as inflated bacteria also try to escape the fact that they biologically are very close to the chimpanzees.

This is now, after September 1st 2005, rather difficult to do. This is the date when the chimpanzee DNA-genome – the map of all the DNA that make the chimps - was published in Nature.[2]  As the human genome has been around for a few years, it is now possible to pinpoint the very great similarity between us and our closest relatives.

How long ago we split from them is not yet completely settled. Paleoarcheologists have pieces of bones that they date to seven million years ago. Genetic dating takes us back to over five million years. You can find both figures in the latest expert literature. For my purpose, it is enough to say that we split from the chimps around six million years ago. This is also the most common figure in the literature.

Those DNA that both men and chimpanzees have are similar to 98.77 percent. Thus only 1.23 percent of our common inheritance is different. Then, during the past six million years, we have lost some DNA segments, deletions, and we have got some new, insertions. When these “indels” are taken into consideration, there may be around four percent differences in the basic biological material that now gives us our inheritance. To 96 percent we humans are completely equal to the chimpanzees, as we are, to about 25 percent, with bananas.

It should also be understood that each of our genes has its own evolutionary history. Sometimes this may lead to rather interesting combinations. On some genes we can be more closely related to the chimps than to each other. You may have blood group O together with a chimp, while your wife and the chimp’s mate may both have blood group A.

Natura non facit saltus, the old Romans said. And they were right!

The experts in the field ask the essential question: what in this huge material is it that makes us truly human. Large cranial capacity, bipedalism, and advanced brain development are among the most interesting suggestions. I will come back to this in chapter 7, where I think it is something else, something very much else.

3. Name-calling.

In Jonathan Swift’s Journal to Stella he describes a then famous duel between the homicidal Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton, in which both died. A modern commentator says: “Man is the most predatory and aggressive of animals – with the possible exception of the great cats, tiger and panther. Most animals kill for food or self-protection, for survival; man will kill for pleasure or for fun – in Swift’s time for the foolery of duelling.”[3]

In no way did nature make a jump directly from the chimpanzees to what we love to call “Homo sapiens”.

Nature walks slowly, step by step. In between us and the first man about six million years ago some twenty different “prototypes” of  modern man have been discovered.

These have been given nice Latin family names such as Praeanthropus, Ardipithecus, Australopithecus and Homo, with six species in the first, only one in the second, four in the third, and nine in the latest group.[4]

One relative in the Homo-subfamily was Homo neanderthalensis. In the mistaken belief that we were very closely related to them, but wanting to separate ourselves from that company, not so long ago we called them Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and ourselves Homo sapiens sapiens, the doubly wise man.

We now know that the Neanderthals were quite distant relatives. But sometimes we still use the misleading names both for them and for us. My own hunch is that the “true” name of our species, the incomparably greatest predator in the rest of nature, should be Homo sapiens praedator, man, the astute predator.

Let me repeat what here is seriously essential: in between the chimpanzees and us some twenty different prototypes for a truly wise man have existed. Several of them lived parallel to each other at the same time. Now all of them are gone. One by one they have been extinguished in the cruel redundancy game of nature. But when one died, another was ready to carry on the fire of human life.

Now Homo sapiens sapiens, or praedator, is alone! I will name him “the twenty-first prototype” for a truly wise creature.

The real meaning of what most likely was our murder of the Neanderthals is that now there is nobody else, no other prototype or close relative, to take over and carry on nature’s grand experiment with an intelligent creature.

Shouldn’t that insight give each of us a feeling of tremendous responsibility?

4. The narrow-minded kinship perspective.

However much we now stress our uniqueness and bless our individualism, man is a herd animal.

The size of our human herds has grown, enormously so, but only during the latest 0.2 percent of our existence, see the table above.

For 99.8 percent of man’s life we lived, like many other animals, in small kinship groups or troops  of, say, less than one hundred individuals.

Our close ape relatives, the orang-utans and gibbons live in strict nuclear families with only three or four individuals in each. Estimates show that mountain gorillas as a mean size have seventeen members. Our probably earliest modern forefathers, the Bushmen at the margin of the Kalahari desert, have twenty. The long tailed Asian langur monkeys have 25, Australian Aborigines 35, African papio baboons 61 and Japanese macaque monkeys 90 members in coherent families. All of them also live in some form of unequal hierarchical structure.[5]

As one author, Marc Hauser, in the Nature issue with the Chimpanzee genome, tells us: “we are virtually in the dark when it comes to understanding how genes build minds” and “we are woefully ignorant about how genes build brains, and how the electrical activity of the brain builds thoughts and emotions.”

So it is. This truth forces us to speculate, if we want to say anything of practical relevance for understanding Human Nature.

Most likely, I would claim, the six million years inside of small kinship groups have laid down two tendencies in our genes which give two basic patterns in our brains.

The first is our basic perspective which is that of “I, here and now”.

The second is our basic desire to “belong” to some group. It doesn’t matter which, but to some group we want to belong.

Due to our six million years of living in small kinship herds, we are still zoon politicon, as Aristotle defined us, and very narrow-minded ones.

5. The birth of imperialism.

One direct Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg takes today 13 hours and 40 minutes. For our earliest forefathers it took 130,000 years to travel the same distance. That is the time it took to fill up Africa from the southern part, where we most likely were born, up to the area of Palestine and Israel, which at that time was the northern margin of Africa.

  

A fellow-species of ours, Homo erectus, had left Africa long before that. They had even reached Beijing and Java a million years ago. But we will leave him out, for the moment. He is dead.

Why didn’t we stay in southern Africa? Why did we start that expansion north which can be seen as our first imperialist adventure?

The answer is very simple and very well-known. We are today much preoccupied with the so-called “population explosion”. How many people can the earth take before we destroy the ecological base upon which we are living? Answers have been sought in huge U.N. conferences as well as in military planning centres.

The very simple answer is that of “redundancy”. Life is so precarious that nature has given almost all animals the capacity to make more children than the two that would replace mother and father in a world with ecological homeostasis or equilibrium or balance. The same is true for the Homo sapiens woman. On the average, it has been estimated, she can give life to some eleven or twelve children during her fertile period. From the point of view of blind nature, all but two are born to die.

But we don’t like our children to die. Thus we try to find new food also for a third or a fourth child. We are now talking about a situation when man was a hunter and gatherer. To support such a living form, you need very much territory. In order to find it, you had to expand, you have to rob ever more territory from others, animals or men, to satisfy your hunting and gathering needs.

That is what happened in Africa, during around 130,000 years before Africa had been filled up to the margin of its carrying capacity for hunters and gatherers.

This is, if you so wish, man’s first wave of expansive imperialism.

6. The precariousness of life.

If we now look at the first six million years, or 99.8 percent of man’s existence, what do we know?

We know, to repeat, that 19 our of 20 prototypes are gone.

We know that the latest prototype for a truly wise man, us, has been around for about 190,000 years.

We know that at the end of this period Homo sapiens praedator had expanded into every nook and cranny on the globe. Estimates agree that the number of human individuals on the full earth was then less than ten million.

This gives us an average increase in human population of less than two individuals per year. Less than one man and one women per year, on the whole globe!

Human life during these first six million years must, indeed, have been extremely precarious. This is the period in which the four percent of our DNA-inheritance that separate us from the chimpanzees have been selected for.

Isn’t it a fair hypothesis that the precariousness of life has had a not inconsiderable influence on which alleles have remained, which are deleted and which new ones are inserted?

If so, how and why? To answer that question, let us introduce one of mankind’s deepest and most important theoretical insights.

7. The “Malthusian margin”.

Since 1973 the United Nations has arranged “population conferences”. They have essentially been based upon the assumption that we are in for some “population explosion” that in one way or another must be stopped before ecological catastrophes will end it by ending us all.

This modern fear is based upon a small anonymous pamphlet that came in 1798 with a long title, usually rendered as An Essay on Population. In 1803 a longer edition came and the name of the author was given, Thomas Robert Malthus, one of mankind’s most important thinkers.

Malthus thus explained the intention of his study: “The principal object of the present essay is to examine the effects of one great cause...the constant tendency in all animated life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it.”

Then Malthus gave a mass of evidence showing that this constant tendency at the margin of existence led to a constant struggle for the last resources of food in all animated life, also in mankind. Who, however, he hoped, might be saved from this struggle by help of culture.

Charles Darwin read these lines in his youth. As he himself said in the third chapter of the “Origin of Species”, this was what inspired him to develop the basic element of his theory of evolution, the natural selection at “the Malthusian margin”. It was at this margin, Darwin realized, that our genes and alleles are sorted.

We will come back to this problem in chapter 3.

8. Man’s history – what is it then ?

During most of human history, I pointed out above, there has been two or more prototypes of modern man.

Cats have existed much longer than man; the family Felidae has been around for some fifty million years.[6] Many prototypes for the now existing ones are gone. But there are still several of them left, lion, tigers, leopards, cheetahs and our beloved house cats. Should one of them die out – cheetahs seems to be close to it – the others will continue the history of feline cat animals.

Man’s future history is not equally certain. Since we killed the Neanderthals, as most likely was what happened, we are alone in the human kingdom. Should we now kill ourselves nobody would take over and continue the human history.

Nature’s only experiment with an intelligent creature during the latest 0.1 percent of the existence of life would have come to an end.

This history of what I call the “twenty prototypes”, of which we know almost nothing except that they are gone and dead, might lead us to a few even deeper questions.

Is man’s history then essentially one of man’s blind increases in numbers on a restricted planet?

And is the essence of this history nature’s choice between different prototypes for modern man, giving only one out of twenty the possibility to live. Does nature discriminate?

Or, even more scaring, is the latest history, the one we are now writing, essentially one of man’s struggles against man, leaving perhaps not more than one in twenty of us for the next future? Or, in the worst of cases, threatening all of us, as has happened with 99,9 of all other organisms that once existed,[7] with final annihilation?



[1]  If any reader would like to make a long and detailed “Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life”, a few billion years before the chimpanzees, do read Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale  London 2004..

[2] Nature, 1 Sept. 2005, with several articles, see for instance, for the figure of six million years, Wen-Hsiung Li & Matthew A. Saunders, “The chimpanzee and us.”, p. 50.

[3] Gulliver’s Travel, A Pan Classic 1977. Introduction by A.L. Rowse, p.11.

[4] Camilo J. Cela-Conde and Francisco J. Ayala, ”Genera of the human lineage”, PNAS, June 24, 2003, p. 7684.

[5] Bernhard Campbell, Human Evolution. 2nd edition, Aldine, New York 1974, p. 314.

[6] Sudhir Kumar & Blair Hedges, ”A molecular timescale for vertebrate evolution.” Nature 30 April 1998, p. 917.

[7] as Brown University’s  biology professor Kenneth Miller has estimated, see the New Yorker December 5th 2005, p. 69. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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