I awake most mornings to a sense of deficiency; my mind is hard to move forward – like an old car with a slipping clutch. And I can’t sit in front of my computer anymore, put on my favorite music, and write down my heart. My words fail me – flooded as they are with anger derived from a Facebook stupidity or the NYT headlines. I know, I open that door every morning – I walk in thinking somehow things will be different, someone will upload some piece of information that does not require a fear of going to hell or total annihilation to act upon. It would be promising to see Times headlines speaking of peace in the Middle East, a true and peaceful blossoming Arab Spring. But no, truth is painful and half -truths are doubly painful. I am retired, five years now – and I am prepared to quit my part-time adjunct position at the local community college – a job only meant to ease my transition from 24 years of high school teaching. It has done its job. I sit on my deck now and watch the apples ripen on the ancient tree in the side yard – no it’s not like watching grass grow or paint dry because the growth of the apples signal a freshening of sorts, an advancing – of the deer and fall. It is unchanging – this seasonal slippage. It happens with no coaxing or caffeine induced rage. Unlike human nature, nature is separate – slipping the bounds of discovery and design. It is what it is – no more no less. My knees and back ache. Yes, you could say it is simply age but I like to think these aches come from years of struggling under the weight of why.
This week I began an online class offered by Coursera – A Brief History of Human Kind by professor Yuval Noah Harari who beams his talks from a chair in Israel to people as close as his Palestinian neighbors to hundreds if not thousands of students worldwide wanting to know the history of us. I’ve just completed session 1 which has moved me from why to how: If we spent so many thousands of years being hunted and eaten just how did we maintain our grasp (however slippery) on that middle link of survival only to move to the top of that monstrous food chain? As my professor said, we had no physical strength or size, no great teeth, claws or tough hide to protect us and yet here we are – god of all creatures great and small. I’m left thinking this accident of ascendance is because we are genetically wired to wage war and kill in mass quantities for purposes other than food. Maybe something as simple as thumbs…? – But the great apes are equipped with such – they can still be captured and enslaved. So, thumbs are out. Maybe we began using our brains – proportionally larger than other beasts – to better advantage. Whatever the case, I agreed with my professor that man was (and remains, in my view) ill equipped for his role at the top of the food chain.
So, after my first week of study, I’ve learned that cooperation within the species holds more weight than the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Indeed, according to professor Harari, because we have ascended so rapidly to the top of the food chain, we remain weak and vulnerable. So much so, we have the all-consuming need (for survival?) to fortify ourselves for protection (the fittest?). Harari likened early sapiens to ascendant albeit frightened lambs nervously scanning a shortened horizon for a leader. This suggests we are not really armed wolves fighting to survive but something far more dangerous – armed sheep.