Today, I want to talk about the Reluctant Evolutionary. That’s me. That’s all of us, I make up. Even if you’re saying, “Hell no, that’s not me”, I believe it is. And it’s okay that we believe different things because in the end, believing doesn’t make something true or false. What’s true will always be true even if we don’t believe it.
Our reluctance lives in the things we talk about as a culture, as an age in all the ages of Human history. Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Age of Invention - the Agricultural Age, The Industrial Revolution Age, The Technology Age, the Information Age, and what I’ll call the Age of Enlightenment or Chaos, since both apply.
What DID we talk about over the ages? Actually, when did we first start talking?
According to my research, speech began anywhere from 2 million years ago to 50,000 years ago (you’d think we’d be better at it by now, wouldn’t you?). The Hominids or Hominins were our first talking ancestors.
Social groups increased the need for speech. Perhaps grunting and whining, like chimpanzees, at first. Or even sign language - let’s point at the wild boar before we run like hell. Let’s thumbs up a really delicious berry we found in the forest and thumbs down if that really delicious berry killed Bert, who was the first to taste it. Survival Conversation, if you will.
Research also tells us that our machinery – vocal cords, mouth, tongue and throat weren’t equipped for today’s sophisticated speech. So grunting and other noises were all we had at first.
I'll jump ahead to what we’d all recognize as human speech and talk about what we talked about in each era of Human evolution.
Let’s start with the Agricultural Age. (10, 000 BC) Think of conversations in the Agricultural Age. You’re a farmer. What do you talk about to your other farmer friends? How are your crops? Will it rain this week? Sure could use some rain. The plow needs a new … (who knows what a plow might need?) or the milking cow’s gone dry. Boy is she in trouble. Likely to be next Sunday’s dinner. Or maybe the price of seed went up, and the price of wheat went down due to overproduction. Basic things. Survival things.
What about the Industrial Age? Lots more to talk about there. As the wealthy purchased land in Britain, for example, small scale farmers were pushed to the cities to look for work^. Now the conversation was about wages, poor working conditions, child labor, building factories, materials, trade to get the materials, travel by sea, storms and piracy, accidents with machinery, tenements, and immigrants, the idea of human rights starting to enter the conversation, political machines controlling a city’s politics and influencing government, competition for jobs among the poorer classes, wars. Now we’re talking, right? Our problems were getting bigger and more of them showed up every day. And that’s progress, isn’t it? It’s also survival. We are still in a struggle for survival even though we call it progress.
Now leaping forward to the Technology Age or the Age of Information. This was the shift from traditional industry to information computerization. We’ve become a knowledge-based society surrounded by a hi-tech global economy. Cities have expanded to become global cities; we are global citizens, many of us. Industry has become information-intense.
What do we talk about in the Age of Information? We talk about our devices: phones, smart or otherwise; our smart tvs, iPads, our pcs and our macs, gaming devices, the cloud, and even then, there are no clear boundaries anymore as we all seek to homogenize our technology into something more streamline and compact. We also talk about Personalization, as not to get lost in the sea of Humanity, all using the same devices to communicate and connect.
We also must talk about security. Phishing, hacking, identity theft now that so much of what we used to do in person is done through technology. We’ve connected, and not always with the right people. We even date online and not always with the right people there, by the way.
We talk about our cars and to a lesser degree, public transportation. How fast can we get somewhere and the tragedy of being “stranded” when our car breaks down or weather conditions delay our flights. Stranded. We are still worried about survival.
This brings me to The Age of Consequence. My term, not anyone else’s and an overlapping with the Information Age, as I’m sure all ages experienced in the past.
What are we talking about now? We’re still talking about security: the phishing and hacking. We’re still talking about politics and big business, and a greater divide between classes. Now we’re also talking about the environment, what we’ve done to the air, the water, the forests; our never ending production and consumption of plastic. We’re talking about the extinction of species and the sixth mass extinction on the planet. Yes, we talk about others things, too.
We’re celebrity obsessed and we love to see them fall and fail. We cry briefly when an icon dies and then go back to business as usual. We talk about videos and tweets going viral. We share photos of our most recent meal on Facebook.
In all of this, the most impactful and relevant conversations are those around how we are consciously facing a concern about our actions of the past and how they are impacting us today. No one worried about their impact on the next 7 generations in the agricultural age or the industrial age, except perhaps the Indigenous People of the World, who have lived one age in parallel with our many ages. Impact beyond personal within my family, was not in my wheelhouse growing up.
Now we are all this and more. Survival and safety are heightened senses with everything around us being called unsafe, our homes, our neighborhoods, who lives next to us – a murderer, a pedophile or a terrorist? We talk our employers, our banks, our business structures, who has the biggest guns and weapons of mass destruction. We’re told that it’s a rigged game to make someone rich, and it’s usually not us. We must be concerned about what we did in the past, before we were even born, bearing the guilt of our ancestors who came to most places as conquerors, takers, seeking freedom by taking it away from others.
We are in the Age of Consequence. What a guilt trip to lay on Humanity. Be afraid of everything and oh by the way, you’ve screwed up everything you’ve done so far, so good luck with sorting that out or the future will be pretty much screwed, too.
Life isn’t about living it – okay, a generalization, I know. Yes, of course, it’s about living it and it’s also about surviving it. I just got off the phone with someone who called her situation at work, “just trying to survive”. At the end of the call, she said, “Hang in there.” Where? Where am I hanging?
I’ve always just wanted to live my life and enjoy it. And yet, I’m in survival mode like the cave dwellers, the farmers, and the early industrial workers. Maybe we’ve always been in survival mode; maybe it’s just in our DNA. The fear gene. And maybe without it, we don’t know how to live. Our brains are wired to seek out the threats and pay little attention to the things that don’t appear to threaten us. The problem is the brain needs a bigger threat as we evolve to get activated. We are on threat overload.
Here’s where my Reluctant Evolutionary comes in. Maybe yours, too. I’m in the consequence mode and often feel that I’ve got to solve all the world’s problems by last Tuesday.
And course we all know that it’s not possible. We always know that, unlike planting a crop or building a widget, as reluctant evolutionaries, we may not even see the end result of our work in the world. We are doing legacy work that may take decades or centuries to evolve into a new age. We may not see the impact in our lifetime. And yet, we know what our purpose is here in the world and we must do what we are activated to do, even knowing that we may never know our impact on the future. It’s a reluctant evolutionary who is the hero in my eyes; the one who says yes to that kind of work because who doesn’t want the acknowledgment or pat on the back that says great job; thanks for saving Gotham, Batman.