top of page

The Best of Times. The Worst of Times

Updated: Jun 27, 2020

(an addendum to Section 1 of Democracy STRUGGLES!)

Think back on your knowledge of history. When would you say humanity emerged from savagery and barbarism?

  • Was it during the Roman Empire?

  • Because of the Magna Carta?

  • After the American Revolution?

  • At the end of the US Civil War?

  • On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918?

  • With the final verdict of the Nuremberg Trials? (or with the lurch of the last trapdoor?)

  • With the formation of the United Nation?

  • In the dodged holocaust of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

  • With the signing of Civil Rights and Voting Acts of the 1960s?

  • The election of Barack Obama?

  • The impeachment/resignation/25thment of dumvald j trimp?

Or maybe we never really were all that bloodthirsty in the first place? At least not by nature. Perhaps we’ve only behaved in certain ways because of tricks of history? Contaminated understandings and miscalculations? Somewhat toxic social arrangements still needing a little reconfiguration? Maybe all we need is a little attitude adjustment to our political economy?

Does all this sound too silly?

Are we humans essentially “the same” as when our species first popped up into the archeological record about 200k years ago? This same record suggests big game hunters were taller and stronger than descendants later “trapped” by settled agriculture and civilization. More recent records indicate, that in the past few generations, humans in the advanced industrial world have again grown taller. (This is attributed to more meat in the average diet.)

The above is all quite speculative. Even more speculative is the idea of domestication.

An experiment conducted on a Russian fox fur farm may demonstrate something about domestication. It took experimenters approximately forty generations to breed “tame” foxes. And these playful little pets were not only cute and cuddly, they exhibited similar physical characteristics to other domesticated animals (floppy ears, piebald fur patterns, etc.) In this experiment, the only animals allowed to breed were those who displayed the most friendliness and least amount of fear when interacting with humans.

Friendliness and trust.

* * * *

Could we humans be domesticating ourselves?

It’s superficially plausible.

We humans certainly don’t selectively breed ourselves solely on the criteria of friendliness and trust. But friendliness and trust probably make up some percentage of the factors contributing to how we form stable breeding pairs. Friendliness and trust must also play some role in supporting individual survival. And as our human societies grow more complex and difficult to navigate, this may be becoming ever truer.

Or not.

Perhaps, in the very long run, we might already be responding to selection pressures in favor of not only trust and friendliness, but also for abilities to do mathematics and employ still other higher-level thinking skills? And could (on the same extended timescale) empathy, compassion, and tolerance for uncertainty be playing ever more statistically significant roles in human evolutionary fitness?

It’s not impossible . . .

The idea is simply that cultural evoluti