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John Mattingly: The Sap in Sapiens

By John Mattingly

In the fall of the year, when the season’s efforts – good and bad – must be accepted, and preparations for the next year are less demanding, it is nice to sit on a tractor all day and watch Earth turn from daybreak to dusk. The light has a slant and richness that are hypnotizing. It is a time for what my father called “a long ponder.” After one such ponder he told me that he suspected he was living in the last years of Homo sapiens. Even then, in the years of Reagan and Bush Sr., he could not quite reconcile the persistence of war, greed and cruelty. It is sad and humbling to think what humans could do if all the killing of human culture had been applied to improving the life of everyone.It is a bit troubling to realize that Homo sapiens – self-named (without bias) for their remarkable sentience – produce well-meaning geniuses and total whack-jobs in approximately equal number. For every Einstein there is a Hitler on the horizon. Instead of time travel we had World Wars. For every Mother Teresa a greedy moneymaker comes along. Instead of sharing and taking care of each other, we see the pointless accumulation of wealth in very few. And thus, for every Obama there is a Trump in the way, bringing out the sap in sapiens.
Trump is what happens when democracy doesn’t work because the electorate are uninformed, sometimes intentionally. The founders of our nation were more concerned about monarchy than stupidity, not realizing at that time that stupidity in large numbers can be a powerful form of aggression. Or regression. MAGA is code for let’s make abortion murder, let’s keep out the non-Christians, and, of course, the Big Deal Maker: marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.
We like to fall back on the timeworn cliché that democracy is imperfect, but better than any alternative. But the wise folks who preached that line lived in a much smaller world. Democracy might work well for thirteen colonies and two million people, it may not; however work in fifty states for 350 million people.
From the research and genetic proxy work of some of the good will geniuses among us, we know that humans have gone through several extinction-level events in the last 200,000 years. There is evidence that the human population has been reduced to as few as 5,000 individuals. All of us are descendants of those who survived. My father looked at how humans were behaving and concluded that it was time for another challenge to human survival, and those who survived might create a less aggressive culture.
One problem is that war has proved beneficial to human fitness. War does not decrease population; it stimulates it as survivors reproduce in compensatory haste. War tends to spread information and prompt technology. War defines the life of many soldiers in a glorious light. Given that there has never been a generation of humans to live without a war over the last 5,600 years of recorded history tells us that war has been favorable to human population expansion, because over that same period the human population has expanded from about 3 million to 7.5 billion.
This may explain the persistence of aggression. When hard times come along, the intelligent population makes preparations and puts together the tools of survival, only to be overrun and looted by the warrior population. We have seen this many times in the wide river of history: humans of good will are either overrun by, or willingly give in to, the aggressive population.

[InContentAdTwo] So, today we have a divided nation. While it is dangerous to generalize, and certainly the lines of distinction are not clear, there are those who want to make America First and bully the rest. This group fears radical Islamic terrorism, shifting social norms, and the changing demographics of our country that may well make them a minority. Then there are those who understand that we are moving inexorably toward a global system. This latter group is more commensal but not less determined. They see that we have gone from tribes to villages to cities to city-states and then nation states. A global state is already in the motions of formation.
The U.S. election will not bring peace and solution to this disparity. The political temper tantrum of an impatient, unevenly informed and fearful electorate will continue, on both sides. Clinton will have a tough time governing if Bernie’s policy hopes are not realized, while Trump will continue to lead a group of folks who think oligarchs like him and Putin are the only hope of the West to defeat the invasions of Islamic terrorists. If sufficient chaos ensues, we may see both sides willingly surrender to the one group that both sides adore: the U.S. military. We already see more military folks running for office and being credited with the special wisdom that can only come from combat. We see generals being consulted on matters of state. Military personnel seem immune to criticism these days even though they are arguably one of the culprits in causing the divisiveness among us.
The ironies abound. Democracy is being diminished by its own voters, a wealthy oligarch is claiming to champion the working class, and the military is ready to step in and be the solution to a problem they helped create. And then, there’s the sap in sapiens ….

John Mattingly cultivates prose, among other things, and was most recently seen near Poncha Springs.