Thinking Like A Species

I just finished reading SCATTER, ADAPT, AND REMEMBER: How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz. The book struck my sweet spots: It examines the future by thinking about the past. And it imagines a future. Period.

As in: Newitz believes that humans, arguably the most adaptable species ever to inhabit the planet, can and will survive whatever the future (apocalyptic or otherwise) will bring. Highly recommended. By me. For what that's worth.

Newitz looks at how/why other species did/did not survive environmental disasters in the past (as in: two billion or so years ago) and then at how we humans might (or might not) survive such disasters in the future. She talked to many scholars and experts and the book describes a host what can only be described as truly futuristic, nearly science-fictionish research projects. My favorite is the space elevator and related research to design the "ribbon" that will carry that elevator into deep space.

Those are huge, expensive projects. The stuff of governments and big corporations. But Newitz got me thinking about smaller strategies that we humans could adopt now to help ensure a future.

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Flickr Commons

Here's the only thing I've come up with thus far: building antibiotic resistance through inter-generational living arrangements. (And yes, fair warning: This is a pretty dopey idea. Hey! It's July. It's summer. I'm on vacation (sort of].)

I got the idea by being sick, thanks to my five-year-old grandson. In April, I visited him (and his mama and dada). At one point, I handed him my water bottle because he was thirsty (and, as usual, I was the only adult along on that car trip who'd brought water. Cough cough.).

As he took a swig, I thought "Oh, man. This could be a really really bad idea." And yes, it was. I got sick, presumably because I then drank from the water bottle and because five-year-olds are super-efficient germ factories. (I got sick as in: I was sick for three fucking weeks. I made several other people sick, too. At one point, I wondered if I'd ever be well again.)

Last week, the Germ Factory paid me a nine-day visit. He had sniffles when he arrived and --- bingo. I got sick again. (No, I did not share my water bottle with him. Apparently proximity sufficed.)

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Flickr Commons

This time, however, I wasn't nearly as sick. I only needed 48 hours to overpower the bugs. But that got me thinking: I'm surely better off for having been exposed to the stuff that he carries around with him, germs and bacteria to which, in our super-duper, sanitized America, I would otherwise not be exposed.

Thus my idea: Perhaps humans were better off, health-wise, back when they lived in smaller groups that contained humans ranging in age from very young to very old. The "back when," in this case being a century ago, when it was still normal in the western world, as it still is today in much of the rest of the world, for multiple generations to live in a single unit.

Perhaps we humans ought to cultivate such living habits again? I dunno. It's an idea. Albeit a lame one. After all, according to the apocalyptics, antibiotic resistance is on the rise.

But surely one way to inoculate ourselves against the (mostly) invisible creatures that have the ability to outsmart, outwit, outplay even our smart selves is by exposing ourselves to as many of those as possible.

Although as I type this, I'm reminded, again, of another value to multi-generational living: the passing of wisdom. You know how ancient societies often yielded power to the oldest among them? There's a reason for that. At age sixty, I'm a heck of a lot wiser than I was at forty. My perspective on "what matters" is quite different, primarily because my perspective now includes the great unknown known as death --- a perspective that enhances problem-solving and, more important, also shapes what "problems" actually matter. (Hint: most problems aren't.)

And finally, I had this thought the other day while watching WorldCup quarter-finals: Newitz's main point, the idea on which her entire books hinges, is that it behooves all of us to think like a species. To see ourselves as homo sapiens first and foremost.

Easier said than done, right? Because of course in the modern world humans are defined primarily by arbitrary, human-made political and geographic delineations. So how do we overcome that? How can all of us think like a species?

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Flickr Commons

Soccer. Seriously. Here's my (also admittedly lame) reasoning: Soccer is (probably; I have no stats) the most popular sport on the planet. Americans are nearly alone in their disdain for soccer. But we Americans need to get with the program because soccer illuminates and emphasizes our similarities: During the 90 minutes of a match, we see what are arguably the most fit members of the species in combat, trying to outwit, outlast, outplay each other.

It's a sport that, if we all embrace, can remind us of our similarities --- our shared humanity, our shared species-ness --- and thus connect us at a kind of deep, subconscious level. (And please: none of the bread-and-circuses stuff. As a species, we need to move past our short, stunted perspectives.)

Or something like that.  As I said: It's July. My brain's on a break.

In any case: folks, forget the doom/gloom. We gotta think like a species and shape our future. Let's go!