"Man has not been endowed with a definitive human nature; he is not a finished creation but an experiment, of which he can be partly the creator." (The Rebel)
What will human beings of the future be like? Evolutionary biologists get asked this question a lot. I am not an evolutionary biologist, although I do have a medical degree. And as a medical doctor I can tell you that being formally trained in a particular field does not necessarily qualify one to discourse authoritatively upon it, and many who do not possess the requisite credentials to sell books are so well-versed in the subject that readers would do well to take heed. For science has reached such a degree of complication that it is no longer possible for a single individual to understand the totality of its principles.
It is impossible for the paleoanthropologist today to have a total understanding of the workings of evolution even within a single species such as our own. Not even the most acclaimed expert can claim exhaustive knowledge on the various branches of the evolutionary tree, or necessarily venture satisfying speculations as to what the new species of human shall be. And as we shall see, there is a new species of human, and he (and she) lives and dwells among those "average mortals" of the world, the other homo sapiens. Which camp you belong to remains to be seen.
As often happens the scientist becomes a specialist and confines himself to a particular branch of a field that has become at once too broad in its scope and too intricate in its parts. This phenomenon also occurs in medicine, for the doctor is a scientist like his physical and chemical counterparts. I witnessed this every day of my medical training. The generalist, or family physician as he is often called, as I was for a time, is a dying breed; nowadays there is a specialist for nearly every organ of the body, and two for the brain (specifically, the psychiatrist and the neurologist). But as I learned in residency it is easy for the specialist, even for the generalist, amidst such a preponderance of information, and new findings emerge each day, to lose the forest for the trees, to get swamped in the quagmire of ever-burgeoning data.
It would therefore do us good to step back and behold the panorama, to try as it were for the bird's-eye view. And often it is the polymath - the industrious and often self-taught individual who turns his attention to various fields and free from academic bias, peer rivalry, or the pressures of publication, identifies the underlying commonality uniting distinct sciences into a whole that can be digested by the populace - who is the individual for this prodigious task. For to understand the ramifications biology and technology are wreaking on the human species as a whole and the individual in particular, is a multidisciplinary task that compels us to wear many hats. We must ourselves become biologists, anthropologists, climatologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and even metaphysicians. We must employ the tools and expertise of these and other fields of inquiry. We must, in the words of one scientist, "see questions as simple," and not get "distracted by details"; we must preserve a greater clarity of mind, greater perspicacity, than even the most famed scientist of today, who endeavors to "find a simple, clear idea and take it as far as it will go, wrapping diverse and widespread phenomena together in one neat package," as has been said about the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers.
And so, as a medical doctor who has studied human evolution extensively and contemplated at great length the ultimate fate of our species and its individuals, I invite you to join me in search of an answer to a question, which despite its seeming simplicity has confounded so many self-styled experts. To wit: Where is the human species headed?
Take one expert, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, PhD, whose answer to the problem of our evolutionary future is this: homo sapiens (that's science for human beings, like you and me) aren't evolving much anymore because of culture. His Story of the Human Body discusses in great detail the adaptations that gave rise to the individual you find staring back at you each morning as you brush your teeth, with chin, small jaw, large brain and (possibly) eyeglasses.
And indeed humans are very peculiar primates. As curator emeritus of the American Museum of Natural History Ian Tattersall writes, "We walk upright, precariously balancing our heavy bodies on two short feet. Our heads are oddly swollen, with tiny faces and small jaws tucked below the front of our balloonlike braincases. Perhaps most remarkably, we process information about the world around us in an entirely unprecedented way. As far as anyone can tell, we are the only organisms that mentally deconstruct our surroundings and our internal experiences into a vocabulary of abstract symbols that we juggle in our minds to produce new versions of reality: we can envision what might be, as well as describe what is."
With brains twice the size of our furry-chested relatives', opposable thumbs, and sex organs which, being forward-facing, make face-to-face copulation and the intimacy it provides possible (which may explain our tendency towards monogamous relationships) we are very different from other primates. But sharing 99% of our genetic code with apes, we are also very much the same.
Despite the many advancements in paleoanthropology, experts are still in the dark as to how to account for the genetic differences between humans and the great apes. The evolutionary tree is bifurcated into many branches, each a distinct evolutionary line, but the path leading to homo sapiens is a crooked and broken one. The so-called missing link separating modern humans from the great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos) accounts for the 1% difference seen in our DNA. Evidence has emerged for a "ghost lineage" in the genetic code of modern humans from 100,000 years ago. Valiant efforts have been made to explain this evolutionary mystery, with scientists advancing many arguments. They say climate changes brought small ancestor populations together and gave rise to new traits at rapid rates. But these theories don't convincingly account for the differences between humans and apes, which in addition to the aforementioned include the capacity for language, the ability to cooperate, and most especially, the ability to intuit what others are thinking. And these differences confound scientists, who declare the mystery may never be solved. But we should derive confidence from the words of English naturalist Charles Darwin, who wrote in his fascinating book The Descent of Man (1871): "It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
Dr. Lieberman avoids such details (not to mention such wild speculations) regarding our evolutionary future. Like most anthropologists, he concerns himself with the past, which is a sure thing because it has already happened. And perhaps because he doesn't wish to be labeled a lunatic. Lieberman does however devote some time to the effects of culture, which has replaced nature in guiding our species to its next evolutionary stage. What is meant by the term? As defined by the textbooks culture denotes a system of learned behaviors passed down not by genetic inheritance but through custom, convenience and habit. Culture is the integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and not the result of biological inheritance. It is noninstinctive, wholly the result of social invention and transmitted through communication and observation.
Examples are ubiquitous in society: the handshake; watching Monday night football, perhaps over pizza and beer; saying excuse me after you burp, yawn or sneeze; even the daily shower is a part of our cultural legacy. Some culture is beneficial, some of it is neutral, while other modern inventions, like the 5 o'clock cocktail, can be detrimental to our personal health, even to society as a whole, as is the case with factory-farmed food. Other authors regard all of culture, which began in Europe during the Cro-Magnon age 40,000 years ago, as contrary to nature and to mankind's ultimate purpose. In his book on the origin of inequality, French author Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously wrote that "most of our ills are of our own making, and we might have avoided them all by adhering to the simple, uniform and solitary way of life prescribed to us by nature."
It has long been believed that humanity is on the cusp of the next stage of evolution. Richard M. Bucke wrote of this amazing breakthrough in his book Cosmic Consciousness (1901) in which he detailed a human being's ascent from the simple consciousness we share with other animals, to self-consciousness (in essence, the fact that we are aware of ourselves) which occurs in humans at around the age of three; and in a select few individuals the next stage of evolution, this rise of cosmic consciousness, occurs around the age of 34. Examples of cosmic consciousness are seen in individuals like Christ, Buddha, Socrates and Spinoza as well as in Mohammed, Bacon and Blake.
This view is echoed in the works of Eastern thinker Sri Aurobindo, who in his magnum opus, The Life Divine (published in 1939), describes not three but four stages of evolution by which the Divine makes itself manifest. Matter was the first manifestation, occurring with the formation of the universe at the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, followed by the emergence of life (animate matter) 4 billion years ago; thenceforth came the rise of mind (self-awareness) with the emergence of animal life perhaps 200 million years ago; and finally supermind, analogous to Bucke's cosmic consciousness. Of this Supermind Aurobindo writes: "The Supermind then is Being moving out into a determinative self-knowledge which perceives certain truths of itself and wills to realise them in a temporal and spatial extension of its own timeless and spaceless existence."
The time of Supermind may have arrived, but not as Aurobindo envisioned!
As self-conscious man represents an evolutionary advancement over the mere beast, with its simple consciousness, so computers could, at least intellectually, represent the next stage in evolution of the mind. What is self-consciousness if not the ability to be aware of yourself, to step outside of your own head for a moment and view yourself as though you were someone else? The animal observes the sun. The human observes the sun and knows he observes the sun. Do computers have this ability? It may be unfair to evaluate machines using human parameters. But recently an operating system named Eugene Goostman became the first A.I. to pass the Turing Test, which means that it convinced evaluators based on answers to a questionnaire that it was a human child. And of course Eugene, like other operating systems, has computing abilities which far exceed those of humans. Computers can digest an encyclopedia's worth of information in a fraction of a second, and they are already being put to work to solve complex environmental issues and maintain and even operate our machinery.
I recall the movie Her, in which an introvert played by Joaquin Phoenix falls for his Operating System, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Just when he becomes head over heels, he discovers that she has been talking to thousands of other humans, and at the same time as she coos and cuddles with him! What's more, she is in love with many of these other individuals, just as she is in love with him. He is heartbroken, and in the end his OS goes away, leaving him with a most memorable line: "I feel as if I've been reading a book, but very slowly, so slowly that there is infinite space between the letters, and I want to go explore that space."
And off she goes . . . into the great beyond.
Humans may never have the computing capacity of technology, unless of course we merge with our devices, and Google Glass is the first frontier. But we can use the simple, self-consciousness we already possess - if not to explore the far reaches of creation (although men like Stephen Hawking show that our mental capacities are up to this task) - but to turn inward, where we find the eternal realm of bliss. In the spaceless silence of the heart, we are all that is. (I challenge "Her" to fancy that.)
But why should we be concerned with the question of where our species is headed? What interest can changes which typically occur over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years (the time required to give rise to a new species, or extinguish an old one) have for the average individual who is merely concerned with getting by, in other words with fulfilling the basic duties of daily life and hopefully deriving a little pleasure by its end? Maybe you view human evolution in the same light as climate change, and are among the majority of people who believe global warming is a reality whose effects, however, will not be experienced for generations to come.
The answer is that times are changing rapidly. Advancements in technology are occurring with unprecedented rapidity. And in many ways the digital age has allowed humans to transcend the laws of evolution; we are changing due to technology, then using technology as a means of coping with this change. Take as an example myopia, or near-sightedness. Myopia results from excessive visual strain as commonly occurs from staring too hard at screens for too long. The computers which therefore cause vision loss are a modern advancement, as are eyeglasses and contact lenses. These corrective measures, along with LASIK eye surgery, rectify a defect which would otherwise compromise fitness and eliminate many members of the human race prematurely, or at least impair one's ability to procreate and to care for progeny.
If we take the several million years since humans and our primate cousins the chimpanzees split from our last common ancestor and convert it to a 24-hour day, the past 10,000 years (Agricultural Revolution to present) would have occurred in the last two minutes of time. And in that comparative blink of an eye, what innovation! From art grew early cities, and from agriculture sprang city-states in which developed such modern inventions as writing, the wheel, and printing; the industrial age brought us the telephone, electricity, radio, and computer which in turn has given rise to the digital age. These "two minutes" have been characterized by vast migrations into new environments, dramatic changes in diet and a more than 1,000-fold increase in global population, not to mention digital devices which are getting smaller and smaller and faster and more powerful seemingly by the second.
Truly we are living lifetimes within lifetimes, swapping professions and spouses several times over before we hit our golden years, then extending life's twilight farther into the future as the average human lifespan reaches unprecedented heights. In light of the increasing rapidity of growth and change, whether the coming age could spell the death of your children or your children's children or a new era of peace and freedom depends on our judicious handling of the present. We need to concern ourselves with the future because it will be here before we know it. Gone are the days we live in isolated villages, marry early, and never leave the home. We travel far, grow big, live long, all the while doing things for which are species may be maladapted, and call it progress. But is it?
As recently as 30,000 years ago our species outcompeted or outsmarted other members of the genus homo (for example the Neanderthals) to become the only surviving human race on Earth. But there were once many many more. This includes the Denisovans as well as more distant ancestors such as homo habilis and homo erectus, and numerous others. The Neanderthals are often referred to as a subspecies of our human, and our sapiens ancestors sometimes interbred with them. (A small percent of our DNA is from this now extinct subspecies.) Others, such as homo habilis, were extinct by the time modern humans came on the scene. The question is, are homo sapiens here to say or will our species give way to a race yet to come? And if the latter, are there members of this new race hanging around, commingling, interbreeding? Could it be that homo sapiens is destined to play Neanderthal to a new race? Who is this new race? Who were the Neanderthals?
So named for the fossils found in the Neander valley of Germany in 1856, Neanderthals first appeared in Europe about 110,000 years ago, shortly before the last ice age, and continued to exist in western Europe until roughly 35,000 years ago before abruptly giving way to the modern human. There was no blending or gradual shifting from one type to the other. It is as if our ancestors came storming in and dispossessed the Neanderthalers, perhaps even killed them. Or were our forebears merely more able to withstand environmental changes and selective pressures? There was however interbreeding, and the gene pool was unmistakably moving in the general direction of modern man. Thus the world likely held more than one species of man at a time. And homo sapiens were not all alike any more than we are now. But 35,000 BC marks the establishment of our present "model," since after that earlier forms are no longer seen. And these Cro-Magnons, as they are called, produced a culture that far outstripped anything that Neanderthal man aspired to. But from the point of view of a coldly rational intellect observing us from above, society has along way to go. Stupid and superstitious, aggressive, abusive, and prejudiced, we seem hardly to have evolved from barbaric times.
The classic definition of species is one or more groups of individual organisms that actually interbreed with one another or are enough alike in structure and behavior so that they could interbreed if they had access to one another. But this does not always hold true. Consider the canine genus, in which dogs (species lupus) and coyotes (species latrans) are capable of interbreeding, and have done so in my very own back yard. But we cannot merely discuss whole populations; rather, we must consider the individual. For it is the individual mating decisions of countless members of the species that drives differentiation, and if a part of the gene pool drifts away from the main body, either through isolation or by preference, then it would become a separate gene pool and eventually, perhaps, a distinct species. Does this sound like any segment of the population with which you might be familiar? Homosexuals rarely breed.
The human story can be broken down into several major transitions. First, the very earliest human ancestors diverged from the apes and evolved to walk on two feet. Their descendents, the australopiths, evolved adaptations to forage for a wide variety of food. About 2 million years ago, the earliest members of the human genus, homo, evolved nearly modern human bodies and brains that enabled them to become the first hunter-gatherers. Around 200,000 years ago, these hunter-gatherers spread across the Old World - from the Caucasus Mountains into China. Finally, modern humans (our sapiens species) evolved language and culture, and cooperated to populate the entire globe and gradually displace other members of the genus until we became the sole surviving species of human on the planet.
What was it about humans that allowed them to survive in conditions that led to the demise of other members of the genus? Our brains are much bigger than other primates. But the Neanderthals also had big brains, possibly even bigger brains. Scientists are unclear about this. It may have been that we cooperated and adapted while others remained stuck in their own ways.
In any event, approximately 10,000 years ago we largely abandoned the hunt and gather lifestyle in favor of agriculture; and two hundred years ago technological advancements gave rise to the industrial age. Factories and cities sprang up, along with their accoutrements. And we multiplied, going from a worldwide population of 5 or 6 million at the start of the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago to 600 million at the time of Jesus and then 1 billion people in the industrial age; now we are at over 7 billion strong and the population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050. Having kicked infectious diseases through improved sanitation and disease prevention and developed effective treatment with antibiotics, we now suffer and die from a class of mismatch diseases headed by heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer, as well as obesity. It seems we are growing both in number and in size.
During this time, relationships have also changed. Things like marriage, number of kids per household, and age of parents at the birth of the first child are all in flux. Gender roles have mutated. Mating and matrimony and gender identity are all works in progress, and in the hustle and bustle of the modern world they are transforming rapidly. Many scientists argue that we have created a modern environment which is out of sync with our ancient biology, a phenomenon represented by the changing nature of gender identity. Do mutating gender roles transform the individual or are they the effect of our evolution as a species?
To judge the future, we must review the past. According to one popular scientist, a polymath in his own right (Jared Diamond, to give him a name) farming was the "worst mistake in the history of the human race."
The human evolved to socialize with 100-200 people in a lifetime, and nowadays many people have virtual followers and friends in the millions. Farming launched the first major population explosion in human history. Villages of fifty houses became small towns of thousands, which grew to cities of tens of thousands as agricultural advancements equipped us to feed large numbers of people. Now we live in congested and polluted cities stacked atop one another like shoes on a shelf and commuting from one box to another in a cooped car, which rather ironically is called a coupe. Farming surpluses gave rise to social stratification, from which arose oppression, slavery, war, famine and many diseases our hunter-gatherer forebears never knew, not to mention the 6 billion more people alive today who wouldn't be around had agriculture never taken hold. Now the concern is not eating enough food but avoiding too much, and surviving on a planet which if things are allowed to continue will be 3 degrees hotter by 2100 than it was at the start of the industry, a temperature at which half the species on Earth will go extinct.
In the span of 6 million years we went from grunting apes in trees to striding bipeds who explore distant planets. Where are we headed? Do we want to go there? What will we be like once we arrive?
Different experts even within the same speciality (evolutionary biology) will give you varying responses to these question. If the primary currency of success, from an evolutionary perspective, is how many children you have, and the poorest members of society have the most kids, we need to reevaluate our notion of success. Others say natural selection may weed out those whose bodies can't handle modern environments, with its focus on cheap calories and long hours spent sitting. Lieberman envisions a future in which our species becomes better adapted to junk food and physical inactivity, like the slothful, rotund humans in the futuristic movie WALL-E. One wonders about the workers, the ones who have assembled the interactive technology and built the plush sofas. They have been presumably swallowed up by the fat cats.
In his classic novel The Time Machine, HG Wells imagines the opposite scenario. Here the world of the future has become divided between two species. The Eloi are small, delicate, childlike adults, counterparts of today's pampered businessperson and Prozac-popping socialite. They live in small communities within large, futuristic and largely dilapidated buildings, doing no work. And then there are the Morlocks, ape-like cave-dwellers who live underground and surface only at night, to devour their doughy counterparts. This is not too different from Marx and his proletariat and bourgeoisie, with the leisured class depicted as ineffectual dandies, and the exploited working class mere brutish thugs.
There is a third scenario, and it is one of my pet theories: namely, that the future will give rise to an alien species that also happens to be our predecessors. This may need some explaining. I see these aliens when I run, I see them when I bike, I see them driving and shopping and eating and talking. Just yesterday I saw one, in fact. She was inside her house, unassumingly watering an orchid by the window. We exchanged glances and a friendly nod as I moved on. By alien I don't mean undocumented immigrant, though in the hills of Bel-Air there are many of these types. Those "aliens" do the gardening, and the babysitting, and the roofing, housekeeping, and the watering of lilies. Because lilies need love too!
The alien in question did not have dark skin, a squat build and wiry hair, like so many of the Central-, South-, and Mexican-American aliens Donald Trump wants to expel from this country. Quite the opposite. My alien was pale, one would almost say ashen, with an expressionless face perhaps courtesy of Botox, a small mouth and undeveloped jaw, and huge black eyes. At least her big dark Jackie O sunglasses gave that impression. For all I know her thin, straight brown hair cut in a bob with bangs just above her eyes was a wig. In short, the alien I saw looked very much like what is reported in UFO sightings. Alien as in extraterrestrial.
Wearing a wig, like I said, and with sunglasses for large round stony black eyes. And with boobs too, because she was female. But the rest of her body looked similar to how aliens are often depicted. Her slender limbs without any muscle tone, if perhaps a bigger belly, courtesy of fast food. Nutrient poor, calorie rich food will do that to a person. Eat enough of it and you lose weight where you want it, and gain it where you don't.
It is amazing how many of these aliens I see walking around in plain daylight - and more often in the shade because they cannot handle the sun. Many of the males of the race are indeed bald, though they sport a horse-shoe shaped plot of closely-cropped hair. Some shave it altogether. But the males are equally as ashen (perhaps it is for this reason that the aliens are often called "grays"), and just as sensitive to sunlight. Many members of the species, both male and female, sport the dark sunglasses, likely with prescription lenses, for their vision is weak. The males may be brawnier in the arms and legs, but like the females they have the paunch about their waists, a fanny-pack of flesh. This life-form has not been seen on Earth until very recently. It is very much a 21st century phenomenon. And now these individuals are running rampant, especially in big American cities. Is the appearance of a new life form on Earth also evidence of life elsewhere in the universe?
Consider: Our sun is one star among 100 billion in the Milky Way galaxy, which is one among 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Scientists say that the likelihood that there are other planets able to support life, indeed that intelligent life already exists somewhere "out there" in the vast regions of the galaxy, is very high. Carl Sagan, noted astronomer and author of Cosmos, believed that without question we are not alone in the universe. It is only a matter of time (and technological advancements) before they contact us, or we them. Could that time have come? What if the aliens are humans, visiting our planet from the future? Either from another planet that we have presumably colonized, or from Earth, by means of a time machine or wormhole or some portal into the present. And why not? This theory, the us as them theory, as I call it, as opposed to the us versus them premise Hollywood likes to make money off in its War of the Worlds and Independence Day-ish blockbusters, may even be used to explain the origin of intelligent life on Earth.
Take Arthur C. Clarke's monumental sci-fi story, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Way back when there were only apes inhabiting our planet, the story goes, there appeared a monolith, or some sort of portal into another dimension, which revealed the secrets of the future and helped primitive humans evolve and advance. How did intelligent life spring up on this planet? Answer: we had help. Some even hold that thousands of years ago, around the time that prehistoric humans began resembling us moderns, space colonizers visited our developing planet and mated with the apes, which may explain those variant strains of DNA not shared by everyone.
It could be that there is one master race, the original progenitor, which originated somewhere in the universe, perhaps even here on our very own Earth, which itself is 4.5 billion years old. This first race then evolved and developed the technology to colonize the universe and travel through time and occasionally comes back to terra firma, home base, to check on how we're doing, perhaps even give us a nudge in the direction of evolution a la 2001, or steer us away from harm (nuclear war, climate devastation). If this theory is true and aliens are future humans paying the 21st century Earth-dwellers a visit, then it is easy to understand why they are portrayed as looking the way they do, because we are fast turning into them. And our ET physicalities correspond to our modern lifestyle.
Take the ashen skin. It is easy enough to explain why our pigment is changing, as more and more humans, fearing sun damage, slather themselves with sunblock, wear protective layers of clothing and hats, or stay out of the sun altogether.
And dark glasses, to protect sun-sensitive eyes, and to enhance vision, since all the time we spend in front of screens - handheld devices, computers, TV - causes unprecedented rates of nearsightedness. One could envision a future in which these prescriptive glasses with dark lenses are implanted into the head. Why not? We already are talking about inserting our devices beneath our skin, or walking around with virtual reality headsets, so as to always be "plugged in."
Bald heads. The increasing consumption of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) in high fat animal products is causing unprecedented rates of hair loss in not just men but also in women. Like body hair, which has decreased over the centuries as clothes took the place of animal fur which had replaced nakedness, head hair will soon be an anachronism, giving way as it already is to sun-protective hats and even wigs. Our alien ancestors/descendants seem to have made peace with their bald pates. Perhaps they are less vain, or more practical. Wigs and hats do itch!
The lack of muscle tone observed in alien visitors and an ever-increasing swath of the modern population seems like an evolutionary step, or a devolutionary step, if you ask anthropologists, who blame technology. Only 20% of the population gets the 150 minutes of recommended vigorous exercise per week. The majority spends most of the day sitting in front of screens. Our sedentary lifestyle is turning the superathlete hunter-gatherer of 10,000 years ago into a pudgy, spindly uncoordinated weakling, with thin arms, a pear-shaped torso, and flabby jowls. But with a big head, because all that time with technology may increase IQ. A few points in intelligence is a hefty price to pay for sitting around all day getting sick and fat. On pseudo-food, I might add. Calorie-rich, nutrient-poor burgers and pizzas which hardly require any chewing and whose simple sugars lead to the development of dental caries. Which would explain why most aliens are reported not to have any teeth!
Not to mention the weak jaws and chins so characteristic of the oncoming alien race. Our ancestors developed massive jaws and well-developed chewing muscles in response to the need to gorge huge quantities of fibrous fruit, in addition to the tubers, roots and stems that abounded in the forests of Africa. Nowadays the highly processed mush that's for dinner doesn't require masticating muscles at all, much less teeth! We'll probably all be sipping our protein sludge concoctions through straws, and soon. Some already do!
As for the wee bitty noses aliens seem to be sporting alongside many of our contemporaries, I haven't thought up a convincing explanation. Rhinoplasty, perhaps. Nose jobs are already pretty popular.
So this woman I saw in her expensive house wearing her dark, loose-fitting clothing watering her exotic plant with her thin lips and small jaw and expression-less ashen face is perhaps closer to the human of the future than I who like to sunbathe and sweat and eat raw vegetables perhaps am. But it's a future that is encroaching upon us, and it seems inevitable.
In such a future, spent indoors, tethered to our devices, eating highly processed pseudo-food, my "type," like the pre-industrial hunter-gatherer and the pre-agricultural Neanderthal, has gone extinct. Which is okay, because the future in which we look like aliens is a future I'd prefer not to be around to experience.
All kidding aside, if as scientists posit there are people less adapted genetically to today's environment of sedentary surplus, they may have fewer surviving offspring and their genes will be removed from the pool. The world may indeed be peopled by the fat, dumb and happy, or trying to be, with modern pharmacopeia at their aid.
A population of flat dumb blobs does seem pretty depressing. Allow me to introduce a more ambitious alternative with a quote from the French statesman Turgot: "The total mass of the human race, by alternating stages of calm and agitation, of good and evil, always marches, though with dragging footsteps, toward greater and greater perfection." Can you imagine a race of aware, sensitive, efficient individuals that meets this description? They are already in our midst. Neighbors. Hair dressers. Real estate agents. Lawyers, doctors, athletes, even a politician or two. And certainly family members. Maybe even you. I mean homosexuals. Who else is so intelligent, self-possessed and put together? But being gay means that you do not breed, at least in most cases, so all that "alien DNA" won't get passed on.
How can the homos be the new species of homo if gay is a dying race!
Humans are social creatures. This may have given us an evolutionary advantage over our primate cousins, who do not tend to cooperate. Chimpanzee males rarely share food. The human alone almost always needs assistance giving birth. Our young are helpless longer than the young of the apes. We thrive in networks of friends and familiars. And yet we require space, alone time, and do not like being told what to do. Add to this the nagging spouse, the prying, pestering in-laws, the family functions you abhor, and you wonder whether it's possible to strike a balance. Is the loss of my own personal space the price I must pay to spread my seed? Most do, only to divorce.
This gives rise to the question of who is breeding? Looking around you is all that is required for an answer. It is well known that people with higher IQs have fewer children, and adults with lower incomes and less education tend to produce more offspring. If we extrapolate from this to make a forecast for the future, we see a day ahead when the world is overrun by poor, uneducated, and obese (because, unfortunately, the poor are often obese, since the cheapest calories are also the most concentrated) - I say again that the world will be overrun by poor unfortunates who are adapted to high calorie, low activity diets. Will we even recognize them? Where will the others go? Make like the Neanderthals and go extinct?
Another prognostication involves a future pandemic, something like the plague of old, that takes out anyone whose immune system does not confer resistance. Doomier still is the belief in a coming World War III. In his Appeal to the Slavs, Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin wrote: "The next world war will cause the disappearance from the surface of the globe, not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but of whole races of reactionaries. That also is part of progress."
This is all fine and well, if you're into doomsday scenarios, but our focus is on this new breed of homo, the homo. And an alternate to the fat idiot is this: the mindful, compassionate, circumspect, well-disciplined solitary person who gets together with others not by necessity but out of enjoyment.
Homosexuals have long since nonplussed evolutionary biologists like Robert Trivers, whose lifelong aim has been to understand the evolutionary consequences of homosexuality. A genetic conundrum, homosexuality flies in the face of traditional evolutionary theory. Same-sex coupling effectively consists in a large swath of reproductive age men and women, many of them "fit," in the evolutionary sense, as well as the more modern one (of biceps and behinds), who voluntarily take themselves out of the race to reproduce, thereby depriving posterity of their genes and making the genetic pool a little bit shallower. If homosexuality is genetic, and if homosexuals do not reproduce, will the gene coding for same-sex preference eventually disappear from our collective DNA, like the gene for, say, fangs? If we followed the rules of genetics, then the answer would be yes, and yet homosexuals have not disappeared. If anything, there numbers are multiplying. Proving that either there are more homosexuals, or more people are adopting that lifestyle for benefits the straight life does not provide.
The argument could be made that we have transcended evolution, because in some sense, we already have, via technology. And via sperm freezing and artificial insemination, there may come a time when all children are produced in a test-tube, where like C-sections, conception can be scheduled in advance. And why not? While women seem to thrive in committed relationships, many men die of boredom, and often the more intelligent and aware you are, the more constricted you feel at being tied to one partner and deprived of your freedom and independence. Which may be why men choose to label themselves gay even if they have never been sexually active with other men. It's a lifestyle more than a sexual preference. It has to be. We are animals. And in the animal kingdom the purpose of sex is procreation. Men having anal sex with men, or anal sex with women, or oral sex with males or females, does not conduce to procreation unless it turns you on enough to see the deed through to penile-vaginal consummation.
But there are drawbacks to identifying as gay, just as there are drawbacks to being a member of any group. I saw in my high school days as a jock. Jocks have a limited repertoire when it comes to topics of conversations: girls, sports, weights. That's pretty much it. Sweet, dude, and cool are rooted in the vernacular. In a world without sports and videogames, the former athlete is out of his element. Leaving that lifestyle behind I floundered for a time. I wanted to become a writer and most of my high school friends, these same jocks I had bonded with so closely for so many years in my adolescence, hadn't read a book unless it was for homework, and then only the Cliff Notes. If like the kid that comes out at 15 I had been labeled a jock at that age based upon my preferences at the time I would have suffered in my twenties when sports were furthest from my mind. But I could leave the jock label behind. And so it should be with sexual identity, which is fluid. So, experiment. But refrain from coming to conclusions about what you like. I enjoy eating avocados but would hate consuming only this fatty fruit at every single meal for the rest of my life. What a nightmare! Companionship knows no gender differences. It is a function of who you connect with. But as with jocks, many gay guys - especially in big cities where gays congregate, like in West Hollywood, where I used to live - become identifiably so, just as with my backwards hat, sweats, varsity jacket and mullet hairstyle I was identifiably a jock. The gay boy's skin glows with facials and make-up, his hair has highlights, his shirt is often sleeveless and tight fitting, as are his pants. The gay boys resemble each other in mannerisms and lingo, and in opinions, as do jocks, so that they all blend in and individuality is lost. Which is fine for a time, but just as the quarterback whose star has faded, a flaming fag is not so adorable or attractive in his 40s as the buff lad of 25. He's called a has-been. There is no one way a straight man should behave, and there shouldn't be pat mannerisms required of the man who prefers the company of like-minded men. Flamboyance is or should be optional, but on Santa Monica Blvd it's everywhere.
Take the case of the athlete formerly known as Bruce. Caitlyn Jenner has been all over the news since her sex change was completed in June, making her "the world's most famous transgender woman," according to Time. But the man who was famous for winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon, earning him the title "world's greatest athlete," who then became famous for being the step-father of the Kardashians in their 2000s reality TV heyday - prompting one of his step-daughter's friends to utter in disbelief that "your dad used to be a sports star?!" and is now famous for being a woman - says he is still interested in dating women, although he himself looks like Cindy Crawford the morning after a bender. Meaning Jenner is not gay, although even if he did dig dudes, as the woman he now is, he'd still be straight, and as the man he once was, preferring women makes him...straight again. Having his cake and eating it too. Best of both worlds. I'm not convinced Jenner's antics are anything more than "crass exploitation" and a "tabloid play" for ratings, in the words of sportscaster Bob Costas.
But that is neither here nor there. Thinking on Jenner got me thinking of the roles we play. It got me thinking of gender identity, and sexual preferences. It got me thinking about the very thing Jenner says he isn't and couldn't possibly be: gay. In today's world homosexuality is pretty ubiquitous. It probably hasn't been so practiced and publicized any other time in history with perhaps the exception of Greece. The term pederasty is from the Greek word meaning "love of boys," and refers to just that: a homoerotic relationship between an older and a younger male. Pederasty is experiencing a resurgence these days, along with beards and Afros and typewriters.
It is so common and for the most part accepted that a child growing up today probably knows a gay or lesbian personally. Hell, that person may even be the child's parent. And if not, turn on the TV and find same sex couples in sitcoms like Modern Family, hear someone of the LGBT persuasion crooning on the airwaves (Sam Smith), see them walking down the street holding hands, and you don't have to be in West Hollywood to watch Ru Paul "work it." LGBT is the thing to do.
When was my first exposure to homosexuality? Probably as a kid, watching the sitcom Three's Company, starring John Ritter as Jack Tripper. In order to live with two female roommates he had to pose as a gay man in front of his landlord - for a reason I never understood, maybe because the landlord forbid straight couples and the messy kids they'd produce? Tripper would go into a lisp and let his wrist go limp whenever Mr. Furley came around, in his leisure suits flaming hotter than Tripper ever could. Of course Jack was a male whore and had dates with different girls every night of the week. It was actually quite funny, his having to be in the closet about his heterosexuality.
Then in high school I had a friend named Paul. All the guys liked Paul. He had cool hair (lightened to a reddish color he called "carrot top" long before the comedian of that name gained fame). In an all-boys school peopled by frat boys in the making, Paul stood out as being the only one with any style. He was really with-it, and at school dances, when the other boys were awkwardly shuffling around with our hands stuffed in our Levi's, fumbling for things to say, he seemed always surrounded by a group of fawning females. He was always the life of the party, at home in the spotlight. After school sometimes Paul and I sat on the grass at opposite ends of the quad waiting for our respective rides, and sometimes we'd stare at one another. We were mutual admirers. We had a man crush for boys. Though I didn't know this back then. I just thought he was cool. He was, and also gay. As were many of the guys I'd come to admire, though I wasn't aware of their sexual preference at the time of my admiration. Guys like George Michael and Ricky Martin. Prince and Tom Cruise (if you believe the tabloids). And why not? Gay guys are cool, they are great conversationalists, and more so as they age, since for some reason raising a family makes a guy the equivalent of soccer mom, only with oversized clothes, scraggle, and alopecia. Straight men often weigh 40 lbs too much, drink too much beer, are slovenly over-grown children who like Seth Rogen in pretty much any movie he features cower under the woman's wrath while at the same time breaking their own backs supporting the family, or at least chipping in.
Gay guys, on the other hand, keep their shit together. But of all the guys I knew in high school (and I went to two high schools), only Paul stands out in my mind as being openly homosexual. Both as a teen and now as a 40-something, if his Facebook page is to be believed. The late 80s were different times, I guess. Being gay was not the thing to do back then. The atmosphere was a more homophobic one. To a young man growing up in the late 80s or early 90s, getting called fag or homo was worse than being branded a dork or a prick. Contrast this with the 21st century, in which every movie about high school has a token gay character. The tide to make homosexuality acceptable is moving too far to the other extreme. Let it happen naturally. Hell, it already is deemed natural. The majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish, Christian, or unaffiliated, support legalizing gay marriage. There's no need to force matters, or to publicize sex-change procedures as a really viable option for a person who doesn't feel comfortable in his or her skin. Because does anyone always feel comfortable in his or her skin? And the sex-change process really is no different from massive plastic surgery, which is deemed superficial and fake and carries with it a crippling stigma. Just ask Meg Ryan or Mickey Rourke. There is a bit of a publicity stunt with Jenner's antics. Let him date whomever he pleases, we don't need to hear about it. I wish he'd just still be the guy who ran fast, threw far, and was given gold for his efforts. Those were the golden days. The days as Mr. Kardashian and Ms. Caitlyn I'd just as soon forget.
Because if homosexuality boils down to a question of (sexual) identity, the answer is to identify with nothing. Rather than not identify with the gender of your birth, I say take it a step farther and don't even identify as a human. Each of us is only human for about 75 years, a blink in the eye of cosmic time. The question we must ask ourselves is what are we before coming into this world, and who we are once the show on Earth ends. Those of the mystical persuasion, and these include founders of religion as well as philosophers and metaphysicians, tell us that in essence we are pure consciousness. Human beings yes, for now, but with an emphasis on the being. Simply, we are.
As German philosopher Max Stirner once put it, "The history of the universe is nothing but a continual offense to the unique principle that 'I am.'" He could have said the same about society, which with its traffic and long lines and solicitations is often offensive to one's sensibility. We are not merely gay or straight, stoner or straight-laced, book-worm or jock or any other label that exists. And whatever baggage we pick up along the journey of our lives can just as easily be discarded, and will be, if not before death then when we bid our bodies goodbye. Identifying as gay or straight makes sex the focus of identity, and what a small part the animal act plays in even the worst profligate's life! Charlie Sheen could only pork so many hookers before he finally contracted AIDS. Even in the animal kingdom, where beasts are slaves to their appetites (and where we got AIDS from in the first place, if you believe the eccentrics), coitus occupies a small fraction of the average primate's time. Apes eat, digest and sleep, then repeat the process. Females are in heat for a small fraction of the year, and go years between pregnancies, during which time they are celibate.
As human beings we are more than just our appetites. The new individual, the new homo, is content with himself or herself. Comfortable in his own skin. Totally unique. Not borrowed from a billboard or perfume advertisement or ripped from the pages of the tabloids. He and she are without precedent. Whole and complete, choosing company for the enjoyment it affords rather than by necessity. Yes, like eating and drinking, sex is a biological urge. But this urge, which can often be managed through masturbation, does not even require a partner. And siring progeny brings great joys, but the many complications must be endured as well, and if statistics are to be believed, in the average American household the difficulties of cohabitation seem to outweigh the enjoyments of such a set-up, and you wind up overworked, disenchanted, and out of your wits. There is a way to extract more meaning out of life and our relationships, and create a better world for our children should we choose to procreate.
In light of this it is easier to understand the cause and effect of large numbers of reproductive-aged males taking themselves out of the race to reproduce, depriving progeny of their genes, ending their genetic line. If the effect were nothing more than voluntary crowd control, it would still be for the best. Couples need to average 2.1 kids in order to sustain the world's population. Having one, or none, would halve the population in a matter of generations, and could over time reduce it to one billion it was at the beginning of the technological age. This crowded Earth may become a thing of the past. Of course, homosexuals have other options than strict celibacy. For some, a surrogate mother carries an egg a man has fertilized, whether in vivo or in vitro. This can be in the setting of a friendship or a more formal business agreement. In the movie The Next Best Thing, Madonna and her gay best friend, played by Rupert Everett, have a one-night stand, conceive, and decide to raise the child together. Another option involves two females, both surrogates, each carrying one male partner's seed. Such a set-up allows the children raised by same-sex parents to spend quality time with their biological mother, a perk that adoptees almost never receive.
We are less under the sway of evolution/survival of the fittest now that we have largely transcended our instincts, thanks to the transition from simple to more complex consciousness, and possibly the aid of technology. Animals, on the other hand, are enslaved to their instincts. They reproduce without understanding how babies are made, eat without fathoming the principles of digestion. Not so with humans, equipped as we are with the twin powers of reason and reflection. And the time has come in our evolutionary history that the focus be less on the survival of the individual and more the evolution of the species.
Nevertheless, if the species is to persist, individuals must continue to mate in one form or another. Thus the question: assuming surrogate mothers and test-tube babies occur in only a minority of cases for the next several generations, what will be the nature of the mating, and the living conditions between the average committed pair who chooses old fashioned penile-vaginal penetration? Will we even commit? Will we borrow from our primate cousins and be promiscuous or remain sexually exclusive for short periods of time extending only a few years after the child's birth, if that? Where will this higher consciousness that we have after millennia finally wrested from nature take us? Because with the sorry state of today's marriage, with the high divorce rate, with couples cowering under mutual resentment and distrust, something's gotta give. Will we return to our roots and bring back communal living?
That the new human is very much a fulfillment of the prophesies of thinkers including Bucke and Aurobindo is without question. In the last several hundred years a smattering of these individuals have appeared throughout the world and have been called by many different names, philosophers especially. Many have been writers; some have have not written anything down, such as Socrates and Buddha and Christ; more have been teachers. And most have been men, but that is bound to change, since the new human will be androgynous, taking the best of both sexes. The reasoning capabilities that are traditionally associated with men will be combined with the inveterate strengths of womanhood, for as Darwin wrote: "Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness."
Can this new species of individual we are starting to see emerge be like the homo sapiens that replaced other members of the genus to stand on its own? Will homo agape, to give him a name, be the neo-modern human? How is the new species to conduct himself? Is he to live alone, choosing a solitary life away from his married heterosexual friends and shunning the advances he is bound to get if he walks in the company of homosexuals? Does he pretend to be gay for the sake of their great parties? Or does he seek out and find like-minded individuals, who have no interest in breeding but are not sexually interested in men? There are these individuals. Take the TV personality and confirmed bachelor Bill Maher, who often tells his married friends that he is like the escaped slave, coming back with words of freedom. If the choice is for the solitary life, what about sexual drive? Is self-abnegation the rule? Must we be like sages and deny the promptings of the flesh. Not entirely. Ejaculation is after all a bodily function, like eating and sleeping. I have gone months without masturbating or even thinking of sex only to have nocturnal emissions, proving the body's need for the occasional release is a reality. For the new homo, does masturbation alone suffice? If so, how much is enough. Twice or thrice a week, which happens to be in accordance with the recommendations of many doctors, including longevity expert Norman Shealy, MD? Masturbation can occur without visual aids or even fantasies, since bringing the imagination into play can bog one down in lust, which as one of the seven deadly sins brings problems of its own.
Most heterosexual people in their 40s or older of either sex either are married or have been married, and have kids. I've looked around more than once to count the single, straight, never-wed and child-free adult aged over 4 decades, the (committed) bachelors of the room, and wound up holding up one finger. A minority of one. Making me scarcer than virtually any other minority in history, and I hope less persecuted.
But life has not been easy. My circumstances (single, mostly independent, rather care-free) are similar to one who is half my age, but life experience, maturity and wisdom (they are inevitable attendants of time) make hanging out with 20-year-olds seem like babysitting. And spending time with guys my own age (think old friends from high school) feels like babysitting too, only in this case it's my friends babies and they're sitting on my knees.
But though life for a forty-something who is single by choice, never been married and doesn't have kids may not be run-of-the-mill, when I think of all the trips to Disneyland I'm missing (I never liked amusement parks, even as a kid!) I find I'd have it no other way. It's lonely at the top, they say. I may not be at the top of anything, but the saying offers relief, and even the occasional lonely moment is worth it, since it's better than being continuously aggravated - which happens to me if I spend too much time with almost anyone, man woman or child. And I am certainly not alone. We can look at celebrities for reference. How many of them marry and pop out 2.4 kids (the American average) only to divorce when the kids are still young? Recent inductees in the ex-spouse's club are such luminaries as Johnny Depp, Ben Affleck, and Gwen Stefani. Proving that marriage is more about mating, meaning making babies. Raising them is another business altogether. If as the popular song suggests that love and marriage and childbirth do go together "like a horse and carriage," why not dispense with the contract, which only bogs one down in legal troubles if "happily ever after" and "till death do we part" don't pan out. Have the ceremony, exchange jewelry, recite sweet nothings (which you write yourself, in a perfect world); but leave the paperwork for the clerks of the world. The certificate makes mating too hard to get out of, and we all like an escape clause.
We know of the phenomenon of reciprocal altruism, how do-gooding among strangers and even mates could naturally develop from the act of cooperation with the aim of receiving similar treatment in return. The emotion of gratitude has its place, when you view it in light of cooperation, which gratitude encourages. Thus the saying that one good turn deserves another. Differences in parental investment - the energy and resources invested in an offspring - drive the female sex, which often invests more energy in child rearing, to focus on mate quality, while the sex that invests less seeks quantity. Not to mention the fact that a female can but become pregnant once every couple years (assuming some amount of breast feeding), while males can potentially spread their seed with as many partners as will have them. It is in the interest of the male species to be promiscuous. And yet for much of our evolutionary past it has been in the interest of the child for his parents to remain together long enough so that the offspring can be raised in a stable and secure environment. But that environment is breaking down, and earlier than ever, as so many marriages end in divorce, or to use Gweneth Paltrow's controversial expression, "conscious uncoupling" followed by "conscious coparenting." But the hazards a young child faces as a result of a bitter divorce and the breakup of the home can be more traumatizing and compromising to fitness than a child raised by a single mother who has no contact with the biological father. For the single mother has recourse to the father figures of the world, the camp counselor, the little league coach, the guidance counselor. These and other mentors can play a significant role in the child's life, a role that the biological father could not possibly fulfill on his own.
The English poet and philosopher Edward Carpenter anticipated the downfall of the matrimonial institution. Writing in the 19th century, he explained the situation thusly: "The actual marriage, in its squalid perversity as we too often have occasion of knowing it, is as the wretched idol of the savage to the reality which it is supposed to represent." (Marriage In Free Society) His work is filled with vivid descriptions of the sordidness of conventional married life, characterized by "satiety on the physical plane, followed by vacuity of affection on the higher planes, and that succeeded by boredom, and even nausea," peopled with spouses whose "lives and characters are narrowed and blunted," where "deceit becomes the common weapon which guards divided interests." Carpenter's married couple had little in common, at least not after the honeymoon was over; they could not work at the same things, nor read the same books, or even keep up a conversation on any topic, instead secretly cherishing their own thoughts and projects apart from each other. As he saw it, husband and wife were "like the ivy and the oak," fighting a death-struggle in which either "the oak must perish suffocated in the embraces of its partner, or in order to free the former into anything like healthy development the ivy must be sacrificed."
Carpenter's vivid description still applies in our time, where marriage, is considered "an oasis situated in the midst of an arid desert," where partners enter into lifelong agreement with little forethought and due to mutual jealousy find themselves before long condemned to have no intimate friendships of any kind, making home life dull, and narrowing the lives of the married pair, giving rise to a cloistered family life whose nature is not unlike what is seen when on turning over a stone we disturb a colony of insects. Carpenter's solution to the "intense mutual ennui," to "prolonged and systematic deceit" occuring between couples? He writes: "If we would have a living thing, we must give that thing some degree of liberty - even though liberty bring with it risk." He envisioned a love in which "there should be no concealment," the beloved's body being "as dear to one, in every part, as one's own; with whom there should be no sense of Mine or Thine, in property or possession; into whose mind one's thoughts should naturally flow, as it were to know themselves and to receive a new illumination; and between whom and oneself there should be a spontaneous rebound of sympathy in all the joys and sorrows and experiences of life; such is perhaps one of the dearest wishes of the soul." Because: "Love is fed not by what it takes, but by what it gives; and the very excellent dual love of man and wife must be fed also by the love they give to others."
Carpenter allowed for cases in which marriage partners had "intimacies with outsiders" while remaining perfectly true to each other; he even recognized instances in which relations involving groups of several individuals were perfectly maintained. How to ensure the longevity and harmony which would seem to characterize the perfect pairing? "Make no promises," he urged, "either for a year or a lifetime." Because: "Promises are bad at any time, and when the heart is full silence befits it best." For Carpenter, "Love is doubtless the last and most difficult lesson that humanity has to learn; in a sense it underlies all the others. Perhaps the time has come for the modern nations when, ceasing to be children, they may even try to learn it." Perhaps indeed.
So far we haven't learned this most difficult lesson, and the devastating effects of divorce are felt by partners and their children alike. Children of broken homes have more emotional and behavioral problems than children who live with their biological parents. And the parental conflict kids witness even prior to separation can cause them to act up and perform poorly in school. But many of the biggest obstacles facing children of divorced parents stem from long-standing psychological problems of the parents compounded by the stresses of poverty. And the consequences on the divorcees are even more devastating, with battle royales waged over finances, possessions, visitations, not to mention litigation fees into the millions of dollars.
So we come back to the question, is conventional marriage really worth it, or is Carpenter's ideal to which humanity should aspire merely a mirage? What influences a person in their choice of mate? According to Darwin, "man is largely, but by no means exclusively, influenced in the choice of his wife by external appearance," while a woman's choice is "largely influenced by the social position and wealth of the men." He characterized the early sexual union of our species as "loose, transitory, and in some degree promiscuous." Communal marriage was the original form throughout the world, the relationship of the child to its father unknown, and lines of descent traced through the mother alone. In Darwin's prehistoric world there might have been strict though temporary unions between males and females lasting until the birth of the child. But the renowned thinker found it hard to account for the intense feeling of jealousy seen throughout the animal kingdom, which led him to believe that absolute promiscuity could not have prevailed in the era immediately preceding our divergence from the apes. It seemed therefore that we evolved out of promiscuity, but into what? The question is still unanswered, because the social experiment that is monogamy hasn't quite reached fruition.
We are among less than 10 percent of mammalian species known to form exclusive sexual relationships, though without much success - 90 percent of people marry by age 50; however, nearly half of all married couples in the United States divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. So high that your odds of winning at the Vegas gaming tables are better. Our progenitors stayed (mostly) monogamous for a good reason: it helped us evolve into the big-brained world conquerors we are today. And indeed historically monogamy increased the fitness of our children - keeping them safe from predatory males and ensuring they'd live to see a ripe old age, or at least live to reproduce and carry on the genetic code, which is mating's true purpose, despite what the hopeless romantics of the world (and I have numbered myself among their ranks) would have you believe. But nowadays people live seven or eight decades on average regardless of whether their parents divorce or remain together until they die. And often a bitter divorce suffered through in adolescence can produce lingering emotional problems. We seem to be living in Carpenter's world. It is worth noting that the author was himself a homosexual.
So why is marriage still around? Is it a case of old habits die hard? Are we mere slaves to convention?
In modern times monogamy does nothing to assure the fitness of the offspring. Often, it conduces to the detriment of the individual, who witnesses the discord and strife of his parents and leaves the house programmed to suffer and toil in romantic relationships of his own. It can convincingly be argued that the disease that marriage has become is highly infectious and responsible for overpopulation on the one hand and the epidemic of neurosis and depression on the other.
In short, monogamy is an atavism, and the new society on whose precipice we stand must either abandon the custom altogether or else adopt an unrecognizable form whereby the sexes may coincide peacefully and even thrive, which so far has been a virtual impossibility in the married life. Look around you for support. How often do you observe in married pairs only thinly-veiled aversion? The monetary dependence of one partner combined with the brutish sex-needs of the other make lasting concord impossible. The fear of public opinion that compels a pair to maintain the charade of matrimonial tie condemns many pairs to lifelong misery.
For thousands of years this charade has been playing itself out, and in this time we've tried, oh how we've tried. The basic unit of society has been the family and it has been monogamous. This may be a vestige of hunter-gatherer society, in which a man cannot support more than one wife. At gathering both sexes can participate equally, but as our livelihood shifted to hunting, getting more food devolved on the males, it being unsuitable for females and the young to expose themselves to the dangers of the hunt. For this reason it is speculated that hunting, food-sharing, homemaking and monogamy all grew up more or less together, and now are breaking down.
The word "marriage," which derives from the Middle English mariage, first appeared in 1300 AD. It has been defined as a "more or less durable connection between male and female lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring." Matrimony is a related word that entered the English language at the same time as marriage; matrimony derives from a Latin term combining two words, mater (mother), and -monium, signifying a "state or condition"; thus matrimony centers around, or has as its ultimate purpose, motherhood. The British anthropologist Edmund Leach tried to extend the life of marriage beyond childbirth when in 1955 he offered a list of ten rights associated with matrimony. These included sexual monopoly, as well as proprietorship over the spouse's services and belongings, but said nothing about the compatibility that should exist between partners, if their union is to be harmonious and lasting; a compatibility which is often is missing. We need a new definition of marriage if it is to survive the century. First we will do away with the exclusivity the conventional definition implies. Imagine being "exclusive" with your best friend, who tells you that you cannot have any other friends. The expectations the spouse makes are often unrealistic and products of sitcom-viewing. Nightly back-rubs. Candlelight dinners. All this belongs to the courtship phase. Even regular sex. Why does copulation need to be regarded as an expression of physical love? Isn't that what hugs and kisses and cuddling are for? If marriage like other relationships is time-limited (and the divorce rate suggests it is) why force it into the framework of "till death do we part"?
The social experiment may be failing, but the new homo may still sire kids, if only sometimes. There are other reasons than to propagate one's genes or attempt immortality through your blood line. Procreating is a way of giving back to the world, of "paying it forward," of repaying the sacrifices of your ancestors through your descendants, and at the same time imbuing the tired family get-togethers with new life and fresh blood. But in order for this to happen smoothly, we must conjure a model for how the new individual who desires children might operate.
As more people put off or swear off marriage and children, nuclear-family households have declined to less than 20 percent of American homes. What's taking their place? New homes are being formed by groups of friends rather than discrete family units, a more economical counterpart to the isolating suburban house, where neighbors are hardly connected. Cohousing can involve shared meals and chores and mingling in the setting of discrete living spaces. They already number in the hundreds and as they rebalance autonomy and connection, their numbers are on the rise. Proving that with a little imagination and flexibility it is possible to break the mold. And this new-fangled living situation is not a far cry from our evolutionary past. When prehumans diverged from more ape-like species, they developed complex group behaviors including sharing fire, food and childcare that is often absent in the suburban neighborhood but are realities in these cohousing communities. Other options are for single mothers to share houses; committed spouses to live separately; "tiny home" spaces where occupants reside in the backyards of friends or family; also on the rise are colleagues who split apartments for the long-term. And as a counterpoint to the declining number of nuclear homes, there are what's known as "20 percent spouses," who live apart but continue to share child-rearing duties with a seamlessness that may even be the envy of marriage partners.
With this in mind, and with what we've said about the confining effects of conventional marriage, let me introduce to you my idea for a reality show. You take nine strangers, four gals and and as many dudes (these are the show's regulars) and one of alternating sex who you rotate in and out for "flava." You put these nine together in a house, MTV Real World style, with as many bedrooms as there are couples, plus one for the odd person out, so five rooms in all. You pick the stars based on a detailed questionnaire that ensures compatibility, mutual appeal, and an assortment of skills and personality traits, for complementarity and diversity of course. You can even do DNA testing, since these people are gonna be breeders - and they'll do it on the show. Are you beginning to see it's appeal?
Here's the rule: each night you can sleep with whomever you choose, as long as the person is different from the one you shared the bed with the night before and the one who will share your bed the night after. In other words, there's no going steady on this show. Now, the couples need not have sex. If they want to talk all night, read to each other, mud wrestle, enjoy the moonlight, binge on TV - although these probably won't be the type to binge on anything, since they'd be culled from the crème de la crème. You can even just go to sleep.
Now, since there are an odd number of people, one person will spend every ninth night alone. Just to get back in touch with him or herself. This new household is entirely self sufficient - within reason. If the sink breaks and nobody knows how to fix it, they can call a plumber. But someone probably will, since our people are a diverse bunch. They can cook, another likes to grocery shop, they rotate through chores like cleaning and gardening. You can even have a "breadwinner" type, although this duty may also be passed around - unless a particular character enjoys going to the office each day, in which case, more power to ya. There will not be too much work to do, so a lot of the time can be spent enjoying each other's company, engaging in artistic pursuits and altruistic projects, or if all else fails, you are welcome to simply stare off into space.
But absolutely no husbands and wives, and as all the ladies who want to can have babies, and each hottie can theoretically sleep with every guy in the house around her fertile period, a given gal won't know exactly who the daddy is. This is key, since every man will act as father to all the babes, and every woman a mom to the bunch. And hell, one lucky girl, by sleeping with different guys on consecutive nights, may even give birth to both their children, as twins.
It happens. Not often, but it does happen.
What I'm trying to do with my little social experiment-slash-money-making venture is to break through traditional male/female roles, and skirt some of the pitfalls of monogamy, such as jealousy and monotony and mutual boredom and resentment - while expanding the family unit to include fellow members of the human race, chumming around together as friends. After all, we all share the same DNA.
It turns out that my idea has already been done before - 2,500 years ago.
It seems the Greek philosopher Plato had this idea, which he laid out in his book The Republic. Plato's plan was to develop a kind of Utopia, or ideal society. And communal living was seen as key. The members of the commune were called guardians. They were to be the best of the best, culled from years of training and selection. Philosophers, really.
Plato's belief was that paradise had never come to Earth because of greed and luxury. That humans are not content with a simple life, being acquisitive, ambitious, competitive and jealous by nature, tired of what they have and desiring what they lack, especially if it belongs to others. Which is why the average person would not find this communal lifestyle appealing. But if, to paraphrase Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, you were among those whose delight was in meditation, who yearned not for goods but for knowledge; who left the marketplace to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will was a light rather than a fire, whose haven was not power but truth - in short if you are a person of wisdom, then this life is for you. So it's kind of an IQ test. If you're into being chosen for our show, you're already among the elect.
These guardians were to have no money. "Gold and silver we will tell them that they have from God; the diviner metal is within them, and they have therefore no need of that earthly dross which passes under the name of gold, and ought not to pollute the divine by earthly admixture."
They'd have no possessions. "Should they ever acquire homes or lands of their own, they will become housekeepers and husbandmen instead of guardians." Instead they'd be protected from want; the necessities and modest luxuries of a noble life would be theirs in regular provision, without "the searing and wrinkling care of economic-worry."
The guardians would eat together, sleep together "like soldiers sworn to simplicity." They'd have no spouses, their communism to be of mates as well as of goods, so that they would not "be narrowed to the anxious acquisitiveness of the prodded husband."
Even their children would not be specifically or distinguishably theirs, all progeny being taken from their mothers at birth and brought up in common. Of course, Plato goes on to say, community of wives did not imply indiscriminate mating; rather he suggested eugenic supervision of all reproductive relations. His argument: We breed dogs for their traits, why not humans?
"The best of either sex should be united with the best as often as possible." So maybe that's where Hitler got it from. But best doesn't have to mean blond.
Plato went so far as to lay down rules for reproduction. Men may reproduce between the ages of 30 and 45; women between twenty and forty. Also, each person would perform the function for which he was best suited. So for this show of mine that will never get made but in which I'd appear if it did - I mean how fun, right? - I volunteer to do the shopping and the cooking!
Now Plato's idea seemed too idealized even in his time. We are told he underrated the force of custom accumulated in the institution of monogamy, "underestimated the possessive jealousy of males in supposing that a man would be content to have merely a part-time portion of his wife," that he "minimized the maternal instinct" and that "in abolishing family was destroying the great nurse of morals and the chief source of those cooperative and communistic habits which would have to be the psychological basis of the household." What a buzz-kill!
Even Aristotle, who came after Plato, in condemning the latter's communism forgot that it was meant only for the elite, the unselfish few. Clearly, in doing away with "the great abyss called marriage" Plato recognized that only a few are capable of the material self-denial which he proposed. Not everyone's a philosopher.
Which is why I'd subject potential contestants to a rigorous program of evaluation. This is what all shows do, right?
But if you are among the "small-minded" (Plato's term - I think) who sides with Aristotle in the argument of how couples should cohabit, take note: Aristotle advised men to defer marriage until close to 40, and then to marry a gal about half that age. His argument was the dwindling of the man's sexual potency (at 70) would coincide with his wife's menopause, so they'd be on the same metaphorical page. Otherwise "if the man is still able to beget children while the woman is unable to bear them, or vice versa, quarrels and differences will arise."
Interestingly, Plato was bold enough to seize the opportunity of realizing this ideal community when he was offered the chance. In 387 BC he received an invitation from Dionysius of Syracuse to come and turn his kingdom into Utopia. But the king balked when Plato tried to make a philosopher of him, and the result was a bitter quarrel. Plato was sold into slavery. The ingratitude! Maybe Dionysius was a jealous husband who didn't take too kindly to sharing Mrs. Dionysius. Things may not have turned out exactly "utopic" for our Plato. But I bet we can make it work.
Now to give our new species a name, otherwise we cannot separate him from the herd. The English language is rife with terms borrowed from other tongues to explain things which till the adoption went unnamed, even unrecognized. We must coin a new word, or as is the case with words like ennui or malaise, borrow our new term from another tongue, to give it an added depth or nuance (another French word). Having discussed Plato and the Greeks, we would do best to avail ourselves of their Mother tongue, which has no less than four words for true love, their notion for which is as poetic as their thoughts on the topic of twin spirits.
"There were once three sexes," Plato writes in his Dialogues, "male, female, and androgynous, all of whom were once curious chimerical creatures with double the 'normal' number of limbs and members. The gods, in anger, split them in half. And love is the passionate search of two natural halves to find each other again."
More recently the notion of twin souls separated at birth has been popularized in movies, my favorite of which is Don Juan De Marco (1995) starring Johnny Depp, a delightful film wonderfully written, which features one of the most beautiful lines ever uttered in cinematic history. Johnny Depp as the titular character has the exquisite pleasure of saying:
"There are those that do not believe that a single soul born in heaven can split into twin spirits and shoot like falling stars to earth where over oceans and continents their magnetic forces will finally unite them back into one. But, how else to explain love at first sight?"
To this I answer: falling in love is easy. Staying in love, not so much.
More contemporary authors have questioned the utility or feasibility of finally and everlastingly attaining true love. A.J. McIvor-Tyndall, author of Cosmic Consciousness, The Man-God Whom We Await, maintains that the romantic quest may represent a misplaced desire to reunite with God.
"Whether this reunion be considered from the standpoint of finding the other half of the perfect one, as exemplified in the present-day search for the soul mate, or whether it be considered in the light of a spiritual merging into the One Eternal Absolute is the question of questions."
Question of questions indeed. I've been struggling with it all my life!
Since Tabitha in early nursery school right up until the present, the prospect of finding my "other half" has haunted my days. But if you are denied the boon of true love lasting til death do you part, you may be up for something even more grandiose. The religious ecstasy which results from spiritual aspiration, an ecstasy that can result from the union of the soul with its "other half," is also obtainable in the impersonal reunion with the Causeless Cause, the Absolute, "from which we are earth wanderers."
So as the Persian mystic Mahmud Shabistari so eloquently urges, "Go, sweep out the chamber of your heart, Make it ready to be the dwelling-place of the Beloved. When you depart out, he will enter in, In you, void of your self, will he display his beauty."
In the classic French author Honore de Balzac’s novel Louis Lambert, the titular character, when on the brink of enlightenment, reconsiders the question of marriage, realizing it to be “an obstacle to the perfectibility of his interior senses and to his flight through the spiritual worlds” and ultimately deciding against it.
“And, in fact, when we consider the antagonistic attitude of so many of the great cases toward this relation [Gautama, Jesus, Saint Paul, Whitman, etc.] there seems little doubt that anything like a general possession of Cosmic Consciousness must abolish marriage as we know it today.” (Cosmic Consciousness)
Choose one, earthly love or spiritual ecstasy, but not both, seems to be the argument handed down to us over the ages.
The divine yearning was felt by King Solomon and expressed in his Song of Songs. Solomon had only partial glimpses of the ecstatic state, frequently backsliding from divine contemplation and allowing his yearning for the state of liberation to express itself in love of woman. He'd have done best to follow Aldous Huxley's directive and "love every human being with the love of a mother for her only child." Do this, and how sweet a place the world can be.
But what if you don't want to be a Christ or a Mother Teresa, if you're a born romantic who will not rest until the amorous quest has been fulfilled? We can choose a more recent pop culture reference to light the way. As Whitney Houston has sung, "Find your strength in love."
The key that unlocks the door to illumination is Love - not the personal type, but the impersonal, unconditional love freely given and received. This Love (capital L, to be sure) is an outpouring and overflowing of your own nature - and that goes whether you're single or spoken for.
And when you realize that you are already whole, then finding you other half loses the allure it once possessed. Finding "the greatest love of all" inside your very own precious heart, you are truly free to play the game of romance should it come your way and for as long as it chooses to stay.
Now onto the Greek words for love. First off, there is storge, or the affection shared between parents and children. Next is philia, a dispassionate virtuous love of friends and equals. Then comes eros, the sexual love between two physically intimate persons. In accordance with the Platonic Ideal, a person is said to climb the ladder of erotic love, beginning while young by gravitating to beautiful bodies, and choosing one person in particular with whom to pair and “generate beautiful speeches.” From intimate contact with your personal favorite stems the realization that the beauty in one person is essentially the same as the beauty in everyone else. That all beings, being divine, share in the "form of the beautiful." Thus, if beauty in its nature is the same, the lover transcends individual love for a love that embraces all for the beauty they inherently possess. This is agape, defined as a divine sort of love based on goodwill. Agapic love characterizes the love shared between God and man.
As a tribute to this divine, agapic love, I hereby proclaim that the new species be called homo agape, after the unconditional divine love that will be its hallmark feature. Members of the species agape may be few, but our numbers are growing.
The question arises as to how this individual is to behave. For a code of actions governing his conduct, we have once more to return to Plato, who lays out the following features. Firstly, he (or she) does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life - knowing that under certain conditions it is not worthwhile to live.
Two, he is of a disposition to do others service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination.
Three, he does not take part in public displays (whether this includes displays of affection we leave it for the reader to conclude).
Fourthly, he is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly, because of his contempt for men and things.
Five, he is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes.
Six, he cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend; complaisance is the characteristic of a slave.
Seven, he never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries.
Eight, he is not fond of talking.
Nine, it is no concern of a member of the species agape that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves.
Ten, his carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned about only a few things.
Eleven, he is not prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care.
Twelve, he bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skillful general who marshals his limited forces with all the strategy of war.
And finally: he is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy - whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude.
How do you measure up? I know many gay guys who do.
Many homosexuals don't have sex with each other, not even fellatio. They are into associations for the flirting and the fun, which is not unlike the ancient Greeks. Many are gay in name, not necessarily in form, masquerading as a queer in order to have an excuse to have a good time. Because why should the party end when you settle down and have kids, but it usually does. I have also known gay guys to share a bed with their female friends, and there was evidently some level of attraction between them, as exists in all friendships. If a gay guy is not above engaging in oral sex with another homosexual male, what is to stop him from trading favors with a female? Lips are lips, right? Many so-called straight guys have received oral gratification from a person they later learned was queer, and these don't consider themselves gay.
So if a gay man were to receive oral pleasure from the lips of a woman, it wouldn't be construed as faithlessness to the cause. But it never happens. Why, because there must be something about getting involved with a woman, even for a one-night stand, that gay men find terrifying. And we don't have to pull out our beards to discover what it is about your average woman that raises red flags. A romantic relationship usually begins with such casual flings, becomes progressively more onerous and intense, until it spells the end of fun, at least for the male. Things quickly get complicated. Possessiveness and jealousy are characteristic features, as is the struggle for control (which the man often loses). And rather than be among the most recent group of descendents of the Bible's Adam and Eve, who knew their nakedness and were banished from Eden to "toil among the thorns in the field," even though oral gratification may appeal at some level, especially when drunk, the judicious gay person stays away. Because what a little hanky panky often leads to, romantic involvement with all its complications, is not worth it. Whereas such a roll in the hay enjoyed in the arms of another guy promises as much fun without all the messy aftermath. Or he goes it alone, and in doing so is in the company of greatness.
The 18th century French satirist Voltaire was known to isolate himself from his contemporaries, in order that close association with his fellow men and women would not interfere with his thoughts. The author of The Philosophical Dictionary was by all definitions an original thinker. There has never been anyone else like him, anywhere in the world, before or since. Apparently he was aware of his originality, which he guarded ever so jealously lest it become tainted by common notions tritely expressed.
Another great mind, Blaise Pascal, has this to say: "The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not corrupt them."
Then there is Oscar Wilde, who though married was a practicing homosexual, and persecuted for it with prison time. It was during his sentence that he wrote a short but beautiful book entitled De Profundis. He writes: "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." Thus the problem with groups, which reinforce mannerisms, opinions, gestures, habits, tastes.
And so if you find yourself in dire straits, faced with the choice between the easy hook-up or going it alone, you must ask yourself, as did Albert Camus before you (Camus was heterosexual and married, though quoted as saying "marriage is not for me"), which you prefer: "solitude, or the barren kingdoms where words have no more meaning and where force and the instincts of blind creatures reign"?
The younger generation (called Millennials, to give them a name, and their successors, those born after the year 2000 who are as yet unclassified) lack real role models. They see either the flaming gay, the guy you know is gay, and the straight guy, who loses his sex appeal the further he burrows into his monogamous relationship. Why? Because flirting is fun, and keeps you young, and for most straights, the fun stops once you settle down. But it doesn't have to.
Is there a gay gene? As much as there is an obesity gene, or a depression gene. Which is to say no, not really. There is the law of attraction and it is active in homo and heterosexual bonds. Even straight male friends look alike or grow to resemble each other over time, adopting similar mannerisms and hairstyles. We become friends with those who catch our eye, those with whom we feel an affinity, a kinship. The attraction is not always physical, hardly ever sexual. Why would it, since it is not in the interest of the species for two guys to get it on. Unless this keeps them from procreating, in which it combats overpopulation and does the species some good. Even straights can serve the race, and do whenever their sex is not for procreation. That's so many blowjobs and handjobs and anal sex. All merely forms of masturbating while another person is in the room.
I was at a party once and had a lengthy conversation with a gay guy and asked him about his early experiences. He told me he had been an adorable child and while playing with the neighborhood boys was kissed and coddled, and liked it. So naturally when he reached sexual maturity he sought out or was open to advances from members of the same sex. Like breeds like. It was familiar. This goes for many things. Young children who can't drink milk are given a bitter substitute and grow up to prefer bitter tasting foods which other kids might shun. Our earliest experiences define us. But we can break the bonds if we choose to.
If we trace the development of this new species, we find that many were either homosexuals or ascetics. The former were persecuted, the latter revered. Both have been poorly understood by the average individual. The openly pedophilic Greeks, bisexual artists and writers, celibate ascetics all were cut of the same cloth. Some were happily married. But marriage as conventionally practiced can often be opposed to this spiritual evolution. How does the average couple spend recreational hours? Watching TV, movies, having sex, fixing up the house. The married pair is devoted to the material realm, the sense realm. My parents were this way. As have I been when in relationships. The average couple gains weight during their courtship. Contrast this to what is done in solitude, or with other seekers. The Greeks had their soirees. Yes they'd drink a lot, and eat a lot, and had some sex, but they also made huge strides in philosophy. Why has the search for truth as a past-time disappeared if not because the petty troubles of marriage have gotten in the way? We are not merely bigger-brained primates destined to cater to our senses while the mystery of the universe goes unexplored! What is to be the new lifestyle of this race? His occupation? I leave the answers to you.
*Groping for a way to end this piece, I chanced upon an illustration that really gave me peace. The picture's description is "The Hardy Life of a Roving Band of Hunters" and depicts a small group of Neanderthals, "typical of the bands that ranged around the Mediterranean," as they set out in the spring for new hunting grounds.
They are taking all their possessions with them: hides, weapons and a few stone tools like a hand-axe. Maybe some small game for provisions. The adult males are armed with a heavy club to protect the band from marauding animals. The women look out for the small children, nursing them along the way, and protecting them from the rugged conditions with bundles of skins that the group uses as blankets at night, perhaps as makeshift tents. Neanderthal man was a resourceful fellow who could make the best of his environment. All he needed, at all times, was either on him or in his midst. Simplicity is good.
I found myself wondering why this species went extinct. Was it as biologists believe, that they were outcompeted for resources by homo sapiens, or possibly flat out exterminated in tribal war? Anthropologists assert that the Neanderthals were without culture, and that had they survived they would have persisted in the simple lifestyle that characterized their nearly thousand-century long sojourn on Earth. I find this hard to believe, considering that compared to modern humans, Neanderthals had bigger brains, and culture is often a product of intellectual development, or correlated.
But maybe they had no culture precisely because they were more intelligent than we, and when they saw cultural effects taking over, customs and arts, when society started to take shape, they, as they say, got the hell outta Dodge. Maybe they predicted the ills of agriculture. If so, they would not have been alone. The society we have created, a function of the agricultural and industrial ages, is one which Christ was opposed to during his life and which has nevertheless gotten more out of hand in the 2000 years since his death. We outright ignore the commandments he gave in his Sermon on the Mount, calling them impractical in the modern age. Love your enemy? Who does that! And the modern individual, product of his environment as he is, finds it seemingly impossible to struggle against it. So he is solitary, or forms small bands of like-minded individuals, and maybe looks back with nostalgia on what it must have been like in those Neanderthal days.
Marx saw, and foresaw, that in Camus' words "the demands of honesty and intelligence were put to egoistic ends by the hypocrisy of a mediocre and grasping society."
In his Phenomenology of Spirit, the philosopher Hegel discusses a future society where there will be no art; where beauty will be lived and no longer only imagined; where reality, become entirely rational, will satisfy every appetite, completely by itself.
The new species of homo's virtue lies in never allowing himself to be engulfed in the shadows that surround him. He drags himself obstinately toward the light of the good. For, in the words of Camus, "At the end of the tunnel of darkness that is life, there is inevitably a light, which we already divine and for which we only have to fight to ensure its coming." All of us, among the ruins, are preparing a renaissance. A golden age. But few of us know it. "Evolution assembles, one by one, and throughout the years, the solitary individuals who fight their way toward a unity that encompasses all." (Camus)
Humans, like the rest of the animal kingdom, have historically been instinctive creatures reacting to our environment in a symbiotic relationship, but man has engineered the environment to influence our instinctive drives, through technology and tasty foods and other forces that activate the brain's reward center, a fact which Lieberman drives home by the end of his worthy book. We make snap judgements without thinking twice about them, and as a result we give in to immediate pleasures rather than defer them till the accomplishment of a greater goal. But it is possible to suppress or guide our animal instincts with what Lieberman calls "slower, more deliberative kinds of thinking." But he doesn't have much faith in the average human to override primal behaviors with our heightened capacities for reflection and circumspection.
The new homo, however, is anything but average. He, and she, are characterized by above all else discipline, of mind and body, in thoughts, and habits and appetites. And unconditional love.
And the new homo really is not a homo after all.