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People Aren’t Human And Never Have Been

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Some time ago, I wrote an article for BC called Three Steps From The Cave.  In my distress about the state of society, I wrote, "Are we living on the edge of a precipice? I look around and see that our society is failing, the world is failing, we are making a mess of this Eden given to us — by God or Darwin, I don't care — it doesn't matter. What do you see, I wonder, and how can we resolve our different visions?"

And then I added, "Human beings as civilized creatures is the most dangerous myth ever foisted upon a species." 

The reality of being three steps from the cave, i.e., we're barely civilized, plagues me.  It's important to understand the context for me to state that, barring some catastrophic event in the next few decades, I'm old enough and financially secure enough that the implications won't affect me.  And I don't have children, so it's hard to worry about their future.  However, I do live here, although few will remember that some short years after I'm gone.  And because I live here — on this earth, not in this country — the savagery that is the social norm around the world causes me pain.

Perhaps the sense of impending doom so pervasive in the previous article was overdone.  Recently, I've reread Masse's masterpiece, Peter the Great, a fictional/history on the early years of Genghis Khan, and the book, The Last Samurai, which was twisted into what I thought a powerful movie, although little of movie bore any relation to the reality of the story. 

The problem is that the history of homo sapiens is primarily a story of barbarism, cruelty, and inhumanity.  (Interesting question:  What is humanity if we are simply barbarians?  What does the word mean?)  With the growing desire on the part of third-world nations to acquire nuclear arms in response to Iran, and the failure of the West to constrain them, what is clear is that we do have the ability now to destroy ourselves in ways never before imagined.

However, the lack of weapons of mass destruction in the past didn't stop nations from doing their best to wreak as much havoc as possible given the technology of the time.  How many historians treat the development of the long bow in England, which allowed them to devastate the French during the Hundred Years War as a technological advance, as something to admire?  The Crusades quickly became a means for looting and pillaging.  The Ottomans, the ancient Chinese and Japanese, and virtually every other nation were built upon the blood and bones of those who came before. 

America and Europe have been no better.  It was only 300 years ago that Americans burned witches at the stake.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Europe crippled Africa and the Middle East with their so-called nation building that ignored centuries of tribal realities. 

So what?

When we consider the world today and try to comprehend the massive failures of virtually every foreign policy initiative by all countries for improvements, we should recognize that, for all our best intentions, human beings simply do not have the ability to accomplish great goals.  Recent studies in neurology, psychology, economics, and other fields make it clear that emotions and primitive urges are much more powerful than either the rational or conscious parts of our minds.  The 18th Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the belief that human beings could harness the power of our rational minds has been revealed to be a myth. 

We do stand on the edge of a precipice, but I've come to realize that we have always stood there.  It is not a new phenomenon.  Most cannot even see the precipice;  it is too terrifying to imagine.  Others believe that technology and the illusion of control over it will provide a bridge. 

I no longer know what to believe, but I also now question my own fears that homo sapiens is simply another in a series of failed experiments by nature.  It's not that I have more hope; it's rather that, looking backwards, I can't find an historical period when we were any better.  

That is not to say that one should succumb to despair and cease all efforts at improvements.  Human beings do have good qualities, not the least of which is a fundamental optimism — perhaps unreasonable but nonetheless valuable.  Despair is tantamount to submission:  We have always been and will always been three steps from the cave.  Progress is futile.

I can't accept that.  We must never stop trying to create a more just, equitable world, but perhaps we'll have more success if we realize how much of our own barbarism we have to overcome to achieve it. 

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About Mark Schannon

Retired crisis & risk manager/communications expert; extensive public relations experience in most areas over 30 years. Still available for extraordinary opportunities of mind-numbing complexity. Life-long liberal agnostic...or is that agnostic liberal.
  • Ryan Ste

    Thank you for sharing this. Very thoughtful.

  • warren

    heck, who has the cojones to own up to TFL?

  • warren

    I mean, even when ppl **KNOW** they are wrong about something, they refuse to own up to their own misbehavior. Conservatives KNOW they are wrong when they try to force feed their religion down the rest of secular society’s throats by trying to push for their religion in secular laws, liberals KNOW they are wrong when they go on witch hunts and needless tirades demonizing innocent white males for things that happened hundreds of yrs ago, I could go on tossing out many more common sense examples, on both or all sides of any fence, of this multi-segregated dehumanized thing we call “society.”

  • warren

    How can ppl make the world better, when ppl are childish and have to make everything into a game? Everything from business, to human rights/politricks (which are rigged anyhow), to personal relationships, to even a simple online debate, are made into a pissing contest (“seeking no truth, winning is all”), look how dissocialized and clique-ish our current society has became.. In humanity’s history, we have failed to grow up, we have failed to learn from our mistakes, in fact ppl keep repeating them over and over again because they refuse to learn from history (they’d rather veg out to American Idol or something).

  • “Then there is the vexing question: when do you count from? When did humans become humans?”

    Quoted for Truth

    you hit the nut with that kick…

    @ Dan – the point is that the measures taken to increase population via technology and/or social mechanisms are the very evidence to dispute the original Article’s thesis


  • Dr Dreadful

    I’ve heard but can’t verify, that all the 6 billion people living today outnumber all the people who have died in all of recorded history. That’s pretty amazing if true.

    As staggering as the current human population is, that one’s actually not true. It’s actually verifiable by means of a little basic mental arithmetic if you know your historical population estimates, but the zeros can get a bit scary.

    Then there is the vexing question: when do you count from? When did humans become humans?

    [FX: brain explodes]

  • Dan

    So maybe the bottle nosed porpoise and the killer whale are alternative evolutionary progressions from tree swingers? Interesting.

    Something I find interesting is the human appendix. Some theorize that it is a vestige of an organ that once housed a gland that secreted something to help digest tree bark.

    I wonder though, if it is an evolving organ which purpose hasn’t yet arrived. Maybe it will become a body temperature regulator that will aid in survival on an increasingly warming planet.

    Advances in science and technology are what drive the population explosion. For instance, DDT had malaria almost beaten until it became unfashionable. Now millions die because of enviromental concerns. Maybe it’s a good thing, I don’t know. Struggling populations would more likely die out if not for humanitarian aid. That would be “natural”. But then increased populations and the survival tension they create causes conflict, sometimes violent. Pick your poison I guess.

    The urge to breed overcomes the desire to insure your progeny lives in comfort. You can’t hold young people of breeding age accountable to standards of self reliance and accountability. They only know what they know. And if they know that the food ration, or the welfare check has been coming throughout their short lives, then they count on it continuing. They’re not likely to contribute to any so called “advancement” of human enlightenment or civilization, they’re too busy surviving.

    I’ve heard but can’t verify, that all the 6 billion people living today outnumber all the people who have died in all of recorded history. That’s pretty amazing if true.

  • troll

    (I wasn’t really worried that you had gone over to the dark side – just poking fun)

  • don’t think so…no evidence for such, but i do tend to think that the currently accepted timelines, as well as some of the theories surrounding them are mistaken in many ways, because they don’t add up with evidence acquired so far…

    the probability of some previous “Hyborean age” coming before the written records of Jewish and Chinese cultures is my own theory…that Homo Sapiens has been around a lot longer than is currently accepted…

    one that always gets me is the fact that the only two other species we are aware of, who have skeletal opposable thumbs are the bottle nosed porpoise and the killer whale….now if indeed those were evolved for brachiation in trees…how long do said mammals have to be living in the ocean to evolve into their current state?

    not meant as any serious kind of theorizing there, just one of those things that sticks in my mostly empty head concerning archeological and evolutionary issues

    notice never once do my fingers leave my hands…


  • troll

    so…there is a Santa Clause – ?

  • Christopher raises a decent point for examination

    if, as what he quotes posits that modern man evolved from a few hundred Africans 25,000 years ago..then one must ask some Questions…

    to wit – since the “Iceman” was dated to approximately 7,000 years ago, this leaves about 18,000 years for many evolutionary changes to occur… blue eyes and the loss of a thigh muscle for Europeans, the epicanthic fold as well as the thigh muscle issue for Asians…among other things like melanin content/pigmentation and hair

    all these changes via evolution in a mere 18,000 years, which bred true in the meantime with NO further evolutionary changes?

    doesn’t make sense according to what we have as evidence pertaining to evolutionary timelines and biology

    but i digress


  • sr

    Hey Doc what crap do you wont to know?

  • Dr Dreadful

    What crap?

  • sr


  • Mark, yes you’re kind of right, up to a point. I’m currently re-reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. When you made your earlier comment I was co-incidentally reading the part where he writes about our origins. He states that “modern Europeans… are descended from no more than a few hundred Africans who left their homeland as recently as 25,000 years ago”.

    Homo Sapiens has indeed been around for a couple of hundred thousand years now, although mostly doing nothing significant for most of that time. We’re still very much the new kids on the block though as our immediate ancestors such as Homo Erectus or Homo Neanderthalensis were around for a couple of million years before disappearing almost overnight, despite being bigger and stronger than us and in the case of Neanderthalensis, having a larger brain.

  • and Mark, i ain’t saying quantity equates to quality

    what i’m saying is that barbarism and the 4 Horsemen , when running rampant, tend to cull the herd and keep the population low

    current population figures would show that such is not happening

    if living conditions and such were indeed deteriorating as you state, then population would be decreasing rather than increasing…Q.E.D.

    now, tipple another wee dram, me boyo..all me best ta you and the Missus


  • Christopher, I keep getting banned word strangled so I’ll make this simple, I hope. Humans have been around for approx 200,000 years. I’d add the website but that may be what messed that up before.

    Temple, my dear sir, it has been known since people first squeezed juice out of grapes that alcohol is the great enabler of truth, justice, and the homo sapien way. That it may mar a few brain cells is a small price to pay for brilliance. So there!

    In Jameson Veritas

  • sr

    Temple, Just let evolutionary force do the work for us. Kick back and watch animal planet with some suds and popcorn and dont worry. We are only what we evolve into. Just dont blame me.

  • Alcohol kills brain cells.

    Is it an evolutionary force or a devolutionary force? Self-destructism achieves the goal of its master.

    – Temple

  • You’re a bit out on your timeline, Mark. Homo Sapiens has only been around for 20,000 years or so. As a species we’re just getting started!

  • Gonzo, you rapscallion, you’re going to equate quantity with quality? The more people we cram onto this planet, the better things are?

    And it’s an assumption that quality of life improves year-by-year. Reality shows alone disprove that falacy.

    Bah, humbug. And all the best to you & yer missus.

    alesandro, there’s no question but that our science and technology have improved in quantum leaps since the first cave person said, “hey, these round things could be useful.” But, underneath the thin veneer of civilization lies the unconscious, brain-wired, longings, anger, urges, irrationality of cave people.

    It’s not like homo sapiens are bad–it’s just that brain evolution takes a lot longer than a few hundred thousand years. Just think of Paris Hilton, LOL.

    And to all…

    In Jameson Veritas

  • #7


    Here we have the dichotomy of the article in a nutshell — you warned him about the danger; I laughed aloud at the thought. I’d expect nothing less of a humane man like yourself, and I’m disappointed in (but not surprised at all at) myself. 😉 HH

  • Great read.

    Mark, it doesn’t necessarily have to be proven scientifically. But I suspect it can be; just look at the medical advancement we’ve seen. That is part of “civilization” no?

    Historians can tell you that we have been steadily improving. Heck, once upon a time we used to eat onions like it was an apple.

    On the other hand, people still pick their noses at the dinner table.

    So I see your point but I tend to see life as a glass half full. Why I have no clue. It’s genetic maybe.

    John Stuart Mill? Bah. I’m reading something that’s keeping me on the edge of the toilet seat. Something called the Hardy Boys. Ever hear of them?

  • bah…yer base thesis is invalidated by the very notion of population expansion that ya cite

    can’t get ta 6 billion people when the barbarians rule, cuz they tend to kill off folks they don’t like

    not ta mention disease, natural disasters, and famine…

    you know, those 4 Horsemen

    if those are kept in check enough that population expands, and quality of individual life improves, no matter how slightly, on a year by year basis…rather than deteriorating (like in say, Iraq)…then the human animal is progressing by the only criteria that counts

    survival of numbers

    anything else is artificial construct in the great scheme of things…

    but ya knew that

    just fer you, Mark…:::waves:::

    the Tao of D’oh.


  • Ryan, you’re even more gloomy than I! I could do an article about the nobility one can find in the human species and argue that we deserve a chance to make things right.

    That was my point with Dan. The state of humanity is not something that can be known from a rational or intellectual perspective, it’s only something that is observed and felt–understanding that we filter everything we observe through our own unconscious beliefs, biases, attitudes, etc. A great conundrum.

    And SFC SKI, one should absolutely try to take one or two more steps, to go out and lead by example or at least do good. I only describe what I see; my goal is that we can fight and overcome the problem that we’ve evolved as organisms slower than our technology.

    One should never give up. And one should always rememer,

    In Jameson Veritas


    If the planet is depopulated, who will go to these resorts?

  • Ryan

    Mark, you couldn’t be any closer to the truth if you tried. But unlike you this pleases me, I hope humanity destroys itself sooner than later so the world can be resorted.

  • sr

    lofi. Please tell me your not pluged into an electrical outlet while browsing on your PC taking a bath. You wont have testicles to stare at but burnt grapes.


    “The 18th Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, the belief that human beings could harness the power of our rational minds has been revealed to be a myth.” I don’t know that it was a belief so much as it was an attempt to get people to strive to use reason against instinct.

    One can bemoan the state of humanity, or one can go out and try to help someone else, and lead by example. Sure sounds like a Kum-ba-ya Hallmark sentiment, but what does bitching accomplish?

  • Paotie

    Mark –

    Great article. I agree with Dan – change is slow in coming, probably too slow at times, though I appreciate your perspective, anyway.

  • lofi

    I’m in the bath right now, switching between browsing the web and staring at my testicles

    its to not know humanity to deny the splendour of the animal

  • Frances

    It feels like someone else just joined the club *grin*.

    We call it ‘Earth’ and it should have been called ‘Garden’.

    There was enough room for everyone, enough food for everyone, endless possibilities and a way to achieve everything we wanted.
    What do we end up with: a slave world where the riches of the entire planet are divided up among a very few people while billions [at this point] are not allowed to seek for themselves a better life, where they are not allowed to earn a decent days’ pay for a hard day’s work.
    We excel in astounding abundance in the art of misery, the only infinite resource we know. Half of our species is deemed inferior [just sit down for a while and -imagine- that if you can] and has to endure endless abuse for the most trivial and inconsequential of reasons. What utter tragedy, what bottomless despair to do this to ourselves.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the ‘3 steps away from the cave’ theory. The BBC had a show where a iron age community had to fend for themselves using nothing but what the iron agers had. To help them along [quite reasonably] they had 4 day’s worth of supplies.
    When the supplies ran out [as they knew they would] the whole game came tumbling down with shocking immediacy. They had no idea how to live with basically nothing. They were put into a survival situation and they could not cope. There are peoples who civilization hasn’t met yet. These people still live in the cave. That’s 1 step away from us. 1, not 3.

    We are capable of greatness but we defeat ourselves with trivialities. We don’t teach our children what it means to be a human. We are the -only- species on this planet with feelings of shame towards sexuality. We simply refuse to accept our own basic needs as we work ourselves to death to get money to buy stuff we won’t have a chance to enjoy.
    We are spiritually empty and morally corrupt.
    But we’ve got HDTV. Pity us not.

  • Dan,

    I appreciate your point of view. There’s no way to scientifically prove either your view or mine. How does one measure civility, civilizaation, humanity, etc. over time? Can’t be done.

    I hope it turns out you’re right & I’m wrong, but we’ll both probably not be around to see it.

  • Dan Rocha

    Believe what you want, but for me it appears that humanity has improved slowly, but steadily since the classical Greeks. Ups and downs–yes, but overall there is less suffering.