Alas, that's not what Noam Chomsky thinks. He claims that the average life span of a species is 100,000 or so years; after that, any environment will have changed too much for that species to adapt to it. For him, we're nearing the end of our run, and hastening it unnecessarily with environmental destruction, too.
Mmm, cheery words on a dank October morning. Sorry!
Well that may be the average life-span but really well-adapted species can go on and on and on.
Crocodiles, for instance, have existed, virtually unchanged, since before the time of the dinosaurs.
Time is relative; some time ago an acquaintance recommended a Bulgakov novel to me, and me being somewhat ignorant of Bulgakov (but having heard the name somewhere) I said something about it being quite new, to which my acquaintance counteredthat it was, in fact, very old; from the Stalin period!
By "new" I meant after 1850...
I agree. Anything 20th century is "new". I'm still struggling to cope with the impact of the Waste land.
A fun game I have: while people watching, just try to peer into their primate-ness a bit. It's hilarious/mind-blowing. Actually one of the easiest forums in which to perceive this is Reality TV. It makes me paranoid about my own behavior as well.
Apes make me uneasy. I can't watch wild-life films that feature them. They remind me too much of us.
Cities have only existed for the last 5,200 years, settlement for the last 12,000, but we shouldn't confuse the two. Let's not forget that until as recently as the 7th century most of Europe consisted essentially of tribes that were constantly at war, it was only in the 17th century that we got a serious sense of greater community beyond our farming villages, and only in the last 50 have we even considered the idea of a "human family" bereft of talk of "little brown brothers" and the like. It's very very true, humanity has been slowly adapting to its own power.
And the modern city- the metropolis like London or New York- in which tribal differences get broken down (though not fast enough)- is a product of the industrial revolution and really no more than 200 years old.
But it's taken me nearly fifty years to get there. Most of my life I've been in denial.
It's tempting to view human history as being very long ... why, it stretches back thousands and thousands of years! How impossibly long ago were the Romans and the Egyptians ...
But look at it in terms of people's lifetimes and it's so very short. Airplanes and automobiles have been around a mere four generations. The United States has existed for nine. Jesus of Nazareth walked the Holy Land just eighty generations ago. First Dynasty Egypt was founded only two hundred generations ago. Most species in two hundred generations change nary at all. And look at us.
My hope is we're in the process of evolving- and that over the next few thousand years we'll develop into gentler, kinder creatures.
You bring up an excellent point. No matter how much, as a history lover, I am tempted to look as our time on earth as a long one, I have to remind myself that it is not long at all, in context with the other things of this planet. You bring a breath of fresh air and hope on this rather rainy October afternoon.
If we don't destroy ourselves during this time of transition, then the future could be amazing. We have progressed so far in the past few thousand years. What we might become in another thousand or two is probably beyond our imagining...
thanks for writing this. i'm the middle of watching dogville, and getting very depressed about humans as a whole.
I get pretty depressed about humankind too. And it's by taking the long historical view that I cheer myself up. I tell myself that this is how we are at an early phase in our development- and things will improve as we evolve.