“We humans are a special species, we are at the top of the evolutionary pyramid, we are what God aimed at when he set evolution in motion.”
“Well, that is a lovely thought, but it is not really true. Every individual creature that is alive today – humans, primates, mammals, dolphins – are as highly evolved as are you and me. They are all products of 450 million years of uninterrupted evolutionary success, just like you and me. No predator ever made a meal out of any of them before they had children. None of our ancestors, no matter how distant, ever died of an accident or a disease before they had children, more ancestors”
“But we are surely superior to them all, to all non-human creatures, aren’t we?”
“What does superior mean? Other species have been around longer than us, survived as a single species, longer than us. Cockroaches have been around for some 300 million years, while the Homo genus has been around for less than 2.5 million years and the Homo Sapiens species some 300,000 years. And our future looks much more vulnerable to extinction than their future. Cockroaches have been around much longer than we have, and they are much more likely to survive natural or un-natural catastrophes than we are. That make us superior to cockroaches?”
“Well, OK, how about bigger brains than any other species?”
“Whales have bigger brains.”
“OK, fine, but look what human beings have done: we have artists, authors, composers; we have scientists and inventors; we have religious and military and political leaders. No other creatures have ever given birth to such as us.”
“You are talking about Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Picasso; Homer, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart; Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Edison and Tesla; the Buddha, Jesus, St. Paul and Muhammad; Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, FDR, and Winston Churchill. Maybe more, surely more, than these few “immortal” (because they will never be forgotten) humans. But still, how many “immortals” can you name, you and all your friends, how many can you name? If you had a month, could you name 1000? Even with the help of Google and Wikipedia, could you and your friends name 10,000? How many “immortal” human beings have there been since the beginning of recorded history, names that will still shine bright a thousand years from now? Less than 10,000. Even if it is that many, that is still one human in a million. We humans like to feel that we are superior to all the rest of God’s creation, yet it is less than one in a million of us whose lives you would put on display to show how great all of us are. But fewer than one in a million human beings puts a small dent in the universe. As for you and me, aren’t we really closer to chimpanzees than to Leonardo?”
“Oh, man, you are depressing me.”
“But am I wrong, is the average human being closer to Leonardo -- to any of the members of the list that I have challenged you to draw up -- than he is to a chimpanzee? I doubt it. I like to think that some of us are at least “smart chimpanzees.” You surely know someone who is smarter than you and everyone else you know, but does he belong in your short list of immortal human beings, or is he just a smart chimpanzee? And just between you and me, the vast majority of humans are not even smart chimpanzees; they are just ordinary chimpanzees!
What am I trying to say here? That the next time we want to beat our breast for “how great am I” or “how great are we,” try a little humility, it doesn’t look so damned foolish. We are a remarkable species, but you and I will never even meet anyone who makes us so. Just a bunch of names that we all know.
And, as long as we are willing to pat ourselves on the back for the achievements of a few others, we will never individually achieve what we are able to, and we will thereby lead smaller lives than we need to. And as long as we lead unnecessarily small lives, we will never rise to the level to be able to win for ourselves a true democracy, where We the People do indeed rule. And the light of self-rule will go out for a thousand years, if we “ordinary chimpanzees” survive that long!
Humility. A little bit of it goes a long way.