Friday, September 16, 2022

Cooperation And Communication

One can argue that humans are among the most evolutionarily successful larger species on the planet.

I have to qualify that controversial assertion with the term "larger" because, frankly, the last couple years have underlined the fact that viruses, which are more bio-machines than living creatures, are kicking our butts. 

If you want to insist on limiting the survival of the fittest competition to actual full-on animals, there are, of course, plenty of microscopic creatures, like bacteria, that far outnumber us. And you don't even have to get out your microscope to see the insects, which make up over half the world's biodiversity. 

Of course, if longevity is the actual measure of a species' success then humans aren't even in the running. Horseshoe crabs have been around for some 450 million years. Homo sapiens are a mere blip in comparison.

And if we measure success by the rapidity at which a species evolves, then the lizard-like tuatara of New Zealand holds that trophy.

In other words, when I boast of our evolutionary success I'm doing so based on our ability, as a species bigger than, say, a bread box, to dominate through its presence. Indeed, one of the key characteristics of our species is our ability to wipe out any of the other species that happen to be in our way. When our ancestors first began to appear on the North American continent (15,000-30,000 years ago), we found it populated with amazing megafauna like mammoths, mastodons, and even giant bears and sloths, which we proceeded to hunt to extinction (there are those who disagree with this assessment, but our actions most likely contributed).

How did a scrawny, little ape manage to destroy the largest mammals to have ever lived? Cooperation and communication. No one of us could have brought down a wild pig the size of a rhinoceros, but by working together it turned out, tragically for the wild pig, to be a different story. Even today's land-based megafauna, like elephants, giraffes, and hippos are dependent upon human restraint in order to survive. 

Emotionally, it can be difficult to think about our deadly nature. At the same time, it's inspiring to recognize that our "success" is based on something we generally consider as profoundly positive. On the one hand, cooperation and communication are among the human traits we most value, we teach them to our children, we seek them out in our friends and colleagues, and we come to despise those who demonstrate neither. On the other had, it is our unparalleled capacity to cooperate and communicate that allows us to do horrible things like, say, enslave one another, fight wars, or destroy the planet.

Alone, we are not the strongest, the fastest, or the fiercest, but together, cooperating and communicating, we are the T-Rex and the giant bears never saw us coming.

So now we look around and contemplate the world we've wrought, one of declining bio-diversity, of hostile landscapes, polluted air, water, and soil (not to mention the light and sound pollution that may well be our most devastating legacy as a species), and the prospects of an earth not fit for human survival. Some of us have already given up. Others are urgently trying to get the rest of us to listen to the warnings. A few are proposing solutions and taking action. Some are scoffing at the whole idea. I expect that the majority of us are concerned, but find ourselves too focused on day-to-day survival: the giant bear hunting party just doesn't seem quite urgent enough when there are still berries to pick and grubs to dig up.

The concern is that the world is ending too fast for us, as a species, to catch up. It may, this time, be too much even for our amazing capacity to cooperate and communicate. The horseshoe crabs may have nothing to worry about, they've survived worse. The tuatara may be able to evolve its way out of it. Can we?

No one knows the fate of humans. We may be done for, but there's also a fair chance that we, one way or another, will figure it out. Cooperation and communication got us into this mess and it is the only thing that will get us out. I'm not saying it won't be painful, but if humans have proven to be anything it's flexible. We are one of the few species, for instance, that have adapted to survive anywhere, from equatorial deserts to the frozen ones at the poles. And we've done it through cooperation and communication.

Our central adaptation -- the adaptation to change itself -- is more crucial now than ever. There is no strongman hero, no Amazonian warrior princess, no special genius who will save us. That's simply not in human nature. What we do have is cooperation and communication. That is central to our species and it is more important now that ever. These may look to some of us like dark times, but it could also be that right now, in this time of change, we are evolving, through cooperation and communication, into a species that will not only survive, but thrive.

Despair is not an option, if only because we have children to raise. The seed of our demise, like the philosophy of yin and yang, has always been planted in the soil of our survival and vice versa. The seed of cooperation and communication is the attachment between children and their parents, caregivers, and teachers. And attachment is the word psychologists use for love. 

No single one of us can possibly know what to do, just has none of us ever know what will happen. But we can love and we can teach love, and that, I'm convinced, is ultimately the key to survival.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! "Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler

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