Evolution and the Minefield of History

Evolution began long before the first carbon molecules banded together and started replicating. I see organic evolution as but the soft pink tip of a much older process extending back at least to the appearance of the first electrons. The material universe has undergone a succession of increasingly rapid transitions into new, more complex, forms. At the near end we find the process eagerly rushing from the mechanical world of complex molecules into the explosion of forms we call Life.

Towards the center of this process, and more recently, the dim glow of self-awareness, self-reflecting consciousness, has been flickering, slowly growing brighter. This phenomenon has been realized fully by only a fraction of the human species. The trajectory of these isolated illuminations, now lent further weight by the evolution of a worldwide economic and communications system, is towards global self-awareness. The closest we’ve come to such a state has been in fragmentary, painful distortions such as nationalism, ethnocentrism, and organized religion. In all these cases, the individual has subsumed his or her identity within that of a greater whole. But in all cases this whole falls far short of the totality of the human race, leaving an external Other to be hated and feared. I maintain that these are gropings towards wholeness, but ones which have not succeeded.

The final stage of evolution is — must be — a conscious one. Consciousness is at the radiant center of all becoming. It is surrounded by Life, suffuses Life. But each successive increase in complexity is also increasingly improbable, according to the mechanistic demands of the material universe. The last stage is the least predictable — because it relies upon the choices of a free agent, a conscious agent.

The realization of Humanity as a single, conscious entity depends on several conditions:

  • Freedom: individuals must be free to make conscious choices, that they may form a medium for the play of global Ideas. The inertia of entrenched and obsolete political systems must be reduced.
  • Awareness/Information: The prospect of humanity united must be given serious consideration. Knowledge of human potential must be shared and spread, in the face of indifference and despair. Ideas must be free. Information must be free. The inertia of entrenched and obsolete belief systems must be reduced.
  • Love: Given an understanding of the process in which we are participants, nourished by information regarding the totality of the planet, we should lean naturally towards a state of transcendent freedom. Our fellow humans are necessary for achievement of this goal; they are in the same boat as we are — the minefield of history, the pain of material existence. Realizing this, we proceed forward hopefully towards the light of this great project: the birth of Humanity as such.
  • Finesse: The last act will be one of playful surrender. All of humanity’s greatest achievements have been crowned with final flourish, often simple in itself, which yet stamps the act as immortal. Ravaged by the horrors of time, thirsting for release, we will at the last moment relax our eons-old rush forward and let ourselves be drawn lightly into completion.

It will be argued that this program is hopelessly optimistic, that the momentum of despair is already too great, that history proves we are not up to the task and are condemned as a species to fade out in pain. To this I reply that, at least at first, only a fraction of the population need be consciously involved in the salvation of this planet. It does not require consensus. But there is a “critical mass”, probably unknowable, which we are yet far from. There is a point up until which the forces of convergence must seem to be failing, but after which the tide is irrevocably turned. Despair will be possible until the very end. Thus we are still stirred from complacency to act, not to single-handedly change the whole, but rather to tip the balance. Our individual actions have influence far beyond what most of us assume, and this influence may be amplified now by the communications technology at our disposal.

History is a transitional phase. Its brutality does not invalidate hope — it shows how high the stakes are. It demonstrates, not the unique human capacity for evil, but the amplifying effect of self-awareness on animal nature. What is unique about humankind is self-reflecting consciousness; all else follows. It has turned animal aggressiveness into cruelty, animal territorialism into war, animal fear into guilt and hatred. But it has also turned animal affection into love, and in its purest form has created works of art which defy explanation in terms of animal nature. History is the turbulence caused by the infusion of self-consciousness into an animal system. History will end when that self-consciousness becomes total, independant of the animal which has hosted it.

What this means in practical terms, it is impossible to say. There will be an air of familiarity, the sense of gazing into a collective mirror. After that, the embrace, and a kiss of reunion.

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