I’m reading Sapiens right now, a history of early mankind published last year by historian Yuval Noah Harari. I haven’t gotten very far into it, so I don’t know if his idiosyncratic theories will end up being persuasive. Still, it’s the kind of learned but big-think book I tend to like regardless of how well it holds up. I wish more deeply accomplished people were willing to write stuff like this.
That said, here’s a nice excerpt about the dangers of moving to the top of the food chain too fast:
[It was] only in the last 100,000 years—with the rise of Homo sapiens—that man jumped to the top of the food chain….Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into the position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc.
….In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.
This is just another way of saying that human intelligence evolved too fast for human emotions and morals to keep up. Either way, though, it sure rings true. Just take a look at the current presidential race. If any country should feel self-confident and safe, it’s the United States. But boy howdy, we sure don’t, do we?