Here’s what is obvious to me: man won, nature lost. (Of course, nature’s loss is man’s loss, too. But, we don’t get it yet. As a civilization – we, the modern-day apes, - are still toddlers.)
The problem is most of us live too long and too comfortably. We live way beyond our evolutionarily calibrated expiration date, way past our procreative mandate. This means that, aside from the legitimate battles of survival, we are all – eventually – doomed to fight a very peculiar, very human battle – a battle against meaninglessness – a battle that we need to lose not win, if we are to win the existential war against suffering. Nature is the first casualty in this misguided battle for meaning.
Back in the day, when our sky-clad ancestors made their migratory ways up north across the sub-Saharan savannas, our life-spans and life-styles were proportionate to our modest biological mandate. We were busy hustling and surviving. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, for example, the life expectancy at birth, for a given cohort, was about 26 years. Time was not yet on our side. And boredom was largely unknown. Hunger and fear – those were the foes we battled against; tangible, concrete, commonsensical foes. As a species we were not yet lost in abstraction, we were nowhere near asking the existential questions that plague us today. We were still in the Eden of timelessness, still faithfully married to nature.
Countless millennia passed and we eventually divorced nature and re-married the ever-cheating mistress of time. By the Middle Ages, time was definitely on our side. Childhood mortality – the merciless scythe that had been mowing down generations upon generations – was on the decline. By the middle of the 15th century, a male member of English aristocracy, who survived to the age of 21, could be expected to live to the age of 71![i]
These expanded life-spans made many of us into time-keeping silverbacks. Our beards grew longer as did our shadows; and this newfound luxury of longevity introduced us to a new foe – the abyss of meaninglessness. A battle-hardened soldier without another battle is a sorry sight to see. And that’s what we were fast-becoming – evolutionarily engineered survival-machines – idling in the warehouses of time. Born to kill, we didn’t know how to kill time. We were coming to discover time as the ultimate and, admittedly, undefeatable foe.
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