“We shape our tools. And then our tools shape us.”
Marshall McLuhan (1911-80)
According to one story of science (palaeontology) we humans have been making tools for about 2.5 million years, so why after all this time are we are still in the business of tooling up to produce weapons for the killing of each other? Why after all this time do we humans still accept violence as a justified means for resolving conflict?
Long before we started making tools our primate ancestors knew how to harvest free energy and reproduce themselves by cooperating and finding each other attractive enough to forage for food, mate and even play together. For most of the past 2.5 million years of tool making our human ancestors must have naturally cooperated with and also found each other attractive enough to continue hunting, gathering, mating and playing together.
As a species we have become planet earth’s most efficient gatherers of free energy and reproducer of ourselves, yet in relatively recent times (probably well within the past 50,000 years) we humans have also distanced ourselves from our earlier more natural ways of cooperating with and being attracted to each other. We have now divided ourselves geographically and culturally to protect our well-defined physical places and selves from other groups of humans. This relatively recent dividing of ourselves is so far removed from our earlier more natural ways of cooperating with each other that it has now become a threat to our very existence. Our geographic territorial and cultural differences are so deeply entrenched and potentially dangerous that they could result in a third world (possibly nuclear) war and our premature extinction.
It appears from the same scientific story that we humans were planet earth’s most efficient gatherers of free energy and reproducer of ourselves long before we divided ourselves geographically and culturally. The reason why we divided ourselves thus may be because some groups were simply more efficient or lucky than others and during periods of prolonged scarcity (enough to stretch the dynamic of inter group cooperation to its limits) they had to protect their resources from those who were less efficient or fortunate and hence resorted to raiding and stealing from their neighbours – maybe. In any event at some point in time our ancestors divide into territorial, tribal groups with leaders and stories that place a whole new emphasis on protecting their place their resources and themselves from other tribes.
In spite of such external pressures being imposed on them, some groups of hunter-gatherers such as the Anangu of Central Australia maintained lore that deliberately avoided the rise of an internal group who might take control and have power over the larger group. Unfortunately such early examples of human egalitarianism were both rare and vulnerable, hence the inevitable emergence of relatively small centralised groups having power over the majority of their kin probably began during the later Paleolithic and early Neolithic periods, from 50 to 10,000 years ago.
These relatively small powerful groups would have originated from among chosen tribal leaders such as elders, chiefs and shaman, eventually morphing into religious leaders, emperors, war lords, pharaohs, kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and eventually the captains of capitalism who now dominate most if not all aspects of our lives. Those who we originally chose to lead and protect us succumbed to the temptation of increasing their own material wealth and power over our hearts and minds. Today there is little or no gathering of free energy as such, all our resources and our primal attraction for one another have been commodified and there is now a price to be paid for it all.
I don’t want to beat around the bush in this regard, there is the ‘ruling class’, a relatively small centralised group of wealthy powerful people who control the means of production and the wealth it generates via their stories and control over the vast majority of us ‘working class’ . The ‘ruling class’ are also the reason why after 2.5 million years of tool making we still tool up to produce their weapons of mass destruction on a grand scale. – Thankfully not all tool making is about weapon making: On my twenty-first birthday and while working for an engineering company that produced zip fasteners, I completed a 5 year apprenticeship and became a qualified ‘tool maker’. At worst I may have indirectly contributed to the ‘universal soldier’ being able to keep his or her trousers on during combat.
According to Wiki the above quote from Marshall McLuhan is referring to the fact that our social practices co-evolve with our use of new tools and the refinements we make to existing tools. This is valuable story telling presented to us by a philosopher of communication theory who was able to predict the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. 2.5 million years after the invention of tools we find ourselves living at a time when we should seriously consider ‘re-shaping our tools’. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword and one of our most powerful tools is indeed story telling – as Cosmologist Brian Swimme suggests the stories going on in our heads can be as hard as rocks. What is the primary story going on between our ears? If we are not carefully cultivating our own primary story then we are most likely being overly influenced by the many often confusing and conflicting stories that are so cleverly presented to us by those who profit from and depend on winning over our hearts and minds.
We may have many stories that are important and valuable to us such as those relating to our loved ones, our preferred spiritual practice, our nationality, our ethnicity, our politics, our career, hobby, favourite art, sporting endeavour etc., but any and all such stories can – and dare I say, should be carefully considered within the context of a more important primary story, the story of how we got here, a story that reminds us that each one of us is a unique, relational centre of creativity. Remembering our more natural pre and early human behaviour can help us to cultivate a storying of our Self as being related to other and all-that-is, as sons and daughters of a Mother Earth – Gaia, from whom we all emerge and to whom we all return. One such story is ‘The Universe Story – A celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos’ (Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry – Harper & Collins 1994).
Southern Summer 2013.