In the previous pages I tried to assemble, one by one, the pieces of a puzzle. Now the picture is finished, though not complete. I tried, as promised, to lead the reader trough a thought exercise, to make some considerations about a heavy problem: the survival of the Human Species on Earth. Most of the topics treated are not new. In fact I expect to hear soon some reader jumping up with an “I said it before!” or even a “You stole it from me! ”. Seldom the reader will be right. I apologize if I put here and there a sentence remembered from some reading (For every such case I requested permission and put these sources as hyperlinked references). I hope I did not hurt the feelings and/or the copyright of anybody. I rather wish the susceptible author to understand that basically nothing of what was written in these pages is new. I did not mean to be original. All the topics were treated before and certainly some scientist explained them much better and profusely, so I couldn’t help but use sometimes a sentence that has been said or written before, when things have been exposed much clearly by someone else. This is the assembling of a puzzle, and it is obvious that some skilled craftsman jig sawed and painted all the pieces before. But if you want to complete the puzzle, you cannot analyze every piece of it; otherwise you will never be able to get the whole picture.
Anyway, I am giving those scholars all the credit they deserve and, since they are gifted persons, I hope they will understand why sometimes I avoided mentioning them: this is not a scientific treatise. Although I tried to avoid to put rubbish in it, and to be exact as I could, I know I have not been rigorous enough to submit it to any scientific publication. I meant just to write something good enough for the mean popular-science reader, a person generally interested in “knowing something about” but hardly interested in learned, encyclopedic works on every treated topic.
People are intrinsically impatient and diverse in their interests. I tried to awake the reader’s personal interests, jumping between many topics and making frequently perhaps unusual analogies. The aim was to trigger the readers to think by themselves, and hopefully to act for the cause in the future. If I succeeded in persuading some I am content.
Now the puzzle is finished, but still something is missing to complete the work: the picture resembles a Modern Art design. I used extensively the words “Human species”, “Men” and “People” without actually saying who they are. I mentioned the grandchildren’s generation, without actually describing it. The next chapter deals with the Human Factor, which is hardly the less important, when Homo sapiens’ survival on Earth is concerned.
Human History does not happen in a void. It is done by Humans. This statement might appear obvious, but it is not so obvious as it appears. Just take a look at History books: you will find lots of Kings, Generals, Statesmen. You will find also Scientists, Writers, Artists, Musicians. You will not find most of the Humans there. Just take a look at the most common English family names: Smith, Tailor, Carpenter. Why they got forgotten in the books? Who actually made all the changes that brought us from Stone Age to Computers?
Human History is made by all the Humans, but Humans like to remember only the most prominent of them. Humans tend to forget the lesser components of their society. Humans also like to think themselves as Superior Animals. Are They? Hardly. Our behavior in the long range just makes the differences between us and the other living beings less evident. Lets take a better look at us, with some fantasy if you wish, and we will see that we are not so different from other animals. Not even from plants or … stones.
How did the Humans arrive eventually to our present generation? How did the Human Societies interact between them? Lets pick from the books some historical facts and lets look at them in a different way. Perhaps scholars in History and Ethnology will not agree with this modest, unknown author. Lets the reader decide. You can refuse to accept the interpretation, The facts you cannot.
When we understand from where we came, perhaps it will be easier for us to foresee where we are going. Actually we aren’t going anywhere. We are just generating the next generation. They will be somewhere else. In a few decades we will not be here anymore.
We do not care of the future generations. Though it will not help them much, lets ask us, after we know what a “wonderful world” we are leaving to them, whom we are creating.
The Human Factor
Analogies between different scientific fields can sometimes be helpful, but it is good advice not to take them too seriously. Here an example:
After the Copernican revolution astronomers could measure with good approximation the distance of the known planets from the Sun, from Mercury, the nearest, to Saturn, the furthest. J.Titius and J.Bode found that the mean distances are very close to the values of a simple arithmetical progression, with a unique gap, between Mars and Jupiter. When W. Hershel discovered Uranus at a distance very close to the next term of the progression, the correlation was called the Titius-Bode Rule and taken very seriously. Scientist believed that some still undiscovered Physical Law would explain the fact in due time. At the beginning of the XIX century, Ceres, the first celestial body in the Asteroid belt was discovered by Father Secchi, at the right distance of the gap, closing it. The Titius-Bode Rule got further strength, and was successfully used by Le Verrier to calculate the putative position of the next planet beyond Uranus. The astronomer Galle spotted Neptune in the indicated position, just to discover that its distance from the Sun …does not follow the rule at all.
Plate Tectonics Theory is probably one of the best theories of modern science. It is the corner stone of modern Geology. It explains continental drift, earthquakes, mountain creation and the form of the Hawaiian archipelago. It is for Geology what Relativity is for Physics. I am not explaining Plate Tectonics here. The reader is assumed to know something about it; otherwise she or he can readily find a description of it elsewhere. I am just borrowing Plate Tectonics in the attempt to describe how the human societies interact and change over the time. Ethnology scholars will probably raise an eyebrow. I hope that Wegener, the father of Plate Tectonics, will not turn in his grave. I suggest the reader not to take the analogy too seriously.
Human beings are like tiny mineral particles embedded in rock. They stick together in manifold ways, forming many forms of human associations, or societies. The societies can be small grains of sand, like families, boulder-sized tribes or mountain-sized nations. Some societies are made of heavy and uniform basalt, other of a few finely intermingled minerals as granite. Some are as stiff as flint, others as soft as sandstone. All the societies are floating over the Earth’s surface, slowly drifting and changing over time. New societies are constantly created; they arise from the bottom and display the older. Societies at the edge of the road sink and melt, and their molecules rise again, later, in different mineral forms. Like rock formations they collide and create mountain ridges, which slowly erode and form widespread layers of sediment. Layer over layer they slowly harden and deform, till a new different type of rock is formed, not resembling the original mountain, but made of the same particles. Sometimes deep under the rocky society there is a “hot spot”, which suddenly raises gleaming magma to the surface, disrupting the overlying uniform layers, to drop the ashes down again into a porous new layer. Drifting societies clash, generating earthquakes and eruptions, sometime one is destroyed, the other survives; more often they mingle in a new mountain-rising society. The overall process is very slow. We may be not aware of it, but it is happening all the time. Those who think that their society is always the same are wrong; on the contrary, it is never the same. Those who think their society better than the other, well… may they explain to me how can some rock be better than another?
Herds of animals wander to and fro over the land, in search of new pastures. Humans do the same. Since Homo erectus went out of Africa more than a million years ago the human race spread eastward to Mesopotamia and Asia, westward to Europe. From Asia men reached the Americas and Australia. They did not settled in Antarctica because inthat continent there are no pastures. We know all this from fossils and other archaeological reports. This is prehistory, but we learnt about people migrations in historical times too, with different names: when they went in a previously uninhabited region we call it a colonization; when they came in a country already filled by others we call it an invasion. It is interesting to take a look at what happened when two human herds competed on one pasture. The outcome was not always the same.
We do not know much about the Hyksos, the “People that came from the East” and ruled Ancient Egypt for almost two centuries, during the second millennium B.C. They invaded the Pyramid’s Land in a period of political weakness, and apparently had or adopted the same costumes of the local people, but suddenly, a few generations after their coming, they where thrown out from Egypt. We do not now exactly how it happened, but from the fact we can learn the Hyksos and Egyptians never intermingled and formed one uniform population.
We can see a different outcome after the Franks invaded Gallia (since then France) in the VII-VIII century A.D. They intermingled rapidly with the Romanized Galoises and created the French People (oui, mon cherie!).
A particular type of migration deserves a better look: Colonialism.
The essence of Colonialism lays in the etymology of the word: the root colonial- as in ‘colonization’ means people gone somewhere to work the land (Latin=colo), and that suffix –ism remind us words as ‘Sophism’ and ‘Capitalism’, generally linked to some despised method of exploitation or, at less, to some ambiguous social behavior.
Colonialism was a hybrid migration, somewhat between colonization and invasion. It began with the great geographic discoveries of the XVI century. Small groups of technological advanced (for those times) Europeans spread all over the other continents. From the point of view of the resident population, Eastern and Western Indians, Africans, etc., it was, of course an invasion, but from the Europeans’ point of view, it was colonization: since most of the natives were primitive, the newcomers considered them…animals, not much different from a giraffe or a chimp. The difference in skin color helped: Whites regarded the Blacks and the Reds as horses or dogs (incidentally they couldn’t do the same to the Yellows, because China was an advanced, great and strong nation). The European succeeded in exploiting the local populations thank to their advanced conventional warfare technology: guns and warships. They used (perhaps at the beginning not deliberately) also unconventional warfare, especially in the Americas: chemical weapons as alcoholic drinks and biological weapons in the form of many unknown before diseases. Incidentally the Americans stroke back with Tobacco and Syphilis! (Are the Africans taking a late revenge with AIDS?).
The classic colonialism lasted for about 400 years, changing very little for the first three centuries of its existence, until the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution changed that European point of view: the colonized people became no more animals, but just… Inferior Humans. They had gained a place in the Homo sapiens species (not in the White race, of course)!
In a determinate language the same word may have quite different meanings, depending on the context, though it is interesting to note that sometime it conserves all the meanings together.
According to the Webster Dictionary the word ‘subject’ is defined as: 1. (in grammar) The person or thing, which performs the action…; 2. The thing which is being discussed, considered or studied; 3. a person who lives… in a particular country, especially a country with a king or a queen.
The expression ‘British subject’ is referred to the last definition, which is explained further: ‘one who lives in the territory of, owes allegiance to and enjoys the protection of a sovereign power or state’.
Returning to Colonialism, we can learn some interesting facts from the History of The British Empire. The British spread all over the world exactly as the French, the Spaniards, the Portuguese and the Dutch, and at the end of the XIX century they ruled almost a half of the planet: two third of Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, Canada and a myriad of islands, peninsulas and other spots all over the Seven Seas. This state of affairs continued in the XX century for almost fifty years more, until the end of World War II, when the British Empire suddenly came to an end, collapsing in a lot of independent nations. Well, the fact is that the collapse was not so sudden. It has been clear for quite a few decades before, either to the British and to the ruled, that the end of Colonialism was approaching for everyone. The difference between the Englishmen and the other colonialistic rulers was that the British not just understood what was going to happen to the Empire, but took in time the appropriate measures, trasforming it in something still useful for them. They suceeded, creating an historical process more similar to evolution than to revolution. It must not surprise, after all, for a nation that gave birth to C. Darwin. In 1931 they established, with a handful former colonies, the British Commonwealth of Nations. Each now newly sovereign state, conserved a strong link with the former ruler, no more in force of political dependence, but of cooperation, founded on common economical and cultural affinity, that could enrich both parts: literally a Commonwealth. The British could do it because they had been wiser than the other rulers. They gave the ruled Education, skills, laws, not suffocating, at the same time, their local culture. The British created and left after them a grateful, well educated elite, who took over the management, when the times became mature. The British were the best example of how Developed can help Underdeveloped. They gave a real meaning to the words ‘Commonwealth’ and ‘Responsibility on the ruled’. When the time came, at last, they acted as autentical Gentlemen: they folded the Union Jack , the ruled said “Thank You!” and mantained a fruitful friendship.
Although it is not my intention to review or analyze all the historical facts that drove the behavior of the British rulers, lets make a few consideratios: Great Britain was apparently one of the most conservative nations over history. I shoul say ‘apparently’, because if we look deeper, we can see that it is not the case. Where the French, for instance, present themselves as a very progressive and open minded people, they hardly accept non-francophonic people between them. Perhaps they built the Tour Eiffel and the Centre Pompidou, but its just a show-off. Try to ask any Parisienne some information in a language different than French, and you will get the answer: “Je regrette, I don’t [want to] speak English!”. The British, on the contrary, know how to accept different people and different ideas, especially if they are fruitful. They are also fair: they award anyone who makes good things for the Nation, even if they will not accept him/her necessarily for a pal.
The British established an aristocratic leadership, in the original meaning of the word: “Government of the Best”. The best might be the King, a Noble, or someone else who has any merit, ever a pirate or a musician. The Monarch is the boss, still he is ‘Primus inter pares’ (first within peers). The King makes the final decisions, because someone must, but lets discuss before for the best, until the decision is made. Anyone can bring good new ideas. We call this discussion process a ‘round table’, and the British invented it at Camelot, many, many years ago. Yes, Sir. Anyone who brings new ideas is worth listening. Anyone who did some good for the Nation is worth an award. It is knigted, if you wish. The grateful British People, by the King’s (or Queen’s) Authority, could do it to Sir Francis Drake and to Sir James Paul McCartney as well. Why not?
Sometimes, listening to an old Beatles’ song, I wander with my thoughts to the late sixties. I was then an Italian teenager, at the end of my high school years. One of the many born in the early fifties, the last hatch of the famous Baby-boom generation. Wonderful days, they were: music in the air, long hair, short breathtaking “minies” on beloved girls everywhere. I know that most adult people consider the “teen” years as their best, and that they are positively convinced that the most important things in the world happened then. Of course they are right. The most important things in our lives probably happen when we are teenagers: the first kiss, the first… you know what…
Anyway, something special must have been in the late sixties, because, 30 years later, they are still a symbol. I remember (the youngsters will forgive me if I am talking like an old man) that, besides music and love, we were hyperactive also on political issues. We couldn’t possibly be neutrals. We all were either left-winged “Reds” or right-winged “Blacks”. We reserved the political map’s moderate center to the “old” obsolete parent’s generation. We called them “conformists” and “bourgeoisies”. We minted for them the expression “Don’t trust anybody over thirty”. Looking at those years after 30 years, with the disenchanted eyes of a 50 years old “bourgeois” I think, of course, that all that exuberance was a matter of hormones. Still, when I look back to the late sixties I find difficult to understand why the European youth was so militant, especially against democratic regimes. Why in May 1968 the students of “la Sorbonne” climbed on the barricades as in “Les Miserable”? Why one year later the Italian students did the same in the “Autunno Caldo” (Hot Autumn)? Why well-fed and well-educated young people joined small militant terrorist groups like the “Brigate Rosse” or the “Baader-Meinhof”?
My classmates and I looked at those two-three year elder companions with envy and admiration. We tried to emulate them, mainly by driving mad our teachers and parents. But, while we were waiting to be a couple of year older, in order to join the fight, the riots, as quickly as began, suddenly subsided. The sixties where over, and with them the “Youth’s Revolution” was gone.
Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’ll never end… and we were wrong… or, perhaps we weren’t, after all…
…Twenty years later…
Still Europe. The late-eighties-early-nineties. A different music in the air. No more long hair. Elegant and conventional dresses on beloved wives. Time for political changes: the cold war is over. The USSR and Yugoslavia disintegrate, Ceco-Slovakia splits, West and East Germany unify. The European citizenship is born. Western Europe is de facto one nation. The changes are swift and significant, but the new European citizen seems to take them quite easy, I would say almost as expected and obvious. Why? The European is now forty-something, he/she has a good job, and he is the classic bourgeois on his way to the top. Somehow a conformist, but still open-minded. He is now “The public opinion”: he is screening with severe eyes the actions of his leaders, and it will be better for them to listen carefully, if they wish to be reelected: he is “The silent majority”, though not necessarily too silent…
This is a very personal analysis of the Baby-boom generation. Perhaps a little bit unusual one, but it is made from the insider’s point of view.
We are the offspring of the so-called “Silent generation”. They were the previous baby boom, born in the twenties, to refill the void left by World War I and the “Spanish” epidemics. They had a traumatic youth. In the middle of their “beautiful years” they were caught in between the early-thirties economical crisis and the political clashes between totalitarian states and nationalist conservative democracies. They bore the events that led to World War II, without being in position to shout loudly their aversion: others were thinking for them. They learnt quickly that in order to survive the bad times, they had to remain silent. When they reached their twenties the war was over. They poured all their energy in the family micro-cosmos. They married early, frequently with the wrong person, and their priorities were economic welfare and good education for the children. They remained “silent” in matters of public affairs: they liked social order, conformed to the rules of the society and avoided to be “different”. They cared very much for “What will people say”. They let the political leaders play their war games, as far as they felt that the games had become de facto virtual. Meanwhile they worked hard and raised (and spoiled) their little ones according to Dr. Spock’s book.
When the children were grown enough to understand, they thought them their private lesson, based on their life experience: 1. There is no such a thing as “Good” or “Just” war: all the wars are bad, because you kill people. Even if you think you are on the right side, even if you are defending yourself. 2. There is more than one truth: what you think is right, may be wrong for somebody else. 3. Do not consider other people “inferiors”. They are just different. And mostly: 4. Use your brain: do not let anybody think instead and for yourself! - You see: we were grown with the ideals of “ Just war” and “Race superiority”. Our leaders thought for us, and what we got? a terrible war and , and the end of it… the same world! –
Television came in the houses. The small children “saw” the world. All the colors of it (still in B&W). The sixties begun; the colonialism died: the African nations got their independence. In the developed countries Prosperity and Technology were the words. People got enough money to buy cars and travel for pleasure, passing the frontiers, knowing other people, realizing that they had many things in common: the same technology, the same problems, the same hope for a better world. The “New frontier” was born, on its way to the “Global village”.
Then, suddenly, in the world’s most prosperous and technological advanced country, the now grown boys were told to go and die “for the Country” on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, where a small yellow people was fighting for its independence against their mighty country. “Duty”, “Patriotism” and “Like your fathers did” were the leaders’ slogans. How the “New Frontier” had become a deja-veux front?
But the young American baby-boomers were proficient pupils: they didn’t buy the slogans. They refused to go and die overseas for the sermonizing-staying-home leaders. They refused to cut their hair, to wear a uniform, to put a helmet on their heads and a rifle in their hands. They grew their hair instead, (the girls) tore their bra, put some flowers on their heads, and a joint in their hands.
They were playing a new game, now, in which the poor parents were caught in offside position. The new generation shook and shocked the fundaments of the society’s Silent Order.
The reader will say that the description above, though a personal view, might be good enough to explain the behavior of the American Baby-boom generation, but it can hardly explain the European students’ riots of the late sixties. After all the American boys were rebels for a good cause: they did not want to go and die in Vietnam. But nobody was sending the European youth to war! Were we “Rebels without a cause”?
The obvious answer to the last argument is “emulation”: the young European baby-boomers just copied the same aged Americans’ behavior as their elder brothers danced Rock-and-roll and dressed like Elvis Presley. May be, but to an insider such an argument smells like an attempt to “sweep under the rug” an unpleasant situation for someone which did not understand it.
The European silent generation was no different from the American counterpart. Our parent gave us exactly the same lessons, and we were no less proficient pupils than the over-the-ocean boys and girls. We felt the obvious dichotomy in our parents’ behavior. They suffered, to our eyes, of a kind of schizophrenia: on one hand they taught us, for twenty years, Independence of Thought against all the obsolete rules of society like Patriotism, Conformism and Bigotry; on the other hand they were the quintessence of Conformism. Italian has a beautiful definition for that: “Predicano bene e razzolano male” (They preach well but scratch about badly).
What is different between one generation and the next? What is similar between the two?
Take a look at the following cumbersome sentence. I did not copy it from any philosopher. It is mine:
“Things that our grandparents did not have the right to think, our parents though about them all right, but were afraid to speak about, we speak freely, but we do not dare to do, are the same things that our children will do freely, without thinking. Perhaps our grandchildren will start again to think whether doing them was the right thing to do”.
Each generation apparently inherits a bunch of unsolved problems by their fathers. The children work hard to solve these problems. Sometimes they succeed, but, on their turn, they create new problems and leave the next generation with a new hard nut to crack.
Lets consider a couple of problems that bothered the Human Society during the XX century. The first is a political issue: Nationalism in Europe. The second a more generalized issue of the developed society: Free Love.
At the beginning of the XX century Europe counted a few imperial/colonial nations: The Austo-Hungarian Empire, The British Empire, France and her colonies, The German Reich, Russia and the Turkish Empire. Some other nations like Italy and Spain were less important. The common policy of the great nations was that “you must be as big as you can”. Their policy derived from the basic exploitation philosopy: the more people you rule, the richer your nation is. France, Great Britain and Russia had found other exploitable people outside the continent, but Europe has a limited area. The Mittel-European Empires felt “in cage”. You know the result: World War I.
Lets now put aside King George, Emperor Franz Joseph, the Czar, the Sultan and their powerful and wealthy policy-makers. Who went to war for real were Mr. Tailor, Herr Schneider, Gospodin Portnoy, Bay Terzi and Signor Sarto. They did not like it. Not a bit. But they had not the right to think. They taught their children despising the wealthy élite who send them die for their capitalistc interests. But Mr. Tailor & company created a new problem: The ploletarian struggle created a terrible economical mess. Europe between the wars was full of grudge. The leaders had an easy game in shifting the resentment against the Neighbors. People did not really know what was going across the borders. They though about the dangers, but they were afraid to speak. And it was World War II. The Silent Generation emerging from the War understood at last that the only way was not to struggle with the other nations, but rather to cooperate with them. They spoke a lot, but did very little to accomplish the task. They were still afraid of swift changes. Then we came, the Baby-boom Generation. We did it, at last. Europe is now an Unified Community. But cancelling the barriers for everybody in the Old Continent, we opened the borders also for the ‘Extra-comunitary’, causing a new problem: the Third World is invading Europe. The ‘native’ Europeans do no like it. But they do not know how to cope with the new problem. Perhaps they unified Europe without thinking enough about the future outcome. Let’s leave the next generation some homework to do. Perhaps they will find the solution.
And now about Free love. Our parents did make love. No doubt about that. But the social laws forced them not to make it outside the Family, in public. They could not speak of it. If an unmarried girl became pregnant, in the best case there was a wedding, in the worst, a secret delivery or a secret abortion. Then Dr. Pincus and the Pill came. No more risk of unwanted pregnancies. No more necessity to hide Free Love. We did it without thinking. Then AIDS came. Hardly linked to Free Love by scientific facts. Strongly linked to it by society’s prejudice. The X generation is now wondering if Free Love was the right thing to do…
The process of creating and solving problems is identical for every generation. Only the problems change.
What is the next Big Problem? Something we think, but are afraid to speak about, our children are talking a lot about it right now, still doing almost nothing to solve it. Our grandchildren will cope with it at last: Our Environment.