Intelligent but unwise

We humans haven’t been in existence since the inception of Earth, we have arrived here rather quite recently. Our distant ancestors took millions of years to evolve and, in the present form, arrived here just about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, around the time when Earth may have completed nearly half of its life span. Since our advent, we have been ruling Earth as the most dominant living species on the planet. Unfortunately, however, we have become cocky. Despite being in existence for less than 0.005-percent of the Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, the ignorant amongst us claim we are Nature’s best creation.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, or our heads become too big for our shoulders, we need a reality check.

Dinosaurs have been the most powerful and dominant species on Earth in its history of about 4.5 billion years. Believed to have first appeared during the Triassic period, between 243 and 233 million years ago (‘mya’), they ruled the planet for more than 150 million years before suddenly becoming extinct about 66 million years ago, in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, in which around three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth is known to have become extinct. No one human can guarantee that the past events of extinction won’t reoccur anytime now. In fact, the sixth mass extinction event, which is believed to be largely induced by human activities, is understood to be already happening as we speak.

In comparison to dinosaurs, in relative terms, we humans have existed on the planet for an extremely small period of time. But we have already created the designs and tools to completely rid the planet of our own species. Our ever-sprawling growth on Earth and insatiable hunger for natural resources analogously makes us a cancer for our planet. As the deadliest species on Earth, we are a living threat to our fellow animals whom we cage freely and consume at will. The only way to know how they feel or think about us is to let ourselves be also caged and consumed by them.  

What makes us then believe that we are superior to other animals? Must our intelligence be blamed for our delusion?

Fundamentally, similar to all other animals (both vertebrates and invertebrates), we spend most of our lifetime in consumption. Most of our activities, including our years of education and work, are related directly or indirectly to feeding ourselves and our families. Putting food on the table has always been our first and foremost priority. We actually work and live for food. Like other animals, we too try to procreate proactively before we die. Self-preservation comes to us naturally. As happens elsewhere in the animal kingdom, we too establish our position within power hierarchies in various facets of our individual and collective lives, intrinsically trying to ascend those hierarchal structures.

Power drives us. In both human and animal kingdoms, the fittest survive and weaklings perish. In the human kingdom too, bigger fish invariably feed on the smaller fishes. We remain infatuated with power.

What are the differences between us and other animals?

Before we claim to be gifted with much higher levels of intelligence than our cousins in the broader animal kingdom, we must admit that, unlike them, our hunger — for food and power — is relatively insatiable. Our material greed and disproportionate consumption of natural resources makes us a direct threat to Mother Earth and dire enemies of all other animals.

Like most other animals, humans are intrinsically territorial but, unlike them, we remain prepared to grab the neighbouring territories – overtly or covertly – for the wealth of natural resources therein. As our power and outreach grow, no part of Earth remains beyond our influence and trespasses. Refusing to be obliterated by death, we created concepts of hell and heaven for the perpetuity of our limited existence beyond death. We make our own laws, which don’t sync with Natural laws, and love to live in a little imaginary world of our own.

Our greed, selfishness and hate against our own kind, in particular, those people who don’t look or think like us, set us distinctly apart from other animals. In addition to falling victims to polarising political ideologies, the world of humans is deeply divided along race, region, religion, gender, caste, tribe, sect etc. and ridden by strife. For identification purposes, we gave various names to all these divisions and made people to believe that their division alone was the best and truest of all, which created recipes for endless human-induced suffering.

We are clever humans, but not wise enough.

The powerful amongst us empower themselves as living gods, not necessarily to rule over other living creatures but essentially our own kind. But can they be blamed for behaving like gods if they don’t face any visible opposition from humans or Nature? Our vanity has no limits, nor have our material ambitions. In our world, power rules, always has. History has been written by the powerful and always shall be.

Power intoxicates. It takes over senses, it possesses. It can be likened to the genie from the bottle.  As long as the genie remains trapped inside the bottle, it remains under the control of its owner. But as soon as the genie comes out, their roles reverse. A person intoxicated with power may enjoy keeping the genie busy but as soon as the genie feels idled or misused, it devours its master.

We let our personal likes and dislikes, bias, prejudices, ideologies and material ambitions decide who and what can be called ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  As our definitions of good or bad are subjective, we are all bad in a rather holistic sense. The wise and mighty know well that the definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, created or believed individually or collectively by humans, mean nothing to Nature, which only sustains those actions that follow its natural order. Human actions that don’t synchronise with the natural order invariably collapse with disastrous consequences. Nature nurtures life but it can also be brutally destructive to restore its natural order.

Our cumulative intelligence has indeed helped us to develop various breakthrough technologies in the last three centuries or so, which have enabled us to live much longer, increase our numbers eightfold during that time, travel much faster and develop numerous gadgets that allow us to carry out our mundane tasks much easier and faster than our ancestors. Employing the same intelligence, however, we also developed tools for our complete annihilation from the planet.

In essence, wisdom and intelligence are two different things. Logically, one would expect these two qualities would feed each other and grow together. Unfortunately, however, in the case of humans, with exceptions of course, it seems, common sense and wisdom may have become serious casualties, essentially, due to their poor usage. We tend to lose what we don’t use. To compensate for the loss, we created Artificial Intelligence. Not too far into the future, time will tell if that will work for or against us. We may have done just enough to rid the world of our humanness? Will we go down in the history of Earth as the most intelligent but an unwise species?

… Bill Koul [Perth, Western Australia, 11 July 2022]

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