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Story Cubes exercise 15 - Waiting

Who knows exactly how long ago humans noticed that we don't fit into our world we as neatly as many organisms occupy their places in the grand tapestry of life? Certainly, since the middle ages, the cultural conversation has focused on what makes humans different from animals. It's only recently that we can say, "from OTHER animals." While we are clearly made from the same stuff as other life on Earth, we also seem distinctly different. According to the Christian worldview, the things that set us appart from animals are the hallmarks of our superiority. We are made in God's image, endowed with souls and free will, and given dominion over the Earth. These self-flattering assumptions have blinded us to the potential consequences of our "split from nature," and we will need to set them aside if we are to respond in a truly intelligent and adaptive way to the suite of challenges that beset us in the 21st Century.

The things that set  us apart from other animals are our ability to co-ordinate our actions, create complex abstract representations of our world, ourselves, and the processes which affect our well-being. We can then communicate our abstractions to our fellow humans and thereby make reference to our shared abstractions, modify them collaboratively, and use them as guides for action. We can also record them outside of our genes and outside of living memory. Chimps and Orcas may have culture and learn things from one another, but no chimp has access to a 200 year-old annotated and illustrated manual for havesting termites. No Orca can compare his own understanding of the state of his environment with a record layed down by an Orca a thousand years ago. Because the patterns that allow our adaptive and massively coordinated behavior change much more quickly than most organisms adapt to their environments, we have gone from living in caves and simple shelters to building castles and onion-domed towers, to constructing buildings from steel and glass which provide electric light, running water and flush toilets a thousand feet or more above the ground. In the time that our buildings have changed so dramatically our genes and bodies have seemingly changed very little.

But those same capacities for abstraction, communication and coordination have allowed us to lose ourselves in worlds of fantasy and self-deception. Today, even poor people have access to rich catalogs of music, art, drama and forms of entertainment that no king or emperor of ages past. We have remade the world to prioritize our abstractions over the tangible and to surround ourselves with a mesh of constantly chattering, battling, complixifying culture. Because we treat abstractions as being as real as rocks and water, we subject ourselves to contrived systems of authority. Differential selection guarantees that organizations which prioritize their own continued existence and growth over serving whatever purpose they were originally conceived to servie will proliferate in the environment. We allow these systems, which care nothing for our happiness or our values, to sacrifice our freedoms, health, and options to them.

Merely recognizing the source of our challenges does not necessarily provide a guide for effective action. Sometimes we can only wait, observe, anticipate and gather our stregnth in order to respond with wisdom and agility for when the moment of transition is at hand.

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February 2019


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