A few months ago I had a dream that left a very strong impression on me.
In this dream, I found myself briefly transformed into one of humanity’s early ancestors. One minute I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, and the next I was naked, covered in a fine coat of hair, and sitting under a tree on a savannah. I changed back very quickly, but there was something profound about that instant during which I was, essentially, what human beings were about a million years ago.
What I remember most was the sensation of that early hominid being confronted with the understanding of the modern world and modern living that was in my head. Against every cliché of ‘caveman frightened by all things modern’, that brief moment of hominid-me experiencing the modern world was characterised by a sorrow the like of which I have never before felt. I was overwhelmed with a sense of ‘him’ exclaiming:
‘What have you all done? This is not how we were meant to live.’
All this time having passed, and I can still recall how that felt.
So, this got me thinking. Was he right? Have we somehow strayed from the very way our species had evolved to live? Could this be why so many of us are afflicted with some sort of deep, existential void or unhappiness that can’t be named yet neither can be ignored? It is true that, in recent history, humans have become capable of unprecedented damage not only to each other, but also to the very planet and environment on and in which we live. The hominid’s cry sounds so very utopian, so very idealistic. And yet… something.
I’ve decided to search for a possible answer. To start with the present and work my way backwards through time to see if ever there was a time when human beings lived in such a way that was in balance both with the world in which they lived and with each other. To retrace our path to see if and when we missed a marker at some point along the trail.
To do this we must begin with some definitions. What actually constitutes ‘the way in which we were meant to live?’ Philosophers and religious leaders could give countless answers to this question, so it it important to attempt to dispense with the set dressing and get down to essential principles that most, at least, could agree on.
Stripping things down to the bare bones, the definition may perhaps look something like this.
- All humans have unrestricted access to the basic necessities of survival (space, food, shelter/cover, freedom of movement, and company of other humans).
- All humans maintain a balance in their way of living such that their existence does not become toxic to themselves or their environment.
- All humans are unable or unwilling (or both) to alter their way of living in such a way that would violate points 1 and/or 2.
I’d like some feedback on these points. Once we’ve got our definitions, then the journey begins to find a time when we may have actually embodied them.
I should point out at the start that I’m fully prepared to not find precisely what I’m looking for. It may be that there has never been a time when we’ve had ‘it’ fully figured out and sorted. And if that turns out to be the case, fair enough. At least we know, right? We do know that at various points in our past, and in various cultures, one or more of these aspects have manifested. If we can’t find our goal all in one place, it means we must cherry-pick; that we must find the best lessons that our ancestors had to teach us at various times and places and combine them into the best possible present and future for our species
I suspect I’m about to embark on a long journey.
Who’s coming with me?