We Are the Wise Ones?

Another spring, another new year, another chance to set things right
Robins and other infrahumans, our columnist writes, appear to get along with each other much better than we Homo sapiens. Durell Godfrey

February is over and March is coming in like a lion, or so it’s said. In less than a week, ospreys will have returned, the first peeps of the spring peepers, just up from the soggy ground, will be heard, robins will be filching worms from the grass roadsides, and hundreds of grackles and redwing blackbirds will utter their metallic calls almost nonstop. Yes, we are on the verge of yet another spring, another new year, another chance to set things right.

But will we? That is always the question.

By last account we are still killing each other across the face of the globe. If not with guns, bombs, poison gas, then with opioids and other addictive drugs, or on the highways and in the streets. Will it ever stop? Maybe this is the year that it will.

I am 82, born in the Depression, and then grew up and old with one war after another. World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. It seems that the wars, both great wars and not-so-great ones, will never end. We have gone to the moon, will soon set foot on other planets, and are on the verge of eternal life by way of artificial intelligence. We’ve done a lot in a matter of a few millenniums, but we are still killing one another with the same horrific gusto without showing any signs of slackening, so it would seem. We are humans, after all!

It is the season for nesting. Robins, ospreys, bald eagles, and great-horned owls are already mating. Soon they will be joined locally by another hundred or so bony animal species. Then will come the insect hordes and the stuff that lives in the seas. It is the time for sowing and reproduction. The white-tailed does that so many of wish were gone will soon be calving, having carried their young-to-be throughout the winter and soon will be nursing and raising them.

Homo sapiens is our scientific name. Supposedly we are “wise.” I would beg to differ. Yes, we speak in several languages and dialects, we read voluminously, we eat, we drink, we play, we reproduce, we make war. Sometimes we are wise, but we are also prejudiced, envious, bullying, besotted, and meanspirited. We are both carnivorous and herbivorous. We kill and graze to satisfy our appetites.

By all of the standards we judge ourselves by we think we are making progress. We write, we read, we drive, play pianos and violins, we are computer literate and more than a few of us can operate a smartphone with but one hand, while we walk along and carry on a conversation. We sell, we buy, we travel, we recreate. We have law degrees, medical degrees, formal positions, and specialized roles to play, and at the same time, are both athletic and attractive. Some would say we are even outstanding. But are we making real progress? That is the question?

The Ten Commandments were written on parchment more than 2,000 years ago. The Hammurabi Code is even older and Confucius gave us wise lessons 2,500 years ago, while Lao-Tzu’s “The Way” is 1,500 years old. Some Homo sapiens, many of them ancient, have lived up to the name, but we are still in a muddle about just how to proceed as we crawl into this, the second millennium.

Scientists tell us that the so-called infrahumans live their lives in a programmed sort of way, instinctually. They would say that the means and methods used in nest building in robins, say, are written into their chromosomes, their DNA. Both the males and females of nesting pairs contribute to that job, and after laying eggs, incubating and hatching, feeding, and nurturing of the hatchlings are also instinctive. Each year across America millions upon millions of robins behave this way. Almost none fight with each other, to a bird they almost all get along.

Each spring alewives come into our streams and freshwater ponds and lakes to mate and spawn. The larvae grow into small swimming fish throughout the summer and leave by way of the same streams in September. It’s been going on for a million years or more. Even though they mass together in giant schools and mass mate when they reach their destinations, they do not harm each other in the process.

Almost all of us, if given the choice, would not like to be a robin or an alewife. No, we would rather be humans, no matter the struggle in being a human. We might be for a Trump or a Clinton, join the National Rifle Association or loathe it, but if given the choice none of us would exchange humanness for the life of a robot of some infrahuman. Most of us would quickly point out that notwithstanding our human ups and downs, statistically we are making progress in the long run. Fewer neonates and their mothers die in childbirth, we’ve conquered smallpox, we are living longer lives, and have much more leisure time than our forebears.

So in the final judgment, it’s all a crapshoot. Yes, we fight, we kill one another, we behave badly, we injure ourselves, we ingest too much sugar. I bet, however, if you asked a scientifically selected sample of us humans if we would want to be some other kind of animal being, almost to a man (and a woman) we would resoundingly answer that we want to be ourselves. Please leave us alone.


Larry Penny can be reached via email at Larrypenny9@gmail.com.