Gadfly by Mort Malkin
The Earth is some 4 1/2 billion years old. Of course, the Milky Way Galaxy is a few years older. Life on Earth — simple tiny animals — has a history of only 600 million years, 200 billion if you count micro bitty beasts.
Mammals (warm blooded, live birthing, nursing mothers) are more recent, beginning about 100 million years ago. Primates (monkeys and apes) are still more recent, and the newest kid on the block is us — H. sapiens — at just 200 thousand years. At first, we were very few in numbers, scant bands of 12 to 25 individuals, who made a hard living by hunting and gathering. We barely managed to survive.
Our numbers increased ever so slowly for 100,000 years and the geneticists tell us that at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period, about 50,000 years ago, we were not more than 10 thousand individuals. At that time, a few small groups became adventurous and broadened their perspective with travel (on foot) to Asia and then Europe. Along the way, our brains changed — we could think in conceptual and symbolic ways, and we knew that others thought that way, too. We developed language skills with which to communicate and a culture of learning to pass on that knowledge. By 40,000 BP (before the present) we became creative and could visualize what we saw on the grasslands and in the forests, and we painted images of animals on cave walls by torchlight. We also carved small sculptures out of wood, stone and ivory. Literally hundreds of “Venus” figures have been discovered at widely separated sites, from France to Germany to Eastern Europe and as far away as Siberia — all dated to the Upper Paleolithic period. Many of these creative efforts were remarkable in their artistry portraying majestic, powerful beasts; and some of the Venus figures were sculpted in abstract but recognizably female form.
At a mere 10 or 12,000 years ago, we discovered how to plant wild grains — barley and wheat at first — and a few legumes, and we domesticated sheep and goats. We settled down to live in more permanent, small communities along the fertile river valleys. As our populations increased, settlements became villages and, in less than 5,000 years, small cities. We learned many new skills including the use of copper for tool making and the firing of clay for making bricks and ceramic vessels. And, we found out the magic of fermenting barley into ale, a momentous advance in merrymaking.
Yet, our DNA was essentially the same as had been defined in the 40,000 year-long Upper Paleolithic. Yes, a few mutations did occur with the first agricultural revolution — some adults became tolerant to lactose in goat milk and many to gluten in wheat. Also, there was some fine tuning of our immune system. But our basic behavior as a cooperative social species (a far more complex matter) was little different than during the preceding 40,000 years. Despite the folks today who deny evolution and Charles Darwin’s concept of natural selection, our genetic heritage is fundamentally derived from our hunter-gatherer forebears who barely avoided extinction largely because they had evolved a cooperative nature far more than did the other four great apes. [Yes, we are the fifth species of the great apes.)
Since the days of the early cities along the Euphrates, Nile, Jordan, Danube, Yellow, and a few other rivers, only 5,000 years ago, we have discovered, invented, and developed: writing, bronze, astronomy, hydrology & irrigation, number systems & mathematics, war & empire, law codes, sailing, sporting events, wheeled transport, domestication of the horse, water buffalo, and elephants, engineering, deduction & induction and other concepts in philosophy, spiritual practices … Even though my teenaged granddaughter is sure that the world started just 14 years ago.
The 18th century brought the steam engine and the industrial revolution. The 19th and early 20th century saw the railroads, the reaper and harvester, local and general anesthesia, the gasoline engine, automobiles, airplanes, radio and then television … The latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century continued with mass marketing and the vast wasteland of umteen TV channels; the computer, internet, and social media; herbicides & pesticides, factory farming, mad cow disease, genetic engineering & cloning; the splitting of the atom, nuclear bombs and missiles, power plants to make electricity (not to mention Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima); warfare with drone aircraft controlled by “pilots” 10,000 miles away and the inevitable collateral damage (civilian deaths) …
Homo sapiens, with all the fast & furious advances, is feeling a bit arrogant and is fooling around in areas that are rightly the province of the gods. In response, Mother Nature gives a small demonstration of her power now and then, with an earthquake, tsunami, typhoon, or hurricane.
First, Mankind has no business fooling with the nucleus of the atom, even if they call it nuclear deterrence (MAD) or atoms for peace (nuclear power). Murphy recognizes euphemisms for what they are. Power plants surely can find less risky ways to boil water for steam turbines than to use hot uranium which remains radioactive for over 100,000 years.
Second, Mankind ought not fool with the nucleus of life — DNA — using gene guns to make combinations of life that were never meant to be, such as tomatoes with flounder genes or corn that can tolerate spraying with Agent Orange. Mother Nature will surely send in the goddess of unforeseen consequences to stop the genetic engineers if the farmers and ranchers don’t bring science and common sense to bear.
The third sacred matter that must be forbidden to Mankind concerns the bedrock of the crust of the Earth. When the frackers (gas drilling companies) force shale-rock to crack by pumping a slurry of 2 to 3 million gallons of water and toxic chemicals down a bore-pipe, through the aquifer level, and into the shale a mile or more further below, under 15,000 psi of pressure, it is not unreasonable to expect a few earthquakes to occur. In fact, TX, OK, and OH have experienced such quakes associated with gas drilling. OK, which needed more insistent convincing, was sent swarms of tremors.
Man has been tempted by the fruits of forbidden knowledge and has engaged in all three of these sacred areas — exponential arrogance. Mother Nature is not pleased.