Today we made our way up into the “thumb” and then crossed over to the mitt itself and through that over to Michigan’s west coast at Ludington. Tomorrow we’ll be taking the ferry over to Sheboygan in Wisconsin, but for now we got a motel on this side. A motel instead of camping mainly because we arrived late, and somewhat wet, and need to leave early. It feels like a crime not to be camped on Lake Michigan amidst the white sand dunes, but we’re still getting the whole morning routine down and would stand a good chance of missing the boat if we tried. These are the only days we’ll be on a schedule for a while, so some sacrifices can be borne.
A sampling of locally-flavored road signs we saw today:
- To shoot or not to shoot is up to you [sign with different size deer and point amounts]
- Shrine of the Pines [exit and directions; not sure what to expect here]
- Bet you can! [ad for a casino]
- Concealed pistol classes, 1 to 10 people [phone number]
OK, this last deserves comment since it relates back to the “cave man” theme of yesterday. Just as cave men made fires, cave men carried spears. They had to obtain the meat they roasted over the fires somehow. There is all sorts of debate as to what extent early humans were vegetarian or meat eaters, but our digestive tract and teeth classify us squarely as omnivores. Fossil evidence and cave paintings both agree that hunting was done. And although in some species the females are the larger of the sexes, in all primates it is the male. For some reason it always tends to work this way in carnivorous species – the males competing over and protecting their females (most often from each other), and evolving size and strength to suit. And it seems in humans these differences led to the men most often doing the job of hunting.
And again, it’s with us now as an instinct. Whether we hunt today, or simply own and practice using a firearm, we’re carrying the spear that the early cave MAN earned his place by. Of course women share some of these instincts too – there’s only so much information the Y chromosome is able to carry. But just as our campfire impulses build to tremendous accomplishments but can also lead us overboard into polluting, exploiting corporations and nationalistic barriers, our hunting instincts cause problems as well. Concealed pistol courses. No doubt in the name of “self defense”. Yet I strongly suspect the number of lives lost due to concealed pistols vastly outnumbers the number of lives saved.
Ingeniously man has created less dangerous ways to allow our hunting and our male competition instincts to express themselves. Football, rugby, sports of all kinds are the clearest examples. And actually competition in other areas as well is surely fired by these same drives. In my academic days a colleague asked, “What is a PhD thesis? It’s an expression of dominance!” The desire to build a better product, to create a more beautiful work of art, to be known and remembered by more other humans – all of this would seem to be driven by our innate needs to compete and to vanquish. Indeed, it is hard to imagine humans getting very far at all beyond the equivalent of a band of chimps without these cave man impulses to hunt, to compete, and to work together and huddle around fires.
And so we have to wonder, what is this thing we call “intelligence”? Just what is it we seek to find when we search the stars for signs of “intelligent life”? If it were simply the ability to conceive and to think, we have no reason to believe that dolphins and elephants are not our equals. They have bigger brains than us, and they are bigger in precisely the parts that we have learned are responsible for perception and therefore conception. No, there is something essential not in the raw capacity, but in the forces and dynamics at play. Just as natural selection has driven self-replicating molecules and building-block proteins to the inconceivable heights of multicellular life, our primate-derived suite of instincts is creating something even greater with the raw facilities of elaborated perception and action that evolution had brought us to some two million years ago. It remains to be seen where this ultimately leads.