19 October 2010

Progress v Evolution: and the winner is...

When I explain to people that I practice an older form of astrology, one that is more predictive and less psychological, I often get the question: "But don't you think that people have evolved since the Middle Ages?"

The simple answer is No, I do not. Modern folk are all gung-ho on this idea of "evolution." In the 20th century, W.D. Hamilton proposed the idea of Social Evolution as a sub-category of Darwin's theory of the evolution of the species. The basic idea in Social Evolution is that certain choices lead to newly emerging social forms. Others  have posited (even before the 20th century) the idea of Spiritual Evolution. However, there are a few problems with these ideas.
  1. In Darwinian evolution, progress is made not by slow, almost imperceptible changes that occur over time, and less so with the conscious participation of the species in question. Rather, changes are made by radical leaps that happen occasionally. Also, evolution leads to a new species, not simply a more advanced form of the older one. Homo sapiens evolved from another species, and when evolution strikes again, the new species will not be homo sapiens. At that point, we will probably have to fight it out with the new species for resources, and likely only one of us will survive (as has happened before).
  2. Theories of Spiritual evolution, dating from the 19th century or so, are based on the idea that spiritual evolution is predetermined. Also, the idea applies to nature and human beings as a species more than as individuals. Here we see again the lack of conscious participation of the subject in its own evolution. (There are some theories that do posit participation, but not most.) But again, the evolution is not to some higher form of the same basic thing. The change is so radical that it leads to a new form of being.
Many today forget the quantum-leap nature of Darwinian evolution. Comments such as "So why aren't monkeys still evolving into humans if evolution is true?" portray a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory and the process of evolution. And as for spiritual evolution, most people today who believe in the concept imagine a personal journey that brings one to a higher level of awareness/consciousness while still in this lifetime. They certainly do not subscribe to the idea that the entire species, and indeed nature itself, is on a predetermined path within which we have few individual choices available.

The conclusion then, among many new age type thinkers or fans, is that what applied to humans 500 years ago must no longer be valid to today's human. Astrologically, the discoveries of Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, asteroids, comets, etc., are said to be "proof" that we've "evolved." These "new" planets and bodies, after all, are indicative of our spiritual change as a species, it is said. Now, even if I believed that these newer planets and planetoids had a significant role in astrology (which I don't), the assumption that they are #1. good things, and #2. signs of evolution, are stretches. Think about the keywords and meanings that most modern astrologers associate with Uranus and Pluto, and to a certain extent Neptune, and you will realize that these are mostly negative, difficult energies. (Most of these keywords were stolen from Mars and Saturn, after all.) They try to pretty them up, so that "revolution" becomes "opportunity for change" and so forth, but the basic meanings that have been around since the discoveries of these bodies are difficult. So they're not really so good, and if they represent any kind of "evolution," it must be one that moves in the direction of negativity and individualism, which is not what I think these proponents have in mind.

But the bottom line is that as humans, both individually and collectively, we are have the same basic concerns today as we have had for millennia: security (home, food, health, money [in modern societies]); sex, love and connection with others; survival of the species (the ability/right to bear and raise children); freedom from unnecessary or enforced restraint, and so forth. These are perpetual concerns. One could also argue that they go beyond our own species. Recent studies show that all primates share similar needs.
No one doubts the superiority of our intellect, but we have no basic wants or needs that are not also present in our close relatives. I interact on a daily basis with monkeys and apes, which just like us strive for power, enjoy sex, want security and affection, kill over territory, and value trust and cooperation. Yes, we use cell phones and fly airplanes, but our psychological make-up remains that of a social primate...
The whole reason people fill their homes with furry carnivores and not with, say, iguanas and turtles, is because mammals offer something no reptile ever will. They give affection, they want affection, and respond to our emotions the way we do to theirs.
Frans de Waal, NY Times, Oct 17, 2010
So not only do I believe that we have not "evolved," but the fact is that we are very closely related to our "lower" relatives. And even when we do evolve into some other species, the chances are very hight that we will continue to have the same basic concerns for a very long time: do I have enough food, do I have somewhere to lay my head at night, do I have someone to care for me and for whom I can care, is my health going to hold out? etc.
As my friend and teacher Robert Zoller is wont to say "Do not mistake progress for evolution." Have we progressed? Most certainly. As de Waal points out, we use cell phones and fly airplanes. And I would add to that that we have begun to learn to read the stars and do all sorts of other marvelous things. And progress is moving faster today than at most times in the past. But that doesn't change the fact that we are human; we are social animals with the same needs as our ancestors and as our children. We may satisfy those needs in somewhat different ways now than in the past, but the needs remain the same. To deny that is to deny our humanity.