I would like to thank Wes for his invaluable contributions to this piece.
Imagine a single-celled organism. Longing for life, it tries to split itself, and succeeds. It repeats the process a couple of times…A few billions years later it develops the ability for locomotion, and it begins to swim with fins and breathe underwater with gills. A couple of million years after that it leaves the ocean to walk on land, at first on all fours, and then upright on two legs. It develops a level of intelligence unlike any other creature on the planet, giving it vast superiority over the biggest, strongest, and fastest animals.
Aside from bigger brain capacity, opposable thumbs were one the biggest advantages we got too, enabled us to use tools. Creating and using tools were our biggest ace in the hole compared to other animals which were faster, stronger, and bigger than us. It helped even out the playing field by allowing us to manufacture crutches to make up for our physical shortcomings. Without our toys, we wouldn’t stand a chance against a hungry predator. We were lucky that in the greater scheme of things, turns out that it weren’t the biggest or the fastest jocks that made it big, it was the nerd that was handy with a wrench. (Wes)
In the movie Amistad, a slave was invoking the strength of his ancestors when he was about to appear before the US Supreme Court on a case that would greatly determine his fate: “…my ancestors, I will call into the past, far back to the beginning of time and beg them to come and help me at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me, and they must come, for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.”
What we are now, we owe to the struggles of a long line of forebears who fought tooth and nail to maintain their precarious perch in the evolutionary ladder. Nature is not a kind referee, her laws of the jungle dictate that the weak fall prey to the strong. Our lineage had to duke it out with the rest of nature to earn the right to carry on their genetic heritage. It would be a great disservice to their memory to even suggest that what we are here today because we were lucky to have been the favored children of an invisible deity. (Wes)
We are the present culmination of billions of years of evolution and hundreds of years of our ‘modern’ ancestors’ struggle in a world where the animal on top of the food chain belongs to the same species but with a lot more money and power – and how every one of them survived long enough to pass on what would eventually become every one of us. A great majority of our ‘peers’ have already died – became extinct millions and even billions of years ago. Yet here we are. And that makes us more special than being some creation of an Intelligent Designer, in the same way that a self-made millionaire is definitely more special than a very rich man who merely inherited his wealth from his infinitely richer family.
But while evolution highlights us humans as the most highly evolved creature in terms of intellect, we are far from being the most adaptable. Viruses mutate faster than we can develop vaccines for the original strain. Cockroaches are never totally exterminated from our homes regardless of the various ways we try to kill them. And I guess this is a rather humbling thought.
And though at first it may sound like we are not so special after all, what it really means is that each of us is special in his/her/its own different way. For every creature – from the tiny bug that tentatively crawls out of its hole and hides at the first sign of danger, to the alpha male lion who walks as if it owns Africa, to the single working mom balancing family and career – each of them represents a few billion years of the struggle for life.