Guns. Fire. Helicopters. Radios. Infrared sights. Light-amplifying night scopes. Binoculars. Poisons. Traps. Electrified fences. Bulldozers. Chainsaws. Fishing nets. Maps.
We humans live in a society where we can draw on the accomplishments and assets not only of our own families, not only of our own acquaintances, but the intellectual fruits of literal geniuses for the last ten thousand years.
Call it the realm of Man-to-the-X-power, where human advantages rise into the exponential, to be multiplied together an unknown number of times.
The question becomes, not “what advantages do we have?” but “what advantages do we NOT have?”
An animal has its own fur, teeth and claws, and only what it can pick up by direct experience. It is 100% naked and defenseless except for what it was born with, and what little it can learn with its tiny, disadvantaged brain.
Through technology, we humans have senses that no animal ever had: comic-booky – but real – senses such as X-ray vision, microscopic and telescopic vision. We have even wilder abilities, such as the ability to hear or see radio waves, connecting to remote eyes and ears that work in the air, on and under the sea, even from space.
On a more everyday level, we can go out in the wilds for a weekend (instead of being permanent residents), and enjoy the advantages of warm, waterproof fabrics; lightweight, everlasting camp food; warm, dry comfortable places to sleep; shoes and gloves to protect our hands and feet; magnifying and spotting scopes; projectile weapons that are simple and lightweight but extraordinarily deadly; vehicles to travel faster than any land animal can run (and also far enough that we can hunt animals thousands of miles from our home range); fire for cooking or lighting or warming; flashlights and lanterns to free us from the confines of daylight; knives with razor edges, sharper than any tooth or claw – and all of it made for us and all of it obtainable with money earned from the tiniest fraction of our daily labor.
A worthless corporate lawyer – someone who cannot even butter a piece of toast on his own – can pay a few hours’ pocket change from his parasitic profession to outfit him instantly with rifle, camp gear and guides. He can depart his Washington, D.C. office on Friday afternoon and be out killing African lions on Saturday.
What chance does our card-playing grizzly have now? Lend him human intelligence for a moment and he might sit wide-eyed with his pair of twos, beginning to realize the terrifying, one-sided truth of his situation. Across from him sits not a single opponent, but an opponent backed up by a host of other men – not just ordinary simpletons like you and I, but brilliant men, geniuses, the best and the brightest and the most accomplished, tens of thousands of years of inventors and discoverers and creators and captains of manufactury – each standing ready with a technological ace, until our human card player’s hand would overrun with them.
Like a hypertext document which allows you to click on a link and get a pop-up layer of additional information and meaning, individual humans are connected by hyperlinks to practically the whole of western civilization.
This fact is most evident in the field of information sharing, but human compassion comes a close second. Every person in our culture lives within a complex web of hyperlinks – communication and rescue apparatus assembled to give teeth to our feeling for our fellows.
Drop an 18-month-old girl down a well, as happened in Midland, Texas in October of 1987, and within hours tens of millions of people become tearfully aware of it. Great numbers of volunteers responded personally, backed up by millions of dollars of immediate aid and rescue equipment. “Baby Jessica” McClure was pulled to the surface after 58 hours of effort, and in the ensuing joy at her survival, gifts of money and toys arrived from all over the world.
In 1994, a 40-year-old jogger, Barbara Shoener, was found dead and partially eaten by a mountain lion. Though no one witnessed the attack, it was reported as such – and millions of people knew of it within 24 hours. A vigorous political campaign was mounted within a short time to re-establish sport killing of these menacing predators. It might have cost even more millions of dollars, and it did engage the attention of a large fraction of California voters for months.
Perversely, if that same death had been caused by a domestic cow or a pet dog – both of which happened numerous times in that same year, not just in California but all over the world – the case would receive zero publicity, and no urgent action.
Every person, in this country at least, lives in a web of hyperlinks which includes a safety net of potentially violent, armed, vengeful protectors: police officers, Fish and Game officers, professional trappers and bounty hunters, and even well-armed unofficial volunteers riding out with visions of Wyatt Earp in their heads.
With no effort on the part of the victim, social hyperlinks automatically activate police, fire and search-and-rescue efforts, medical experts, flight resources, and outpourings of compassionate offers to help, console or avenge.
More than this, if we are injured in the wilds, we have a complex network of medical and surgical marvels that will instantly spring into action to repair us or nurse us back to health. A human can literally have his guts ripped open, yet thanks to medical hyperlinks, be walking around on his own power in a matter of weeks or months.
A little more than 10 years ago as you read this, 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast suffered a shark attack on a Florida beach, in which his arm was bitten off and swallowed by a 7 foot long bull shark. After being given blood to replace the loss of almost all of his own, and having his arm reattached in a 12-hour operation – his uncle wrestled the shark to shore, where it was shot and the arm retrieved – he is alive today. Yes, he suffered significant brain damage from the attack and the ensuing blood loss. The point is not that he recovered fully, but that he lives at all.
An animal that sustained a tenth the damage would be dead within minutes or hours, or at most days. A broken bone is a minor, outpatient matter for humans. We are repaired and sent home, where we suffer worst of all from the boredom of inactivity (or maybe the family’s reaction to our ceaseless whining!). Picture the likely outcome from the same broken bone in a mountain lion, bear or bird: death, death, inevitable death.
Finally, help for victims of natural disasters may come from half-way around the world, it may come at uncountable cost, it may involve everybody from schoolchildren with their pennies and crayon letters to world leaders with grand armies, billions of dollars and shiploads of grain.
Do we need to say it again? Are we tired yet of hearing “no other animal on earth”?
Now our gambling grizzly has to contend not only with the winning hand of his human opponent, not only with the scores of cheerleaders and distracters that stand around poking and pinching him, not only with the ghostly presence and advantage of ten thousand years of human genius, but with a battery of microphones, cellphones and cameras recording and transmitting his every move, eagerly poised to summon an armed cadre of grizzly exterminators if he should play the wrong card.
By no means has every human advantage been mentioned here. In individual advantages and in every conceivable combination, there are simply too many to list. We have the capacity for thoughtful patience, for instance, that few other animals can match – patience that spans hours, days, years. We have the ability to tolerate immense numbers of ourselves, so that we can reproduce virtually unchecked. We happily breed year round (woo-hoo!), and we protect our young with a vicious zeal unmatched in the natural world.
We also have the inestimable advantage of projective forethought, an ability to plan, coupled with all our other advantages, that amounts to the virtual creation of future conditions. Compared to human planning and foresight, a squirrel gathering nuts for winter is a ludicrous cartoon.
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