by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ September 14, 2020
We are face to face with punctuated equilibrium and a far more significant identity problem than we even knew. And you thought we had enough troubles.
I, along with many other people, was stunned by Stephan Jay Gould’s creation of the Punctuated Equilibrium model twenty-five years ago. This model explained much about the nature of evolution on planet earth and its history, including long periods of stability with wild eras of change. It is worth a careful look.
The purpose here is not academic theories of biological change, but that model’s application to the growing disruption punctuating our daily lives in 2020. We need a place to stand to leverage our understanding of the new reality. But this isn’t quite so simple as Archimedes analogy.
These disasters are planetary in scope but very personal in effect. If you are experiencing another COVID-19 lockdown, days of orange skies with heavy smoke, heat waves killing people in your neighborhood, floods, famine, and massive storms, someone needs to explain this. Polar ice melting is on deck for the next innings of the apocalypse with more storms, starvation, and forced migration plus unexpected horrors amplifying human failures.
As we are coming to expect now, our national governments are in collapse and run by incompetent idiots, 20th-century style dictators (doubling as clowns), or the well-intentioned but inadequately prepared. We need something more than antiquated governments with incompetent leadership to get through this.
We have been through a lot already, some places more than others. People learn slowly, but as disasters strike and there is no help available, we know we must rely on ourselves, our neighbors, and our local government. If there is a prefectural, state, or national government that is, at least, marginally competent, be thankful. But don’t count on it as It probably will not help in the end, but this is a transitional age, and stability will return.
It may not return in our lifetimes, pause for an intake of breath, but it will stabilize. In the shorter term, there will be temporary stability and plateaus on the mountains of change that we must climb. While we are prone to stupidity, we are also amazingly adaptable, and the majority have learned enough about our universe and the illusions that we hold of ourselves that we may survive. Let’s drink to that.
Punctuated equilibrium is a metaphor-based on evolution with long periods of stability interspersed with eras of drastic environmental change and sudden speciation. But this process may be a more fundamental characteristic of our universe that exists only as stable areas of fractalization within a shifting illusion of things.
That possibility is jarring because the hoped-for eras of stability are on the opposite ends of chaos. Still, we cannot avoid the growing realization that stability is also an illusion in a form more comfortable for us. But we deal with the world we see and feel, and we deal with the dosage of chaos that we receive.
The problem is our self-deception that we are not responsible for anything but what we chose to claim as our own while assuming that we, alone, define all categories such as what is alive and what is not alive. This chaos is a change that rips away our narcissism by making us powerless and, ironically, showing us the devastating absurdity of that form of insanity. Is it the irony of an accident in an empty cosmos or the lesson taught us by the universe of objects we have demeaned for centuries.
The problems that we face in an era of dawning apocalypse keep coming back to me as an evolutionary change. The central tenet of punctuated equilibrium is cladogenesis, the process by which a species splits into two species, rather than one species transforming into another.
Not only have we lost our center and our illusion of a dominant role on this planet with the planet reasserting its dominance over us, but that punctuation, linked to so many other changes, maybe a far greater division than we even comprehend. What a shock. And we were the peak of evolution. But it is not done yet.
Even if only parts of this are correct, we are so screwed. Not only is this completely nonlinear complexity, but we are launched into rapid evolutionary change for which we are responsible but not central. Our planet and its fields of sensed components are adjusting to new conditions without regard for us, yet we are a category of objects in this change.
We have status and position from which to act but must deal with our role as objects in the planetary realignment. While parts of our population descend into fear and rage at the loss of their privileged identity, our species could split so we can adapt. But then we are also being introduced to the rights of all other objects on our planet
The problems we thought we had could terminate us, but we may, finally, learn where we stand.