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You Are By Nature Self-Deficient
You are by nature self-deficient. Your constitution guarantees it, initially, chronically, and inalienably. Biology defying individualistic ideas now hide these once self-evident truths.
1. Though the opposite is claimed, no human has ever been “born alone” and survived. Being human means being born as the most other-dependent offspring in nature. “No creature…takes longer to mature than a human child,” says Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, or needs as much help. Modern hunter-gatherer children need 13 million calories to reach food independence.
2. Many “professional” thinkers haven’t properly digested that initial self-deficiency, “you could read 2,500 years of philosophy and find almost nothing about children,” observes Alison Gopnik.
3. Enlightenment individualism began by willfully ignoring our beginnings. Hobbes’ “war of all against all” thought experiment explicitly assumed men were “sprung out of the earth … suddenly, like mushrooms, come to full maturity without” assistance. Mary Astell mocked Hobbes’ magic mushroom men who matured “without … mother… or … dependency.” Sadly Hobbes’ ideas still mushroom.
4. Even after you can feed and fend for yourself, you’re still chronically self-deficient. Darwin said any species that could “profit by living in society” would evolve social instincts. “Individuals which took the greatest pleasure in society would best escape various dangers; whilst those that … lived solitary would perish in greater numbers.” And any human without a “trace of such feelings” was “an unnatural monster.” We’re likely the social-est species ever and evolved to chronically crave company.
5. Self-sufficiency seekers are further thwarted by division of labor. Only a division of ideas from reality enables psychotic individualists (a Tony Kushner coinage) to ignore our hugely increased interdependence. The market’s invisible hand may hide the masses on the other sides of your transactions, but if their situations aren’t sustainable, neither is yours.
6. Tocqueville described individualism as “a novel idea [that]…proceeds from erroneous judgment.” Viable forms of individualism mustn’t misjudge our biological or economic other-dependence. Too much “professional” thinking ignores that our only options have long been co-thriving or no thriving.
Though we can’t be born alone, we can achieve dying alone, often by having lived too individualistically.
A version of this was first posted at Scientific American's web site.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.