Monthly Archives: May 2011

how we got here

it seems likely that most parents would say this but around here we get up pretty early. the cats get hungry, the grrrlz roll out of bed all tousled and fresh-faced, and often hungry as well. even on weekends it’s impossible to stay in bed much after 7. then, there’s the inevitable milling around, cooperation, competition and interaction. the grrlz gravitate towards the various iDevices that we seem to have accumulated. they play, they kibitz, sometimes they fight. the daily rounds of domestic production and subsequent cleanup begin anew.

so how did we get here, anyway?

in his excellent book “Catalhoyuk The Leopard’s Tale”, Ian Hodder, who directs the dig and related research at the ancient site in central Turkey identifies, “an underlying process… of material and social entanglement,” stretching way back into the Paleolithic and states that this process is played out “through infinitesimal moves in daily life and daily processes.” he goes on to suggest that this same process drove, for example, the development of sedentism in modern humans and led directly to the development of agriculture. and, it doesn’t take too much reflection to note that we’re still on the same track. what is the Internet, after all – that Wonder of Modern Technology on which i’m soon hoping to post there ramblings – but an artifact of our mutual entanglement with things and with each other? of course, not everyone on the planet lives in the post-modern, late-capitalist world that middle-class inhabitants of San Francisco enjoy, and even some of my near neighbors would probably replace the verb “enjoy” in the previous clause with something closer to “endure”. nonetheless, it’s easy to see that we’re all in this together, working out the consequences of… what exactly? this curious collision between the cognitive requirement that we self-represent as separate entities and our ever-elaborating mutual entanglements with each other and with the things we create together – the dynamic tension between individuality and interdependence. this is it, The Human Condition, and as as Mr. Hodder tells us, we got here one itty-bitty step at a time.

there really has to be a descriptive term for the kind of process that delivered us to this point. “gradual” doesn’t actually capture it, since there are clearly periods where things seem to happen awfully fast – look at the agricultural revolution, for example, or the much later industrial one. nor do terms like “punctuated equilibrium” work since they make it seem like there’s not much going on in between the punctuation marks. given that i haven’t been able to find something that really captures the flavor of it, i’ve invented one – tectonic. tectonic process operate through the accumulation of “infinitesimal moves” that unexpectedly cascade into breathtaking shifts. it’s how mountains walk

we got here tectonically.