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Category: Humans

We’re all doomed, of course, but I guess you already knew that. No matter how clever you are, no matter how many healthy choices you make, you’re not going to live forever. To everything there is a season, including you.

The same goes for your chain-smoking, war-making, climate-change-denying species. This is not pessimism talking, just common sense. A pessimistic view would set the date as early next week, and that’s not my position. I prefer to envision our demise coming many thousands of years from now, with the last human being passing quietly after a long, fulfilling life and surrounded by her loving pets. We don’t know when the day will come, but it certainly will. The self-proclaimed lords of the universe will finally disappear from planet earth.

Which begs the question: who’s next? Will it be a brainy species like chimps or porpoises? Might it be an animal that commands the sheer numbers to mount a conquest? Cockroaches, which are already living in our homes, would seem to have a leg up (or six of them) on the competition. Or is there some other contender for the crown, some creature both plentiful and cunning, who could take our place at the top of the food chain?

Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester who studies Earth history, thinks he has the answer. I’m not sure where a geologist gets off telling us about biological extrapolations, but Professor Zalasiewicz is a man of science, so I’m willing to cut him some slack. He’s been conducting some serious thought experiments on this subject, and the animal he sees as best positioned for takeover is… the rat.

I know. I was hoping for something a little more noble and/or cuddly. But he’s got a point; rats are already comfortable pretty much everywhere. They are clever enough as infiltrators and survivors to have avoided extermination at the hands of the mighty human himself. In fact, as we have prospered, so have they, growing in numbers and breadth of range.

They will flow easily into the ecological space created by our departure. After that, the professor points out, they will begin to evolve in response to a world without humans. That evolutionary process, as it has in similar situations in the past, will no doubt lead to larger rats. Much larger rats. Brontosaurus-sized rats. Thunder rats, if you will.

They could evolve in any way, really, as long as it helped them to survive. Their hairless tails might morph into great sails that could carry them across the seas. Their teeth, so adept at chewing, might help them tunnel for precious minerals. Their whiskers might turn into antennae and provide the organic hardware for a worldwide web, the Ratnet.

But there is, I think, a more exciting possibility. Sixty-five million years ago, when an asteroid brought doom to the dinosaurs, the humble tree shrew stepped into the void the dinos left behind. Those shrews, from whom we are descended, were not so different from modern rats. Who is to say that rats will not evolve into a new, perhaps improved, version of humanity? Why not? The streets and sewers are already in. I’ve got a trunk full of old clothes they are more than welcome to.

I find this prospect oddly comforting. The optimist in me believes that those “new” humans might pick up where we left off, only this time they would do things differently. They would read our history and learn from our mistakes. They’d see that we had been doomed by our own foolishness (becoming our own asteroid, you might say) and finally snuffed ourselves out. An object lesson in stupidity. With that wisdom, they could make our dreams their own, then turn them at last into reality. The earth would be a garden again; peace and the brotherhood of all beings would reign upon our world.

At least until the cockroaches took over.
Free Insight
One of my resolutions this year is to try to know my own limits. I haven’t got the time to do everything, and I need to admit that to myself. Especially now, with the design of my perpetual motion machine nearing completion.

I’ll still have time for these little essays, of course, as long I don’t let them get out of hand. Sometimes a topic will come along, however, that is too broad, too deep, and too hairy to take on in such a small space.

Take calves, for instance. No, not young cows — the rear portion of the lower leg. It is my opinion that this body part has too long been neglected by science, the arts, and yes, philosophy. I just wish I had time to study them more deeply, but I don’t. My only hope is that others will step forward to do this important work.

Did you know that we are the only creatures that have calves? Chimps, our nearest cousins, have only the scrawniest of lower legs. Other bipedal animals, such as kangaroos and birds, have a whole different style of walking, one that does not require a shapely, powerful muscle on the lower limb. Some quadrupeds, such as the elephant and the hippo, certainly have sturdy legs all around, but none has the signature muscular protrusion seen on most humans. Am I the only one whose sense of wonder is piqued by this oddity?

It has been argued, furthermore, that it is not language that separates us from the lower beasts, nor our capacity for reflection, nor even our opposing thumbs — but rather our calves. Surely there is some grant money out there for such a hypothesis, just waiting for the right applicant.

The calf is also the most polymorphous of all body parts. It comes in an astounding variety shapes and sizes. At one extreme are the large, bulging calves sometimes seen on husky folk. These have no apparent connection to athleticism or strength and are clearly over-engineered for any practical use. At the other end of the calf spectrum are those slender, cone-shaped shafts that show no muscle definition at all. It’s a miracle that their owners can manage to stand erect. How is it that such limbs can belong to members of the same species? I implore my fellow scholars — this mystery cries out for research!

Calves, it should be noted, are as individual as fingerprints or faces. There is obviously a place, then, for calf recognition software in our crime-fighting arsenal — and a chance to strike it rich if you can come up with the appropriate technology. I’d develop it myself if I weren’t already booked solid. Do you have the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit?

One might even dare to say that the calf is a lens through which humanity itself — our physiology, our history, our destiny — could be viewed. My cursory review of the literature, however, has found surprisingly little serious thought on this idea. This is a shameful state of affairs, to be sure, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for some young philosopher to till this field’s fertile soil with the Slump-jump plow of his intellect. At the very least, I’ll bet people would pay to see that.

I hope that someone will pursue these challenges. I know my limits, and I cannot. And even if I am able to finish my perpetual motion machine, once I get it started … well, you see how it is.

All that I have time for now is to write this seed of an essay and hope that it finds an open mind in which to sprout, grow, and bear the fruit that we can all eat. How about yours?
Dream On
I had a great dream last night. In it, I saved the world.

It was a particularly vivid dream, full of color and action and violent emotion. It was nighttime, and people were everywhere in the streets, running, shouting, and wreaking havoc. It was chaos, like most dreams.

Then I thought, this is all just stupid. So I shouted in a clear voice, "We don't need stupid!"

Those around me seemed to take notice, so I shouted it even louder. "We don't need stupid!" Others took up the chant, and it spread steadily through the crowd. Soon, the chaos subsided, but the chant went on, ringing out like a bell, again and again. The dawn came, and there was peace and growing enlightenment upon the land.

I don't have enough dreams like that. Not only was the plot uncluttered with meaningless conflicts, it had a clear message: we don't need stupid, and every one of us is already down with that. If we can all accept that basic principle, even without agreeing on what is stupid, then there is hope - even outside our dreams.

As I sit here now, though, in the light of a real dawn, I wonder why my dream did not come true long ago. If we are in agreement about stupid, why does it still hang like a great megalith around our necks? It's as if we cling to it for security, and the closer we hold it, the harder it is to see it for what it is.

Even so, I still believe in my dream. We don't need stupid, and we've got to call it when we see it. It will take at least one more dream to save the world, though. Maybe tomorrow night I'll dream about brutal honesty.
Open Seating
I was at a hotel recently where the toilet seats flapped down on their own. In order to pee, you had to hold the seat fast against the tank or risk urinatus interruptus.

As many men have, I've given in to women's demands to leave the seat down - in theory if not in practice. Though the rationale for such gentlemanly behavior might be debatable under certain circumstances, I find that the debate itself can lead to hard feelings all around.

I hope that the seats at the Hotel St. George flapped down not by design but through some accident of installation. I would hate to think that Ramon Asensio, CEO of Roca Bathroom Products, had decided that the seats down edict should become mandatory. Such an intrusion of corporate power into the War Between the Sexes would certainly lead to more hard feelings than a mere debate.

Some men (not me, I should stress) might be so affronted by this shift in the balance of power that they would be tempted to simply leave the seat down when peeing. This dangerous escalation would require much more care and self-control than just remembering to put that flapper down.

I hope we don't go there (if you know what I mean). After all, everyone has to sit down sometimes.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon