Recycling Geologic Time: A Textbook for Today


Reading time – 3:49  .  .  .

The Pre-Cambrian Era dates from the origin of the Earth, through the arrival of the first one-cell organisms and progresses to multi-cell organisms. It was a truly exciting time 4.5 billion years ago.

Trilobyte (or trilobite) fossils

Following that was the Cambrian period of the Mesozoic Era, the beginning of which marked the reign of the Trilobites around 540 million years ago. It lasted until their extinction about 290 million years ago.

The Silurian period came along in the midst of the Trilobyte dynasty and with it came the first fish. That changed everything, because they were vertebrates. They had backbones and, of course, their progeny are still around. Not so the extinct Trilobytes, although fossils abound to mark their prior existence.

Haikouichthys, an early vertebrate

Geology has had its way and we’ve passed through the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and find ourselves smack dab in the midst of the Quaternary period of the Cenozoic Era. The most recent development of that period is we humans. Think: Lucy in the Great Rift Valley just inland from the southwest corner of the Red Sea. Ever since her time we have declared us to be the most noteworthy evolutionary thing ever.

Lucy, 3.2 million years old. Discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia at the southwest corner of the Red Sea

And here we are, king of the hill, as it were, masters of all we survey. We stand up straight with a greatly enlarged frontal lobe and spines of sturdy bone and cartilage. Well, most of us do. The geologically misplaced among us are those born without those internal accoutrements, such that they are unable to stand for anything.

Some of them are pleased to sit in Congress and do that surveying business and little else. They are able to thump their chests in a posture of agreement with whoever will pat them on the head and tell them they are good boys and girls and who also promise not to call them mean names.

There are many others of this reverted species, too, and all of them long for simplicity. That’s based upon a memory of some long ago that they think they had but which they never actually experienced. It was in their idealized yesteryear, they believe, when their lives were idyllic. There was no need to deal with “others“ then, people who were in any way different from them and who annoyingly would demand things like rights.

It’s unsurprising but often shocking to find that these Cambrian reversions are unable to experience shame for their words and actions, which leads to frequent dishonest behavior, like cheating and lawbreaking and sometimes the murdering of others not in their group.

Even the casual observer can see with the unaided eye their self-focused behavior in such things as elections. Some reversions act as though laws, norms and rules don’t exist and they operate solely for their own benefit and without regard for their impact on others. Seen in a broader context, such behavior is clearly reptilian, which is in line with the primitive brain structure common to the post-Cambrian period, specifically, the Carboniferous Mississippian period.

Pit bull

Without a spine to connect body with brain they either refuse to or are unable to consider complex notions, much like the Trilobytes, and all their behavior is little more than reflex reaction to stimulus. For example, when poked the Cambrian reversions reflexively lash out at the source. It’s very much like the behavior of a pit bull. When they see anything that isn’t just like them they react with fear, anger and hatred and immediately work to expel or kill whatever seems to them to be foreign. It appears that the Cambrian reversions can’t fully consider the concept of consequences. To be fair, neither can the pit bull.

Trump rally

Today, oddly, these Cambrian throw-backs often raise a fist and cheer passionately for themselves. Anthropologists have suggested that this behavior may be some form of in-group reinforcement. A theory proposed recently is that this is a pre-verbal, ceremonial event, possibly part of a mock war enactment or even a mating ritual. Regardless, there is strong consensus among anthropologists that this group always includes the profound rejection of others.

These group actions seem to mollify the participants for short periods of time. Nevertheless, they retain their ability for a quick display of animosity. More study is needed here.

White supremacist/Nazi march, Charlottesville, VA, August 2017

They have no need to be the most numerous creatures in order to control or at least influence all around them because they are facile with violence and the threat of violence. They are adept at powerful rationalizing and bending rules to advance their self-interest and seem to enjoy rallying around ancient fertility symbols. All they require is a leader to ignite their passion with simple words that stoke their fears and thereby their hatreds.

What is so very interesting is that they can accomplish their dominance and damage through the power of lies, manipulation, abandoned reason and by always insisting on simplicity over the much more difficult consideration of complexities. Their way takes little mental effort, is quick and easy and it requires no spine at all. It doesn’t even require curiosity. In fact, tests conducted at the National Institutes of Health in 2017 found that 100% of the subjects were wholly without curiosity and 96.7% were unable to associate their actions with impact on group outsiders. Oddly, during testing all test subjects insisted on wearing a cap with letters indicating pride in a fictitious past.

It seems many have effectively managed to return to the Cambrian period of evolution, a time when there were no spines or higher brain functions. Unlike the actual Cambrian period, there’s no room this time for the Trilobytes, because they would be considered “others” and killed on sight by today’s Cambrian human invertebrates. The true danger now lies in what else they might kill, including democracy.

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Your homework

Read this now. There will be a continuing quiz from today through November 3 and you must ace this test. Otherwise, your penalty will be far worse than detention hall.

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Copyright 2020 by Jack Altschuler
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One Response to Recycling Geologic Time: A Textbook for Today
  1. Daniel F. Giallombardo Reply

    Jack,
    You and I are more often than not in agreement politically, but I really MUST disagree with you in this column. It is SINGULARLY UNFAIR of you to compare our bio-geologic ancestors to the current Congress. This group of …well, words fail me. Still, the GOP dominated Congress is nowhere near as intellectually active as some of our ancestors. To many of them an intellectual vacancy sign flashing on and off is the normal state of affairs. Not true with those from whom we have evolved.