Not Fleeing From Irma, Fleeing to Each Other
Hurricane Irma is being described as the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever to come ashore in the U.S. Almost hourly we’re seeing new pictures of tens of thousands of people fleeing the hurricane which is expected to come ashore in south Florida a day from now.
The pictures are heartbreaking because they show families many of which include children of all ages. It’s obvious the people are full of anxiety and stress if not fear. The only good thing that can be said is that those that are traveling and on the highway are pretty sure of being out of the way of the fiercest part of this monster storm.
Each of the escapees from Irma, while concerned and likely very nervous, is at least secure in the knowledge they are traveling to a safer place. In all likelihood that safety will be provided by other human beings, some will be relatives and some, at the time travelers began their travels were complete strangers. In all cases, however, they are fellow human beings who can feel the concerns of the travelers and emphasize with the travail they are experiencing.
As I watched the human odyssey through the center of Florida I couldn’t help but think of John Donne’s famous poem “No Man is an Island”;
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.”
Seven years ago a group of anthropologists and scientists gathered at Arizona State University (ASU) to discus the traits that enabled humans to survive in a very violent word. They summed-up their findings in three C’s:
- Cognition — The large brain of humans has been helped along over centuries because humans mastered fire and cooking food. In turn cooked food helped provide energy required by large brains. In addition, but somewhat ironically during a hurricane, living along coastlines provided humans a diet of shellfish, which afforded strong nutritional benefits for the brain.
- Culture — The oversized brain of humans led to culture, a product of thinking and social learning facilitated by language, creativity and innovation. The passing on of knowledge from generation to generation is metaphorically referred to as a cultural “ratchet effect,” which creates greater complexity of culture over time.
- Cooperation — With a culture humans pursued shared goals and had much to gain through cooperation . Cooperation also caused humans to develop an understanding of others’ beliefs, exhibiting a “theory of mind,” which further inspired cooperation
According to ASU professor and anthropologist Kim Hill cognition, culture and cooperation eventually lead to specializations and government. According to professor Hill, “as a species of seeming feeble, naked apes, it’s been quite surprising how homo sapiens rose to dominate the natural world where traits like speed, agility, jaws and claws have otherwise been the features causing other species to win the game of natural selection.”
As population size increased, culture increased exponentially: greater contact between human groups lead to much more copying of creative innovations. Only by working together were Humans able to fully account for the emergence and timing of unique features of Homo sapiens. How humans, evolved through natural processes, resulted in a spectacular anomaly among living species.”
All of the developments described at the ASU meeting can be seen in the human beings escaping hurricane Irma. They have the large brains that allow them to foresee and forecast the future. Our culture of science and cooperation is allowing them to know where safe havens are and to meet-up with the assistance they’ll need while away from their homes. John Donne wrote his poetry three centuries ago but the remaining lines of “No Man is an Island” sound as if he were a traveler in Florida today.
“If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
There are times when we have an opportunity to see human beings escaping to each other rather than escaping from danger. Like the man above who gave up a generator to a lady who desperately needed it for her father, human beings seem to know, instinctively, “any man’s death diminishes me because we are (all) involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee”