(All photographs by Martin Rowland (martyr_67), taken in Wyndham, in Melbourne’s outer west.)
We would do well to think of ourselves as Homo sapiens, more.1 In identifying ourselves as human, we are an animal just like the many other animals — those that we know and those that have become extinct through our own activities, — and not too dissimilar to those many more million organisms that on land and sea remain undiscovered and unnamed.
Yet classification is exclusively a Sapiens construct. Our identity, at its most basic, is a product of our own developed knowledge. We are human because we are an animal because we define ourselves so according to scientific evidence. And we are a particular human, Homo sapiens, because we trace ourselves to be so. We are bound in a construct of our own making. Perhaps it suits us this way; we can choose to ignore things of our own making and decide to be what we want to be.
Yet the development of our knowledge has led us to activities that have profoundly impacted earth’s living systems. We cannot ignore the things we have not made. The knowledge we have acquired threatens our very own survival. Unless, of course, we do something about our new found knowledge of our predicament, and acquire new harmonious ways of getting along with one another.
Our own predicament, then, is of our own making. We are now able to define our own living limits, yet we have been unable to live within these limits and, to date, appear incapable of doing so. Paradoxically, we have classified living systems but as yet have been unable to develop systems for sustained living. In our case, our survival depends not on an immunity from randomly derived external threats, but on an immunity from external threats directly resulting from our very selves.
We would do well, then, in our present time of survival crisis, to mind ourselves in our Homo sapiens classification. But to be mindful not so much of the distinction in classification of ourselves among other organisms, rather to be more cognisant of what we are at our biological, and biological-dependent, core: utterly dependent on each other and the balance of life’s living systems, and completely susceptible to extinction.2
To develop a new knowledge, then, of our socio-biosphere relations concerning core systems of water, shelter, energy, food, transport, and of knowledge itself; of a comprehensive understanding of wellness, of self, home, community and society; of social innovation and institutional change for a new productive, generative economy and the healthy dynamic spatiality that economy would produce.
The thing about knowledge, is it tends to play catch-up to what is already ‘out there’. We have identified ourselves as Homo sapiens because that’s how we classified the organisms which already did exist. But new found discoveries in all manner of things invoke all sorts of new classifications not otherwise imagined.
Imagination, on the other hand, is not constrained by knowledge. It is, as Einstein once said, more important than knowledge, for it can lead to new forms of knowing and doing.
Time to make imagination core to our work.3 That is a very Sapiens capability, after all.4 Question is, will it prove to be a Sapiens quality to make our work about the vital work at hand?5
1. I have just began, rather belatedly, reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens, and have been gratefully reminded of the very brief but devastating time we have had on earth to date.
2. Harari (ibid) notes that it is doubtful Sapiens will be around 1000 years from now.
3. Of course, the imagination of humans has also played a key role in destruction.
4. Homo sapiens (‘Wise Man’).
5. Despite our intelligence, so much of our work continues to blindly perpetuate our current paradigms which so clearly are in need of change.