Better People: Better Lives
We are always more than we think. From our earliest Homo sapiens days as a small band of a few hundred people alone in a vast world, we have encountered the unexpected, adapted, evolved and flourished… we explored, scared and surprised ourselves and become greater people. We need to do all that again - to get back to our ancient human roots, take risks and take a big step forward to become that little bit more than we think we are. If this looks too whimsically optimistic, think of it as keeping an open mind - but open not only about the next president of the United Sates, potential World Cup Winners or even your chances of a happy love life, but open about some serious thinking about what you value, what constitutes a successful life and, in consequence, who you are. There is some sense in blaming systems and institutions for the problems we face, but ultimately we need Better People.
It was Carl Linnaeus who in 1758 labelled us as Homo sapiens after his own self-image as a wise human being. Carl was indeed an exceptional person who exceeded any common measure of wisdom to establish our system for recording different animals and plants and set the foundations for ecology. So it is thanks to Carl that we are collectively categorised as wise.
A few minutes reading the news will provide all the evidence you need that this is not the case at all; our behaviour is frequently far from wise. This Intrinsic Earth research area is concerned with how we might improve our wisdom by becoming more aware of the consequences of our actions and exploring alternative routes to Better Lives.
The Intrinsic Earth research area for business identifies the opportunity for Triple Top Line (TTL) businesses that generate social and ecological benefits as well as economic. This is a wise thing to do for businesses have social and ecological impacts whether or not business people and economists recognise them. A TTL approach is suitable for business planning and operations management and as customers, employers, employees and investors we can become wiser by applying TTL thinking and values. But we people need something more: we need a human touch.
Home sapiens protean
Carl may epitomise Homo sapiens as a clever, able and successful scientist but that identity does not fit everyone. This deficiency was recognised in the nineteenth century when theorists such as John Stuart Mill, Vilfredo Pareto and Lionel Robbins effectively identified a new human species in the then emerging industrial age, an economic man or Homo economicus. This new species was distinguishable by the rational pursuit of economic, monetary wealth. Note that “sapiens”, the attribute of wisdom, was appropriately dropped in this new taxonomic classification.
Luckily or obviously (depending upon your view of history and evolution), Homo economicus is being replaced. An ancient species of human being is regaining prominence. This is happening because scientific knowledge has now turned full circle to recognise our ultimate dependence upon healthy and vibrant, coherent societies and ecosystems just as in our earliest days on Earth. In a significant sense, it is happening because we are paying attention once more to maintaining the complexity of relations that constitute ourselves and the world – and which Homo economicus has side-stepped. We are getting real once more!
Real people for our purposes are Better People, but who are they and where do they come from? With the advent of archaeogenetics in the 1990s, it has become possible to identify the ancestors of real people. Joint research by geneticists and archaeologists has traced the origins of Homo sapiens to a small tribe of a few hundred people who took advantage of a drop in sea-level to cross from Africa into Arabia at the mouth of the Red Sea (There are, of course, alternate theories of humanity’s dispersion from Africa but the one we have selected, the “Out of Africa” theory by the “Southern Route”, has precedence at the time of writing (National Geographic 2019)).
But whatever the dispersal theory, it is accepted that we, Homo sapiens, have an African origin. This then is our origin – it provides a fundamental reference for our identity. We can recognise religions, nationalities, vocational callings, sexuality, team-supporters and much more as providing some of our identity but getting back to basics, getting as fundamentally real as we can, we are all descendants of a small group of people who left Africa some 70,000 years ago. This is our common origin.
The reason why we should refer to this ancient origin is that our development, our progress and the advance of our civilisations has always been problematic since that time (Harari 2015). As we develop, many people forget their common ancestry and dependence upon the natural world. They define their identities in other ways and thereby loose empathy for fellow humans and other creatures; sometimes with horrific consequences. In addition, since such identities are man-made, social constructions they have to be asserted – sometimes very forcibly - and repeated to be effective and to substantiate their meaning and to make others believe that this is the only identity, the only truth, the one right way and that it will not change, it will last for ever. Hence there is a tendency to rigidity, dogma, closure and intolerance with this kind of dependence upon limited identities. This tendency is manifest most pertinently in those boardrooms, political offices and places of learning dedicated seemingly exclusively to the secular religion of economism in spite of all the increasing evidence of the damage it causes from plastic pollution to climate change and natural habitat losses for people and other creatures.
But not everyone believes fully in one of these identity closures. Some maintain open minds. To differentiate those who still identify even a little of themselves with that small tribe of our ancestors who journeyed out of Africa to populate the world, we need a new taxonomic classification; we suggest Homo sapiens protean. This keeps our wisdom and the additional epithet, “protean”, works in several ways.
First of all, “protean” itself means having a varied nature, ability to assume different forms, adaptable and versatile. This flexibility is as essential to ourselves as it would have been to that first band of humans facing so many unknowns and challenges, exploring a whole new world. The exploration has not stopped and we urgently need to explore just how 7 billion people can live and flourish on what is now one small planet and how we can stop damaging other people, other creatures and Earth’s climate systems.
Secondly, protean refers to the attributes of an ancient Greek god, Proteus. In Greek mythology, Proteus looked after sea creatures and he was also said to possess the gift of prophecy. Proteus did not however like to share his knowledge of the future and he would evade those who questioned him by changing shape, an attribute which has been interpreted to also mean a “sea-change”. So we have represented in Proteus a tantalisingly inaccessible knowledge of the future which requires us to have a mind open to change, surprising and extensive change, possible sea-changes (or in our terminology “episteme” changes (Birkin and Polesie 2012)).
Finally, in 1735 Carl Linnaeus gave the name Protea to a genus of flower that may be found in many forms. It is an ancient and attractive flower that is found in South Africa. In local traditions the Protea flower stands for change and hope. Maybe our ancestors wondered at these flowers, picked them to decorate their hearths and clothes and took heart from them for the incredible journey upon which they were to embark. Proteas can be the emblem of Protea (real) people, Homo sapiens protean.
This Intrinsic Earth research area is the hardest and the simplest to grasp. It is difficult for some people to understand what we are doing because it requires a loosening of the grip they have upon some kind of certainty in their lives. God for many centuries provided Europeans with a certain kind of knowledge about everything and that knowledge could not be challenged; it is in part the Renaissance episteme in our epistemic analyses. Over many centuries, this God-based knowledge was revised by a science that directed our minds to experience and rationality. This transition was a struggle and it prompted the philosopher Nietzsche to observe that “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” (Nietzsche 1878).
But science itself experiences the same kind of obstacle. For example, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge” has been attributed in different formats to a variety of scientific authors (Boorstin 1985) possibly including the famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking (but we are not certain about that!).
The theories, postulates and imaginings of science may and do change as new evidence emerges. But this is not a smooth and harmless process for the casualties are those who have invested careers, lives and resources in mistaken truths. However, scientists cannot ignore the evidence, the discoveries of what the world is really like outside and beyond our concepts and understandings. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for example that new evidence will rewrite the books of physics and of life. Max Planck, the German scientists who did indeed cause a rewrite of the books of physics when he introduced quantum mechanics in 1900, wrote “Experimenters are the shock troops of science”. (Planck 1949).
Intrinsic Earth sees that the tenets of our global civilisation can, and will, change. The “experimental evidence” that this will happen soon is mounting as you can discover for yourself in the Intrinsic Earth Knowledge Database. For those who place too much value on monetary wealth, the goods and services provided by the economy, this is a problem. This kind of certainty no longer holds for we need to value ourselves, our societies and nature even more than we value money – we urgently need to optimise social and ecological wealth as well as economic wealth in our day to day lives and not to maximise only economic wealth. As Professor Speth of Yale University argues, we need to BE MORE and not HAVE MORE (Speth 2009).
This is the challenge for Homo sapiens protean; to be this kind of change, to adapt and to survive for Better People:Better Lives. It is that simple!
(To see a Protea flower, the emblem of Homo sapiens protean, search for Protea in the Intrinsic Earth Knowledge Database.)
Birkin F. K. and T. Polesie (2012) Intrinsic Sustainable Development: Epistemes, Science, Business and Sustainability. Singapore: World Scientific Press.
Boorstin, D.J. (1985). The Discoverers: a history of Man’s search to know his world and himself. London: Penguin/Random House
Harari, Y.N. (2915). Sapiens: a brief history of humankind. Harper Collins: New York.
National Geographic (2019). Map of Human Migration. Available at https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/human-journey/ [Accessed February 2019].
Nietzsche, F. (1878 ). Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. by R.J. Hollingdale, R.J. (Translator), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Planck, M. (1949). Scientific Autobiography and other papers. by Gaynor, F. (translator). New York: Philosophical Library.
Speth, J.G. (2009). The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.