Sunday, July 26, 2009

We Are Killer Apes:

I'm currently in the process of listening to the audiobook version of A.J. Jacobs' The Know-It-All, where he outlines his experiences reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. It's a great book. I was especially moved by the following quote, which Jacobs ran across in the Philosophy section of the EB, written by Robert Ardrey:

“But we are born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever the may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished? The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”
- Robert Ardrey

As Jacobs says, a "powerful set of sentences," which is I think a bit of an understatement. In its own way, this cuts to the heart of the beauty of the human condition. We are creatures as low as any others,  but have the capacity for greatness ... and not just occasionally, but consistently, over time, we make the choice to be slightly more creative than we are destructive. We progress, however slowly, toward a better future, when we could regress into a future that is lower than our present state.

Good for Robert Ardrey in realizing it, and good for A.J. Jacobs (and the Encyclopedia Britannica) for passing along the quote.