The Wave, Human Nature, and Our Radical Evolution

Published in 2005, Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution offers multiple perspectives on the future of human kind.  Interviewing world-class thinkers, engineers, and philosophers, the author examines not only our decisions, but our decision making process—for the heart of Garreau’s thesis maintains that human nature changes.

We’ve all wondered whether we’re still part of that process.  Over the years, our species has gradually removed ourselves from the brutality of natural selection.  Americans, especially, have enjoyed long periods without significant culling; so do we yet evolve?  Garreau thinks so.  Physically, we create medicine that can alter our appearances and heal our wounds, while other intellectual constructions seem to grow exponentially.  Can humans maintain control over these creations?  His book’s subtitle alludes to the wisdom it will take to guide this giant: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies—and What It Means to Be Human.  What follows is an argument over what course that path looks like: heaven, hell, or prevail.

The heaven scenario involves advances so great that nanotechnology works invisibly around us, and our bodies regenerate into perpetuity.  Societies, thriving on our highest human emotions, live far from the reptilian R-complex.  Art and music elevate, while education becomes the most important career in the world.  Machines shrink to miniscule, while their capabilities unfold endlessly.

Hell offers the negative: class warfare between the haves and have-nots, pretties versus uglies; technology so advanced that it achieves sentience—then replicates itself.  It’s nothing we haven’t imagined between The Matrix and Blade Runner back to its source at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

What is different is that these diametric views are examined and upheld by visionaries who are helping to create it.  While most scientists, computer geniuses, and government-sponsored gurus see their work as seeds planted toward Eden, there are many others who fear dragon teeth being sown.  Bill Joy, the founder of networking giant Sun Microsystems and known in geekdom as the Edison of the Internet, emerges as one interesting story.  Clearly no Luddite, Joy’s vision once anticipated a Star Trekian future, but now glares sidelong at the mechanism of the Empire.  The complexity of this man cannot be summarized here, nor can any of the fascinating characters Garreau profiles.  Suffice it to say that each offers a perspective utterly human in its depth.

More federalist than anti-federalist thought is expanded upon in the next two sections of the book: prevail and transcendence.  Another personality, Martin E. P. Seligman suggests three levels of happiness: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life.  The pleasant one is all downhill racing: base pleasures and Sushi feelings.  This may be where many Americans find themselves—whether that be through computer porn or Viagra, Cartoon Network or crack.  The good life rises above this.  Referencing Aristotle and Jefferson, Seligman sees something more than existence; he sees a life that is fully lived.  Even better than a life in tune, though, is a life in chorus.  The meaningful life is one in which the instrument of one joins the symphony of all with great elegance and complexity.  The latter view rings as Madisonian; it’s the citizen harmonizing with the Constitution.  Or, through National Academy metaphor, it is Will’s brown box growing up through the center of the spectrum and bearing beautiful rainbow-colored fruit.

If the author leans toward an advancement of humanity, the reader should not be surprised.  After all, the title of the work suggests a continuation, rather than The End.  Garreau makes no hypothesis about the length this evolution will take.  Experts who don’t forecast a technological maelstrom, range from those who think perfection will rise as a tsunami of advancement called The Singularity to those who predict a more gradual tide.

Most importantly, the author goes beyond a catalog of neat inventions to the thought needed to manage such a wave.  How can we control this evolution without the ultimate wipe-out?  As a teacher, I can’t help but imagine the role of a well-rounded education in all of this.  Clearly, literature, history, and communication help us to perceive such changes, while a well-constituted government provides balance to the Constitution’s board.  Can we produce thinkers able to ride the rising swell?  Will we realize that the technical instruction manual of standardized tests can never replace the feel of paddling out, popping up, and surfing?

Garreau’s work suggests that we had better learn quickly.  In a world economy, to remain stoically anti-federalist may just leave Americans as hydrophobic doomsayers gawking at the wall of a world-cleansing flood.  While a ride upon The Wave—one dwarfing both the dawn of industry and the hope of Renaissance—Duuuude, that would be the totality of all that is rad.

The Ballad of Detroit

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jerod Diamond makes an interesting observation about peninsulas: the landform, much like an island, isolates a people.

Peninsulas act as a force multiplier, granting a space easier defense, so that a polity might survive invasion by a much more powerful culture.  (Think: Hot Gates and Isthmus of Corinth.)  Conversely, a spit can bring the closed-culture of the Spartans.  (“Mommy..?  What is art?”  *SMACK!*  “Get back to your jumping-jacks!”)  It’s no coincidence that Europe retains hundreds of cultures as well as claim to the most devastating wars in history; the continent’s chock-full of peninsulas.

I live on one.  In fact, Michigan is two; we call them the Upper and the Lower.  Surrounded by the Great Lakes, I’ve felt the isolation when hitting the freeway.  To get eastbound and down, I must first head to Ohio; to go west, I drive cross-state, then dip into Indiana to catch I-80.  Because of our geography, a lot of people have never passed through.  We’re not on the way to anywhere, really, unless you’re coming here.  As a result, even our own people buy into what they hear about Detroit in movies, avoiding a downtown still pulsing.  That and they rarely leave.  I have friends who have never been out of the state: content with Michigan’s bounty alone.

Our isolation makes us strongly anti-federalist.  Free trade becomes a four-letter word in the blurred vision of a people caught up in yesteryear.  Once, Detroit was called the Paris of the West for its vibrant theater scene and bustling trade.

We looked to the Car as one looks at a sun.  It warmed us and brought our people riches, so why not worship it?  But our piety came with a cost.  The Automobile was not a fixed source and it came crashing down: a mere shooting star.

Touring Detroit, one walks through the crater.  Fire, brimstone, carnage, debris, ruins: they’re all here.  Thousands yet suffer from the heat and fallout.

Much of the population flew to the suburbs on impact; but it’s historical fact that it’s easier to fly when you have money to afford the wings, and so the diaspora was largely white.

In the hole, many survived and they grew hungry.  Some lived in a state of nature, preying upon one another.  Many resented those living on the crater’s rim.

While on the outside, the fortunate looked in once in a while and wondered why those people chose to live like that.  They shook their heads, then resumed worship of their fallen god: sure that The Automobile would again light their sky.

In the meanwhile, new auto companies arrived.  Smaller cars and better quality.  Smarter and snappier designs.  And, most of all, improved fuel economy.

Technology granted the U.S. autos the same opportunity.  But, in true anti-federalist fashion, the Big Three viewed the opposable thumb as more fist-shaker than tool-maker.  Security began to heavily outweigh freedom.  And, as usual, this imbalance brought stagnation rather than innovation.

Unable to refocus, recenter, and remake themselves, many in Detroit vilified the Japanese.  A pair of Automobile “extreme fundamentalists” attacked Chinese-American Vincent Chin, first exclaiming “It’s because of you…that we’re out of work”, then beating him to death with a baseball bat.  The murderers went free.

All hoped that life would get better.  SUVs and cheap oil brought a fresh influx of warmth.  The Big Three had seen many changes, but they were still around.  And as long as they were around, Detroit would be.  Because what was good for GM, was good for America, right?

But the foreign cars got even smarter, snappier, and more efficient.

Subconsciously, we clung to our city’s motto: “We hope that better things arise from the ashes.”[email protected]/1593515518/

The dreamers rose.  Thornetta Davis, Della Reese, The Winans.  Jazz and Gospel.  McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Aretha Franklin.  John Lee Hooker.  Blues and Rhythm.  Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Jackie Wilson, The Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder, and too many other Motown acts to name.  Del Shannon.  The 70’s rockers: Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Glenn Frey, Bob Seger.  Then Hard Core Punk, Death Metal, Techno.  Eminem.  And, the reinventor herself, Madonna.

But most had one thing in common: Get the Hell Out of Here.  Go where the action is.  Get off the peninsula and somewhere cosmopilitan.  Move toward the energy, and away from the rubble and the embers.  Because they understood that hope is not enough.  Action is needed.

This isn’t a eulogy, though.  This is a ballad.  A story.  And it’s not over.

Because of advances in technology, geography limits us less than ever.  Exchange of ideas flows as mountain rivers, when we don’t dam it.

Detroit owns great hubs of culture and vibrance and many are merging.  The spokes designed by Augustus Woodward lead back to a waterfront, and by returning to our first principles, we can rise again from the steam, to make our slogan real.  We just remodeled the Detroit Institute of Arts and saved our zoo.  There are signs of a diversifying economy, and we possess one of the greatest concentrations of engineers in the world.   Most forward-looking of all, Michigan controls a vast supply of the world’s freshwater.

There is a survivor’s spirit here, which I haven’t felt elsewhere, but we have to reconcile that the suburban, white-flight of the 70s wasn’t flying.  If we can harness that to move past our segregation, into a regionalistic wholeness of Indianapolis, Minneapolis, or Portland, we can breathe new life into our city and once again spread our wings.

What we have yet to realize, though, is that any one “solution” is but a false idol.  It is only We who are the phoenix; We who are the sun.

Campaign 2008 in the Box

Sparking curiosity and provoking puzzled stares, Professor Harris proposed his model of Federalist and Antifederalist thinking provides a useful lens for understanding this year’s presidential candidates. Those of us who want to draw a straight line to match today’s political parties to the Federalist and Antifederalist perspectives were baffled. How in the world did Hillary end up in the same set of boxes as McCain and Bush?

The categories proposed for each candidate include…

Barack Obama is a red box Federalist driven by his understanding of us as a people committed to particular principles and one another.

Hillary Clinton is a blue box Antifederalist driven by a commitment to government and the solutions it should provide the people.

John McCain is a red box Antifederalist driven by a belief in who we are as one people of a particular nation.

And, another note of interest, George W. Bush is a green box Antifederalist driven by a firm faith in natural order, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil.

Each of these explanations could benefit from additional elaboration. What I’ve provided is simple and most definitely incomplete.

For example, it isn’t that Hillary only sees government or the blue box but that her campaign was largely a matter of policy proposals. When she needed support for her proposals, she appealed to an understanding of who we are as a people or what we should understand about natural rights. The American people are fighters who believe health care is a universal right. The category distinction a matter of where each candidate is most likely to stake out their first position and then where they look for support.

When I saw this video of John McCain’s new ad, I thought it spoke directly to the assertion that he is a red box Antifderealist. The conclusion and his purported slogan for the general election is the best: John McCain, putting country first.

If McCain is putting country first, he has red written all over him! Watch the video and consider what it says about who we are as a people and what we will do through government as a result.

If you find similar links to support or challenge the categories proposed for Clinton, Bush, and Obama, please post them in the comments!

The American People and an Incredible Machine

With gadget fans across the country talking about the new 3G iPhone, it’s hard to argue about the innovative spirit of the American people. It’s a fact. We love our machines whether they’re speeding down the highways or probing the surface of Mars.

I wonder, however, if there’s more to this particular characteristic of the American people. Imagine you have just encountered the world’s greatest invention, what do you want to know about it?

What does it do?

How does it work?

Perhaps, where did the idea came from?

Now imagine the world’s greatest invention is the federal constitution proposed by James Madison. It may have looked like a Rube Goldberg machine to the AntiFederalists, unnecessarily complicated with too many opportunities for something to go wrong. As they review the many components of the system, the answer to “what does it do?” seems more and more obscure. The banner at the top of the Rube Goldberg page might even serve as a powerful AntiFederalist argument:

Imagine an AntiFederalist staring at this contraption. We know what we want it to do. We want it to protect our independence and protect our liberty. We know how to do this. We have several simple machines in our state constitutions doing exactly this. Why make it so complicated? It’s too much work and leaves the whole endeavor vulnerable with each new level of detail. It doesn’t have to be this hard!

Now, back to imagining the greatest invention in the world, would you be satisfied in simply knowing what it does? What almost always happens next? Someone makes a newer and better version. It is, after all, the iPhone 2.0 we’re all talking about and tech news regularly celebrates the next “iPhone killer.”

When acquainting ourselves with a new machine, few of us are ever satisfied with simply knowing what it does. We start there but next ask how it works and often inquire about the origin of the idea itself. We seek the “maker’s knowledge” Will referred to as he opened this week’s NEH seminar at Montpelier. The operating instructions often aren’t enough to satisfy our American ingenuity.

I’m thinking of a friend’s son who “pimped” his ride. An owner’s manual illustrating how to shift gears, turn dials, and light signals wasn’t useful for long. The Ford Explorer his parents had given him needed several improvements before he was willing to park it in the high school parking lot! He soon spent countless hours entangled in the car’s wiring, digging through the components of the engine, and super-sizing its performance in every way imaginable. If we know how an invention works and how it is constructed to do what it does, we have a system for evaluating its performance as well as a platform to improve upon it.

The American people aren’t simply interested in the invention. They’re a people interested in the ongoing progress of innovation and a people who believe we can all be a part of designing the next big thing.


I’ve been exploring the boxes through music, and it’s been pretty darn sweet. Minus the Norm-like bar tab, the search has offered continuous insight into the layers.

As last summer, I’ll think that I have it figured out, then realize that I’m deconstructing or simplifying. It interests me to juxtapose anti-fed v. fed with political parties with human behaviors with fate/ free will!

The tracks list represents some of my leisure. I wish I could play music on this site. Alas..! I can and will mail a copy of the disks to interested parties. My first version has been revised and shall continue to be. (Nature of the beast. Pun.)

Like Forrest Gump (one of only many traits we share. Run, Hobbesie, Run!), I’m seeing how “maybe we’re both” or all of the boxes at once. That there’s a pull every bit as real as that between the three branches. Music seems to represent this polynomial, and factoring it presents me with a challenge I’ve enjoyed.

A word on the selections. I’m finding that a few of the songs could fit on any of the disks. One could argue that each of them is federalist, in that they are creative, for instance. “Jump Around” is a high-energy, aggressive song which I placed on the “States of Nature” disk. However, much can be said for the fact that rap handles aggression in a positive way. Phrases which some interpret as violent are most often simply a way to blow off steam. In other words, as sports, music allows a release. I could’ve just as easily placed the piece on disk three.

Anti/ Federalist Vol. I: States of Nature

“Me and a Gun” Tori Amos

“April 29, 1992 (Miami)” Sublime

“Bulls on Parade” Rage Against the Machine

“Pain” 2Pac

“Sabotage” Beastie Boys

“Jump Around” House of Pain

“Wrong Way” Sublime

“Animal I Have Become” Three Days Grace

“Come Out and Play” The Offspring

“Teenagers” My Chemical Romance

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” Nirvana

“Santeria” Sublime

“Been Caught Stealing” Jane’s Addiction

“This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arm Race” Fall Out Boy

“U.S. History” Flipsyde

“Testify” Rage Against the Machine

Anti/ Federalist Vol. II: Meltdown

“All in the Family” TV Theme from All in the Family

“Enter Sandman” Metallica

“Faint” Linkin Park

“Intro” Matthew Sweet

“Ugly Truth Rock” Matthew Sweet

“Enth Nd” Linkin Park

“Army of Me” Bjork

“Duel of the Fates” John Williams

“The New World” X

“You Better Be Doubtful” The Housemartins

“The Shadow Government” They Might Be Giants

“Political Science” Randy Newman

“Holiday” Green Day

“I Fought the Law” Green Day

“Gunslinger” John Fogerty

“Beer for My Horses” Toby Keith and Willie Nelson

“The Government Totally Sucks” Tenacious D

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” Green Day

“Wonderful” Everclear

“Pride (in the Name of Love)” U2

“Pacing the Cage” Bruce Cockburn

“The Way It Is” Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Anti/ Federalist Vol. III: Energy Renewed

“Vertigo” U2

“Icky Thump” White Stripes

“Fight for Your Right” Beastie Boys

“Minority” Green Day

“Float On” Modest Mouse

“Signs” Tesla

“Warning” Green Day

“Everything I Am” Kanye West

“Unwritten” Natasha Bedingfield

“In a Big Country” Big Country

“Closer to Free” BoDeans

“The Middle” Jimmy Eat World

“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” Cindi Lauper

“New Song” Howard Jones

“Centerfield” John Fogerty
“I Take My Chances” Mary Chapin Carpenter

“Upside Down” Jack Johnson

“Closer to Fine” Indigo Girls

“This Moment” Matthew Sweet

“Lights and Virtues” Jackson Browne

“Imagine” John Lennon

“This Land Is Your Land” Woodie Guthrie

A look will reveal certain biases: Green Day, my exposure, my age and sublurban upbringing… Also, I realize that the voices of women are under-represented. Perhaps, with your input, that’ll change! Thanks again to Shellee, Larry, and Laura for their evolving input.

Hope you leave some comments on the songs if you know them or share in the dialogue by requesting the disks! 🙂