& THE TREE OF LIFE
In an online New York Times article I read an executive's account of what happened when Apple redesigned the iPhone's screen at the last minute:
In China, "A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the companys dormitories. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. Theres no American plant that can match that.
Reading this, I visualize the Evolutionary Tree of Life with its millions of branch-tip species. Some of the Tree's branches grow and rebranch exuberantly, constantly generating new, fast-speciating, fast evolving organisms. Brush-footed butterflies, grasses and asters explode among these rampaging limbs with gorgeous vitality, though at this point in their evolutionary history all the tips look pretty much alike. Other of the Tree of Life's branches bear idiosyncratic-looking but stagnant "living fossil" species like chitons, Ginkgos and cycads. But most limbs are of an in-between nature, calmly but efficiently and routinely generating Nature's hard-working, beautiful-in-their-own-right-but-never-dominating yeomen, life's cuckoos, maples and columbines.
This visualization -- this natural paradigm so basic to Life on Earth that it echoes in the doings of all living things, including humans -- teaches that the feverish pace of Chinese super-factories is natural and inevitable, for at this moment in history the Chinese are humankind's brush-footed butterflies, asters and grasses. Moreover, knowing that inside the Tree of Life there arise untold numbers of dead branches terminating with extinct species, one knows the consequences of losing one's insatiable hunger, one's irrepressible creative edginess, one's terrible, unquenchable aggression.
And yet, the Sixth Miracle of Nature -- the one enabling us humans on Earth to think and behave in ways other than those programmed in our African-savanna-formulated genes -- lets us imagine a world in which no one works endless 12-hour shifts while living in dormitories, and where the pace of life gives everyone time enough to mature intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
But, there's the hunger, the edginess, the aggression so natural and requisite for all dominant species, and so human that without these traits we'd hardly be human at all...
Thinking like this, The Middle Path never beckoned so brightly, and never seemed so hard to attain.