Giving Humans their own Epoch

Open any general history book and the reader will find humankind’s history broken down into specific eras, ages, epochs, and periods. For example, we all know the Christian era, 0-2015AD (in history books, dates are important). We also know about the American Civil War, 1860-1865 and the Age of Enlightenment, 1620-1780. A major marker for the world is the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima August 1945 as the beginning of the nuclear age.

Too often, and this goes back to the distant past when Homo sapiens had barely moved out of Africa, changes in period, age or era are bracketed by wars or cultural invasions. For all our centuries, our species settled major issues with violence. Easily isolated in daily news is the horrible conflict in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan. It is as if there are rules about implementing new eras: many people must die; massive destruction of artifacts and public buildings; horrendous attacks on the innocent – including women; trench burial plots (not only must one be killed, one must be forgotten). Perhaps wars are significant because wars have definitive start and end dates. The mariner suggests that war slows down cultural transition. It may be better to set differentiation on successful, progressive changes.

Some ages are benchmarked by advancement of a discovered thing or the adoption of some idea. For example, cotton gin, steamships and trains, automobiles, macadam road paving, electricity, airplanes, television, and the Internet. Intellectual ideas have been noted in similar fashion; consider the mathematics of Archimedes and Newton, logic of Socrates and Plato, Solar System by Galileo, and General Theory by Einstein.

It is burdensome that Homo sapiens expends significant effort on the advancement of war: chariot, trireme, trebuchet, gunpowder, armored vehicles, aircraft, rockets, and now drones. It is not difficult to divide the history of war into periods of change.

One could go on naming moments that signify a transition of some sort using endless objects, events, and ideas. Is it possible to name so many periods, phases and eras that there is no time left that is not a turning point? The mariner believes so.

Why must there be change? The quick answer is “Things change for the better, the less expensive, and the more efficient.” Comparatively, this may be true for manufactured things, for economics and general wellbeing. But the real reason for change is Homo sapiens. Humans have a brain that thrives on change. Consider other species; many trees may live unchanged until the planet changes, perhaps millions of years; the opossum is one of the oldest creatures around and the latest opossum lives the same life as the first. Monkeys and apes, for all their intelligence, haven’t changed their lifestyle nor have whales and dolphins. No other species invents puzzles for the sake of inventing puzzles. Humankind must be entertained intellectually – if only watching a television show a monkey could understand or struggling to find the unified theory in physics.

If one merges the predatory nature of humans with the ability to imagine an expansion of power, the result is greed and avarice. Further, the faster humans can attain more gratification, the more rewarding the experience. The fastest way, of course, is violence. Second to violence is cheating – still a form of violence. This behavior is in our genome. The oldest parts of our brain, the parts that go back to the primordial days of Homo sapiens, understand this behavior and react accordingly. Humans and monkeys weren’t that different then. It is the nature of evolution to carry genetic baggage forward along with newer mutations. For example, a fetus develops false gills before it develops lungs. There must have been a fish somewhere in a human’s path of evolution. If one gives greedy behavior some thought, it seems only natural that any predator must satisfy sustenance quickly or it will not thrive.

It is up to our predatory and inventive selves to manage our species. No other species can manage Homo sapiens. This is why government evolved. Even government, however, is subject to predation. It has taken the entire era of human existence to fine tune government to the point that it functions today. Obviously, there is much more tuning to be done. Unfortunately, our ability to change the status quo often means that what was good will not remain good, hence Lord Acton’s phrase ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Being the premiere predator on Earth plus having an inquisitive mind has allowed humans to multiply and prosper. Humans have overcome every adversary except themselves. The mariner has written often about the effect of population growth and the destruction of Earth’s biosphere. Excessive Carbon has disrupted the atmosphere, land and oceans. The broad use of fossil fuels, which began about 1850, has changed the name of our current epoch: We were living in the Holocene Epoch until another name had to be given for our current times because humans have so changed the Earth. Now we live in the Anthropocene Epoch – named for human trashiness, abuse of living creatures, and disrupting the Earth itself.

By the end of this century, there will be nearly twice as many humans as there are today. How do we rein in ourselves? All we have is religion and government. Obviously, they haven’t been working very well. Our definitions of culture, government and faith are all we have to fix a problem that will be fixed without us if we aren’t careful.



Let’s deal with the awkward article in front of ‘opossum.’ Is it correct to say ‘a opossum,’ ‘an opossum,’ a ‘‘possum,’ or an ‘‘possum?’ Yes. This is a singularly intriguing circumstance in our language; dictionaries and grammar sources support this odd behavior. The truth is it is determined by how the speaker chooses to pronounce the word. Proof that there is free will! If you choose ‘opossum,’ then you say ‘an;’ if you say ‘possum’ then you say ‘a.’ It’s your choice! Of course, you can call it by its official name, Didelphis Virginiana and avoid the whole thing.

Expanding the Liberal Arts mind:

A reader has offered an interesting podcast link from the book review section of the New York Times. The podcast features the year in poetry with guests reading favorite poems; about half of the 39-minute podcast is an interview with poet George Saunders. See: .

The printing press was not mentioned in the above list of inventions but certainly is one of the most important. Johannes Gutenberg invented the first western press in 1445 AD. However, independent letter blocks of wood were made by Chinese monks in 866 AD. Further, a Chinese peasant named Bi Sheng (Pi Sheng) developed the world’s first movable type. Though Sheng himself was a commoner and didn’t leave much of an historical trail, his ingenious method of printing, which involved the production of hundreds of individual characters, was well-documented. Metal movable type also was developed independently in Korea in the late 14th century. In 1377, a Korean monk named Baegun is credited with printing a compilation of Buddhist sayings using movable metal type. The two-volume book, known as “Jikji,” is believed to be the oldest book in the world printed with metal type. Unlike the West, the East did not utilize prepared type very quickly because of the complexities of Asian writing systems.

This history of printing is found on , a website the mariner encourages browsing readers to view periodically looking for anything of interest.


Administration of the iowa-mariner website.

Occasionally, a reader will ask how to find past posts. To help readers search, the POST page, typically the first that one sees, now has a menu across the top with subject headings. The mariner frequently lists a post under multiple subject headings but they should help in any case. There is a search box on the POST page and another on the subject page. Another method is to scan the posts on the right side of the page; these are sequenced by date and if the reader has an idea of when, this may be helpful as well.

Speaking of the column on the right side of the page, at the bottom is the “meta” section. Use the “login” option to create a site identity and receive notice of new postings. Your email address will never be shared with others although your login name will be how readers of the site will refer to you. Once you have subscribed, send an email to the mariner to make sure your subscription is noted at

Finally, the mariner has created a forum page called “The Captain’s Mast.” If any reader wants to open a dialogue with the mariner or with another reader’s replies, simply enter your comment in the Captain’s Mast.

Ancient Mariner



Is Extinction True?

The word about the Holocene Extinction, AKA the Sixth Mass Extinction, is beginning to spread. Lowbrow naysayers have linked together unrelated studies with the attitude, “Here we go again…” Others dismiss the work of the research team by casting aspersions on Paul Ehlrich, who has produced fatalistic studies in the past (which still hold relevant truths). A fair and informative interview with head researcher Gerardo Ceballos can be found at this link:

Given the naysayers are pooh-poohing the extinction for self gratification, the mariner feels certain that industries and reactionaries who have vested interests in keeping culture and economy the way it is, prefer nothing should change and will take delaying actions beyond the naysayers skepticism.

No one can predict with certainty how long the extinction process will take. This makes it easy for many to sit by the side of the road and wait to see what happens. “Waiting” is self destructive. No one wants to give up automobiles for enforced mass transit; utilities don’t want to shut down electrical plants in favor of distributed non-fossil fuel electricity; the coal industry doesn’t want to be banished; the magic of fracking, which isn’t magic and is a dirty industrial process, doesn’t want tightly controlled regulations that will cut into profits; households still want strawberries in grocery stores in January; travel destinations don’t want transportation restricted; households and industries don’t want to be relocated to restore an endangered habitat….ad infinitum.

The only point that no one except politicians seems to challenge is that global warming is happening increasingly fast. There is too much data to refute that. How fast is a matter of conjecture but it is easy to get into a conversation like, “I remember crabbing for Maryland crabs; I took home a bushel in one day!” The mariner knows firsthand that doesn’t happen anymore. He’s sure the reader can think of a personal comparison where wildlife was more plentiful, beaches were pristine, and water birds, seals and otters weren’t covered in crude oil.

Remember the Passenger Pigeon? It was by far the most numerous bird species in North America at the turn of the 1900’s. There were billions of them across all of North America. Deforestation and commercial hunting wiped out the Passenger Pigeon. The last one died in a zoo in 1914. The Passenger Pigeon is an example of how Homo sapiens expedites mass extinction. In the post, Advocacy at Home – Specie Ecology, posted earlier this month, the mariner provided a list of endangered animals that went on for pages. The mariner provides again a short quote from the Cree Indians:

“Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

As Naomi Klein says in her book, This Changes Everything, the Earth’s biosphere is not a for-profit issue. The world’s cultures and priorities must turn away from capitalistic solutions and reinvest – at cost – in the biosphere for our own survival.

The mariner leaves this issue for awhile. Like yeast in bread, the idea of mass extinction needs time to rise. He asks only that the reader pay attention to the news and magazine articles that discuss global warming, water shortage, weather energy and changes to the oceans, polar ice, and disappearing creatures because humans have destroyed their habitat.

Ancient Mariner

Shifting Gears for the Future

Should the reader look forward to see future progress that will knock out extinction – do not look backward for a measure of speed. The reader will be disappointed.

Media news filled additional air time in Charlotte by going down the street to the State Capitol where the Confederate war flag is displayed. Now, all the republican candidates for President can say, “Not my problem,” save two: one who ran last time, Romney, and Jeb somebody. The mariner will not join the fray; it is covered nonstop on 24-hour news stations. There must be some usable information once in a while.

What the mariner finds important is the fact that racism is still a large and unresolved stigma in the American culture and what that means about the speed with which we will take steps to avoid extinction. Consider the following speed:

  • Twenty slaves were the first to arrive on US soil at Jamestown, Virginia on August 20, 1619.
  • In 1641, Massachusetts was the first state to legalize slavery.
  • In 1705, Virginia passes legislation that slaves are real estate.
  • In 1787, it was a better than usual year, relatively speaking. The Northwest Ordinance forbids slavery, except as criminal punishment, in the Northwest Territory (later Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Residents of the territory are required to return fugitive slaves. Also in 1787, states (including South Carolina) began putting tariffs on interstate and international slave trade; a few ban trading slaves altogether.
  • In 1788, the newly ratified US Constitution claims that each slave is 3/5 of a person – but only for tax purposes.
  • In 1819, Virginia outlaws the education of slaves and, with North Carolina, removes restraints on interstate trading of slaves.
  • The decade of the 1850’s was not good for slaves. Many states rescinded earlier trade limitations, new laws providing the right to be a free African American were rescinded, and finally, in 1857, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott case by denying citizenship to all slaves, ex-slaves, and descendants of slaves and denies Congress the right to prohibit slavery in the territories.
  • In 1861, South Carolina secedes from the Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina also secede. It is the beginning of the Civil War.
  • In 1862, Lincoln signs several acts that, more or less, allow slaves and free African Americans to participate in the Civil War and, indirectly, though no one said so, the 3/5 person law became dysfunctional even if it was still is a part of the Constitution.
  • In 1863, Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • In 1869, Tennessee passes legislation to create an all white government that opposes racial equality. Many states follow.
  • In 2015, the Confederate War Flag still flies at the Capitol of South Carolina and requires the heinous murder of nine religious African Americans in a hallmark African American church to request that the flag be removed. There is reticence by republicans across the board.
    • The mariner interjects for a moment to point out that it has been 244 years since the first slave arrived, a terrible civil war has transpired, the economic culture of slavery still persisted not through ownership but through outright abuse and tyranny. Any freed slave is fortunate to receive a salary other than a shack without utilities. In 244 years, how has the US culture changed? Virtually not at all; Tennessee’s idea in 1869 for all white government persists to this day. African American voting in government is gerrymandered against quite intensely. While legislation may have shifted a little, the American culture still does not include the African American as an equal citizen with equal rights.
    • In the future, even greater incursions into corporate American power and the consumer culture will be necessary to slow the clock of the sixth extinction. Beyond that, not only is extinction civil war, it is global war. Extinction includes Putin, ISIL, China and its allies, suppressed Africa. Even more troublesome, the United States itself, long a leader in creating the sixth extinction.

The mariner pursued the history of the African American experience as a model that depicts how difficult it is to alter large social, economic and political behavior that has been deeply ingrained for hundreds of years. The African American’s historical plight has become the plight of all mankind. The US has not made much progress with racism. Regarding extinction, is this to be expected for the next 244 years?

Ancient Mariner

Civilization’s Link to Global Climate

In his effort to imagine what the experience of approaching extinction would be, that is, how and why seemingly stable cultures collapse; the mariner began looking for reasons why significant societies had failed in the past. Quickly, after reading studies from climatologists, anthropologists and language historians, he first had to learn what permitted societies to emerge.

The common opinion from many experts in many disciplines, is that modern humans (Homo sapiens) were stuck in Africa because of the ice age. Paleoclimatologist J.P. Steffensen in the January 7, 2002 issue of The New Yorker Magazine commented: “You can ask, why didn’t human beings make civilization fifty thousand years ago? You know that they had just as big brains as we have today.

When you put it in a climatic framework, you can say, “Well, it was the ice age. And also, this ice age was so climatically unstable that each time you had the beginning of a culture they had to move. Then came the present interglacial– ten thousand years of very stable climate. The perfect conditions for agriculture. If you look at it, it’s amazing. Civilizations in Persia, in China, and in India start at the same time, maybe six thousand years ago. They all developed writing and they all developed religion and they all built cities, all at the same time, because the climate was stable. I think that if the climate would have been stable fifty thousand years ago it would have started then. But they had no chance.”

The nuance of Steffensen’s comment is that, all along, humans were as dependent on global climate as any other creature. The advancement of human society through nomadic, agricultural, industrial, and modern periods has always been taught with the nuance that humans grew in sophistication and it was their independent intelligence that lifted them from the past ages. Steffensen implies that it was simply a stable global climate in which to have the human experience.

One would think that our brains should not have taken 10,000 years to move from grubbing for roots to growing roots, to canning roots, to making altered roots. However, there were those distractions:  war, predation, unlimited population growth, not replacing parts of the Earth we borrowed like water, dysfunctional environments left behind, lust, and unbeknown, thereby disrupting the global climate – the real reason our species is in trouble. 10,000 years was long enough to forget our place in the Earth’s command of life.

Heavy stuff. The mariner will continue another time.

Ancient Mariner


On Friday, Stanford University released a study by internationally prestigious scientists that declared planet Earth is well into the sixth mass extinction (Holocene). The report has charts and other references that indicate the fabric of the planet’s ecosystem is collapsing at an ever increasing rate. The report predicted the collapse would occur in about three human lifetimes (315 years+or-). The report further suggested that humans will be one of the earlier extinctions because of human dependence on so many environmental and specie services, e.g., naturally cleaned water, pollination by bees, and stable weather patterns for vegetation.

The mariner is befuddled that no television outlet grabbed this issue. If the reader hadn’t come across an article on a few websites, the reader would never know that extinction of Homo sapiens has become a statistical reality – near enough that today’s elementary school children will have their lives disrupted in significant if not fatal ways. Despite what the Bible says about Armageddon, it will not occur in one day. It will occur faster and faster over time. For the most part, symptoms will involve starvation, disease, economic collapse, vandalism and true anarchy as governments will not have the resources to quell the collapse of rule by law.

There is a book on this subject published recently by Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. (The mariner’s town library has a copy as well as a copy of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). Klein has written several books on the subject of economic greed destroying the planet. Following is an excerpt from the New York Times book review for This Changes Everything:

“Klein diagnoses impressively what hasn’t worked. No more claptrap about fracked gas as a bridge to renewables. Enough already of the international summit meetings that produce sirocco-quality hot air, and nonbinding agreements that bind us all to more emissions. Klein dismantles the boondoggle that is cap and trade. She skewers grandiose command-and-control schemes to re-engineer the planet’s climate. No point, when a hubristic mind-set has gotten us into this mess, to pile on further hubris. She reserves a special scorn for the partnerships between Big Green organizations and Immense Carbon, peddled as win-win for everyone, but which haven’t slowed emissions. Such partnerships remind us that when the lamb and the lion lie down together, only one of them gets eaten.

In democracies driven by lobbyists, donors and plutocrats, the giant polluters are going to win while the rest of us, in various degrees of passivity and complicity, will watch the planet die. “Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews,” Klein writes. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.”

The point is, there is a mountain of resistance to change – especially on capitalist philosophy and the ingrained demand for ever increasing profits. How long will it take Earth’s humans to break the most successful profit engine in history? The Mass Extinction report implies that everything must be corrected in two lifetimes to prevent full collapse of the environment.

The mariner includes one chart from the report that ties the development of the mass extinction, or conversely, the destruction of the global environment, back to the beginning of the industrial age.

extinct animals

An easy to read article is available at the following link:

As Naomi Klein pointed out (and Pogo), our own perceptions of what is good, better and best for each human, each of all species, and the planet environment itself, is a myth. We do not have a model of human behavior that matches the reality around us – nor will reality accept it. Yet, humans are delinquent and tardy in how they manage their own place on the planet.

How many years will it take for humans to eliminate arrogance and hubris and recognize that we are not the reason for the Earth to exist?

How many years will it take for core cultural values to recognize that Homo sapiens is not, by a high count, the superior species. We are more dependent on many other species than they are on us.

How many years will it take to dismantle capitalism and nationalism? If history serves correctly, once a nation has cured its unstable situation of war and abuse, it won’t be until the third generation thereafter before that nation will have leaders unscarred and unbiased in their decisions about national policy and culture.

The mariner will have more on the Holocene as matters develop. He presents only high level concepts and ideas in this post; he depends on the reader to pursue links and news sources that will add more substance to this issue.

Ancient Mariner