A Bit About Us

Anthropogeny and Anthropolitics

You and I really are quite close relatives. We know from biology, from genetics, from nuclear decays, from archaeology, and more, that we had a common ancestor just a few hundred thousand years ago. You are perhaps my ten-thousandth cousin and certainly not much further than that. Every single difference between us—from size and shape and color, to the languages we invented along the way, to the cultural practices and beliefs through which we have experienced and understood the world—has arisen in the passing of information down through just a few thousands of generations.

In contrast it is a few millions of years since we together separated from our closest living relatives in chimpanzees, and some ~70 million years since the common ancestor of all primates. When you meet some primate, whether it is a lemur or a spider monkey or an orangutan, it is something not more than say your 10^7th cousin. And I claim that if one holds to empiricism—understanding the world first by looking at the available data—and patiently observes their behavior, this is such an incredibly obvious fact. Our kinship is revealed in every combatative encounter of unfamiliar tribes of gorillas. With every mother monkey showing its children which fruit are alright to eat and which are to be avoided. Every time young apes play with each other, or exhibit curiosity about a change of scenery. And really also far beyond these closest relatives of ours to deep connections to the workings of every other animal, and further.

The point is that we are all far, far more deeply connected to each other than most ‘traditional cultural beliefs’ teach. This should have an enormous impact on how we understand governance and political philosophy.

The problem is that I grew up thinking—and for a long time still contained vestigial intuition based on the belief— that humans appeared on Earth quite relatively recently, and in essentially their current form. And in this framework it could at least be imagined that we had no necessary positive moral claims on each other. By which I mean that in our original forms we are separate entities who are entirely disjointed and any association of you and I should be entered into voluntarily.

Not so. There really is no way that you can live your life in a way that does not influence that of others. This long shared history means that, for example, we may unwittingly transmit contagious respiratory infections to each other. This by itself means there are in-principle limits on autonomy, as necessarily there are ways to accidentally harm other people. We are also deeply dependent on the same natural resources, and have the same basic social needs, from living quarters to waste disposal to nourishment. This necessitates environmental protections, and strongly motivates communal agreements on how to manage and provide basic services.

More to come.