A Higher Species

What does it mean to be a higher species?

The definition is toyed with by philosophers and scientists constantly, and changed as we come to understand the world around us. Usually, the definition is meant to include ONLY humans, and to exclude all other animals we know of.

What makes us different? We build cities? Ants build cities.

We talk? Whales seem to talk. Heck, one even tried to talk to us.

Lots of things get proposed, but then we find out it’s not what makes us different. Perhaps, like the concept of a disaster needing seven mistakes to happen all together before a plane goes down, we are merely a conglomeration of several dramatic higher level functions all combining to make us unique.

Or perhaps we are wrong to exclude the other animals.

When science fiction writers get hold of this idea, they usually bring in alien species, or ‘raise’ one of our own species to our level. But what is this really? It is an anthropomorphic tendency that people fall into, I think. They want these other species to be like us, but that’s not necessarily needed, in my opinion.

I want to add something to the mix, if it’s not already there: the concept of trust. I don’t know how many other species ‘trust’ other members of their societies to the extent that we do. Perhaps ants do, but I doubt it.

Trust is an intrinsic part of our civilisation. We trust each other not to steal. We trust each other not to scream at each other (most of the time). We trust that something that we own today will be with us down the road. We trust we will be allowed to live peacefully, and to control our own bodies. We go to such extents to solidify these trusts that we imprison (or even kill) those who breach that trust: murderers, thieves, rapists.

When wars are fought, they are generally fought to punish or enforce a trust. A border, the safety of others, etc. Note that our U.N. is reluctant to punish even rogue nations that engage in untrustworthy behaviors within their own borders – so strong is the feeling that we must maintain the trust that we will not interfere with the ruling of another geographic region, lest the other nations not trust us.

The United States Bill of Rights is a list of trusts encoded into our history and our societal DNA.

Trust makes even something like banking go around. Think about why we have banks and what function they serve, aside from greasing the wheels of capitalism. What is that word, but the simple idea that we trust people to follow the money?

Banks take your money and agree to give it back later. We today spend thousands of dollars on credit cards – never even touching the moneys of the past. There’s no gold or silver, there’s no paper with fancy images. Just digital ones and zeros, and a bank behind it saying “Our data is right, our systems are accurate and secure, this person has so much money.” And others trust that. The bank also trusts you.

The bank trusts that your payment history and your tendencies to pay something back will be followed. Banks give away billions of dollars based on the idea that most people will pay their debts. It may take them 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years, but the banks, and thus the investors buying and owning the loans are willing to trust the people paying on the debts for that long.

They are putting their trust in this whole huge system, based on the counterintuitive notion that humanity actually trusts each other. We trust each other to do what is right, most of the time.

This is actually really optimistic of us. Perhaps naive, but it has served us well. Without this trust, would we be at the level we are today?

Would we be a higher species at all? I think not.