“Do not sigh for Lindbergh’s wonderful luck, but determine to emulate Lindy’s glorious pluck” wrote a young Lyndon Baines Johnson, passionate for what he perceived as a revived American spirit following the disaster of World War 1. In Lindbergh, Johnson saw not just the American spirit, but the human need to explore, the extraordinary feats of progress when deep ideological chains are replaced by politically ensured freedoms (advanced for the time period) combined with individual determination.
Lindbergh’s achievement may seem so distant to those of us almost 100 years later, but that represents perhaps just two prior generations when the whole picture is examined. Indeed, my grandparents were born in that decade that saw the conquering of the Atlantic by flight, and my dad – not yet at retirement age – was born a decade before LBJ ascended to the Presidency on the death of Kennedy. In the time frame of human history, it is a click of the fingers.
Too often the religious are quick to mock the concept of human evolution from ape-like ancestors, as if it a negative. You’ll hear scorn poured on the idea that we “come from monkeys”. Ed Husain disappointed his legion of liberal fans recently by implying that Darwin’s discovery was necessarily racist (a bizarre conflation of morality and ethics, with nature, when no such thing exists). There is a desire in the mind of the parties of god to deny basic scientific fact if it happens to contradict their official origins story. Yet it is our ape-like ancestors whom we have to thank for everything. It is they who sparked the first controlled fires, it is they who left the safety of the jungle and crossed the World, it is they who purified water, it is they who created the tools that gave us a hunting advantage when threatened with daily starvation, it is they who against the odds fought the elements, came close to extinction & survived, it is they who created the first remedies, it is they who developed language and art, it is they who began to try to explain their place in the universe, contemplate the stars, harness the sun, and whose self awareness was the beginning of the universe trying to understand itself & who invented the gods that are now used to obscure their extraordinary achievements. From those ancestors, we have all the innovations that lead to Lindbergh, and to me sitting on a plane somewhere over France, watching the sunset from a vantage point that so few humans have ever had the privilege of seeing. Indeed, from early humans, to Roman republicans, from Homo Habilis, to Ben Franklin & Rousseau, such a small percentage of we apes have enjoyed this sight. From this vantage point, it is inconceivable to me that we would not honour those ancestors that out of necessity, created & conquered & gave us luxury.
And even if by some miracle, a thesis is produced that thoroughly disproved evolution, instead confirming the story of Adam & Eve, we still wouldn’t have them nor a god to thank for human progress. We’d have the devil snake that permitted free-thought to thank for our ingenuity and survival.
Perhaps our desire to explore comes from the same place as our desire to understand everything immediately (thus creating gods as quick and easy explanations). Perhaps our wonderful sense of touch that permits the wind to take our breath away or the sun in summer to revitalise us after a grey winter persuades us to seek those sensations. Perhaps our fear of death, of existing in a finite speck of time conflicts with our desire to know all and see all. I am now sat watching my fellow apes on the beach with a spectacular view of the Meditarranean sea, the jagged rocks with layers of history, the buildings we have created across the shoreline, the clear and cold water reminding me that I’m alive as it crashes against my legs, placating that desirous sense of touch, and at the back of my mind is the theme that runs through human history, from the moment our species burst onto the tapestry of life right through to Lindbergh & beyond; at some point – any point – I will cease to exist, and never see this beautiful picture, nor feel the sea breeze nor the waves against me again. And so I need to experience it all now.