Caitlin Johnstone

Learning to Fly – My Take on Humanity after Vegas

After the ugliness that revealed itself in Las Vegas, I’m wondering how we start to heal, and indeed where we go from here.


Dozens dead, hundreds wounded in the Las Vegas mass shooting. Last I heard the body count was at 58, but with so many wounded that number will almost certainly rise. The Spanish government has been attacking dissident voters in Catalonia and Tom Petty is dead.

I don’t really know what to say about any of this.

The Vegas shooter was an old white guy named Steve, apparently, and not much else is known about him as of this writing. I’m seeing some folks all across the spectrum trying to use the tiny bit of information they have to try and make some kind of political argument, but for the most part people are just asking what the hell is wrong with society.

Being a human is weird, man. Days like this make it seem even weirder. You come out of the womb clueless and screaming, a bunch of grownups teach you what they were taught by the grownups who got here before them, then before you know it you’re walking around on your hind legs with a sex drive and a student loan debt. Then the talking heads on TV tell you, “Oh hey, sometimes people flip out and shoot hundreds of other people and we don’t really know why or how to stop it.”

You don’t get much less clueless after your first day here, either, and you never really finish with those initial disoriented screams. It turns out that these newly-evolved primate brains of ours are extremely useful for figuring out how to do things like cure diseases and rig a gun to fire rounds of ammunition in rapid succession, but they’re just not terribly useful for answering life’s big questions.

What are we doing here? What’s it all about? Why am I experiencing something instead of nothing, and how am I meant to respond to it? Our species didn’t evolve its capacity for abstract thought in order to answer such questions, but to help us out-survive and out-thrive other competing organisms.

And we’ve been remarkably successful in doing so. Our old non-human predators are all extinct or nearly so, viruses and bacteria have a much harder time killing us than they used to, and we’ve gotten pretty good at producing lots of food for ourselves. The most dangerous predator any organism on this planet will ever face is a human, and this includes other humans. We’re primates — social, tribal creatures by nature — and we’re all clustered together in these colonies where we have to figure out how to get along so we don’t get lonely while also coping with the reality that we’re all surrounded by the deadliest predators on planet Earth.

Like I said, man, it’s weird.

I don’t know off the top of my head what our planet’s first flying creatures were, but I can’t imagine whatever it was would’ve had a very easy time of it at first. Just getting the whole wing thing going evolutionarily would have been a major task, then fine-tuning it over countless generations of natural selection as everyone who couldn’t hack it succumbed to the force of gravity again and again was probably just awkward for everyone. The transition to winged flight must have looked pretty ridiculous for a while there.

I think we humans are in a similarly awkward evolutionary transition phase ourselves. These massive cerebral cortices developed in our skulls relatively quickly and, like a pubescent boy who hasn’t figured out how to make his longer limbs and extra muscle mass work gracefully yet, we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. Our mental capacity has made us the planet’s dominant species, but it can also make our existence so uncomfortable that we’ll develop addictive habits or commit suicide — or even shoot automatic rifles into a crowd of people — in a desperate attempt to find a way out of the pain. Our brains are so advanced that we’ve started blowing them out of our skulls using machines they helped us invent.

Imagine what we could do if we pointed seven and a half billion human brains toward the collaborative effort of making the very best world possible for us all.

It hurts to be human, and that’s generally why we do such horrible things to each other and to our environment. Thought dominates our experience, generally becoming the writer, director, and star of the show instead of the useful tool it was meant to be. We try to use our immense power of thought to manipulate and control life in a way that makes us feel okay, but we didn’t evolve our capacity for thought to make us feel okay, so it doesn’t work. We make ourselves more and more miserable with the thought patterns that we generate and imbue with belief, and we hurt those who surround us more and more the worse that misery gets.

And that’s the essence of humanity’s current struggle right there, in my opinion; we’re stuck on a rock with seven and a half billion of the deadliest predators of all time, and we’re all trying and failing to feel okay. Even if we’ve technically got everything we need to survive and thrive as an organism, our thoughts are always churning out these discontented stories about potential threats to our well-being. We try to control and dominate our fellow deadly predators using money, power, and manipulations so that we’ll feel more safe and secure, and whoever’s the best at that game winds up being in charge. Generally, the more willing you are to step on other people, to destroy the environment, and knock down anything that stands in your way, the better you are at the game.

Which is why we’re all ruled by sociopaths now.

Which is, of course, the next evolutionary hurdle we’re going to have to clear as a species in order to survive this awkward transition phase instead of going the way of the dinosaurs. In order to avoid extinction via nuclear holocaust or ecocide, we’re going to have to, at some point in the very near future, transcend this willingness to run the whole planet through a wood chipper in order to feel okay. This world is too small and too fragile for us to continue trying to out-survive and out-thrive our fellow humans and the ecosystemic context in which we evolved; we’re going to have to learn to move into a collaborative relationship with it all instead.

This will naturally involve a change in the way we relate to the concept of power — the oligarchs who control this world’s affairs can be shrugged off like a heavy coat on a warm day if we simply decide to stop honoring the power structures they’ve created while trying to dominate us all so that they can feel safe and secure. Power only exists where it exists because we’ve all agreed to act as though that’s where power exists, and at any time we can simply stop collaborating with that arrangement and start collaborating with each other instead.

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But before we can do that there’s going to have to be a fundamental shift in our species’ relationship with thought. As long as we’re believing all these churning narratives in our heads filling us with greed and fear in order to protect and secure our mental egoic constructs, we’re going to keep playing the same game the oligarchs are playing and waging interminable warfare upon ourselves and our ecosystem in order to try and feel okay.

For us to pull up and away from our current omnicidal trajectory, we’re going to have to learn to fly. We’re going to have to learn how to collaborate with our brothers and sisters and be content with enough. The vast majority of human creativity and ingenuity currently goes toward trying to stomp on other people to get ahead; toward warfare, weaponry, economics, needless industry, media manipulation, advertising, etc. We do that despite the fact that there is clearly enough for everyone. Imagine what we could do if we pointed seven and a half billion human brains toward the collaborative effort of making the very best world possible for us all. The fact that this isn’t happening is the only thing standing between our current predicament and heaven on earth.

I don’t know how this can happen, I just see us moving very quickly to a point where we’ll all die if it doesn’t. It is possible that it could be brought about by something as simple as a large chunk of the population realizing all at once that they’ve been lied to their entire lives. It could be as mundane as some major revelation showing the West that their government, media, and intelligence networks have been working together to lie to them about Russia. The impact of the realization that everyone they trust has deceived them and everything they thought they knew about their government, their world, their society, and themselves is steeped in deception could be enough to shake human consciousness on such a deep level to such an extent that the old thought patterns are disrupted far too severely to keep repeating.

My experience has been that reality just needs one tiny crack of light where it can get a word in edgewise in order to drastically change things forever. We’re at evolve-or-die time and humanity has never been more ready for sanity than it is right now. It won’t take much to carry us into a radically unprecedented paradigm we can’t even imagine right now. All we can do as individuals at this point is be as open to truth as possible, speak our truth loudly and apologetically, and be ready to leap when it’s time to fly.

We’ll find out which Tom Petty song we’re in when that time comes.


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