You are a mid-tier predator; your ancestors ate everything below them in the food chain, and were eaten by everything above. Big brains and fire dramatically altered that equation; we picked up a rock, then put an edge on it, then put that sharp rock on the end of a stick — and as that axe was handed down from generation to generation, so, too, the truth of it: the first one to brain the other wins. Eventually, the rock became increasingly durable metals even as the brain, and what had to happen to it, remained the same.
Walk that process of innovation far enough forward in time and it’s no longer necessary for you to know how to deal with a lion. But we’ve always had to know how to deal with each other. The information around how to hunt humans has been passed down in an unbroken chain of ever-finer refinement…
Like fire, the invention of writing changed everything. We were no longer constrained by what a single human brain could hold; the dead could speak to the living, freeing us to move forward beyond where they ended.
The advent of firearms lead to a slow bleed of what had, up until that moment, been critical knowledge: how to handle humans with your bare hands. This was due to a combination of the effectiveness of firearms, the reduction in the amount of effort required to achieve the desired result, and the natural laziness of the human brain. Why spend hours training mind and body for hand-to-hand action when you can just pull and point?
But the loss of that original knowledge means that without a gun you are helpless against those who have them. You are helpless against those who know that most people don’t know how to put a human down with nothing more than their brain, their mass, and their skeleton.
The loss of that vital, ancestral knowledge makes us cattle. Those who know the truth about violence — and how to use the threat of violence — have unearned power over the masses who don’t need that knowledge on a day-to-day basis (or perhaps ever across their lucky lifetimes)… until, of course, they suddenly do. And as violence is a critical life event — a bottlenecking that can pinch your lifespan short — a little knowledge can go a long way. Like the-rest-of-your-life long.
The information we teach has existed in written form for 100 generations, only three of which have been in the modern, Western, capitalist mode. That’s 97 generations where it was handed down purely because it was useful. It has been far less necessary for daily survival in those last three generations, which means it is in perpetual danger of being fumbled in the handoff.
We can’t be complacent and rest on the laurels of those who came before us, or even our own hard-won laurels; “But historically it kicked ass!” doesn’t mean it kicks ass today. Regardless of myth and legend the system is only as good as the last time someone had to use it to thread that existential bottleneck — which was just a few short weeks ago. For that one person in that one moment, the millennia of effort to research, record, maintain and transfer the information was more than worth it.
We draw an unbroken lineage all the way from the first human who put a rock in their fist and cracked another in the head with it to that most recent incident. The axe came into our hands from the deep past; we practiced swinging it, took it apart, cleaned it up, reengineered the haft, recast the head in modern alloys, and put a monomolecular edge on it.
While this sounds like we did something amazing, we really didn’t — we just took hold of it with one hand and figured out how to pass it to the other. We didn’t invent it, we don’t own it. It belongs to everyone with a brain, mass, and skeleton. We are merely the conduits through which it will get handed down to the next generation. This is an invitation to come and be a part of that — to claim your birthright — as we extend the haft to anyone with the strength to wield it.
— Chris Ranck-Buhr