Imagine that during the first three million
Read more on
years of human life people were enacting a story.
And that it was man’s destiny to enact that story.
Not just for three million years. For thirty
For three hundred million years.
For the lifetime of our planet, perhaps.
Billions of years.
It was that good a story.
It was a good story, good for the lifetime of a genus.
But it was not a story about power—about
conquest and mastery and ruling.
Enacting it didn’t make people powerful.
Enacting it, people didn’t need to be powerful.
Because, enacting it, people didn’t need to rule
Imagine that ruling the world was something they
thought they didn’t need to do.
Because it was already being done.
As it had always been done.
As it had been done from the beginning.
Imagine that they had a different supposition
about the world and man’s place in it.
Imagine that they didn’t suppose, as Homo
magister does, that the world belongs to man,
that it is his to conquer and rule.
Imagine that, in their ignorance, they supposed
something else entirely.
Imagine that they supposed something completely
That man belongs to the world.
It was never hidden.
It was only hidden from Homo magister
because he was sure that what had shaped
their lives was nothing—an absence of
Not a different supposition about the world
and man’s place in it.
Man belongs to the world.
Actually, it’s plainly written in their lives.
It’s plainly written in the general community to
which they belonged: the community of life on
Anyone can read it.
You just have to look.
Every creature born in the biological community
of the earth belongs to that community. Nothing
lives in isolation from the rest; nothing can live
in isolation from the rest. Nothing
lives only in itself, needing nothing from the community.
Nothing lives only for itself,
owing nothing to the community.
is untouchable or untouched.
Every life in the community is owed to the
community—and is paid back to the community in
The community is a web of life, and every strand
of the web is a path to all the other strands.
Nothing is exempt. Nothing is special.
Nothing lives on a strand by itself, unconnected
to the rest.
Nothing is wasted. Everything that lives is food
And everything that feeds is ultimately itself fed
upon or in death returns its substance to
And in belonging to the community, each species is shaped.
By belonging—by feeding and being fed upon,
each generation of each species is shaped. Of each
generation, some, better suited to survive, live to
reproduce. Others, less well suited, do not.
And so the generations are shaped.
By belonging to the community that shapes them.
Nothing is exempt from the shaping.
The fishes that, four hundred million years ago,
lived in the off-shore shallows of the oceans were
And learned to venture up onto the land.
And in venturing onto the land were shaped by
their contact with the community already living
And, being shaped, over millions of years,
became reptiles. No longer tied to the shore, the
reptiles ventured inland.
Where they were shaped.
So that, over millions of years, some of them
became birds. So that some of them, shaped in
another way, became mammals.
And the mammals, belonging to a community
of plants, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, were
shaped. Into many different forms. Into bats and
anteaters and dogs and horses and deer and
elephants and apes.
And all of these were shaped.
By belonging to the community of life.
By feeding and being fed upon.
And, over millions of years, the members of
one branch of the family of apes were shaped
into a manlike creature we call Australopithecus
And Australopithecus africanus was
shaped over millions of years until he became
and taller and still more manlike.
Because he had been shaped.
Because he had belonged to the community of life.
And, being shaped over millions of years,
Australopithecus robustus became still
stronger and taller and more manlike, until, looking
at him, we have to call him . . . man. Homo
Man was born belonging to the world.
He did not exempt himself from that shaping
just because he was man. And so he continued to
belong to the community that had shaped him.
And, by belonging to it, continued to be shaped.
And, being shaped, Homo habilis became
stronger and taller and more dexterous and
more intelligent, until, looking at him, we have
to give him a new name: Homo erectus.
And Homo erectus was born being shaped,
and he belonged to the community that was
His life belonged to that community. And those
of each generation who were less well suited
to survive in the community rendered back
their lives at an early age, while the rest lived on to
And so Homo erectus was shaped, so
that he became stronger, taller, more agile, more
dexterous, and more intelligent, until, looking at him,
we have to call him . . . us. Homo sapiens.
And Homo sapiens was born being shaped.
He was born a member of the
community that was shaping him.
Not exempt from membership by virtue of his
greater intelligence. Not isolated from the rest
by virtue of his capacity to wonder and dream.
Not aloof from the rest by virtue of his knowing
that he was unlike the rest in these ways. A part
of the rest. And being a part of the rest,
Homo sapienswas shaped.
Shaped not by nothing.
Shaped not by ignorance.
Shaped by belonging to the community of life.
Which was itself being shaped.
The community itself was being shaped.
The matter was being handled.
Not by man.
The shaping of the world was not in man’s hands.
It was in other hands, which had shaped it from the beginning.
It was in the hands of the gods.
The gods were shaping the community of life on
And man belonged to that community and was
being shaped with it and in it.
Man was being shaped by the gods.
Man was living in the hands of the gods. And
the gods did not rebuke him.Or send him teachers.
Or send him saviors.
Because there was no need to.
Because he was living in their hands.
Man had found his destiny.
He had been fulfilling it from the beginning.
It was his destiny to live in the hands of the gods.
For the lifetime of this planet.
And, following the supposition with which he had
been born—the supposition that man belongs to
the world Homo sapiens was shaped.
The shaping had hardly begun.
The shaping had hardly begun, but he was
already a singer of songs and a dancer and a
painter and a sculptor.
The shaping had hardly begun, when, in one
part of the world, one branch of the family of
Homo sapiens said:
Man was not born to be shaped.
Man was born to shape.
Man was not born to be shaped by the world.
He was born to shape the world.
Man was not born to live in the hands of the gods.
Man was born to live in his own hands.
We have been testing the wrong supposition.
Man doesn’t belong to the world.
The world belongs to man.
Homo magister had been born. And
he was born refusing to be shaped any further,
refusing to be shaped as man had been shaped
from the beginning—by belonging to the community
He didn’t belong to that community.
That community belonged to him.
He didn’t owe his life to it.
It owed its life to him.
He took that life and made himself the master of it.
He took the life of the biological community into
his own hands and used it as if it belonged to him.
It wasn’t a technological advance.
It was a rebellion.