This is such an excellent point. There is some virtue in the idea of moderation — conservation, “living simply” so that others may “simply live.”
Yet it is because of modern man’s excess that we are doing so well as a species. It is because we use too much that we are forced to keep innovating, trading, and communicating.
Had modern man’s ravenous hunger for bread not won out over his conservationist instincts, mold would never have grown in Alexander Fleming’s fridge and we would still succumb to the diseases now virtually eviscerated thanks to penicillin.
It may be reactionary to swallow up resources simply because we can. But we are modern men, and this is what characterizes our species. Indeed, we are Americans, and it is because we prefer ever-more that we remain among the most innovative people on earth.
In today’s WSJ, letter-writer Gerald P. Hanner makes this point beautifully:
They Were Tough, but Where Are They Now?
It may be the case, as anthropologist Peter McAllister claims, that modern man is a shadow of his former self (“Visualizer: ‘Manthropology’: How Modern Man Stacks Up Against the Ancients,” Review, Oct. 23), but I’m skeptical. I’ll accept on faith the claim that ancient runners were faster, ancient poets recalled poetry better and ancient soldiers endured greater hardships. The ancients had to excel in those areas—or die. Natural selection is a marvelous way of allowing the top talent to bubble to the top of the heap.
However, comparing humans to Neanderthals in the area of brute strength is invidious. Neanderthals were another species. Humans aren’t able to beat an adult chimpanzee at arm wrestling, let alone an orangutan or gorilla. The great apes are physically much stronger and their skeletal structures much more robust than humans. Yet we survive and live to longer ages than the great apes—and the Neanderthals are long gone.
Gerald P. Hanner