“If you wish to converse with me,” the French philosopher Voltaire is said to have remarked, “define your terms.” Since I am about to publish a book titled with what is essentially a new term—“Evolutionaries”—Voltaire’s wisdom applies doubly. So this post is intended to briefly explain what I intend to mean by this term, which is beginning to be used by greater numbers in culture today. (A note of gratitude—I did not coin the term “Evolutionary,” but received it from branding visionary Kevin Clark. Others have also independently coined the term, as far as I know.) In the coming months, I’ll be expanding on my definition of the term, building up to the book’s release in May of this year.
Perhaps the closest word to “Evolutionary” in today’s parlance is the term “evolutionist”, a word commonly associated with evolutionary theory in academic circles. Evolutionist is defined in dictionaries as a person who is an “adherent to the theory of evolution.” As suggested by that distinction, it is a term that has traditionally been associated with a person who strongly believes in and is influenced by the scientific theory of evolution. It is a term often contrasted with creationists, or biblical literalists, or other various Darwinian dissenters who proliferate on the reactionary edges of modernity.
Clearly, there is much overlap between Evolutionaries and evolutionists. But I intend for Evolutionary to convey something more as well. Evolutionary is a play on the word revolutionary, and I mean it to convey something of the revolutionary nature of evolution as an idea. Evolutionaries are revolutionaries, with all the personal and philosophical commitment that word implies. They are not merely curious bystanders to the evolutionary process, passive believers in the established sciences of evolution. They are committed activists and advocates—often passionate ones—for the importance of evolution at a cultural level. They are positive agents of change, who subscribe to an underappreciated truth: that evolution, comprehensively understood, implicates the individual. Indeed, an Evolutionary is someone who has internalized evolution, who appreciates it not only intellectually but also viscerally. Evolutionaries recognize the vast process we are embedded within but also the urgent need for our own culture to evolve and for each of us to play a positive role in that outcome.
Are you an evolutionary? Do you suspect that there may be hints of meaning to be found in the process that turned a seething lithosphere into a thriving biosphere and eventually into a surging noosphere? Do you think there may be a relationship, however subtle, between the vast processes that have governed cosmic evolution, the biological forces of terrestrial evolution and the cultural processes that have taken us from totems and taboos to terabytes and human rights in less then 10,000 years? And if so, what does all of that mean about the problems and issues—political, social, philosophical and metaphysical—facing us today? What does the world look like through the eyes of an evolutionary? Let’s not raise our fists; let’s elevate our minds and invest ourselves in the great challenge of our time—embracing the deep-time past and the creative possibilities of the future, and bringing them both into the conversations of the present.