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Will We Ever Evolve? (part 3)

By Dave Butler

In their posts over the last two weeks, Pam and Greg pushed me to think about evolution. But not necessarily the kind described in Origin of a Species, Charles Darwin’s seminal and

controversial book on evolutionary biology published in 1859.

Rather, I thought about how we as humans are moving forward (or not, depending on your perspective…), and how that is revealed in our fiction and our politics, and in that fascinating place where the two intersect.

As a Canadian, I watched events unfold in the U.S. over the last few weeks … from election day to claims of “big dumps” of illegal votes, and from the insurrection at the Capitol Building to President Biden’s inauguration. Some days, I felt shock and horror. More recently, however, I felt hope for the future, and pride in my American neighbors for coming through it all, despite the tragic loss of life. I was struck by the show of respect for the Capitol police officer who saved lives, and the class shown by those on both sides of the aisle who attended the inauguration, including some appointed by or still loyal to ‘45.’ We all witnessed the physical distancing … and the philosophical distances. And the young poet laureate? Wow.

As we all know, however, there were many “truth is stranger than fiction” and “you can’t make this stuff up” moments during the past few bizarre months.

As a writer, it’s all grist for the mill. And for those of us who write mysteries and thrillers, it’s a veritable gold-mine of plot ideas.

Since the pandemic hit in March, I’ve been working on a new stand-alone eco-thriller about cross-border water issues – ‘Means to an End.’

Penultimate chapters in the book are set on the streets of Washington, DC, with the Capitol Building and house special committees playing key roles in the story’s climax. Over the last few weeks, I thought about the Washington-based police officer (in a department that, for now, will remain unnamed) who agreed to be an adviser for my book. He was intimately involved in security planning for the inauguration, and some of my earlier questions to him now seem strangely prescient (the fact that my web search history may put me on even more watch lists is something I can’t worry about – welcome to the world of crime writing).

What’s the link to evolution, you ask? I watch the increasing divisions on both sides of the Canada – U.S. border … between left and right, conservative and liberal, between races and sexual orientations and religions, and I can’t help but wonder: are we really evolving? Is our continued failure to use facts and science evidence of our evolution, or a gradual

retrogression in our thinking? Are we simply repeating the past?

For example, why is at least one provincial government in Canada arguing for trade sanctions against the U.S. because President Biden, in one of his first executive orders, revoked a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline? He’d been signalling his intention to do that for at least two years, so why is there any surprise that he did what he said he would do in the interest of fighting climate change? More importantly, where is the rational conversation about alternatives and options, about ways to move the economy forward without destroying the environment, about solutions that integrate the two?

Instead, we seem to fall back on fighting about what is right and what is wrong, what is black and what is white, about who will be the winner and who the loser. And we often ignore science and facts while we do so.

As I wrote in my April 18, 2020 post (, I remain hopeful that through our novels, we can emphasize that there are always many shades of gray between right and wrong.

Through strong characters and compelling plots, and by presenting facts and science accurately and in the proper context, perhaps we can help our readers – even if only for a moment – to see themselves in someone else’s shoes, to think about other perspectives, to question their own thinking. To learn about how the world actually works.

Because evolution occurs over many generations, we can only keep writing … and keep hoping we’re making a difference.

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