“All life strategies have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of the exploitative-experimental approach is obvious. … We directly manipulate the environment in ways that ensure our populousness and ubiquity, notably in farming. The disadvantage of the exploitative-experimental approach is also obvious. Exploitation is … likely to produce unforeseeable consequences. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”…
“But the party really is over. This really is a special time in history — a critical time. The first full-time farmers of 10,000 years ago were perfectly capable of overfarming (we can see evidence of ancient soil erosion); but even so, they could effectively regard the world as a whole as a limitless resource. There were entire continents still to be discovered, … [Now] the fertile spots have been dug up, ... Agriculturalists can argue about details – can we feed … 10 … 20 or 30 million if we really put our minds to it? – But no sensible person can seriously doubt that the finishing post is now in sight. …
“In short, the attitude that has been so appropriate this last 10,000 years, and has allowed the most exploitative-experimental people to raise inexorably if fitfully to the top, has simply ceased to be appropriate. Yet our economics are geared to the exploitative-experimental approach, and so are our political systems.”
[Note: Here is where the author and I part company. Our social systems have stuck conservatively to the habits and limitations of the past. Experimentation has been forbidden for millennia with respect to anything but marginal improvements to the delusional exploitation of “seek short-term profit by exhausting something precious but considered free.” Unheeding exploitation has trumped acceptance at every level. His exploitative-experimental versus conservative-accepting model turns into mine of conservative exploitation dominating experimental acceptance].
“… Surely it cannot be the case that the only “realistic” course is to head pell-mell for disaster? Is that what the levelheaded, sober-suited people are arguing? …” Colin Tudge, The Time Before History: Five Million Years of Human Impact, Scribner, New York, 1996, p. 342.
Has humanity procrastinated too long to save itself? Will the transformations we require – no matter how well thought-out, carefully planned and optimistic – turn out to be nothing more than a Band-Aid floating atop a green-stick fracture gushing arterial blood? Will Gaya mock our efforts and shrug us off, the way a Grizzly might drown its fleas in vigorous pursuit of its next tasty Salmon? Are we mere biped dinosaurs equipped with marginally improved brains: less worthy of million-year survival than they?
The short answers: probably so, maybe not, and so what?
First off: probably so.
Whether or not this civilization pulls through its next set of challenges, its members will be transformed beyond recognition. This transformation may be a purposeful, clear-eyed one that promotes the greater good for all; or it may be chaotic, anarchic and bent on personal survival at the expense of everyone else. We may thrive as individuals and nations, our dishonesty cast aside to reveal the true beings we would become without them; or we may stick to it until it turns us into wounded, cornered animals hazardous to one and all. In either case, this adjustment will be more intense than our wildest dreams and terrors.
We will evolve beyond recognition, as will our societies. Our replacements will look back on us as mythic beings: either figures of contemptible extravagance or envied role models of matchless prosperity and trouble-free stability.
“Just imagine! They took hot showers more often than once a day if they felt like it! Their electronics were designed to waste electricity when they were shut off! They never walked anywhere, but took a one-ton jalopy wherever they went. Their homes were crammed with idle equipment and tools no one else could use.”
They might view us as spoiled brats set loose to wreck a well-stocked toy store, compared to the austere stewardship of the world to which they will have resigned themselves, proud of their sacrifice. Then again, our worst massacres and plagues may seem to them like the beginner’s spite of a schoolyard bully, compared to hecatombs of weapon hypertechnology that few of them may manage to survive. Our primitive peace technologies may seem alien to them, compared to their nano-tools and biomimetic systems or else compared to older, mud-bound alternatives they may have to resort to or else both.
After surviving eons of lethal ordeals, human beings are born and bred conservative (the few of you out there who assert your radical activism, you are fooling yourselves): “I will only do what my father and his father did — just a little better if I can get away with it.” Unlike the young and even middle aged adults, almost all changes involving old folks like me are for the worse, so…
When I began this chapter, I was watching a televised 2007 debate between ten Republican wannabe replacements for President Bush the Lesser (and during rewrites in 2011 and 2015, racist clowns who sought to replace Obama because they thought themselves superior: thus nothing significant has changed). Their void of spirit was staggering. None of them paid the least attention to the changes about to overwhelm us all; they were intent instead on restoring America to some pre-Crash simulacrum of the 1920s if not the robber barony of the 1870s — as if those pasts could be brought back from the dead. Even though a tidal wave of transformation was cresting over their heads and overshadowing their cliché-ridden notes, none of them took head. They counted on the childish votes cast and the dollars of special interest spent in their favor simply because they refused to pay attention and afforded their supporters the same lethal luxury. They and those they took in will be swamped under that transformation, like children swept out to sea because they were attracted to the tsunami’s preliminary super low tide.
If only we had undertaken these transformations earlier when so many more resources were available!
A handful of Zionist idealists emerged from World War I (sic) sharing the dream of rebuilding ancient Palestine into a modern, high-tech nation-state and regional breadbasket. If only that handful of Jews had been the mass of Learners of every ethnicity, nation and religious conviction, intent on turning the whole world into one federated technological powerhouse and Garden of Eden! Most of them must have been carried out feet first during the intervening wars. If only President Roosevelt had held on for another decade after World War II (sic), his dream of a one-world government might have taken root and we might have become one prosperous tribe on PeaceWorld.
Picture the untold riches of energy, intellect, dedication and selfless discipline needed to murder millions of war victims, wound three times as many, turn a dozen times more into refugees, destroy the homes of a hundred times more, and starve and plague just as many more! Imagine that frenzied effort devoted to peace and mutual benefit instead. Think of stadiums-full of fuel wasted to thrust aircraft carriers, battleships, submarines and transports across the seven seas; wasted to fill the sky with deadly aircraft tasked with burning countless cities to the ground; wasted to roll cities-full of soldiers and their caissons back and forth across Europe, Asia and North Africa; wasted to truck innocents by the million to ovens, gulags, and killing grounds. Think of the incredible wealth we’ve wasted on futile mayhem!
As far as most people are concerned, progressives are best left unheard. Change is by definition perilous; keeping things the way they are seems safer on the whole. The only dramatic transformations we have tolerated are those at the behest of war. Any peaceful transformation proposed on the same scale must be unacceptable.
I bid you, think again!
On occasion, shifting circumstances have warped the status quo beyond the ability of its fans to cope. Once things have gotten that bad, they may resort to dramatic change — But. Oh. So. Reluctantly! Soon afterwards, they will put up with almost anything to resume the golden days of olden ways.
The tendency of every revolution in human history has been to fall back on ancient routines the moment new ones revealed their drawbacks and spawned worse disasters. We have always seemed to fall back on olden ways (for example, allowing ancient royal monarchy to degenerate into modern corporate monarchy: the mirror image of its iniquity), no matter how worthless that retreat may have turned out to be. This innate conservatism may well spell our doom once transformation becomes compulsory.
Second: maybe not.
These problems may appear to exceed our competence because they are so unfamiliar. No matter how staggering our challenges in the future, our efforts to head them off may lend us untapped dexterity instead of hysterical paralysis. We might turn away from the trivial obsessions entertained by modern culture and concentrate on real problems instead. They might shrink to sensible proportions once they were honestly addressed, and turn out to be much easier to resolve than we expected. Better solutions may arise spontaneously once the paperchase pettiness of our bureaucracies flutters away. As initial problems get solved and drop off behind us, our rate of successful transformation may accelerate to liftoff. More of us may take the bull by the horns and vault exultantly over its mighty shoulders; fewer would pirouette away from onrushing progress like matadors anticipating its death stroke.
In addition, we might not be alone in our efforts. There may be alien forces out there beyond our perception, invisible allies and unacknowledged friends. They might be human agents in hiding up ‘til now or beings beyond our ken. Something in the Universe seems to favor life and, by extension, us. Call it God, call it UFO, call it what you will: a benign rewording of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: “intellects vast, cool and […] sympathetic.” A course in miracles may linger just beyond our doorstep, waiting for our rejection of faithless, ourselves-alone scientific determinism and its serial failures.
What might attract this Miracle to us; what transformations would need we undertake? I have sketched a few of them in Learner.
Our first renovations may be of the spiritual kind rather than involving more high tech. The threats we face may dwarf our scientific technologies, render them impotent and irrelevant without psychic supports we cannot yet admit. Religious convictions deeply held in the past may turn out to be obsolete; orthodox approaches to spirit and transcendence, rigid and heartless. Our religious leaders may reveal themselves to be grim fools crouching in their whitened sepulchers or institutional monsters (Serial child molesters? Protectors of fleeing Nazis? Enslavers of women?). Selfless saints that had been ignored up ‘til now may step forward to replace them. We may have to launch an ethical revolution as ground breaking as the industrial one, a spiritual revolution that outshines the scientific one. A new conviction would be based on empathy and cooperation rather than the official cruelty of competitive individualism; and a global humanism to replace ubiquitous national-capitalism and its inevitable wars.
Finally, so what?
Humanity may have doomed itself before it began this transformation in earnest, no matter what else may transpire in the mean time. As with my agonizing rewrites of Learner, we may have tarried too long.
What if every transformation we undertook not only failed to postpone our collective doom but helped bring it about?
Those who have blocked transformation with the intent to prioritize their short-term gain may remain so powerful and malicious that they will cut us down for our trouble – as they’ve managed to do so often in the past – and go on to destroy everything in their orgasm of omnicide that all of their victims have tirelessly prepared. Human civilization may grind to a halt like a wind-up toy wound too hard backwards.
What we need now are idealism, heroism and hope; innovative thought, elegance and creativity. Conservative mediocrity would disgrace us, disgrace the memory of those who’ve drowned in its wake. If we do not undertake this transformation for practical reasons, for reasons of mere survival, we should do so for the sheer glory of it.
Crouching like fools in our self-serving mediocrity, stumbling over the bodies of those wiped out by our incompetence and indifference: that would be brain-simple, brawn-easy and bereft of glory: the fondest wish of Republican politicians far and wide. It would involve no sacrifice, no appeal to genius, no stretch of the imagination; merely relentless self-pity, unearned entitlement and empty claims of exceptionalism.
Reaching out for something that could be better even though declared impossible, perhaps so magnificent as to perch just beyond our reach: that alone would be worthy of our talents and honor.
Every delay from now on will make this transformation more difficult, more risky and less likely to succeed; every month spent weighing our options will make those options more perilous. The longer we do nothing, the more desperate our task will become once we decide to act. The most hazardous choice at this point would be to do nothing and wait, sitting on our hands, the consequences of having done nothing.
What about you? Has it already become too late for you?