Saturday, October 07, 2017

Dream or Dystopia?

I read this piece today, then this one. Reading the first I thought, as one commenter posted, "Well, it's choice, isn't it." Addiction to anything is a choice not to find a way to let it go, even when we recognize its detrimental effects in our lives. But we are indeed on the cusp of some kind of massive global failure of what we consider to be civilization, as posited by some of the Silicon-Valley-defecting groundbreakers interviewed in the first piece. The only question is whether mankind will have time to bring it about before nature destroys enough of us and our infrastructure to render society as it stands obsolete. It won't be the end of the world - the Earth will go on with or without us barring anything short of whatever kind of collision it would take to actually vaporize the planet - nor even of humankind, but depending upon how this society ends an evolution may be triggered in future generations that leaves whomever remains of what we currently are to be their Bigfeet.

Social media will most likely play a significant part in any widespread human-caused destruction of civilization. It always has, if we recognize that the traveling bard, the town crier, the seafaring merchant with tales of distant lands, and the local gossip were the Instagram, Facebook, Google, and Twitter of yesteryear. Whether or not they bowed to corporate concerns - and how they did if they did - would have been a matter of whether it was personally worth more to them to tell the truth as they were aware of it, instill trust in their listeners, or whether it was worth more to take some money here and there to skew things, or to be swayed by threats to themselves or their family members, or because their business wouldn't survive the blacklisting they'd experience if they didn't get on the bandwagon, or whatever the case might happen to have been. ("Hey, Homer... Can you make Odysseus sound a little larger than life? The country could use a hero right now.") How corruption creeps into whatever media outlets are available at a given time and place is as varied and unpredictable as into what social groups and structures corruption is able to creep.

Human nature hasn't changed. Our specie, like most, has always had leaders and followers, visionaries and naysayers, teachers and students, and so on. Human nature isn't separate from nature as a whole but a part of it, which is where the second article comes in. I was touched by the account of Mr. Thoreau's perspective as given by Ms. Wulf, the author. (It also made me think of a wise young lady named Cecily with whom I haven't spoken in a while who named her daughter Walden after Mr. Thoreau's seminal work, which is cool but isn't what demonstrates her wisdom so much as does her even-handed, level-headed approach to life.) We can probably influence natural cycles and disrupt the natural order in ways that help to hurry about our own demise, sure, but that demise is inevitable in any case, someday, at least in terms of humans as we know ourselves.

If we go to space, we know that changes will occur in our bodies over time. As generations pass, some changes (mutations, evolutions, call them what you will) will be beneficial and passed along, some won't. Even if we can create ideal conditions in our spacecraft during travel, any new planet we attempt to colonize will require a certain level of adaptation, and after some number of generations have been born on that planet a segment of the population will come to believe that the idea that they came from 'somewhere else' or from the people their ancestors, our descendants, depict as us is figurative, mythical, while others will adhere fervently to some version of their origin story as the absolute truth, although things will be lost and added in translation and interpretation over time. Social, religious, and political systems will be built around various ways of thinking, wars will be fought, won, and lost in the names of those institutions, civilizations will rise and fall, and those people, our descendants, will experience setbacks and ages of enlightenment just like we do, but in their own way and within the parameters of the circumstances in which they find themselves.

If we don't leave, or for those who remain here, at some point even if we don't blast ourselves into oblivion there'll be a natural disaster or a series of disasters that wipes out our infrastructure to a great enough degree that we're reduced to survival. We might have hundreds of thousands or even millions or billions of years before that happens (unlikely), or it could happen today. It could be happening right now and we're just not aware of it yet. The one thing there's no question about is whether such an event will occur. When it does, depending upon what it is, there's a good chance that some segment of humanity will live through it and maybe even rebuild before too many basic genetic changes take place, maybe even surpass where we are now technologically, but given a catastrophe sufficient to push us back to the Dark Ages or even further, most likely before we ever see this place we are again in terms of knowledge and technical understanding, conditions on the Earth will have changed enough to force some degree of evolution. Either way there'll come a time when our descendants will no longer consider us to be the same specie they are.

In a hundred years they'll try to prop up and preserve whatever of our buildings are still standing, for the sake of nostalgia. In a thousand years they'll dig up our artifacts and monuments - whatever's left thereof - and wonder at by what means people as primitive as we must have been made these structures. Mount Rushmore will no longer be maintained and will have eroded, and many people will have changed significantly, so they'll see it and think it almost resembles a carving by some kind of sentient being, but one wouldn't assume it was truly human in their standard by the look. Some will believe it was either made by or depicts extra-terrestrials. Some will say it's a natural formation that just happens to look constructed, but couldn't've been by the primitive people of our day.

Only a few of our structures and tools will survive for very long once there's no one to maintain them, and most of the papers and plastics and silicon to which we entrust our stores of knowledge will break down relatively quickly. Items stored in salt mines like this one and other protected places might survive, if the facilities themselves do, and the people who dig them up will marvel at what great leaders we must've been honoring with these amazing repositories of curious objects. Why did we leave them there, what are they, and how could we possibly have created these structures in which they're stored?

I will say, as long as we're here the human mindset will probably inhabit a body with somewhat similar characteristics to how we are today: Not particularly powerful in any one way, but useful for getting about and for manipulating the materials of our reality, with our bipedal stance and our opposable thumbs. If we look around today, we can see that our specie has reached a population large enough that various segments within it are on one hand evolving to more specialized purposes and on the other doing what individuals in any of the social species do when there are too many of them and things are too easy, getting mean and unhealthy and cannibalizing their own.

The Bible talks about, after the End Times (huh?), a 1,000-year period in which humanity lives in essential peace, which could come about in one of two ways. Either whatever precipitates 'the Apocalypse' leaves so few humans on the planet that individuals and small groups can go whole lifetimes without running into one another, or whatever's left of humanity after an event or series of events so devastating that life as we know it is over learns a lesson and makes a conscious decision to avoid the same fate. I suspect a bit of both is most likely to be the case, and it seems plausible that it would take a thousand years to forget an event of that scale if we were rebuilding from a somewhat small percentage of the current population. It would take time for social groups to absorb enough people to move from survival mode to building/exploring/experimenting/inventing mode, and then time for various government systems to be introduced, and then time for some to start to fail, others to thrive... A thousand years would be long enough for the next phase of humanity (the mindset) to reach a point where there's reward in conflict, division, and destruction. Unless, as has been the case at times in the past, the next phase of humanity is very long-lived, but that seems unlikely unless conditions on the Earth change so much that they're entirely different than us organically, which may be the case.

Is it possible to move from where we are to some dream incarnation of civilization, some utopia, without first experiencing an end to our current age of technology and convenience and relative comfort? Maybe, if we stop taking the seemingly easy way through life and start putting effort toward being the best we're able. If we choose to work at patience, tolerance, understanding, listening and hearing, helping without controlling, seeing and comprehending, those sorts of things, then we'll start to make decisions that are best for the widest possible number and variety of people, and therefore best for us (and vice versa). It's a good idea to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and expect something in between. Maybe the world will just go on as it has been, human population increasing, resources dwindling, dissension rising, forever and ever, amen, but in reality it's a self-limiting problem, as there comes a time when a system built on that sort of foundation must fail. We at MOA have been saying for years, if we as a now global society choose to take responsibility and initiative, control the demolition and have in hand a plan for rebuilding, work toward strengthening our collective social and physical infrastructures and networks, we stand the best chance of moving forward in positive directions. We have little choice but to take whatever nature brings our way in stride as best we're able, protecting what we can, adapting as we go, and always knowing that anything we build can be destroyed by the power of those forces but that collectively we have some control over our human contribution to that destruction.

We believe that humans have been down this road before, on local, regional, and global levels at various times, and that some of the oldest known civilizations on the planet, ones many of us look at as primitive, have been through cycles of technological advancement but decided that living in balance with nature was the most stable path. Other societies that are aware of this reality that nature is no respecter of persons choose to build some structures in the most stable possible places while most of their people live in structures no one will miss when they get washed away in the monsoon or carried away by the tornado or tsunami, built of cheap, accessible building materials and easily replaced. Some societies truly believe that we can build structures that will endure to the end of time, and some of those structures will indeed almost certainly last long enough for archaeologists to dig up what's left of their concrete bones and find curiosities left behind by their occupants in ten-thousand years. Each type of civilization will leave evidence of its passing in its own way, and whatever's found of them will be studied in great detail, ascribed with all sorts of meanings, perhaps interpreted as being temples and tombs and sacred spaces, taken to represent what we held dear, we primitive almost-humans, in our time, what we were willing to go beyond our means to accomplish.

Maybe one of the seemingly-impossible things we'll do will be to experience a paradigm shift in consciousness that allows us to solve all our major ills and learn how to work around the minor ones while advancing our lot in life by leaps and bounds without having to first tear down what we've built in the midst of an enormous temper tantrum. Still and all, no matter how perfect anything seems to one or many or most, there's always a contingent that's dissatisfied. That's (human) nature's way of preventing stagnation: Our compulsion to find or create an issue gives us a problem to solve, in the process of which we inevitably find something new to pursue, so dream leads to dystopia, leads back to dream, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. The story ends where we decide to stop telling it in an infinite, eternal uni-/multiverse. When we decide we're already in a dystopia we can start looking forward to the coming dream.
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