|Surviving Human Nature|
The 20th Century
"Every Civilization, born like an animal body has just so much energy to expend...space and time widen to weariness. In the midst of triumph, disenchantment sets in among the young. It is as though with the growth of cities an implosion took place, a final unseen structure, a spore-bearing structure towering upward toward its final release. I am one of the world-eaters in the time that my species has despoiled the earth and are about to loose its spores into space. When the swarming phase of our existence commences, we struggle both against the remembered enchantment of childhood and the desire to extinguish it under layers of concrete and giant stones. Like some few persons in the days of the final urban concentrations, I am an anachronism, a child of the dying light." Loren Eisely. The Invisible Pyramid. 1970
The 20th Century was the century of domination of planet earth by a single species. Human activities have become all pervasive and clusters of human constructions have replaced the natural world in all habitable regions of the planet. Human events are deeply troubling overall but at the same time, much has been accomplished in reaching for a sustainable, good life for some.
The 20th century will be remembered as the century of waking up to the universe as it is. We woke up to our own nature and responsibility and can no longer plead ignorance. Humans changed the face of planet, drove animals and plants into extinction, invented hydrogen bombs and other sophisticated killing machinery. Humans fought wars, experimented with different social, political and economic models of society. We survived two world wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Of all human folly, American-Russian roulette was the winner in the insane game category, mutually assured destruction with hydrogen bombs. The bombs have not gone away and the threat of horrible destruction will recur unless a new international government order is successful in creating a more rational and compassionate world with enforceable laws against killing and habitat destruction.
We have experimented with international coalitions and dreamed of a benevolent world government but human nature, so far, prohibits the realization of the dream. We understood that persistent and unreasonable conflict is characteristic of humans. Humans have proliferated beyond reasonable numbers and despite amazing advances in science and technology; we have not achieved sustainable levels of population, food and energy production. Our infrastructures are temporary and vulnerable.
Most reasonable people now know that we can no longer rely on our instincts and let nature take its course. Nor can we carry on with outdated social, religious and economic ideologies based on misunderstandings of human nature and planet ecology. We have to become better informed and more deliberate. We have to think ourselves out of some dangerous predicaments and we need new ideas of social organization. We need to teach each new human that arrives on the planet how to transcend innate behaviors that are self-destructive and harmful to our species.
The character of the 21st century will be dominated by unsustainable population growth and migration, conflict, climate change, accompanied by shifts in wealth, power and influence. Recurrent human conflicts appear to be inevitable and challenge the most intelligent humans who imagine relief from a long history of the human abuse of humans.
Some humans have become better informed, more realistic and more deliberate in their analysis of human affairs. Others, including leaders of important countries, appear to remain ignorant of human nature and repeat old strategies of intervention that have failed before and will fail again. You can argue that human rights and lawful conduct are obvious and desirable goals, but in practice, humans are critical, argumentative, and competitive; they cannot agree on a universal definition of rights and lawful conduct.
The 21st century philosopher's task is to update our descriptions of ourselves to accommodate burgeoning scientific knowledge and an increasingly sophisticated understanding of human behavior, the brain and complex systems in general. We suddenly have new and revolutionary knowledge about human beings, their languages, arts and culture; about information gathering, storage and retrieval; about computation, communication; about the transformation of energy and materials; about molecular biology, genetics and the evolution of life on earth.
We have to re-examine what we care about and advance new vocabularies that allow us to proceed into new domains of thought and understanding. There is a lag in the assimilation of new knowledge into the culture and a rapidly widening schism separates the few who know how things really work and the majority who do not. In this 21st century the rapid development of science, communications and culture exchange is unprecedented in the history of the planet. The smart, kind-hearted subtype of humans has flourished despite the persistent presence of crude-thinkers and killers. The smart kind-hearts have powerful tools to shape the future in a constructive manner.
Actions required to solve the most threatening problems are: