Slipstream

Posted: July 22, 2007 in Idealism

We humans love efficiency: maximum output in the minimum time. In economics, that translates into fortunes made (and lost) overnight and considerable volatility. It also translates into a culture of change. Rapid change, actually. The world of 1880 looked substantially like the world of 1900, whereas the world of 1980 changed significantly in the years leading to 2000. Technology is driving the rate of change, and predictions are that change will continue to accelerate at an exponential rate. So there is a significant possibility that by 2050, say, we’ll hardly even recognize how the world was in 2007. Even now, most of us can hardly conceive of (or remember) the world before the Internet and the World Wide Web.

Political, economic, and cultural choices tend reflexively toward optimal efficiency. It’s natural to want the quick fix, the fast track, and the easy route to success or achieving objectives. Like the turtles in Finding Nemo that use fast-moving ocean currents to speed their migration, we look for any sort of slipstream to provide efficiency.

Take, for instance, what some call the population time bomb. Humans existed for centuries, nay millennia, at well under 1 billion in population. However, in the past few centuries alone, we’ve learned how to better exploit (read: exploit more efficiently) our ecological niche and have entered a reproductive slipstream. We’ve just recently passed the knee of the curve and are now poised to overpopulate the planet, leading to our eventual destruction.

population
Source

Uneven patterns of consumption and economic activity pose serious problems in terms of ecology and social justice, but they pale besides the problems we can expect to face by the end of the century. How to provide for the physical needs of a population that climbs above 15 or 20 billion may well prove to be an insurmountable task that improved efficiencies cannot accomplish. Coupled with ecological, economic, and social collapses many scientists, economists, and social theorists predict (which will largely result from reckless human activity and unmanageable scale not just in population), it’s probably more accurate to predict a new dark ages than the sort of technological utopia science fiction often depicts.

The general public is beginning to get an inkling of the difficulties we are likely to face and have been starting to ask political leaders how they will address our problems and prepare for our future. Unfortunately for all of us, our political thinking and processes are still centered on the electoral cycle, which have little hope of adopting a view longer than the next administration (4 or 8 years) or the next congressional plurality. So after a fashion, we’re trapped in the slipstream, the superhighway to the future of our own making, and our only politically possible and socially feasible response is to ride the wave until we hit the wall.

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Comments
  1. presentpeace says:

    Change occurs. If we do something change will occur. If we do nothing change will occur. Rather than be fatalistic and believe heart and soul, hook, line and sinker, that the end that is near is ultimately undesireable for the planet and for its various ecosystems, why not believe that we don’t know everything, that a solution is right around the corner, whether or not it is a human, sociopolitical one?

    What I believe is that there is no false hope, that people do come up with great solutions and the means with which to implement them when they find themselves in the eleventh hour. You’ve mentioned how rapid the shift in technology was from the 1980s to this new millennium. So we humans are capable of great and rapid change.

    So is our planet. In our arrogance we truly believe that we have the power to completely annihilate the earth. (I concede that earth annihilation isn’t quite your argument. I’m simply answering those others who believe it is the most important one to make.) While it is the honest truth that we’ve done great damage to it, can we in all honesty say that the earth can never recover?

    Do we believe as jealous, abusive lovers do that the one we damaged can’t survive without us? That it’s better off with us? It’s that kind of arrogance that keeps us from changing. After all, it’s better to make a bad impression than none at all, right? However, if we were made to know just how insignificant we are to this planet over the long haul, we would tow the line.

    We see species get naturally selected out and we believe that we should be above that process. Is it somehow tragic for us to disappear, as did the wooly mammouth? We, too, are mammals, animals, though we fight against believing that truth and instead cling to the feeble belief that gray matter is enough to separate us from them, enough to disconnect us from the planet.

    The earth lived without us once and it can live without us again. It will once again be verdant and populated with a variety of living creatures; and things will be balanced. We are the same as any other creatures. We have a timeline for being here. We’ve shortened it through our own arrogant consumption. Maybe we can lengthen it again. On the other hand, maybe we’ve missed that opportunity. If it’s time to go, then let’s exit gracefully.

    Wait! Perhaps the realization that we are insignificant to this whole earth evolution thing will nurture in us the humility we need to help us keep the balance. After all, if we really are self-important enough to want to stick around we will soon figure out that the only way we can do so is not to get shaken off like so many fleas.

    Of course, the earth could be kind and leave a few scattered populations of humans after disease and natural disasters and overpopulation have taken their toll…

    Would that be so bad?

  2. Brutus says:

    Presentpeace wrote:

    Perhaps the realization that we are insignificant to this whole earth evolution thing will nurture in us the humility we need to help us keep the balance. After all, if we really are self-important enough to want to stick around we will soon figure out that the only way we can do so is not to get shaken off like so many fleas.

    Of course, the earth could be kind and leave a few scattered populations of humans after disease and natural disasters and overpopulation have taken their toll…

    Would that be so bad?

    You don’t deny any of my statements, I see. Coming to terms with their inevitable implications is an individual response. Yours may be glass half full; mine is more glass half empty. I might be tempted to take your approach except that I foresee immense human suffering as a direct result of our own behaviors.

  3. presentpeace says:

    True that. However, coming to terms with the inevitable implications of your statements doesn’t have to be just an individual response. There have been times in American history alone when the collective response was overwhelmingly positive and evolutionary, despite the efforts of knuckle-dragging jackasses who resisted positive change.

    Sure, my view is that the glass is half full. But there is tremendous power that comes from having that view. I know for certain that the half full mentality is the catalyst for more change in the world than is the half empty one. There’s lessening kinetic energy in the half empty state. Half full means having more potential energy to effect change. Half full is the precursor state for miracles.

    Lance Armstrong. Add all those people and situations that were deemed lost causes that have been retrieved from that status.

    Of course there will be more immense human suffering. Isn’t immense human suffering already in existence worldwide? For that matter, hasn’t it always been? We first-world peeps are new to it all. So, we crumble under the weight of just the thought of it coming to our doorstep. Yet there are people in the world who’ve known nothing less than that kind of suffering and who manage to make the choice that I’ve made to see that glass as half full and to respond to life’s challenges by doing what they can to make things better up until the bitter end.

    Why are we first-worlders feeling the least capable of effecting change when we are the ones who have the most power to do so? Who perpetrated this disasterous brainwashing job on us by making us believe that we can’t do anything?

    Half full is the choice we must make if we are to have the energy to change things. At this late date half empty is a luxury we can’t afford. It depletes energy when so much energy is needed for this final push to be successful.

    Sure, we’ve done this to ourselves. Still, we may have a chance to undo what we’ve done. Are we going to let it slip away by saying that there was no hope? If there really is none, then we still have a choice to change what we can so that we have greater palliative care for everyone as we approach our inevitable demise.

    We can still choose to reach out to people. We can still do what we can for the environment. We can still hold our leaders accountable or get new leaders from our ranks. We can still attempt to build bridges between warring factions. We still have agency if we don’t allow ourselves to sink into a stupor of half-empty hopelessness and inaction.

    Sometimes it’s best not to look too far ahead and just roll up your sleeves and work like a maniac for change. Miracles sometimes occur behind that kind of effort. But we must not allow nihilistic thought to sabotage whatever effort is still possible at this hour.

    Is this really the way we will allow the world to end? With a whimper?

    I’m not like that at all. So, here’s a joke: How many pessimists does it take to change the world for the better?

    None.

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