The structure of the analysis contains essentially three components:
(1) The human condition,
(2) behavioral consequences deleterious to the future of life on Earth, and
(3) a view of the future.
The human condition derives essentially from our evolutionary history, all of us products of an unbroken string of survivors stretching back to the first glimmers of life from self-replicating molecules 3.5 billion years ago. As humans are one of countless species, extant and extinct, created by natural processes, there is no reason to believe that we, or any other, are endowed with freedom of choice. This is regarded as an illusion stemming from other features of the strategy honed for us by nature, e.g. consciousness and speech. Our strategy is enshrouded in myth, explained by Reg Morrison (Spirit in the Gene) as a necessity predicated on the need for emotional response to immediate threat rather than logical analysis. Another dimension of our ‘condition’, and linked inevitably to the others, is our propensity to expand our numbers much beyond what our rational faculties would inform us is sustainable and compatible with an extended tenure for us and other life forms on Earth.
Behavioral consequences - Of the wide array of possibilities that arise from our condition, essentially coalesced into our particular operational strategy, I have selected a few salient behavioral characteristics that I believe bear most strongly on prospects for the future of life:
- our failure to nurture so as to maintain natural identity and physical and mental health of every child on Earth, or to inculcate an appreciation of the tenets of democracy;
- stressing rights rather than responsibilities in social organization, leading to excesses as best described by Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”;
- sex exploitation in its many manifestations – for the purposes of dominance, manipulation and economic advantage;
- the unholy alliance of religion and politics, each employing similar strategies for securing operatives’ aggrandizement;
- the divorce of science from philosophy, leaving its practitioners devoid of a framework that could more productively guide the nature and applications of their inquiries;
- our propensity to take confrontation beyond the brink to violence and mayhem;
- the practice of concentrating capital and other forces leading to inordinate disparity in the distribution of wealth and other life amenities.
What of the future? Is humanity at an evolutionary dead end? Certainly survival in civilized society is different from what would be dictated by nature “red in tooth and claw”. And although evolution proceeds at a snails pace, culture sweeps through like a zephyr. The absence of choice leaves it up to nature, the overseer of both evolution and culture, as well as conditions that we will confront in the future. Are we capable of predicting the future? Inherent uncertainty in physical processes that underlie all that we think and do, precludes prognostication. Societies, as any other complex system, are either fundamentally too complex for our “poor power” or subject to both subatomic (with macroscopic manifestations) and chaotic uncertainty.