Our ancient ancestors marched across the globe scorching the earth with giant walls of fire to chase their prey out into the open. They destabilized populations of easy-to-kill animals with such speed and ferocity that their part in a rolling wave of mass extinctions concurrent with human expansion is still debated, despite clear scientific evidence in support of their central role in the slaughter. They did in about 10,000 years what millions of years of predator/prey interaction (including dozens of climatic shifts and natural cataclysms) failed to do, i.e. wipe anything tasty asides from itself off the face of the earth as totally as possible. Once it got a little crowded, they immediately commenced eradicating each other with an endless enthusiasm, as the vast majority of all species on Earth seem to do.
Fast forward a tiny little frenetic blip in geologic time and you have us here today. Sometimes when I’m reading the news I feel like I’m riding in a bus with everyone else and the driver has depressed the accelerator as far as it can go and we have just left the roadway, with branches and rocks beating against the outside of the vehicle. We all see what’s happening but no one has any idea what to do or any ability to do anything even if they had a plan. Someone might try to get up and advance towards to front to seize control of the bus but is immediately cast back into their seat by gravity, momentum, and all the other natural laws that make the outcome of their attempts so obvious. The utter failure of the major emission-producing nations to set meaningful standards on pollution, the proliferation of nuclear arms as their host nations splinter into factions, the compression factor of the astonishingly fast rate at which the global population is growing: it’s pretty intense, and it doesn’t seem to bode well for what would be our children or grandchildren or even us in our old age.
But is it really that bad? Yes, of course it is. But only because we understand what it could be in theory. In practice though, given the sort of shambolic, brutal history of not just the human race but the natural order in general, things are actually pretty relaxed. I mean, here we find ourselves, searching for resources, consuming them, destroying our surroundings, just like we have been all along. But it isn’t a fall from grace, and we aren’t regressing, per se. You could watch a television commercial and say “Look at how stupid Americans are now, buying/watching/being tricked by all this crap”, but what is the alternative? What would you rather have? When has it ever been better? The 50s? The 30s? When people were hanging each other in public squares? Was that a golden age? There is something scary about how devastating the individual deviations from our modern placidity can be, for sure, and how apathetic people can remain, and how increasingly distant the rich and poor are becoming, but shocking catastrophes and futile, clumsy recalibrations are the order of the day, not just in this country or species or planet but everywhere. Pitchers can’t hit and humans can’t not kill everything.
I guess my point is that, as much as everything can be overwhelming, I feel more and more that it is important to keep calm and be precise. This is the real world, with warlords, child slaves, oil tankers, missles, volcanoes, grandfathers getting crushed by hippos, Predator drones, etc. and not some Ancient Greek moralistic sphere where people will all just stop acting like they always have because they realize, after 2 million years, that they are ruining stuff. I’m often frustrated by how much contemporary radicalism seems to bloody its fists pounding at the rock wall of the obvious, the human, and the unavoidable, only to be eventually co-opted and subsumed by those same things, just like always. Maybe a thorough reading of the rules of the game will help further understand how to “beat” it. Or at least elucidate why we keep losing.
Also, I know essentially nothing about philosophy so if I am rehashing some horrible person’s worldview that they used to rationalize some horrible thing, please let me know.