Monday, August 20, 2007

Final Days


Freshly rejuvenated from a relaxing weekend, and hopeful in spite of it all, I am yet perplexed to find that, as I pondered a topic for today's blog, I ultimately (no pun intended) settled on a topic that would seem at odds with a hopeful attitude: the Final Days.

Of course, the End of the World has been predicted probably for as long as human beings have been able to articulate thoughts in verbal form. And at times, it surely must have seemed that such predictions had come to pass (for example, during the Black Death or in the worst days of the Great War). But, so far, obviously, such predictions have been unfulfilled, and those wild-eyed predictors of humanity's demise have been relegated to "crackpot" status.

Yet......

From this particular vantage point in history, it would seem that the trajectories of a number of potential crises are set to converge in the relatively near future. Check out the talk about peak oil, or about impending financial Armageddon, or about bird flu pandemic, or global warming and environmental degradation. Read Joe Bageant's piece, Ants in a Jar.

I recently read Jared Diamond's excellent book, Guns, Germs, and Steel. The book offers an anthropological explanation for the relative "progress" of different peoples in different parts of the world. Of particular interest was the discussion of the people of Easter Island, who, discovering an isolated paradise in the Pacific ocean, settled and thrived to the point where they eventually destroyed the very land on which they lived (through deforestation, mainly). Their end was ugly: cannibalism, fratricide, and (one can only imagine) despair. I wonder, were there wild-eyed prophets among them, during the seeming height of their civilization that warned of impending doom?

Suppose, just for a moment, that we could examine humanity's history from afar, millions of years from now. The world's population of human hunter-gatherers was relatively stable at something less than 100 million for hundreds of thousands of years before it began migrating out of Africa. The migration began shortly after the Great Leap Forward some 50-100 thousand years ago. Even then, population growth was linear up to the Agricultural Revolution which occurred some 12000 years ago. At that point, there is an exponential growth in the human population to the point where today, it is approaching some 6 billion souls. That is a 6000% increase in population in a scant 12000 years (1% of the accumulated time of human existence).

If the dire predictions of the end of humanity are true, could it not be said that our species became the victim of its highly-evolved brain? Could it not be said that some genetic mutation conferred the ability for analysis and abstract thought upon humans which caused them to develop agriculture? And, could it not be inferred, then, that agriculture caused the human population to spiral out of control and thereby doomed it?

Of course, we can't answer these questions. And it is hardly uplifting to contemplate them. But, referring again to Mr. Bageant's article, we can always do that small bit that fate has placed within our tiny circle of perception, and do it nobly, in spite of its seeming futility.

The Buddhists may have it right, anyway. A coworker told me a joke today that is serendipitously apropos: A Buddhist walks up to a hot dog stand. He says to the vendor: Make me one with everything.

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

Thanks for this post; I've mulled it over for a few days.

My answer to our almost certain impending doom is to...

...remember how to be a spirit having a human experience. Love, laugh, dance, eat, take care of babies, elders, the Earth, and FIGHT LIKE HELL against the evil entity bent on destroying all life outside the bunkers of greedy corporate zillionaires.

I mean, what have we got to lose in the fight - we're as good as extinct anyway, right?

"Today is a good day to live! Today is a good day to die!"

Rhonda