Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pax Equilibria Qua Non

Humanity - brilliant, destructive, generous, powerful, compassionate, obsessive, selfish - has within its reach the power to make any future it wants. Humanity, through ambitious or wise individuals, arrogant or foresightful states, criminal enterprise or democratic process, can direct its own evolution. Humanity, following the imperatives of its own wild mind, thoughtless to consequences beyond immediate wealth and survival, could easily destroy itself and life, or condemn us to miserable lives. Humanity, following deliberate, considered, educated, generous purposes, could easily design for itself a future with room for every living thing, for every person and people, to live entire lives without wars, famine or mass extinction. Any future is possible, even a future in which we choose the direction of our own evolution. But what future?

I have visited futures in my imagination as terrible and more as any in history or the present. So to imagine a future not flooded by terror nor a humanity diseased by nano-machines nor captured and enslaved by reproducing, evolving and sentient machines, So to imagine the world in which I would want to live, that is safe to children and life, not plagued by warfare, starvation, and ecocidal destruction, I have sought that vision, that explanation of the role of humanity in nature, that rationale and philosophy, which could unite humanity, could rationalize a clearly desirable, welcoming future. I have hoped that with such clear guiding principles, we - the whole of humanity - could agree on a future we would choose together, and go there instead of going to the hells of my imagination. But as living beings, we are survivors: scrappy, independent, idiosyncratic, and ever seeking the advantage in the opportunity someone else declined. If we could agree on a future for our evolution which did not compromise any one's interests, we might choose it, but any conscious choices to manipulate our evolution would necessarily compromise an opportunity someone else would like to pursue. So a future guided by a mindful love of life will not follow from an agreed set of principles and a consensus among us. It may follow from thousands or millions of tortuous, violent struggles over a millennium, but not because of choices we today make. At this point in our evolution, enough of us are violent, do seek the thrill and satisfaction of killing and dominating, and remain driven by a conceited over-valuation of our own reproductive success, to obviate any such consensus. In short, in a tragedy of the commons, we will willingly over tax the Earth with our own children, and kill others to make room for them. We are not ready to implement a concensus, even if we could find one. To see the need for such a consensus, and be unable to implement one, is the current state of our evolution.

I have resisted this conclusion my entire life. That no such guiding philosophy or set of principles, for a pan-humanity consensus, is possible. From questions about my own values and family life, onto questions about educational practice, social policy, and goals appropriate to the sustainability movement, I have plumbed an ever deeper well of inquiry, seeking and never finding a solid bottom on which to rest the querulous bucket of my fathom, from which to draw a clear, irresistible and necessary philosophy. Questions muddy every answer, every question prompts another. I have wanted, needed, a vision on which to rest my well being, and it comes in the form that there is nothing on which to rest.

Following what lines of inquiry I thought were the richest, having the most potential, being most significant to the fate of humanity (and my own stature in it), I have discovered humanity in the midst of a radical evolution... Not on a long gradual incline toward some sort of an epochal sustainability infused with a pax equilibria, but in an accelerating evolution toward evolutionary and ecological revolution, possibly an eco-spheric collapse, probably rapidly evolving into a new species of Homo, bounded not by mountains or the temptations of specialized food supplies, but by the choices we make, of where to go to school, to work, to live, and with whom to associate, prior to choosing mates. We are in this discovery not a culmination or even a plateau in the emergence of intelligence, but a primitive transient form, pointing to a vast new ecology of a multi-layered humanity. If there is kindness, gentleness, generosity, justice, caring, sustainability and ecological equilibrium in our antecedents, it is natural selection which will deliver it. And may well. But it does not matter what we do, and the future does not care what we think of it. We are of it, not masters over it, driven by forces beyond our perception and beyond our management toward ends we cannot predict. Hence, we have no rules to obey, no truths to honor, in service to any cause greater than the satisfaction of the inner roiling torment of sentient survivors. All is choice, and turns on our own minded wills, because the laws that matter cannot be violated, and the laws that can be violated do not matter.

The final authority is natural selection. Haven't I said this before? It's my invocation, my article of faith, the thought and idea that bridges my living aware life across the darkness of our cruelty, intelligent destructiveness, and the thoughts of futures too scary to dwell upon. All of human history, past and yet to come, is governed by the compelling dictates of natural selection. For better or ill, it is natural selection which cultivates our aesthetics, our morality and our emotional drives, and it is natural selection which will govern those aesthetics, as we evolve with technology and the consequences of our effects upon the eco-sphere. Whatever I may feel about the choices and futures I imagine, the people who will control and decide what is "good" or "not good", are those who will then be alive, being who we have become and as they are, as the products of a natural selection interacting with the same conceit of human beings (that they are wise enough to reverse roles with natural selection, to master nature), which came to us through natural selection, as a tool in our survival kit. Not only do I have no power to affect our futures, not only do we have no power to effect any choices we might make, I and we have no authority to speak to it. As I cannot give what is not mine, the future and evolution of humanity are not within my domain of judgment. They are not mine, or ours, to assess or to judge. What a relief!