I’ve been thinking a lot about choice. Especially when it comes to “the zeitgeist of the future.”
What the hell do I mean by that?
Have you ever noticed that the whole of humanity never seems to settle on what being an “advanced civilization” means?
At the turn of the century, they thought we’d be in big metropolises with sky scrapers and airships.
In the mid century, we were supposed to be in outer space, flying in giant starships and living in rotating space stations with mid century modern homes and landscaping (a la Rick Guidice’s concept illustrations).
What about colonizing Mars or Venus? Many people still hold onto these visions, including many prominent scientists.
These days, the paradigm shift has been towards the cyborgification of the human race (or at least of those affluent enough to afford the enhancements). We rush to get the latest smart phone, the smart watch, the pair of glasses that can record your whole day, the earbud that lets you talk, hands free, wherever you go… it’s only a matter of time before we look like the Borg from Star Trek. Zombie Apocalypse indeed.
But are you onboard with any of these ideas?
If so, did you ever consciously choose?
What vision do you have for our future? Where did that vision come from? Books? Movies? TV shows? Marketers?
I think a lot of people are pretty bad at consciously choosing their collective vision of the future, and I think it’s really important to put some thought into it.
So, what makes us an advanced civilization? Does having lots of technology do the trick? Do we measure the grandness of a civilization on the conveniences it’s created, the technological wonders they’ve produced? Is it because we create complicated, convenient systems (that usurp us of our privacy)?
When I think about this, I wonder if there may be some better metric against which we should be analyzing civilization, to decide, “Yes, this is an advanced civilization.”
Evolutionary law shows us that survival of the fittest means “best able to fit in the environment,” (not necessarily about who among the rabbits is strongest or fastest, for example). It’s which members of the species are best adapted to survive or prosper in their environment.
Civilizations have an environment and, these days, many civilizations are global. So, does it follow that the civilization that is the fittest is the one best adapted to the Earth?
Or is it about subjugating the Earth?
There are those who believe the natural world can and should be altered, so that it can be leveraged to serve our civilization. When the American Association for the Advancement of Science published their opinion on labeling GMOs (they were against it), they said the following:
Civilization rests on people’s ability to modify plants to make them more suitable as food, feed and fiber plants and all of these modifications are genetic. Twentieth century advances in the science of genetics opened the way to using chemicals and radiation as means of accelerating genetic change to produce nutritionally enhanced foods like lycopene-rich Rio Star grapefruit and quite literally thousands of other improved fruit, vegetable and grain crop varieties. Modern molecular genetics and the invention of large-scale DNA sequencing methods have fueled rapid advances in our knowledge of how genes work and what they do, permitting the development of new methods that allow the very precise addition of useful traits to crops, such as the ability to resist an insect pest or a viral disease, much as immunizations protect people from disease.
I cannot blame them for believing that technology should be used to help make food better. To a point, I agree. But there may be a “speed limit” to how quickly a plant species can change before serious consequences to our environment – such as colony collapse disorder among our honeybees – blowback against us, rendering these advancements moot (or, at least, a zero sum).
But what if instead we envision a future where the human population stops growing exponentially? What if it just stayed steady?
Are we even allowed to envision that? (Why not?)
What if we focus on techniques of farming that are sustainable that do not involve genetic alterations that might be too drastic for the environment to support?
What if the measure of a great person is not someone who has a huge home, a Range Rover or Audi and more clothes and furniture than they know what to do with? What if it’s not working 60 hours a week and always being too busy to spend time with friends?
What if being advanced doesn’t mean using up the Earth, leaving it in shambles and then leaving? What if it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to make contact with alien civilizations?
It’s not that I’d ever try to stop SETI, but maybe we’ll never be able to leave here. And why would we want to? Do you look in the mirror and think, “I wish I was someone else?” If not, why should we look outside our windows and think, “I wish I were on another planet.” Just as we should take care of our teeth – they’re the only set you get – so too should we take care of our Earth.
I believe that the most advanced civilizations found equilibrium with the Earth. I think we’ll have to stay here. I think it noble to make the whole planet safe and beautiful, with diverse life, peace and a calm sense of being one with the cosmos.
What if advancement meant scholarship and a deepening our understanding of the sciences, the arts, mathematics, human relationships, health, well-being, fun and fitness?
I once saw an episode of what I remember to be the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone, or Amazing Stories (but I cannot find the episode, so it may have been something else). In it, a man with a terminal illness was cryogenically frozen, then awoken in the future to find that there were no cities, people walked about in comfortable robes and life was a peaceful coexistence with nature. The idea blew my young, prepubescent mind. You mean, the future doesn’t have to be about technology dominating everything?
Whatever notion of the future you’re subliminally living into does’t have to unfold that way. Think about the future you want to live into. Think outside the box that marketers and other postulators have put the future in. Consciously choose it.Then start living your life that way.