Does Humanity Need a Time Out

I believe in technology. I absolutely adore humanity’s curious nature and the fact that we are able to see stars billions of light years away, detect particles on the furthers edges of existence, understand our biology and neurology in ways that even fifty years ago would have seemed impossible. All of this is a product of our insatiable curiosity. And yes, often this curiosity is guided down dark and dangerous paths, or used to line the pockets of the few at the expense of the many, or produces unexpected consequences for the environment or the very well-being of our continued existence as a species. I understand that, I really do.

I have a friend who believes strongly that we need to radically change our way of life in this country, to the extent that we ought to break ourselves up as a nation and return to smaller forms of governance and older ways of doing things.She and I both want the same thing: a saner, more peaceful and more just future for the planet; a retreat from the ravages of cancerous capitalism; a realization that consumerism and the pursuit of more and more “stuff” has produced a deeply unsatisfied populace, but one that is easily malleable in the hands of the oligarchy and the corporations who have chosen to sell out our future in the name of profits. Our continued issue of contention, however, has been how to achieve such a future.

I see technological innovation and social innovation as absolutely crucial to finding a saner path. I tend to reject calls to return to the past because the past was a) never as rosy as it seems and b) is unable to solve the problems that we have created for ourselves. We understand, perhaps too late, just how interrelated our world ecosphere is and so I don’t see how a retreat from global consciousness into local awareness will help us correct for the excesses of the past century, nor how it might lead to a future that is able to balance local needs with global patterns. As much as I don’t like large cities, I also don’t believe that a retreat from those cities to a mythical agrarian existence would be in any way helpful. Cities offer social freedom and experimentation and are easily the basis for some of the most profound social changes in the past century. Could we really have had the feminist movement without cities? Or the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.? Could gay rights have progressed as far as they have if we didn’t have the urban centers to offer the opportunity for chosen communities or for people to experiment with their sexuality, gender, and identity in ways that are simply impossible for many who live in small towns? I don’t think so. There is a reason that, as long as there have been cities, people have left the country to explore themselves and the greater range of possibilities that they will find in the city. And who are we to say that a young person growing up in a small farming town would be better off there rather than exploring the greater range of opportunity that might be found in a city? Who are we to relegate future generations to the closed minds and closed ranks that often mark out small communities? Additionally, cities are often more ecological in terms of personal impact on the environment, with a greater density of people you are able to concentrate and share resources in ways simple impossible in more spread out communities.

I also truly believe that computers and the internet, for all their pitfalls and problems (some first-world social and others far more devastating in terms of the environment and the workers who build these machines), are truly beneficial technologies for humanity and that they can, in fact, be disruptive in positive ways (even when, at the same time, the internet can offer the appearance of disruption of power while doing nothing truly positive or progressive). I believe that we must move forward, using all our intellectual and scientific resources to understand the social, economic, and environmental problems that we have, to be honest, often created for ourselves. We have to learn to be better than our darker angels and rise above reflexive passivity and self-interest to understand how long-term self-interest in tending the garden of our world with care, diligence, love, and some self-sacrifice is truly our only hope of creating a future for our decedents.

And yet . . .

Lately, I have been wondering if my friend’s instincts might not be correct. Perhaps, as a species, we ought to go into another “dark ages,” and let the great civilizations crash up against the rocks of their own voracious appetites. Perhaps we produce so much apocalyptic literature these days because, deep down, we crave the release of responsibility that such an event would create: if our infrastructures collapse than we are off the hook; no longer plugged into the global, we would be forced to only deal with the local and our ape brains would no longer strain at the complexity of modern life. Might it be possible for enclaves of knowledge to emerge and protect the accumulated knowledge so that, in several hundred or a thousand years, humanity might emerge with a clearer and more mature understanding of how to use that knowledge for good?

Does humanity need a time out? Not in the sports sense, but a go to the corner and stare at the wall and contemplate what you’ve done wrong kind of time out. The kind of time out you give a naughty child.

I don’t know. I do know that as I see the images coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, I feel a deep and powerless anger toward BP and the American people for not having the will to do what we all know is necessary. I feel a desire to smash and burn all the fucking crap that has produced this situation, to tear it all down and let the asteroid hit or the zombies come or the plague arise that will tear us down and humble us to the point where we might, just might realize just how small and fragile our world is. But then I think of the unimaginable suffering that such a lesson would require and I tremble and balk at the blood and pain that would emerge from such an apocalyptic punishment.1

So I hope that such a thing is not necessary, that we can find ways to think smarter about how we live in and interact with the world. I want to believe that the vast amounts of pain and suffering in the world today can actually be reduced through the sweat of our collective brows, through our knowledge, through our ingenuity, through our compassion, through our technology, and through our imagination. I am not talking about miracle cures. Each and every one of use in the relatively wealthy industrialized nations must, absolutely must take responsibility for how we use resources out of all proportion with the rest of the world. We do need to change our personal, local, and national behaviors and we need to do it now.

Before it all falls apart and the center cannot hold.

On this day..

  1. I am not suggesting that RadicalSAHM is advocating apocalypse in the least, though I think that any retreat to the past will unleash social and political repressions on a great many peoples. []

2 thoughts on “Does Humanity Need a Time Out

  1. The crux of our minor disagreement is that I feel very strongly that industrial society has passed its tipping point and does not possess the values necessary to clear this hurdle. I do not wish to see humanity spanked for its failings but regardless it will be and sorely so.

    I do not believe we have the time nor the resources in terms of raw material or in terms of human will to reverse course in such a way as to avoid mass social dislocations and resource shortages and the attendant downward population adjustments. A society impoverished by 2 concurrent resource wars that cannot even rally around the idea of a gas tax and ending massive government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry is clearly incapable of shifting gears in manner sufficient to even lessen the inevitable pain of descending a supply curve. Given, our leaders have made the formation of this collective will virtually impossible by lying to Americans about our state of affairs, instead opting to encourage us to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, look away and go shopping. However, Americans are also demonstrably willfully ignorant and I doubt at this point if even an aggressive truth telling campaign would lead to anything other than the crucifixion of the speaker.

    As for technology, one need only look at how much we’ve spent on nuclear weapons versus nuclear power plants. Especially when you consider how both endeavors effectively socialize costs and privatize profits, the best soft shoe routine that oligarchic capitalism has to offer, we’ve still chosen to invest more substantially in the killing machine than the one that keeps the lights on. (Never mind that we’ve actually gone ahead and used these horrible weapons against innocent civilian populations in what could reasonably be characterized as a last chance effort at product testing.)

    What we immature humans lack is a keen sense of reverence and justice to go along with our inquisitiveness. We lack reverence both for our place within nature (rather than outside of or astride it) and in appreciating that it may be our rightful condition to simply not know certain things: to have the wisdom to know that knowing may be folly. Our sense of justice is still greatly surpassed by our primitive tribalistic sense of entitlement and our inability to deal with surplus, neither particularly surprising in such a young arrangement.

    As for the dynamism of city living, I agree. As for the un-sustainability of suburbanism, I agree. IMO, given the chance, life will reorganize at the small city level, with agrarian support close by. The size of these cities will be limited to the surrounding area’s ability to feed them and their access to water. Lucky for us we started out this way, many of these cities are still standing and some of us remember how it all worked.

    Let me say in closing, that I believe that we could live better within the confines of the old ways better than we are living now. Being in touch with our own sustenance and upkeep, engaged in truly productive activity with other people is how we function best. I wish we could incorporate the best of this world with the best of that world. That would be smashing. But along with our uncontrolled love affair with oil and wealth and growth, that option has passed us by.

  2. Juliet – just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your comment and hope to continue the conversation when I get my computer back (working on a cogent response while at work or on my iPhone isn’t ideal).

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