By David Bryson
September 13, 2012
At the ending of his important new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson writes: “Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, if we so wish, into a permanent paradise for human beings, or at least the strong beginnings of one. We will do a lot more damage to ourselves and the rest of life along the way, but out of an ethic of simple decency to one another, the unrelenting application of reason, an acceptance of what we truly are, our dreams will finally come home to stay.”
This is an optimistic perspective, and optimism is better for psychological health and the external world. This column reveals my pessimism about the world situation. For Professor Wilson, the glass is half full, for me, half empty. The daily headlines depict humanity going to hell in a hundred hand baskets. The optimism of Wilson would require a global revolution in values and consciousness, which I think is very unlikely. Cultural fragmentation and anger are both increasing. The nomenclatura of elected officials and non-elected dictators are not taking any meaningful steps to improve anything except their hold on power.
Look at the record heat in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Look at the melting arctic ice, which is now melting faster than worst-case projections of five years ago. The Keeling Curve is a graph of atmospheric Co2 measured on a mountain in Hawaii. It has risen steadily, every single year, for the last 50 years. If there were such a person as “physician to the planet,” that person would blow the whistle and declare an acute emergency regarding the sweating and feverish patient. Global heating is only one of a group of indicators (such as acidification of the oceans, loss of soil, global supply and distribution of food and water), which are getting worse.
Look at the “war on drugs” in Mexico: Tens of thousands of deaths, massive corruption, and guns galore. It would be hard to design a bigger failure. But to admit that this is not working, that things are getting worse rather than better, would be to suggest that what those in power did last year and the years before was stupid and lethal. Better to pretend that the war on drugs is on track.
Forty years ago the White House kept saying the Vietnam war was on track; ten years ago the same in Iraq. Whether it is conscious lying or pervasive self-delusion, the bosses of these wars have a zero grip on reality.
Look at the war in Afghanistan: Instead of a war on drugs, Afghanistan is war and drugs. Military activity and opium production are the two giant cash flows. More soldiers are now being killed by supposedly friendly Afghan troops than by the enemy. This is crazy. Never in the history of warfare has such an absurd situation taken place.
Coming in second in absurdity was the first Gulf War in 1990 when more US soldiers were killed in preparation for the war than in the war itself. No one in power takes note of these ridiculous facts.
A major portion of my pessimism comes from the toxic influence of the military mind, whether in the DEA or DOD, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys.
One consolation is knowing humanity cannot exist forever on planet Earth. The death of the sun will end all life in this biosphere. Something catastrophic may occur much sooner.
There have been about 250 generations since civilization started. It is difficult for me to have empathy more than a few generations into the future, say to the time of my grandchildren’s grandchildren. But human suffering is now at an all time high – because of the huge population increase. If many human deaths occur in a crisis, aggregate human suffering will decrease. The Buddha said life is suffering. The more human life, the more suffering.
This attitude reminds me of E.M. Cioran, the author of “The Heights of Despair” and “The Trouble with Being Born.” A humorous take on global pessimism is in the great Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos. He reasons humanity is such a can of worms because our brains became so big. By a miracle of evolution, human brains get smaller, we become aquatic dolphin-like creatures, and we develop flippers instead of hands. All is peaceful and stable.
I completely agree with Vonnegut’s science fictional suggestion that we would be better off if our brains had not become so big. It was our big brains that enabled our escape from the Darwinian natural world.
There was a burst of optimism a year ago with the Occupy Wall Street movement. My column at Fog City Journal suggested a real planetary revolution in consciousness. But even though Occupy had real legs with traction, and seemed to be built to last and growing fast in many cities worldwide, it was no match for the status quo establishment.
So I’m calling myself a Planetary Pessimist. Please email me if you would like to talk about this.