Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The future will be hard, but not bad: A change in tone.

It occurs to me that a brief interlude to set the tone of this reboot is probably in order.

Any frank discussion of the ecological limits of human civilization is going to come across as dark and cynical, because we live in a society that takes perpetual growth and technological advance as both given and ultimately desirable.  It's impossible to overstate how ubiquitous this is in western thought; everyone, and I mean everyone, from Democrats to Republicans to fascists to communists to lizard people, have internalized the narrative of perpetual growth to a significant extent.

When I say "industrial society is coming to a close", people hear "we're all gonna die", but what I really mean is "the current state of affairs can't continue, so something else is going to happen."  And given how much industrialism kinda sucks, I view this as a positive development on the whole.  The transition to that something else is likely to be a bumpy ride, because as I've stated here before, the transition is going to be uncontrolled and unplanned, but I actually have a great deal of optimism for where we'll wind up.  The Earth is a supremely adaptable system, and we as  species are without a doubt the most adaptable component of that system.

So while I have no doubt that industrial capitalism is headed for the dustbin, I also have no doubt that human culture, and humanity itself, are not.  Every so often I see someone say that humanity will be extinct in the next one hundred to five hundred years, and my response is always barely polite laughter.

Near-term human extinction is bullshit.  Short of a random cosmological event, a gamma-ray burst or truly massive asteroid impact, something that strips the Earth's atmosphere or liquefies the crust, I expect humanity to be able survive basically any conceivable insult.  Every lineage on the planet has survived at least six mass extinction events, including the dinosaurs (which were not actually wiped out 65 million years ago; I have one sitting on a perch not five feet from me as I type this), and none of those lineages had the ability to modify self and environment to the point of being able to colonize literally every biome on the planet.  Something would have to happen that is capable of sterilizing all multi-cellular life on Earth before humanity is rubbed out. 

I don't think even humanity is capable of causing human extinction;  even deliberate genocide failed to exterminate Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Kurds, or Tutsis, to name but a few of the peoples who live on despite thorough attempts to eliminate them.  A carefully designed super plague might come close, but anything lethal enough to threaten the species will burn itself out without reaching the most isolated communities.  There are 7.5 billion of us, and with few exceptions, every one of those billions turn their considerable wit and adaptability to the challenge of survival, every day.

So there WILL be a future.  And humans being humans, that future will involve music, love, stories, and booze, so it'll be pretty neat, all told.  The transition will be hard, and weathering it with as many of our friends and loved ones as possible is the topic of this blog, but I'm not pessimistic, and I hope you aren't either.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff!

    Here is an article on how food supply chains 'suddenly' collapse: