Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Natural Predicament

Two of the most prominent aspects of human nature are the survival instinct and the impulse to improve one's life by making certain tasks easier (i.e. less labor intensive, less time consuming, or more efficient). Tracking the great arc of human history, it is evident that these two impulses have been constantly at work in our lives, driving us to eke out a living against all odds in lean times, and precipitating great leaps in the development of technology and social organization when conditions are favorable. There are also times when our ambition to improve our livelihood in the short term undermines our ability to survive in the long term (e.g. every collapsed society in history -- the Maya, Greenland Norse, Easter Islanders, Romans, etc.). Basically, these societies bit off more than they could chew -- they extracted too much from their environment too fast, and they were left with too many hungry mouths to feed when mother nature had nothing left to give. (Incidentally, a similar and related cause of societal collapse occurs when humans are exploited beyond their breaking point, which often leads to popular revolt in order to dismantle an oppressive system of centralized power).

But whether it be the hyper-exploitation of natural resources or the subjugation of other humans, both undermine long term survivability and both stem directly from our innate desire to live lives of luxury and comfort. So I think this is our natural predicament as humans: in tough times we start out by surviving anyway we can, and then, as some semblance of stability is achieved, we reach out for more in an attempt to become more comfortable. This pursuit eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns, usually rather quickly, and mother nature (or hoards of hungry peasants) slap us down to repeat the cycle. And it's pretty clear where we are in the cycle now -- can the class spell O-V-E-R-S-H-O-O-T ?!? yep, time to brace ourselves for an epic smack down.

But there's no need to panic, we can take comfort in knowing that there is plenty of precedent in the story of life on the planet. Ours is a most natural predicament. Indeed, it connects us with every other species on the planet, which thrive and proliferate when their habitats are conducive, and then starve and die off when ecological overshoot is reached, thus maintaining the balance and health of the ecosystem. When considered within this larger context, our so-called 'environmental problems' do not represent a sustainability crisis at all -- life on earth will continue to thrive and evolve, with or without us. All we are left with is one, rather weighty choice: Do we hang on to our precious 'lifestyles' until the bitter end, passing the buck to future generations and multiplying their misery in the process, or to we get a FUCKING grip and take responsibility for the problems staring us all in the face.

Oh yeah, and one other thing I'd like to say: a big FUCK U to our celebrated global political leadership (represented by the UN, IMF, World Bank, G-6, G-8, G-could ya shampoo me crotch!) What leadership? Where was it in Kyoto? Where was it during Greenspan's slick tenure at the Fed? where has it been for the past 60 years, since WWII? Short answer -- in the pocket of Corporate America. The sooner we face the fact that we live in an era of unimaginable corporate greed and govt. corruption, the sooner we can pursue an empowered response. So forget the G-20, it's just a big P.R. opportunity for the leaders of the richest countries in the world. And forget Obama's current agenda (he's a great man, and he's a poignant symbol, but our system is rotten to the core, and you can't slap a band aid on a melanoma and call it all better.) Unfortunately, Mr. O alone can't save us. We are the ones we've been waiting for! We need to boycott the big and the transnational, and support the small and the local whenever and wherever possible. And we need to hold each other accountable. We need to understand the poisons we are ingesting in our conventional food supply, and we need to make some noise about it! Only then will we give Obama the opportunity to respond intelligently to the will of the inspired masses who elected him.