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.

9 comments:

Dusty said...

The interesting thing about this latest post is that it references past civilizations (e.g. the Mayans) and notes their collapse as having to do with their growth outstripping their resources. Had the Mayans had the ability, as we have today, to ravage another civilization to acquire the resources they needed, I wonder if they would have done so. But the problem we have now is not one of a single civilization in one part of the world, but of the entire population of the world itself. Because our technology does allow us to ravage one civilization to gain more resources (either through economic or military means) we can suck up the resources of the entire world instead of our little part of the jungle. This doesn't bode well for our species. Instead of us losing one population, we disappear entirely.

Ryan Crocker said...

Good points Dusty,
We are definitely in a tough spot. There aren't any civilizations left to ravage, or people left to exploit. Modern industrial capitalism has pretty well tapped both the natural and human capital of the planet on the road to maximizing profits. So, as you rightly point out, we face the same problem as the Maya or the Romans before us, just on an unprecedented scale. One advantage we have is that it's impossible for us to suffer from the illusion that further expansion is possible. However, we do suffer other illusions, like thinking there's some kind of technological silver bullet to solve our energy problem, instead of just getting serious about conservation.

Anonymous said...

Have either of you read "1491"? It's a book about the indigenous (well, more indigenous than us anyway) poluations of the Americas prior to the West's "discovery." Pretty cool stuff.

Patrick

Justen said...

Ryan as far as your last comment. Their still are civilizations to ravage and/or exploit. Third world countries have it done on a daily basis. When the corporations, nationals,other countries/tribes, any preditors get a change to take a shot they will. Another civilization that is in turmoil beyond belief is Russia. They`re death rate increases and the birth rate plum ants yearly. All while neighboring China is over-population and continuing to grown. China will so try to recapture Russia once again.

Another said point that I feel is that leaders of this world, including Americas current administration uses any type of "green", "eco-friendly", etc any trade mark for a simple PR stunt. No one really seems to care in the leadership roles of countries around the world about changing anything. They say it to get elected but never step up to the plate for a swing because of to much economic burden it will put on the global economy. If it was not for convenience or I should say the option to make something convent capitalism would of never taken off. Capitalism today is not the same thing that it was back when our grand-parents and great grandparents started after and during the great depression or hostile take over of any country.

I do agree that there are many issues the human race brings to the table. Will we change, I highly doubt it. Global change is needed, there simply is not enough instant gratification or money for the change to take place. Simple fact nothing gets done without money, making money. What will it take for change, a hell of a lot more then any man in a office or all the leaders in all the offices.

A note on conservation that comes from my science/biological side. The world wide population as a whole is ignorant to what conservation is and how to correctly do it. For ever prey there is a predator. Maintaining a equilibrium is extremely tough to do on a macro base. Fighting mother nature is hard. Unfortunately no one really seems to want to educate themselves and others about true conservation. There are so many simple conservation methods that can be taken place that do not alter that good ole lazy convenience factor we as humans will do anything for. Evils of the world will always be brother. Great blog post by the way. Keep them up.

Katy Crocker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katy Crocker said...

I agree with Justen, there are still cultures to exploit. We're still doing it! But, as Dusty pointed out, the problem is now global, beyond local.

Katy Crocker said...

And, Ryan did take bold action!!!

http://vibrantsantafe.com/Detailed/20.html

Ryan said...

just wanted to clarify an earlier point. Justen and Katy both reminded me that imperial capitalism is still exploiting people on a daily basis. Of course I recognize that, but my earlier comment was about expansion. I don't think there are many populations left that aren't already integrated into the global capitalist system. In other words, most humans on the planet are already being exploited. So the basic colonial strategy which began with Columbus may be peaking. Any plan that depends on finding huge new reserves of natural and human capital to feed an ever growing economy is destined to fail. Of the people left to squeeze, two of the largest populations I can think of, the rural Chinese and sub-Saharan Africans, are already rapidly moving to cities to join the rest of the proles. Eventually this process will put workers in a more powerful position to organize and negotiate, and the coming shortage of sweatshop labor will force capitalists to improve work conditions and raise wages. I think it will be really interesting to watch what happens to the economy when capitalists have to pay a fair price for labor. I have the feeling that will be the end of globalization as we know it. We may see the pendulum swing back the other way, with many basic goods and services provided at the local or regional level. Coupled with rising energy prices, more expensive labor may be another force encouraging a re-localized economy.

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Yeah, but JewHeer about the 200 lil' men who run the world? Anything and everything goes through THEM and the coming police state. Though, alleluia!! They'll quickly croak underground while we'll be resurrected. So, be strong, man! Be brave! Kik'm in the bawls by your vertical thot process!! All is NOT over till you see the whites of their Is (or the Xs over their eyes). Git a gun, Paw, or two, and defend this land from tyranny. Hurry! Ammo's in short supply! God bless you. See ya soon, my brudda. Be at peace.