Does nothing work right any more?

SUBHEAD: Do not be concerned over saving our civilizations. Be concerned with saving our genus. Image above: A model with a jaw of A. afarensis, the Lucy species of the human genus. From By George Mobus on 20 December 2009 in Question Everything - (

The results are in. Copenhagen was a bust.

We need to face a harsh reality (though, of course we won't). The world simply doesn't work the way we thought it did. Nothing we attempt any more will work. Because we simply don't know what we are doing.

I have called our species Homo calidus, man the clever. I've also called it Homo pseudosapiens, man the falsely wise. Events of this last year, indeed for the last several decades have done no more than convince me further that our species is now unfit to survive in the very world that it created with its cleverness and lack of true wisdom. What continues to amaze me is the vast number of people who can't use their intelligence to grasp this after witnessing the unending evidence.

What, pray tell, has gone right for humanity in the last several decades? The seeming economic boom in the '90s has proven to be a spasm of phony wealth production, all paper and no substance. Now we know the bankers and brokers have looted the treasury while making it look like there was an honest to god cornucopia pouring forth its treasures on the world. It was all hype. It was all Bernie Madoff and Kenneth Lay.

Democracy is a failed experiment. Its companion, free enterprise (capitalism) has proven far more destructive than could have ever been imagined. Both together have unleashed the worst in our psyches, greed, avarice, imprudence, selfishness, all under the ruse of harnessing these for a greater good — providing material wealth for a constantly growing population.

Never mind that this system seemed to have beat out the competition. Just winning the battle doesn't mean you are the good guys. And though communism failed to deliver on the promises of more material wealth, at least within the seeds of its conception lay a basic truth about human nature and human society, that we are and need to be a social animal.

Unfortunately, the strength of sociality depends on scale. You can love your neighbor and your work associates, but it is impossible to love or even like everyone. Indeed most of us care very little about anyone of different ethnic, racial, or geographical location. We didn't evolve to operate in global societies or even city-sized societies. The in-group/out-group psychology that we evolved to protect and nurture the tribe simply doesn't translate to thousands, millions, and definitely not billions of people.

So it has been increasingly easy, in a globalizing world with a 24/7 news cycle, to rationalize our own group's superiority and all others as not worthy of our concern. In some cases we even see them as sub-human in order to justify treating them inhumanely. And once you have those sentiments for distant groups it doesn't take a lot to move the boundary closer in. Until of course it just surrounds each of us as individuals. Even Ken Lay's family became victims of his malfeasance.

The majority of human beings are neither intelligent nor wise enough to recognize our own shortcomings. I suppose this isn't surprising in retrospect. I spent years agonizing over the question of why were we in our predicament. It took a lot of time, careful study, and throwing off some fond beliefs about our species before it became clear to me what was going on. It has also become clear that the number of people in this world who could actually grasp and process this message is exceedingly small.

I'm sorry if this offends any of you. It is not my intent to do so. I am compelled to write what I have found in hopes that there are more than a few who might wisely recognize the problem or intelligently follow the reasoning and realize that they must provide support for what must be done to salvage the genus Homo, as may be possible.

Our so-called global leaders have now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not (not even a few of them) possess the wisdom and fortitude necessary to provide true leadership. As I said, democracy as practiced in the US's political system, has produced leaders who lead only in the sense of finding a parade (apparently of ignorant fools) and getting in front of it. Business leaders are proving just as worthless as they pillage their own companies and the worker classes for their own aggrandizement and financial gain.

Religious leaders? Well I lament the fact that so many people still believe that some class of persons have special insights into a realm that, by definition, provides no provable evidence of its existence, let alone causal influence on the material universe. The most I can say for religious leaders is that they have also figured out how to take advantage of the general lack of wisdom and intelligence in the population. Witness the state of understanding of evolution in the US. What a sad commentary on leadership and followership (and education).

For a final little piece of evidence of our sad state of affairs I offer this morning's New York Times article by Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite kicking boys with regard to such things. In a piece titled "Off To The Races", NYT Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009, Friedman laments the Copenhagen results and reflects on two different 'strategies' for addressing the global warming issue.

He calls these the 'Earth Day' strategy and the 'Earth Race' strategy. The first he characterizes as the typical feel-good, let's all cooperate and reduce our carbon footprint approach. The second is a variation on a theme he has used before; let's see who can win the race to invent and distribute new clean energy technology (what he refers to as ET in similarity to information technology, IT).

He likens this to the space race, which ostensibly the US won against the then Soviet Union. We should challenge the Chinese to a race to the top of ET. And with the appropriate cost on carbon (e.g. a carbon tax or at least cap-and-trade) the free market will allow entrepreneurs to invent that ET and make everyone fabulously rich. Never mind that establishing a carbon cost imposed by government doesn't exactly fit everyone's notion of a 'free' market. The point is Friedman actually believes that our problems can be invented and entrepreneured away.

I would have to conclude that Mr. Friedman has never taken a serious physics course. Nor can he grasp the fundamental difference between energy technology and information technology; the latter has followed Moore's Law, the former cannot take advantage of that phenomenon for basic physical reasons.

Friedman is one of the smarter observers of the world and how it works. He has done a credible job of recognizing some macro phenomena in globalization (e.g. "The World is Flat"). I have found his middle east policy thoughts much less intelligent and more ideological. But in this arena of energy he shows exactly what humanity is up against in its plight. If the brightest among us, such as Friedman and as many of us thought Obama to be, can't discriminate such fine points because they are predisposed to 'believe' in the miracle of the free market and human ingenuity in spite of physical laws as final as the second law of thermodynamics, then what are we to expect?

There is a small group of people, some of whom I have endeavored to meet and get to know personally, who have demonstrated a higher level of intelligence AND wisdom. I judge this by their demonstrated capacity to think about the future and what humanity needs to do to salvage itself.

They show the traits I have written about as sapience; strong moral sentiments applied to humanity and not just some local in-group; exceptional systemic thinking — seeing the wholeness, and connectedness rather than just a narrow, isolated part; global scale strategic thinking — long-term consideration for macro-scale interactions and consequences; and exceptional judgment regarding complex social problems — bringing to bear, on decision making, a wealth of integrated tacit knowledge resulting from the prior three components.

This gives hope that the population of higher sapient individuals is not so small as to be totally negligible. While I don't see this population actually solving humanity's problems, simply because humanity has largely lost the capacity to listen to and heed the wise, I do see them formulating a plan for what happens after the bottleneck event I've written about (see my review of William Catton's book, "Bottleneck: Humanity's Impending Impasse").

Long ago, in more simple societies where people knew each other and had more respect for wisdom (vs. cleverness) these kinds of people were called seers. According to one dictionary definition: Seer noun

  1. a person who sees; observer
  2. a person who prophesies future events; prophet: Industry seers predicted higher profits
  3. a person endowed with profound moral and spiritual insight or knowledge; a wise person or sage who possesses intuitive powers
  4. a person who is reputed to have special powers of divination, as a crystal gazer or palmist
My definition:
  • One who can see the deep history of mankind and how we have evolved
  • One who can see the present situation of mankind in breadth and depth
  • One who can see the future evolving based on the present and the past
  • One who understands reality based on science
  • One who is wise in judgment
The word 'see' here also means 'understands'. Such ability to understand is based on the component capacities of sapience mentioned above.

Calling all seers! Connect and self-organize. Do not be concerned over saving our civilizations. Be concerned with saving our genus.

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