Is There Hope?

SUBHEAD: There is always hope. But it may be different than you think.  

By George Mobus on 16 November 2011 for Question Everything - (

Image above: "Hear no; See no; Speak no Evil Monkey" tattoo on human arm. From (*blog*wp-content*gallery*healed-tattoo*healedtattoomonkeys.jpg/).

There is Always Hope

If that write-in campaign that some readers suggested a while back were to work, and I was elected president, I would hire my gym buddy (ellipticals) Rudy to walk behind me whispering in my ear, “Remember, thou art mortal!” He does his best to keep me humble and this is a good thing. One of his most common complaints about this blog, and my writing, is that I usually finish my doom-and-gloom scenarios without a last message of hope.

Rudy has read many of the peak oil, collapse, and other end of civilization as we know it (EOCAWKI) books and he notes that every other author generally ends their work with something like, “...if only the powers that be would wake up and take action, we could fix these problems”, or “...if you do such and thus, you will be one of the survivors.” Essentially the modus operandi is to leave people with the hope that something could be done (and the authors often provide the solutions, if only...).

Hope for What?

To quote Rudy, “You got to leave them with hope!” OK Rudy here is my leaving them with hope.
The mainstream hope is for what is called “business as usual” or BAU. Let's face it, BAU is killing this planet (or at very least leading to the sixth great extinction event). Should we really hope that our American way of life is not only non-negotiable (as per Dick Cheney) but really deserves to be saved?

If a new miraculous energy production method were found (imagine nuclear fusion in a football sized reactor able to power 10,000 homes!) and we managed to bring it up to scale in time to avoid the worst shocks of fossil fuel peaking, would the Ecos be better off? In truth, would humanity be better off, in the long run?

Consider that such a miraculous power source could be used to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. That would be great, wouldn't it? But also consider that such a power source would allow us humans to grow in numbers and consumption of natural resources even more. Would that be good?
Also, all of that energy consumed in work (making our lives “better”) would add to the heat load of the planet directly. We wouldn't be faced with global warming due to the greenhouse effect, but by directly injecting heat into the atmosphere from all of our machines and abodes. Somehow the Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to win no matter what!
Hope for BAU is hope for not being inconvenienced in this lifetime. Little else. It is not hope for the future of humanity.

Perhaps, then, we should hope to save the bulk of the current population. Perhaps we can discover genetic modifications to food plants and biofuel plants that can at least provide us with the basic needs of our species (living in non-tropic climes) so that even if we all end up poorer, we will be able to survive and live reasonable lives.

We might miss our TVs and cable, our NASCAR Sundays and our Big Macs. But we will be able to keep the population stable and learn how to live within our physical means. The only problem is that we are still breeding and producing hungry mouths to feed. Even if everyone lived at a much reduced consumption level there are still far too many of us to live off of real-time solar energy resources alone. We would all end up far poorer than most people can imagine unless they've been to Somalia.
Hope for saving the population is hope for far more pain and suffering than can be imagined.

Well, what about hope for humanity in the form of at least saving some portion of the species so that our kind can go on? Surely some remnants of Homo sapiens can survive and be ready to produce a new civilization based on different principles. We can surely hold out hope that our species will survive whatever future traumas await us. Indeed some remnant must survive.

Only if it is composed of the average humans from our current population they will likely just behave like humans do now. They will make all the same mistakes our current clever but unwise species have made. Homo sapiens are adaptive and a surviving population chosen, more or less randomly, from the current population would simply continue to act as we have acted, selfishly and with no understanding of the larger scope consequences of our local, short-term actions. As adaptable as our species is, I suspect that given the same opportunities (finding energy sources, say) they would simply replicate the same mistakes we have made as a species with cleverness.

Hope for saving a remnant of the current species is hope that we will make the same mistakes all over again.

If not us then who?
But, hope for the genus, that is different. I have hope that some form of Homo does, in fact, survive and adapt to the future world. I just don't think it should be sapiens. Sapiens, after all, are not really particularly sapient! At least the average member of our species does not appear to have a sufficient level of sapience to have a more global scope of understanding*.

They do not really grasp the systemic nature of our world to the point of understanding the global and long-term consequences of their local current actions. Why they don't is perfectly understandable. We evolved in a world where that grasp was not really necessary. We are what we are.

But, unfortunately, we are also extremely clever beasts who have so altered the physical world (serious geologists want to call this period the Anthropocene to recognize the geological consequences of the existence of human beings) that we have created an environment that demands exactly that kind of scope in thinking in order to adapt to the environment.

In other words we have created the very conditions that contribute to the selection of necessary traits for greater sapience! We have created the selection forces that will work against sapiens and for a more sapient species in the future.

Hope for the genus is hope that we can become better beings.

Hope for evolution
My hope is that we current beings will be just sapient enough to recognize the ways of evolution. Even in our population of mere average sapiens there are variations in the gene pool that produce much greater sapience in a few individuals.

If we were to ensure the survival of those individuals through the coming turmoil (as best we could - no guarantees!) then the future generations of humans would be starting from a higher baseline of sapience and would, I suspect, be more likely to manage adaptation to the new world.

And, more importantly, our descendents would be positioned to make better choices in that future world because their capacity to acquire wisdom will be much greater, on average, than is the case presently for the extant population.

There is hope that a distant future form of humanity will survive and even thrive. I have this hope because we less sapient but very clever humans have come to understand how evolution works and can produce seeming improvements in the capabilities of animals.

We have come to understand the genetic basis for inheritance of traits and even how to read the genes relative to the particulars of those traits (though this ability is very new and needs development).
We have the understanding of how selection of traits works and how to bootstrap selection of a particular trait (as when we do animal breeding).

No illusions
I have no illusions that our species will adopt an explicit policy for identifying and favoring the few high sapient members of our populations. That would be entertaining a false hope in light of the ample evidence that we are unable to adopt such thinking.

As I write this I am imagining all of the people who are going nuts screaming “Eugenics, Eugenics! Evil!”

The average brain is unable to rise high enough to get the perspective of what is happening. I accept that, though it does cause me anguish. No, my real hope is that somehow those super-sapient individuals will self-recognize and seek out one another's company to form social networks and communities that can and will survive and adapt. My guess is that the super-sapient already surmise the need and intuit the actions. I am only supplying a voice to that implicit judgment.

Hope for wisdom
So there is the hope I have and leave you with. If you suspect that some young person is not just bright, but also has the seeds of higher sapience then encourage them to learn all that they can (particularly systems science!) about the world and what is really happening. Teach them about resilience and adaptability. If they are truly sapient they will learn without much prompting. Help them to meet and associate with other high sapient individuals.

Be sapient enough to recognize our own short comings and do not claim greater sapience for yourself (an old Chinese proverb says that if you think you are wise, then you are not!) Above all, have hope that the super-sapient among us will be the ones building a brave new world.
There, now maybe Rudy will stop complaining that I don't leave folks with hope!

* My suggestion is that we call our current species Homo calidus, meaning “Man the clever”. We are extremely clever, but not wise, it would appear.

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