Weekend Thoughts On The Future Of Human Kind
This morning I was musing again on the the man called Oetzi, the mummy found up in the Austro-Italian alps, dead these 5,300 years and more. Roughly my age, he was able to smelt copper from raw ore; had an axe he made himself; snowshoes which converted to a backpack; bow and arrows; layered outerwear; the tattoed markings of acupuncture for relief of lower back pain; and twenty different kinds of moss and bark, variously as toilet paper, firestarter, antibiotic, dressing, bandage, who knows what else.
Archaelogists said the axe was impossible, insisting that a passerby must have dropped it there an eon or so later, because Oetzi lived well before the bronze age. They were given the lie and the European bronze age had to be moved back by 1,ooo years; forensics proved he had inhaled the fumes of smelting, the resulting arsenides preserved in his tissues. Technically Italian, he came from a valley some 15 kilometers to the south, had a deep cut between his left hand and index finger from warding off a recent knife slash, various wounds on wrist and chest, the blood of at least 4 other humans had spilled upon him or his weapons that day, and his death came from an artery attenuated via an unreachable arrow wound in his back.
While bleeding to death, he climbed more than 3,000 remarkable feet up a glacier, which if you've ever shot a mammal you know they never bleed uphill, not for long, but he somehow made it to the top where the ensuing snows packed down into ice, eventually melting to reveal him. He did not leave a web site to record whatever vendetta or ambition, the wronged family, stolen sheep, or misadventure which provoked him or any companions to war. Just his highly improbable body, a flawed savant of survival. For all our technology, in many ways we compare to such ancestors as domesticated dogs do to wolves.
The yin of technology pulls against the yang reverting back to the mean, and the synecdoches of our individual selves catch in the maelstrom, innoculated from typhus and shielded from tuberculosis, yet hunted by diabetes, infused with mercury raining down from the sky. New problems, the oft-unacknowledged bastards of new solutions ever-filigreed onto the dynamically stable substrate of interlocking matter. Each form of matter flows by responding to resonant forces, forming sense organs of tensile communication, capillary waves creasing across themselves and the body of the universe as incarnate breezes blow across water. Distracted, detail-oriented creatures as we are, we usually don't notice much of it. Yet even we could not but witness the interplay of earth and cosmos in the turgidity of reality, and the great rhythm of the tides.
Such apprehensions led us to technologies like axe and acupuncture, bark and moss, crutches to give us a leg up on the big cats and birds and tiny animalculae which have killed us, our powerful brains steadily turning the tables on them with deadly, existential interest. For which "progress" is the English word. When we think about it at all, just as every animist, ancient, or merely old religion espoused amongst the evidence relentless and abundant, we know everything is connected. Albeit at times it's so extraordinarily complex as to not be immediately apparent how.
The same paradoxical prowess which identifies the interconnections, the relationships and their natures, is the same which seduces us into thinking we can thrive independent of the effects of our solutions upon the arboreal universe around us. Simply being aware of both the prowess and the paradox has (as it were) allowed me speak Arabic in the houses of the Moors and emerge again, sometimes even unscathed. On the one hand I have worked, one might even say lived, with people whose belief in the saving power of technology is absolute. On the other I've dwelt among and belonged to a group who fervently believe they are the blessed chosen of Divine Providence, and will one day be gods themselves.
Convincing the Moor to change, of course, is a different matter. Mere survival is a more realistic objective. When global climate change was first discussed in my presence by a group of MBA students in 1991, it was with open derision. I'd never heard of the subject, but my reflexes twitched to air a contrary view, couched in reason: "If we know so little of the earth's processes, and know so much of industry's pollutions, wouldn't a more conservative approach serve us best?" (The response: nonsense. Environmentalism will turn us into paupers. Show me a way to make money off of the environment, then environmentalism makes sense. There's your f____g paradox!)
It was fun writing the recent "Competitive Environmentalism" post, my attempt at magical realism; it must have bubbled up from less facetious considerations. We are savants of survival, lords and creators of the tensile internet, and there is much to be said for laughing in the face of danger. And yet--organized matter is extremely sensitive to even the most delicate influences, exquisitely prone to tragic breakdown into component substances. Thermodynamics. As I write there are fearsome polar bears no longer feeling so fearsome nor polar, maladapted suddenly to their shrinking ice caps, mulling over the merits of growing gills. As surely as they will be extinct, we will be impacted by ourselves, perhaps collapsed all the way back to Oetzi. A terminus for which we have never been more ill-prepared. Asking, "Can technology save the bears," is the same question as, "Can it save us?"
Yes it can, and the Dalai Lama is invading China next Tuesday. We live every one of us by faith, and proceed each day with a certain measure of optimism. Certainly it takes those, and in fairly large portions, to knowingly bring a child into our world, with the Acheron itself gurgling before us. Whilst the arctic tundras will melt and release so much methane gas trapped in their grounds it could light the earth's atmosphere like a barbecue, torching and tormenting my offspring into extinction, it's not in me to cry "vanity, vanity."
It helps that it's sunny in Seattle, a glorious Saturday morning, and as the cock-eyed character Chauncy Gardener once said, "There will be growth in the Spring." Today is for setting barrels to collect rain, seeds to gather sun. To stir the soil and plant for future gain--the doubts in our issues may be grave, but ain't it ever thus and despite it being so, there have been signs of progress in human affairs. Some of us will probably survive at the margins of the globe, forced into greater wisdom, bigger changes in the brain. Every step we take towards the one helps towards the other, and re-confessing our connectedness is the first.