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The Myth of Human Progress

Posted by marshallz10 z9-10 CA (My Page) on
Wed, Jan 16, 13 at 0:05

Chris Hedges has written a sobering commentary on the chances of human beings responding in timely ways to a growing threat of multiple environmental and social problems. The article begins with this somber truth:

"Clive Hamilton in his "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change" describes a dark relief that comes from accepting that "catastrophic climate change is virtually certain." This obliteration of "false hopes," he says, requires an intellectual knowledge and an emotional knowledge. The first is attainable. The second, because it means that those we love, including our children, are almost certainly doomed to insecurity, misery and suffering within a few decades, if not a few years, is much harder to acquire. To emotionally accept impending disaster, to attain the gut-level understanding that the power elite will not respond rationally to the devastation of the ecosystem, is as difficult to accept as our own mortality. The most daunting existential struggle of our time is to ingest this awful truth�intellectually and emotionally�and continue to resist the forces that are destroying us."

Good luck, my fellow apes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Myth of human progress


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The Myth of Human Progress

"We are Ice Age hunters with a shave and a suit."

A frightening but good, thoughtful article, Marshall, thank you.

( Is there no hope? I suspect not. No great society before us managed to survive - we are not that much smarter than were they, I fear. More informed perhaps, but a fat lot of good all that information has done us.)


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"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
Lily Tomlin


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Thanks, Marshallz.

"The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth�as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury�as well as unrivaled military and economic power�for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism. We have bound ourselves to a doomsday machine that grinds forward..."

No matter how it's said, it still comes down to the same thing... a species with portions that are greedier than they are forward thinking... which dooms the rest of us to future oblivion in the name of their comfort...


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Don't worry, you boomers and seniors won't be around when it happens...


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Wright uses the pronoun "we" an awful lot. Things might be clearer to him if he understood that there is no we when it comes to humanity's impact on the planet. This simplistic idea that we could just decide to stop using fossil fuels is as unrealistic as thinking that we could have decided not to take the Americas from "them".

What has happened is more or less true as described (though the Easter island resource-depletion collapse as popularized by Diamond, according to a recent book by two anthropologists, may have been much more complex) but the use of the 'we' makes it seem as if large societies are rational, but I know and you know they are not. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" as it turns out is relentlessly greedy and irrational.


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That's why you must rely on this forum for a daily dose of the rational...


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Pat, would "they" be a better pronoun, once removed responsibility, so to speak. "We" refers
to the human species that have adopted the most advanced technological processes for accelerated exploitation of environments and peoples.


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pn, would you mind sharing the name of the book you mention? We are going to the Easter Islands this Spring and I'm curious to learn more about the depletion before we get there.


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Wright again: "The very things that cause societies to prosper in the short run, especially new ways to exploit the environment such as the invention of irrigation, lead to disaster in the long run because of unforeseen complications. This is what I called in "A Short History of Progress" the 'progress trap.' We have set in motion an industrial machine of such complexity and such dependence on expansion that we do not know how to make do with less or move to a steady state in terms of our demands on nature.

If it wasn't so tragic it would be funny. People in the US complain and complain about "saddling our children with debt" yet think nothing of ultimately destroying the environment for their great-grandchildren.

Who among the "we" is willing to make the steps necessary to change our course? To care about the pollution we spew as we create the things so "essential" to our happiness? To stop harmful processes like fracking and spilling oil into the coastal wetlands - profit making activities which permanently alter the life and shape of the land? Activities which KILL the flora and fauna that we feel we are entitled to do in our pursue of happiness ....


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RE: The Myth of Human Progress

Chase, I don't remember the name of the book. It is two professors who have been on the ground there for some years, UofHawaai, I believe. You can google it up.

They make a pretty convincing case that the natives eventually adapted to the sparser environment, which included some clever horticultural innovations. What ultimately shattered them was the diseases brought by Europeans.


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I enjoyed the video of Chris Hedges being shouted down by cries of 'USA! USA! USA!' and 'Traitor!' when making his Commencement address at what is described as a 'liberal arts college' back when the Iraq Occupation was announced. I think he lost his job at the NYT as a result of his opposition to the policy.

Brave man. Thanks for linking to him. Sorry not to have a view on his climate change/capitalism doom - no doubt some of it is valid.

Best wishes
Jon


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RE: The Myth of Human Progress

Thanks Pn
I'll see what I can track down....


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Doesn't matter if we're here to see it all fall apart or not, Tobr... most of us have children and grandchildren that will have to survive in the world we've left for them. It's extremely worrisome... especially knowing we don't have the influence, power, or money to make the necessary changes.


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Hedges is a very incisive thinker, I enjoy his essays.


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No matter that we may mount on stilts, we still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom. Montaigne.

"You like it eat it"
Harold, Boys in the Band


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History is replete with every generation having to clean up some sort of mess left by the previous one. Our children and their children will have to deal with ours...


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Not really; history is replete with accumulating messes that each generation manages to mitigate enough to survive for another generation. Massive numbers of mostly unrecorded extinctions are a hallmark of modern technological societies combined with expotential growth of human populations experiencing declining qualities of living.


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you are completely right marshall , none of us wants to cope with the emotional knowledge that our children or grandchildren will suffer.... plain old denial


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Where is my hanky...


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I stole it and am fashioning it into a noose !!


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I knew that I should have stuck to tissue...


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  • Posted by ohiomom 3rdrockfromthesun (My Page) on
    Thu, Jan 17, 13 at 8:36

People in the US complain and complain about "saddling our children with debt" yet think nothing of ultimately destroying the environment for their great-grandchildren.

I brought this up recently on another thread, it amazes me that it is okay to leave a ravaged planet to our children/grandchildren as long as there is "money to be made".


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Be nice if they also wanted to leave a little world peace!


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Got it. "Animals on 2 legs" is what I call Homo sapiens, with some fairly recently evolved parts of the brain that give us the ability to think.

I've pretty much digested the very depressing reality that humans are destroying the planet, and we simply can't and/or don't want to restrain ourselves. Doesn't really matter if a person is rich or poor, because if most of the current poor were suddenly rich, they would behave no better than the current rich.

I find it odd that people wail about the world we are leaving to our grandkids, because therein lies one of the major problems. We need to STOP following our instincts and restrain ourselves from breeding out of control, but that too will never happen.

My son, who is attending a highly regarded local polytechnic institute, is by nature a scientist, and already understands much of this. Took me 40 years! Incidentally, I told him years ago not to have grandkids on my account, but that's ultimately his decision.

Btw, from what I understand, most of the native Americans in North America (80-90%) died from European diseases to which they had no resistence.


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Only part of the problem is over-population. The other parts have to do with the human condition. People are greedy, impatient, selfish, concerned with personal comfort today, and seem not too concerned with tomorrow, and how actions of today will affect everything tomorrow, and for generations to come.

Those who are in influential positions to make large changes for the good of humanity are not stepping up to that plate. Certainly not enough persons in influential positions to make a difference.

I don't have all the answers, but I can see the problems. And a great many seem based in greed and lack of personal ethics.


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Yes I agree that greed is a big problem, but I view greed as partially instinctive. During our millenia of evolution, when we struggled on a razor thin edge to survive, it seems to me it would have been natural to want to hoard during times of abundance. Also, to eat as much as possible when food was abundant. We still have those instincts, they are very powerful (as is the instinct to reproduce).

Btw, I do think that humans have made some progress! We are as a whole intellectually and spiritually more evolved than we were 2,000 or 20,000 years ago. Apparently not enough yet.


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Spiritual evolution hardly has kept pace with technological revolutions that magnify/intensify human impacts on the biosphere.


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WHAAAAA I wanna kill an Elephant whaaa!
Whaaa I wanna kill a tiger whaaaa!
Whaaaa whaaa whaaa!


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RE: The Myth of Human Progress

Exactly, Joe... along with... whaaa, I want to make a killing at the expense of other human beings and things that don't affect me, personally... because I can't decide when enough is enough, and I've closed myself off to the suffering around me... out of sight, out of mind.

Some things may be instinctual, but we, as a society, have surely come further intellectually. There are more people that can't hoard, and being overweight is often more than eating too much... it's often about eating the wrong things because we don't have a choice.

It's not just American wealth that's skewed... it's global wealth.


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As difficult as small town living can be, members of such a community are forced to acknowledge their interdependence and make adjustments in individual choices that affect the whole. That *selfish* care for the whole (because it is YOUR'S) is absent in larger, anonymous-to-one-another communities.

In a small place, you know the pro's and con's of the person you're entrusting with the job of mayor or sheriff. You probably know his grandma! No, it's not 'ideal', but it is INFORMED democracy, and possibly as good as it gets. The tribe. The village. YOUR place *within* the whole. It's 'messy'. It can feel stifling, but everyone is accountable.


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That was a sobering article, It looks like the only way out is to transition to a new economic system that doesn't demand continuing growth. That isn't likely to happen any time soon.

This was interesting to me:

""There is a pattern in the past of civilization after civilization wearing out its welcome from nature, overexploiting its environment, overexpanding, overpopulating," Wright said when I reached him by phone at his home in British Columbia, Canada. "They tend to collapse quite soon after they reach their period of greatest magnificence and prosperity."

I really should read the book to be sure I'm understanding what Wright is saying, but I don't think you can say, in retrospect, that societies collapsed after they reached their greatest magnificence and prosperity. I think at most you can say is that the societies were prosperous and magnificent when they collapsed. Right now in the U.S. prosperity for a large number of people is dwindling, so I guess the U.S. should have collapsed in the 60's. Magnificence is too subjective to say much about, but the late 60's cultural revolution could have been the U.S. peak.


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Hmmm, hopefully Joe , your brain chip will arrive soon and settle you down


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The evidence of societies that have risen to great heights then virtually disappeared is evident in the ruins they left. Central and south America are ripe with evidence of lost societies and tribes as are Africa, Asia and Europe. We still cannot figure why many of them suddenly became abandoned or were built in the first place. The great experiment that we are living will hopefully give us the answers before it is our turn to suddenly disappear.

Here is a link that might be useful: 12 of the World�s Most Mysterious Monuments & Ruins


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Althea: "...I don't think you can say, in retrospect, that societies collapsed after they reached their greatest magnificence and prosperity. I think at most you can say is that the societies were prosperous and magnificent when they collapsed. Right now in the U.S. prosperity for a large number of people is dwindling, so I guess the U.S. should have collapsed in the 60's. Magnificence is too subjective to say much about, but the late 60's cultural revolution could have been the U.S. peak."

I agree. Well said, IMO.


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Oh My Pam settle down that would be living death!


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hahahahahah!!


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I need to correct my post. According to this chart, real wages peaked @ 1974, not the 60's, and have been declining with some upward fluctuation since then.

Wikipedia has another chart on productivity and real wages sowing wages remain flat after '74.

Didn't oil peak around the same time?

That was also the period in the U.S. when environmental concerns began to be taken seriously instituting regulations and clean-ups. Global capitalists answer was to move the production facilities to areas of the world with few regulations and low wages.

Without some major shift in conscience and world view, the environment, natural and human will continue to decline.


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In an oil-backed economy it would obviously follow that less oil is less prosperity.


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That's exactly it... change isn't likely to happen. Certainly not on a scale necessary to save this planet from eventual destruction. The societal/monetary models won't change, and as a result, humanity will have killed the planet's ability to support life.


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In an oil-backed economy it would obviously follow that less oil is less prosperity.

Absolutely.

Does anyone know if those other societies that collapsed did so as a result of over exploitation of their primary natural economic resource? Those examples were localized. This one is world-wide.

The societal/monetary models won't change, and as a result, humanity will have killed the planet's ability to support life.

And even those with no power or influence will suffer the consequences.


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I very much doubt humanity's actions will at any point "kill" the planet's ability to support life. That claim covers a lot of ground (so to speak). Certainly humanity's activities may ultimately make existence very different for a lot of life forms, and many more will be extirpated from broad areas and cease to exist altogether. Humankind, being a large and demanding animal, is at pretty fair risk for extinction, but that will take some time.


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Well that's comforting, Pat!


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  • Posted by vgkg 7-Va Tidewater (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 18, 13 at 17:02

Even if we can survive as a civilized world without destroying ourselves just how many humans can this planet support? Our technology has propped us up food & energywise so far, what's the sustainable limit - 10 billion? 15, 20? Clean drinking water may be the thing that we'll starve for before a lack of food. A Great Culling in our future?


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Some scientists think we're in a 6th mass extinction, and this one is being caused by humans. But that means the Earth has undergone at least 5 mass extinctions before now. Meteorites strike, volcanoes erupt, sea levels go up and down, and ice ages come and go.

I'm not worried about the long term health of the planet. If and when humans are gone, the Earth will go through more evolution and new species will evolve and biodiversity will be restored.

Meanwhile, it's frustrating and painful that we are destroying natural habitats and killing off other species. If only we could use our intelligence and technology in better ways.


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  • Posted by bboy USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA (My Page) on
    Fri, Jan 18, 13 at 22:13

>I'm not worried about the long term health of the planet. If and when humans are gone, the Earth will go through more evolution and new species will evolve and biodiversity will be restored<

I think it is said that with each previous mass extinction there has been a big drop in diversity with following times not making up the difference.


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Interesting concept: when was planet Earth most diverse in life forms, or is that still to happen?


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I would love to know the answer to that question, pn.
If I was to make a bet, it would be before the oil economy, and before we became so efficient at killing: pesticides and eradication of nuisance animals. We've changed the balance, and I expect that bacterium's and virus's will try to fill in the missing gaps.


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You forgot the fungi and the taxa filling the niches between bacteria and fungi. In total biomass, the microorganisms dominate the biosphere. Life on earth is found miles below the surface, in the deepest deeps of the oceans, in the extreme temperature and chemical environments on earth. Lifeforms will easily persist; maybe not us.


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