I'm particularly happy with its outcome so I'm posting it here.
The original article was Charles C Mann's State of the Species for Orion Magazine.
It's not necessary to read this article to enjoy my response to it.
The comment below was posted on the (Facebook) Near Term Human Extinction Support Group which I'm a proud member of.
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The "State of the Species" article is very well-written and well-researched, however I believe it falls short of making several larger points which I'll attempt to do here.
I want to address the idea of over-population that you mentioned, Kirsten, but to do so I have to briefly mention two things: Pro-activism and self-awareness. You might never have heard the term pro-activism before, but that's because it doesn't exist yet, and may never exist. It's a term I made up to describe the idea that humans will act ahead of time in order to prevent a crisis, as opposed to acting only when the crisis forces us to do so. In the above article Charles Mann refers to this as his personal hope that humans may one day exercise Hara Hachi Bu (self-restraint) en masse, but what he doesn't mention is that do so would require no less than the enormous feat of uniting the planet. (Remember the 90's when that's what us New Age hippies were all about?)
What that looks like in practical reality however would be something akin to a people's own global parliament which would allow us to make our own decisions above any governments or corporations. Even the United Nations. Only once we (humankind) make our own decisions, as one planet, could we be able to make any kind of effective change towards the number of global crises facing us now. (This scenario also assumes that if we did create a global parliament that a global majority would vote in favour of sensible, necessary measures: Not guaranteed).
The reason why this article appeals to me, in particular, is because I've often used the analogy of a virus in a petrie dish to describe the kind of transformation a global parliament would have on the human race. Essentially, it would be like the virus becoming self-aware and then acting as a single organism. It would stop growing blindly like a virus, or a cancer, and would begin to stem its own growth for the sake of its own survival. In essence, if a virus became self-aware it would no longer be a virus. The same goes for our species.
If we could see ourselves as a functional part of a whole organism then our behaviour would change accordingly. This would continue to change the longer we lived in that new environment and the more we would start to identify with the collective as ourselves. OR... in simpler terms, just the creation of a world parliament alone, giving us the ability to vote as a whole planet, would be enough to start getting people to think more globally, and the more they did this the better at it they'd become.
Here's something interesting though, we would also begin to feel human emotions that we have never had the opportunity to feel before. Think about that. Brand new emotions. What would it feel like to actually be part of a united planet? To participate globally? To be able to defeat a giant corporation just by choosing to? To change on a deeply fundamental level? To evolve?...
You can try this for yourself right now if you want: Imagine the world's people (including you) had just voted on our optimal number for how many people we should have in the world. That's the kind of things a responsible, self-aware species would decide on, or in our case- put to a vote. Now imagine accepting the globally agreed upon "Optimal World Population Number" of just 1 billion people world-wide. If you could find it in yourself to actually accept this number, even if (or especially if) our world population number was over this figure and you would be willing to let this impact your individual decisions, then you, my friend, would be a responsible citizen of the world. You'd be a healthy human cell in the sustainable organism that is the human species- which means that you and your species will happily survive in harmony with the other species around you and the planet itself. Huzzah! And that is a very different set of emotions than what we have now in the emotional spectrum of our current human experience. We can imagine what this might feel like, but that's not the same as actually feeling it as a result of the reality itself. Unfortunately, we're a long way off from experiencing that reality, and while I wholeheartedly support efforts that try to get us there, I'm also not too optimistic we ever will.
Indeed, a global parliament does represent the fastest, if not the only way to create a kinder, gentler and sustainable future, however it also needs a certain level of our civilization to be intact in order to allow this process to begin. This means there's now a time limit. The entire process of uniting the human species needs to happen before our civilization is first brought down by either climate change, peak oil, a global financial collapse, or worse, peak chocolate. (Yes, that's a real thing).
When I see the modern spectacle of concrete, cars, glass towers and tiny gadgets I see only the blind growth of an unconscious civilization. It is all Progress, but progress towards what exactly? The answer, it seems, is the edge of the petrie dish. There is absolutely no consensus about where we're going. Civilization is simply the emergent behaviour of our money exchange culture by a species that still can't see itself. /rant.
Unfortunately, the greatest reason why I have now become a reluctant pessimist is because I simply don't see the human will to unite. The majority of people the world over are simply not motivated to do so pre-crisis. Maybe we will form some kind of global parliament during all the turmoil that awaits us, after all, the Renaissance happened during a time of terrible cultural decay and economic tumult, as well as the Hundred Years' War, The Inquisition and the Black Plague, but this time around the stakes are so very much higher. It's now all or nothing and I don't see a matching level of urgency or willingness to change reflected in the culture around me.
I will still put my energy into the creation of a world parliament, not just because it could actually provide a genuine systemic solution to overpopulation, climate change, global inequality and other global systemic problems, but also because it seems the noble thing to do in the time we have remaining. If we are doomed, and I think that's highly likely, then it would be nice if humanity could open its eyes and see itself, even if ever-so-briefly, before its time is finally over.
In fact, it would be more than just nice. It would be wonderful.