Here we are in 2019. We have somehow managed to not blow ourselves up or unleash some new AI overlords. No super disease has swept through humanity, wiping us out in an unstoppable wave of diarrhea and vomit. We started at the bottom of the ocean and now we’re here. Good on us.
But where is here and other than not going extinct, how are we doing? I mean, as a species and as a civilization, how do we stack up? The fact that I even have to ask that question is probably answer enough but to truly answer it we have to ask what are we actually doing. What’s the goal of humanity? What’s the point of having an organized society in the first place?
I’ll start by stating the obvious. I am no social scientist nor do I have any sort of degree, diploma or authority on this or any subject. I am just a dude who thinks too much and choose to write it out instead of, I don’t know, have friends. Despite that, I am a human being who lives in the world. During that life, I have almost died in several, increasingly stupid ways, I have lived in my car, done some traveling but not really enough and most importantly, I have met a good number of other human beings. It was unavoidable, they’re everywhere these days. So whatever I say comes not as much from study but from just wallowing in the world around me and keeping my eyes and ears open. My life has in no way been exhaustive and is just one of about 7.5 billion experiences. Take it all with a giant bag of salt.
About 12,000 years ago humans started building places to live and stopped all their roaming around. They got together to build and farm and do whatever else they thought to do that long ago. As the kids say, but why though? What is the advantage of civilization over hunting and gathering? Well, no one really knows for sure but I think we can safely assume it wasn’t for the benefit of one person. When the prehistoric humans first started to settle I’m almost positive that Adam, Steve, Mary, Alice and Bob came to a nice looking valley and didn’t say,
“You know what Bob? We all decide we really like you. Why don’t we just stick around here for a while. We will do all the work and you just sit over there and chill. We’ll take care of you.”
I’m sure Bob was a great guy but it seems doubtful that the massive effort it took to start rebuilding the world didn’t happen for his sake. Who knows? Maybe the early citizens just really liked farming or maybe they thought they could do more and get farther in life together. Maybe they were just tired and the conversation went more like,
“Fuck, I am sick of walking. Let’s just rest here for a while. You know what? Let’s just rest here forever. Let the meat come to us. Or grow some corn. I don’t care. I just can’t walk another inch.”
Whatever the reason, they came to build settlements and settled down. I think this may be the only time we had it right. Everyone helping each other out and building cool stuff and inventing writing. It was good times except for all the disease and imminent death. Between the first homes 12,000 years ago and today we messed it up. Bob must have really impressed everyone and we started working for kings. We came up with religion and started dividing ourselves over our differences. Thus began this odd cycle we’ve trapped ourselves in. We make a bunch of progress, we get bored, and we go nuts killing each other. In fact, that’s probably the only thing we have continually progressed at, find new and inventive ways to end life.
But that was then. This is 2019 and a lot has changed. In 12,000 years we have, despite our best efforts, come a long way. In the last 100 years alone we have landed humans on the moon and an SUV of science on Mars. We invented all the best kinds of music. We made radio just to replace it with television and then replace that with the internet. We’ve had a lot of wars too but in one of them, we got to kill Nazis so it wasn’t all bad. Our ideas of what is possible have changed. Our relationship with each other and the planet has changed. Yet we are still clinging to this civilization thing. There must be something to this whole working as a species, one whole human tribe thing, if we are still at it. Otherwise, we would have dropped it a couple thousand years ago.
So what is it we want? What is the goal of this grand experiment we have going? I don’t want to get all political on you (Who am I kidding? Of course I do.) but you may have guessed I lean pretty far to the left. I’m the kind of guy who makes Bernie Sanders look like a centrist. So this may just be me but, I’ve always felt the goal of it all is to make life easier and better for as many people as possible. I, like a lot of people in the western world, wake up almost every day to go to a job I don’t like to earn just enough money that, if nothing goes wrong, I can survive on. I do all this so my bosses boss can send his kids to expensive colleges and buy a yacht. Then I die. This is a dumb system. Not feeding, housing and educating everyone on the planet because, according to our made up system that is only a few hundred years old, some people can’t afford it, is also a dumb system. We don’t know why people started civilization but I can hazard a guess it wasn’t so most everyone could work themselves to death to allow a handful of billionaires to use the planet and the surrounding solar system as a playground.
You may feel I’m oversimplifying things, and I am but, I feel like any complications that arise from trying to do the most good for everyone could be solved if 8 billion minds were working on them. If you look through a history book for even just the highlights, it’s obvious the only time we move the needle is when we’re working together. Curing disease is a group effort but, so is genocide. So we gotta set our sights on something. It’s dangerous for us to be directionless. Humanity has a thousand problems that need to be solved. We could easily fix them if we just set this machine of civilization on them. If we could cut it out with our strange tribalism, if we could stop bothering with who talks to what invisible friend, if we could shut up about who is sleeping with who, that would be 8 billion people thinking up solutions to our problems and not just a handful of people looking for ways to profit off them.
That may sound like some sort of utopian dream and that’s because that is exactly what it is. Isn’t that the goal? If it isn’t the goal, what the hell is? It will probably never happen. People will always fight. There will always be bigger and harder problems. But I would rather those problems be in the pursuit of perfection rather than mere survival. I want problems like building a Dyson sphere, curing all disease, getting the fastest internet possible or exploring the oceans. I’ll take those over fighting to get enough to eat, killing over drinking water or making it in some post-apocalyptical hellscape any day. I must be crazy.
So is this the best we can do? Is working at least 40 hours a week for 40 years to benefit a handful of billionaires really the best we got? We worked ourselves up for 12,000 years and all we can muster is Donald Trump? One of my least favorite things that rolls mindlessly out of peoples mouths is, “That’s just the way things are.” or something similar. What they should say is, that’s the way things are right now. The world didn’t magically form like it is today. It took a lot of work and bloodshed and care to get it like this and if we don’t like it, then we keep working at it to make it better.
How do we make it better though? I’m not suggesting it’s all a wash and that we should throw it all out and start again. I don’t think we have another 12,000 years to do that even if it was a good idea. No, we’ve done some good work and come up with some smart systems. Humans just need to be better about two main things. First, we need to recognize when something isn’t working and drop the parts that don’t work. We keep what does make sense and just alter it so it does the job better and for more people. Good examples of this are capitalism and organized religion. At the time I’m sure they were great ideas and really pulled the human race forward. Religion gave us community and a sense of morals in a hard world. But we can get those things now without the mystic or the cult-like fanaticism. Superman taught me my moral code and he never told me he was sending anyone to hell. Capitalism brought us out of feudalism and made us an industrialized world. But now that we’re here it’s gone a bit haywire. The pursuit of profits trumps all reason and logic. Does that mean we go back? No, we just make something better and when that stops working we make something else. That’s what life is. A struggle of progress toward not perfection, just improvement.
I’m no hippie. I despise the line of thinking that tells people that positive vibes and optimism will solve all the worlds problems. It will take work and sacrifice and more work. But we can do whatever we set out to do. So universal income? Sure let’s try it. We (America) will have to work on universal healthcare first but we are slow learners I guess. There’s no more oil or plastic? Ok, we find another way. The only way we do that though is accepting that we can’t keep doing what we are doing. That means no finding a way to better use oil. Why split our attention like that? Plus, all that stuff is so 20th century. Keep up. Give us something new. One of the main problems we will have to overcome if we want to survive till the next century is our habit of deifying the systems we create. The economy is not like a tidal wave. A tidal wave comes and the best you can do is prepare for it. We invented the economy. If we don’t like what it does to the world at large, we can change it. If we are gonna get anywhere at all, we have to stop letting our creations control us.
The hardest part of all of this won’t be deciding what to keep and what to leave in the dust of history or all the work we have left to do. What will truly be difficult is getting past our selfish human nature. The problems we have to solve won’t go away overnight. It will take generations before the fruits of our labor show some results. I may be an anarchist but I realize throwing a brick through a Starbucks window isn’t going to instantly make a free and equal world. I know I’m never going to see that world in my lifetime unless the scientists solve the aging problem, which they won’t be able to do without a lot more people working on it together. It’s called a struggle for a reason. Planting seeds for trees that cast shade we won’t enjoy as I believe the old adage goes. All I can realistically hope to do is help push the world in a direction that could one day give birth to an ideal world. Reality v. The Ideal. That is the true struggle for us all.
That brings us to 2019. I know a lot of us feel lost and bored. There’s a general sense of inevitability about the tide of bullshit that comes at us every day. A lot of us feel helpless. But we are not. We have the means and resources to make things better and so at this point it’s just a choice. I think we’re making the wrong one. All we have to do are small things to drag the world toward a better place. Punch a Nazi, feed someone hungry, take to the streets or let someone vent to you. It may be a small thing but 8 billion small things add up. In the end, the thing that will save us is the same thing that can destroy us. Ourselves.