Being Hopeful About the Future
Joe Brewer
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The balance, of the ethnographic, archaeological, and genetic evidence so far, indicates that we are not destined to form hierarchies based on aggression or wealth, or to mix it up violently the moment we spot a group of people with a different appearance or economy from our own. In fact, if anything, the reproductive and economic strategies of our species seem better at opportunistically capitalizing on creating networks that created constant exchanges of goods, information, romances, or promises, networks that would never have survived, had we some instinct for war, some innate territorial imperative, to overcome every time we encountered people from a neighbouring deme.

You know as well as I do what it meant when the genomes of the Neanderthals and modern humans came out. To make things even more poignant, it has become clear that people from all over Eurasia and Africa interbred with “archaic” forms of Homo, and that even Neanderthals engaged in “gene flow” with more than one “unknown” other population. And this was long before they even had a chance to try out their opening lines and moves with members of opposite sex out of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Humans are just clever enough to create a global economy powerful and dangerous as an asteroid in altering the evolution of life on a planetary scale. Are we going to be clever enough to avoid this? If we are, then we can find a way to avoid more war, more genocide, more ecocide, and make peace through that balance of opportunistic self-interest and sociable compassion, that it took us a couple of million years to perfect?

That balancing act is a great evolutionary gift, and now, after only ten thousand years of experiments, we are discovering, great gifts come at a dangerous price: they entail great responsibility. In danger, honour. And honour and responsibility arise from emotion and sociability; from that odd inter-dimensional physics of our hearts and minds. As such, these things, which matter most to us, are so far inscrutable to biological measurement, yet instantly recognizable, even to very young children.

Without honour and responsibility, our industrial civilization is nothing but a blight on a suicidal path, the species-level equivalent of a mass murderer on a rampage. Between mountain top removal in Virginia, the growing crater in Northern Alberta, the current rate of soil erosion, the lamentations of marine biologists, and statistics on the rate of species extinction; in all of these, the danger I referred to, in the above, is no doubt as clear to you as it is to me. I am sure I need not also direct you to the evidence of palpable panic among climate scientists.

That is why this conversation matters.