A New Reality: Human Values and World Population

By Jonathan Salk

On April 12, 1955, the success of the first Polio Vaccine was announced. Overnight, Jonas Salk, my father, became known world-wide as a benefactor of humankind. He had achieved something remarkable — something that would have been enough for a lifetime for most. However, he continued to work for the health and welfare of all human beings for the rest of his life.

Today on April 12, 2017, we are launching a Kickstarter campaign to share his insights to new generations. The following article is an adaptation from a new edition of a book he and I wrote in 1981. It describes an epochal transition in human life that is taking place in our lifetimes. The book envisions a time of increased health and well-being for people in every part of the world. It is a kind of vaccine of hope.

A New Reality: Human Values and World Population

We are living at an extraordinary moment in human history and human social evolution.

We have the capacity to do so much good for humankind, yet there is widespread unrest, confusion, and conflict. Our country is divided and polarized. Terrorism persists. Controversy continues as to what forms of energy to rely on. Disagreements abound about climate change. Economic inequality is seen throughout the world. Opposing opinions collide as to how much we should help others and how much to help ourselves both nationally and internationally.

Basic values are in conflict.

What is going on?

50 years ago, writing in his notebooks, Jonas Salk looked at the course of human population growth, which was, it seemed, increasing without limit.

He reasoned that the increase could not go on forever and that growth would likely slow and reach a plateau. Current UN projections bear this out.

This graph formed an S-shaped or sigmoid curve.

He abstracted that curve and noted that it can be divided at its midpoint, the point of inflection, into two distinct portions: an upward facing, accelerating curve called Epoch A, and a downward facing, decelerating curve, Epoch B.

He reasoned that the world looks very different depending on where a person is on this curve.

In Epoch A, resources seem limitless. Unrestricted growth, expansion, and exploitation of both natural and human resources are rewarded. Values of consumption, excess, independence, and short-range thinking are most beneficial. In the different conditions of Epoch B, where resources are limited and growth is slowing, there would be high value placed on conservation/sustainability, balance, interdependence, and long-range thinking.

He also theorized that an emphasis on quantity of human lives and on fighting disease in Epoch A would, in Epoch B, give way to a focus on the quality of human lives and on the promotion of health and well-being. Movements like Thrive Global are clear examples of this shift.

The point of transition would be a time of maximal conflict and tension. Looked at from the short-term, we seem to be mired in a discord and chaos.

Looked at from a longer perspective, we see that this conflict is part of an understandable evolutionary or developmental process.

What is remarkable about this shift is that it is likely to occur not because of what is morally “right” or “wrong”. It will occur because this change is necessary for human survival. It is not a response to some moral imperative; it is a response to evolutionary pressure and the need to adapt to conditions in a new reality.

The course of this transition is not predetermined. It is under our influence. If we hold to values of rapid, sustained growth, unrestricted use of resources, competition, and short-term thinking, there is a risk that we will exceed the capacities of the planet to sustain human life. If we persist in either/or, win-lose thinking, we risk a descent into disastrous conflict, decimating the human species.

However, if we are able to make the transition to different values that include limits, cooperation, long-term, both/and thinking, and an emphasis on well-being, we have the opportunity to enter a time in which all human lives are valued and where levels of health and personal satisfaction will be higher than at any time in human history.

We are at a point in the course of human social evolution when the demands of survival converge with the higher ideals of humankind and the well-being and flourishing of human society. It is up to us to see that we navigate this transition, adapting to and emerging in a new reality.

Adapted from A New Reality: Human Values and World Population by Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk with David Dewane.

Pre-orders available on Kickstarter beginning April 12, 2017

How can you help?

  • Support “A New Reality” on Kickstarter
  • Make the transition to Epoch B values in your personal life, your community, your work, your government — wherever you have influence.