How can we best understand ourselves and our history as a species? We humans have created so much violence, environmental degradation, inequality. Yet, we’ve also created incredible art, science, and love relationships. How do we emotionally and otherwise take in these absurd contradictions?
This is not just an intellectual question. It’s a huge and infinitely complex one. It concerns the nature of our mind and body, what we’ve inherited from parents or biological evolution, and what by history and cultural evolution. It has tremendous social-political implications as well as personal. It can affect how we feel about, and how much suffering we cause, ourselves and others.
Three friends from college and I zoom together once or twice a month. We often share poems, music, articles, suggestions, and questions. One recently shared article was particularly relevant to this question. It’s by Adam Kirsch and published in the January/February Atlantic. It’s titled The People Cheering for Humanity’s End: A disparate Group of Thinkers Says We Should Welcome Our Demise. It focuses on two opposing theories of where our species is headed, or where our evolutionary traits are driving us.
Most of us realize that the possibility of extinction is very real but would prefer to delay that ending as long as possible. But Kirsch says a variety of thinkers have challenged that assumption and revolted against humanity itself. The two most prominent of these theories are Anthropocene anti-humanism and Transhumanism.
The first states that our self-destruction is inevitable, but we should welcome it. Our species is destroying our home and the other creatures we share it with. What we most glorify in us, namely our reason and the scientific and technological achievements it spawns, is precisely what is destroying us. To preserve our home, we should leave it.
The second theory, Transhumanism, expresses a love for what the anti-humanists decry. Transhumanists imagine that some of our most recent and illustrious discoveries, like nanotechnology, and genetic engineering, will save us by allowing us to abandon the frail, destructive being we are now in favor of a new species that we’ve created. For example, a cyborg or hybrid of human and computer; or maybe a brand-new artificial intelligence.
Both theories are responses to the climate emergency we face, but they do so in opposite directions except, says Kirsch, the most fundamental. They both share the necessity for the demise of humans. And as I read the article and thought about my friends, what became clear was how our theories about life, and ourselves, are key to our responses, and actions. And this quality of mind and heart is precisely what most makes us human.
The theories, at least as far as I understand them from the article by Kirsch, do not deal enough with “why”— why do we act so destructively? Or, since it’s not all of us, why do so many of us act so destructively? Is it Ignorance? Self-centeredness? Greed?
Or maybe we’ve been so destructive due to patterns of thought and behavior inherited through cultural evolution as opposed to traits we’ve inherited through biological evolution. Has every human culture been so destructive? Maybe a culture that preaches we’re created in the image of God ⎼ that we must be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over all the earth and over every creeping thing ⎼ might be more narcissistic and less attracted by stewardship, less willing to control its fruitfulness, than one that emphasizes the interdependence of all beings….
*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.
**The photo is of a Mother Goddess figure, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.