Tuesday, 18 September 2012

THE HUMAN SPECIES AND SELF EXTINCTION

Not only Mayans, but many respected voices scare us with dire warnings that our species is doomed.   
Stephen Hawking gives us a thousand years before we exhaust the last life-sustaining substance for the last survivor. Farley Mowat gives us much less time. WWII slaughter convinced him we are butchers, deserving none of this world’s bounty. The Oxford Global-Catastrophic-Risk Conference gives us a 19% chance to survive to 2100. The New Scientist magazine examined the odds for every non-human threat and predicts many extinctions of millions here and there but our species can survive for 100,000 years if we behave. These brilliant, but worried, scientists continue to serve humanity and its environment. So, what is the human factor?

Some 80,000 years ago our globe had five human species that evolved to fill a small niche of fresh water and arable soil: erectus, floresiensis, neanderthal, denisovan, and sapiens, but today only we sapiens are left. We claim ingenuity and adaptability. We lack the worries of the anaerobic fungus that survives only in the hind gut of the endangered wild ass of Somalia yet other fungi, evolving much faster than we, are rapidly becoming our #1 enemy. Yet, we, forever inventing new ways of coping, have spread to the most inhospitable parts of the globe. We like challenges. Each of us has the gift of an incredibly-complex body and mind that we do not understand and to whom too few of us give their deserved care and respect.

All humans on arrival are basically the same yet there are differences in the genetic mix that even siblings inherit. During the formative years there are wider differences in care, love, respect, education, and opportunities. The Jesuits boasted "Give us your children until they are seven and we will have them for life." Schools in some Muslim areas are quite efficient in graduating suicide bombers.

Minds may be born free, but far too many humans, lacking the will, time, help, or resources to do their own research, let others do their thinking, others who benefit from exploitation, be it in religion, politics, military, business, education, or what-have-you, to use myths, half-truths, or outright lies to inject them with fixed beliefs. Many evolve to Extremism. The easy availability of weapons make these zombies a real threat.

Humans have killed billions of humans. As hunters and gatherers we used migration to avoid violence, but, as we settled into communities, Greed and Revenge took over. The first "Shock and Awe" war was the massive bombardment and complete destruction of Hamoukar in NE Syria 5,500 years ago. We are still at it. In retaliation for our misdeeds in the Arab and Muslim world, a few Saudi Arabians were rather brilliant against the Great Satan in 9/11 while others in Al Qaida attacked the lesser Satans. At little cost, they took 7,500 all-told lives and caused economic damage in the billions. In retaliation we embarked on activities that have claimed 225,000 killed, 365,000 wounded, and have cost $4.5 trillion to say nothing of the consumption of finite resources. What has this accomplished? Revenge is a natural and understandable reaction even though it creates more pain for all with endless revenges. Historically, numerous attempts have been made to curtail or eliminate it. Amazingly, with males, tribal deaths, worldwide, have been proportionally 5 times higher than "civilized" wars. The Dogrib of NW Canada killed off to extinction the Yellowstones; the Crow Creek massacre of 1325 destroyed a village of 800 houses, killed all the men and unwanted women, taking the others as concubines. What a disgusting species we are! Would the world be better without us? Yet . . .

Still evolving on a small, indifferent, planet that provides its own array of hardships and dangers, our species is awe-inspiring. It has extracted historical data back almost to the Big Bang, sent an emissary (Voyager I) out of our solar system, built incredible structures, performed remote, computer controlled, operation on human bodies, created philosophies and religions from Agnosticism and Animism to Zoroastrianism, all with little or no knowledge of how, what, where, and why we exist - or do we? Some say we are just holographs but, again, how, what, where, and why?

Incredible advances have been made by many of us standing on the shoulders of a tall and broad mountain of human thinkers who have come and gone. This mountain is at least 41,000 years high and thousands of miles broad. We know the origins of many firsts: Music (flutes) 43,000 years ago, art (caves) 40,800, pottery 20,000, agriculture 12,000, written philosophies 5,000 - plus fish traps 11,000, bows and arrows 7,400, organized warfare 7,000. Billions of individuals contributed like the 3600-year-old Hittite Text - 1,080 lines of cuneiform baked into 4 clay pages and telling us how to selectively breed, care for, and train horses.

Some divide our philosophes into Liberalism, Communism, Socialism - all fine concepts but too often corrupted - and Fascism and Conservatism - better at getting things done but with highly-selfish oligarchies.

With no memory of volunteering for this life, most of us cherish it and reproduce, but to make the best of it we must retain open minds, delve into mysteries, respect and help others, and solve its challenges.

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