Reflection: The New American Evolution

Useless TV

After the evolution, there will be no use for TV sets. (Photo by Robbt/Flickr)

The imminent collapse of industrial society, an unavoidable consequence of its destruction of the web of life that supports it, is not the same thing as the end of the world, or the end of humanity. It is simply evolution at work. The world will shrug off its wounds — the only thing we underestimate more profoundly than the harm we do, is the ability of the natural world to recover from what we do. Humanity will persist. too, in a reduced, altered, and much improved form.

This is not your father’s evolution. There is a widely held, saccharine view of evolution that characterizes it as a benign and purposeful process, as in, “the giraffe grew a longer neck in order to graze among the taller trees.” A lovely scenario in which the giraffe wills itself to become more fit, and therefore prospers.

The operation of evolution is messier, and much more brutal, than that. It involves a total catastrophe that wipes out all the leaves that are near the ground, causing a terrible famine that kills all but a few mutants who had been born deformed — with a ridiculously long neck. Suddenly these misfits are the only ones left in the gene pool, all their normal brethren having suddenly departed, and the mutation becomes the norm.

Evolution does not operate by design, it is the end result of a great cataclysm. Nor is it a matter of the “survival of the fittest.” (The phrase that has become synonymous with Darwin’s theory was not Darwin’s, and wrongly, in his view, imputed a value judgment to survival that was more or less accidental.)

Yet here is the great hope of conscious beings confronting an evolutionary event, which is to say a great disaster. If we understand Darwin, and the nature of our circumstances, correctly, surely we can act in such a way as to be naturally selected as survivors.

In our next evolution, it appears, we are going to have to live sustainably, having just demonstrated what happens when people do not. We are going to have to re-establish community and shared values, probably to the extent of returning to the clan organization that nurtured our antecedents through most of human existence. In other words, we are going to have to live smaller and better.

Why not start doing that now? Then when the evolutionary event arrives, we will already be evolved.

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2 Responses to Reflection: The New American Evolution

  1. TC Burnett says:

    From my blog:

    Population optimum.

    I tend to think in terms of a global population optimum. My best guess is that there WAS a global population optimum of 3 billion and a global maximum of 3.2 billion. If populations had stabilized at 1960 levels (3b) we would have had unlimited natural resources for thousands of years. We are now at 7 billion. We are almost out of water, the oceans are empty shitholes and every government is corrupt through greed. We cannot sustain what we have, even with factory farms, GMO crops and chemical fertilizer. More energy, more food and more water will simply have the effect of creating more people.

    But no one stopped it because reproduction is our prime natural directive. Now we have used up all the things that can’t be replaced. Even the agriculture is failing because the soil is depleted. And still we don’t stop. Bow we are ‘hydrofracking’ to get a few more barrels of oil and managing to poison the adjacent aquifers. We are allowing the destruction of our entire ecosystem because the oil companies simply buy the regulations they want. Their thinking is exactly like tobacco companies. It doesn’t matter how many people we kill because there will always be a market.

    We will never stop ourselves but nature will stop us…with our help….as we are seeing now. By 2020 mass dieoffs will be the norm, weather will be unpredictable and very severe. And people will do what people always do when they don’t know what else to do: find someone to blame and kill them.

    It’s no good saying that if there were no firearms none of this could happen. Firearms are not that effective at large scales. If they were, no one would need cannons or aircraft or bombs or mortars or nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

    In fact, firearms are less effective than edged weapons. Their only advantage is that they potentially make everyone in the fight equal. Before that equality existed, the stronger, younger, more experienced warrior won – so in order to have a society, you had to hire warriors for your side to protect you from plunderers. We still have those in the form of police and the military, but there are so many people that the police can’t get there BEFORE the crime. All they can do is try to catch the person who killed you and your family. The odds are even that they never will.

    So women, by nature, want peace and love life and babies and butterflies and want to populate the world. They are good at it. They are TOO good at it. Men want to go off and engage in dangerous sports which have, for the most part, displaced their natural instincts to hunt and fight. I like farming and raising little animals and watching vegetables grow. Kids, not so much anymore because kids are out of control and the parents are either oblivious or irresponsible and don’t teach their kids to shut up and listen instead of scream until they get what they want. That’s the way the parents were raised and their kids are just like them. They do not understand that actions have consequences.

    So I like to farm and pull weeds and smell tomato plants and enjoy the quiet and solitude…but I do it while quietly armed. For I am no longer young and I could easily be mistaken for easy pickens by someone who, for reasons I can’t know wants my truck or my crop or has an excess of adrenaline, had an argument with his girl and just wants to hurt someone. That happens a lot. A lot more than you hear about.

    After months of agonizing about going further into debt to prepare for the depression I believe is here, I finally jumped. I started selling my ‘spare’ firearms. I traded some for the long-term lease of another farm. I sold or am selling all the ones I will never use, and optimizing the ones I may have a use for.

    To not prepare yourself for all eventualities; to leave your life in the hands of the government and to believe that the country and economy is actually sustainable is a fool’s errand. No one is in charge and no one has a viable plan to save us. You had better be prepared to save yourself. Now. Today. When it stops, it will stop all at once.

    • tomlewis says:

      You raise a troubling question that anyone must address who believes this crash is coming: personal security. Personally, I have decided I do not have the knowledge or ability to contribute to a public discussion of this, but I am eager to read such thoughts as yours (that are not drenched in spittle and testosterone).

      I have drawn some comfort from the thought that in the worst of the dust bowl days, the people who stayed on the parched land, facing death, did not turn on one another but formed communities whose bonds persisted for decades among the survivors. But every time I mention it I’m quickly told that those people actually knew how to do things like grow and raise food, and that they were born without a sense of entitlement or an expectation of constant, perpetual amusement. Ouch.