Tag Archives: Human Living

The Aquarian Question, the Alexandrian Answer.

Recently, I’ve come across some of the predictions made by futurists and technologists from the 1960s to the 1970s. Great minds like Bucky Fuller, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson were forecasting space colonies and the beginnings of intergalactic exploration, advances in longevity studies that would extend the human lifespan to multiple centuries, and the automation of labuor, freeing us from needless toil to pursue more meaningful tasks, by the turn of the 21st century. Reading such things now is rather painful; it serves as a reminder of where we were expected to be right now, in stark contrast to where we actually are.

In one episode of Cosmos, another such luminary, the astronomer-philosopher Carl Sagan, walks the halls of a recreated Library of Alexandria, regaling us with the intellectual exploits of the remarkable individuals who walked those halls two thousand years ago. Watching this years ago, I learned that mechanization, and even the steam engine, were developed here millennia before being revived in the last few centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

If we had discovered such technologies so long ago, one might rightly ask, why were they not used to their fullest potential then? Sagan’s words put it best:

Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical applications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. – Carl Sagan, Cosmos

I suspect that we’re facing the same problem now. We have the ability to automate most forms of labour, to liberate the majority of us from tedious, repetitive work and allow us to enjoy a more leisurely existence, focusing our minds on that which interests us. We have the technology to visit other planets now, and future developments could bring us further and further out into the stars. Our average lifespans have already increased dramatically across most of the world, and nothing prevents concerted efforts into better understanding how aging works, and whether or not it can be put off, or even eliminated. But, thus far, we have placed our own barriers in front of these great shifts.

In some circles, people are not only ignorant of our scientific and technological potential, but outwardly hostile towards it. Our space programme is being de-funded, with its activities dramatically lessened compared to 50 years ago. The greatest educational tool humans have ever seen is all too often used to play Farmville or to send cat macros to your friends. And where obsolescence of human labour is brought about by machines, it is used as a means of profit, casting off those who depend on that work to survive and sending them into a world that vilifies their idleness.

This is what makes reading the optimism of the previous century’s futurists so painful: the realisation that we have no one else to blame for their aspirations not manifesting but ourselves. We chose to ignore or forsake our potential as a species, to stop searching or to refuse to change our ways, and consequently are far behind where we could be right now.

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The journey of a million years begins with a single step.

A few months ago I had a dream that left a very strong impression on me.

In this dream, I found myself briefly transformed into one of humanity’s early ancestors. One minute I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, and the next I was naked, covered in a fine coat of hair, and sitting under a tree on a savannah. I changed back very quickly, but there was something profound about that instant during which I was, essentially, what human beings were about a million years ago.

What I remember most was the sensation of that early hominid being confronted with the understanding of the modern world and modern living that was in my head. Against every cliché of ‘caveman frightened by all things modern’, that brief moment of hominid-me experiencing the modern world was characterised by a sorrow the like of which I have never before felt. I was overwhelmed with a sense of ‘him’ exclaiming:

‘What have you all done? This is not how we were meant to live.’

All this time having passed, and I can still recall how that felt.

So, this got me thinking. Was he right? Have we somehow strayed from the very way our species had evolved to live? Could this be why so many of us are afflicted with some sort of deep, existential void or unhappiness that can’t be named yet neither can be ignored? It is true that, in recent history, humans have become capable of unprecedented damage not only to each other, but also to the very planet and environment on and in which we live. The hominid’s cry sounds so very utopian, so very idealistic. And yet… something.

I’ve decided to search for a possible answer. To start with the present and work my way backwards through time to see if ever there was a time when human beings lived in such a way that was in balance both with the world in which they lived and with each other. To retrace our path to see if and when we missed a marker at some point along the trail.

To do this we must begin with some definitions. What actually constitutes ‘the way in which we were meant to live?’ Philosophers and religious leaders could give countless answers to this question, so it it important to attempt to dispense with the set dressing and get down to essential principles that most, at least, could agree on.

Stripping things down to the bare bones, the definition may perhaps look something like this.

  1. All humans have unrestricted access to the basic necessities of survival (space, food, shelter/cover, freedom of movement, and company of other humans).
  1. All humans maintain a balance in their way of living such that their existence does not become toxic to themselves or their environment.
  1. All humans are unable or unwilling (or both) to alter their way of living in such a way that would violate points 1 and/or 2.

I’d like some feedback on these points. Once we’ve got our definitions, then the journey begins to find a time when we may have actually embodied them.

I should point out at the start that I’m fully prepared to not find precisely what I’m looking for. It may be that there has never been a time when we’ve had ‘it’ fully figured out and sorted. And if that turns out to be the case, fair enough. At least we know, right? We do know that at various points in our past, and in various cultures, one or more of these aspects have manifested. If we can’t find our goal all in one place, it means we must cherry-pick; that we must find the best lessons that our ancestors had to teach us at various times and places and combine them into the best possible present and future for our species

I suspect I’m about to embark on a long journey.

Who’s coming with me?

 

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