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Sunday, May 02, 2010

One Foot Out of the Jungle

We like to think we’re a species that has evolved beyond the others in the animal kingdom.  I was watching The Day the Earth Stood Still (the remake) last night and it reminded me of the general lack of social evolution that has gone along with our incredible rise in technical progress.  Michio Kaku talks about the four stages of development that a civilization can pass through on their way towards omnipotence.  He says we’re part way through stage zero, the first.

The key measure of development, according to Kaku is the amount of power per person that is available.  By this standard, we have made great strides in the last 100 years.  But, giving people more power for personal use could result in a lot of destruction when people are not evolved enough to be nice to each other.  Fast forward another 100 years and imagine that each person has access to enough power to destroy the planet.  In our current state of development, what are the odds that some emotionally disturbed individual will take advantage of the opportunity?  Further, what are the odds that our emotional development as a species will advance significantly in the next couple generations?

Our future is pretty bleak when you look at it this way.  We still need violence.  Most people enjoy watching “other” people go at it.  There are many among us that like to “go at it” themselves.  Whether it’s a good game of tennis or a boxing match, the object is the same – to beat your opponent.  Why do we need it?  We are designed to deal with threats.  Fight or flight strategies are hardwired into our old brain.  Excluding the last couple thousand years, most of our existence has been spent dealing with daily threats.  Our ancestors had environmental, animal and competitor attacks on a continual basis.  Their adrenaline was flowing on a daily basis.

Now, we hardly ever have these types of threats.  So, we need a way to create the situations that our bodies crave.  We take our violent pleasure from video games, movies, sports or just good old fashioned beating the crap out of each other.  It’s hard to see where it ends.  Some people reject violence.  They’re in good company with people like Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to name as comrades.  Maybe the fact that we celebrate people that have stood up against violence and hatred is a good sign.  Maybe we can pull back from the brink before our power gets the worst of us. 

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