The Machine Will Never Triumph, part nine
I like people quite well
at a little distance.
I like to see them passing and passing
and going their own way,
especially if I see their aloneness alive in them.
Yet I don’t want them to come near.
If they will only leave me alone
I can still have the illusion that there is room enough in the world.1
A dramatic increase in population has occurred in the past two-hundred years because of our tapping into the remarkably concentrated energy of fossil fuels. But that will end soon—must end soon—because: 1) we must stop emissions of greenhouse gases to mitigate the climate change we have already caused, and 2) the supply of affordable fossil fuel will be completely consumed in the foreseeable future (although technological innovations keep pushing back that time). We must prohibit or strictly limit the extraction of fossil fuel—over some short-term period of transition to alternatives.
Fish populations expand to the biological limits of their riverine habitats. Population increases of human beings thousands of years ago occurred because of the development of farming and using the power of domesticated animals, as well as growing them for food. Unless we can substitute alternative energy for fossil fuel, the earth’s capacity to sustain the current population will shrink dramatically. But that’s not the only problem, by any means. We are consuming or polluting so much of the earth’s “natural resources” (using the conventional way of describing nature), that its “carrying capacity” is shrinking, for flora and fauna of all kinds, including human beings. And, of course, we are killing and/or destroying the habitat of many species.
So there must be, and will be, a dramatic decrease in human population, probably in your lifetime or the lifetime of many your age. How will it come about? War, pandemics, starvation, mass insanity and suicides, murder, hurricanes, floods, forest fires. i.e., Malthus was right, and his predictions will come to pass. Government (collective) measures or policies to reduce population growth can help mitigate the misery, perhaps, and to some extent, but probably not soon enough to avoid most of it. Population size is not the only problem; overconsumption by people in “advanced” countries, wealthier countries, is a significant part of the problem. Dramatic decreases in consumption of resources, including energy, will be required. And as I said above, that will happen, one way or another. The challenge is to accomplish it in a sane, humane, equitable and least painful manner.
The required collective responses to the plethora of impending causes of misery and destruction will probably not be possible in our “democracy” disproportionately controlled by the wealthiest one percent. I am not sure that some form of “reformed” or “ideal” democracy might work. But, we do need institutions to train and elevate honorable and qualified men and women of good character to perform the functions of governing. And we need to promulgate and implement measures to limit the accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, in amounts vastly greater than the wealth of the one percent. So I think an ideal democracy would require what are now castigated (by conservatives) as “socialist” measures to make sure that the poor have adequate resources and services, and there are reasonable and practical limits to how much wealth can be accumulated by one individual or family. It should be a capital crime, punishable by death to the CEOs and upper-level managers, for a business for-profit corporation (or comparable entity) to contribute to political campaigns or political lobbying efforts.
People are inherently neither good nor bad, which is comparatively different from animals, which are never evil. There have been many good humans, but people need space, and the more people there are, the fewer good people there are. All of us, at least the good ones, the sane ones, need space, privacy, and distance from other people. Even Jesus said Noli me tangere (touch me not)2. Free people who are free from the tyranny of other people are happy and sane people, but when people crowd together in a city, the peace and love innate in a person’s heart can become obfuscated by a black cloud of hatred. Now that there are so many people in the world, even the tallest mountains, most remote forests, and deserts are not free from the presence of people. There is nothing inherently wrong with people—original sin notwithstanding—but fellow humans, modern humans, are often best experienced with some distance. Of course, we are social beings, and the communities of traditional living (Rananim) we aim to foster, would bring people together in tenderness and togetherness, but with the understanding that all of the members also need peace, privacy, and space. Think of a medieval monastery: a monk was together with other monks in a spirit of brotherhood, but there was also enough space and time for private devotions and meditation. Now we are hardly ever alone, and when we are, we are inundated with images from screens. Even in sleep we no longer have peace, since the modern world’s devices have negatively affected the circadian rhythm of a large percentage of the world’s population.
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