Is Humanity Morally Sustainable?: Considering the Meaning of Humanity

Considering the infinitesimal existence of our species one might wonder if anything at all matters. When compared with the relative age of the Universe itself according to the most current astrophysical research, the existence of this planet and the human race occupies less than .000001 of a millisecond regarding Cosmic history. If you were to attempt to visualize this on a timeline, our existence would take up less than a width of hair on a chart that reached more than a mile long. If this seems humbling, then consider that the Fermi Paradox postulates that the length of a species’ existence in the Universe will dictate its likelihood of making contact with another. This explains the mystery of why we still believe that we are alone in the universe; it is more of a case that we haven’t been around long enough to notice or be noticed. It has scarcely been one hundred of our Earth-years that we first beamed a radio signal into the reaches of space. Considering that radio waves move at the speed of light, this may seem a rapid rate of travel until you consider the vastness of space. From our primitive comprehension we measure travel in space by light years or the time/distance that it takes a particle to progress after a year of our time. Given that the Milky Way Galaxy (our home) is estimated at approximately 100,000 light years across and the human species has only been able to use radio waves for about 100 years, we’ve got some time before our very first signals reach the edge of our galaxy. It is very possible that the human race will not exist by the time that those signals do escape the Milky Way. 

What does this have to do with the theme of my human morality exercise you ask? I think that it illustrates perfectly the fact that human beings are less than infants in the Cosmos. We have barely learned to walk and talk (figuratively) and we certainly do not do well when our toys are taken away. We are violent, unpredictable and close-minded. The human race has devoted the entirety of its existence to the forceful subjugation of its own species and other organisms in the environment for short term gain. Food, territory, materialism and, above all, dominance are the primary “goals” of a human lifespan. Knowledge does weigh in at some point but the human race’s greatest thinkers have often been acknowledged as an afterthought or as amusement. More often they have been punished and ostracized for dissenting from the established status quo, often facing death. The modern paradigm of humans has placed those with the lightest skin tone at the top of the global power and status pyramid. America, the latest empire in decline, still exercises the greatest influence over many other nations and does not hesitate to glamorize its predominantly light skinned population of innovators and leaders. All human societies are plagued with problems endemic to our species’ shortcomings. The pomp and glory of the United States of America is merely a young country’s way of copying so many that came before it. All sovereignties are guilty of concealing their dark history of bloodshed upon which they were established. Warfare, tyranny, slavery, racism, misogyny are all aspects of each “great” human society that has risen and fallen. Is the United States of America, the land of democratic governance and opportunity, the best that humanity has put forth, ever?

If it is then things do not bode well for the human race. Any species with designs to become a ‘galactic civilization’ needs to overcome one huge barrier to progressive, meaningful existence: itself. Although we have no template other than ourselves with which to base our observations upon, it is fairly sensible to deduce that any species that evolves with the capability to manipulate their environment in order to not only survive but excel must do so with certain sacrifices. For homo sapiens this has been a slow and long learning process that is still very much in its infancy. Eternal optimists will shoot down any discussion of our shortcomings by pointing to the leaps of civilization made in the past centuries. Survival of the great plagues and starvation, the end of the barbarity of the crusades and colonialism. Expansion of the west into the North American continent, the resulting accession of a new country from European monarchies. All of this is paralleled by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid acceleration of technology to improve the standards of lifespans for humans. Modern medicine and the invention of an endless stream of devices and amenities quickly changed and improved the quality of life for millions. However, as I pointed out, much of this technical development was driven initially in the pursuit of conquest. Throughout the period marked by the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a consistent aspect of the rise and fall of societies was warfare. Implementation of better hygiene, medical care and food production ended the widespread instance of disease that ravaged populations in the past. Technology also facilitated the development of far more effective and destructive instruments for war. Prior to the 20th century, the global population knew of no events that could be considered on a scale of a “World War” but between the first 50 years humans engaged in two. The second war yielded the most effectively lethal device humans have ever developed and used, the atomic bomb. 

It is here that we must take pause to reflect on what is considered as the “success” of a species. Centuries of survival from living as nomadic herds of hunter-gatherers to assembling organized societies has culminated in technology to bring about human caused mass extinctions? Hold no doubt that the designs of certain sovereignties remain to rule them all. The possibility of a third global conflict is not a threat that has been extinguished. In fact, the primary protective measure cited that has prohibited the outbreak of a nuclear war is a principle called “mutually assured destruction”. Not exactly the most comforting of safeguards. I will also spare revisiting the incidents of genocide that human societies have committed in the name of progress for they are far too numerous to list and continue to this day. All necessary in the name of progression, as some will have you believe. But is humanity actually humanity by definition? When you look at the political and ethnic alignment of populations it seems more like tribal territories on a geopolitical scale. One thing is still very defined: the perception of homo sapiens as a collection of “diverse” races (along with classes and genders). If you’ve ever seen images of Earth from space, you’ll notice that the lines drawn on our maps don’t exist. Neither does the need to differentiate any of the organisms that inhabit our planet. To an extraterrestrial visitor any creature they encounter on the surface would be an “Earthling”. Certainly as inhabitants we make the distinction between a human being and an ant or an elephant or fish. But 99.9% of all humans do not have the perspective of looking in from the outside. The view of an astronaut is the same as the view of an extraterrestrial: one world. Carl Sagan called Earth the “pale blue dot” alluding to one of the shots that the spacecraft Voyager took as it left our solar system. 

Therein lies the problem that so very few will ever be able to have that actual perspective or exercise the clarity to attempt it. It is possible, however, the voices of the oppressed over centuries of abuse have always cried for equality. Ironically it is through the intense suffering of victims of human cruelty that this enlightenment is attained; when individuals are broken down to treatment as less than human. Equality is the essence of being considered human and not perceived as a color, race, nation or religion. Human beings are essentially primitive organisms regardless of the esteem that our accomplishments have fed our exaggerated hubris. Hundreds of thousands of years is scarcely a long time to evolve from brutes fearing the dark and scratching out survival day to day to evolving to a profound understanding of meaning and the significance of sentient intelligence. We only need to test our contemporaries by giving them authority and power to reveal the eagerness that individuals will rush to abuse and corruption and shatter the myth of a sophisticated and higher intelligence that we believe we have attained. 

Humanity is not a global population regardless of our idealistic aspirations to be so. The mere fact that our societies are governed by boundaries which separate the elite from the suffering is proof of the gross iniquities that plague our political and social systems. Add to this that every society is subdivided into castes or levels of privilege that stratify the decision makers from the “peasantry” and it is clear that human beings are not willing to align themselves as equals. Our nationalities have been fighting the same wars for centuries and even millennia over the same reasons: resources, wealth, an imaginary deity, domination. The only instances of when conflicts have been set aside is when all have faced a universal threat of extinction such as the bubonic plagues. The recent pandemic was not enough to enforce this threat upon the entire species and therefore it was not taken seriously by everyone or every nation. When disasters strike the global community responds with compassion until the next news cycle produces amusement or alarm over another prescient subject. As stated before, human beings are feckless and capricious in their attentions and compassion. In most cases, we would rather be amused than concerned. 

The 21st century has brought to the forefront a rather difficult threat to envision: the collapse of the environment. As a matter of perspective, the evidence of climate change has been growing since the middle of the last century and governments, nations and organizations have effectively ignored or denied it through the present paradigms. As the effects of rising global temperatures are increasingly seen and felt the reality becomes more difficult to ignore. But as surely as poverty is a problem that is overlooked by the rich, those who suffer first from climate change remain an invisible minority. As we progress through this century it will become increasingly difficult to ignore the effects that a warming biosphere will have on human beings. Since our societies are largely stratified, it will be easy for those with money to avoid the growing threat. Even a wealthy and powerful nation such as the U.S. will not avoid disaster; it has already struck many communities more than once. Humans don’t deal particularly well with disasters, governments can perform even worse. What will happen when climate disasters occur weekly or even daily in a given territory or country? What it will expose is our divided nature and the tendency of nations to withdraw instead of come to one another’s aid. For all of its foibles, the United States is actually one of the more helpful and compassionate of all the world’s countries and this is somehow less comforting than it looks in writing. 

Concluding another entry into “the sky is falling” chronicles, I have argued that the species homo sapiens is infantile, warlike, divided, easily distracted, painfully lacking in self consciousness, primitive in nature, fearful (of themselves), and most importantly as a result, vulnerable. None of this should come as a surprise if you consider that civilizations may exist for tens of thousands of years but rarely millions or billions of them. As far as we know, any of the extraterrestrial evidence that we are searching for during our short window of existence will have come and gone already or will exist in a future that we will never experience. Although it seems noble and profound to seek out other life in the cosmos, it is more important to secure that which we know and currently possess. Whether it takes 1000 years or 1 million years, we must learn to define ourselves as a unique instance of life in the universe so far as we know. If we fail to recognize what humanity is and can be, humanity will bear responsibility for its own demise. 

For now, in respect of our barbaric history and current denial, I offer an alternative definition of humanity itself:

“Primitive ignorance of identity in regards to context of place and time; willingness to place individual ego and materialistic values over the welfare of a whole.”

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