Friday, September 01, 2006

Is the universe telling us where to go?

Whilst on holiday in the Isle of Wight this Easter we went to Tescos, and could not find any local produce in the store. It was almost identical to Tescos in New Malden (which, fortunately, does not stock local produce either: my father in law's allotment couldn't cope). Inside Tescos the differences between an agricultural island and a concrete south west london suburb are flattened.

Globalisation offers a total disregard for where we are on earth and cuts all connections with place and with history. Is this subliminaly preparing us to make the break with earth? Preparing us for a day when humanity packs its Tesco bags with a few momentoes of our birth planet and takes itself off to a different home somewhere else in the solar system or the galaxy?

John Gray doesn't think we will ever get off the planet. He does not believe that we inexorably make progress towards higher and better knowledge. In Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals he tells us technology is not something that human beings control. Human beings will never be able to use their knowledge and technology to become master of their fate.

Human beings bring technology into the world, but once it is in the world it becomes another thing we interact with. And our interactions with it are shaped by the same power sruggles, economic forces, big business interests, organised crime interests, emotions and desires as is human interaction with anything else.

Gray talks about the folly of those plants set up to freeze people until such time as the technology comes along to bring humans back to life and to extend human life. The freezing plants will fall victim to economic collapse, revolution or war long before the life restoring/extending technology comes on stream.

Gray believes that the surge in human population is unsustainable for the earth's ecostystem. Human beings will live for a time in a distorted envrionment, geared to sustaining the unstustainable as long as possible, with less and less animal and plant species keeping us company. The rise in human numbers will start to plateau off, and then reverse as a result of war,disease, resource scarcity and/or climate change. The progress in knowledge and technology will become a double edged sword as weapons of mass destruction become more easily replicable. Wars of resources (for water, for oil, for land) become more virulent as the resources become scarcer.

His message is not entirely pessimistic. Human beings are not stronger than the earth's ecostystem and whatever we do we will not be able to destroy life on earth. The earth will survive us, and then forget about us. The growth of human numbers is a plague that earth will deal with and climate change may just be the method that the earth will use to shrug off its human burden.

Gray's work has helped me come up with an answer to that rather tricky question:

If there are is intelligent life on other planets near other stars, why haven't they come and found us on earth?

Maybe those life-forms that have survived long enough to contemplate space travel have lived in balance with their eco-system and not felt the need to indulge in any inter-stellar tourism or colonialism.

On earth those parts of the human race that have lived in balance with the environment have tended to be wiped out by more rapacious colonists who have developed powerful weapons to support their aggressive inclinations. So how could the universe ptotect planets with diverse and sustainable eco-systems from attack by an aggressive species who have used their own eco-system as a springboard to conquer others?

The best way for the universe to protect sustainable eco-systems would be to get the home planet of the aggressive species to reject them before they developed the power to pollute other parts of the universe.

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