Humanity: The Short Version

As a species, we humans have reached a unique point in our history, one that, if we think at all, forces us as a species and as individuals to expose and ponder the bedrock fundamentals of our existence.

Historically, we span about ten thousand years give or take. Prehistorically, perhaps a couple of hundred thousand. Before cities and agriculture, humans hunted, gathered, got by day to day.

After cities and agriculture took hold, we started thinking beyond the day – or some of us did. Most people still struggled to survive. But there were philosophers and priests and mathematicians and scientists of various sorts.

Two fundamental beliefs guided the development of human society. One was the individual’s belief that he would go on forever, either as a coherent consciousness or in some other way. The other was the belief that humanity and civilization would go on forever and would benefit from what the current thinkers and tinkerers did.

Today those two beliefs no longer can be considered sacrosanct.

Cut away the mental garbage and a couple of things stand out.

There is no god, there is no supernatural anything. The religionists have had thousands of years to come up with something besides wishful thinking and bad logic and have come up with nothing. There is no compelling reason to accept any supernaturalist explanation for anything, and, on the evidence, no compelling reason to accept that the individual continues on in coherent form after physical death.

Accepting that carries its own baggage wrapped around the question “How then do I live my life?” Various philosophies and value systems sought to answer that question with varying degrees of success, but they always had the benefit of a second consideration, that humanity would go on forever.

That second consideration today is that humanity may in fact not survive the next hundred years. We have altered, and continue to alter, the biosphere that supports our fundamental life processes, and that alteration, if continued, guarantees that humanity, along with most life forms now existing, will die. Sooner rather than later. There is no legitimate scientific argument against that prediction. The laws of physics will not be compromised or argued with, despite the wishful beliefs of politicians in America and around the world.

In view of that world view, or end-of-world view, the question, “How do I live my life?”, gains new baggage.

Indeed, how does one live one’s life when the future of one’s species has been cancelled, rained out, annihilated by the species itself?

Certainly we can go on eating while there is food, and carry on all the necessities of survival. We can even continue to procreate, an act which in no small part has brought us to today’s grim situation.

But the things that make us unique on Earth, the learning, the discoveries, the creations of art and literature and architecture and technology, those things suddenly lack purpose, or at least the purpose they have had in the past.

For ten thousand years we have learned stuff about our universe and found it worthwhile to do so because we believed we would live forever in some form as individuals and thus carry the knowledge on with us, or because what we learned and discovered and created would live on as a benefit to humanity. The desire for wealth and fame motivated us too, but these still depended in part on the continued existence of the species in some basic way. We are the only species, as far as we can tell, that can foresee its end, both the end of the individual and the end of the species itself.

Now that it is probable that there will be no humans, and that such active, probing intelligence will quite possibly never again appear on the Earth once we are gone, and if we accept that the individual who dies is indeed fully dead and utterly incoherent, how, assuming and facing complete annihilation, do we answer the question, “How do I live my life?”

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10 Responses

  1. “…and if we accept that the individual who dies is indeed fully dead and utterly incoherent, how, assuming and facing complete annihilation, do we answer the question, “How do I live my life?””

    that question was answered long ago my friend.

    “If the dead are not raised, `Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'”

    take pleasure in what you can now. all other priorities are rescinded.

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    • And if rape and murder are my pleasures…?

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      • if there be no God then objective moral values do not exist – same goes for any final judgment after death. you are just a biological organism no better or worse than any other. any action you take – “good” or “bad” – is purely subjective. so if these are your pleasures, and you’re cunning enough to not be caught by the authorities, ultimately you would be answerable to no one. so, from your own subjective viewpoint you have successfully lived your life in a pleasurable manner.

        however, i wouldn’t bet the farm on there being no God if i were you.

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  2. I’ve been reading your blog since at least July of 2008 (I just searched my journal and found you mentioned then), but yesterday was the first time I posted–the remark about collecting dead insects and a rare moment of bravery did it. But this post I almost responded to last year. I ended up getting frustrated trying to write what I was feeling because what I really wanted to do, at the risk of sounding incredibly sappy, was to give you a hug. Anyone who writes as well as you do, has your views and empathy, and of course loves cats…well, I didn’t want you to be as dejected as you sounded in this post. No you haven’t lost it, yes you still have it, and I hope you keep it up for a long time to come. You are appreciated (not that it means much coming from someone who collects dead bugs, I suppose, but then I also love cats).

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  3. I am humbled… oh, hell, no I’m not, but I appreciate your comments, though I continue hugless through the world.

    You should take heart in the fact that bugs, alive and hale and hearty, will survive the human catastrophe. Just think, after we’re gone, the next emperor may be a cockroach. Or, possibly, a mouse.

    Keep up your bravery. Intelligent comments are welcome… except maybe when I’m irritable and impatient.

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    • I’ve no doubt the bugs will survive beyond us, maybe even long enough for Emperor Cockroach to evolve, but I don’t expect he and his civilization will carry on after the sun burns up its fuel. And then there’s that troublesome theory that holds that the universe will expand itself into a big freeze and there will be nothing left at all.

      But I agree with the guy above who indicated that knowing there’s an end needn’t stop us from enjoying what pleasures we can carve out day to day. You are far too noble to take pleasure in rape or murder. You take it in such things as the purr of a cat, in the crafting of a perfect sentence, in the masterful skewering of a corrupt or just plain stupid politician, and you should also take it in knowing you are an inspiration to people you don’t even know.

      I hope that sounded intelligent enough and didn’t spur impatience or irritation.

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      • I’ve decided to not hang around until the sun goes ‘pfffft’. Apparently the human race has collectively made, or is in the process of making, the same decision.

        The only quibble I have with your intelligence is the part about me being noble. Nah. I’m grumpy and irritable and annoying, and the Queen turned down my application for a dukedom. I would have settled for knighthood but she just wasn’t having it.

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        • I have a quibble with your quibble. Being grumpy, irritable, and annoying does not preclude nobility.

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          • Okay. I’ll take grumpily noble. 🙂

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            • Great, I’ll have that printed up on a coffee mug for you. “The Grumpy Lion….Grumpily Noble.” See, lion, noble, grumpy, it all goes together.

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