Sunday, June 05, 2011

Are we all doomed?

That’s the question that New Statesman put to a range of folks, including me. My answer was truncated in the magazine, which is fair enough but somewhat gave the impression that I fully bought into Richard Gott’s Copernican principle. In fact I consider it to be an amusing as well as a thought-provoking idea, but not obviously more than what I depict it as in the second paragraph of my full answer below. So here, for what it’s worth, is the complete answer.
There is a statistical answer to this. If you assume, as common sense suggests you should, that there is nothing special about us as humans, then it is unlikely we are among the first or last people ever to exist. A conservative guess at the trajectory of future population growth then implies that humanity has between 5,000 and 8 million years left. Whether that’s a sentence of doom or a reprieve is a matter of taste.

Alternatively, you might choose to say that we know absolutely nothing about our ‘specialness’ in this respect, and so this is just an argument that manufactures apparent knowledge out of ignorance. If you prefer this point of view, it forces us to confront our current apocalyptic nightmares. Will nuclear war, global warming, superbugs, or a rogue asteroid finish us off within the century? The last of these, at least, can be assigned fairly secure (and long) odds. As for the others, prediction is a mug’s game (which isn’t to say that all those who’ve played are mugs). I’d recommend enough pessimism to take seriously the tremendous challenges we face today, and enough optimism to think it’s worth the effort.


JimmyGiro said...

"I’d recommend enough pessimism to take seriously the tremendous challenges we face today, and enough optimism to think it’s worth the effort."

And don't forget, ten women for every man.

Philip Ball said...

In 1924 the social critic Anthony Ludovici estimated that the ratio would in the future be ten times that. But he saw it as a threat, not a promise. Here specially for you Jim - for I know his words will have a special resonance with you - is an example of what he said:
"‘The legislature will establish laws to guarantee that this minimum [1 man to 200 women] should not be surpassed, and in a very short while it will be a mere matter of routine to proceed to an annual slaughter of males who have either outlived their prime or else have failed to fulfil the promise of their youth in meekness, general emasculateness, and stupidity."

JimmyGiro said...

Evolution is blind; therefore all stratagems must have been tried, because random variation and extinction are the only means available to a blind strategist.

Hence if humankind were more successful with gender ratio disparity, then that is what we would have evolved with.

Alas, 'society' is synthetic, despite the people being 'natural'. And a synthetic society can pervert our hunter-gatherer instincts, and its reliance on teamwork through family, to that of herd animals; where the 'stag' rules his harem absolutely; whilst the harem of females are collected according to their masters tastes, thus becoming aesthetic clones.

In my dystopian view, the 'stag' is the State Bureaucracy, ruled by homosexuals. Making the aesthetic model of humanity devolve to that of a prepubescent boy, like Keira Knightley.