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Space exploration, technology, and the possible futures of humanity: Part Four

By Mark Wegierski
web posted January 26, 2009
           
While resisting the excesses of the animal-rights enthusiasts, there is certainly something to be said for a notion of at least the "stewardship" of Nature. There is certainly some intrinsic value in wilderness areas and magnificent wild animals roaming free. We do not have the right to destroy Nature in order to advance what many traditionalist and ecological critics would see as today's monstrous, advertising- and consumption-addled society. In fact, the rises in the GNP that advanced economies are so insistent on, may not in fact be producing some more positive social or cultural results. Indeed, it could be argued that, in terms of many truly meaningful social, cultural, and psychological indicators, life in American society has become considerably worse in the last three decades. And the ecological consequences of a compounding rise in the GNP – whose increase is more-or-less coterminous with increasing resource-use and consumption patterns – are simply frightening.

It is also a reductio ad absurdum to argue that ecology is calling for a return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (it may also be incidentally noted that this way of life was sustained by the eating of prodigious quantities of animal meat). Ecology would hope for a "saner" and more truly rational management of the situation as it currently is. Also, certain elements in ecological conservation have only become possible as a result of continuing advances in technology.

In current-day societies, life in the countryside is frequently devalourized. It is often enough remarked that, through the mechanization of agriculture based on cheap energy, the number of persons who need to produce food in the countryside has been reduced to about one percent of the population. But, can the social and cultural consequences of this massive "de-agrarianization" be looked upon as unqualifiedly felicitous? One can certainly see something highly "natural" and "positive" in the life of the countryside and its villages, a life which (it could be argued) has changed comparatively little over thousands of years. Then, there are the nice small towns of the typical countryside in Europe.

The notion that there can in fact be truly meaningful cultural diversity between different villages, towns, and regions of a virtually mono-ethnic and unireligious society, or for that matter, at a major university whose staff and student body consists almost entirely of one nationality, ethnicity, and religion, is alien to today's dominant sensibilities. Indeed, a given society's or university's pleasant and subtle diversity within comparative unity, is largely devoured by the introduction of radical "multiculturalist" diversity (which also usually operates within a tight, quasi-totalitarian framework of "political correctness" where there is no diversity of thought permitted – except perhaps in regard to rather dubious – and sometimes indeed truly hideous -- aboriginal and Third World customs and attitudes, whose all-out defense is seen as a "politically correct" badge of honor).

And it may be noted that the life and the architecture in most cities until the most recent period certainly has had an "organic" quality to it. Many European cities were extremely diverse and unbelievably culturally rich for centuries or millennia with only the most minute presence of "exotic" peoples from outside the usual European historical experience. It is a profound mistake to confuse the concept behind magnificent, traditionally multi-ethnic European cities such as Vienna, with the ideas driving today's radically disintegrated, multicultural urban agglomerations, with their often maximally ugly, "late-modern" pop-culture, art, outlooks, and architecture. Tolkien's creativity indeed celebrated rootedness in the village (typified by the hobbit's Shire), in the noble, ancient city (typified by Minas Tirith), and in the nation (Gondor and Rohan).

One can see today, as well (among some persons) a profound understanding of unfolding historical and social dynamics. It is possible that there exists enough historical and social knowledge today to allow serious, perceptive critics to at least suggest the lineaments of what aspects of social, political, and cultural existence may be salvific in regard to the future evolution of humanity, and what elements should probably be reduced in influence or discarded. Certainly, the nightmare regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (especially under Stalin) should have taught us certain lessons. Let us consider the possibility, however, that a new nightmare, which could be called the managerial-therapeutic regime – the union of big business and big government, a social environment of total administration and near-total media immersion, has now arisen. As Tolkien put it most clearly, "…for evil always takes on another shape, and grows again."

Perhaps it should be the current human societies, after embracing certain healing directions, that should transcend various historical and natural cycles, and move straight along an upward path of technological advance that might eventually take us to the stars. There may not be any necessary contradiction between the embrace of ecology on Earth, and the eventual hope of outposts in the Solar System, and possibly, interstellar travel – and even the possible eventual physical survival of humanity's descendants beyond the projected death of the current physical universe. Perhaps we may indeed become the only species that can follow that long road. Perhaps, as Carl Sagan suggested in the 1980s, virtually every intelligent species reaches an evolutionary impasse, and destroys itself through an event akin to a nuclear war. This is clearly something which, at least for now, has been happily avoided – although Reagan's aggressive strategy in regard to the Soviet Union was pretty well the opposite of what Sagan had been advising at the time. Ultimately, it may indeed be a question of societies that will establish a proper balance of resource-allocation and  -conservation between ecological and real technological considerations. It may be noted, for example, that today's consumerist/consumptionist society is indeed devouring vast planetary resources toward the production, enhancement, and support of what amounts to little more than massive, idiotic, stultifying, social and cultural garbage.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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