I just experienced something strange… the future now. About ten years ago, humanity’s plausible future became increasingly obvious to me. I saw our advancing technology leading toward a time of plunging human population to a point where, for example, governments would support citizens during their parenting years. Now, when I travel on freeways, I eerily ‘see’ the time when they will be half-empty and overgrown. I never expected to see any solid evidence of this future in my lifetime. Then too, I said that back in the mid 1980s about seeing any impact of global warming in my lifetime.
To my surprise, support for this forecasted future turned up last night in a documentary, Japan: Robot Nation, which deals with the plunging population of Japan. It was especially interesting for me as I spent five years there during the 1970’s. What is happening there, and the reasons why, appear to fit the overall model I predict for our species.
I see two primal forces at work in the evolution and interaction of social species. One is an attractive, cooperative, pulling force that draws the group together. Counterbalancing that is a repelling, pushing, competitive force that divides groups so that they don’t end up in one monolithic group. Such monolithic unity would stress their enviroment and resources. The idiosyncrasies of human cultures embody these forces in ways uniquely different in each culture, yet similar in underlying effect.
Up until now evolutionary dynamics, such as the genetic bottleneck or founder event (i.e, a small group becomes reproductively, e.g. geographically, separated from the main population), played an important role in pushing peoples apart on one hand, and pulling them together on the other. For example, the English settlers in America gradually pulled together as an ‘American’ people, after pushing away from their ancestral European roots. The increasing ease and speed of global communications and travel makes it impossible for this dynamic to play itself out in any meaningful way. It is now impossible for groups of people to become isolated from each other, or from any so-called mainstream. Yet, these same pressures, the push and pull forces of nature, are certainly still within us. They are integral to biology. How will they play out without the age-old conditions that normally allow a genetic bottleneck or founder event to occur?
In the midst of such endlessly increasing technology, I suspect the only place these forces can play out is internally within each individual. Instead of ‘island groups’ separated from each other through time and space, humanity will become ‘island individuals’ separated from each other through a kind of cognitive time and space. Humanity’s greatest challenge has always been seeking the means for physical survival. This gives life visceral meaning. The greatest challenge facing humanity from now onward will be finding life meaning when survival is less of an issue.
Previously, much of our life meaning came naturally through the social interdependency necessary in our struggle with nature, or in wars between groups. As we either win, or call a truce in these, there is less survival glue to bind us socially. We will truly become free to do our own thing. Without core survival needs focusing our emotions, it is easier to become increasingly isolated, making neurotic ‘mountains out of molehills’ in our quest for a meaningful life. (See Introduction: Fear, Need, and the ‘Meaning of Life’.)
The documentary demonstrates how this is occurring in Japan now. I see many facets to this, but I’ve said enough. If this makes sense, you have heard enough to find examples aplenty. As chapter 9 advises, Rather than fill it to the brim by keeping it upright, better to have stopped in time.