Human Ecology at the Beginning of This Essay

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Human Ecology

At the beginning of this course, I offered that my stance on the human ecological situation was generally pessimistic. That stance has not changed, because I do not see how any thinking human could be optimistic about the present state of human ecology. However, I would like to note that pessimism is not the same thing as quietism -- this course has inspired me to change my thinking about certain subjects, and caused me to resolve to change my own behavior as well.

The one reading that most deeply affected me, and that did the most to confirm my overall pessimism, was Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. That is because Diamond's approach is to take the very long view of human civilization and cultural evolution -- and in the long-term, things do not look very good for societies that are capable of outstripping their resources. Diamond's basic insight is to suggest that the dominance of the western paradigm for civilization -- with its agrarian and militaristic aspects -- was able to spread so rapidly not due to "superiority" but due to certain basic facts of cultural evolution. What is most chastening about reading Diamond is to comprehend the rapidity with which the western paradigm spread -- and to understand that some new paradigm could easily spread just as rapidly, particularly at a historical moment when the western paradigm is both unsustainable (in terms of resources) and unjust (in terms of issues like income distribution, food distribution, and the like).
Diamond's view of the rise of European-style civilizations is based on the fact that it was material factors outside human control (such as geography and technology) that permitted the rapid spread -- and it certainly seems likely from the picture he paints that such material factors might very well prove to be the undoing of this model of existence.

At the same time it is worth acknowledging the point made by Greer in the conclusion to his article "Entropy Gets No Respect": "I sometimes suspect that one of the reasons so many people like to imagine an apocalyptic end to the industrial age is that sudden extinction is easier to contemplate than the experience of slowly waking up to the full extent of our own collective stupidity." In other words, the idea suggested by Diamond that the consequences of unsustainable modes of existence might include a society that is simply eradicated and replaced is likely to cause us to envision scenarios….....

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