Subscribe to The Curmudgeon!

Google Groups
Subscribe to The Curmudgeon
Visit this group

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Human Extinction

My once-good friend, Alice (soon to be peripheral friend if she doesn't call me back really fucking soon!), recommended a great book about evolution called The Third Chimpanzee, by Jared Diamond, that I'm almost finished with now. One of the sections I found particularly interesting talks about our innate tendencies toward xenophobia. We don't like strange things and we never have. This is why we've been racist, this is why ancient tribes warred with other tribes, this is why marauding bands of chimps have been seen carrying out stealth, brutally violent raids on other chimps in neighboring territories. At an earlier stage in history, our simple rubric was, outsider = bad, insider = good. That gave us, and those closest to us, with whom we shared the most genes, have the best chances of survival.

However, what makes this not-so-novel concept so intriguing, now, is that technology has advanced to the point where we have created weapons that are capable of destroying our entire planet many times over, by simply pressing a button. This makes us historically unique. And that immense power, coupled with our innate fear and distrust of outsiders, doesn't exactly bode well for humanity. There's a reasonable probability of us going extinct as a result of a worldwide nuclear war, triggered, fundamentally, by this xenophobia.

The flip side of that is that technology has allowed us to transcend borders, and has created a more global community. There are few, if any, remaining undiscovered people; the last significant find in that department was in New Guinea, in 1938. We now readily see different people of different colors with different cultures all over TV and the Internet, and as a result, there is a much greater cultural exchange and understanding. But, with this increased exchange also comes a dissolution of cultural diversity. Internationally, almost everyone drinks Coke, almost everyone knows McDonald's, almost everyone listened to Michael Jackson...and while it's kind of awesome to share things on such a broad level, it's also kind of tragic for cultures to lose their individuality.

So, ironically, maybe the best chance we have at survival as a species is the completion of this global homogenization, where we sacrifice cultural diversity in exchange for security. Because if we're all the same, then we'd no longer be threatened by outsiders because we'd all be insiders. And that's amazing, the notion of becoming one giant family with shared interests, but it's also seriously depressing, the thought of losing what makes different parts of the world distinct. I hope it doesn't have to be one OR the other...but people don't tend to do so well with gray scenarios. In the words of Stewie Griffin, "Life's confusing when you grow up, isn't it, Brian?"


  1. I find myself chewing on this one. I dread the point where the Gaza pyramids have installed a starbucks, but I can't disagree that you're right. We want people groups dead because they are different in a way that makes us feel threatened. Remove that, and what is there to be scared of? But if you think about how little has to be different between two people groups (Rwanda anyone?)for them to haul out the gats and bombs, the chances of us ever homogenizing enough geo/political/socio/economic/religious differences is slim to none. Especially as long as anyone still suggests (fictional/narrative media, cough cough) that violence is a solution. Not that I'm a pacifist, there are plenty of people groups I am threatened by. But maybe I should meet them for coffee at the Gaza Starbucks someday and see if we can work it out before I vote for a pre-emptive strike.