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To BE - or Not to BE: Is Mankind in Midst of a Millenia Long Evolutionary Step?

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"He who is ashamed of simple food and clothing is not yet ready to have a say"


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From what I can tell so far the discussion on this site is by far not radical enough to be up to the self assigned task. When I muse about where we (mankind) are right now from an outside (pale blue dot style) perspective, I think we might be a species that is going through a mental evolution - and has been slowly doing so during the last perhaps 3000 years. Let's say the species with the self granted name Homo Sapiens has been around for 50.000 or 100.000 years, and then, suddenly, a few thousand years ago, civilizations sprang up, agriculture, commerce, writing, technology, architecture and a great philosophical and spiritual quest. There was much development (I hesitate to say progress) in terms of commerce and technology and architecture. The progress on the "spiritual and philosophical" front still is somewhat limited.

By and large humans are mentally unstable. The intellectual abilities of humans across all ethnic groups span a range that is bordering on the unbelievable for a single species. It is hard to quantify, but probably it is safe to say that we talk about orders of magnitude. Yet even among the most gifted and intelligent it is hard to come to an agreement on complex issues that simply cannot be solved analytically. And even when the facts are clear there are those issues that are unsolvable. Ethics. Moral. To have, or to be?

To summarize in a placative way: We find highly ethical, friendly and helpful simpletons and extremely intelligent high IQ narcissists and psychopaths at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The latter unfortunately may have (and have had) a significant impact on the fate of mankind. Also a wide spread desire for and adoration of strong leadership and material success probably favors the rise of such characters hierarchies. History abounds with countless examples. Then there is weakness. Not evil, but merely weakness. Want. Desire to have, to be respected, to be something, someone - at the lowest to not be less than the neighbors, often expressed as not HAVING less than the neighbors. Entire cultures at their deep core revolve around showing off, around accumulating possessions, and so does the very system that runs our globalized economy (which is in no way behaving economically).

Religions have sprung up that preach humility, that teach methods of prayer and meditation to help overcome the greedy and unstable animal inside of us. Confucius suggested that he who is ashamed of simple food and clothing is not yet ready to have a say. Buddha's entire teaching revolves around overcoming unhealthy desires - let them go. Close the door behind them. We all know the story of King Midas who starves to death because his entire world is turned into Gold. Even back then money was not edible. Jesus prophesized that the meek will inherit the Earth, Sun Tsu understood that only who doesn't fight can be truly victorious. There are countless examples resounding through three millenniums of philosophy, art and literature that have at their core the warning against greed, the warning against that final trap that dark side of our nature, that is likely to kill us. The tale of Erysichthon who dared to take wood from the holy grove of Demeter being one of the most extreme, he perpetrator being struck by an eternal hunger that eventually lead him to consume his own flesh. Goethe's Faust is more subtle, more intricate, but it does express the very same warnings. Faust himself in the end remains unhappy despite owning almost everything - but not quite everything. The little bit that's missing remains a sting in his tortured soul. As Goethe writes:

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Faust (Startled.):

"Accursed ringing! Wounding me
With shame: a treacherous blow:
My realm's laid out there, endlessly,
But, at my back, this vexes so,
Proclaiming, with its jealous sound:
My great estate is less than fine,
The old hut, all the trees around,
The crumbling chapel, are not mine.
And even if I wished to rest there,
A strange shadow makes me shudder,
It's a thorn in my eye, and deeper:
Oh! Would I were somewhere other!

His greed was entirely out of control:
"That's the worst suffering can bring,
Being rich, to feel we lack something."

Mephisto, the great tempter, is the inventor of virtual money, the bill of temptation. And he states elsewhere in the play:

The ocean's freedom frees the mind
There all thought is left behind!
You only need a handy grip,
You catch a fish, or take a ship,
And once you are the lord of three,

The fourth one's tackled easily:
The fifth one's in an evil plight,
You have the might, and so the right.
You wonder what, and never how.
I know a little of navigation:
War, trade, and piracy, allow,
Are three in one, no separation."

We have three millenniums of warnings against pretty much the type of globalized greed machine we now have created. A machine that basically is a generator of money where world is fed on one side to create electronic symbols, virtual book money, on the other and those who possess these symbols are granted near infinite power of the fate of the world. Erysichthon, Midas and Faust in the computer and space age. And we have our modern day warners, too, which base their assessment not on philosophy but on physics and empirical science. The limits to growth. Global environmental change. The insight that we entered the anthropocene. Popular books like Jared Diamonds "Collapse". Prof. Ehrlich's work, and many others. I believe we must seriously analyze why we systematically ignore the warning and wisdom at the core of all our major religions and a great many of artists and philosophers we adore and instead, by and large, behave exactly the opposite way. What is so tempting about having?

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My wild guess (I dare not say hypothesis) is that we are not what we claim to be. We are not Homo Sapiens Sapiens. We are, at best, Homo Sapiens Potentialis. We are not there yet. We are more an unstable in-between between what we like to see and describe as human and that which we tend to define as animals. When I am at work doing technical things my human mind is performing technical tricks, but my motivations and emotions - especially under stress - are dominated by that greedy little monkey inside of me. We all can feel it. Keeping it under control is hard work. I feel it when I see that new Camera of a certain manufacturer. An idiotic feeling of want, because I already have one that suits all my needs. Now the money system that underlies all our economic activities and ultimately defines the incentives is a direct projection of that silly little greedy monkey. Fiat money born with compound interest. I imagine the little monkey sitting on a rotting planetary pile of bananas... actually self replicating bananas...

If I look at the religious stories I get the feeling that there is an aspect of realization, of insight into the true nature of man, and a prescription on how to grow beyond it. What generally is referred to as "mystic insight" might be an even empirically objectifiable process in the brain, and perhaps - this is a very long shot - the ability to reach this stage of integration, the ability to truly abstract from oneself and become objective about the own self - is part of an evolutionary step the species of man is going though. If I project the concept in a science fiction sense, we might see a creature at the end that is quasi enlightened, intelligent, calm and compassionate. And yet perhaps what we call psychopathy is also an evolutionary step beyond the animal nature. Dis-compassionate and fearless predators... who knows...

 In any case the answer is not in economics - certainly as long as economics removes itself from reality and dwells in an entirely artificial dream world of virtual ideas and models. The warnings are on the table. Even officially. Quite some time ago the European Union published a report titled "Late Lessons from Early Warnings". Many examples there on where the precautionary principle failed. Oxford University has an institute for the Future of Humanity, headed by Nick Bostrom. One core theme: existential risk. See fore example:

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Stefan Thiesen is a Germany, UK and USA educated earth and space scientist and science writer. He is an expert in marine science, climatology and planetary sciences, author of several popular science books in German and English as well as a novel (more...)

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