When listening to or reading the experts on what most threatens human survival, I get the feeling that they can't see the forest for the trees. Oldie but goodie threats like nuclear war and asteroids continue to jeopardize our future and they are now joined by ecological and biological concerns. But, with one exception, what is lacking in the list of dangers are driving forces that put our lives at risk. The running-out of resources is consistently identified as a threat because such can cause an increase in wars. But even the loss of resources does not give us a complete picture of what most threatens our future on earth.
The biggest driving force that threatens human life on earth is not a single factor but a conjunction of factors. And unfortunately, each of these components seems to be fixed costs in our world. What will most probably cause the life-after-human scenario, which is often depicted on one of the History Channels, is the combination of tribalism and technology. Though we have always had both, the combination has never before posed the possibility of ending all human life. But even with today's technology, let alone tomorrow's, we can do just that. And tribalism only guarantees a malevolent use of technology in order to extend the superiority of one's own group over all others.
Here, I am going to use a relaxed definition of tribe as referring to any group to which we belong. Because of the strong loyalty exhibited in tribalism, it moves us to use moral equivalences as pejoratives while embracing moral relativity. This is because the basic ethic exhibited in tribalism is to define what is moral and immoral by who-does-what to whom. And the most often apologetic used for employing relativity to defend one's actions is that those actions are declared to be necessary for the sake of group survival.
Security is an important reason why we join different groups but it is not the only reason why we do so. Belonging to groups also provides us with a sense of significance. This significance is often achieved through the status and that can be obtained by garnering an abundance of wealth. Here, wealth is often achieved by the hoarding of goods and resources even if they are from far away. And what we must always remember is that the more one person or group grabs for themselves, the less there is for everybody else. Sometimes that less is tolerable but other times it is life-threatening.
We should note that one's tribe or group here can refer to one's country, but it can also refer to one's business or even one's family as well. Thus, what we see is somewhat illustrated by the Hunger Games in the movie The Hunger Games. And that is that one's success depends on the demise of others. This forever sets up conflicting or threatening relationships among all groups, especially those groups that do not have symbiotic or even parasitic relationships with those groups that are profiting.
This gaining at other people's expense brings in two additional issues. The first is how can one rationalize causing someone else to lose? This question is answered by declaring that one is entitled to their success. In the West, Free Markets, competition, and the Protestant work ethic are often all that most need to salve consciences that have been compromised. Of course such explanations are needed only for those who still have some shred of conscience left.
The second issue that arises here is how one is able to rise financially while others lose. Ascendency is often achieved through the threat or use of force. On our city streets, turf wars are fought by gangs. In the world, the gang members who battle to determine whose flag flies where wear uniforms. A country doesn't always have to send its own troops in to take control. Sponsoring coups and ruling through proxy leaders enables the greedy and ambitious from other lands to expand their empire. We in the West are all too familiar with how the old Soviet Union did this but are we aware that our own country and their allies have done this as well? Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973 are examples where those in the West gained control without ordering their country to send its own troops in. Of course, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 accomplished the same goal of gaining control over oil resources with minimal help from friends in Iraq's government without having complete control of the government. So it is not as if it is the old "Socialists" are the only ones who have hearts full of greed and eyes lusting for power.
It is at this point that we must introduce technology as the other part of a one-two punch that threatens. We have used technology in self-destructive ways to increase wealth of our tribes and we do so without regard for future consequences. This can be seen in how we build on barrier islands to remaining so heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Whether it be our environment or our food, we have given those with power permission to wantonly pollute in order to maximize profits for our groups. In the meantime, as a fellow activist and good friend of mine, Rita Corriel, has said, we measure progress by how far we remove ourselves from nature. Not wanting to know that nature has its own way of exacting a toll from us, we live in denial as the effects of poisoning our own world.
And while we are killing ourselves softly with toxins, we have weapons that can kill us harshly. We have lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation for decades and it is perhaps the fact that there have been no nuclear attacks since WWII that allows us to live in denial of how close we are to using such weapons. But we might also ask how close we are from the development of other kinds of WMDs besides nuclear weapons. Here, I am thinking of kinds of WMDs that do not take the combined effort of state and corporate partners to create and use. We allow certain tribes to possess both the WMDs themselves or the capacity to create new kinds of WMDs and we do so in the name of our tribes.
With technology, we have the capacity to do both good and evil. Because tribalism causes us to be mostly concerned for our own, a moral myopia sets in where what is right and wrong is determined by what happens to us first. We lose sight of the big picture and thus we can no longer see moral absolutes. We then externalize evil and allow ourselves to do anything to others in the name of protection and advancement. And since technology continues to help all become more powerful, it is merely a matter of time before we do ourselves in.
Therefore, the resolution needed to help all survive is to, as much as possible, forsake tribalism. It is not that we can completely escape all loyalty to the groups to which we belong; but we need to show an equal concern for all and not just for our own. We need to embrace moral absolutes to the extent that we will call for the punishment of our own when they abuse others. Some say this is too idealistic but the opposite is the case. To think that we can survive the combination of tribalism with an ever-advancing and accessible technology is to lose contact with reality.
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