I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay area now for nearly two months, and the time has gone by like a blink. Between spending time cycling, hiking, and snuggling on the couch with my lovely and super fun girlfriend Rachel, babysitting my nephews, spending time with my brother Dave and his wife Stefanie, investigating Master’s programs in counseling-psychology, and searching with great intensity for a job, time seems to have taken giant strides, and weeks go by like they are only days.
The job hunt can be depressing. I’ve worked hard, but until a few days ago, had only had very limited responses. Until a few days back. This coming week, I’ve several interviews lined up, which has me very excited at the moment.
This afternoon, I am in San Francisco, downtown at a coffee shop. I am living in “South Bay,” which is a bit of a trip from downtown San Fran, and this only my second trip into the city.
I haven’t had the time and ambition to blog recently, but inspiration struck in the form of a very long article that I just finished from my favorite magazine: Orion.
I’m thankful that you cannot spend significant time in my mind, observing my thoughts. Frankly, it’s been nice to have my brain as a strictly private place to think! However, if you were to spend a bit of time in my cranium, you’d notice that I spend a lot of time thinking about why we human beings seem to have such a limited capacity to plan for the long term benefit of our species and of the planet.
These are the kinds of questions that I ponder: Why do we as an American society not care about climate change? Why do so few people research the negative long-term impact that industrialization is having on our air, soil, and water? How is it that we in the States have a movement calling itself “conservative” yet are interested in conserving nothing and consuming everything, without restriction or accountability? Why are people so hostile to global warming? Why do so few people realize that oil is getting more difficult to find, extract, and refine? Why are so many good midwestern folk unaware that the aquifers are getting lower and lower and that they can’t last forever? Why are so many good Christian people I know seemingly unconcerned about the sustainability of our lifestyles?
My answers over the years have invariably involved some sort of judgmentalism and a moral condemnation: People are consumeristic, greedy, intentionally ignorant, or lazy?
Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider the problems from an evolutionary perspective: maybe in many ways, we are just a bunch of monkeys competing with each other to make sure we have everything we want.
Because I come from a fundamentalist Christian background, it has been easy for me to relate to the zeal of radical environmentalism. It is natural for me to frame these issues in moral and spiritual terms: the battle of right versus wrong, good versus evil. I am also predisposed to being a sucker for dramatic apocalyptic sermons: repent or thou shalt be doomed. For a former religious fundamentalist, it is only a small step for me to identify with radical “the end is near” environmental groups. For one thing, the end very well may be near, scientifically speaking. The data suggests that the earth will only continue to get hotter as we continue to burn fossil fuels with no restrictions; but more than the scientific evidence is the tone of the discussion. I identify with the “turn or burn” language of apocalypse……But I’ve begun to wonder if maybe it is a little easier on the blood pressure to just think of us as a bunch of monkeys competing for resources, more primate than we care to admit.
In a long article in my favorite magazine, Orion (“State of the Species”), Charles C. Mann walks us through the evolutionary process. “Our [humans] ability to change ourselves to extract resources from our surroundings with ever-increasing efficiency is what has made Homo sapiens a successful species. It is our greatest blessing. Or was greatest blessing.” From an evolutionary perspective, we are “hard-wired to focus on the immediate and local over the long-term.”
We have thrived as a species because we have consumed so much. Consumerism may be destroying the planet at this point, but after thousands of years, it’s hard to stop. We are destroying our world; can we stop before it is too late? It’s possible, says Mann, but it would be unheard of: “Hara hachi bu is shorthand for an ancient injunction to stop eating before feeling full…Evolutionarily speaking, a species-wide adoption of hara hachi bu would be unprecedented.”
Still. We’ve made progress as a species: the work to abolish slavery, the advance in women’s rights as well as gay rights, and (as some have argued) a decline in violence over the last 70 years.