I like to contemplate the end of humanity. Don’t worry; this is still an article about the bright side of things. After all it’s only the end of life as WE know it.
Don’t get me wrong, the end of the human race would definitely be a dark event and I hope with everything I am that we don’t end on a bad note. Eventually we will end – whether it’s when the sun swallows up all the planets in our system as it dies, or maybe we’ll trigger a cataclysmic war that will scrape all life from the continents. Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of perspective and we’ll be around long enough to evolve into something that’s no longer classified as homo sapiens.
Whatever it is, nothing lasts forever. Until then I’m curious about our ability to find equilibrium in the way we live. Right now we spend a lot of time messing up the natural world, worrying about how we’ve messed up the natural world, trying to fix ways that we’ve messed up the natural world… oh right, we also still go to war with each other and die of things like chronic alcoholism and complications from obesity.
And so, within all of this discord is us mucking along trying to stay alive. And to be happy, of course. Unfortunately we don’t seem to be very good at the latter of those… at least in the most recent generations. But we are pretty good at complaining our way through it. This is funny in a tragic way because there were many, many generations before us that had life much harder than we do but I can only imagine that earlier humans had a more natural peace with their place in the world – much the same as the wild kingdom of animals does now.
This is one of the sticky points of growth – we get so advanced, so complicated that we get tunnel vision on what’s ahead. We are able to see that we can be more, have more, and do more, and we want it now. This is an admirable and cognitively advanced trait, but it does make it easy to forget how to enjoy now.
In this perpetually agitated state we have turned the natural impulse to carve out territory into a very official affair with borders clearly drawn on maps, people at these borders ready to stuff a gloved hand up your darkest places to be sure you’re not hiding something from them, and leaders behind these borders that are trying very hard not to let leaders from other borders change the lines on the map.
We haven’t yet figured out how to avoid this kind of beahaviour and it seems we’ve dragged the aggressive animal instincts within us into the intellectual world. We think because we can layer our actions in complex ways and explain it in a dizzying vernacular that it’s all justified in some way.
These problems seem to be some of the growing pains of the slowly maturing culture of our race. And it is entirely possible that our unbalanced ways combined with our impressive technological might could wipe all life as we know it off the face of the Earth.
But not all life – and therein lies the blessing. As impressive and powerful as we are, life is stubbornly pervasive. I find it hard to believe that we would trigger events that would destroy the bacteria that we’ve found living in boiling ocean thermal vents, for example. No matter how destructive we become there will be something clinging on to the crust of this globe.
If you don’t know this already, the planet doesn’t give a crap whether we’re here or not. Humans seem to be the most self-important species on Earth: we seem to be the only ones that believe the Earth was put here for us; that we’re the pinnacle of evolution.
This planet is simply in an ideally nurturing set of circumstances to foster the growth of life. And as long as it has all of these necessary resources in place life will continue to struggle its way into being and find the means to flourish. So, even if we did blast ourselves and all the other known life off of the globe, things would come back together pretty quickly.
Well, perhaps not quickly… steadily. On a planetary scale, that is. Give it a few million years and something fascinating will be slinking its way around.
If this sounds ridiculous to you, perhaps it would help to put the staggered timeline of the other kinds of life on the planet in perspective with this fun fact: sharks are about 50 million years older than trees. That’s right, sharks were swimming around for fifty million years before the first trees came into existence.
I use this fact because it’s fun, but also to point out that life didn’t develop in a linear connect-the-dots fashion. It didn’t go up a ladder like PLANTS -> ANIMALS -> HUMANS. Life is opportunistic and will make its way through survival in any way, shape, or place that is available. It doesn’t care in what order events happen; if things turn south for our relatively peaceful existence as we currently know it, some kind of life will happily make do with a planet previously ravaged by nearly absolute destruction.
Until it doesn’t.
As far as we know now, sooner or later everything will burn out. Every single one of the stars you see in the sky has a finite life. Our own sun is middle-aged, so it’s all downhill from here!
Everything on the planet that moves, grows, and breathes has an innate drive to stay alive and that means ensuring something continues beyond our lifespan. This is inseparable from our nature so we will always hold some level of fear of end times. But it’s definitely coming… isn’t it fascinating to realize that we have no idea how long we’ll be here and what it is that will take us out!?!
You may now be wondering where the bright side to this is… and if you are then you’ll have to look beyond yourself. I am as selfish and fearful as anyone else alive today – I want to live and I want our global ecosystem to keep on truckin’ as well. But this is about the bright side beyond our importance. Life outside of our ego is able to withstand almost anything, even our destructive ignorance.
Don’t worry about our temporary nature. Just like our life spans as individuals, time gives our actions importance. If you were to live forever what would be the point? As Drew Gilpin Faust once wrote, “Mortality defines the human condition.”
What do you think about your mortality? About our mortality as a global community? What kind of curiosity does this invoke in you?
Until we meet again, keep looking on the bright side!
*DISCLAIMER* The preceding post talks about things like evolution, history as understood by current science, and other theories that are stated plainly as if they are the one and single truth. These are my beliefs about existence and I understand that yours may differ. If they did and this pisses you off, please leave some furious comments at the bottom of the page so we can have a discussion.