Is the ultimate destination of human cultural evolution a life of leisure?
We as humans started out leading a difficult life which involved daily struggle for our very survival. Over hundreds of thousands of years, we've progressed to a race of inventors, building the world around us at a staggering pace. It would seem that the sum of all of our inventiveness is to remove ourselves from that daily struggle to survival, but whre are we headed? In this day and age of industrial farming, cars, central heating and computer socks, are we not softening up as a society? What percentage of people on this planet would be able to actually survive in the wilderness without modern technology? Are we doomed to be wiped out en-masse the next time an ice-age rolls around or there is any other major disaster?
I think its safe to say most folks, dropped off in the wilderness, wouldn't last two weeks. The next generation will be worse...unless its Wilderness Survival: Xbox Edition...then they will all dominate.
Recommended reading: The Merchant of Souls, and The Armies of Memory, John Barnes. Not that well written, but a plausibly disturbing view of where we might end up. (Living inside our apartments our entire lives, interacting with fictional friends in fictional adventures.)
I just read Emergency by Neil Strauss. It deals with exactly this issue. Going from an urban city dweller with no wilderness skills to someone who is preparing for the end of civilized life as we know it and all the lessons he learns along the way. Most people would probably not be able to hold out and wind up clinging to those who know how to survive without any formal system in place.
Most of the Sci-Fi comics of the 50's and early 60's that i've read deals with mankind essentially creating its own demise with technology devised to make life more leisurely. In some ways I buy into it but then I think about the third world and the unspoiled wildernesses that still exists and begin thinking that even though someone is sitting in a hover chair sipping synthonade out of the hover keg at the holo-pool someone else is out there behing the curtain knee deep in real life. I think technology or not we are still just as likely to be taken out by cataclysmic events. How long did they have to prepare for a hurricane like Katrina? Any major natural distaster is going to take your shit out whether you are running around in buckskin or plugged into a WOW marathon.
A large amount of people would die. But just as it seems the death toll will never stop it will flat line. Humans are survivors, otherwise we wouldn't be here. I am a multiple tour combat veteran. I have seen kids with only a little bit of basic training with a firearm get dropped into a chunk of hell. These kids have every indication of being the next casualty and then they surprise you by coming out of it. Then they make it through another and then another. Soon enough they are just as salty as the rest of us. I assume that wilderness survival would go the same. Obviously some wouldn't make it. Hunger is a hell of a motivator and it will allow you to endure all types of pain with the single mission of food. I believe that if someday we had to go back to the wilderness days we would make it. The excess fat of our population would be shed both metaphorically and literally. But in the end we would adapt, learn, overcome, and do a little more than survive.
I will gladly trade knowledge of foraging in the wilderness for the extended life, endless opportunity and comfort that I enjoy today. You are welcome to return to the woods and shun all of the trappings of modern society. What do you gain by doing so?
I see so many gloom and doom predictions about the "softness" of modern men. I call BS. Most modern successful men are just as strong and capable as men of the past, the difference is in the skill set. We are developing the skills necessary to live in a modern world where multitasking, knowledge working are the norm and a new type of social network is emerging.
The buggy manufacturers decried the loss of the techniques around buggy making when the modern automobile arrived on the scene. We don't really have a large market for coopers and blacksmiths, and I haven't seen many trappers recently. If the time comes that these skills are again needed, we will meet the challenge and do what is necessary, as all strong men have done. Those who can't adapt will perish or end up in the service of stronger men, just as it has always been.
At what point did I say that I limit myself to the experiences of the modern world while "shunning mother nature and all her of secrets"?
I simply believe that we don't lose anything when we move forward with the skills required for survival in our current environment and lose the skill necessary for surviving in the past. The skills you point out are still necessary in the modern world, and practiced by those who find them useful or pleasurable. This does not put one set of knowledge over the other, it only means that I focus on the set of knowledge that is useful or enjoyable to me on a daily basis. Since I don't have a 38 foot yacht, I don't know how to tie that knot. But if do get one, I will certainly find out.
While I find value in nature and solitude, I don't romanticize it and man's involvement as some sort of ideal vision. I don't believe that my lifestyle is one that should be adopted by anyone but me. Thoreau in his evangelical zeal believed that his preferred lifestyle represented some ultimate experience that humanity was missing out on, but in his arrogance forgot that all men are different, with their own needs and desires.
In any disaster or other situation where modern life is gone and we're thrown back into the stone age, we'll see three groups, I think. Those who know what to do, those who figure out what to do, and those who never catch on. The first two will be fine, with the first group being a little better off than the second, but the second will catch up. The last one will cling to the other groups, either being helped and surviving or being shunned and dieing off. As a species, we'll be alright. As an individual, put yourself in group one or hope you can fall into group two.
I think with the leisure and the science that we have developed to the point that if there is a massive disaster that we have a far greater chance to leave far greater numbers alive and able to prosper.
We know more of our own world and are able to recreate the tools and mechanics to rebuild our civilization and ourselves back to former glory, if not before.
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