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.
Its very clear that we have softened as a nation, we now live in a world when most feel they are born with something "owed" to them. Manual work is now "paid for" or "passed on" to the next man. You ask if people could survive in the wilderness?? I don't think most could survive in their own neighborhood without a cell phone, t.v, and a starbucks...
Of course we moved to a more lax life. The rise of capitalism has made sure of that. I believe that if some catastrophe would befall us it wouldn't have too much of an affect, not for very long anyway. Unless it's some insane global collapse, someone that still has will find a way to capitalize on the have nots.
Every society moves towards the easy, slowly but surely. Honestly though is there really any reason not to? It's very interesting also considering culture. I've been in Europe for about 2 years now and while Europeans enjoy many of the same things that American's do their culture appreciates nature a lot more. The individual cities here have holidays in which everyone rides bicycles through the countryside. I do believe that America would do well to appreciate nature and take a step away from commerce. I'm not going to make this a political debate but I do firmly believe that if there was a global event to occur America would collapse in it's own technology while the rest of the world rebuilds. Besides back in Y2K there was a rumor that the computers would read 00 as the year and that would cause chaos...and it was a very believable rumor wasn't it?
Human beings compared to human being in the stone age are fragile, thin boned, and weak. We are also big brained and far more dexterous. Human beings compared to the time of say, Ceasar, the middle ages, vikings, or the industrial revolutions, are taller, stronger, bigger boned, and healthier. As long as you define people as something more than the fat portion of the United States. Perspective.
Evolution is a word describing a process. The process being almost impossible to define outside of a grad paper, but the key we need to remember is that natural selection is not a description of leafy tree hugging nature, but the environment in which we live. Since the industrial revolution has taken us off the farm the human environment has been more and more defined by humanity. That doesn't mean evolution will stop. By definition, it will never stop. The traits that get win out will simply change over time.
And to be clear, drop an individual in the forest, he will probably die. Drop twenty in forest, and they will probably survive. Why? We are social creatures that operate best in adverse situation on a tribal basis. We have big brains that work well operating in teams. That's why we use tools to bring down large animals and harvest food in shifts. The survival rate of an individual is meaningless, and the survival rate of the group in the absence of the capacity to construct tools and harvest some amount of edible vegetables and roots is meaningless. That's how stone age man survived, and they did so barely. And it was such a poor measure of the human capacity that they constructed tribal culture and so on until we eventually ended up with what we have today so we would never end up at the bottom again.
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