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Is humanity doomed?

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  • Is humanity doomed?

    Fun topic sentence, huh? Well, let me tell you what I mean, but first, take a gander at this:

    http://www.vaughns-1-pagers.com/hist...ion-growth.htm

    I have no idea how accurate it is, but, unless someone comes up with something more authoritative, let's go with it.

    Anyway, according to this chart, there were around a million people in 10,000 BC. By the time of Christ, that number had risen to about 200,000,000. By the time of Napoleon, we got our first billion, and, in fact, the population of Earth probably grew more during Napoleon's lifetime than it had in the entire 10,000 years up to the time of Christ.

    During my own lifetime, the population has doubled, going from less than three billion to over six billion, and, if I live a normal lifespan and die in about 23 years, we should add on about another three billion.

    Assuming that this geometric prgression continues, can we actually avoid increasing global strife, and wars that would make WWII look like a water-balloon fight?

    Let's face it, people like to f***, and they like to eat. The more we do of the one, the less there is of the other (at least theoretically, though I'm not so sure that is necessarily true). What's more, most people like to have big families. Nothing wrong with that, as we are pack animals, after all. But who was the scientist who essentially said that it was impossible for humanity to have a paradise, because our numbers would just expand to devour whatever plentiful resources we had? Mathis or Matthews, or somebody?

    Anyway, what do you think? Are we doomed to a Dystopia, or are there counterbalancing factors?
    Last edited by gloriousbattle; 01-15-2011, 10:39 AM. Reason: Stil kan't spel.

  • #2
    "In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

    -- from Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

    "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
    - Mark Twain, notebook entry, 1898.

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    • #3
      I'll always love Twain. My girlfriend got me his newly published best seller for Christmas. His take on General Grant is particularly interesting; Twain virtually worshipped the man.

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      • #4
        We're already taking steps to curb population growth and, if it hasn't already been done, I'm sure someone somewhere will invent a nutritious paste that lowers an individual's consumption rate. Then it's just a matter of increasing living space and, with a little more technological advancement, space is ripe for the picking.

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        • #5
          Interesting topic!

          "most people like to have big families. Nothing wrong with that, as we are pack animals, after all."

          Maybe the assumption that there's nothing wrong with that is at fault. And does the assumption that humanity being "doomed" has to be such a bad thing also needs to be considered, rather than assumed...

          Thomas Ligotti's excellent The Conspiracy Against the Human Race makes a compelling case for the self-extinction of the human race.

          Ligotti makes much use of Zapffe's pessimistic existential essay The Last Messiah. More about Zapffe can be found here.

          One thing is for sure, if the human race keeps breeding at the moronic rate it is then we are stockpiling misery and an auto-genocide of billions of individuals cause by lack of resources in the future. Surely there is a case for something like the one child-per-family limit policy in China to be imposed - especially in the third world. Does aid encourage these countries to breed lack rabbits on Viagra? I think all countries have an ethical imperative to maintain their populations at or below the sustainable population level for their resources. I believe in the UK that would be somewhere in the vicinity of 35 million. I think James Lovelock (ignoring his Gaia crap for the moment) puts the global sustainable world population to be ~3.5 billion, so we are already at twice that - and worse by 2050 will be at just under three times the sustainable population of the planet. One thing's for sure, all this go forth and multiply crap has to stop.
          forum

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          2. a medium for open discussion, such as a magazine
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          • #6
            Originally posted by ThanosShadowsage View Post
            We're already taking steps to curb population growth and, if it hasn't already been done, I'm sure someone somewhere will invent a nutritious paste that lowers an individual's consumption rate. Then it's just a matter of increasing living space and, with a little more technological advancement, space is ripe for the picking.
            And, if all else fails, we can start cookin' up some soylent green!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by The English Assassin View Post
              Interesting topic!
              Thanks!

              Originally posted by The English Assassin View Post
              "most people like to have big families. Nothing wrong with that, as we are pack animals, after all."
              But therein lies the kicker. I'm genetically programmed to WANT to hug my grandkids. So, I got two choices:

              1. I can stop breeding, or limit my breeding, and be lonely.

              or

              2. I can breed like a bunny rabbit and I and my grandkids can starve.

              Of course, I'm oversimplifying, but you get the point.

              Maybe the problem is that happiness is really a carrot tied to the end of a stick in front of my nose. It is only a motivator, but not a reality that I can possess.

              Or maybe our definition of happiness as pleasure is at fault. Maybe it is something more mystical like having your emotions under control.

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              • #8
                I have a friend who says one billion... I'm not much for the math, just recognize the general principle.

                Apparenly populations of wildlife start to self-adjust their numbers when their environment starts to deplete (mostly by breeding less) but it's a race against time. Sometimes they don't make it and you get famine and/or disease. It's possible some of that is going on now with Humans.

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                • #9
                  assumption that geometric progressions will continue is always dubious. I expect that africa and asia will drop off the quickest. My understanding is that birthrates tend to go down a generation or so after mortality rates drop significantly/education improves (the 2 have tended to go together) once people get used to the idea of not having to have so many "spares".

                  But the origional question, "are we doomed?" . I personally think we are not "doomed", but we certainly can't go on the way we have been. I like Suzuki's take on the whole thing, our ecconomic model is based on the idea of permanent growth and expansion, our planet is finite, these two things can't work together indefinately.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by gloriousbattle View Post

                    But therein lies the kicker. I'm genetically programmed to WANT to hug my grandkids. So, I got two choices:

                    1. I can stop breeding, or limit my breeding, and be lonely.

                    or

                    2. I can breed like a bunny rabbit and I and my grandkids can starve.

                    Of course, I'm oversimplifying, but you get the point.

                    Maybe the problem is that happiness is really a carrot tied to the end of a stick in front of my nose. It is only a motivator, but not a reality that I can possess.

                    Or maybe our definition of happiness as pleasure is at fault. Maybe it is something more mystical like having your emotions under control.
                    While it is an over simplification, there indeed lies the dilemma. Although less of one than one would think. All that needs to happen is the global birth-rate needs to fall below replenishment levels, which would seem to be achievable in an educated society (Germany and Japan being two famous examples). When people have aspirations beyond wanting to replicate their DNA through the generations, then people make other choices. I think Nathaniel makes a good point about the drop-off in population growth (presumably through improvements in education and aspirations), but the problem is that by the time it tails off the population will be massively unsustainable and still growing albeit at a slower rate than predicted - meaning that the existence of many billions more than already do today have to live a life of constant suffering.

                    The pleasure = happiness assumption is indeed one I think is well worth questioning, although of cause we need to define our terms here. It's a bit late and I need to go to bed for the living hell of going to work in the morning, but... some quick thoughts...

                    Pleasure is probably sensation focuses, be it an emotional or physical ecstasy. But happiness? Well, harder to fathom. I'm a pessimist, so I'd question it's very existence, but I'd probably go with a pseudo-Buddhist/nihilistic answer and say it is an absence of want - a nothingness. Or cause people want children, so they presumably can't be a source of genuine happiness? Also you could make a case that conscience existence = existential suffering, therefore is it unfair to impose such a state upon a potential human by creating him or her? Which also presents potential ethical dilemmas for the creation of AIs - although they would presumably not have the same problem of resources that humans do.

                    Hmmmm... time for bed!
                    forum

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                    2. a medium for open discussion, such as a magazine
                    3. a public meeting place for open discussion

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                    • #11
                      There's an interesting incident in Voltaire's 'Candide', where a prisoner, in the city of Amsterdam, is sentenced to punishment in a dungeon, under the the water line. There's a pump in the dungeon and the prisoner's task is to keep pumping, or drown.

                      There's a saying here in the Netherlands, 'Pompen of verzuipen', literally, 'pump, or drown', It comes from the Dutch merchant marine history and means, 'All hands to the pumps'. In a country where so much of the land lies beneath sea level, the Dutch learned an awful lot about both the need for cooperative effort and the uses of large scale technology, in terraforming, through necessity. In fact, I suspect, it was just this sort of Dutch pragmatism that helped give birth to modern, share owning, Capitalism.

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                      • #12
                        Cooperative investment being the key, in the case of the early Dutch trading companies, not a focus on magical pixie dust sprinkled by economic 'Maxwell's Demons running semi-mystical, probably mythical, 'Free Markets'.

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                        • #13
                          Sometime this year the World population will probably hit seven billion (7,000.000,000).

                          What with even Pope Benedict XVI mumbling about condoms not being altogether evil and wrong (under certain circumstances), it looks like it may be, 'All hands to the pumps', indeed! At least, for the foreseeable future.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Pietro_Mercurios View Post
                            There's a saying here in the Netherlands, 'Pompen of verzuipen', literally, 'pump, or drown', It comes from the Dutch merchant marine history and means, 'All hands to the pumps'. In a country where so much of the land lies beneath sea level, the Dutch learned an awful lot about both the need for cooperative effort and the uses of large scale technology, in terraforming, through necessity. In fact, I suspect, it was just this sort of Dutch pragmatism that helped give birth to modern, share owning, Capitalism.

                            I predict that one day, three quarters of the Earth's surface will be Holland.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by gloriousbattle View Post
                              ...

                              I predict that one day, three quarters of the Earth's surface will be Holland.
                              If we're lucky.

                              But, with more bumpy bits.

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