Things Are Cyclical, and We Are Alone

Ideas move slowly, and then suddenly they move fast. Un-ideas are the same, transmitting emptiness – nihilism it was called, and still is. It was the cause of Hitler’s Germany, and those same ideas permeate American philosophy today. Ugliness sold as beauty; lies sold as truth; discrimination sold as diversity. Un-ideas.

Scientists have identified 10% as the threshold below which ideas percolate and stew and above which they rapidly move through society. Christianity; democracy; evolution. Etc. Humanity’s great moment of opportunity, of “breakout” was probably the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution was changing the way we worked and dragging tens of millions out of poverty. Economics was on everyone’s mind. Tesla was experimenting with wireless power and electric vehicles. Jules Verne was writing about going to the moon and the depths of the sea. Our singularity, which failed. We did not break out. Blame “big oil” (burning dead dinosaurs instead of wireless power doomed us, but a lot of people made a lot of money); blame the oldest and most damaging grudge in the world, envy and its nasty political cousin redistribution or ‘social justice’ as they say nowadays.

But there is one idea which has now caught on. It is product of apocalyptic nihilism and dystopian movies and rampant inequality and poverty and pollution – it is depopulation. An idea may go mainstream with 10% support, but it usually takes the rest of the population decades to catch up (for good or for bad). Thomas Malthus wrote at the very end of the 19th century, our first (or most famous) doom-sayer. Belying Verne he predicted not journeys to the stars but hunger and war. Everyone now is Malthusian, to a degree. The Green Revolution might have stayed the hand of Malthus for a season, but by the 1960s it was widely agreed that people were the problem and the fewer of us the better. No longer eugenicists (that particular idea was cast aside after being tarnished by the Nazis), people are nevertheless still apologists for radical change. It’s mostly environmental now, like eugenics also the domain of the ‘left’, and decries that there are too many people in the world. And it has for 50 years.

And it worked. Earth is now on an irreversible path toward de-population. It is remarkable really because it’s not due to famine or war or genocide or forced sterilization – but personal decisions. Including mine, I only have one child. It was my choice, and I would make it again. I am selfish, I have too much I want to do, life is too expensive, and the experience of child-rearing I only need to go through the one time. Check that box, and move on. Urbanization did it, of course. As did successful health care work on infant and maternal mortality (except maybe in Africa, which is an outlier).

I recently wrote a post on our emptying world. I received a lot of responses “What a sad post, what a difficult future!” which puzzled me because the post was not melancholy at all. Mother nature has a way of balancing us out; and I do think the tremendous growth (economic and population) from the late 1800s till the early 2000s needed a check. A world of consolidation, of a fundamental change in our economic model which brings a downsizing, focusing on that which is important and not the newest fast-fashion rag or cheap Chinese bauble is a good thing. Reducing our debt. Accumulating wisdom as we age not new cars for our fast lives of little introspection. That all sounds great!!

And our planet? She will recover. 14,000 years ago there was some kind of apocalyptic event (a flood of some type, like the one Moses wrote about) which almost wiped out humanity, ended the mammoths and led to a wholesale destruction of biodiversity. 1000 years ago there was a climate event that ended the Mayan empire. The world recovers. And as we age (hopefully gracefully) and the population on the planet consolidates (old people downsize and move closer to healthcare) and productive agriculture finds there are fewer mouths to feed, we will enter a new ‘in-between’ period. Until the next great happening, and who knows what that will look like. Ethnogenesis is always happening, populations rise and fall and with them civilizations and ideas. It’s happening right now, though most people can’t see it. Something old is falling away, something new is percolating under the 10% threshold waiting to emerge.

A final thought, we are likely alone in the universe. Fermi’s paradox become reality, the singularity unachievable. Smart monkeys on a rare earth. We probably can’t survive in outer space anyway, we are an interlinked part of our biosphere and would likely perish outside it. That’s OK, it’s the way things were designed. Our extremely resilient planet teaming with life set like a blue marble in a vast, silent, barren expanse. We love it, just as it makes us weep from time to time. That too brings life meaning.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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3 Responses to Things Are Cyclical, and We Are Alone

  1. You said, “Something old is falling away, something new is percolating under the 10% threshold waiting to emerge.”

    American hegemony/reserve currency is on the ropes. China/Russia rising. Guaranteed that China is waiting patiently for a further sign of American weakness before invading Taiwan. We will not be able to respond. The US is added to the list of past empires: Great Britan, France, Spain, the Dutch. It will be a new role for us – a fading shadow of what once was. Camelot.

    But I don’t see this as apocalyptic, it’s just more of what has happened since the beginning of time.

    We differ on the chance of other life. I think it is ubiquitous. But perhaps the limitations of the physical universe are hard and fast laws. None may break them…even technologically advanced civilizations that have been around longer than our sun. It’s all about distances we can barely grasp and the time to cross them.

    Then again, maybe they ARE here.


    • So it is natural to look into the past to see what the future might hold. And to assume the return of something old. But the process of ethnogenesis for one ethnos is not cyclical, they rise and then fall making way for something new. My point is China and Russia are not the future, what we are seeing is more akin to a star that goes red-giant and its supernova of destruction than the birth of a new star. China and Russia are dying, and this violence is their death song. What is coming next, is something wholly new.


  2. Pingback: Tolstoy and Steinbeck | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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