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The Human Race at a Crossroads

Guy McPherson, professor of conservation biology at the University of Arizona,  pulls no punches in his May 21 essay, “Humanity at a crossroads.” In fact, he begins with his punchline itself:

The evidence is gaining increasing clarity: We’ve reached a crossroads unlike any other in human history. One path leads to despair for Homo industrialis. The other leads to extinction, for Homo sapiens and the millions of species we are taking with us into the abyss. I’ll take door number one.

Then he goes on to elaborate this view with references to peak oil, climate change, human overpopulation of the planet, and more.

Long-time Teeming Brain readers may recall that I’ve mentioned McPherson previously:

Now he continues to demand a hearing with his passionate and, as it turns out, literate and philosophical (in addition to scientific) diagnosis of our apocalyptic situation here at the dawn of the end of the industrial age.

In this latest essay, which was first posted to his blog at the University of Arizona website and then reprinted elsewhere (including Energy Bulletin and Carolyn Baker‘s website), he augments his thoughts about peak oil etc. with an examination of the meaning of the word “humanity” as both a character quality and a noun that refers to the human race, and also as a word that begs the question of what we mean by “human.” In this endeavor he directly invokes Nietzsche’s famous pronouncement that humans are inherently and tragically flawed, and makes reference to Descartes, Plato, Lao Tzu, and John Stuart Mill. He also references C.P. Snow’s idea of the “two cultures” of the natural sciences and the humanities.

And he indicts the modern Western education system:

Shouldn’t we be trying to integrate knowledge, instead of compartmentalizing it? In an effort to serve the culture of death that is industrial society, we have taken the worst possible approach: We developed our entire educational system around the twin pillars of compartmentalization and ignorance. Throw in a huge, ongoing, forceful dose of opposition to integration and synthesis, and we’re left with a tsunami of incompetence. We probably stood no chance of overcoming the all-too-human incompetence described by Nietzsche, but we purposely designed an educational system to reinforce the incompetence on a massive scale. Is it any wonder we’re a nation of overfed clowns?

I recount all of this simply to note that I was amazed at the number of times he directly pinged specific tropes and themes that have been central to my own concerns here at this blog from the moment of its launch in 2006.

Last year I pointed to a YouTube video that showed McPherson being interviewed on a nightly public affairs program on Arizona PBS station KAET, where he talked about the eventual, complete, and inevitable breakdown of America and the rest of the world within our own lifetimes — industrially, politically, economically, and socially. If you didn’t watch it then, I urge you to watch it now. McPherson is impressive — it’s obvious in the video that he suitably impressed his interviewer — and his words command attention.