Andy Schmookler said that he thinks a lot about the fate of human civilization these days. He said that the subject worries him because, after a half-century of studying the destructive forces at work in the systems of civilization, his gut feeling is that it is no better than a toss-up whether, in the coming generations or centuries, humankind will get its act together well enough to prevent our civilization destroying itself.
Andy Schmookler on civilization
Dr. Andy Schmookler is a prize-winning author, former Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s very red Shenandoah Valley, former talk radio host, summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University, Ph.D. awarded “with distinction” in a program specially created to accommodate his original theory explaining how civilization has developed, and a frequent columnist in newspapers around the U.S. This is a part of Dr. Schmookler’s series titled “A Better Human Story.”
In a recent piece, Andy Schmookler wrote the following.
Get our act together or Self-destruct. Eventually, it will be one or the other.
Our history seems to encourage people to think, or perhaps tacitly assume: “We’ve muddled through for centuries and millennia, despite all the flaws in the human world — in individuals, in societies, and in the global system — so we’ll keep on muddling through.”
But things are different now. We’ve moved beyond “more of the same” in our powers, and expecting to be able to continue to muddle through is dangerously fallacious. As the powers of human civilization have grown, counting on “Muddling Through,” as opposed to undertaking necessary transformations of civilization to block the forces of destruction, has become a recipe for disaster.
For example, leaving the international order as it has always been – which means that confrontations between great nuclear powers (like the Cuban Missile Crisis) will recur indefinitely — amounts to playing Russian Roulette.
We know for a virtual certainty what would be the outcome for a person who keeps on spinning the chamber and pulling the trigger. Eventually, what can happen will happen.
Civilization, with its persisting war system, won’t survive for the long haul if we just keep on playing this kind of Russian Roulette. The long-term survival of human civilization therefore clearly requires that we eventually achieve some re-ordering transformations of the overarching system of civilized societies.
(Humankind reached in that general direction after the two terrible World Wars of the 20th century — the League of Nations after WW I, and the United Nations after WW II. But the subsequent history has demonstrated clearly that such efforts have fallen far short of what the prevention of all-out war between major nuclear superpowers.)
And this climate crisis also demonstrates the need for important transformations – changes to harmonize civilization’s activities with the needs of the rest of Life-on-Earth. (We can only hope it is not already too late.)
As “Muddling Through” disappears as an option, the possibilities basically get increasingly dichotomous: either Thrive or Die. As our civilization works its way into the future, the question is, Will it be the constructive forces or the destructive forces that prevail?
Listen to the entire interview. It is very enlightening.
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