Humanity: The Great Experiment Part 1

Image source: Maria Fonseca

Although pessimism is prevalent throughout society, humans tend to be the consummate optimists. We think and believe, therefore we are. Humans are innovative tinkerers that thrive on the endless pursuit of biding our time by doing and making things.

What we put our minds to, we do. Split an atom and tap its immense energy for productive and destructive purposes, “been there.” Fly to space; land a rover on Mars, and communications equipment on an asteroid – “done that.” Genetically modify seeds so that they are drought resistant, grow quicker, and yield more food for a growing population – “affirmative.” Design a “futuristic device” that fits in the palm of our hands and contains more information, data, and processing speed than many computers – “yup! Got you covered, using one right now.” Figure out how to rid the world of disease, hunger, poverty, and conflict without over committing natural resources or creating ecologic damages – “umm, still working on that one…is this multiple choice?”

Humans expect a lot. We want (at least many of us) good health, love, peace, freedom, and family. Most of these wants are highly subjective and differ for every individual. The quotient typically sums up, for many, to happiness. But for some people, even happiness is not enough. Many people also have an endless drive and thirst for authority, prestige, status, and wealth.

This reality creates a dichotomy among humans. Some people are driven toward a happiness defined by their inner-self, spirituality, and their connectedness to others, the world, and the universe. Yet others are motivated and driven by their inner-self, but also consumed with actualizing their wants more than their needs. This latter group of humans seeks power and prestige outright and without guilt or apology. They flourish where others don’t dare to aspire. While some may view their greed sinful and shrouded in evil, these personalities are arguably necessary and important to humanity.

We need people that unabashedly pursue greed. Without them we would never have a true check-and-balance on society including what our boundaries for creation and destruction really are. The challenge we face is in honing the skills and personalities of those motivated by power to lead with the courage, integrity, and values that uplift others in process.

Quote by Mark Coleman

The fact is that we are a couple of geo-political-religion conflicts from a world war, a few degrees away from failed food systems, and a few trillion away from market collapse. People don’t want to hear or talk about this – reality can be painful. Rather, we’d prefer to hide ourselves behind words and phrases like risk, big data, sustainability, analytics, and accountability. Put it all up in the cloud, lock it down, spread it out, and let it rain data all over us. We will then create a new algorithm to make real sense of what’s going on in the world, right?

Humans are the “great experiment.” We’re constantly evolving and trying to survive and find purpose and meaning from the ultimate experiment, life. Very little of our vast experiment is defined, governed or regulated. But each day we put blind trust into the hands of government, business, science, technology, and religion, and often in irrational ways. On one hand we demand transparency, accountability, data, and information – particularly when it comes to charged topics such as climate, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), resource scarcity, and human rights.

Yet on another hand, we choose to put our faith into religion and politics, often blindly yet passionately. We don’t demand the same burden of proof when it comes to religion versus the impact humans may or may not be having on the world’s ecosystems. For some, the option to be forgiven for their sins manifests into the ultimate “hall pass.” We can skip class, wreak havoc, and be forgiven later. Well, most of us recognize that is now what religion really teaches us, but in our oversimplification of spirituality, and in our choice to leverage religion to justify some of our behaviors, we continually rationalize the impacts we are having on all living things, not just human beings.

There is merit to living life with blissful ignorance. Burying one’s head in the sand alleviates us from having to deal with the pressures of the day, most of which are very tragic, ugly, and demented. For example, the thought of terrorism, let alone being a victim of terrorism, can burden an individual’s mind. Pile on concerns related to health, environment, safety, and freedom, and fear of life and living can quickly overwhelm one’s state of being.

The most eye-opening and yet crippling thing about the “great experiment” is not even knowing your part of it. Humans only balk when our time on earth has become limited, when our life is threatened or becomes constrained, or when our freedoms (real or perceived) are diminished. We tend to stop and become mindful and grateful for our time on earth only when we are brought to a standstill by the birth or death of another human, or an event that restricts our own well-being.

The Entitled Economy

Since the creation of money as the preeminent instrument for the exchange of value and economic status, humans began to lose our symbiotic balance with the earth. The allure and power of financial wealth has disconnected us from the ecosystems that enable our being. Once financially motivated, humans began to view resources only as a means to an end, the end being the faster creation and accumulation of more money. This flawed logic forgets about a critical factor: the earth’s resources are finite, and a limiting factor in a model that focuses on unabated exponential growth based upon exploitation of our commons and natural resources.

Long ago we convinced ourselves that humanity is entitled to the earth’s bounty. The conversion of natural resources to a utility (product/service) that humans need creates economic value. This process yields waste and inefficiencies. Pollution is not only a cost of doing business; it is a cost to human health and the environment. When we consume natural resources and waste them through pollution, we are essentially permitting the use of a common good for economic gain. When a business emits greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, it is telling society that “we are taking some clean air away from you, so that we can produce another value” (i.e., a car, mobile phone, children’s toy, hamburger, etc.).

However one has to question the morality of consuming “common goods,” particularly if such goods are impacted in ways that deteriorate or limit the quality of life other peoples could have in using the goods toward a similar or higher value and with less negative impact.

Is the value of the product or service developed and delivered by the business greater than the environmental impacts, natural resource costs, and other risks that may be created in the process? Is there a “trade imbalance” between earth and humans? Are we taking more than we need? Are we consuming at a pace that does not allow natural systems to regenerate or rejuvenate? Are we creating more waste than we are value? These underlying questions are often debated and easily deflected and lost in a sea of data and information that can easily be presented to tell a distorted and lopsided truth.

Humans have had an incredible run leveraging the environment for financial gain. We’ve become financially wealthy without establishing overly onerous limits, boundary conditions, and frameworks to govern the fair, equitable, and just use of natural resources and protection of biodiversity essential for innovation and a quality of life.

Our experiences with resource management, conservation, and stewardship for fisheries, forests, and water have had success in the past. For example, the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA), the Clean Air and Water Acts, the “v-notch” practices of lobstermen, and other adopted policies and procedures have had limited success in helping humans better manage natural resources.

But these policy and best practice initiatives are not end-all solutions. Only now, as we see the challenges ahead of us, amid a growing global population and continued deterioration of human health and the environment, are we ready introduce and begin to embrace a higher consciousness for all living things. But can we get out of our own way in the process?

Part 2