Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Do We Still Work?

Humanity, I mean.

In the long sweep of human history on earth are we a "better" species now than we were 50,000 years ago? Morally better, I mean. We remain one of the few species on earth that routinely kill their own.

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways...But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
-Theodore Parker, American anti-slavery champion, 1853.

Ew, squirm. I don't see that. Americans abolished slavery, it took a war, but we did, all other societies of humans did, formally, legally, but slavery still exists, informally, illegally.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
  -Martin Luther King, American civil rights champion, 1965.

Americans abolished racial discrimination, formally, legally, Black Americans are better off for it, America is a morally better society of humans than it was, but racial discrimination still exists in America, informally, illegally. And racial and ethnic discrimination are rampant species-wide in the world today. There are still untouchables. There are still Chinese. There are still Republicans. In the long sweep of human history I do not see even a gradual, "continual and progressive triumph of the right," I do see the more modest "bend" toward justice, formally, legally. Because of the the moral codes of Christianity and Judaism, because those moral codes were incorporated in so much of Western law, I do see the last 2,000-3,000 years of Western humanity bending formally, legally, towards justice. 

With our brains, which are the only attribute that make us dominant over the other species, we have developed the means to kill our entire species, and all the species of life on earth. Among other things. We have used our brains to do other things, things that have made human life "better". Materially better, I mean.

We have killed ourselves with an alacrity that has matched our "improved" methods: the firearm, the repeating firearm, TNT, the machine gun, bombing from mechanical flight, splitting the atom.

We have a longer lifespan than we did 50,000 years ago. The quality of that lifespan is undeniably better. We no longer live hunt-to-hunt or growing season-to growing season, we now life paycheck-to-paycheck...wait.

There is a natural limit, marked by human attributes, to that arc of history. Humanity can only bend it--And which way is another thing!--according to our abilities.

There is consensus among smart humans who have looked at the arc of history that there are only two periods where humanity clearly has bent the arc to the material good of the species: 15,000 years ago with the domestication of animals and plants, and the Industrial Revolution, ~1760-~1840. That's it!

Thus, it can be said that we have "worked," bent the arc of history toward justice, twice in 50,000 years: once about 3,000 years ago with the founding of Judaism, the other about 2,000 years ago, the founding of Christianity; and twice, at two other times, to our material benefit.

For our dominance of our planet we are a modestly endowed species with much to be modest about.