When I was 10, I unknowingly took part in a sociological experiment. Years later I am amused to note just what it foretold of human nature as I see it.
My parents enrolled me in a children’s course at the local junior college. It was the kind of academic babysitting that parents enlist in hope that their little brat is preoccupied and stays out everyone’s hair for a few hours each weekend. And in my case, it was very necessary.
This class was Astronomy. I was a little Carl Sagan, you see. I loved peering at the heavens. It was the perfect fit for my little inquisitive and misbehaving butt. The class was very small for the first few weeks. As in only 3 students. It was so small one of the parents, an older shit-talking dude, sat in the class and volunteered his 2 cents regularly. The class was mellow and I sat and listened peacefully as the teacher calmly spoke of stars and galaxies and black holes and all that cosmological stuff. It was great.
But as is the case with government-funded activities, the expenses must justify the expense..in other words, 3 kids wouldn’t cut it if the class was to remain open. The same mentality has seeped into the business world, but that’s not my point here. The point is that my astronomy class was way too small to justify itself. Somehow, the school put word out that there was an astronomy class being offered to the right demographic, because in the span of a week or two, our little class blossomed into a large pack of about 30 other weekend astronomy warriors.
Gone was the intimate and uneconomical atmosphere of 3 students.
Now there was a large group of kids and the teacher’s lessons no longer held my attention. Nor anyone else’s, it seemed, for the class turned loud and unruly. Even I transformed from an unusually quiet kid to a loud and obnoxious miscreant. I remember fondly as the teacher, frustrated and perhaps overwhelmed by this influx of students and slightly unrestrained by his weekend duties, told me to shut up a few times.
Doesn’t that essentially spell out humanity’s inexorable progression into its modern frenzy?
Granted, a bit rudimentary, but very revealing.
How might I best help visualize the concept?
Time’s arrow illustrating human concentration over time.
Frankly it’s not my field of expertise, but I would venture to make an educated guess that mankind’s dispersion over the ages is adequately explained in this diagram. Ancient civilization, especially pre-dating the Industrial Revolution, was dispersed over broad distances and lightly concentrated. Consisting of small tribal groups and possessing minimal traces of anonymity.
With industrialization came technology, and with technology came urbanism.
And dense concentrations of humanity.
Biology and logic tells us this simple truth: in the presence of growing technology the human lifespan will increase. And as lifespans increase, the human population grows as a result.
As as human population grows, obviously the size of Earth remains unchanged. Now it’s just simple physics. Human density will increase as we have demonstrated quite aptly.
I thought of my post about Herman Melville the other day. It reminded me of mankind’s ability to adjust his character in a relatively short period of time, scientifically speaking…thousands of years or even less. I believe that even the Earthly inhabitant of the 19th Century had tremendously more in common with ancient man (in terms of mentality and world view) than he has with us even though we are separated by only 150 years as opposed to ancient man who predated Melville by hundreds and thousands of years.
I believe humanity’s intellect has grown at an exponential rate over time. The nature of exponential growth is that what takes only x amount of time to happen now may have taken 250x in previous periods. In 150 years we have seen mankind leap forward in ways unimaginable to Herman Melville.
I pointed this out by quoting a passage taken from a story and contrasting it with the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter. On the face of it, perhaps a trivial enough difference, but I argue that the difference is indicative of a much greater cultural phenomena.
As mankind’s dispersal has gone from to , not only has his physical population and distribution changed radically, but so has his mentality. For our minds are intertwined so deeply in our physical societal structure that it’s impossible to believe the human mind and spirit can remain unaltered, unaffected. Despite the fact our minds, at their deepest level, retain many of their prehistoric instinctual traits, they also are remarkably adaptable and on more superficial levels are capable of incredible adjustments to their social and cultural environment in short spans of planetary time.
Melville’s contemporaries lived in a comparatively idyllic and uncluttered time. He didn’t contend with bustling crowds and throngs of faceless humanity. He wasn’t able to switch on the television or the computer and interact, passively or actively, with thousands of people dotting the globe on a very real, nearly physical basis. He couldn’t communicate instantly with people outside of his immediate physical sphere and his self-concept was much more insulated and static. Time literally stood still for this man. And his expression and behavior was thus affected.
Such an outlook obviously permeated all manners of living.
Relationships, social interactions, hobbies, diversions, sins…the list is endless, the list of aspects of life which would be unrecognizable now seen from Melville’s perspective. Pastoral, reclusive, serene, retiring…all words I can conjure to describe what I imagine his time to have offered. These are value descriptions, value derived from my modern viewpoint. Maybe Melville saw them completely different.
We only know that which we know.
Now I would choose to use a different set of words to describe our time and its society. Outward, interactive, quick, rushed, cramped…and our mindset has thus adapted and is adapting.
We are different people.
A different race from Melville’s.
If you walk or drive down the street you will see many people you have never seen before (or don’t remember seeing). And who, continuing the concept, you will never see again. From this perspective, anonymity is the reward. With anonymity comes less restraint. Openness, the ability to articulate and display our socially irregularities, social foibles allowed to roam.
The dense concentration of human population has changed our persona to one of facelessness. Lack of personal and daily accountability.
Though I’ve lauded the ability of the human mind to adapt in short periods of time, there is no denying the fact that it is slow and lacks the ability to keep pace with man’s intellect.
The progress of man’s intellect easily outpaces all. Our social structures, our emotional states, rush to keep up, but can’t.
Now we are left in a state in which technology has raced far ahead and left us with a sense of character still struggling to “catch up” from only a 100, or 500, years ago.
This disjunction and inability to sync with the demands of modern technology and human concentration has led to what I believe is the cause to much strife today. I’m not going to argue that humans are a “crime-free” species. That’s ridiculous. Human dishonesty and cruelty has proven a constant trait that has stained the human race since…forever. No, I’m arguing is that much of our crime, much of our conflict, much of our diseased mentality, is directly explained by the fact that we possess Melville’s temperament, but are trapped in this modern intellectual era that happily lures our minds out of their cave and in turn, tramples all over them once they have stepped into the open.
The conflict between our mind, our soul, and the ruthless rigors of our advancing technology transforms us into an unhappy civilization. Ill-at-ease, tormented senses of self, skewed gender roles…bullshit that Melville didn’t have to deal with because essentially his era was not radically unchanged from his previous eras.
Exponential intellectual and technological growth tells us one thing: we’ve lost the race.
And it also tells us: we’ve only just begun.
Technology is unbridled. It will continue to multiply in sophistication and our days, shrinking into sound snippets and valueless relationships, will be spent dealing with the demands technology places on our helpless souls as they retreat fearfully into an utter state of archaism.
What do I feel this portends for the future?
After all, the title of this post is the future of mankind…
How the hell should I know.
I can only guess.
One of the key traits of exponential intellectual growth is that it tends to re-invent itself, to redefine itself. Essentially, a discovery at one point in time is entirely the result of previously accumulated layers of technology and thus would literally appear foreign and unrecognizable to many eras past.
It’s impossible to predict where technology will lead us. To define or predict scientific progress is to assimilate all that we’ve accomplished thus far and protract it forward in a linear fashion toward the future, when the reality is that many inventions and discoveries which await us in the future are surely hidden by every bend and detour in the road of human knowledge. Melville never could have predicted nor comprehended cell phones. The common wired telephone was not even in existence in 1850.
I will predict, however, that technology will continue to shrink the world in its own beautiful way.
Today’s will become in the not to distant future.
The human animal, presented with these changing conditions will continue to adopt the “beehive” mentality.
Man will become the ant; he will become the honey bee. He will increasingly find himself becoming just a miniscule part of a mass of indistinguishable individuals which comes together and forms a cohesive mentality and personality. Which develops a character of its own, a combination of the thousands and millions of tiny existences which gather to make up its contiguous oneness.
Working together as a mosaic of humanity, composed of an endless group of individuals, each existence increasingly expendable and built for self-sacrifice should the well-being of the Hive necessitate such actions.
This is happening already.
The bee and ant metaphor, carried further.
We too are learning to swarm around our masters, to protect, to nourish, and to sacrifice.
Our identities, our souls, intertwined, with the faceless, yet formidable masters, the oligarchical corporate masters who reign supreme. It’s been almost 125 years since the U.S. Supreme Court essentially granted corporations “personhood” in the famous Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad case. This was the first step, the beginning of the journey of modern man’s long journey to personal insignificance as the immense hive of modern technomachinery has rendered him personless. While the corporations were granted personhood, man was simultaneously handed impersonhood. And it continues and he is learning to fulfill his duties of the nameless soldier.
He was offered insect-hood.
This force has gradually grown over the many generations since our tribal antiquity. The loss of individuality, the muting of uniqueness. As man lives closer and closer together, as density draws us into tightly knit physical groups and our ability to speak or reach across to another is as easy as a click, our identities have coalesced and softened and been rendered blurry. Blurry.
The modern sense of loss of individuality sees us slowly blend into one amorphous mass. A roster of thousands of global employees. A mass of coalescing identities impinging on others until, seen from afar, there is are no more individuals. There is now only a featureless sea of humanity subsisting on the ultimate mission to destroy mankind, itself, through…teamwork.
The dynamic has been in place and some have pointed it out, recognized the dynamic.
In the story I quoted previously, “Bartleby, The Scrivener,” Melville is pointing to the doomed goal, the inevitable submersion of humanity to single-souled human contrivances, businesses, groups, corporations; those who choose to defy or eschew the proper role of the individual bee are thus deleted from the group. If they do not benefit the group, they are purged. I always suspected this was Albert Camus’ offhand observation in his novel, The Stranger.
I suspect man’s steady progress, dictated by the pace of inflating technology, will lead him further down the road of anti-individuality. Conservatives and libertarians decry the loss of individual freedoms. Men decry the loss of masculinity. We decry the emergence of the nanny state and collective thought and the mediocrity it breeds. I maintain these are part of a larger paradigm shift. These are ingredients and symptoms of the loss of man’s unique character as he is slowly drawn deeper into the Hive. The Hive that is modern man and the mammoth financial and business institutions he bolsters by joining forces with other similar-minded men.
I find corporations repugnant. And that’s not only because I work for one.
The usurpation of individualism in the name of the corporate brand, of the corporate profit. Corporations spawn layers upon layers of rules, codes, bylaws, memos, decrees, each endowed with the duty of maintaining and strengtheniing the character of the only individual who matters: the Queen bee. In this case, the corporate entity. Individualism is sqaushed. Inability or unwillingness to work towards the corporate benefit is frowned upon and punished.
Such is our world.
Such is our fate.
To summarize. As technology has brought man together. As technological advancement and “social progress” has marched forward, man has been crowded into a tomb, physically and mentally and intellectually. His clock has been condensed, as well. Time, shrunk.
One last note. I foresee that short-term evolution, using the rate and nature of man’s advancement as a yardstick, will over time, reward the social and the obedient, because these are the traits that combine to help the Hive to succeed and survive. Conformity is the Hive’s most potent fuel. The ability to socially connect and cooperate. The team mentality.
Anyone who works in a large company or corporation recognizes these concepts because they are pounded down the throats of employees as golden keys to success in just about every business environment. In fact, in many business environments, the concept of team is ubiquitous. A man’s inability to “join the team” (aka, join the Hive) is to hasten one’s own demise.
Hence, the inability to contribute to the Hive’s endurance will spell an individual’s doom. Flushed from the system. He may shout at the top of his lungs, but in the din of the buzz of a million obsequious compatriots, he voice will be drowned out.
The loner, the individualist, the naysayer. Their extinction is imminent as the gathering herd of humanity draws together and forms One.