The genesis of the query I posed below is the confluence of events in my personal life. I find myself under pressure to take actions that contradict every rule I have chosen to live by since coming to understand the destructive nature of my existence. It has been my experience that when people come to know me and understand the reality of what I am they become irrational, some more so than others. I have often attributed this to circumstance, as it is so often the case that my only proof is the passage of years- by the time one becomes convinced of the truth he is facing the end of his days. It can seem unfair and even cruel to be faced with accepting that while death claims him I stand unchanging and unmolested by what he once held to be a universal fate.

In reading the answers given I can see that most do not fully comprehend the ramifications of the decisions I face. This is not an indictment, it merely reaffirms what I already knew: I am alone in this. I know what it means to make decisions and then live with the consequences for centuries afterwards. I take due caution when it is my own fate in question. What am I to do when it is the very future of Man that is at risk? Can I justify being less cautious when the consequences have the potential to be so very disastrous? Add to this the notion that should I simply choose to set this aside and take no action whatsoever Man simply carries on as he always has, none the wiser, making his own path through the centuries. No extra doom is upon you for my choice in that circumstance.

Given that last, I suppose the very fact I am torn over this is quite telling in itself.

10 Responses to “Answers”

  1. The generations fall like winter wheat before the combine. Man is not outside Nature and Nature is already trying very hard to restore the balance by culling our numbers. Even your memory does not go back to when we were all perfectly happy to hunt, flake flint, and tie things up with sinew.

    A certain old-time television show made the following slogan popular: Live Long and Prosper.

    You have lived long. But have you prospered?

  2. Ah, yes, to live again as the noble savage in harmony with nature. A fiction, of course, and likely the greatest philosophical crime ever perpetrated upon Man, but lacking first hand experience with that condition it is understandable that modern men might look back upon those times and the simplified rules of the primitive existence with some longing.

    I do believe were I to encounter Mssr. Rousseau on the street at midday I would seize him about the throat and throttle him. If that seems somewhat harsh in response to your comment, let me say only that such is nothing in comparison to the realities of the primitive. No, I did not dwell in those most primitive times, but what I did experience was enough to satisfy my curiosity and firm my convictions.

    Have I prospered? That is the most difficult question to answer, is it not? I have material wealth due to fortuitous circumstance and a good deal of prescient planning, but it is nothing to me. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with it as it moves me to boldness, a destructive frame of mind for one such as I. My inner wealth, those experiences and memories I treasure, are yet ephemeral things. Love, a madness I possess no immunity against, has set my soul to flight on more than one occasion, but in the end it as Daedalus to the Sun- wings afire I plunge yet again in to the loneliness and despair that must inevitably claim my passion and hope.

    Despite this, my memories of love are those most precious to me. Time dulls the pain and softens the blow, opening again those secret paths that return hope to my heart. That hope is my dearest possession of all, for I did set it aside once, deliberately shunning hope thinking it would inure me to pain. I look now upon those times with sickened horror, ashamed of the monstrous thing I became, and saddened by the many centuries that passed before I could feel again, and call the wounds healed.

    So, having circled the question for two paragraphs, what is my answer? Simply that so long as I retain my hope, I prosper.

  3. Jean-Jacques and Me

    Some time ago I got an email from a Dean’s World commenter asking me why I don’t like the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I never answered because I had to think hard about it. But here’s what he asked:

    “According to t…

  4. To question the answer: it’s not a unique circumstance to be making decisions that will affect future generations — and it’s something to be taken seriously whether or not you expect to be around to see the results. (Which many of the folks working on life extension do expect, btw, rightly or wrongly). That may not help you with your particular emotional issues — but since those are, as you note, unique, it’s not clear what sort of advice you’re fishing for here.

    Then again, it’s not even clear what you’re thinking about doing. Even within the life extension field, there’s more than one group working — and some creep me out distincly more than others. Ultimately, though, given the current rate of progress in bioscience, if it’s possible for any of these efforts to succeed at all, then it’s probably just a matter of a few decades until they do (again, assuming that the larger society in which they’re embedded doesn’t blow itself apart in the meantime). Having a working example to reverse engineer might save someone a few dozen years, but while those few dozen years would make a great deal of difference to individual humans, they may mean less to the state of future humanity.

    So, if the development of workable anti-aging therapy is a matter of time (see Aubrey de Grey for reasons to believe this), the important questions, to me, aren’t so much the details of the treatment, as who gets it, and at what price. There’s no shortage of science fiction about predatory, immortal elites ruling over a population of oppressed, mortal humans (e.g., S. M. Stirling’s Draka books, in which a colony of British slavers with a Spartan philosophy engineer themselves into a genuine master race; also “Lord of Light”, by Roger Zelazny, in which the elite literally play god). This would strike me personally as something to try to avoid…

  5. “to live again as the noble savage in harmony with nature”

    A close study of a Clovis point pays many rewards. The makers of them were as civilized as it gets. Same with the atlatl.

    Small groups of tribe and clan are not about “nobility” or “harmony with nature” but about community wholeness, a clan-think where everyone is partially within everyone else’s mind and where shared ritual stretches that collective mind beyond the boundaries of the body as the dead commune with the living in visions and dreams. Only we are men and women alone, and maybe even only you with your 3500 years.

    To hunt plentiful game also means to have leisure to watch the wheel of the sun, moon, and stars as they define the cycles of time.

    The greatest collective civilized mystery is how so many from Pueblo Bonito to Stonehenge learned that the moon aligns with the sun every 18 years or so. This is by far the hardest thing to calculate.

    It takes at least three generations of oral tradition, glyphed in myth and poetry for memory’s sake, to figure that out. Such is not the work of “savages” on any level.

  6. Well, ask for advice from anonymous dweebs on the innernut, and this is what you get. (I am curious about what one may conclude about the culture that produced such elegant weapons as the Schwalbe).

    One last note on entrenched elites. It’s doubtful that anyone would state a desire to create that kind of situation. But people don’t always act in accord with their own stated motivations. To put it bluntly, they don’t always know themselves very well. And one of the problem with immortals is that once they get into bad habits (like saying “we’d like to help the plebs, but they’re not ready yet, and in the meantime, they must know their place”), those bad habits can last an awfully long time…

  7. Small groups of tribe and clan are not about “nobility” or “harmony with nature” but about community wholeness, a clan-think where everyone is partially within everyone else’s mind….

    Yes, and an awful lot of people hate such communities and do whatever they can to escape them when they find themselves born in them. They tend to be a good bit less tolerant than larger civilizations on the whole–and “savage” often is the right answer for such communities frequently kill strangers on sight, often enjoying torturing them in the process.

    The romanticization of such older ways of life is just that: romanticization. When these people encounter the modern world, quite frequently the things they want most are radios, televisions, vaccines, anti-bacterials, soap, pre-made clothing, and easy and cheap food. In other words, they want what we have, and show it with their own free choices.

    To this day anyone who wishes to live off the land and give up the comforts of civilization is free to do so. There are still plenty of places you can go and try to live this way. Some idealists have even attempted it with communes. These almost always fail, mostly because it’s a sucky way to live. Even those that do manage to make a success of it still rely heavily on technology and the benefits of our own civilziation.

    By the way, it’s also false to claim that nature is “culling” the human race. It’s doing no such thing. We are living longer, healthier lives all the time, even in the poorest countries. So long as a country is free, its standard of living improves, and over time so does its environment.

    If human civilization is on the verge of collapsing, I’m hard-pressed to find evidence for it.

  8. “Savage” is merely a word, not an indictment. That ancient peoples accomplished astounding things fails to make the argument for a return to ancient modes of living. Extant western civilization was not foist upon an unwilling populace, it is the creation of Man as surely as are spear points and astronomy. That other peoples have followed other paths is merely the reinforcement of Man’s flexibility and resourcefulness.

    The notion that mankind would benefit from stepping back to an older more “natural” mode of existence is as old as Man himself. The fundamental problem is that once Man was capable of asking the simple question “Why?” his natural state became that of both philosophical and technological exploration and advancement. To call the result of that process unnatural (my word, not yours) is to indict Man as unworthy of choosing his own fate. It is not an accident that humanity stands where it now does and it is not an accident that there is human wreckage strewn along the path Man followed- nature is not about fairness.

    Those clans hunting plentiful game and enjoying the leisure such a life afforded gave it up for a reason. Nobody forced them to move towards organized agriculture, it was embraced in the end because game was not always plentiful, but a combination of farming and animal husbandry provided a more stable supply of food. From there the organized social unit beyond the family was fairly unavoidable. Did some reject the new paradigm defined by the institution of agriculture? Most certainly they did- there is ample evidence that hunter/gatherers and agrarians clashed violently for long periods of time. Further it is supposed that individuals in the hunting clans lived longer and less stressful lives; however, when the challenge of a new human paradigm arose, in the end they could not compete, being crowded out by agriculturalists (who bred faster and were better prepared against hardship) in all but the most isolated places. Those peoples fell by the wayside. Such is the natural progression of Man.

    The life afforded by small groups can be as spiritually fulfilling as you present, but the cost can be rather high in terms of misery. It is all well and fine for you and I to ruminate upon the richness and comforting wholeness afforded by shared ritual and communal thought processes, but there shall come one for whom that is simply not sufficient. That one always arrives, and usually he is not alone in his thought to be free of a stifling and hidebound reality- for our “comforting wholeness” most assuredly is his “stifling imprisonment”. Do we cast him out? Do we kill him? Do we believe for one instant that we can somehow stand against the tide of the human spirit?

    Civilization as it exists in its assorted modern manifestations is not an end result, but rather a step in the process whereby Man seeks to attain and create his new natural state. For that matter, this struggle towards civilization as we currently know it likely is Man’s natural state. All these works of Man may yet collapse in to ruin and the survivors find themselves facing again the most basic challenge of preserving their place at the apex of the food chain; however, it is my suspicion that should such occur it would mean that in the calculus of nature’s workings, Man had failed. That failure earns nature’s only real punishment- extinction. A race, no matter how philosophically advanced, that resigns itself to a primitive mode of existence embraces its own destruction, waiting the day when some earthly calamity or errant chunk of cosmic detritus arrives to erase them from existence.

    It is my belief Man is inherently incapable of embracing such a fate. He may yet suffer it, for in the natural world no guarantees are offered, but he shall fight it with his dying breath. Advance or perish has been the fundamental engine of human existence for as long as I have lived, and I see no evidence that it was ever else. Those Clovis points did not make their appearance as artwork, they were functional machines offering superior performance, the result of some man asking this simple question:

    Why hunt as we always have?

    Should nature somehow cull the mass of humanity it shall mark tragedy, not liberation, nor justice.

  9. Please dear — let’s see a picture!!!

  10. My apologies, Lynne, but at this juncture a picture would be most unwise.