Humanity the Super-Organism: Fostering a Realistic Idealism


Humanity is an adolescent super-organism. We still lack a broad understanding of ourselves as we are: nodes of a holistic system. Our current journey is one of personal discovery.

We humans find ourselves in a complex socio-technical ecosystem featuring immense inequality and pockets of persistent violence. The present moment seems to have us locked along a path headed for disastrous times. Yet this moment too can pass. If we are to move beyond this moment we must better understand our place within it. "The economy" is not some “other” outside of us, it is us; it is the emergent pattern of our activity. We are the Invisible Hand. Today the system prizes techno-trinkets and abstracted capital wealth; tomorrow it must prize humanity. 

Radical abundance will not be equally distributed. The broad trend is toward individual empowerment, but not all individuals are equally empowered. Some are uniquely positioned to shape the future to their desires. Through digital platforms and automation, innovators are systematically removing inefficiencies across the landscape, including the need to pay people. Look at the modern version of the "free" Internet as the most indicative example. "Free" Internet services are a myth; there is no free service, just as there is no free lunch. Data is as real as the photons and electrons that instantiate it, so too is its value. The architecture of capitalism has woven firmly into the Internet. Now data is a tradable commodity on a capitalist scale. Behind the "free" Internet lies immense capital value; these pools are fueling empires of tomorrow. The future we are heading into features clear winners and clear losers. Once there were pharaohs with slaves, lords with serfs, kings with subjects all sitting high atop piles of humanity. Going forward new rulers are emerging sitting high atop piles of humanity, this time that humanity sees itself falsely obscured behind technology. 

The aggregate gains of humanity will inevitably fall along an unequal distribution. This is a larger feature than just human economy. It is larger than humanity. Evolution itself is an unequal learning system balancing along fleeting momentary equilibria. Evolution is a process of harnessing interactions between thermodynamic energy gradients to construct complex ordered forms. Evolution weighs no moral favorites. As far as we can tell Evolution is "interested" only in change and feedback loops; specific life forms are much less relevant than the process itself. We humans and our societies are emergent from evolution. We are not above it or below it we are woven into its process. Conflict and change are integral parts of the nature of the universe. Life systems battle for niches and collaborate along tenuous equilibria. Even galaxies collide into one another, changing profoundly in the process. We humans are learning to see conflict and inequality more clearly, but vision alone does not elevate us above existence. Only our choices can change the landscape. Conflict is part of the universe, but through our collective actions we can carve out more peace. Some level of inequality is a feature of the universe, but we have the power to choose the scale of inequality we abide.

The road ahead looks simultaneously hopeful and frustrating for those of us who want a more equal and peaceful world. Long trends show humanity is capable of ramping down violence as a percentage of our population. Over the centuries we have extended personhood to more humans. The people known as “consumers” are slowly learning to prize the environment that gave rise to all of us and sustains us. There have been real gains, and these are worth celebrating. Still, we can do better, we will do better, but so many lessons require learning the hard way.

Still, take time to celebrate the deeper beauty that is our existence. We are life! We are that amazing phenomenon that harnesses chaos to create the order of itself. We are humans, the terrifying and amazing life form that transforms our imaginations into reality; for worse or better. Through our technology we find ourselves able to program matter ever more directly. We are growing in capability faster than we are in maturity, but then that's how our individual lives seem to flow. I want us all to remember that transcending conflict itself is (at this juncture) impossible. This is not meant to allow us to make excuses for ourselves, but rather to reframe our place in the Earth system.  When we look at the world we may see problems, but we must also see beauty wherever we can. Those of us who see the problems cannot afford to become disillusioned. Those of us who can see must inspire others with our vision. Through each moment we can do our best, and in the aggregation of the moments we will arrive at a new level of consciousness. As it is for individuals so it is for humanity.


Galaxies Collide Shown in Computer Simulation.


Those predicting utopia are wrong. Those predicting dystopia are wrong. The future is more nuanced than that; it is messy, filled with beauty and grotesquery, filled with hope and despair. The future looks an awful lot like history, but with twists. Now we have powerful new technological features that humanity has never wielded before. I still believe that we have the power to build an objectively better future, but it will be a challenging journey. Success is hardly guaranteed. We are heading into arguably the most competitive world humanity has ever known. Now you and I are potentially competing against all the rest of the Earth. Yet simultaneously the potential to collaborate has never been greater. Now you and I can work and learn with potentially anyone else on Earth. Connection is power, and power often functions as a blunt tool. Who wields power and how they exercise it determines the quality and character of the future.

You have more power than you know. You are a life form in a vast interconnected web of causality. You are a human who can make your imagination a reality. You only need to embrace your power, and come to terms with the responsibility that power brings. So what future do you want? What will you do in your moments?  What networks will you join? Who will you align with and what will be your collective goals? Think hard on this throughout your day, your week, your year. Carry these questions with you in life, I know I will be. If we want a better future we will need to work at it, and take nothing for granted. Ultimately you and I and the rest of humanity are entangled together. We must foster a synthesis of realism and idealism, a merging of the way things are with the way things ought to be. We cannot afford naive idealism, nor can we afford dour pessimism. We can imagine futures we would want to live in and work with each other to head in that direction. The future emerges from our collective decisions. You have part of the solution to a problem of the world. Thinking and working together we can make the super-organism of humanity more cognizant of itself and its ecosystem, and just plain kinder to itself. 

- JH