The son of a close friend of mine was attending an elite Washington private school, one which prided itself on its long history of progressivism, civil rights, and social activism. Many of Washington’s liberal establishment sent their sons and daughters there, but it was not because of their influence but the school’s undivided ethos that made it known as a place for tolerance and intellectual openness within a distinctly moral context. Differing views and opinions were encouraged, but only in the spirit of rational challenge not dispute. The achievements of liberalism, the pillars on which the school had been erected, were to be questioned, but never shaken.
In one of the many discussions on climate change and man’s responsibilities for it, both students and teachers spoke with one voice about the global impact of increased demand for fossil fuels, the greed and venality which drove it. Such behavior was expressive of a willful selfishness which deformed the principles of the Founding Fathers and turned enterprise and individuality into insatiable corporate appetite, a disregard for community and social justice, and a championing of excess in the name of progress. Unless concerted and committed moral action were taken, climate change would end in the extermination of life itself.
The fight would be fought on three fronts. First capitalism itself, the source of insolent greed and the engine of destruction must be attacked. Students on behalf of all Americans must reject the discredited principles of Adam Smith, Hayek, and Milton Friedman and return the country to a more principled, equitable, and just economic system.
Second the war on climate change must be fought on all fronts – coal, oil, and gas energy must go and be replaced by alternative, sustainable power sources. Consumers must be educated – shamed and dunned if necessary – into driving less, turning down thermostats, and taking public transportation. They must turn quickly to recycling, organic foods, fertilizers, and pesticides.
Third, the soldiers of the war must be diverse. Only if men and women of color, native Americans, women, and the LGBT community – the ones must at risk from global warming because of the exclusionary policies of corporate America and the disproportionate impact climate change will have on the disadvantaged – can there be true solidarity and singularity of purpose.
The young son of my friend raised his hand and quietly suggested that man was not at all at fault for climate change or any other environmental change for that matter. It was wrong to place man outside of the environment when human beings are inseparable parts of it, both contributors to change and subject to it.
Human beings, he said, would always fall prey to new viruses and microorganisms which, as they had in the past, would decimate large populations. Yes, irresponsible use of antibiotics and careless behavior might contribute to their spread, but the microscopic world – as much a part of the environment as men and even more powerful – drove the great demographic shifts of the past and would do so in the future.
Second, he went on, human beings have always been both modifiers of their environment and adaptable to changes within it. “We live in a closed system”, the boy continued, “a kind of zero sum game.” Skyscrapers were built to accommodate the demand for residence in highly productive urban zones and to preserve these economic engines, municipalities were already devising creative solutions to rising waters and temperature.
Finally, the boy concluded, genetic engineering will change the structure of the human organism and make it more adaptable to the changing environmental conditions around it. Looking even farther in the future, the human world will become a largely virtual one where energy use is limited, the land goes back to nature, and a new stasis is established.
When he finished, there was stunned silence. Never before had any student at the school so challenged its received wisdom. There had been no one who had ever challenged any of its principles whether a program of aggressive affirmative action, extensive community service and outreach, loudly vocal protests against global warming, or the open embrace of transgender students. The Headmaster himself had spoken many times about the obligation of every graduating students to evangelize, to promote those foundational principles learned and practiced at the school, and to be an unfailing exponent of sane liberal policies.
Yet here was this young man who, without protest, intemperance, or anger, not only challenged the philosophy of the school but progressivism itself.
After the initial shock had past, students quickly took the floor. The boy had been corrupted by Republican arrogance, Tea Party shamanism, and conservative bile. He had fallen for pseudo-philosophical notions of neo-Hindu fatalism, and existential nonsense.
The criticism became more and more pointed and hostile. The teacher at first let the students have their say, but once the discussion became nasty, tried his best to calm them. He pleaded for tolerance and respect, but he himself wondered how this otherwise intelligent boy could have gone so far off the rails.
Needless to say, the criticism of the boy did not stop at class. He was ignored, ridiculed, shunned, and marginalized until he finally left school. His father took him out not because he doubted his son’s ability to take care of himself, but because the school had shown its true colors. It prided itself on tolerance, diversity, and respect; but had shown everything but. It was hypocritical to the core.
The father, not surprisingly, not only agreed wholeheartedly with his son but was the source of his intellectual inspiration. He was not a climate skeptic nor on any political fringe. He simply believed like his son in the integrity of nature and the inseparability of biological roles within it. Climate change might indeed be happening, and man more than likely was helping it along; but it by no means portended disaster.
He was convinced that once the human genome was completely sequenced; once efforts to recombine DNA had become a reality; and once a mind-computer interface had been realized, a post-human era would arrive.
‘Post-human’, the father explained to his son, is the term scientists have chosen to describe the life form that will result thanks to scientific modification. The term, however, is not quite accurate. Although as genetically-modified beings, part-organic and part-non-organic, we will certainly not resemble the creatures we now are, we will have simply evolved, albeit it through a more deliberate, focused an efficient means than Darwin ever imagined, into a more modern, capable, resilient, and powerful life form. What currently defines human beings – cognitive, intelligent, sentient, imaginative, spiritual, and creative – will still be appropriate and meaningful. We simply will have become more intelligent, imaginative, and creative than ever before.
We will no longer be retarded in our mental and spiritual evolution by the inefficient use of our brains. When a mind-computer interface (i.e. once decoded, human brain impulses will be able to be read by the computer and vice-versa) has been completed, the range of our mental capacities, however limited in the past, will be limitless.
No amount of global warming, Ice Age cooling, or variant climate change will be of any consequence. Just as agriculturalists are genetically modifying plants to be resistant to drought, pests, and soil depletion; so will human engineers be able to modify our genome to adapt to current environmental conditions. Cities will not have to be changed to accommodate global warming. Human beings will change. The ability to thrive in water, to breathe different compositions of air, and to live well in either colder or warmer climates will be easily programmed. Environmentalism will die as a movement, and human modification will be the focus of all attention.
Both father and son were as right as rain. Human evolution is nothing if not a history of adaptation in a war of competing biological and social interests. No sooner were major epidemic diseases eliminated when new ones emerged. HIV, Ebola, and Zika are only the latest incursions of the micro-biological world; and there will certainly be others. Now that microorganisms have developed a resistance to even the most powerful antibiotics, there is sure to be an epidemic of non-treatable infections until gene therapy reaches the market.
Every scientific advance has in it the seeds of destruction, since in an increasingly complex world, everything has consequences. Man and nature will continue to dynamically interact with unforeseen consequences.
Barrow, Alaska, the most northernmost human settlement in North America is a miserable place to live. In both summer and winter it is a cold, windblown, and desolate place. For centuries native Inuit have lived on the margins, inactive in the dark, cold winter months, huddled for warmth in igloos, and Arctic hunters in the few months of the year when the polar ice melted enough for them to hunt seal and whales. There was no more remote and inhuman place on earth than Barrow, Alaska.
With the discovery of North Slope oil, Barrow has progressed, although slowly compared to the Lower Forty-Eight. It has heat, snowmobiles, and electricity. Food and supplies are available from warmer climes; but real development will only come with global warming. In fact the entire far north of the continent will become productive, habitable, and even a good place to live.
Of course cities in the south will change also, but as mentioned above, they are already making plans. New York planners have already envisioned a Venice of North America with even taller skyscrapers built on solid ground among the canals. Considerations of Holland-style dikes and sea walls have already been disregarded in favor of expanded marsh lands and a normal ebb and flow of the tides. Solar energy and nuclear options will both fuel growing populations and serve to stabilize the climate.
Traditional Hindus, of course, regard all this with bemusement. Life has always been a cycle of destruction, renewal, and destruction, so why is the West so exercised?
The Hindu tradition perceives the existence of cyclical nature of the universe and everything within it. The cosmos follows one cycle within a framework of cycles. It may have been created and reach an end, but it represents only one turn in the perpetual "wheel of time", which revolves infinitely through successive cycles of creation and destruction. Within this cycle of creation and destruction of the universe, the soul (atman) also undergoes its own version of cycle called samsara, the cycle of rebirth in which individual souls are repeatedly reincarnated (Based on the Rig Veda 10:129, 1-7)
The Washington school in question is thriving like never before. Hundreds of parents, attracted by its academic reputation and solid liberal credentials, apply and only a few students are selected. Diversity, inclusivity, race, gender, and ethnicity – the entire progressive canon for that matter – are more an integral part of campus life than ever before. Encouraged by the progressive wave encouraged by university and college administrators and faculty, the school understands and fulfills its obligation to prepare its students for the next phase of their education; and a lifelong occupation of secular evangelism.
The boy in question and his family have recently moved to Montana.