Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Couple of Examples of When Humanity Took a Wrong Turn

We can infer that every generation of humans has wondered if their current generation or the next, would be the last.  We can infer this because since the dawn of writing (5,000 - 7,000 years ago) and even the act of writing recording previously passed down oral history and mythology they all seem to  contain some reference to the concept that things at that moment were degenerating and that the next generation is useless and we are all doomed sometime soon.  While 100,000 years or so (when we believe the first modern humans evolved) is small on the cosmic time scale, by human standards it is 4,500 or so generations (a long time). 

So at least 4,500 generations of parents and grand parents sat around the tree, the campfire, the cave pit, the wheat field, the hut, house or TV and bemoaned the state of humanity and in many cases wrote about, prayed about, studied, dreamed and made prophecies about our extinction.  So far, these concerns and predictions have been very wrong.

We are definitely at once a very self critical and a very impatient species!

So, please keep this observation in mind as you read further.  Sure, at some point our species will become extinct, there is no denying that, but the when and the how are truly impossible to determine and I am not going to quickly join the ranks of all the other generations and say, hey - our greatest times are behind us and the future is screwed..... well ???

I often say that the two worst inventions in the history of mankind are religion and the internal combustion engine.  I use these two "inventions" both metaphorically and factually to make many points about what is wrong with us humans as a species.  I suppose that I could have chosen tribes, slavery, government,  war or technology in general, but humor me on this and accept that the single TWO worst inventions in human history were religion and the internal combustion engine.  I will use these two inventions to build my case as to what is fundamentally wrong with humans.


Religion is the outgrowth of fear and the need to control the tribe.  It is a structural and internally useful tool for those who want to control others, to do so.  While this in and of itself is immoral, it would be ridiculous to concede that both the popularity and (superficial) effectiveness of this tool can be questioned.  Religion works very well as a control mechanism, especially as humans began clumping together in "civilized" groups around 7,000 years ago. 

The second problem with religion however is that it requires believers to see other religions as wrong.  Those who speak of religious tolerance are missing the whole point.  Even "Universalists" who say that they believe in a higher power who has some say in the outcome of things and that spirituality is a normal part of the human experience and therefore "accept" all religions, are wrong in this case.  By stating those beliefs they are denouncing every other religion, which is in fact exclusive.  Meanwhile, any person who truly follows a religion and is not a hypocrite, is required to submit to the idea that their religion is the only true and valid one.  The end result of this fact is that we can now employ this powerful tool to not only control those inside our own village, tribe, state, country, sect, but we can justify treating those with other beliefs in inhumane ways, by diminishing their humanity.  There are thousands of examples, dating back thousands of years.  Sure, there are examples of tolerance between tribes, nations and sects and even cooperation - but in almost every case where this exists, under neath the relationship is always a component of doubt.  This mutual acceptance is often race and religiously based and is done for pragmatic, economic reasons - not because we really want to.  Ask yourself why we rebuilt Germany and Japan after WWII and have not rebuilt Iraq and Afghanistan after those wars?  Germany is made up of mostly white Christians and also was one of the largest groups of immigrants moving to America in the previous two centuries.  Japan (and later South Korea) was our best chance at having a necessary "foot hold" in East Asia to battle the Cold War.  We don't really give a shit about poor brown people from a multitude of Islamic sects living in a desert.  

The third problem with religion is that it not only promotes conflict and divisiveness in a multi-cultural New World country like the US, it is based on irrational thinking.  We are systematically and culturally saying that it is okay (if not preferred) to have adults believe in fairy tales.  If religion wasn't popular and accepted by so many, wouldn't someone spouting the ideas of angels and gods and a messiah and conspiracy and the subjugation of others and claiming that those who disagree with them will burn in eternal fire or be subjected to being reincarnated over and over until they "get it right" be put in a mental hospital?  How can a society have a rational debate and enact rational solutions about how to treat its citizens, protect its borders and take care of its economy, when it supports and promotes irrational thought as the "higher authority"?

The Internal Combustion Engine:

For full disclosure, I must admit that I once worked in a Diesel Engine Factory.  At any rate, why is the internal combustion engine the second worst invention of humanity? 

To be fair, the act of invention itself, isn't really the problem.  At the time, technology was growing at a rapid pace and one of the possible (not the only possible) next logical step was to invent a small, portable and powerful version of a steam engine or other device that could be mass produced and use to do the work of humans and animals at a fraction of the "apparent" cost.

The problem was that both the diesel and later the gasoline versions of the internal combustion engine were too good in some ways.  The ability to produce these things at a lower purchase price skyrocketed with the ideas of mass production (interchangeable parts) and the assembly line.  In addition they became a very stubborn platform from which to continuously improve upon the basic model, making them cheaper, faster and more efficient.  Coupled with the significant cost of creating the support infrastructure (factories, roads, refineries, oil fields, gas stations) and giving control of that vast infrastructure to the children of visionaries and entrepreneurs, who - as many next generation wealthy brats do, hope to continue the legacy, without seeing the negative impact of defending their positions.  All they could see was the cash cow of continuing to build these beasts.

What are the social costs?

  • Poor air quality
  • More "unnatural deaths" caused by trucks and automobiles than any other tool ever invented
  • Lead poisoning (until a reluctant Congress was embarrassed into pushing unleaded gas, in spite of millions of lobbying dollars from oil companies)
  • Rapid acceleration (pun intended) of the destruction of our planet's ability to sustain human life for the next 150 years.
  • Yet another reason to use religion as an excuse to wage war in West Asia and North Africa
The saddest part of this story is two-fold.  Wind energy was already in wide use when Mr. Diesel patented his engine and solar power was recognized as the energy - holy grail of the new physics that was emerging at the time.  Had the invention of the internal combustion engine been delayed for about 40-50 years, it would have been a write off and we would all be using solar, nuclear and wind power in all of their forms and varieties.

Any engineer will tell you that the true test of the perfection and efficiency of an invention is how much waste it creates.  Waste is usually found when heat, noise and non-renewable by products are created from the process in question.  The internal combustion engine FAILS in all of these categories.  They are very loud (need mufflers), they run crazy hot (need oil for lubrication and heat exchange and in addition a toxic water blended cooling system, fan, pump and radiator).  The by products of their use are poisonous gasses and gasses that accelerate the natural warming cycles of the planet.  What a horrific design?!

So, what is the future of the human species?

I have no clue, but like the arrogant cockroaches that we are, we will continue to adapt and do our best to survive in a more and more harsh world, never thinking that things wouldn't have had to "be this difficult, had we not made so many wrong turns".