Youth Futures: Is Our Civilization Self-Limiting?

Guest post by J. Z. Colby

I have written before in the Youth Futures blog (and many other good writers have done so also) that the “Myth of Progress” we have believed for the past 300 years may be joining many other myths that have served their purposes, but are no longer useful.

The “Myth of Progress” was unique to the last 300 years because that was the period of cheap and plentiful energy (mostly coal, oil, and uranium).  It has only happened before on much smaller sales, like when a civilization grabbed (through war) a forest with lots of trees, and for a while they had plenty of firewood.

But the “Myth of Progress” may be just one example of something that happens to all civilizations.  There seems to be a set of predicaments that all civilizations get into.  A “predicament” is different than a “problem” because it doesn’t have a solution.  Problems have solutions.

We could simplify the “Myth of Progress” predicament like this: when we get something, we use it like there’s no tomorrow, then, when tomorrow comes, we wonder where it all went.

If that sounds like the way a child would think … well, gosh, children ARE just slightly younger people!  And there are other habits we have that always seem to limit our civilizations.

Everyone remember the biblical story of The Tower of Babel?  It has a couple of different themes, both of which appear to be firmly-rooted parts of human nature.  1. We like to aim high, do huge projects that impress everyone (even God!)  2. We are surprised when those huge projects turn out to be so difficult and complex that we run into communication problems that totally ruin the project.

Another is the dreaded population predicament.  We are not alone, as all other creatures on Earth do the same thing.  We like to think we are better than those other creatures, but at least in this way, we are not.  All creatures maximize their populations, at all times, within the resources available.  This means that whenever we raise our “standard of living” in any way, we will eventually have enough babies to “soak up” the extra, leaving us right back where we were.

Another example, a little more complicated.  Right now, most countries in the world are running out of money to pay for things they have promised their people.  Take away those promised things, and the people vote you out of office (if they don’t burn down your office first).  The only thing our leaders can do, it appears, is to “print” more money and hand it out to keep the people happy.  (Today we don’t “print” money, we just change the numbers in computers.)  “Printing” more money causes the money to be worth less and less until it’s useless.  It’s happened many times before.  Before there was paper money, the government would put less and less silver or gold into the coins, until there was none, just cheap metals that no one wanted.  It’s another civilization-limiting predicament that we repeat over and over again.

These, and many other human predicaments, pop up again and again all through history.  We don’t seem to be able to out-grow them.  They are “hard-wired” into our nature, presumably through the genetic information he pass down from generation to generation.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is to someday accept these things about ourselves so that they cease to surprise us.  But unfortunately, another one of our civilization-limiting predicaments is out tendency to forget lessons we don’t really want to learn.

J. Z. Colby is the author of the Nebador series, young-adult science fiction stories filled with wit-sharpening and skill-honing challenges, mental, emotional, and spiritual, for 21st century youth:

Born in the Mojave Desert, J. Z. Colby now lives and writes deep in a forest of the Pacific Northwest.  He has studied many subjects, formally and informally, including psychology, philosophy, education, and performing arts, but remains a generalist.  His primary profession as a mental health counselor, specializing with families and young adults, gives him many stories of personal growth, and the motivation to develop his team of young critiquers and readers.  All his life, he has been drawn toward a broad understanding of human nature, especially those physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual situations in which our capacity to function seems to reach its limits.  He finds fascinating those few individuals who can transcend the limits of our common human nature and the dictates of our cultures.  In his spare time, he flies helicopters and airplanes.


Posted on October 4, 2011, in Education, Parenting, Personal Growth. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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