Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Extinction: It's What's for Supper

Last Friday I attended an honors students meeting at Wake Tech, in which a young man offered his rather elaborate and almost plausible theory on how colonization of the planet Mars could ensure the survival of the human species as life on this pretty blue planet is pretty much doomed.  As a Libertarian, the student also proposed that the colonization be financed privately, letting the beauties of the free market determine man's ultimate fate ... and, no doubt, which investors are fittest to survive on the angry red planet.

My office mate Jim, also an honors instructor, leaned over to me after the student's presentation and mentioned that one option was overlooked:  what's so bad about extinction?

Interesting point.  Humanity reached its peak roughly 2400 years ago, with lesser peaks and reasons to hope sporadically dispersed down the line, the last one being, by my estimate, roughly 300 years ago. Since then, with the dawn of industrialization, capitalism, and the modernization of slavery (including wage slavery, debt, and imperialism) and the decline of reason, poetry, and gentility, humanity has been laying its planet (the only one it has) to waste.

I'd be hard pressed to say exactly why human beings today are more deserving of survival than dodo birds or pterodactyls.

It seems altogether fitting that homo sapiens should individually and collectively accept the inevitable, take from their decline whatever shreds of dignity, beauty, and honor they can and stoically face the abyss they have largely contributed to bringing into being.  And, of course, by "they," I mean "we."

And, no, I am not calling for mass (or individual) suicide, an act that, with Western nations' hesitancy in taking strong enough measures quickly enough (about 30 years ago, by my best estimate) and religious sectarians' eagerness to embrace the death principle (thanatos) and reject the life principle (eros), would be a rather obvious redundancy at this point in our history.

No, I suggest that we work to lower the earth's population, not through war and famine (our current course) but through encouraging various forms of non-procreative sex and semi-monastic spiritual practices (silence, solitude, meditation, austerity) designed to rediscover the intricate loveliness of the human soul, even as the oxygen and water needed to preserve its bodily container become progressively scarcer and polluted.

The human soul is indeed lovely, though you can hardly tell it anymore.  The plague of national obesity seems more a sign of people's desperate need to fill some kind of insatiable emptiness inside than an effect of McDonald's hugely successful marketing campaigns over the decades.  (McDonald's is not innocent, but savvy advertising and Happy Meals seem hardly sufficient explanations for people's willingness to eat shit they know is not good for them, and not even especially satisfying to their sense of taste and pleasure, what little of that sense they have left to them, though it's easier to blame McD's than plumb the depths of modern men and women's penchants for self-annihilation.)

It's probably just as well that our corporate cultures have progressively dismantled the humanities in education and in life (jingles replacing poetry, logos replacing painting, reality TV replacing drama, opinion polls replacing democracy).  How could a poetic soul survive in the modern world?  Perhaps that's why so many artists and entertainers of the last century were suicides, from Van Gogh to Monroe to Cobain.  Don't say that's just to be expected of artists, that sort of theatricality and melodrama:  suicide, because you'd be hard pressed to find as many artists before 1890 who so willingly and eagerly sacrificed, in so brief a time span, their gifts and vision, just for the lovely blankness of extinction.

But now that we've pretty well ensured that the planet cannot possibly survive, wouldn't it be a nice gesture if we set aside some time, in the twilight of our species, to memorize some lines of Ovid or Pope or Wordsworth or Byron or Whitman or Akhmatova, to reread the Sermon on the Mount as a work of humanist wisdom and not as the bleating of a sacrificial Lamb, to eat some fresh cut pineapple, to dance, and to fuck someone we love for his or her wisdom, strength, beauty, courage, or integrity?

Humans have had a good long run on this planet.  Our show has been a hit, but it "jumped the shark" a couple of millennia ago.  The curtain is closing on its own; there's no need for us to dim the lights.  It would just be nice, I think, if we, all of us, could make a brave and gracious curtain call, bowing to the emptiness of space, leaving our best wishes to the cockroaches, earthworms, or whatever have the fortitude to outlast us.  That is, to reaffirm our humanness and the life principle itself, even as we disappear.

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