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Will Humans Endure

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Will Humans Endure?

August, 2012
             A Rebellious 70-Something Speaks for His Generation
                                      --and For the Future
     For all you Millennials, arrested-adolescent Gen-Xers, and Boomers who still believe America is the land of endless opportunity and endlessly spacious skies, I have bad news.
     As the commencement speaker said at that high-school graduation ceremony a few months ago, "You are not special."  If you continue to take your country, your planet's environment, your health, and your unquestioned intelligence for granted, as most of you do, you are headed for a kind of regret in your old age that even that Arizona sheriff whose name needs no further publicity could wish on you.
     Most sadly, if you continue to hold the kind of patronizing view of people who are older than you that has been implicit in almost everything you say or do, you will be reinforcing a form of cultural ostracism that will ultimately turn that regret to a dawning sense--even as your sense of life fades--that your life has been a cruel hoax.  Either you will die prematurely or you, too, will become an older person who is ostracized.
     Before I can explain why I speak for a generation that has been culturally exiled, I need to ask your indulgence in a short rant:
     1.  Like most American men, I'm fairly addicted to sports news.  But I can't help noticing how sports media assume that for athletes, life is over at age 40, more or less--and typically begins to decline at 35.  Of course, if the actions of athletes are measured in moments and secondes, that's true.  No 50-year-old can run the length of a football field fast enough to chase down an athletic 30-year-old, so there are no 50-year-olds in the NFL--or NBA, or Major Leagues, or X-Games.  But does that necessarily make 50- or 60- or 70-year olds an inherently inferior athlete, as all of the sports reporting implies?  Well, is a bulldog an inferior breed of dog because it can't run as fast as a greyhound?  No!  It's simply a different animal with different capabilitgies.  And that's what an older athlete is compared with a young one: a different animal.  And there's abundant evidence that while older athletes have less power and speed than young ones, they have more of certain other attributes that are important to human wellbeing and survival.  The average 70-year-old, for example is more likely to reach age 90 than the average 50-year-old is.  A certain number of those who reach 50 will die--whether of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, alcoholism, murder, war, or accidents arising from poor judgment--before they ever get to 70.  The 70-year-olds, whether by skill or luck, have all succeeded in surmounting those barriers to longevity.  Almost by definition, 70-year-olds have better survivor skills than Boomers or Gen-Xs--yet in the media largely run by younger people, the septuagenarians are condescendingly treated as weak.
     I don't like it that people my age aren't treated as the "different animal" that we are, and that some of us have trained hard to be.  I may be the kind of animal that can't play wide receiver in the NFL, but I can run for eight hours at a pace that 99.9 percent of American 50- or 40-year olds couldn't keep up for one hour.  And by the way, I'm not special either.  There are lots of men and women my age or older who do things like this.  We're not responsible for the fact that millions of our contemporaries have essentially given up on life (an AARP publication notes that 70 percent of Americans over 50 are abdominally obese) and are turning to gristle.  Maybe a big factor is that the mainstream opinion-makers, especially the sportswriters and pundits, are themselves so gristled and settled that they assume dead flesh just comes with the territory of old age. The result is that people who do grow in vitality and wisdom as they grow older are publicly invisible.
     2.  Mentally, as well as physically, old peope are now widely assumped to be less competent than the Boomers who run the country, who in turn are coming to be regarded as less dynamic or competent than the GenXes who run Facebook or Twitter.  It's true, of course, that millions of peopkle in their 70s or older are in the grip of dementia or Alzheimer's, but it's also assumed that those afflictions are only the sand end of a long decline into which all older people slowly slide: as we age, our memories become spotty; our perceptions a bit blurry; our creativity exhausted; our ability to calculate slowed.  There's emperical truth in this, but the public perception of that truth is as stereotyped and misbegotten now as mainstream perceptions of "Negroes" or "Queers" were a half-century ago. What's rarely seen or acknowledged, now, is that as some faculties weaken in older people, others strengthen.  There was a time, not so long ago, when old people were valued for their wisdom and judgment.  Now, those attributes have become just antiquated words, like epitaphs on gravestones.
     3.  Most terribly, and ironically, more than any other group it is we old people who have done this to ourselves--and in exiling ourselves from the world of bright minds and intelligent discourse, we have tragically condemned all the generations that follow us,.  Why?  In previous millennia, a dark age could be succeeded by an enlightened one; and a dying generation was normally succeeded by a newly robust one.  Now, for the first time in our past million years of evolution, that is no longer true.  In the past 66 years, since I was a little boy of four, and since a newly invented app called "Little Boy" wiped out a city in one second, the physical powers commanded by my generation of expanded so enormousy that the natural regenerative capacities of our planet Earth have been overwhelmed,  It was our hubristic obsessions with ever shorter-term rewards and ever greater productivity--on a planet of finite resosurces--that has transmogrified our biosphere into a deeply ailing planety that is now physically and biologically too ill to recover in time for those once inevitable enlightments and regenerations to occur again anytime soon,  Climatic change and biodiversity loss, and tyhe capacityy of the planet to support a population of 7 billion-going-on 10 billion people are happening too fast for our bright 30- or 40-soimething offspring and their wunderkind children--our clueless grandchildren--to do anything about.
     So, end of rant.  And with that background in mind, let me briefly conclude with a less strident voice about what it really is to be my age, which with good nutrition and exercise and a little luck you will be too--and maybe more quickly than you expect.  As  you get older, the minutes (and days, and years) go by ever faster in your perception, which may be why for us, so many more of those minutes go by in the time it takes us to run a 10k or marathon.
     I've noticed that colleges and univesities have recently been putting more emphasis on technical training and job skills (especially in the rise of for-profit businesses like the "University of Phoenix"), while cutting back on so-called liberal arts--history, social sciences, the philosophy of science, literature, and the arts.  But those of us who are old enough to have studied the literature of Western civilization in college may recall how our professors pointed out that one of the keys to understanding human nature is recognizing--as our literature teaches--that tragedy is not the same thing as disaster.  Disasters are events like earthquakes destroying towns, or other inexplicable events that we also call "acts of God."  Tragedies are the often terrible and ironic unintended consquences of human strengths.  But sometimes, there's a connection between presumed natural disaster and unrecognized tragedy: What we assumed to be an act oif God was in fact an act of man.
     And that's where my generation comes in. My generation is the most tragic generation in the history of the human species. There have been, say, 2,000 generations since the rise of Homo sapiens.  Mine has been (so far) the strongest of them all, in terms of scientific and technological advances beyond their predecessors, and capacity to control and manipulate the physical environment.  (The Boomer, GenXes, X-boxers, and prepping-for-Harvard-at-age-five generations have done amazing and incredibly You-Tube-worthy things, but have not yet rivaled the invention of the hydrogen bomb, discovery of DNA, engineering of organisims, or travel to the moon, all done by people now older than 70 or dead.)  But with all those discoveries have come a growing litany of disasters.  My generation has a lot to brag about, but now--if we're honest--far more to regret.  So far, this "old-people" generation, which if you are in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, includes your parents, is the most technically advanced generation (compared with their immediate predecessors) in human history, and also, now, the most morally destitute.  And curiously, your attitude toward us reflects a pervasive obliviousness in both of those respects: Despite the brilliance of our achievements, you regard us as mentally failing; and despite the crimes against humanity we've committed, you treat us with patronizing tolerance.  If you were more astute, you would respect us for our powers but deeply condemn us for our transgressions.
     So, what do I want? Two things: (1) a message to my generation and (2) a message to the generations (including our own children's) who will inherit the residue of our tragedy. The message to my own generation: If you're going to take advantage of our costly medical interventions, subsidies, and comforts to stay alive in your dotage, get back to the work of using your brains as you once did, only now to reverse the catastrophic course you've set our species on.  And to those who follow us: Don't.  Make a new course for yourselves and your children, before it's too late.

March, 2012
For human civilization, it may be too late now.  This isn't prediction, it's science.  And the science is hard to fault.
 Click on "Connections" at the top of this page

September, 2011

  The Death of News, and Growing Cluelessness

 Click on "Naked Emperors" at top of this page

ABOUT THIS SITE

     The most urgent questions we humans face now are virtually never discussed in our media, churches, schools, or expanding culture of consumption.  This site leapfrogs those institutions to explore those questions.  Our civilization is like a train that has run off its tracks at accelerating speed, with the brakes broken and the engineer asleep.  Below is a quick summary of the hypothesis that this site explores, followed by two critical questions to which it seeks answers--I hope with your help.

The Hypothesis:

1.    Over a span of thousands of millennia before civilization began, our early-human ancestors developed traits of extraordinary endurance, patience, and ability to envision what we could not yet see with our eyes.

2.     These were the traits that eventually enabled us to build civilization --to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and to plan for future adaptations as well.

3.   Yet, in our thrall with what we have created, we are rapidly abandoning the very qualities that enabled us to build civilization in the first place -- and in doing so, we risk losing it all.  We have abandoned endurance for a sprint economy, and patience in favor of ever greater speed in all things.  We are abandoning our ability to envision and plan, in favor of immediate gratification.

4.  The overwhelming evidence of physical, biological, ecological, and climate science has warned us, repeatedly, that time is short for reconnecting with the life of the Earth on which we evolved.  If we want civilization to survive, regenerate, and have any chance of thriving beyond the next half-century, we will have to rediscover and recapture the qualities that brought us to the dance.

The Two Questions arising from that hypothesis:

1.  What is the nature of those primordial traits -- endurance, patience, and capacity to envision -- that enabled us to build civilization and must now be regenerated if we are to have a sustainable human presence in the future?  Some of the answers come to us from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and paleoanthropology.  Some come from the experience of modern practitioners of endurance and patience -- ultrarunners, slow-food advocates, practitioners of meditation, and many others.  Some of thse perspectives can be found on the blog: http://enduranceandsustainability.blogspot.com.

2.  What are the connections between the fitness and endurance of individuals and the sustainability of human society?

   

                          Do mind and spirit require exercise too?

Widespread Mental Unfitness?   Everyone knows that to be physically fit, a person has to exercise.  Yet, incredibly, a majority of our population seem to believe that to be mentally, morally, or spiritually strong, all you have to do is believe!  Our theory, at this site, is that real fitness -- fitness to make intelligent decisions, take responsibility for one's actions, and contribute actively to a sustainabile society -- takes serious exercise.  The mind and spirit need practice, as much as the heart or lungs.  That isn't a "New Age" assertion; it's a hard finding of recent neuroscience.  We're also finding evidence that there are powerful connections between the respective strengths of mind, body, and spirit.  It's not a new idea, of course; but for Americans (and increasingly for the world) it is a dangerously neglected idea.  Too many people now evidently believe that education stops at age 18 or 22, or whenever you finish formal schooling.  Too many haven't read a book in years.,  Too many are content to believe what they're urged to believe by charismatic preachers, talk-radio hosts, or politicians, and not to ask hard questions.  It's an archetypal metaphor that life is a journey, but as a result of our collective passivity, we humans have lost our way.  I launched this site to challenge the assumption so many of us now make, that government, or nonprofit groups, or churches, or  socially responsible corporations, will get us back on course.  They won't.  We'll have to do it ourselves, as tens of millions of  highly conscious, fit and far-seeing individuals.  Only then can civilization become sustainable.  Please add your voice here, by writing to us at: edayresrun@gmail.com.  The latest comments and quotes will be posted here.  

                                   -- Ed Ayres, March 2011

                  Is this what we mean by "Peace on Earth"? 

          "When I die, I want to go peacefully like my grandfather did, in his sleep -- not screaming, like the passengers in  his car."

                       -- from "GodlikeProductions.com", not attributed

 

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Any ONE of these can . . . . Yet, ALL of them, now . . . .

A Rebellious 70-Something Speaks for His Generation--and For the Future  

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