7.24.2013

Beta-Testing Civilization


If you think about it, civilization is actually pretty cool. That might sound like a total obvism, but we don't always step back and think about what our lives would be like without it. Things we regularly take for granted like indoor plumbing, the NFL and the ability to read this post would be about as realistic as a circular triangle. Still though, sometimes I can't help but think about how every facet of civilized society is part of one giant experiment.

Sure, we bipedal supermonkeys like to think we're so different from the animals. We drive cars, wear pants and tip our waiters, but for all our technological achievements and clearly defined conduct protocol, we're still just really fancy apes. Honestly, we're about as different from regular chimps as those $120 Kanye tees are from the ones that come 5 in a pack for $10...mostly because the people that made us say so.

It's only been about 10,000 years since the first bunch of Sapes decided to band together and abide by the prehistoric buddy system. (Interestingly enough, it's said to have started because living in large groups made it easier to produce beer. True story, swear to Google. Next time I polish off a 30-rack in a weekend, I'll be sure to appreciate the ability to study history.) It took a longer time than that for us to figure out that standing straight up was a pretty useful skill. Is it really farfetched to think that we still just may be learning to live with each other after all this time?

It's a scientific fact that humans have roughly the same hardware as they did 50,000 years ago. Back then, diplomacy was chiefly about who could kill the other quickest and the only way to tell if somebody wasn't your immediate enemy is if they looked like you. I'm not sure how much either concept has changed, by and large.

Here we are in our lovely plastic-wrapped childproof world of giggles, gumdrops and Google, and we're still hung up on the color of people's skin and the configuration of their plumbing. Of course, that may have something to do with our brains being hard-wired to detect and exclude outsiders and the fact that males and females of our species are built differently from the inside out and we are built to make the distinction, but it would seem that in order to achieve this post-racial, post-gender, post-prejudice world that many people speak of, we'd have to be something other than what we are as a whole.

It's interesting to think the capacity to change may be beyond our model specifications.

The fact is, nobody actually knows if this level of civilization can even work with us as its' main curators. To our knowledge, it's never been done before...we're very much beta-testing this brave new world of ours. Sure, it's been perfectly fine for a few thousand years, but they often say the same of volcanoes. The people of ancient Pompeii would tell you they are not to be trusted...that is, if they didn't learn that the hard way buried in 25 yards of volcanic ash.

The easiest example of how no one really knows what effect any of our innovations will have on us as a species is social media. If I told you 15 years ago that people would volunteer every detail of their personal lives in a public forum, you would have thought I was just some especially weird 10-year-old and not a prophet truly befitting my last name. Yet, less than a decade from the time it became popular, it has become a tool for the villages of the world to put their idiots on full global display. Not even Nostradamus called that one.

I think of my damn near 20-year-old Nintendo 64 at times like this. I still play it every so often, and even after all these years, it still works...well, at least, it tries to. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It's just not meant for the year 2013 or the televisions made here. The very technology it helped to spawn with its' then-revolutionary computer capabilities have left it far behind and largely incompatible with what's out there today. These processors we're equipped with have been running unmodified a lot longer than that. Are we still meant to exist in the world we helped to shape?

Don't get me wrong, I really dig how far we seem to have come on the surface. Obviously, I have a pretty big stake in humans doing well, and some of the progress we've made is truly amazing. I'm not saying our species has achieved nothing in the relatively short time we've been in existence, but sometimes I just wonder if we can be compared to a high school sophomore who got his learner's permit and was rewarded with a 500-HP supercharged Mustang. Something unfortunate might be pretty much destined to happen.

It goes without typing that civilization is the most noteworthy intentional achievement in the history of our planet. For a bunch of animals to form a complex worldwide society and even get it to sorta function is a feat I'm not sure many people have considered the magnitude of, and we definitely deserve a pat on our perfectly erect backs for continuing to give it a try. (Of course, ants have figured this out too, which makes me question how big an achievement it is, but admittedly they don't seem to have as much fun doing it.)

Like I said, I like being a part of this discovery process. The benefits are definitely there...my living area is heated, I probably won't be eaten by a pack of West Philly hyenas today, and I don't have to have a real job.

As impressive as it is though, it's undeniable that this product has not been previously tested on humans.

3 comments:

Darvin L. Martin said...

This is a really great and thoughtful post. I love it. I could discuss this kind of thing all week long.

captNaj said...

Thanks man, I think about this a lot. We should expand on this over a beer or 12 soon...you know, get back to our roots lol

Ney said...

this was really insightful!! :)