Understanding in Time
The following reading list was selected by Don Steehler to aid his fellow humans in understanding our present human crisis. I am slowly working my way through it and have found it very valuable. Works not linked can usually be found at Amazon.com or Abebooks.com. Don noted the following about the list:
- The materials in the list are ordered (roughly) in the sequence that they were originally intended to be considered. Thus Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld was originally intended to “fit” between No Logo and Nonzero, and J. Diamond’s How to Get Rich was intended to be considered along with Guns, Germs, and Steel, etc.
- The materials are grouped into three headings below: Coming of Age in an Evolving Universe, Our Kind – Evolving, and Energy, Organization, Planetization. The topical grouping was intended to provide (respectively) a “cosmic” viewpoint, a “micro (bio-anthropological)” viewpoint, and a “macro (systems-historical)” viewpoint.
I will continue to feature articles from the list as I think they might interest our SynEARTH readers. Enjoy!
In his introduction to this list Don Steehler writes: Until about 30,000 years ago, early human mental processes dealt with immediate problems: deciding which food to eat, how to survive the winter, how to avoid dangerous animals, where to find shelter. Our early ancestors evolved to commit themselves emotionally only to a small piece of geography, a limited band of kinsmen, and two or three generations into the future. Our mental predispositions, like those of other animal species, were circumscribed by the immediate horizon and by short-term problems. There would have been little point in worrying about the long term if immediate threats such as predators and winter were not dealt with. Yet, our early ancestors never had to deal with all of humanity as a factor in their daily lives, because they only knew a small number of individuals going about their particular activities in a very small world. Day-to-day existence extended for perhaps dozens of miles, rather than continental distances. They could slash-and-burn a forest or hunt other species to near-extinction and then move on, because there was a relative abundance of uninhabited land and relatively few humans. There was never a need to consider the entire planet because it was then comparatively too large for the limited population of our ancestors to have any meaningful impact.
Today, however, the human population no longer consists of a few scattered bands of hunter-gatherers dispersed thinly on the planet’s continental land masses. From the perspective of the last ten thousand years (following the advent of agriculture), extraordinary transformations have lately been playing themselves out. The human population has grown exponentially during recent centuries through the rapid consumption of ancient stores of energy and other resources. Consequently, our species has expanded in numbers to over six billion, producing more people in a month than were alive just before the agricultural revolution. Humanity has saturated the inhabitable environments of our planet, with a significant proportion of the existing human population now living in massive urban concentrations. We now face a near-term prospect of resource shortages and planetary-scale environmental change.
We are poised at a historical juncture; it is now critically necessary to revise our understanding so that our ancient mental predispositions can be expanded to consider more distant horizons and more frequent changes. We must soon determine a realistic way to confront our increasingly precarious condition, using what tools we have available to understand who we are, how we got to be that way, and how to transcend our deficiencies.