Mankind has, for the most part, been a recurring case of millions being divisible by their separate destinies, living as neighbouring families, settlements and nations; each generation provides armies-worth of potential progress-makers, yet the majority inherently operate in isolation, only connected to the distanced others through the innovative concepts and inventions devised by a superior minority. While we are all ultimately bonded by our mutual hereditary origin as Homo sapiens, we rarely centre our everyday actions on the conscious identification of ourselves as smaller organic components to a far larger, communicative organ with a unified destiny. Why is this? We automatically reason that, as individuals on a massive scale, we needn’t bother considering the universality of the human organ because the power to influence only resides with either the power-bearers like presidents or generals, or with large organisations that present a united front.
You might now accuse me of referring to the lone human as an innately selfish organism, and you would be correct. We, as a species, are remarkably selfish. Unlike animals in the wild, who, depending on the species, have no awareness of the fact that they are alive and are simply living the cycle, we are constantly recognising our independence from the cycle of life thanks to our ability to comprehend death, thus giving us a significant advantage over most species. Therefore, in lieu of unconscious survival, we become our own masters and cease to be governed by the sequences of chemical reactions that control the motor functions of the majority of all animals on earth. It is this, our awareness and ability to say ‘no’ instead of a constant ‘yes’ that persists until a predator finally gets the upper hand, that mostly guarantees our individual survival. But subsequently, why is it that humans continue to perpetuate behaviour that collectively increases the odds of us becoming extinct, while our unconscious cousins in the dynamic wild continue to exist without endangering the fate of their gene pool and, as a drastic consequence, the planet they inhabit?
Simply put: our awareness breeds complacency. Humans are fantastic creatures – the fact that I can refer to myself in the third person as if I am not a part of my body is alone intriguing enough – but with our understanding of ourselves (personal awareness) and the world external to us (environmental awareness) we naturally grow complacent. We don’t deliberately behave in this way, but our minds lead us to the conclusion that because we are alive and well now means we will always be alive and well, both as individuals and as a species, and it is this complacency that makes us selfish. Only when the scales are tipped against our favour, most commonly because we lose something we love (it can be anything from our mobility to a relative), do we begin to think in terms of association with humans external to ourselves. On the other hand, animals like the rabbit are not capable of choice and must continue to live until nature signals otherwise. For instance, a rabbit population left unchecked will consume all available food sources until it has exhausted them completely. This, however, doesn’t happen, as the rabbit has natural predators such as the hawk to act as a positive check on the growth of an otherwise mechanical population.
Humans, unfortunately, are a mechanical population currently without positive checks that can compete with the exponential rate of growth that has seen us increase from 1.6bn in 1900 to 6.1bn at the end of the last century, growth which shows no signs of stopping. Optimistically there is plenty of potential here for us to reverse the damage that has already been done to the biosphere. But how? It is possible because we possess that crucial awareness that enables us to breakdown problems to figure out suitable methods for dismantling them. As far as the problems go there is quite an array already at our doorstep, mainly as a result of overpopulation: increasingly limited living space; destruction of natural habitats, incurring reduction in biodiversity; increased chance of epidemic efficiency (AIDS, for example); depletion of resources, including natural gases and meat, which necessitates intensive methods of production, leading to further pollution of the atmosphere. The problems are abundant. But the most pressing problem concerns the overall condition of our global environment, the earth.
The earth itself is a fragile planet, only brought into fruitfulness through sheer astronomical chance. The evolution of life on earth is a phenomenon that has yet to be found a comparative parallel elsewhere in our universe; it may never be in a position of comparison if future exploration is absent of the discovery of alternative life. In fact, the prevalence of the earth’s ecosystems and the biodiversity of these biological containers are disturbingly fragile also. A natural system dependent on the constant equilibrium between positive and negative elements is always in danger of being driven to breakdown. Sadly, we have been the single most destructive instigator of imbalance over the course of our development, with the last century being the most graphic representation of our potential to cancel out billions of years-worth of natural progress for the sake of our own accelerated technological, social and political objectives. From industrialisation to overpopulation, humanity has grown into its status as top predator with unmatched relentlessness. We have literally become the first species on the planet to prey upon the actual environments we rely upon, and we have achieved this with an enthusiasm that is to us as carbon dioxide is to the process of global warming.
In response to the magnitude of this developing disaster we are beginning to accept responsibility and are attempting to atone for our reckless consumption of the planet’s bountiful resources and space. But up till now the mainstream solution that has been credited by the consensus on the issue has been to research and implement scientific counterbalances such as renewable energy technologies and reforestation. While these are commendable first steps being made, the solution must go deeper. We are faced with a decision of principle. Do we continue to permit the rapid global population growth of our race that will continue to rack up the pressure on this already struggling natural system, or do we begin to band together as a species and devise a system within the system to provide ourselves with a definite positive check on our harmful development?
If we were to sign up to what I would dub the ‘unconditional contract’ that accords to the latter option, we would be fundamentally reforming our behaviour for the benefit of our species and the planet that has been the cultivator of us and myriad opportunities for the special benefits we take for granted. The crux of the unconditional contract is the concept of the ‘universal human’, a version of our current kind with its base circuitry rewired to establish an instinctive prevention against selfish motivation. The universal human would, while remaining physically separable from all other humans, be cerebrally fused with the external population, a component contributing to the cognitive combine. The purpose of this combine would be to ensure that the functions of humans as an interconnected race were aimed at the sustainable development of technology and industry in aid of society by means that do not disrupt the ecological processes and environmental equilibrium. It would be naïve for anyone to propose we disable hundreds of years of valuable invention and discovery in order to subtract from the damaging by-products of this progress. Total euthanasia of society’s achievements thus far is out of the question, for we are a species of discoverers and conquerors, not defeatists. Nonetheless, as promising as our curiosity and ambitions are, we cannot continue along the road of selfishness and ignorance.
The idea of the universal human would enable us to effectively control the pace at which our population would grow, allowing us enough space and time to perform the surgery needed for reversing the metastasis of the earth while continuing to evolve as a self-aware species. With our population maintained at a sustainable level, ecosystems around us would no longer be under severe threat and the environments we have harvested our resources from could begin to regrow and gradually heal the landscape of the earth. You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, what this guy is suggesting is that we become people who would voluntarily relieve ourselves of life if the situation arose where we were putting too much strain on the planet, and you would be spot on. But what I’m not suggesting is that we abandon our emotional humanity, that which enables us to love; I believe that we could still live with the same interests and pursuits as we do now, only we would always be conscious of what effect we might be having on our kind and our planet. We did not construct this magnificent harbourer of life like we did Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt, which means it is not ours to walk all over like decadent kings. We are custodians of this productive planet, ones who should act as guardians for it, not plunderers – mankind cannot afford to plunder, for we have nowhere else to migrate to once the rivers run dry and the fields yield no crop. The universal human would be the embodiment of this custodianship. He or she would not want to endanger either humanity or earth, and certainly would not defer making important decisions or pass the buck on to the next generation – he or she would be swift in judging the consequence and would not fail in preserving the unconditional contract. This concept is purely hypothetical and many people would criticise it, but what they cannot criticise is the inspiration for it, which are my love for humanity and my love for the earth that is the only home I for now know, that any of us know. If we all share this awareness of how unique our planet is, then maybe the universal human isn’t as farfetched as I’m inclined to believe.