An Evolutionary Dilemma

An Evolutionary Dilemma June 12, 2010

I try to stay out of politics – I find the process frustrating and the results mostly annoying. But unless you live in a monastery (and maybe not even then) it is impossible to completely separate religion, culture, and politics.

And that brings me to this essay by Mark Morford, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Morford is the most entertaining columnist I’ve come across in recent years. He can match Ann Coulter bomb for bomb, but this piece is subtle, thoughtful, and troubling. It’s titled “Sex death apocalypse iPhone 4” and it’s about the conflicts and inconsistencies in those of us who love the Earth and our fellow creatures but who recognize that our lifestyles are unsustainable. I touched on this in my blog entry on the BP oil spill disaster, but Morford articulates it far better than I can. Go read it now – it won’t take long.

Glad you came back.

We are programmed by evolution (actually, “selected” is the proper term, but “programmed” conveys the meaning more clearly) to choose what is in our own immediate interest. A few thousand years of civilization has worked miracles in getting our species to work for deferred benefits – for the long-term good of all instead of the short-term good of ourselves. But we still eat more than we need: for millions of years food was scarce and so we were programmed/selected to eat all we could hold, because no one could be sure when food would be available again.

Remove predators and rabbits will breed like, well, rabbits and overpopulate themselves into starvation. Our problem in the West isn’t overpopulation (the declining birth rates in the West show that prosperity and women’s rights are a solution to that problem) but overconsumption. We buy bigger cars, bigger houses, and more stuff – we are consuming at a rate that cannot be sustained for ourselves, much less for the rest of the world.

So what do we do? Go back to a preindustrial economy? No thanks. As I frequently tell people, I have no desire to live in Texas without air conditioning. I like technology. It doesn’t make my life more meaningful, but it does make my life easier, and that makes it possible for me to spend hours and hours on the things that do make it meaningful.

Morford attempts to solve the dilemma, or at least answer it. He says:

So what the hell do you do? You choose as best you can within that whipsaw spectrum, tread as lightly as you know how, celebrate the wild ride, perhaps try not to undermine every slice of newborn beauty by shuddering in paralyzing horror at the dark demons swimming just underneath. Simple, really. Now who wants an iPhone?

I don’t have a better answer.

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