Taking a look around you, you would believe that humanity is on a steady march of progress that carries on without bound. Today we live at the height of freedom and convenience. Some even claim this is nothing compared to what is in store. As a society, we feel disappointed in ourselves unless we keep up at least a 7% economic growth rate and double our technological power every few years.
If you think about, such thoughts indicate hubris and irrational bravado. Humans think they can do anything, but it is not without reason. A species of berry-pickers once at the brink of extinction during the last Ice Age, we now rule the Earth and number nearly 7 billion.
Upon more careful inspection, though, it becomes readily apparent that how useless humans really are. Millions of people are unemployed today because machines can do their jobs faster and cheaper than they can. Doctors who train for nearly a decade in their field are routinely outperformed by statistical databases when it comes to diagnoses. Our skills are overshadowed by those of our creations.
As a last resort, we try to justify humanity’s role in the world by clinging to the intagible “creativity”. There is some quintessential ability within us, we claim, that is impervious to mechanization. Progress seems to require the human spark of ingenuity. But what has this “ingenuity” begotten?
We learned to split the atom to product unimaginable amounts of energy. But this energy wasn’t used to propel us into the heavens. It was used to fuel an arms race between despots who sold their people dreams of equality and plutocrats who sold their people dreams of materialism.
In the last 100 years, we have created powerful computers and connected them in the largest communication network in history. But it seems 30% of this vast infrastructure is being used to transport online movies. The average American uses the Internet more often to stalk their friends on Facebook than for any other activity.
Humanity has spent millenia moving mountains and mastering the laws of the Universe only to reinforce our urges to feel loved, important, powerful, and safe. Any technology that threatens our understanding of ourselves or our relationships is categorically rejected.
That’s not to say great leaps of progress will not happen. We’ll cure cancer when some determined soul decides to avenge the death of his daughter. We’ll live in space when a generation of young lovers realize Earth is too crowded for them to settle down. We will achieve great things at the last possible moment for the most selfish of reasons, as we always have throughout our history.
We indulge our human nature at the expense of the The Important Things and maybe that’s okay. Maybe we should accept the fact that despite being the most intelligent, resourceful, and powerful species to have lived, we are after all merely human.