The Anthropocene: Humans Behaving Badly

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Do humans have a purpose on earth? This is slightly different from asking a more open-ended, “What is the purpose of life?” or “Why are we here?” (in this universe). The question I’m asking, and hearing others ask, is more local, more pointed: “What is the human purpose on this earth…in this epoch of time?….in the matrix of life on this planet?” This is the question of the Anthropocene, because it’s clear we’ve (the white European cohort) become especially confused lately (since the Enlightenment?) and haven’t been doing it much good.

The answer to this question will of course be different depending on whom you talk to. But it’s clear, at least from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelations, our destiny has been to become stewards of life on earth. And since we’re talking about who defines the parameters of the dominant narrative, the Enlightenment confirmed that, pretty much, by declaring reality (Gaia) to be dead. Now, having crossed into the unfamiliar space of being the primary drivers of an unhealthy biosphere, why is our destiny not immediately clear?

We fancy ourselves exceptional. At what point in our intellectual or technical development did the formulation of “destiny” or “purpose” even become possible and if the question is sufficiently massaged to address the local inference, why did we not recognize this capacity long ago, elevated above all other personal or collective imperatives? It seems we are only beginning to address this question as our continuing existence is increasingly threatened.

A popular theme of science fiction—and Hollywood blockbusters–is ominous speculation about robots becoming conscious—that man-made machines will become self-aware and exceed the limits of human control—not knowing their place, so to speak. The theme of humans being capable of creating monsters is not new. But now we talk of AI growing beyond our control, its human designers squirming beyond all ethical boundaries and precipitating all manner of damage upon its collective creators. Yet, as most people have noticed, humanity has already brought the rising (acidifying) waters and become the dancing brooms in Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The Master’s messenger on earth has become the uncontrollable diabolical force of creation gone wrong with only one driving imperative—the preservation of a self-serving paradigm.

In other words, who is controlling what? Cloning vaguely falls into this category as well, creation itself falling victim to the law of unintended consequences. But we seem to have less moral ambiguity about cloning than AI. We already have the capacity to knowingly introduce bias into AI algorithms. The designation “ethical AI” itself infers the existence of “unethical” AI—which we would presumably and unequivocally reject….except “ethics” has now become a squishy concept because there’s so much money to be made. The creation of “ethical” AI now guarantees the future of the unethical variety.

I wonder if it occurs to the scientists that the train of civilization has already gone wildly off the rails?

So here’s the question that now haunts me. The sci-fi dystopian fantasies are all future oriented—as if, if we’re not careful, it can happen here. But we humans are already victims of our own development–driven by a relatively tiny cadre—a cult, if you will. We ourselves are already making the AI horror movie (and have been for a long time already), a world ruled by technology loosed upon the biosphere, wreaking havoc beyond the oversight of any cool-headed super-authority, not only being at war with the biosphere and with each other, while some of us also see what we’re doing, trying desperately to come to our senses to reverse the damage.

Not only does this view clarify the Anthropocene, humans ‘gone wrong,’ but begs the question of whether humanity—under control of the cult of growth—could ever be a neutral force. The naïve view is that somehow we have backed into a position of unprecedented influence on earth. In reality, the cult has been on a self-conscious accelerating destructive evolutionary tangent for some time; a product of natural evolution by some stretch of the imagination, perhaps, but one that now spells our own doom. Do they know what they are doing? Yes. And, as the definition of insanity so convincingly tells us, even in the face of rising danger the cult continues to believe doing more of the same will result in a different outcome. They are doubling down on the primacy of technology to manage our living relationship with nature—because money.

At what point did we stray off course? When did the progenitors of a culture of death become dominant? When did a tiny subset of humans turn to radical evil as a prime directive? When did we (they) become the proverbial robots gone rogue, incapable of thinking outside their own box? I’d say quite recently—maybe 100 years ago, accelerating in the aftermath of WWII, and the age of The Bomb.

But deeper conditions had to be present for this to be possible. As in the movies, a series of dysfunctional lines of code reinforce each other until an unpredictable tipping point is crossed and suddenly a new organism takes shape. In our case, it was a series of events over a long period. Mass production, the birth of capital finance, using money to make money (1300-1600), the creation of Limited Liability Corporations and colonialism all figure into the picture.

The Judeo-Christian fiction that humans were put here to dominate nature hasn’t helped,…and then there was that guy who said, “I think, therefore I am,” (17thC.) which segued into the ever popular, but so much more damaging, “I own, therefore I rule.” The inflection point occurring 70 years ago was an acceleration of the machinery of destruction to its current runaway status.

Along the way, while the rest of us were de-indigenizing, uprooting ourselves, enjoying newfound mobility, shifting our primary relationships away from tribe and earth to self and money, we lost contact with Home. Now, a small sliver of (distinctly white western) humanity has gained sufficient power and influence to write the rules of money and property to their own specifications, a radical evil self-interest, to rig the game in their favor. Mass psychosis has ensued. Now we have many gradations of psychosis gripping the general population, clinging to the illusions of equality of opportunity and upward mobility. Few make it, of course. The self-appointed engineers are an increasingly exclusive club.

Who is this cult? It’s the Barons of Wall Street, the CEOs of the biggest mutual, hedge and pension funds, the plutocrats, Washington politicians, the intelligence community (the National Security Apparatus), the core law enforcement agencies of government, the fossil fuel sector, the military-industrial complex and certain media entities. This is an insulated, exclusive, self-perpetuating, community of moneyed and political interests who determine the rules for everyone else. Their immunity to resistance is legendary, complete and becoming ever stronger. Whether any single individual member of the cult is insane may be debatable, but the ideology is seamless, ingrained, doesn’t require specific articulation or enforcement. It has become second nature to all its members. They make the kool-aid. We’re supposed to drink it!

The next (and worst) wrinkle of ‘bots gone wrong,’ is when they decide the rest of humanity is expendable (or even must be eliminated) because they are obviously of inferior intelligence and are screwing up everything for the radically evil select few who seek perpetual control and immortality from their secure and remote compounds in the mountains of New Zealand. In other words, every wave of resistance, every opposing dialectic generated from the masses who are waking up to how far we have strayed from the original mutually beneficial relationship to all life, who wish to restore the homeostatic mechanisms (emphasis on home) conducive to life, must be crushed—or at least delayed.

Surely there’s a name for the condition of this self-selected, connected tiny sliver of humanity dragging the rest of us off the cliff, an expression worthy of this mutation of the prime directives. Some prefer the term Deep State. I like the sound of Tyrannysaurus: the tyranny of a hell-bent cult whose days are numbered. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll survive them. Like most mutations, the difference between the common and the rare and deranged is not radical. A few mangled lines of code are enough to set the result on a course of unchecked damage, tearing its way through the rest of the species leaving a trail of victims who will never fully recover. You know whom I mean, the uneducated, the poor, the dispossessed, the bankrupt, the disenfranchised.

The mentality of the Tyrannysaurus is separated from the rest of us only by a matter of degree. Not merely thinking for themselves, they think only of themselves. Not merely compartmentalizing the suffering of others, they are willing to directly cause that suffering by promoting a system of violence to extract every possible form of wealth from the commons. They do not merely avoid inconvenient facts, they construct alternate realities, attacking truth itself and fomenting mass delusion to support their fantasy about where responsibility lies for the ongoing wreckage. They do not merely believe humans are superior beings, but that they themselves are super-human. These aberrations of the Holocene, leading the way into the Anthropocene, believe they—and only they–are the pinnacle of evolution.

Most of all, and most damaging, they have managed to deny planetary limits to growth and the extent of our entanglement with other forms of life. Worse, they deny everyone else’s entanglement as well (because of course!), limiting our capacity to repair the damage their violence has wrought.

Long into the future, perhaps even millions of years, when the ice-bound or ashen chronicles of this age of humans is revealed and explored, the extinction story of humanity will be pieced together as an internally generated event. Unlike the first extinction of the great dinosaurs, human extinction will be a story pinned to the faulty code and resulting hubris, narcissism and unapologetic destructive force of the Tyrannysaurus forever, including the way they managed to convince so many of their contemporaries that only they had the answers to the rising danger of our uncontrolled self-destructive mass behavior and how they retreated to their secret guarded redoubts and watched billions of their cohorts, unprepared, succumb to starvation, conflict, disease and an uninhabitable climate.

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