We Are Not A Cancer
In response to a comment that humans are cancer on the planet, futurist and polymath Stewart Brand once said: “Nah, cancer can’t stop asteroids.”
One of the most pernicious cultural narratives is that we are inherently separate from and destroying the Earth; a blight, a disease, cancer, or parasite on the planet. This story is uninspiring and defeating. Humans are note a disease on this planet.
Nature isn’t a thing but a process of continuous becoming. Nature predates biology. Nature goes back to the Big Bang (and probably before); it is the cooling of subatomic particles into simple elements, the formation and collapse of stars that fused simple elements into complex ones. It’s the clumping of complex elements into planets and (on at least one of those worlds) the formation of the chemical soup needed to create primordial RNA. Once life appears, nature used it to further diversify. Anything natural is the product of this process.
Nature Predates Biology
Not only are we natural, technologist Kevin Kelly might argue that our minds and anything they produce – language, tools, genetically modified organisms (GMOs)*, artificial intelligence, etc. – are also natural.
Interestingly enough, nature has a built-in ethic of sorts. Generally speaking, the long arc of nature works to expand the adjacent possible; that is to say that nature uses the tools of the present to create even more tools for the future. Nature is playing what author and religious scholar James P. Carse calls “an infinite game”; any game in which the goal is to keep playing.
Being A Good Ancestor. Will This Decision Create More Options For The Future?
If nature favours creating possibility, we can argue that to work with nature is to create possibility. To work against nature is to reduce it. So while humans are natural we don’t always act in ways that align with it. One way to work with nature is to practice long-term thinking:
- Am I interacting in ways that increase the potential of others?
- *Will this decision create more options for the future?
- Am I being a good ancestor?
- Will this act increase diversity and complexity?
While, the answers aren’t always clear-cut there are people (like Brand and Kelly) and organizations like the Long Now Foundation that seeks create a new and more helpful cultural narrative around long-term thinking and a future rich in possibilities
Humans are not a disease. Now, let’s go stop some asteroids.