Human behavior in civilized society is responsible for much of the degradation in Earth's environment. Sussman analyzes fundamental issues that must be addressed:
• Failure to nurture our youth, even though we know they are the future • Emphasis upon rights rather than responsibilities in democracy • Sexual repression and its destabilizing consequences • Exploitation of mysticism by political and religious operatives • The schism between science and philosophy, and the perils of grandstanding environmentalism •
The human behavioral repertoire has brought about colossal changes in the planet we inherited-changes for the worse rather than the better. This is not merely an American problem; our behaviors are universal. They are a part of the fundamental human condition. However difficult it may be, we must alter our behaviors now, in order to preserve the planet for generations to come. The Cosmic Cancer will show you how. It will not be an easy change, but it is necessary for the survival of humanity and the rest of life on our planet.
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The Cosmic CancerEffects of Human Behavior on Life of Our Planet
By David Louis Sussman
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 David Louis Sussman
All right reserved.
Every one of us has exactly two parents. We probably have four grandparents, but not necessarily - in fact, we could have only one maternal and one paternal grandparent if our parents brought us into this world incestuously.
If we assume the normal pattern of parenthood, five generations back we would have 32 ancestors. Go back 10 generations and there would have been 1,032. Fifteen generations ago our ancestry, numbering 32,728, would have trouble finding seats in a modern sports arena. Beyond this our parentage begins to assume the proportions of the modern industrialized state - 33 1/2 million at 25 generations. At 50 generations, approximately a millennium, the numbers approach the astronomical at a little more than 1,000 trillion!
Modern humans have a history of about two hundred thousand years (about 4000-8000 generations). It is clear that the assumption of two distinct parents for each ancestor of anyone alive at this juncture and doubling the number of progenitors in each generation backward in time is patently untenable. In fact, there were only about 100 million humans in the year 1,000 A.D.
Over the span of modern human history there obviously has been a great deal of mixing and matching. How closely any two of us alive today are related can only be approximated, using the currently available state of the genetic arts. Considering the intermingling brought about by war, migrations, pilgrimages and the like, for all but the most isolated human populations, each of us is of uncertain parentage beyond a relatively minor span of history. We stand on the shoulders, or under the foot, of our ancestors, the great preponderance completely unknown. The amalgam of genetic and cultural strains, of which each of us is comprised, is beyond conventional analysis. Recent experience tells only a very small part of the story and is woefully incomplete at best, and in fact can be highly misleading. Any inferences drawn from analysis of behavior in a current social milieu fails to take into account the great river of history that resides in each of us. As Scottish biologist Richard Dawkins points out (River Out of Eden), we are all progeny of an unbroken string of survivors, those who had what it took in their respective eras to stay alive at least to the point of producing offspring. In another work (The Selfish Gene) Dawkins explains the relevance of kinship to what is commonly considered altruistic behavior, which compels us to think about the potential benefits of spreading knowledge about human relationships to the minds of every child in the world.
Steve Olson (2002) explains how race and other categorization of human populations tend to overstate divisions among us. We are much closer genetically than meets the eye. For example, he points out that every one of European origin living today had at least one common ancestor within the last few thousand years. If altruism were linked to kinship, one would anticipate far less strife among national and ethnic groups. The fact that we are more militant and contentious than might be expected is, to say the least, a disappointment.
For these reasons it seems inappropriate to analyze one's personal history. What can be learned in this way, when knowledge of such a large proportion of the underlying behavioral influences is lost forever? The 'choice' is rather to reveal impressions of human existence, for what they are worth, and little of the life experiences from which they were gleaned. This may appear presumptuous, but we all are inclined to have others see the world from our perspective, even though we do not fully understand it. There is no help for this - atavistic forces are at play.
We are limited by our own experience of birth and death to insist that there is a beginning and an end. But suppose that there isn't any isn't, that there is only what is. Then what nature provides may be the only game in the universe, which, despite all our attempts to intervene, to the contrary goes on its merry way without being constrained by our limited perceptions. 'God' may have created and may even be controlling things out there, but our rational faculties do not lead us inevitably to its existence.
The delicious part of this mélange is that our fate is not sealed, despite our inability to do anything about it. Nature plays her tricks with the billiard balls of life (see Chapter 3 A Matter of Choice), games of chance that obviate predictions about how they will respond to physical and 'emotional' interactions. For the observer this is the only interesting part of the panorama. This is what makes immersion in the currents of life a worthwhile endeavor.
There seems little doubt that humankind has now reached a state in which its numbers and consumption patterns have remarkably altered its habitat, comprised of virtually every corner of Planet Earth. Pundits have warned that humankind is in imminent danger of extinction. In fact, the rate of extinction of other species is now greater, from all evidence, than it has been since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago. There is little doubt that the culprit is humankind. Mass extinctions in the past have been associated with cataclysmic environmental events. This is probably the first instance of such extinctions resulting from the lifestyle of one of Earth's inhabitants, and there is little doubt that these other species are so many 'canaries in the mineshaft', harbingers of what is in store for humanity itself.
Something has happened to the feedback loop. Normal instincts of self-preservation, even in the absence of will, would be expected to precipitate individual countermeasures to avoid catastrophe, which would be reflected in the collective response. But knowledge about symptoms of imminent danger such as urban mayhem, children murdering children, alienated people reeking of hatred and seeking to inflict violence, even hysteria in music and other art forms, do not appear to register or elicit any serious response that would tend to alleviate them. We have 'selected' a path that we know to be wrong, but continue its traverse because we are powerless to correct, driven by forces stronger than rationality. The culprit is a form of dual personality disorder, epitomized by the words of Pogo, Walt Kelly's comic strip character: "We have met the enemy and he is us!"
A reading of any period in the annals of humankind reveals the same litany of wanton disregard for the health and welfare of others, whether of kindred beings or those other species whose presence completes the tapestry of life that billions of years of evolutionary honing have produced. And yet there is more. It is not sufficient to destroy those whose extermination either materially or symbolically furthers the quest for power and possession, but there is all too prevalent in the record instances of a diabolical step beyond, a sadistic streak that seeks to inflict pain for the sheer pleasure of witnessing its effects.
What makes humans unique as a species is at the same time its badge of dishonor. Most characteristics are shared to some degree by other species, bipedal primate cousins and birds, stereoscopic vision of many mammals. Consciousness of self, on the other hand, fashioned over the eons by natural forces as surely as the neck of the giraffe or the appendages of the octopus is, in humans, quantum leaps beyond that of any other species. This characteristic not only magnifies for the individual its own significance, but also provides a channel for imposing one's will on others through psychological devices from simple rejection to the use of terror. Pain experienced existentially and images displaced in time heighten the impact of both physical and emotional assaults, providing for the power-seeker a very effective mechanism of dominance. In many instances potentially subservient beings are destroyed in the process, but there are others to fill the gap and whose servility will be more assured by the fate of those destroyed.
A review of recent human history provides many examples of the use of terror for the purpose of dominance. Any place we start is like coming in at the middle of the movie. Annihilation of native Americans in the 19th century by the military and vigilantes; the enslavement and cultural destruction of Africans from the 17th to the 20th centuries; the holocaust in Europe of WWII; Vietnam, the Balkans, Rwanda, Barundi, Sierra Leone, Mexico. It is only necessary to mention the sites of such atrocities - modern media are proficient at disseminating the gory details to every corner of the globe.
No, it is not easy to love humans. On the other hand, it is quite easy to find us despicable, both individually and collectively. The inclination of the individual to go beyond mere dominance, to inflict pain and suffering gratuitously or as a means of gaining and perpetuating advantage, is all too prevalent. As if the exercise of dominance is not sufficient, a lasting reminder is needed to indelibly imprint the subjugated with the desired degree of subservience. The hapless participants in this ancient dance play their parts faithfully, like well-seasoned veterans of a long-running theatrical tragedy.
The truth is that it is all beyond our "poor power to add or to detract". We live under a grand illusion of independence from natural forces, exacerbated in western industrialized countries by a material cocoon, woven with the threads of exhaustible capital resources whose limits we deny. We do what we do what we do, deluding ourselves that we could do otherwise under the circumstances.
Are we to blame for our shortcomings? There is the fundamental issue of the motive force behind what our rational capacities tell us is out there. There seems to be order in the universe, as far as we can tell, some rules for nature's behavior that are immutable. For example there is conservation of energy, the Uncertainty Principle, relativistic time dilation and the like. At first glance it looks as if there is some structure to the universe that, from our perspective of cause and effect, demands acknowledgement of a prime mover or designer. Why, for example, are there neat mathematical forms that so precisely describe the behavior of physical processes? Why are there inverse square laws with a perfect '2' for the power of distance?
The apparent order in the universe coupled with our propensity for mysticism tells us that (a) there must be a creator for what apparently exists, who is (b) omniscient and (c) omnipotent. Over the course of time, the creative force loosened the reins to attribute choice to humans, a gambit that provides a framework for clever exploiters to expand political influence: choice allows for good and evil thoughts and deeds, with gods and their earthly interlocutors ready and willing to accordingly praise or condemn, and with monumental consequences. Who could more effectively gain our attention and allegiance than those whose judgments conduce to eternal Eden or Hell?
Is humanity approaching a dead end? Is evolution over?
The evolutionary process of beneficial genetic modification conferring selective advantage may be either arrested or at least attenuated as human culture has progressively intruded, and integrated with, the physical side of nature, imposing survival influences such as legal and moral codes (e.g. operational ethics and religious strictures), social safety nets and other public programs that result in survival outcomes for humanity different from what nature 'red in tooth and claw' alone would produce. Our cultural and genetic trajectories are too interdependent to be considered in isolation.
An evolutionary process that depends solely on genetic variation will not determine the future of humanity. Culture has become such an intrinsic dimension of the human organism that its effects on behavior can't be discounted. Traits that unite us are much greater than those that divide us. Civilization itself is a cultural phenomenon that has now permeated the most remote segments of human society; differentiating cultural traits are only skin deep, in some cases literally.
Feedback, not only in the form of mere survival, may yet have its effects in altering the nature of humanity to a more sustainable path, even though it may well be true that we are not in control. Since cultural modifications often spread like wildfire, in sharp contrast to the sluggish pace of physical evolution, we may yet see humanity transmuted into a species at one with its environment, in harmony with nature and all of her mysterious inclinations, and before we would otherwise consign ourselves, and our planetary wards, to oblivion.
In fact, we have witnessed time and again how culture has engendered redeeming qualities that militate against total condemnation and loss of hope. Too many individuals have been acculturated to transcend narrow parochialism and to act magnanimously and heroically, even to the extent of sacrificing their lives for ideals - heroes made, and not born. There are undoubtedly legions unsung, which have brightened the landscape over the millennia. During the World Wars of the 20th century the prevailing sentiment of Americans who answered the call to military service was predominantly to save the world for democracy. Women and men were inspired to put their very existence on the line for a principle - abhorrence of totalitarianism - and suffered over a million casualties. In the 1960's many Americans rose to challenge apartheid, facing physical danger and death in the cause of promoting equal opportunity for their fellow citizens. If only this were the norm!
The issue of man's place in nature - the capacity to choose, i.e. free will as the central characteristic that separates man from beast - has been pondered by many philosophers of the past few centuries. Almost invariably the conclusion is that a human being does have the capacity to chart one's own course, to opt for the 'road not taken' for example.
Recent researches on motivations for human behavior increasingly attribute actions and attitudes to conditions in the brain and other parts of the body that are described in biochemical and biophysical terms, in other words, following natural imperatives. There does appear to be some reticence by the 'scientific' community to cross the line by acknowledging that there may be some justification for asserting that all human behavior, as well as that of all other organisms, is strictly determined by forces that channel interactions between matter and energy. Why this is so would be puzzling, were it not for the realization that they are merely acting out their destinies under the influence of the very phenomena that they relegate to irrelevance. 'Scientists' are conditioned to follow a code of conduct that rejects metaphysical speculation and insists upon adhering to the code's rigorous methods involving hypotheses and experimentation. The question of human control is not only too large, but also too hot to handle.
What settled the issue for me was Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape, published in the 1960's, which presented humanity as nothing more (or less) than a primate in clothing. Although he refrained, from modesty and sensitivity, to bind humanity inescapably to its animal roots, he made it clear through clinical analysis that there is no reason to suppose that we humans have transcended our natural underpinnings.
Why assign to humans the epithet 'Cosmic Cancer'? So long as we 'choose' to restrict our presence to our mother planet and the stratosphere, though we may continue on our path of excess and violence, the impact is negligible in the unimaginably vast reaches of space. Now we have not only undertaken missions to the other planets of our solar system, but some space probes have already penetrated into the reaches beyond. Space flight has become a commercial venture: scientists and adventurers see the planets and galaxies as the new frontier to be conquered, oblivious of the devastation we have wrought on our own planet, perceiving no harm in extending it to whatever bodies in the cosmos might have the misfortune to encounter us as guests or even settlers.
Excerpted from The Cosmic Cancer by David Louis Sussman Copyright © 2010 by David Louis Sussman. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction....................1
Chapter 2 A Matter of Choice....................15
Chapter 3 How Many of Us Are Too Many?....................32
Chapter 4 The Jewel In Society's Crown....................55
Chapter 5 Rights Are Wrong In Democracy....................85
Chapter 6 Sexual Repression And The Peeping Tom....................96
Chapter 7 Spirit, Religion And Politics....................104
Chapter 8 A Road Not Taken....................142
Chapter 9 To Be Or Not To Be....................179