In challenging civilization, agriculture and technology, an objection, internal and/or external, almost inevitably pops up: we can’t go back.
A lot of smart people have pointed out that things change without a necessary progression or regression. Technology has made us think of change in terms of progress, as a one way road to always improving products. In actuality, changes can reveal themselves as good or bad and they can appear good for a time and become bad with a different context and environment.
Thinking of change instead of progress can make some ideas appear more reasonable. But if you still think that we can’t escape progress and that we must find clever new technological solutions to the problems we continue to introduce, read this:
And the response to people who say you can’t go back…well, what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward…or you make a 180° turn and then take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which way is progress?. 1
I like how this provides an easy visual for our current trajectory and highlights the necessity to take a step back and look around us.
That said, the most important critique of turning around revolves around the difficulty to feed the current human population. To this, I want to offer a quote from Against the Grain:
If the human endeavor takes as its primary reason for being the feeding of however many people issue from the senseless acts of reproduction, then the human endeavor is pointless. 2
I should note that Richard Manning does not clearly suggest a solution but this idea rings true, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. If we agree that our current ways have little point, it would appear relevant to really consider taking a 180 turn. Or maybe we could take a less than 180 degrees turn if we think that the cliff is far enough ahead of us. But it becomes very hard to deny the need for a new direction.
On that new path, we might find that the population will normalize itself with less drama than if we just run off the cliff. We might rediscover meaning in our connection with the non technological world. We might find a point to life in acts of regeneration, repairs and grief. And we might do so even if our speed does not allow us to stop in time before we reach the cliff.
So how about taking this turn?