I closed The Big Ratchet mad with rage. I wasn’t surprised to find myself in disagreement with the author but I did find myself unable to contain my emotions.
While venting, I realized what frustrated me. The author goes into the history of humanity and its “ingenuity”. She goes on to tell the story of “pivots” in history. Along the way, tragedies happen (indigenous people are exterminated, species disappear and sustainable ways of life are destroyed) but they’re always brushed off very quickly as minor downsides of something that brought a net positive. Each time, she tells us that out of the problems that we introduced, we found solutions that made us better than when we started. And, in every case, I found myself offended that she would say that. In every case, I was thinking to myself that we had just taken a wrong turn that should have prompted us to turn back. Instead, we celebrated an illusion of progress that was bringing us deeper into a path of destruction.
Multiple times, she goes on to say that we were better because more people had food, we could expand and considering going back would be impossible because of all the life that needed to be sustained.
But which life? The fact is that she equals “life” with human life. More precisely, the modern civilized human. What about all the life that we, empire people, ended up killing the process? What about the species that go extinct every day? She shows a profound denial of what life truly is. Life is everywhere and it relies on the balance we so obviously disturbed and now try to control. Would going back to hunting and gathering mean widespread famine? Likely. But would this be a net loss for life? I’m not so sure. All signs point to a potential for better balance. In the process, it would bring a long lost humility to our species.
It would also probably mean that I’d be one of the casualties given my dependence on modern drugs for my disease of modern life.
It’s hard to say what I would decide for humanity if I was asked to. Would I go for the continuity, hoping we’d find remedies to all of the ill we’re inflicting on our world and ourselves? Or would I go for turning back, knowing this would bring the demise of myself and countless others who exist or continue to exist with dependence on modernity.
It sounds like an easy decision. There’s hope that human ingenuity might bring us to unimaginable territories and there’s no chance I could live without the modern civilization as a type 1 diabetic.
But I am, in theory, in favour for turning back.
I think that the days, week or month of that life that I’d get back living connected to other life might be worth it. I’d hope that my fear of death would carry a lighter weight in the balance next to the possibility of life with the planet rather than as a farmer of its resources.