What is the answer to Life’s problems?

For many individuals, finding that one panacea answer to life’s problems becomes a central part of in their esoteric experience of life. Humanity manifests many answers to this problem, do this 5 times a day and your life will be better, purchase this item and your life will be improved significantly. All of them offer happiness and the solution but most of the time they only offer a temporary happiness that dulls over time.

What if we take this one step further, What if there is one universal panacea which would solve all of the problems of the world? The magic pill, the ultimate problem solver.

The problems of the world are numerous, from poverty to disease to war and beyond. Yet for all this seemingly insurmountable accumulation, there are still people in the world who hope against hope for a better world. Some would call them delusional; some would call them dreamers but what if their prayers were answered? What if there was a way to solve them all?

The answer implies a positive agent of change, but something can be negative and have a positive outcome can’t it?

The Second World War was one of the most horrific conflicts in human history resulting in a shocking 85 million deaths. It is not the place of this writer to call it a positive event because it is not, however it has resulted in the greatest acceleration of technology since the industrial revolution. Billions of individuals now benefit from technology inversely created as a result of the Second World War. Our knowledge of illnesses and the human body has been enhanced by experimentation on individuals detained in concentration camps despite the absolute evilness of the act itself.

Would a similar war result in a similar explosion of technological advancement? Undoubtedly, war for all its numerous faults accelerates technological change. In tandem, this technological change would be mirrored by a sociological change, populations migrate away from conflict zones, are reduced by use of weaponry and other social groups profit from this change. The reduction in population results in an increase in available resources, resources which if not taken up by the respective war efforts could enhance the lives of those remaining.

The destruction caused by a war could reduce humankind from a highly technological to an agrarian civilization, free from the trappings of technology and arguably its pitfalls. The people in this society could ultimately be happier and lead more productive lives than their forebears.

The scale of this destruction will be the determining factor in what sort of society arises from the war, indeed if any society as a nuclear war would be most likely an extinction level event. The movement of the world’s governments away from this strategy does not mean that they will not use it. The temporary problems which occur in our lives would be rendered obsolete in favour of new challenges, challenges which we may not be equipped to face in the long term.

A shared experience which brings humanity closer together need not only occur by war, there are peaceful methods by which the political and sociological world changes leading to positive results for all of the world’s many people.

One such manifestation of this could be through a massed religious experience.

Many individuals engaged in religious and spiritual services have felt the effects of being involved in a shared experience with others. You need only look at the evangelical churches for evidence of this positivity manifesting itself. Yet religion itself remains a very subjective experience on the part of the individual. But what if everybody in the world had the same experience?

Practicalities aside, a mass religious event where everyone had the same experience of it would result in a lot of common ground. Separate individuals would have something to talk about and it is possible, although a stretch to assume that this discourse would open the door to other avenues such as the ending of old religious differences and international enmity.

Whether it would reshape the human existence and determine our future happiness and stability, no man can really say. There is no doubt that it would cause a moment of significant pause for humanity and could result in introspection where the individuals affected revaluate their lives.

We cannot ignore the subjective nature of religion, no matter how hard we would like to believe that we all have a similar experience of it. The diversity of the religious experience and its effect on people is the greatest barrier to it having a positive effect on solving the planets problems. Some may gain a solution to their problems from it, some may not.

The additional question occurs: What if that shared religious experience is not a positive one?

A negative experience, initiated by an external omnipotent entity might screw us up so bad that we are forever changed by it negatively. It could result in a degradation of the human spirit, as we question ourselves and our purpose in the world.

The same principles that govern a mass religious experience would likely be the same in the event of humanity making contact with an extra-terrestrial species.

The initial euphoria of finding out we are not alone would subconsciously render us united as a species. National borders would become unnecessary as we would have to unite to have dealings with the species, which would itself be unified due to its advanced nature.

The doors would be open for technological and cultural cross pollination, which in turn could offer new perspectives and technological advances that we would not have thought of. These new things could vicariously solve many of our existing problems like world hunger and inequality.

But on the other side of the coin, if the species that humanity makes contact with is hostile our problems on Earth could be exacerbated, we could even be conquered or subjugated by the hostile species.

For lots of people, the pursuit of money is a constant struggle. The poorest in the world struggle to make ends meet while the rich are often just as unhappy as their poorer counterparts.

The elimination of money would seem to be a logical step to ending a lot of the world’s problems, but this could result in the exact opposite. We have been locked into using money for so long, that it would be a hard habit to shake. An economic collapse would likely follow money’s elimination as goods and services produced would have no value.

There would be no means of determining the value of these items, so consequently no one would be under any financial obligation to do or produce anything. Despite humanities lofty aspirations, the notion that humanity would simply continue without it would not become reality. People are by their nature greedy, the most likely result of the elimination of money would be the implementation of a barter system which would ultimately become a poor cousin of the money that was eliminated.

Elimination of money from the human experience would not necessarily result in humanity being happier or its problems being lessened or solved.

Likewise, making everyone equal in status would not result in a solving of humanities problems. If everyone is equal in what they want, there will always be someone who wants more. The defining principle of human nature, which has been reinforced by centuries of exposure to consumerism, is to want what we don’t have. Increased exposure to a consumer culture will only exacerbate this habit in our spirit. We could stop the consumerist culture exerting such an influence on humanity by outlawing it; this could be dovetailed by a medical method of eliminating our need to be consumers.

However in the removal of want we might lose something of ourselves.

It is entirely possible that human technological, philosophical and sociological advances will be achieved without the need for an external entity or motivating force. Current human society has achieved many advances without such agents.

Technology could render all desires unnecessary, as nothing would be outside of our reach. There are already signs that we are becoming lazier as a species and technological advances could continue this disturbing trend. Humans could become apathetic individuals with no goals, no dreams, nothing to strive for.

The problem is if we advance too far too fast we could lose sight of our original objectives, which should always be the betterment of human life.

The rescinding of national borders to ensure global peace and harmony is a noble idea and there is an obvious benefit to this in so much as we would be a united people for the first time in our history.

Logistically, this dissolution presents us with two very pressing issues, firstly the reduction and elimination of armies and weaponry from the human sphere of influence. Secondly the ending of enmity between nations.

The ending of armies and weapons would need to be a united experience engaged in by all the governments of the world at the same time, if one nation chose to hold back its dissolution it could use its armies and weaponry against the others who would now be powerless to defend themselves.

The current disposition of hostile nations on this planet would prohibit such an endeavour from taking place. Not everyone may agree with the course of action being raised, some may even object in stronger terms.

Sociologically, it would be hard to replace generations of hostility existing between nations with feelings of peace and brotherhood. Hostility runs deep, from governments down to families to individuals themselves.

In addition this presents concerns in respect of immigration and removals of trade borders, concerns which cannot be easily addressed. There is no guarantee that the problems of the world would be solved by pursuing this course.

Much has been made of the role that humanity would play in addressing its own issues, but what if nature conspired by acting to solve the problems of this planet.

A sudden change in global climate, a reversal of global warming or a viral pandemic? Any one of these world shattering events could happen or a combination of several.

All of which could be hugely detrimental to the human population of earth, populations could be reduced, large areas of the planet could become uninhabitable and humanity could be faced with extinction.

Human beings define themselves as being adaptable to most circumstances but any change like this would ultimately present certain challenges. If humanity met these challenges, would the practical result be a solving of the problems of the world?

If so, a potentially disastrous event could produce a positive outcome. Areas of the planet which were previously arid deserts could become fertile again and likewise populations which suffered with starvation and bad harvests could find themselves with abundant levels of food. Indeed the change in global climate could render those who currently have everything with nothing.

A viral epidemic could also result in a paradigm shift in population disposition as it would be more likely to affect populist areas than those areas with less people. These individuals now free of others intervention in their local affairs could lead happier more productive lives, lives augmented by the knowledge that they survived when others didn’t.

Both events are extremely uncertain, there is more than a significant chance that either could render humanity extinct. Again there are no guarantees.

To solve the world’s problems from a practical perspective, a “perfect storm” of external circumstances must occur. By this I mean a series of circumstances which push humanity towards a state of nirvana but without reducing or devaluing the human condition. These circumstances would need to ensure sustainability of humanity for the current and future generations of the world.

The human spirit has defined itself as triumph over adversity. Nature stood against us, we have subjugated it, science perplexed us, we understood it (with the intention of bending it to our will), the universe frightens us but we have begun to explain it. Remove adversity from the mix and we would not have left the trees, we would not have invented the wheel, we would not be capable of travelling to other planets.

Human beings constantly strive for new things and are not easily satisfied. With all of these problem solving events and circumstances care must be taken to not completely sate this primordial instinct to strive for more. If this indeed sated, there is a risk we would become complacent and this complacency could lead to our extinction.

Our primordial instincts, although sometimes problematic have enabled us to become the dominant species of this planet and if maintained will enable us to proceed further on our journey.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

What are the political and sociological consequences of extended space travel on mankind?

The exploration of space represents an investment in the future of mankind, the likely course of which will determine whether we survive as a species and our place in the cosmos.

But aside from speculating about the grand destiny that scientists often lay out for us amongst the stars, what are the practicalities of its pursuit? What do we have to do to become the interstellar species that we undoubtedly have to be?

I’m not talking in the limited terms of space probes and manned missions, I’m talking about humanity as a whole reaching into other galaxies.

The grandness of the future is matched by the scope of the question, but let’s keep it simple restricting those ideas to earthly concerns.

Extended space travel is likely to be an extremely expensive endeavour, if the current cost of the manned missions and unmanned probes is anything to go by. The budget of the US space agency NASA from 1958 to 2011 amounts to $526.18 billion, an average of $9,928 billion per year. While the budgets of other international space agencies are not as large they are substantial, it is a substantial expenditure which is only likely to increase if the extension of space travel extends.

Economies are likely to be stretched, with new sources of revenue required and governments are going to find it a struggle. The desire to explore other worlds will in its initial stages most likely be financed by the mining and exploitation of newly discovered planets. This is by no means a certain pursuit as we cannot definitively prove that these resources exist on other planets. Colonisation may become a short term experiment until these resources can be found and sustained.

As we do contact other species in the universe, there is the possibility of long term trade agreements with these species which would have the effect of enhancing the economies of the effected countries. There may be another side effect to this as the alien species may treat humanity as a whole and could struggle with the concept of nationhood. Trade between alien species and individual governments may result in disagreements and boycotts.

Additionally with space travel becoming such an expensive pursuit, there is the danger that space travel will become the domain of the rich exclusively. The poor may not be able to leave Earth due to financial restrictions. The possibility of the poor remaining on earth could reduce the base economy of the earth exponentially, but inversely it could create a more stable economy with everyone on an even keel.

As our colonisation of the galaxy increases, new methods of calculating time need to be devised to cope. We cannot afford to remain restricted to a 24 hour day, a 7 day week or a 365 day year. A standardised method of keeping time will need to be devised in the same way as it was devised to deal with the rise of the railways on earth.

Different nations may meet this in different ways, or an international effort could be mounted to meet this problem. New ways of mapping space would need to be devised in the wake of this change to ensure that travel methods adhere to the new time method.

As travel to other stars currently would take centuries rather than realistic numbers of years, the need to speed space travel up becomes more obvious. Longer term missions are far less cost effective than shorter term ones, but technology takes time to develop and longer term missions may be the only immediate way to proceed.

The chief sacrifice in our pursuit of extended space exploration maybe the nation state. The economics of space travel will necessitate greater financial co-operation between the nations of Earth and it is possible over time that the relevance of the nation state may decline to the point where it becomes unnecessary. Space agencies from different nations may amalgamate to deal with this co-operation and increased financial expenditure.

International institutions will be created to deal with this, with one particular organisation being ideally suited to deal with international co-operation in space exploration. The United Nations, largely toothless at present, could enjoy a political resurgence.

Contact with other species, central to the future of extended human space exploration would ideally be conducted by this centralised organisation. Individual nations can make mistakes, diplomatic negotiations can be mishandled opening the way for interstellar incidents. The UN could employ its existing arms to first contact scenarios with alien species.

Non centralisation of this authority could lead to diplomatic issues between nation states as they colonise space individually. Diplomatic issues could potentially lead to military conflicts in space across colonised worlds, with nation fighting nation over claims to other worlds. Vicariously, the growth in colonies increases the likelihood of those colonies seeking independence from central government. There would be a political question of representation for these colonies in the respective parliaments of the colonising power and this would most likely lead to a colonial government. The building blocks of the centralised authority could encompass independent colonies, in the same way that it encompasses individual countries on earth.

With the probable slow progress of space travel in its initial phases, it is likely that we will have to deal with problem of political change during extended travel in space. For example, a group of people travelling in a cryogenically induced sleep would not experience the political change of its mother country. They would arrive at their destination likely unaware that their previous regime had changed, which could cause a political schism and in all likelihood could result in a similar war of independence from the mother country.

The traversing of interstellar space also prompts speculation about what would happen those political and sociological institutions which remained on planet Earth. Diminished populations mean more abundant resources on Earth, although the pressure to export these resources to the burgeoning colonies in space could result in shortages on Earth. This could result in a socio-political backlash against the demands of the colonies.

Greater space exploration could result in a paradigm shift in opinion about the whole subject of exploration of space. The Earth could turn inward upon itself and become isolationist, shunning contact with other races. This isolationism could naturally progress into a form of fascism, predicated on the belief that humanity is superior to inferior alien races.

The implementation of a human first ideology could manifest itself in the terraforming process used to colonise other planets. It could be used harmfully where life exists in a different form, with the intention of exterminating the inferior species to make way for man.

Space exploration brings with it contact with other species and increased knowledge about the universe. Our knowledge of the Earth and the universe as a whole could become so changeable, so fluid that it becomes impossible to teach this to any human. Systems of learning could be devised, augmented with technological advances which would make it possible for a human to have a base level working knowledge of the universe from birth. This would aid humans as they colonise other planets, with potential applications in contacting and conversing with other species. There will always be knowledge gaps and areas where cultures across space do not understand each other, but the use of diplomatic and political institutions can support humanity to overcome these obstacles and build bridges.

If it is possible that this new knowledge could subjugate existing knowledge, then no area will more keenly feel this than the area of Religion. Most organised religions rely on us being born in the image of God, which is a concept wholly negated by the existence of other races in the universe.

The knowledge of this variety would undoubtedly reduce the relevance of humanity in its dealings with God. Encountering other species with religions similar to ours would relegate our religions to provincial belief systems and if those belief systems we encounter are more advanced and more readily provable, ours could be seen as arcane even primordial in its outlook.

On the other hand, exploration and encounters with other species could magnify the role of religion as those humans travelling to other galaxies look to anchor themselves to something earthbound.

Other species, whose form does not conform to the classical ideas of what alien species could be present ethical and legal concerns. Human law is written to preserve the rights of humans, it does not encompass alien species and their various cultures and customs. The human law can be easily applied to human colonies but it stops at alien worlds.

Likewise, the infringement of the rights of other species by humans in their desire to colonize space could increase to the point where we brazenly explore the stars with no moral compass to guide us.

An example of this ethical conflict could be a human terraforming project on a colonised world which encounters an indigenous species. Whereas on Earth, exploring countries have ignored the human rights of indigenous peoples, the indigenous species rights could be preserved in the laws of other races. The humans, unknowing of these laws would undoubtedly encounter conflict when trying to remove the indigenous species. Not knowing they were there is no defence in such an incident.

The moral and ethical virtues of travelling in space for an extended time could be supplanted by the physical and psychological effects of extended space travel. By physical, I mean the effects of travelling in zero gravity for years rather than months. This would have a detrimental effect on human bone structure and muscle tone, which is why you do not currently see obese astronauts. Long term travellers in space may not be able to return to their mother planet as gravity would not allow them to do so.

The psychological effects of space travel could be more difficult to spot. Space travel currently is a very dangerous occupation, which can provoke emotional responses which trigger psychological upheaval. Also there is the effect of longer term space travel on those individuals undertaking the mission. A long time in an enclosed space with the same people often leads to friction and outright manifestations of anger. Likewise the absence of people, coupled with no changes in scenery or environment could breed severe psychological problems which could manifest themselves during the mission or after. Extended time in suspended animation could lead to psychological disorders upon re-entry into the physical world. The current space programmes of earth ensure that their prospective astronauts undergo rigorous psychological and physiological testing before they can go into space. These programmes could continue with longer term space exploration but would need to adapt to suit colonisation as astronauts are not made of the same stuff as colonists.

Considering these issues, we have to also consider the other side of the coin. What if we get out there and there’s nothing? No species to interact with, just an empty universe with no species in it other than our own. This could have a highly detrimental effect on the psychological state of the human race or it could lead to us placing a higher value on human life than we do currently.

The effect this absence would have a hugely influential effect on the continuance of earth bound religions as it would add weight to the belief that we are the chosen of God and we should go forth into the universe.

Also the prospect of endless habitable worlds with no indigenous species would allow us to spread out into the cosmos, potentially just as nation states rather than a centralised power. Population expansion would not be such an issue as there would be any number of potential planets where the surplus population could be housed.

The human race is by its very nature adaptable and we have used that adaptation to become masters of Earth. It is likely that this adaptability will allow us to spread further and further into the cosmos as we grow. The practicalities of this long term travel would be a challenge, but it would be a necessary challenge as the human race cannot afford not to escape its Earthly confines.

Overpopulation, food shortages, the problem of war all will only get worse if we do not do this. To survive as a species, we must explore the stars.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Is a Third World War inevitable?

A former history teacher of mine used to say that something is only inevitable after it has happened. History is a hard teacher and its lessons are some of the most difficult to learn. The more humanity progresses the greater the need to learn from the mistakes of the past as the spectre of extinction appears over us all.

But is it certain to happen?

Since the Second World War, the population of Earth has exploded from 2 billion people to over 7 billion. It is expected to rise exponentially over the next century to 8 billion by 2030, rising as high as 9 billion by 2050. A larger population will require greater room, particularly in the more affluent Western Hemisphere.

Smaller countries could simply be annexed in the rush to house countries growing populations. A consequent increase in tension between neighbouring countries could lead to military conflict.

Nation states could merely cease to exist under the clamour of increased populations. Larger countries could become overpopulated and may need to war to survive.

A population increase such as the one stated above has been countered to some degree by a decrease in global fertility rates across both the developed and developing world. The average number of children a woman is predicted to have has decreased from an average of 5 in 1950 to 2 in 2010 and it is expected to stabilise over the next 40 years.

Population increases run in tandem with the means to destroy, the proliferation of nuclear weapons by some countries has led to arms races between nations as they look to defend themselves. It began with the first great nuclear power, the USA which today has over 7000 nuclear weapons at its disposal. Not to be outdone, the Russian federation has over 8000 nuclear weapons. Countries which used to face the prospect of war with the former Soviet Union like France and Britain have slowed down their nuclear weapon production.

Newer countries like India and Pakistan, engaged in their own arms race have developed nuclear weapons fairly recently and other countries such as Iran and North Korea have moved to acquire or develop nuclear weaponry. The rise of these rogue states (states which ignore international conventions when they want to) has increased the likelihood of brushfire wars, which could lead to wider conflicts.

It would be remiss of me at this stage not to mention the international black market for nuclear weapons, which sprang up mostly because of the demise of the former Soviet Union. The machinery for making Nuclear weapons, fissionable material and other items which could be used to develop untraceable nuclear weapons. Well financed terrorist groups such as IS and Al Qaeda could use these weapons to provoke international tensions to breaking point.

The concept of mutually assured destruction has led many of the nations of the world to move away from nuclear weapons and back to conventional warfare. Although the concept of a winnable nuclear war continues to occupy the world’s top military strategists, the move towards nuclear disarmament cannot be ignored. The only burr in the saddle of this horse is the possibility of a nuclear war with no destruction via the supposedly safe Neutron bomb.

While the political world can fluctuate as often the weather, one thing political nations have always relied on is the availability of natural resources. But what if these disappeared? Of the resources we have we have almost 1000 million tonnes of coal, 1120 billion barrels of oil and 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. As a species we consume 18 million tonnes of coal a day, 84 million barrels of oil and 104 billion cubic feet of gas. Without doing the sums any layman can see that we consume more than too much. Escalation in things like the price of oil or gas could bankrupt entire countries, leading to internal strife which could be exploited by an external power. There is also the possibility of countries being held to ransom by the oil producing nations of the Middle East.

The dependent countries of the world, however have not sat idly on their hands while their supplies have decreased. Investment in sustainable renewable energy sources like wind farms, solar farms and hydroelectric power has grown exponentially over the last half century. Nuclear power, once demonised by the environmentalists has enjoyed something of a recent resurgence even in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident. Fracking, although a highly controversial environmental issue could provide a patch until more productive renewable energy resources are discovered.

A globalised ecosystem, such as the one we have on this planet can manifest newer and more unpredictable organisms, none so fierce as the virus. The usage of mass transit systems and technological advances means that a virus moves a thousand times quicker than it could 100 years previously.

Pandemics such as Bird Flu, Sars and the recent Ebola viral outbreak in West Africa while perceived as isolated incidents could have escalated into full blown worldwide disasters. The World Health Organisation is getting better at identifying and containing these pandemic outbreaks but with the increase in the usage of genetic engineering and the possible development of chemical weapons by terrorist groups, how long will it be before something comes along which cannot be managed or countered?

Governments dealing with this new pandemic would struggle under the strain of having to deal with it and maintain the rights of its citizens. The resultant restrictions could breed anarchy, which may allow more extreme factions to take over democratic countries.

As the world becomes more globalised, nations become less and less able to control the influx of economic and social migrants. The concept of the nation state will inevitably become a more redundant concept. Or will it?

Nationhood may enjoy a resurgence in this newly globalised world, as the indigenous populations of those countries most greatly afflicted by immigration express their dissatisfaction with the influx. A desire to return to the “good old days” of national pride will provide fuel to those fires and marginalised groups which extol a more extreme view of democracy could gain a foothold. Religious intolerance and segregation, used by these nationalist parties as their main tools could exacerbate the situation even further.

On the other hand the concept of the nation state may die a quiet death, as the world moves forward in a more integrated phase. Globalisation could unite the world in a more far reaching way than any war could. Borders would become unnecessary, as would the concept of individual nation state armies.

We must at this stage consider the role of the individual in the global system because even an individual can cause massive global change by one single act. As long as acts like this can be thought of they will continue to be perpetrated.  Individuals like Mohammed Atta, Timothy McVeigh and latterly Edward Snowden have changed the world with such acts.

Gavrilo Princip changed the world forever with a grenade and a couple of well placed bullets. An individual such as this, assassinating a key individual such as the President of the United States could start a chain reaction of events that would lead inexorably to war. If the individual perpetrating the act was Russian for the purposes of this example, then already strained relationships may break. All it takes is one man with an idea.

Likewise, a man with an idea could change the world more positively. Gandhi changed the destiny of one billion people with his ideas of non violent action. Imagine what a similarly minded individual could do to the destiny of a planet.

So, coming back to our initial question: Is a Third World War inevitable?

To say that this is inevitable is ultimately a fallacy and ignores the motivations and prejudices of the peoples of the world. In the final analysis, there are as much catalysts for change as there are participants. It all comes down to one simple thing: Are we prepared to let it occur?

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© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.