Today, October 31, 2017, is a special day for me. For one, it’s my birthday, and a very round one at that. (Thanks for all the good wishes!)
But also, 500 years ago today, an obscure cleric nailed some highly provocative statements on the door of a church in an obscure town, an act — as unlikely as it must have seemed at the time — that changed world history. To pick one example at random, today’s America and its weirdnesses are hard to imagine had Martin Luther not won his indulgement battle against the Catholic Church, and caused a giant split of Christianity in the process.
I remember being rather surprised in history class, maybe in 8th grade, when I realized that I was born 450 years to the day from this momentous event. It’s a little like finding out, as an American, that you were born on the fourth of July, but one that only happens every 50 (or maybe 500) years. I’m not certain what to make of this relationship I seem to have with history, but as a result, I’ve been pondering the big picture of the world, humans and things a bit more than I otherwise might have.
It occurred to me that in 2017, in many ways, the world finds itself in a similar situation as it found itself in 1517. Columbus had just proven that the world was round, not flat. New continents were found with boundless opportunities (for the conquerers, of course, to the detriment of the natives) which, for example, had great impact on the economies of seafearing nations. The printing press enabled information to bypass traditional gatekeepers. And here comes Luther who not only challenges some of the already 1500-year old Church’s core beliefs that supposedly came straight from god, but directly attacks its business model, and gets away with it. It must have been an unsettling time for everybody, just like 2017 is very unsettling for many of us today.
I believe, however, that we in 2017 have more issues to be unsettled about, and, ultimately, more consequential ones. I have come to believe that for many people alive today, and most of their children — certainly more than half of humanity — survival has become questionable. It is even possible that the Human Project, the survival of humans and many (most?) other life on earth is at stake.
That is sad, and worrying, but what’s sadder and more worrying is that collectively, we aren’t making the changes we all need to make at the speed they need to be made to avoid the collapse that is become a more real possibility with every passing year. Also, we are not making them as decisively and with the magnitude that is clearly needed.
For example: we should be discussing how to gobally, permanently, end all extraction of oil from the ground. Instead, it is controversial to raise gas taxes even a little bit. It may not be possible, or take a long time to make such a radical change, but we should be seriously discussing it and other radical changes to help this only planet we live on.
Or: we discuss — largely helplessly — how to keep a mentally unstable American president from launching nuclear missiles. But we should be discussing instead how to set up structures by which no mentually unstable anybody anywhere in the world can ever launch nuclear missiles, or insane things like that, and if that means dramatically revising a few consistutions, so be it.
In fact, in too many areas, we are making global-scale disasters more likely, rather than less likely. For example, the rational stability of mutually assured destruction of the Cold War has been replaced by … well, I don’t know what, but if it involves people like Donald and Kim, I know it is less stable!
I am a strong believer in people, however, and their ingenuity to solve problems. And in their willingness and ability to rally when challenged to work hard on a worthy cause.
|The worthy cause?||Survival of the human project. Not just for a few years, but for the long term.|
|Extra points for:||Avoiding pain and suffering as much as possible. Deprivations are a given and unavoidable.|
|The alternative?||A dead planet. As many Sci-Fi authors have pointed out, there are many scenarios for civilizations about at the level of technological development that we are at to suffer catastrophic collapse.|
Sounds motivating enough? It does to me.
The second step is to make big, consequential changes. Not just about pollution and the environment, but also about how the economy functions — after all, that’s what drives the environmental problems — and how it is being governed. Changes that keep mad people out of positions of power. Changes that make us all respect each other instead of trying to put each other down, and, sometimes, apparently kill each other — either directly or indirectly by, say, making healthcare inaccessible. Changes in values and expectations so that we don’t want to possess things that earth cannot provide us with without dying. Lots of work to be done.
But the first step is that we need to talk about it. And this is where, for me, Martin Luther’s Theses come in. His theses are short, and sweet, and to the point, inviting discussion. It’s an excellent way of raising topics and engaging a community to figure out the truth.
Following in his footsteps, I’ll be posting theses like this every now and then, on the challenges and potential solutions as I see them. As short and sweet as I can make them, as to the point as much as possible, perhaps a little overstated. I’d like to engage my friends, and enemies — who hopefully will become friends over time — and challenge you all, and myself, to get up from our coziness and rebuild the world. Because no less is required.
Here comes thesis number one, an abstract one but with plenty of potential to rethink our planet, and ourselves:
What cannot go on forever must eventually stop.