All environmental systems have a top predator and when that predator fails for some reason the whole system goes into a series of wild oscillations precipitating catastrophes. This role of regulator is filled for small land species by small predators such as cats and birds of prey. It all works in infinity complex ways in actual effects but the basic system was explained by Wallace to Darwin back in the 1850s. In distilled terms, only those living things which reproduce leave descendants and in the long run those which reproduce don’t die. Living things require food energy to continue living and to get that energy they must interact with the world they find themselves immersed within but that entails risk.
Living things possess stored energy which they need for their own metabolism but this energy can be used by other creatures if they eat this first one. At the bottom of the food chain living things obtain energy directly from the Sun or from other forms of energy derived directly from the mineral Earth. Animals eat these primary foods but are themselves eaten by other animals. It’s a cycle that procedes right up to the top predators such as the big cats or birds of prey or for the last hundred thousand years or so by humans.
Humans are now the absolute top predator and are incredibly successful; so successful in fact that they needed to create their own food because natural predation wasn’t sufficient to sustain their growing numbers. Thus agriculture was born and agriculture was working just fine but seems to have reached an upper limit as to how many people muscle driven agriculture could sustain by about 1500 CE. Then came the large scale usage of stored solar energy in the form of mineral energy which some Englishmen learned how to converted into steam powered machinery starting about 1700. That coupled with the simultaneous creation of the patent system enabled the inventors of a new machine to share the idea with other people and still make a great profit from their idea. As the number of people who saw a particular device working grew so also grew ways to improve upon those earlier success’. Millions upon millions of improvements have been documented and the process shows no sign of slowing down and in fact seems to be accelerating.
With far more scientists and engineers and designers working now than ever before it is inevitable that many astonishing new things will come into being in the near future. There are fundamental limits beyond which it may be impossible to go and many things of a hundred years ago will still be commonplace a hundred years from now but in addition to these there will probably be unimagined new things added to these old ones. The wire coat hanger hanging cloths on a closet rod doesn’t appear to have much opportunity for improvement. Of course I might be wrong because they cause dents in the shoulders and someone might make a recoiled back coat hanger which is equally cheap which displaces our old fashioned single bent wire ones. It is impossible to predict inventions. Humm?
Humans are not particularly inventive as individuals but when there are seven billion of them interacting as they now do on the internet and a new good idea is only limited by the speed of light and the ability of the recipient to understand ideas in the information then new things can accumulate very quickly and combine synergisticly to build upon other totally unrelated things. What the effect of this in the grander ecology of the planet is, is that the top predator of the last 100 thousand years became the super top predator for the last 10 thousand years and super duper top predator for the last 200 years in now making an even greater leap, into giga-predator-hood.
We know control the ecology of the whole planet and realize that we have a responsibility to act wisely for it maintenance. The voluntary removal of freon, a wonderful refrigerant, from refrigeration processes to prevent the destruction of the atmosphere and the voluntary removal of DDT, a wonderful insecticide, from pest control because it was destroying the top bird predators are examples of humanity taking responsibility for the health of the planet.
Humans are now far beyond being merely top predators for the rest of the species of the Earth. We are as gods – we are in far greater control of the elemental things of reality than even the ancient Greek gods were. We have realized recently that, along with great power comes great responsibility, and have made real and successful efforts to use that responsibility wisely. It isn’t an individual human effort it is a whole humanity wide effort. It is an effort that must last as long as human beings inhabit this Earth. Even if we destroy almost all of the present habitat some humans will survive. We will be the last large species to go extinct. That being the case humans will once again rise after various Doomsdays and form civilizations and repeat the same mistakes we are presently making. That is unless learn from our mistakes and they find a way out of our present predicaments. But if they can do it that means it can be done and if it can be done at all we too can do it. But how?
What is or should be humanity’s top predator? It must be something which will last for a very long time – as long as humans or any other large animals walk upon this planet. That power can not be an individual human being because no human will live as long a humanity and therefore it must be a specific hereditary family within humanity such as has been tried many times in the past – and failed. Or, alternatively it must be the agreed upon construction of laws. These most basic of laws must apply to everyone. There may be sub-parts of the human society with alternate laws but there must be a few laws which are universal and it comes back to where this essay began with food and predation and a way that the top predators control themselves.
With top predator birds it is by feeding techniques of the parents which feeds the strongest chick in the nest and if there is enough food to feed the second strongest chick so it also survives. The food is determined by the overall environment where the parents prey upon their world and when there isn’t much food only the strongest chick survives. Thus there is a dynamic balance between top predators and their environment which keeps everything harmonious and healthy.
It is laws which are imposed, as from without, upon all humanity which functions as the top predator. These laws must have the power to limit the number of predators upon society at large and the prey must have the ability when healthy to avoid being taken. Only the unhealthy, either from some sort of individual failing or from old age and decrepitude can be taken by these meta-predators. Healthy individuals can only be taken when they are behaving in stupid ways.
What has been created here is a process rather like natural selection but which is to be mediated upon humanity by itself and it own laws. That is necessary because there is nothing in the natural world to prey upon humanity. We have become too successful and the present world, as wonderful as it is, must learn to control itself with human laws.
Humanity’s top predator must be universal human laws.