Human rights movements have made wonderful progress in the last fifty years as has been graphed on page 380 in Steven Pinker’s new book The Better Angels of our Nature.
This book offers hope for humanity in the form of research into historical records of just how brutally humans once treated each other compared to how relatively kind we are today. Civil rights made great progress in the 60s, women’s rights from the 70s to the present, children’s rights in the 80s to present, gay rights in the 80s, and animal rights in the 90s. These rights movements were not made at the comparative loss of rights of other people, generally thought to be (in the same order) white, male, adult, heterosexual, human. The civil society now feels much better to me, at age 76, a white male, adult, heterosexual, human, having lived through all of those rights movements as an adult. Every one of those movements, which I was generally in favor of at the time because they seemed to be the right thing to do, has improved the humane relationships between everyone. The current “rights movement” called Occupy is an effort to make more equitable the relationship between rich people and not so rich ones – not poor people. I don’t like the term poor people, because at the moment poor people are in most ways richer than rich people were when I was a child (life expectancy, health, entertainment, free time, travel, personal rights, etc.). It seems that what the Occupy movement is really against is the arrogance of wealth and unrestrained power as personified in people like Donald Trump.
The rights movement of the near future should be the rights of humanity itself. Humanity’s rights. Because of the unconstrained population explosion, now in progress and having reached seven billion people, we as a species are threatening our own existence by the over-exploitation of our Mother Earth. For every individual it is not themselves that is the problem but the other seven billion people who are consuming the one-time-use resources like oil and coal. Everyone thinks those others are the ones who are creating the CO2 pollution. However, if the world population were back at the 1925 level of two billion, nearly all of our current resource and pollution problems wouldn’t exist, or at least they would be worsening at a very slow rate. If the population were back at the one billion level, and everyone living as we presently do, there wouldn’t be any environmental problems that couldn’t be coped with by normal political actions.
Well, that is silly talk, because even if there were no children born for fifty years the population wouldn’t drop back to a billion people, so why even mention it? Probably, in the not too distant future the people already living will consume some critical resource to the point of exhaustion, and then a panicky realization will take place that something has to be done. When that crisis hits, things will get very ugly for a while and all of the progress in humanity’s treatment of one another, so eloquently written about by Pinker, will evaporate for a while as humanity lurches through a population crisis. What then? There is no way of knowing how things will go in particular except to say at the end of it there will be far fewer people. Unfortunately, even after the collapse things may not get better for a while because so much of the infrastructure which makes our present civilization so productive will be inoperative. However, for the survivors there will be a return to a new normalcy and there may be abundance once again of most of the things we presently value, based on the finding and reuse of manufactured products we have already manufactured today.
But, will humanity learn what needs to be done to prevent another boom and bust cycle? Humans and humanity will survive even the worst catastrophe. Some animals did survive even the last extinction event 65 million years ago, and that event is far worse than anything humans can presently create. The animals who survived that extinction didn’t have the intelligence of humans and humans would have made some appropriate accommodation to the events and survived.
Presently human population is unconstrained, except by famine, because we have no natural predators to keep our numbers in balance with nature. Humanity must somehow create laws to constrain its population to something which Mother Earth can support. If people are unable to do that, then Mother Earth will be forced to limit their numbers with another famine. At present they have already created a population so large that it can not be sustained, and it is still growing. It is able to do that based on one time use energy stores in the form of oil and coal. When those are exhausted there will be no energy to power the farming equipment and famine will result, and we will be forced to cultivate the land with our own muscle power once again as did the people of the pre-industrial era.
Humanity is in good health and has the living right to survive but it needs food.