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Discuss: State of the Species



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1 David M on Oct 25, 2012

A terrific read. The part on human beings as invasive species is worth the price alone. This is classic.

“The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.”

There are so many nice goodies written with punch like this.

“Agriculture gave humanity the whip hand. Instead of natural ecosystems with their haphazard mix of species (so many useless organisms guzzling up resources!), farms are taut, disciplined communities conceived and dedicated to the maintenance of a single species: us.”

I’ll add one more.

“Our ability to change ourselves to extract resources from our surroundings with ever-increasing efficiency is what has made Homo sapiens a successful species. It is our greatest blessing.

Or was our greatest blessing, anyway.”

I have a few downsize thoughts on some of the analysis but I’ll save that for later.

2 Steve Bremner on Oct 25, 2012

Excellent piece. I don’t have much faith in our collective ability to adjust in time to the impending collapse of civilization. Individually and in pockets there are those who see the need to adjust, but unfortunately we’re not all on board and the Sarah Palins and the James Inhofes seem to hold sway over policy in this world.

3 Martin on Oct 25, 2012

A great and masterful essay, brilliant and needing to be read - but then it falls off the rails, as is typical of even the best of our social critics.
Mann is dead-on and eloquent in his depiction of our state of inter-locking crises, but then he goes all hope and change and look at how far we have come. Sure, there are identity politics achievements, and nice safer lives for the boomers and the Prius-drivers, but there are so many real, freely available, undeniable markers of a immovable and fully corrupt supersystem.
Look at the graph of CO2 in the atmosphere - notice a trend? Look at the Gini coefficient for the US- see the direction? Has Mann seen the official, growing, shameful wealth disparity between white and black Americans, let alone the global disparities? Can he appreciate the graph of the ruined lives of the global poor, even before the states of our interdependent ecosystems start really to seize?
Where is there a single indication that any of the insitutions governing human lives have even the capacity to shift course from the extraction of resources anywhere in the globe to feed the energy needs of the well-to-do?
Why be so top-notch in drawing the outlines our common predicament, and then proffer some pie-in-the-sky endpiece that flies in the face of all that we can observe?
Still, Mann’s essay is a treasure, a lasting way to look at our lives with new artistic metaphors, and it deserves a medal or two - but only the bravest can really see where the data lie.

4 Ron Hofbauer on Oct 25, 2012

This is fine and interesting read that but I think the scientific objectivity of the piece is slowly lost as the story gets closer to the present era. For example, the comment is made that slavery has been almost eliminated. I agree that old style slavery has more or less been stopped but I maintain that slavery is still very much alive and well under a change of name in which it is now called “employment”. This “employment” form of slavery is much more sophisticated than the old style of slavery and, if anything, it has increased slavery and made it into a kind of invisible social situation. It seems to me that Mr. Mann tries to put an optimistic spin on homo sapiens society at the end of the piece that I don’t believe is justified.

5 T. R. Shankar Raman on Oct 25, 2012

Commit ‘hara hachi bu’ rather than ‘hara kiri’ for a better world ahead, the author seems to suggest. The article brings various threads of thought together well. Yet, the author does not mention early ecologists and conservationists who arrived at similar conclusions on driving social and ecological change on a moral and ethical basis, such as Aldo Leopold and Arne Naess and Rachel Carson. Unfortunately, it is widely, but perhaps wrongly, believed that the power of economics will trump ethics anyday. A shift in perception is first required?

6 Linda Pettit on Oct 26, 2012

Wow!  A powerful compilation of information describing the homo path then and forward…We are, of course, preoccupied by our own species’ adventures.  I can appreciate this as a member of the group…but I also appreciate Lynn Margulis’ focus, a Gaia description that takes into consideration all life on the planet.  Will there be another more advanced species in the future when/if we bring on our own destruction?  Gaia will remain. I personally work to enjoy as much of the ride as I am able, despite politics!

7 Robert on Oct 26, 2012

I have to agree with Martin’s comment. However clear-thinking when it comes to the past, Mr Mann is still unable to stop outside the dominant narrative which says that our society is the best and most moral ever and things are only getting better.

“Since the Second World War, however, rates of violent death have fallen to the lowest levels in known history. Today, the average person is far less likely to be slain by another member of the species than ever before—an extraordinary transformation that has occurred, almost unheralded, in the lifetime of many of the people reading this article.”

I’ve heard this claim before. Does that include deaths in car accidents? Deaths due to industrial pollution? Deaths due to political despotism? All are forms of violent death caused by human beings, albeit not in war.

Still, it is nice to think that the human race is flexible enough to snatch survival from the jaws of extinction. I guess some of us alive today will find out the answer.

8 suryanarayanan on Oct 26, 2012

A truly remarkable, thought-provoking, and complete, essay on life and humankind that should make us pause and reflect on what the author has said in the last para.

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