Orion Digest №42 — The Crossroads of Human History: Why We Should Persist

The events of the past few centuries have brought the threat of extinction closer than it has arguably ever been. War, pollution, disease — as much as the human race has come together with modern innovations, we have also opened the door to the end of human history, and our choices now will determine the future of billions, if not potential trillions. Will we die in a hate-fueled inferno, or stride atop the surfaces of distant planets? Will we drag all of life on Earth down with us, or will we learn to find harmony with it? While there have been many tumultuous times in the history of our species, the idea of it coming to an end makes this time especially vital.

And yet, there are many who argue that perhaps humanity does not deserve to live on, or that it simply cannot. There are some who object to our past and current actions, and believe that human nature prevents us from living peacefully and logically. They think that even if we did survive, we’d be at each other’s throats, and it would only spell suffering for many at the hands of few. Others raise the moral flag in regards to our effects upon other species and nature, citing our haphazard destruction as grounds for us to die so that other species may live. Some believe that existence itself simply isn’t worth the costs it requires upon the individual.

It is hard to deny that human history has been filled with suffering, and what is worse, unequal and unjust suffering. There have been many souls who, by their mere appearance, have been condemned to live life treated differently than others, spending their days in fear, and working their whole lives just to find some semblance of comfort. Progress has been made on some social fronts, but that fight is far from over, and with a great many problems of our own design on the rise, it is safe to say that the toughest times of humanity may not yet be behind us. The world is getting hotter, the disasters are becoming rougher, the class divide and associated required labor from the working class is increasing, and we still haven’t yet cracked the goal of equality.

The situation, admittedly, can seem rather hopeless. And, with the storm on the horizon, we might have the first opportunity in history to stop the race entirely — before things get worse, we have the option to end the human race through whatever means are available, and be done with all of it. We, as the human race, stand at the crossroads of human history, and are granted two choices — accept our destruction, guaranteeing an end to suffering, or persist on, going into the unknown and chancing that our circumstances will worsen. It is a question that has been asked many, many times.

So, what reason do we have to persist, in the face of all that is horrid and terrifying in the world?

As painful as life can be, most people choose to keep living it. Buried beneath the poignant pains and toils, there are brighter things in the world. Large joys that give us purpose, small joys that brighten our day. There is even meaning in pain — by knowing what it feels like to lose or hurt, we appreciate much more how it feels to win or remain safe. The grand knowledge of all that there is and could be in the world — the sights around us, the stories we tell, the friends we love, the memories we cherish — when simply put to the background of our perception, they may not seem worth as much, but to weigh those below the void of non-existence, they are rather valuable.

What is more, we assume that we must go on without improvement, that this crisis we face is all that humans can be or amount to. What is past cannot be changed, but the knowledge of our past gives us the ability to learn from it, and we have proven time and time again that the human mind can conquer anything in its path given time and reason. If we have the ability to subjugate ourselves, to put ourselves in so grave of danger that it could spell not only the end of Earth’s dominant species, but potentially most of life on Earth, surely we also have the ability to undo what we have wrought. It is merely a matter of how we order ourselves and where we shift our weight. Given the knowledge and push, the suffering we believe is inevitable could be lifted, Earth made a utopia.

It is a risk to rely on the hope that humanity will settle its issues, but the chance becomes more assured the more we believe in it, the more we support it. If we assume it to be impossible, something unachievable, then it will become so. All those who argue that human nature is to be violent, angry, and spiteful see only a sample of humans forced to resort to their animalistic natures for survival. When one is forced to fight tooth and nail for food and shelter — as one must do in the job market so they may earn money for necessities — they will of course put their survival as a priority. Raised in a world where the value of wealth and luxury is placed on so high a pedestal, it makes sense that people would rush to assure their security, even at the cost of others, for how many would risk their own downfall for a stranger when raised to do the opposite?

However, the unique quality of humans is that with our intelligence and empathy, we can overcome these instincts and fears, rising higher into levels of psychological need and actualization, where we see the strings that hold the puppets. We can come to understand that the system of economy, if managed adequately, could easily be made to support all who live under it, and that with understanding, we could prosper together. We may have within us animal instincts, but if we can understand them, we can control them. Human society already does, in its own way, harness the power of human behavior, manipulating each and every citizen to act in a way that perpetuates its qualities, positive and negative.

The toils and struggles of human existence, that drive many to wish that they had never been born, are human in origin. We are aware of this fact, and while a difficult task, we could one day hope to create a future in which new generations are born, still laboring and having their own individual struggles, but never unjustly, and never without the accompanying joy and hope. It is one thing to push a stone up a hill, and another entirely to do it in chains. It is hard to envision a better world when you have spent your entire life in one; for all you know, it is entirely imaginary, and impossible to achieve. You have spent all your time meeting maybe a handful of people (if any who don’t ultimately buy into the flaws of the system in some way; how could there conceivably exist an entire society who behaves as such? From an insider’s point of view, flawed is all humanity might ever be.

But that is just it — humanity is both gifted with the ability to see past our mundane perceptions and illusions, as well as to allow our minds to settle into them. It lets us have the foresight to know that the illusion can be shattered, and that we can overcome what we believe to be absolute, while also not being so overcome by such presence of mind that we view life in terms of numbers and psychology, savoring the joy and feeling true the fear. Our emotions and logic affect one another, with the realization of change accompanied by hope, and the frustrating monotony of the world bringing about hopelessness and fear. The same world can cause one mind to imagine life as a purposeless bout of pain, while bringing another to see the beauty and majesty that does exist, and can exist in even greater measure.

The difference in the two is circumstance — what side of the world are you raised in, and what do you see? We know, through logic, that our problems are based on economics, government, and the socialization bred via layered ignorance. A child can be raised in a healthy manner, given the chance to learn about the world around them and respectfully form their own identity, and have the belief that life is indeed worth living, with happiness worth the pursuit of it. However, that same child could have instead been thrown through different traumatic events, and trapped by the demands and expectations of the world around them while they still struggle to process it all. The second child will know the world as cruel, and may lack trust — for what would trust bring them but possibly greater pain? Pain they could not hope to bear?

Which side is right about the world, and not merely the constructed world of humans, but the metaphysical world that is existence itself, in all its infinite potential? If we made such relatively small adjustments as changing how we view mental health and allowing for more personalized models of labor, the entire universe for one person could change, the grand picture of existence reshaped by something as small as policy and structure. While able to understand the concept of things beyond our own point of view, the truth is that these bleak ideas of nihilism come from a perspective that only views the world through a small lens, that sees the horrors and mistakes we have made, but not the capacity to change, if we knew we were able. It is a self-perpetuating cycle — we created a hopeless world which convinces us it is hopeless, and so we continue to create a hopeless world which convinces future generations, and so on, but if we were to break the cycle and take advantage of our ability to change the world, no longer would people be convinced and raised to act so terribly.

At this crossroads of human history, the question is asked — if we brought ourselves to the brink, should we just fall in, rather than potentially making it worse? This question is asked by those who have only ever known the cruel world, watching others taught that it is acceptable to treat others with such disgusting indifference. However, to broaden the lens and see that it was ignorance that caused the first misstep, bringing us through a domino chain to where we are today, tells us that if we are capable of destroying the world, we are certainly capable of changing it. Which option we take is ultimately a matter of which we believe in. If we believe that humans can be good and overcome our animal natures, I have full faith that it will happen. If we believe that humans are incapable of doing so, then we may very well perish.

Between the two options, I have given much thought. For the sake of those that might come into this world just to suffer, I hesitate to say it is worth it for those who might come afterwards in an improved world — sacrificing lives not just to death but torture, all for the happiness of those who have not yet been born. However, this assumes suffering will become an eventuality, and if we were to actively seek humanity’s demise, so would suffering result in the inter-rim. To give up hope entirely ensures things will not get better; to persist means that very well could. Instead of wasting time arguing about how bad things could get if we fail, it would do much better to get up and fight to ensure that we don’t. Even if we are unsuccessful, is it not better to die in hope than in misery?

And so, I believe that when faced with the choice of dying here at the crossroads or continuing onward into the unknown depths of the future, the latter choice is entirely worthwhile, despite the sentiments of others. We cannot wipe off the stains of our history and ignorance, but we can ensure that the deaths of all those who perished under the sword of injustice do not go unavenged. New children could be born one day, the groundwork for a better and more informed start beneath their feet, and live the lives their ancestors dreamed of, carrying on that hope. And those that march on in the future will appreciate our decision to fight on another day more than we can ever know.