The Long Delay

Human history has a long arc, but a relatively short tipping point towards the illusion of control.  We were for nearly unimaginable expanses of time and space a barely connected species roaming the earth, leaving slight traces in earthy pigment of hands, animals and dreams upon the rocks of our paths and the cave walls of our temporary dwellings.  We were not dominant, mass-farming, tool wielding empires - we were nomads and temporary players in a grand kaleidoscope of Earth.  Our existence was never guaranteed day to day nor over the centuries.

 

This changed rather rapidly and without some divine intervention - the blind watchmaking of natures evolution accidentally favored homo sapiens.  We happened onto fattened and readily plantable wheat in soil freshly fertile from melting ice ages giving rise to agriculture and related activities.  We relatively quickly took deep advantage of the situation (multiple times independently across the globe).  Agriculture and animal husbandry provided all the obvious advantages for survival like reliable food sources, ability to stay put, deep energy stories, safety and time for knowledge seeking.  The key stroke though was in being able to delay consequences. 

 

Long Delay entered the human enterprise for the likely the first time.  We were able to delay starvation through reliable, storable harvests.  We were able to build up settlements, trade routes, currency and complicated economic exchange, and, ultimately, we could "plan" for the future.  The idea of A Human Future had deep consequences for our belief systems - that is, our association of what happened in the world and why and how we were part of it.  Without an idea of a future, as realized by reliably imagining one and living to see it realized, there was no sense in having the belief of destiny nor dominion nor property.  A world without delay and of only immediate consequences is one outside of time and outside of storing up - storing up resources, storing up frustrations, storing up weaponry, storing up ideas.    In a nomadic, temporary world - to store is to encumber and to encumber is to be too slow to keep on.

 

In almost all accounts of big, long history agriculture and its resultant consequences is reverently viewed for all that it enabled.  The great spread of human civilization - its tooling, its trading, its Metal Ages, its science, its culture.  While these are all interesting and complex phenomena, they aren't necessarily good nor are they necessarily bad.  They certainly have produced an incredible proliferation of humanity for many tens of thousands of years.  And they've also come with extreme consequences for humans and non-humanity alike. 

 

The ability to delay consequences and harbor resources for science and tools and culture also provides those resources for warring, tribalism, weaponry, radicalized ideologies.  Oddly the delayed consequences have a downside that more false beliefs/non-true ideas about how reality works can fester unchecked.  For a Neolithic person a non-true assessment of a situation would likely carry grave consequences.  In the modern world, where most immediate needs for survival are assumed, especially in the West, a person can carry extremely non-true ideas about how reality works and what their place is in the world for decades.  And this is at the root of our current confused and violent situation.

 

Humans have warmed the planet possibly passed the point of being able to reverse course before there are dire consequences for humans and non-humans.  Humans have killed of an incredible number of species before they knew those species even existed.  Humans cure illness and disease and pests only to unleash unintended stronger adversarial viruses, bacteria and pests.  Humans craft new computational tools and methods with almost no thought to possible downstream uses.  Humans social and civil organization is now dominated by the wealthiest even in its most praised form of Democracy. 

 

Often all these pessimistic observations are rebuffed with the 100 year old idea of "Creative Destruction."  That is, eventually we end up solving all these things and this is just the natural course of a free market of progress.  It is also constantly remarked that we live in the lowest violence era in human history.  These rebuttals are really just more consequence of Long Delays.  Most of us do not live to see the consequences of these complex contingency chains we set in motion.  We are never put to task for our false predictions, category errors, and misassociation blunders.

 

Our religions, all the major monotheistic ones, are all about pushing consequences into the "next life."  Our popular moral philosophies typically justify various activities on the rather weak argument about doing it "for our children."  We insure, amortize, capital expense, socially secure, in-debt, mortgage for generations into the future.    All done because we've falsely assumed (or at least not proven to be absolutely true) that somehow, some way it all works out.  We can't even define what that working out would be except within our own delayed, selfish terms - does each of our own families and our own heritage and our own way of life carry on. 

 

We do not live in a less violent time - we have pushed the violence into the future and out of immediate human physicality.  We've hidden our brutality of this world in our technology and our obsessions with new media.  The most popular video game on the planet is Call of Duty - multiple billions of dollars in revenue.  As our world virtualizes more and more how will we all distinguish the violence in that reality from real violence?  We've ravaged our oceans with pollution and heat and they are rising.  We've fracked the Earth into earthquakes in middle America.  A huge chunk of the Wests GDP goes towards weaponizing - not education and end of life care.  Our sense of identity and place in this world has gone haywire - racism and sexism is still rampant. That terrorism still works is a proof point.  Terror doesn't need thousands of beheadings - just a few and a lot of YouTube views.  Militaries don't need millions of troops in lines razing each other down, just thousands joystick controllers flying drones.  Violence evolved in the resource of delay we provide it.

 

What repugnant, bizarre thread ensnares almost all of us in these violent delayed consequences?  Shame.  We are all shaming each other for not responding to the same consequences.  The delayed consequences act like a microphone and speaker in the shrieking feedback loop.  The complexity of delayed abuse is doubling back and echoing on top.  We can't cure all suffering, so please cure mine.  We shame each other into more mental abuse of ourselves so that we are incapacitated.  In this shame we trigger the worse natures of ourselves - we lash out in the dark fog of delayed consequences.  We hit anything in front of us we can just to feel something now, feel anything now.  We are ashamed all those future plans and stored up resources didn't real free us as we assumed and passed on.  We are ashamed to be ashamed - so we still treat different skin less worthy unable to admit our shame.

 

The arc of human history is long but most of it was before we began our short descent into delayed awareness. And here it is.  The only hope. To be here now.  To recognize now, not in the delayed future that isn't yours nor mine, we were wrong.  We will always be wrong.  When we decide we have answers or we decide to store more than what is needed for now - we wrong something else that has just as much right to existence as we do.  Our shameful fight for the righteous, controllable future is what destroys the now for us and the future for others.

 

Resources for further consideration:

The Ascent of Man, J. Brownoski

The Origin of the Species, Darwin

Sex, Time and Power, Leonard Shlain

Guns, Germs and Steel, J. Diamond

Ishmael, D. Quinn

30,000 Years of Art, Phaidon

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (movie), W. Herzog

Between The World and Me, T. Coates

The Communist Hypothesis, Alain Badiou

The Silence of Animals, J. Gray

Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson

Beyond Freedom and Dignity, BF Skinner

Plato at the Googleplex, R Goldstein

I Am A Strangeloop, D. Hofstader

Better Angels of Our Nature, S Pinker

Making Money, O. Berg

Property is Theft, Proudhon

The Blind Watchmaker

The Selfish Gene, R Dawkins

anything by Martha Nussbam

 

and about a thousand other resources.  I borrow language and ideas from all of them, perhaps, occasionally adding something new.