When I was younger, I was convinced that my future lay in the stars. Maybe it does. Maybe not. Maybe taking our race to the stars leads to nothing but a future of Malthusian overpopulation and endless strife. Maybe it leads to destruction as the more of us there are, the more chance we discovers something which should have stayed in the box. Maybe it leads to an even worse hell. Life doesn’t end with us. Evolution doesn’t stop with us. The image in my mind when I think of a Malthusian future is not one with people fighting and starving and dying. Nowhere near. Even the middle ages were not Malthusian, not really. It’s more than Malthusian. It’s the end of the dream time. It’s past the point where evolutionary drives have adapted to the environments where we find ourselves in. It’s where the tricks we play on our hind brains no longer work. Where we crave offspring, not sex. Where we calculate every transaction based on how it benefits us rather than relying on easily gamed monkey tribe instincts weak enough to allow for cooperative civilization. I see terror in the loss of everything we value and are as evolution relentlessly optimizes us for survival and reproduction. In the very long run, escaping the evolutionary rat race is a necessity. It’s also nigh impossible. Stop biological evolution and we continue to evolve technologically, eventually altering our bodies and minds until baseline humans are no longer viable. Stop all individual level change whatsoever and evolution continues unimpeded at the societal level. Groups which can attract and convert more people grow. Those that can’t die out.
Why isn’t this happening already? Two explanations. One, it is. There aren’t many hunter gatherers around these days. Two, we’re in a rare lucky period where relatively non-coercive power structures are the most effective. This won’t always be the case. It wasn’t the case 500 years ago. We’ve fallen from grace before. When we transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, our lives became worse, more hierarchical. (Aside: Worse by what metric? We became less free, but we were slaves to other man rather than the environment. Is that really worse? For the first time we could gather and save knowledge. We could start to understand. Rather than being born anew with every death and birth, we could pass on parts of ourselves. Isn’t the promise of immortality worth suffering?) We descended not because any individual chose to but because societies organized in one way systematically out-competed (destroyed) those organized in another. The modern state with it’s protection of individual rights is not magic. It doesn’t exist because we happened to decide that torture and violence and hierarchy and horror were bad. No. Medieval states burned and slaughtered for as long as they could. It happened because after the invention of firearms fielding an effective army required huge numbers of citizens rather than a small core of highly trained knights. It happened because open societies innovate drastically faster than closed ones. It happened because open societies course correct better than closed ones (I think?). It’s not magic. It’s natural selection. It may continue. It may not. If the environment changes again, if new technology makes totalitarianism much easier and lower cost, if it makes the proletariat interchangeable with capital, it’s unlikely we as a species will be able to voluntarily restrict competition and stick with our preferred forms of social organisation. Not yet anyway.