Monday, July 10, 2006

We're Orcs So Of Course We Chose Saruman

In his wonderful essay titled "A Hobbit's Choice: Saruman or Sam", Alex Macsporan argues that we have a choice to make at this point in our history. However, the more I think about it, the more I am certain the choice was made years ago, when Tolkien was writing or even before, and that choice was Saruman because we are orcs, not elves. We have multiplied relentlessly, thrown morality to the winds, destroyed any and all that stood in our paths, and now act surprised as we come to the edge of a world staring at its own death. What exactly should orcs have expected from orcish behavior anyway?

And mind you, we're not done yet either. When things get really bad, our really bad side will come out for all to see. Homo sapiens will slay homo sapiens. I daresay we might even hear of cannibalism as our species makes its last mad dash for superstitious nonsense like "infinite growth" as presented by economists. Of course, I do credit Macsporan with identifying the modern day Grima Wormtongues of our own era - growth-centric economists who glibly go on assuming that the pseudo-science they constructed out of whole cloth will continue uninterrupted even as it attempts to violate the laws of physics.

However, Macsporan's call for a "different way" falls on mostly deaf ears. It does so because that is just not what we are, nor how nature selected us to be. We are prolific killer-scavengers (hunter-gatherers by another name) and we will continue killing and scavenging because that is our nature. We are neither the dwarves nor the elves of Tolkien's Middle Earth. We are not even the hobbits, but rather, we are the orcs - those ugly, greedy, selfish, murderous thugs of beings who focus solely on their immediate self-interest to the exclusion of all else.

I occasionally see damnedfools thinking we will all become hunter-gatherers and return to an Eden-like existence. But as Jared Diamond and others have documented, the life of the primitive hunter-gatherer is not the peaceful, idyllic existence assumed by so many romanticists. While we decry the death rates in our own societies, the violent death rates amongst primitive hunter-gatherers were orders of magnitude higher, ranging from several dozen per hundred thousand population to literally hundreds per hundred thousand population on an annual basis.

And despite the romantic wishful thinking of the would-be hunter-gatherers over at sites like Anthropik, every time hunter-gatherers have come up against agrarian cultures, they have lost. It doesn't matter that most of the arable land today is trashed - there is still some small fraction more to be trashed after the coming crash and that means more agrarian societies. Further, in the interim, it is likely that some of the arable areas will recover ecologically, again spurring further agrarian societies. Our future is unlikely to be wandering tribes of hunter-gatherers, though some such tribes may exist. No, our future is more likely to be a few feudal lords with most of the rest of us as agrarian serfs eternally bound to the land over which we will slave, and die. A lucky few might be born as children of craftsman or other specialists supported by the agrarian masses.

No, there is no way out of this mess by hoping and wishing for a pseudo-elvish lifestyle to suddenly become the goal of most humans. It's not going to happen. So what can we do? We could begin to deliberately plan for the agrarian era to come, creating the modern equivalent of the monasteries of the Dark Ages that carried some fraction of the knowledge of Rome and Greece forward to another era. Yes, the only viable strategy is to begin building "arks" or survival compounds intended to house both knowledge and the personnel necessary to carry that knowledge forward as well as the personnel and equipment necessary to defend that knowledge from destruction. I don't expect us (homo sapiens) to do this on any wide scale because it's an open admission of defeat. But perhaps some wise and wealthy benefactor will take this notion under his or her wing and nurture it, with an eye towards the coming collapse and what must inevitably come afterwards.