Occupy Civilization

I was reading a political rant today on one of my favorite FaceBook pages, when I came across the following statement:

And I don’t know why even the experts, (If they are experts) just don’t simply completely remedy things instead of making it more complicated. For those who say that that’s an over simplified way of looking at things, I say to you: “Well. Being complicated got you what? Good luck with that.”

Being the the guy I am, I thought to myself. “I’m your huckleberry!”

But before I had a chance to speak, someone else posted a response. It read in part,

Besides the hippies living in the forest, Americans live a lifestyle completely dependent on cheap goods and food given and processed to us by the use of oil.
As long as there is a buyer, for global security, and the procurement of oil, there will be a seller, the owners of capital who hold our global economy with an oiled fist.

To solve this dependency, Americans must learn to provide and sustain for themselves, and use their time to produce goods and services that benefit humanity, not luxury.

Which I took to mean, “I double-dog dare you!” So I did…

I’ve met the hippies living in the woods, here in Georgia and elsewhere. There are very few of them, because there’s nothing to eat. Building yurts by bending saplings together is fun and cool, but there’s nothing to eat. You can’t have kids living that way either, because they’ll grow up brain-damaged, because there’s nothing to eat.

According to anthropologists, the uncultivated Earth had a maximum carrying capacity of just a few million human beings, living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. At the end of the last ice age, there were about as many people on Earth as there are in the metro Atlanta area today. Everything beyond that is a product of the agricultural revolution: human civilization and all the complexities it carries with it.

Until the 1970’s, the carrying capacity of the cultivated Earth was about 3 billion people. Since the start of the "second agricultural revolution" we’ve added another 4 billion people to the planet. Before that, famines routinely killed millions of people, not only in East Africa (where famine remains an all-too-frequent problem), but across the globe. To the extent hunger remains a problem today, it is not from a lack of food, but from a lack of transportation infrastructure and government regulation to ensure the food is distributed fairly. What used to be an intractable, insolvable, inevitable fact of the human condition is now just a logistical problem. We have all but slain one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

That comes at a cost: There are trade-offs between quantity and quality. Food has become less nutritious, which means you have to eat more to survive, which means more and more people are obese. But the long-term health effects of obesity and diabetes are more manageable than the long-term health effects of starvation, the wars it engenders, and the far worse diseases that come in its wake.

If you ask people how they feel about the direction things are heading, no matter who or when you ask, you get the same answers: The world is always about to end, everything is always falling apart, and life was always better when we were kids. That’s what people think. But this is what the facts reveal: The world today is more peaceful, more prosperous, more democratic, and more egalitarian than it has ever been in human history.

So that’s what being complicated got us: A better life for more people. A LOT more people. In fact, 99% of us wouldn’t be here without it.