It seems to me that a great deal of our current issues are really reflections of our own “edge of box” problem. The current political instabilities not only in the US but all over the world, economic crashes and long recoveries, world hunger, and the focus on climate change are all part of the same issue. We’ve reached the edge of our little universe, now what do we do?
When life is confined it operates in basically two modes, discovery/growth and then organization/conservation. We know this from the turtles we’ve kept in boxes, the fish we have kept in tanks and the other pets that seem to run free but are actually self-confined to a relatively small area around our homes. When life gets to the edge of the box, tank, or yard it turns around and reevaluates it’s domain.
In laboratory experiments and home pet sanctuaries the same thing happens, once the creatures inside the box or cage have fully explored their domains, their behavior changes. Even ants exhibit this behavior, they explore, then set up shop and get about the business of making the most out of their little world.
We humans have explored just about every inch of this planet, there are no doubt a few more nooks and crannies to wiggle into, but for the most part we know where all the edges are. We know that there are no more hidden lands to conquer, no more mysterious seas to cross and we now must make do with what we have, at least for the near future. Travelers can fly, sail, or drive around the world and they will cross no unclaimed airspace, sail no untreaty-ed waters or drive an unowned trail. All of it, the entire world is conquered, claimed, owned, treaty-ed, and administered.
The problem is that when we have reached the edge of our box, in this case the entire planet, what do we do next? It stands to reason that we organize it to run as smoothly as possible. Since there is no gigantic child to drop food in once a day, change our water and pull out the smelly paper and slip in some fresh pages, it’s pretty much up to us.
This didn’t happen yesterday, its been happening for quite a while. I think it’s fair to say that we hit the edge some time in the last century, and we are now going about the business of organizing our domain. Which is what we see as social change and the rise and fall of different ideologies. Everyone has their own ideas about organization, so the stronger ones are getting tried out, some win through to last for a while, and some don’t.
While this is all going on the box is becoming effectively smaller and more peaceful. Would you be surprised to know that the last 50 years have been the most peaceful in the history of mankind? We are learning to live together, confined as we are, out of necessity. Fights still break out, people still push and shove each other for superiority, but now that the room is finite and power is consolidating, upsetting the balance is much less tolerable. The neighbors just don’t like the racket, and they might well call the “Police.”
The box shrinks in another way as we communicate better and store and dispense knowledge more efficiently. Is the Internet a miraculous development or just a natural occurrence in a closed system? The same way a pride of lions, once having staked out their territory, develops a kind of “shorthand” of looks and gestures to communicate while building a collective memory of events that they share. Our scientific knowledge, literary works, political experiences and even religious beliefs are all components of our collective memory, growing daily by leaps and bounds. As they grow they are shared, bringing us all to a kind of common understanding which makes our “box” even smaller.
Just like the creatures on the Galapagos islands we are also beginning to evolve to meet the needs of our environment. The nearest term of that phase is combining all the various forms of mankind, specific adaptations developed in high mountainous areas or harsh sunny savannas are fading and combining into a kind of “Blended Human.” A human who travels all over his or her planet and whose adaptations are based on a global environment, rather than a specific area.
Of course the question of how we will evolve politically, how our society will change and structure itself is yet to really be clear. However, there are hints in the European Union’s crisis and how disparate countries are slowly coming together to solve their collective problems. Perhaps some kind of universal rules of economics will grow out of the present crisis, if not now, then it’s certain they eventually will. The economics of life is one of the key evolutionary principles. How creatures use the resources of their habitat on a daily basis, governs their own adaptation. All closed environments eventually balance or are destroyed. Look to economic progress as the bellwether for humanity’s change.
We are now too close to each other, both physically and in communication, for large concentrations of resources and influence to last long. We may have well seen the beginnings of the last of the super rich either as individuals or entire countries. When the edges of the box are reached the world between begins to flatten, smoothing out differences like fading waves on a pond. Resources are now finite, no new lands of gold remain to raid. For the time being we must all share what we have. As a species we’re actually pretty good at that and we may well evolve to be even better. We didn’t wipe out entire species of predators who were faster and stronger through individual action, we did it by ganging up on them. We work together well.
The time is coming that we will break out of the box, and out into the seemingly endless universe beyond, but I think even then we are likely to find a few more edges on the way. A few more containment periods to muddle through and a few more evolutions to our bodies and psyches. Until then the changes coming will be very interesting. This generation won’t live to see a hundredth of them, but we will certainly guess what they might be with our hopes and worries. However, it’s doubtful either will make much difference in the long run. Perhaps only the difference the dreams and horrors of Homo Habilis affect our Homo Sapiens society today.
At any rate, the times were are living in will define the future for us all. Whether the reduction in violence is due to the more combative being killed off and the more cooperative surviving, or the result of a general change in our species’s attitude toward violence, matters little. If our tendency to communicate more and share more knowledge as time passes is a natural result of our “edge finding” or just a consequence of being packed onto our planet like tuna in a can, doesn’t matter either. Both of these results bode well for our future, we are more sharing, inclusive and cooperative than ever before in our history. That makes the future very bright indeed. We’ll solve our “edge of the box” problem, of that I’m sure.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011