Dustin Bajer, We are not a disease on the planet. Humans are not a disease

Humans Are Not A Disease On the Planet

You Are Not A Cancer

In response to a comment that humans are cancer on the planet, futurist Stewart Brand replied, “Nah, cancer can’t stop asteroids.”

One of the most destructive cultural narratives we hold is that humans are inherently destructive. That we’ll inevitably destroy the Earth and are a blight, disease, or cancer on the planet. This story is uninspiring, self-defeating, and just plain wrong. Humans are not a disease on this planet.

Nature isn’t a thing but a process of building complexity. It’s a verb, not a noun. Nature is the formation of subatomic particles and simple elements after the big bang. It’s the formation and eventual collapse of stars fused simple elements into complex ones. Nature is complex elements clumping into planets and the evolution of complex chemistry that eventually lead to life. Once life appeared, nature used life to create even more diversity. Anything natural is the product of this process – even cities.

Nature Predates Biology

Not only are we natural, but technologist Kevin Kelly might argue that our minds and anything they produce – language, tools, genetically modified organisms (GMOs)*, artificial intelligence, etc. – are also natural.

“Interestingly enough, nature has a built-in ethic of sorts. Generally speaking, the long arc of nature works to expand the adjacent possible; that is to say that nature uses the tools of the present to create even more tools for the future. Nature is playing what author and religious scholar James P. Carse calls “an infinite game”; any game in which the goal is to keep playing.”Interestingly enough, nature has a built-in ethic of sorts. Generally speaking, the long arc of nature works to expand the adjacent possible; that is to say that nature uses the tools of the present to create even more tools for the future. Nature is playing what author and religious scholar James P. Carse calls “an infinite game”; any game in which the goal is to keep playing.

Being Good Ancestors

Will this decision create more options for the future?

If nature favours creating possibility, we can argue that to work with nature is to create possibility. To work against nature is to reduce it. So while humans are natural, we don’t always act in ways that align with it. One way to work with nature is to practice long-term thinking:

  • Am I interacting in ways that increase the potential of others?
  • *Will this decision create more options for the future?
  • Am I being a good ancestor?
  • Will this act increase diversity and complexity?

These questions steer my work wok in unexpected ways, and while the answers aren’t always clear-cut, people (like Brand and Kelly) and organizations like the Long Now Foundation seek to create a new and more helpful cultural narrative around long-term thinking and a future-rich in possibilities.

Humans are not a disease. Now, let’s go stop some asteroids.

Dustin Bajer, We are not a disease on the planet. Humans are not a disease
 Until now, no species has ever had the ability to stop this catastrophic cycle. Stopping one extinction-level asteroid would make up for (but not justify) all the harmful things we have ever done to our planet.