I recently started reading Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil. The book begins describing the first forager civilizations. Being a forager sucked. You went around hunting with your tribe for food. If you killed an animal or caught some fish, you could eat and live another day to do it all over again. If you didn’t, you’d die. As I was reading this section, I went to the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It’s amazing. If you haven’t been to Mexico City or the Museum of Anthropology, you should absolutely go if you can. In it, there was an exhibit that chronicled the evolution of Mexican civilization from foragers to an agrarian one. It reconfirmed my suspicion that being a forager totally sucked.
Life got better as humans developed the skills necessary to stay put and farm land. And then it proceeded to get even better as we found new ways to adapt to the world (or adapt the world to us) over time. We invented things – tools, medicines, technologies, governance, and more – and through centuries of trial and error as we accumulated knowledge these things interacted with one another, compounding to make life even better, faster.
Every day we are surrounded by chaos and proclamations that the world is heading towards irreversible catastrophe. There’s a lot to be upset and despondent over, but lately I’ve been forcing myself to zoom out and appreciate just how blessed we are to be alive right now. We’ve come unfathomably far over such a short period of time in the grand scheme of human history. It’s an absolute miracle and testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of humans. So while we face very real risks both presently and in the future, I believe they are surmountable, and that at the end of the day we will find a way to continue to progress.
Life is hard and can be unpleasant when you’re constantly reacting to the bombardment of “Everything is Fucked!” It is so much more pleasant and productive when appreciating and acknowledging our collective and continuous progress. The climate crisis, pandemics, the erosion of democracy – all of these things are very real threats to our existence and our ability to make progress – but we are well equipped to tackle them and continue on our trajectory of constantly doing spectacular things.