Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Thursday in the Holocene

Over dinner this Tuesday evening, a friend and I discussed our species' more homogeneous future. I suggested that miscegenation and intercultural activity will lead to future generations comprised of individuals that look and act more alike. In turn, violent conflict between human groups will decrease; in this world of mutts, superficial differences such as race and custom will be less visible and therefore less contentious.

My friend shares my hopeful outlook, but expressed skepticism. Citing the Rwandan genocide and the fractious political situation within Israel, he contended that greater physiological and sociological similarity are just as likely to increase conflict. Humans will always find some reason to fight, he believes, and superficial similarity will lead not to a peaceable kingdom, but instead to the exacerbation of subtle differences or the outright invention of philosophical or genetic justifications for the vilification of "the other." I can't dismiss his forecast, but if Homo sapiens sapiens survives long enough to witness that homogeneous era, our species will have learned a great deal more about cooperation. This, I feel, bodes well for the less violent prospect.

But what-if suppositions about the far distant future are of little practical value to the here-and-now. I have faith in teleological eudaimonia, but the lot of Earth's inhabitants won't gradually improve unless our policies and actions are informed principally by consideration of a more immediate future...say, one or two generations. And, although it will be a thousand years, at least, before miscegenation makes all humans mocha, our planet's ecology is right now undergoing drastic changes.

Burkhard Bilger's "Swamp Things" (The New Yorker, April 20, 2009) highlights the explosion of "invasive" species in Florida. Bilger focuses particularly on the success of the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) in the Florida Everglades, but notes that a great variety of exotic species have gained toeholds in the state.
"Florida now has more exotic lizard species than there are natives in the entire [American] Southeast. On a single tree you could conceivably find plants and animals from six continents, including parrots from South America, mynah birds and Old World climbing ferns from Asia, vervet monkeys from Africa, ladybird beetles from Australia, and feral cats from Europe, via Africa and Asia. In some cases, the recent immigrants would be more genetically diverse than their cousins back home. The state's ecology is a kind of urban legend come true -- the old alligator-flushed-down-the-toilet story repeated a thousand times with a thousand species.

Some find all this thrilling. Florida has become an open-air zoo, richer in species than ever before. To others, it's the harbinger of a new and depressingly undifferentiated age, when the old biological borders begin to fade and every place starts to look like every other. Ecologists have even given it a name: the Homogecene."
Indeed, the Homogecene may soon overtake the Holocene.

Note: The post's title is a nod to Christopher Cokinos's terrific essay, "The Consolations of Extinction" (Orion Magazine, May/June 2007). In it, Cokinos
"[suggests] that our PalmPilots and DayMinders and Nature Conservancy calendars show not only year, month, date, and day of the week but also geologic epoch. It’s a Tuesday in the Holocene."
Photo credit: Burmese python and American alligator, copyright 2008, Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service


Donald Frazell said...

Sounds like a SouthPark show where tapioca beings from the future who all look and think alike innundate the town. They come from a terribly overcrowded future, and undercut all the locals pay, as they will take almost anything to live off of. so at first being happy to have such cheap and industrious workers, they get into a frenzy as they all lose their jobs. They took my jaaaahb!

sorta a comment on illegal immigration, but they always meld many topics into one seemingly simple one. As a guilty swirl maker myself, I dont ever see us being all exactly the same, and those always looking to keep others down for any reason, even outside of color. In India, the caste systme is not completely based on darkness of skin. I remember the Armataj(sic) brothers in tennis who were darker than any African, but high caste Hindu's.

But skin color is a huge part of it, the tropic being poorer from lack of raw materials and healthy farmable lands, and overcrowded from lots of, er, luvin, with the heat brinign on sensual desires more readily than the cold. Not much else to do in 90 degree nights, in your south also. Siestas are necessry, and made for a little sumthinsumthin. So a huge pool of cheap labor is readily available, without the resources to compete. Or fight back.

But there will continue to be great differences in animal poulations as most species still are only suitable for certain climates, they are not as adaptable as humans, something we mastered long ago. As we will in the future. Its just that the types of animals will be different, and the ballance rearranged. We got bark beetles eating up our mountain forests, need some kind of foreigh predator to take out the foreign parasite.

The ballance changes. And evolution takes place, survival of the fittest. Many are dependant on man, if we leave an area, some species will die out. Others will move in, its always been this way, just moving more swiftly as we change the environment quicker than usual. Though the earth has been through much greater extremes than we are likely to put on it. All natural. We are just an added cause, for a different effect.

But each degree causes greater changes, and populations will shift, from flooding, drought, and heat. If sustainable forms of affordable energy are not created, wars are far more likely. I am a istory major, and though most will not agree, we are at the by far most peaceful time in human history. War is a constant throughout our past. Kings were warriors, to defend and attack. Peace only for rest and recovery, and dilomacy to outflank your enemies.

we have evolved socialy, the question is, did we plateau? That is my fear, but cant let that stop one. One only learns by doing, not thinking. Thats only good when it leads to action, though direct or indirect means.

Hungry Hyaena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hungry Hyaena said...

Right on, Donald! I think that we'd do well to remember how "progressive" we are today, even as we also strive to protect the progress we've so far made and to instill yet more.

I bad mouth humanity now and again, but I'm a lover, at heart. ;)