50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do not read this if you are depressed or are easily depressed. I’m not kidding. I hope I’m proven wrong. I really do.

I write this on the day I turn 63 while thinking about the future. Usually, I’m extremely positive about the future, probably because I love science fiction. However, if I wrote a science fiction novel today I’m afraid it would be a pessimistic apocalyptic novel. Normally I hate being cynical, but I thought for this essay I’d let it all hang out. I’ve spent my whole life assuming we were getting smarter and we’d become a rational species before we made ourselves extinct. I now think I’m wrong. We’re going to cross the finish line before we can get our shit together. Up until a century ago, the world was safe because there wasn’t enough of us, and the Earth’s carrying capacity could absorb our endless acts of stupidity.  My bet is those saving graces will run out in the next one or two hundred years. We won’t go extinct, but our global civilization will be stillborn and collapse. The once mighty homo sapiens will end up being subsistence farmers and fishing folk, and the industrial civilization will fade into distant myths. So it goes.


I doubt many people will read this essay, and I beg anyone with a depressive nature not to read these cases I present to make my point because they are truly depressing. Since I am not a true cynic, I hope I am proven wrong. These essays are just random articles I’ve run across recently, in no particular order, but taken as a whole paint a very bleak picture for the human race.  And it’s so sad because most people are good, and many people are smart, and we should be much better than our collective self.

I think there will be a number of reasons for our downfall, and they roughly fall into these categories:

  • Pollution.  The byproducts of billions of human lives are overwhelming the ecosystem. Rising CO2 levels is just one of many indicators that we are self-destructing.
  • Scarcity. We’re using everything up.
  • Theocracy. If it wasn’t for Islamic fundamentalism the globe would be mostly quiet regarding wars. But the more we work to stop worldwide terrorism it’s pretty obvious that’s there is an unresolvable conflict between democracy and theocracy. Even in America, there is an upwelling for theocracy. I believe such movements are causing civil wars around the globe, and we’re seeing the emergence of World War III. Theocracy is the evil our Founding Fathers feared when they created the Constitution.
  • Inequality. Social order breaks down when there is too much inequality, and inequality is on a sharp increase.
  • Corruption. Wealth and plutocracy protect the few against the many and this undermines order.
  • Crime. As the population density increases, resources dwindle, inequality grows, humans attack each other.
  • Extinction. We are currently in another mass extinction event. There have been several in the history of Earth. Humans are the cause of this one.
  • Hate. As our problems grow with more and more fellow humans sharing the planet, we lash out at each other.
  • Tyranny. As long as billions are oppressed by political and social injustice then we haven’t developed a practical political system to support humans on Earth.
  • Misogyny.  Hatred of women is so deep rooted in all the cultures of the world that for many, including women, it’s hard to see. As we approach the world’s first global civilization freedom for women is on the rise. Sadly, this freedom will be the first to go when things fall apart.
  • Prejudice. For all the enlightenment we’ve achieved in the last fifty years over race and sexual orientation there are strong indications that many people are still ignorant of the scopes of their prejudices.
  • Xenophobia. Many among us can’t get over their tribal instincts.
  • Disease. Drug-resistant diseases are on the rise, and the global spread of dangerous diseases because of transportation and warming climates indicate the revenge of mother nature is near.
  • Denial.  There are too many reality deniers among us. Up to now, we’ve been able to deny the gloom and doom of the population bomb, our inherent stupidity, and greed, because the Earth could absorb our mistakes. We deluded ourselves into believing we could always beat the system. Well, the bill is coming due, and we can’t pay the check.

These are some of our main Achilles heels that will bring about our downfall. People used to think God would save us, many still do. More recently, we thought we could save ourselves, especially with science and technology.  I use to think that. I wish I still did.  Most people live with their heads in the sand, cramming their minds with sports statistics, shopping for new cars, planning a wedding, buying Christmas presents, and ignoring all the dying canaries falling from the sky. If you think I’m wrong read just a fraction of the articles I list below. I firmly believe we know enough to solve our problems, I just doubt we have the collective will to work together to get the job done.

  1. Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure” – 60 Minutes. It’s not that we can’t fix these problems, we’re just too cheap and short-sighted to do so.
  2. A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” – Rolling Stone. Some men don’t have a clue to how evil they are to women. If this is the best and the brightest, at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning, then I rest my case. [This article has been proven false, but the whole story behind that is another reason for depression.]
  3. Depleting the water” – 60 Minutes.  Jared Diamond wrote a huge book about past collapsing civilizations. Even when older civilizations saw the end coming they didn’t change course. Neither are we.
  4. Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Texts” – The Daily Beast. Greed and self-interest know no bounds.
  5. Stop Trying to Save the World” – The New Republic. No matter how hard we try to do good we seem to fail. Do-gooders just can’t outwit stupidity and bad guys.
  6. Iran Nuke Deal: A Matter of War or Peace” – The Daily Beast. It’s not the war on terror, but the war of theocracy v. democracy. Three great religions claim to have the same God. Do their animosities end when they die and go to heaven, or does God segregate paradise by faith?
  7. The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa” – Der Spiegel. Didn’t believe my point in #6? Try this one, and wonder if WWIII hasn’t already started.
  8. Hell is Other People” – GQ (British). This is what happens when civilization collapses. That seems to be happening a lot lately. This is what humans are really like when there’s no big government to rule them. Yeah, that’s a fuck you to my Tea Party friends.
  9. Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone – Especially the Wealthy” – The New Republic. Everyone should read Thomas Piketty.
  10. The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi” – The New York Times. With all the money we spend on education, with all the discoveries of science, why do so many people still embrace bullshit ideas?
  11. Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram” – The New York Times. Without big government guys with guns rule. Is this what the NRA means when it says “An armed society is a polite society?”
  12. In Brazilian city, homeless face ‘extermination’” – Aljazeera America. As our population grows, and we compete for less and less, we seem to lose our higher natures.
  13. Groundwater declines across U.S. South over past decade” – Climate.gov. New NASA satellites can measure ground water, and we’re using it up so fast that ground is sinking all around the world.
  14. The Horror Before the Beheadings” – The New York Times. From another front of WWIII.
  15. Poor teeth” – aeon. Is this how a great nation takes care of its citizens? As long as the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” attitude prevails in America, we’re heading downhill.
  16. ”Hurt That Bitch”: What Undercover Investigators Saw Inside a Factory Farm.” – Mother Jones. What if the survival of our species depends on how kind we are to animals? A certain percentage of humans are evil to other humans – is that the same folks who are evil to animals? Or do we have two problem groups to deal with?
  17. The Ebola Wars” – The New Yorker. Ebola can be easily contained if you have a big government. Science can destroy Ebola if we have a big government that supports science.  You know the next line I would write.
  18. The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate” – Deadspin. Some men just don’t have a clue about women. Their minds have never evolved out of the Neolithic, yet they are a product of the 21st-century education and culture. When civilization starts circling the drain, I advise women to kill all the men and take up cloning for reproduction.
  19. Where the Tea Party Rules” – The Rolling Stone. America is coming undone, and it’s not because people are bad. Most Americans are good, salt of the Earth folk who do the best they can. But things keep falling apart. We can’t go back, and we can’t work together to go forward.
  20. My Terrifying Night With Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord” – New Republic.  The real Katniss Everdeen who fights the dystopian world order called democracy. If you had the choice between dystopia and chaos, which would you pick? The decisions we have to make are very complicated.
  21. George Clooney, South Sudan and How the World’s Newest Nation Imploded” – Newsweek. Report from another front in WWIII. This war is not going to come to an armistice.
  22. Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming” – New Republic. We could solve the global warming problem, it’s why we don’t that’s the real problem with our species. Climate change is another world war, one we’re ignoring. You can’t win if you don’t fight.
  23. A Hundred Women” – The New Yorker. One measure of how civilization is succeeding is to study how women are being treated around the world.
  24. Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash” – Pro Publica. As long as we have a plutocracy we’re not going to solve many of our problems because money always trumps common good.
  25. The Fight of Their Lives” – The New Yorker. Strangely, many Kurds are Sunni, just like ISIL/ISIS, yet they want to destroy each other. Not all Islamic people are the same. The ones we call terrorists do not believe in borders. They are a threat to everyone that does not believe exactly like they do. Their brand of Islam is now spreading across the world. How do you have a global civilization that requires a choice between independent democratic nation states versus a borderless theocratic world rule?
  26. Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson” – The Atlantic. Why does skin color divide us so? The color of our skin is about as important as the color of our shirts. What drives this senseless hatred?
  27. Was Moses a Founding Father?”  – The Atlantic. How different is this from the Taliban or ISIS?
  28. The Case for Reparations” – The Atlantic.  They say Christianity teaches compassion. Does this sound like a nation of Christians?
  29. Zero Percent Water” – Medium.  Like CO2, H20 is one strong indicator of our future.
  30. Meet the College Women Who Are Starting a Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault” – New York.  How can this problem exist if these are our daughters – and sons?
  31. Young Carlos” – New York. Conservatives won’t do anything about climate change, but also hate new folks moving in. Being a climate change denier means learning to live with the side-effects of the thing you refuse to see. Maybe you’ll change your mind when all those people from out west moves east to find water. People move to America now because there’s less population, more equality, more opportunity. The I’ve got mine, fuck you philosophy fails us ultimately because if we have it good and everyone else doesn’t, they are going to come check us out. Think global, act locally.
  32. China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet” – Rolling Stone. How can we say “Don’t be like us.”
  33. Nuclear Tourism” – National Geographic.  Is Chernobyl the portrait of Earth without people?
  34. The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys” – The Atlantic. The title says it all.
  35. Will Misogyny Bring Down the Atheist Movement?” – BuzzFeed. Even the sons of the Enlightenment treat women badly.
  36. Zoonotic Diseases” – National Geographic. The complexity of the biosphere is astounding. But our ignorance and cruelty are more astounding.
  37. Hell in the Hot Zone” – Vanity Fair. Ebola is not the scariest thing about the outbreak, it’s us.
  38. Son, Men Don’t Get Raped” – GQ.  The lack of empathy in some humans compared to the compassion in others illustrates how far we have to go to change and save ourselves. You decide if we can make it.
  39. Dignity” – The New Yorker. Another report from the front on inequality.
  40. The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out by Religious Families” – Rolling Stone. I should have put “Intolerance” on the list above. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. It’s a shame that religion is often not the solution.
  41. Why not kill them all?” – London Review of Books. What if America was like this? It will be like big government breaks down.
  42. How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy” – Businessweek. Sometimes an evil dictator is better than chaos. It’s hard to start a democracy.
  43. Putin Dreams of Empire” – New Yorker. Why is it still about alpha males?
  44. The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers” – Smithsonian. If humans lack empathy for other humans, why expect them to feel for animals?
  45. The Social Laboratory” – Foreign Policy. Will it require Big Brother to bring about law and order?
  46. Gambling with Civilization” – The New York Review of Books. By denying reality to preserve their self-interests, aren’t Republicans gambling with our future?
  47. Two degrees” – Vox. CO2 is how we set the global thermostat.  Changing it two degrees will have untold consequences. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.
  48. A Convenient Excuse” – The Phoenix.  Addicts are great a rationalizing another fix.
  49. Climate Change and the End of Australia” – Rolling Stone.  It’s one thing to deny what might happen, it’s a whole other thing to deny what’s right in front of us.
  50. The Battle Over Climate Science” – Popular Science.  Don’t kill the messenger.  The real reason why we won’t survive is too many of us are reality deniers. We rationalize, we put off, we shirk, we ignore, we pretend, we lie, we escape in fantasies.

Happy Birthday to me. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll go back to being positive.

[I wrote an update to this essay for my 64th Birthday.]

[The only book I’ve read since writing this that has given me hope is Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. 3/10/17]

Survivors (BBC 1975-1977)

Ever since I gave up cable TV years ago I’ve discovered I really love finding a TV series and watching it from the first to last episode.  Preferably from Netflix streaming, but DVDs are an okay second choice.  Watching a complete TV series is like enjoying a very long novel.  I listen to novels all the time, so I’m used to their length in hours.  Average novels are 10-20 hours.  Recently I listened to Anna Karenina and it was 42 hours.  I’ve just finished 38 episodes of Survivors which ran on the BBC for three seasons (series as they say) from 1975 till 1977.  Each episode was slightly less than an hour, so the entire run was equal to one long novel.  It’s a shame actual novels aren’t filmed this way.

Survivors is a post-apocalyptic story set in England about a handful of people who survive a world-wide plague.  In the course of the story we hear that only 1 person in 5,000 survived, another time they guessed 1 in 10,000.  This plague is far more virulent than the famous Black Plague of the middle ages.  Viewers assume the plague was engineered as a bio-weapon from the opening credits.


In the first season Greg, Jenny and Abby each find themselves alone among the dead.  They strike out on their own with very different plans but they eventually meet up and work to survive together.  Most of the episodes deal with finding food, encountering other bands of survivors with different agendas for surviving, wild dogs and rats, and much talk about how to start civilization all over again.  The driving plot of the first season is Abby’s desperate need to find her son who was away at boarding school when the death came.  Greg and Jenny agree to help her enthusiastically at first, but as the season progresses and chances dim, become reluctant to keep traveling.

In the second season, Jenny and Greg have settled with others on a farm and the season is about rebuilding civilization at the rural level.  Charles, a new main character replaces Abby.  Each episode deals with various post-apocalyptic issues, like having babies, finding medicine, fighting roving bands of thugs, producing methane for tractor fuel, handling dysfunctional people, how to decide who does what jobs, making alliances with other settlements, developing trade, and so on.  Many fans didn’t like this season because the action slows.  Stories are about raising sheep and cabbages.  I actually like the second season quite a lot.  Each episode dealt with true post-apocalyptic problems.

For the last season, Jenny, Greg and Charles travel most of the season seeing other settlements, promoting trade, and hoping to get electricity going again.  Our characters do a lot of horseback riding around rural England and Scotland.  Fans felt the action picked up in the third season. 

It’s too bad this show is 1970s television technology because the bucolic scenery, old manor houses, and rustic farms would have been beautiful in modern high definition.  There was a 2008 remake of Survivors that only ran for two short seasons that gives us a taste of what could have been.  The original series never had big production values but that never bothered me because after-the-collapse stories are among my favorite fictional themes, and living is inherently low tech in such a scenario.

Overall, I really enjoyed Survivors, which is only available on DVD through Netflix, so I had to wait patiently for each new disc.  Sadly, the discs are old and scratched so I don’t know how much longer they will be available.  There is a 6-disc set of the entire three seasons at Amazon that came out in 2010, but I wonder how long they will stay in print.  Plus the set is on 5 double-sided “flippy” DVDs and 1 single sided DVD.  In England and Australia the set was on 11 single sided discs.  I consider it bad form, lack of respect and cheapness to put shows on double-sided DVDs, which keeps me from buying it.  I enjoyed the series enough that I know I’ll want to watch them again in the future, but I don’t want to buy it with flippy discs. 

Evidently this show still has lots of fans in England, but it’s little known in America.  That’s too bad because it’s a intriguing show.  It’s not fantastic, but it is thought provoking and I liked the characters.  I was sad they fired Carolyn Seymour who played Abby at the end of the first season.  And many appealing secondary characters get killed – but hey, that’s what life would be like after the collapse.  Survivors introduced many secondary characters over the course of the three seasons, several of which I really got to like before they disappeared or were killed off.

The show had lots of room to grow because of all these additional characters, and I’m sorry the producers and writers didn’t explore their lives more.  Instead of 13 episode seasons the concept could easily have supported 26 episode per year, and the entire show could have run five or six years without running out of interesting topics to pursue.  But then I like technical stuff.  I’d gladly would have watched several episodes about getting the steam trains running again, or getting tractors to run off of methane.  The 1970s was a big back to nature era and this show would have been perfect for the Mother Earth News crowd.

To me, the Gold Standard of post-apocalyptic novels is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart.  In England I assume it’s The Day of the Triffids.  Only Earth Abides takes its story into the third generation after the collapse.  When they remade Survivors in 2008, they should have started with the second or third generation after the original 1975-1977 series.  The actors who play Abby, Jenny and Greg are still alive, so it would be interesting to see them reprise their roles as grandparents.  Instead they modernize the original series and brought in a ridiculous secret government program.

Since Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, every generation has imagined what life would be like if civilization collapsed.  The list of novels is long, and there have been many movies dealing with the theme, but there have been few television shows covering the topic. Survivors, both 1975 and 2008, are the standouts, along with Jericho from 2006-2008.

JWH – 7/8/12

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

For the last several years I’ve been rereading the science fiction books that I fondly remember as being great when I first read them back in the 1960s and 1970s.  I’m looking for the books that have a lifetime of meaning, that hold up to a second reading after I’ve acquired an additional 30-40 years of wisdom.  It’s easy to find a mind blowing book at 13, it’s much harder at 58.  I’m also trying to find out why science fiction has been important to me my whole life.

Earth Abides is a novel I’d rank right up there in science fictional vision with The Time Machine.  Unfortunately, it is not as famous.  Earth Abides succeeds magnificently at storytelling and philosophy, the two most important ingredients that I’ve come to admire the most.  Science fiction, like mystery and romance novels, are generally seen as an escapist literatures, but great storytelling combined with deep philosophical insight often produces the classics of each genre, like The Maltese Falcon and Pride and Prejudice.


Most bookworms classify genre books by general topics, so if it’s about a murder, its a mystery, if its about love, its a romance, if its about alien invasions its science fiction.  I think that’s too crude to define the soul of science fiction.  At its core, a classic science fiction novel needs to have a unique philosophical vision about reality that speculates on the future.  Science fiction is never about predicting the future, but exploring all the possible futures. 

All during my life Earth Abides has reminded of the crucial nature of civilization, and I’ve worried more about its death than my own.  Most people are concerned with the birth of civilization, and learning such history is well and good, but knowing that it can be taken away is more important.  Earth Abides belongs to a sub-genre of science fiction that teaches about the end of mankind.

By reexamining the science fiction books I loved in youth, I’ve sought their secrets by seeking out the very best examples.  From this I’ve learned that certain storytelling techniques combined with the right philosophical explorations produce classic science fiction novels.  Science used to be called natural philosophy, and the best science fiction is written by natural philosophers and not scientists. 

George R. Stewart explores dozens of philosophical issues in Earth Abides, first published in 1949.  Many of the questions he asks his readers to ponder didn’t become common ideas until the 1960s or 1970s.   Stewart creates a plot that takes the reader through many scenes where I can’t help but believe they will stop their reading and start fantasizing about what they would do in the same situation.  That’s a great storytelling technique if you can pull it off.  One of the many reasons why The Time Machine is so great is because readers will ponder where they would go in time.  Earth Abides gets its readers to think about being the last person on Earth, and then when a few more people are found, how would they rebuild civilization.

I first read Earth Abides over thirty years ago, and it’s always stuck in my mind, a very memorable story that I’ve told people about again and again.  This month I returned to that novel by listening to a recent audiobook edition that commemorated it’s 60th anniversary.  

Remember the 2007 book The World Without Us or the TV shows Life After People and Aftermath: Population Zero?  These nonfiction works asks what the world would be like if people suddenly disappeared.  Earth Abides used the same concept in a novel back in 1949, but in George R. Stewart’s story, a handful of people do survive to chronicle the decay of civilization.  I’ve always loved stories like Mysterious Island, Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, about people stranded on a deserted island.  Earth Abides is about one man, Isherwood Williams, who survives an airborne plague that kills off almost the entire world population, leaving only a few survivors in each city.

Isherwood, who goes by Ish, wants to rebuild civilization but can’t.  Ish is an intellectual who understands science and fascinatingly observes nature’s quick reclamation of  civilization.  Stewart was very aware of ecology and Earth Abides explores ecology in a way that was visionary for its time.  Ish hopes he can preserve knowledge and pass it on to future generations, but the book is relentlessly realistic.

I’ve read a lot of science fiction books, and I put Earth Abides on the same level as The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.  This is science fiction at its best.  I love science fiction because it shows the possibilities for mankind’s futures.  I love to think we’ll always march onward and upward, but what if AIDS had spread like a cold and killed like the Ebola virus?

Fundamentally we like to believe this universe follows the anthropic principle.  Because of this we don’t think our species will die out – we’re destined for greatness, aren’t we?   But what if that’s an illusion?  What if intelligent life in the universe is routinely snuffed out, even after the universe has gone to great lengths to create it?  George R. Stewart claims Earth abides, that Earth will go on fine without people, but he really should have said the multiverse abides.  We know the Earth has its own lifespan and future death.

If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is an old philosophical Kōan.  Without man, who is here to perceive reality?  Life on Earth existed for billions of years before mankind, and might just as well exist for billions of years without us.  Our egos don’t like that idea for a number of reasons.  Theists want to believe reality was created for mankind by God, and atheists like to think reality is ours to understand.  The novel Earth Abides reminds us the reality is indifferent to us, and we have no special place in it.  We are equal to all things that come and go.  Mankind is one gamma ray burst from non-existence. 

In the book The World Without Us there is no man or woman to chronicle the fate of the Earth.  Stewart was writing fiction, so he needed a narrator to hear the tree fall in the forest, and that is Isherwood Williams.  Through Isherwood Williams we feel what life on Earth without humans feels like.  At first Ish is totally alone, but then he meets a few other survivors.  There are so few people left that we’re not sure if humans won’t die out.  Many readers consider this bleak, although Stewart wants us to think humanity will make it, he’s less sure we will recreate technological civilization.

Are We Our Machines?

By the end of the novel, the descendents of Isherwood Williams are simple hunting and gathering tribe.  They have no idea what technology, literature, medicine, history and all our other forms of knowledge are, and even though they know they live in the ruins of a dead civilization, they can only think of the makers of that collapse society as the mythical Americans.  They even wonder if the Americans made the hills and land.  We live with computers, smart phones, cars, televisions, electricity, and so much other technology that we are defined by it.  Earth Abides shows us what it would be like to exist without machines.  Can you imagine such a life?

The great thing about being stranded on an island stories is we get to imagine ourselves in the same situation and wonder what we’d do.  It’s like the TV show Survivor.  Would you be one of the people who build the huts, finds the food and tends the fire, or would you just mooch off the people who do?  How much do you contribute to civilization now and how much are you a parasite of it?  Are you and I even adding to our own destruction of civilization?

What Kind of Survival Person Are You?

George R. Stewart ends up subtly judging people in Earth Abides which turns out to be one of the more revealing aspects of the novel.  Ish is a thinking man who seldom acts, and he knows it.  He is constantly tortured by picturing what might happen and agonizes that he can’t convince the others to prepare for the future.  Isherwood Williams is probably like most bookworms who will embrace this book.  I know I identify with him completely.

I can’t tell you about the other people without ruining the story, but each represents a type of person you already know – so imagine how your friends would survive and what kind of new civilization they would build.  Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky features the same problem.  If you’re a lawyer you’ll want to make rules.  If you are a carpenter, you’ll want to build houses.  I’m a computer programmer – a skill of little use when there’s no electricity.

In Earth Abides, the first post collapse generation lives off of canned, preserved and dried foods, and by scavenging.  If I had been thrown into this world I think I would have started gardening right away, even though I’m not a gardening person now.  Stewart predicts people won’t show initiative and just adapt to the environment, and he might be right.  But I’d like to believe, like Ish, that everyone should take up a skill to preserve, like the characters in Fahrenheit 451, who memorize books to preserve.

How Many People Does It Take To Maintain Civilization?

In Earth Abides, Ish’s little tribe doesn’t have enough people to rebuild electrical generating stations, or even maintaining water pipes.  If half the population dies I imagine we’d have enough people to rebuild civilization.  But if ninety percent perish, it would be hard.  In Earth Abides only about 1 in 100,000 live, so you can imagine no one wants to  work in factories or coal mines.

If you were in this situation and came across a pig and was hungry, could you kill and butcher it?  Would you know how to gather two pigs and start a pig farm?  Would you start a pig farm as long as you could easily find canned hams and spam?  Stewart explores so many fascinating issues in this book that I think reading it would be mesmerizing to most readers.

I’m Not a Back to Nature Person

Whenever I read a book like Earth Abides, or even just watch an episode of Survivor, I realize that I’m not a back-to-nature kind of guy.  Many people believe that living like the Amish might be spiritually better than living in sin city civilization.  Conservatives believe that progress has gone well beyond usefulness.  I on the other hand, think iPads and space telescopes makes us better people.  But the real philosophical question is:  Is the meaning of life more than just surviving?

The documentaries Life After People and Aftermath: Population Zero (both available at Netflix) illustrate beautifully that nature will recycle most signs of civilization within a couple hundred years, but eventually even the pyramids and Hoover damn will disappear.  I love nature shows, and I don’t mind seeing the Earth taken over by nature again, but I wouldn’t want to live there as the last man on Earth.  I find meaning in progress, not survival.

After the Collapse as a Genre

Mary Shelley wrote The Last Man (1826) about a world-wide plague, and Jack London wrote The Scarlet Plague (1912) about another plague, so apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction has been around awhile.  Actually, The Time Machine (1895) deals with this topic too.  We have to assume the black death gave lots of people the idea, but the end of mankind might go well back into prehistory.  Since Stewart, numerous science fiction novels have dealt with the subject, especially during the cold war years.  But out of all the after the collapse stories I’ve read, Earth Abides is my favorite, and probably for three reasons.

First, the storytelling is wonderful.  Second, Stewart provides so many vivid details that I embrace his well thought-out ideas as completely realistic.  And third, and probably the most important, I really identify with Isherwood Williams.  The whole last hour I was so choked up I couldn’t see – good thing I was listening and not reading.

Quite by accident I started reading A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., which could be a practical sequel to Earth Abides.  It’s books like these that define science fiction.  Anyone wanting to write a science fiction classic needs to study them.

JWH – 4/21/10

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Make Lists, Not War

The Meta-Lists Website

From Earth to the Stars

The Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine Author & Editor Blog

SFF Reviews

Short Reviews of Short SFF

Featured Futures

classic science fiction and more

Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch

Witchcraft, Magick, Paganism & Metaphysical Matters

Pulp and old Magazines

Pulp and old Magazines

Matthew Wright

Science, writing, reason and stuff

The Astounding Analog Companion

The official Analog Science Fiction and Fact blog.

What's Nonfiction?

Where is your nonfiction section please.

A Commonplace for the Uncommon

Books I want to remember - and why

a rambling collective

Short Fiction by Nicola Humphreys

The Real SciBlog

Articles about riveting topics in science

West Hunter

Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat

The Subway Test

Joe Pitkin's stories, queries, and quibbles regarding the human, the inhuman, the humanesque.

SuchFriends Blog

'...and say my glory was I had such friends.' --- WB Yeats

Neither Kings nor Americans

Reading the American tradition from an anarchist perspective


Speculations on the Future: Science, Technology and Society

I can't believe it!

Problems of today, Ideas for tomorrow


Peter Webscott's travel and photography blog

The Wonderful World of Cinema

Where classic films are very much alive! It's Wonderful!

The Case for Global Film

'in the picture': Films from everywhere and every era

A Sky of Books and Movies

Books & movies, art and thoughts.

Emily Munro

Spinning Tales in the Big Apple


hold a mirror up to life.....are there layers you can see?

Being 2 different people.

Be yourself, but don't let them know.

Caroline Street Blog