Marketing Executive, Henley Business School, Africa.
The privileged have been prolific during lockdown.
With networked processing power and security, we feel wise. We preach innovation – groceries are delivered, children are virtually schooled. Surplus makes adaptation as novel as the virus.
Zoom and OneCart and Netflix and BlackBoard are new life partners. Are you privileged? If you’re reading this on a screen – yes. You’re in the top percentile of secure humans. You’ve been conditioned to believe that you’re less fortunate than you are. Unrivalled ambition got you here, and it fires in you now. We adapt, we learn, we exploit. Don’t panic. Not your fault. Blame the silent mindless process that gave you thumbs and Starbucks. How do I know that natural selection is mindless? That’s a maths question.
It took us 8 million years to curl 1.8% of our DNA away from chimps. An agonizing 0,000000225% a year. You can say it was a divine being if you like – but you’d be giving Them a devastating review. Some good news – the adaption curve is exponential, as emphasis shifts away from purely physical incremental gains, selection is compounded by portfolios of resources.
By the time we got to the top, Sapiens was burned out, so we started doing as little as we could to get as much as we could. This was the dawn of command and control. Dominance, acquisition, power and carbs. Genetic nouveau riche. Idle excess became the ultimate status symbol. Think of how we used to portray the rich: overweight jovial males, draped in pointless baubles – casually wasting of resources.
We’re still programmed to admire a person in a R5m car with two seats and a massive engine as successful. Depreciating value, burning fossils and wasted potential thrust all encapsulated in a display of excess designed to achieve nothing more than the large blue testicles of another ape. I’d say the other ape was more honest and less wasteful.
We built walls and gates, not only for our physical assets but our imagined ones. We conjured laws and companies, currencies and credit into reality. We raised the demons of leveraged capital and derivatives, we allowed future values to be speculated upon by traders who have no sight of the real consequences of their daily stunts. We allowed the creation of false scarcities to over-value certain elements and commodities. We buy chocolate that steals water from children.
We squeeze value out of the bottom of the pyramid – first by enslaving humans to make a higher margin on human effort, then we engineered machines, and then we surrendered huge leverage via advanced algorithms to the smallest number of people to hold such so far. You might feel entitled to point but you are, by reading this, a beneficiary, dear shareholder.
The subtle lie of Democracy has settled the globe into more or less a belief that the few speak for the many. Mostly, this has failed. Those we hand our power to seldom serve our agenda. Influence corrupts by creating surplus leverage. This pattern has proved true in most centres of power. Few truly energised centrists make it to the highest office. Distribution is not a human directive, we are an acquisitive creature at our limbic middle.
What got us here has been long and brutal. But here we are – and now we’re crushing it. We have become the ultimate consumer of our world, we eat 1.5 Earth’s-worth of Earth a year. By 2030, we will need two Earth’s to cater to our needs. Of course, we won’t have them – but we will find a way to squeeze from the weak, the ignorant, the unrepresented. We may not actually kill the poor ourselves, but we will demand our avocados, buy our children Nikes and serve our salmon, come hell or high water.
It’s no wonder our blue-green rock has formulated vaccines to slow our aggressive replication, our manic appetite, our burning and breaking and scorching and wasting. Most recently, a blend of bio-waste was spun through a few species and vectored into Sapiens – and then we placed it on jet planes and in bus terminals – and even better, we weaponised it by sending fake news of the virus viral.
How else would a system of interest with finite resources deal with an aggressive “cell” that replicates beyond its hosts capacity? Just like us, the system portfolios assets to bring that infection under control. There have been many attempts before, but the indications are that the system is getting better at finding more efficient solutions.
Early trials of the COVID-19 planetary vaccine show significant retardation of the primary Sapiens infestation, slowing movement, containing economic growth and significantly reducing toxic effects on the environment. In modern times, there has not been a more effective containment of human cost to the ecosystem. Compared to previous pandemics, this iteration has caused the greatest reduction in human energy. This is the best chemotherapy regime against us so far.
If we are to learn from COVID-19, perhaps we need to reframe our ruthless exploitation – the rate at which we are draining viable resources. Perhaps the lesson is not to wear masks and wash our hands if all we’ll do is revert to ruthless consumption as usual afterwards.
Perhaps a rapid reframe of success is needed? Perhaps if we taxed leaders’ political terms against their efforts on sustainability? If we used COVID-19 induced changes to formulate new social contracts to support our environment? Perhaps if we reduced emissions, governed for less aggressive consumer demands, less sociopathic shareholder expectations?
We should reflect on how this system is trying to moderate us – and what will come next if it fails. It may not be entirely our fault that we have extra, but if we do nothing with it, it will be.