Does human history demonstrate a trend towards the collapse of civilization or the beginning of united planetary civilization?

Submitted by BlackFlagged in debate (edited )

To begin, we are settling on temporary functional definitions. These definitions will be altered and can evolve according to the arguments of the debaters.

Collapse: A sudden decline of civilization. The end of traditional and continuous civilization as we know it, characterized by the dissolution of nation-states, a global economy, and the post-industrial technology of eastern and western societal infrastructure.

Planetary Civilization: A continuous ascent of civilization. The realization of traditional utopia, characterized by the unification of nation-states, globalization, abundance, access to space, and the acceleration of post-industrial technological infrastructure. (Drawn from the encyclopedia)

Opening Statement : Futurologist

It is the general position of Futurology proponents that human history demonstrates a positive trend toward the beginning of planetary civilization, one that will be especially catalyzed by our current transition toward industrialization, machine intelligence, and post-scarcity. This attitude is widely regarded as “techno-optimism” and is backed by predictions from various industry-leaders and futurists. One such futurist, Jason Silva, provided Wired with a particularly tasteful definition of techno-optimism. “Techno-optimism is a belief in the power of technology to extend our sphere of possibilities, and ultimately a belief that technology helps us solve and transcend problems, limitations and obstacles.” Of course, that’s a very basic statement. After all, the very nature of technology is that it solves problems. “From the moment we picked up a stick and used it to reach a fruit on a really high tree as early Homo sapiens, we’ve been using our tools to extend our boundaries of who and what we are,” says Silva, echoing a popular sentiment by renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has compared the force of technology to that of evolution. “Our ability to create virtual models in our heads combined with our modest looking thumbs was sufficient to usher in a secondary force of evolution called technology." His insight that technology feeds on itself, growing exponentially, has led to his wildly popularized prediction of a technological Singularity. Today, thousands of futurists and industry leaders have contributed to this vision which has grown to represent the event horizon wherein emerging fields-- most notably biotechnology, robotics, and nanotechnology-- eclipse to create smarter-than-human technologies.

So, how did we come to this conclusion? Don’t disease, war, famine, and debt easily overshadow techno-optimism? What about technology-driven collapse: climate crisis, nuclear war, even the popular “gray-goo” scenario of nanotechnology? After all, that’s what we keep hearing about: ineffective government, mounting debt, rioting in the Middle East, political unrest-- the list goes on and on. It’s a list Collapse adherents seem to embrace, forgetting the progress we, the human species, are continually making. Peter Diamandis, chair of the Singularity University, has not forgotten. In his book, Abundance, Diamandis makes an almost incontrovertible case for techno-optimism. “Over the last hundred years,” he reminds us “the average human lifespan has more than doubled, average per capita income adjusted for inflation around the world has tripled. Childhood mortality has come down a factor of 10. Add to that the cost of food, electricity, transportation, communication have dropped 10 to 1,000-fold. Steven Pinker has showed us that, in fact, we're living during the most peaceful time ever in human history. And Charles Kenny that global literacy has gone from 25 percent to over 80 percent in the last 130 years. We truly are living in an extraordinary time. And many people forget this.”

Futurologists haven’t forgotten this. They’re embracing it. Michio Kaku, famous theoretical physicist and author, hasn’t forgotten either. In his latest book Physics of the Future Kaku attempts to determine what makes successful predictions of the future. The book begins with a case study, 1863 novelist Jules Verne. Two of Verne’s books, Paris in the Twentieth Century and From the Earth to the Moon provide unprecedented foresight into the future, predicting technologies as varied as skyscrapers and elevators, and even a system resembling the Internet. Kaku determines that what ultimately drove Verne’s shockingly accurate vision of the future was his realization that “science was the engine shaking the foundations of civilization, propelling, propelling it into a new century with unexpected marvels and miracles.” Kaku calls this realization simply “the power of science to revolutionize society.” Finance, housing, medicine, infrastructure, even empathy- a condition vital to our civilization’s success- are fundamentally shaped by science. Society runs on technology. And that technology is getting better.

I’d like to leave you with just one thought. It’s a realization-- paradigm-shift-- poetically penned by Robert Ardrey, behavioral scientists and writer. “We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

Opening Statement : Collapse theorist

We live in a time where the world is changing, global warming, the rise of a new power, and economic problems are changing the geography of the planet we live on. While many would like to optimistically believe (such as futurologists) that this period of time is just challenge that we have to tackle, I believe that because of what we know from the past and what’s going on in today's society is that a collapse of the civilizations we know today is inevitable. History has stories of collapses from the dawn of mankind, just like how we have always greed and violence it is a part of human nature.

The first argument I will make is what past collapsed societies have gone through and how they reflect our society today. Jared Diamond once compared the problems between what we face now and the societies who collapsed have faced in the past. He says “The environmental problems facing us today include the same eight that undermined past societies, plus four new ones: human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity.” We’re not only having problems with the same factors that caused ancient civilizations to collapse, but because of our technological upgrades and developments we have actually caused the problems to worsen. This puts us in a much worse situation than our historical ancestors. Some of the other factors that have effected past societies as well as ours now are deforestation, habitat destruction, population growth, and over fishing. If you would like to see examples of where this is going on just look at the Amazon rain forest, over population in India and Bangladesh, and most of Africa. Nigeria’s population alone is supposed to rise to 390 million by 2050 according to the U.N., when the country can barely support the 158 million they have now. Plus over fishing has been happening around the world to support the burgeoning new populations. The only difference between what is happening now and what was happening then is the huge increase In technologies for the past 100 years, but we can see with global warming and energy shortages they are just making our situation worse.

My second argument will be based off of the scarcity of current resources. The way our economic system works is based off of short turn profits, and finding the cheapest way to offer the largest amount of profit. That is just capitalism and we can’t just change our entire society over night to fit the scarcity of new resources. This is going to cause catastrophic failures in the future due to the lack of resources we have to maintain how we live. Ted Turner says because we can’t maintain our resources for the future that “this inevitably generates problems of ecological destruction, resource depletion, Third World deprivation and geopolitical conflict and war.” We can’t sustain a society when everything that society is based around begins to run out. Even if we do not completely just run out but still maintain some sources the supply and demand does society in, if things are so high in demand and so little supply you can’t continue to use it as prices sky rocket.

As you can see we can see a trend leading us to a collapse because of what we have seen in history. Remember the topic calls for us to shows a trend of history for one side or the other. So you can’t go in on futurology’s optimistic ideas without having them back it up with actual instances from the past. This is key to actually winning the debate. Don’t just bite blindly in to the optimism of futurology advocates, we all hope for a better bright future but we must also come to grips that maybe the future is not what it is cut out to be.


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PerfectSociety wrote

Human history certainly shows a trend towards civilization collapse. The fundamental challenge for complex society is in remedying the contradiction between finite ecological capacity - particularly wrt non-renewable resources - and excess human consumption of resources. The only sustainable solution for complex society is to utilize only renewable resources. Things like mycelium-based production for example is a step in the right direction from a purely technological standpoint. But it will also be necessary to make socio-Economic changes to how we live and pair that with technological changes.