The delightful, frightening pace of technological development has put the techies in charge. Governments, partly through their own fault, are fast losing control; churches have significantly already done so. Control is now vested in financiers, technologists and health specialists. Each of these groups has its own agenda, as we all do. Governments are supposed to be there to represent and legislate for all agendas. They never did it well; now they are doing it badly.
Voters in democratic societies get the governments they deserve. Often governments have little interest in educating voters politically because they know that if they do so they may not be re-elected. Voters, in turn, often have an educational background that has failed to encourage them to be politically aware. “My one little vote doesn’t count” is the cry of the desperate and frequently bored. Political engagement, like the other tools of a working society, develops its own jargon, style and shibboleths, increasingly distanced from the daily life of the average individual.
A cynicism has developed among ordinary decent people about most of the instruments of power. At its best cynicism is amusing, at its worst it is dangerous because it drives those it grips away from participating in building a sustainable society. Beyond a certain point and given a choice, people prefer sustainability to progress. What makes life sustainable?
Paradoxically progress, of course. Our increasing, potentially active, longevity is the result of the healthcare progress of the last century. This pace of change is now faster than ever. The call for it is based on the not unreasonable assumption that we’d all like to live longer. The end of that assumption is immortality notwithstanding that many will say they don’t want to live forever. But immortality is coming whether we like it or not. Within two generations if I am not mistaken.
Long life has served as a very good purpose for humankind. It has not been the only one. Enjoyment of living, security from distress and harm, absence of pain have been dominant, too. Indeed, all the things that we ascribe to making a good society have been – and remain – a purpose for humankind. But long life has dominated them all. Now we are on the brink of achieving it.
The technology of achieving immortality involves creating a new species – Humankind 2, if you like. We are now able to design the species we think is even better than us. Many of the robotic and artificially intelligent products being made today are versions or parts of it. But we have no blueprint of what we want. Our stumbling forward progress has no personal or societal objective.
If we have learnt anything from our hundreds of thousands of years history as a species it is that when our purpose is clear we stand a better chance of achieving it. Lack of agreed purpose leads to conflict and unacceptable unfairness. Humankind 2 can avoid this if we agree the principles of what we want the species to be and to achieve. It needs vision, imagination and collaboration.
And thinking again, perhaps Humankind 1 is rather in need of a new purpose. Pathetic attempts at shaking the tree by putting scoundrels in charge may give a little light relief; their absurdity will be seen all too soon. The damage they do will last a great deal longer. So let us grasp the pencil and smooth the paper and start to devise the version of Humankind 2 that we would like to see.
The very process will get us talking about it. The excitement of creation will encourage us to share.
The outcome may be more doable than we think.
It will certainly be a lot of fun.