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The Endgame: Is Humanity About to Enter Its Most Deadly Contest?

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History of Competition

The history of humanity is the history of brutal ruthless competition. Since the dawn of time, we have fought relentlessly for scarce resources: for land, for food, for riches.

Deep in our past, evolution saw to it that only those who sought to maximise their own gains, and the gains of their own group, to the exclusion of all others survived, and for a long time this mentality served us well as we continuously strove for more. Why be happy with spears, for example, when you can develop more sophisticated weapons to conquer competing tribes and take the spoils!?

In a classic case of ‘stone age brains in modern day bodies’, however, the mentality that we as a species evolved—the mentality which placed us at the top of the hierarchy of life on earth—now both threatens our existence, and stands firmly in the way of us doing anything about it.

Fast forward several hundred thousand years from when protohumans first walked the earth and we have clocked up some remarkable ‘achievements’:

  • We have overpopulated the planet.
  • We have achieved mastery over our environment (and exploited it for profit).
  • We have developed weapons capable of leveling cities.
  • We have built trade routes across the face of the planet to such an extent that the term ‘global market’ has long since entered common parlance.

Even now the drive forward continues: the technological advancements of the last few decades—advancements which would bewilder even those from a mere century ago—have vastly sped up the process by which resources are converted to cold hard profits.

Yet there is a big problem. All of this ‘advancement’ has come at a huge price, and it is now clear to all but the most ardent of climate change deniers that the modern way of life is wrecking the planet on which we live. Seeking to pin the blame, many critics (rightly) point the finger at contemporary capitalism. Yet for all its many faults, does the buck really stop with capitalism, or does the real problem run far deeper?

If we stop and think for one moment what the dominant economic and social system really is, then it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that it is merely an expression of our very nature: a system which accommodates our tendency to compete ruthlessly, to maximise personal gains regardless of the cost, and to accept the ‘fairness’ of the winner taking all.

Those that doubt this interpretation would do well to ask themselves why else we persevere with a system which is not only unsustainable, but which leads to such manifest injustice.

With its vast inequalities, it is tempting to think of late capitalism along the lines of a conspiracy, whereby the ‘haves’ plot and scheme to keep the ‘have-nots’ in their place. This oversimplistic view, however, hinders rather than helps our understanding of the real problem.

Take the owner of some giant corporation as an example; on a personal level they may be a fundamentally decent person—one who genuinely cares about the damage we are unleashing on our planet, and about the shocking levels of inequality we now see—but be this as it may, if taking steps to address these concerns eats into profits, then sooner or later they will be out-competed by those who take no such steps.

National governments, despite seemingly being in a position to act—through regulation, legislature, etc.—face a similar problem. The winners in the capitalist system win by exploiting technological changes, and as technology makes the world smaller (in the metaphorical sense), it becomes easier to relocate operations to the place where profits are most easily made.

Against this backdrop the dilemma facing political leaders is stark: make the ground as fertile as possible for exploitation or else see the economy tank as capital jumps ship—and this is before the issues of corruption, cronyism, and control of the media raise their ugly heads!

This is likely why, despite the obvious need for fundamental change, on a global scale, we see only lip service being paid to it. Put simply, in trying to reconcile late capitalism and an appropriate response to climate change, world leaders are essentially trying to square the circle.

Faced with this reality, no one is willing to take action which, although essential, will hold their own country (read: group) ‘back’ in the ‘global race’ as others continue to march ‘forward’.

The very fact that we even view wanton destruction of the climate as progress—so long as it puts ones own group at an advantage—is further testament to the fact that the real problem lies deep in the psychology of the human mind.

There is a possibility, granted, that as the true scale of the problems we have unleashed, and continue to unleash, upon ourselves become clear we will put aside our differences, go against our nature, and actually co-operate in taking necessary action.

There is also a possibility, a more likely one in my opinion, that must be considered however. This is that, unable to put aside our brutal competitive nature, we instead enter into a particularly grim contest; one where each nation accepts destruction of the climate as inevitable, and strives to insulate itself from the impacts as far as possible. In other words, a straight forward competition to outlast one another.

In this dystopian scenario we would likely see heavy militarisation in order to secure borders in the face of continuous waves of refugees, and even possible invasions by hostile forces, as starvation becomes a real possibility for many. We would also see a strict curtailment of freedoms—since any form of disruption or dissent would be ill afforded in this context. Social welfare would belong to an idyllic past and death en masse would be viewed simply as one of those things.

This may sound, at present at least, slightly farfetched. It would not be unreasonable, however, to assume that such ‘contingency plans’ have already been discussed. Given humanity’s woeful track record of cooperation, it would be a serious oversight if they had not.

Indeed, worrying signs can already be seen—consider the crackdowns on climate protests where they are deemed to be too ‘disruptive’. Consider also the renewed interest in digging for fossil fuels (as opposed to investing in renewables) as strained international relationships threaten energy supplies.

It is not a huge jump in logic to suggest that as time goes by the emphasis will move further towards mitigating the impact of 'inevitable' climate change upon ones own group, locking us all in a deadly struggle.

Put simply, unless we can overcome our very nature, then we are doomed, or at least a good many of us are. Even the ‘lucky’ ones—the survivors of the Malthusian crisis—can expect little more than a dark future as they try to endure on a changed planet, having long since outstayed their welcome.

The ultimate question, therefore, is whether we actually can overcome our fundamental nature. I sincerely hope we can—but I am not holding my breath!


© 2023 lwmarsden