The Tragic Irony of Human Extinction

When I wrote Mirror Reversal in 2007, Global Warming was still uncertain and actively debated. Now massive destruction and human depopulation is as certain as the sinking of the Titanic once the fifth lower compartment was breached by the razor-sharp spikes of the iceberg. As the head engineer said, “It’s a mathematical certainly.”

My son, Rickie, a long-distance trailer driver recently told me that when he spends a night at a gigantic truck stop in the Texas, there’re sometimes 500 air conditioners running all night long. There’s no getting around it; these guys and gals haul food. In total, in the entire world, adding up all the trucks and cars, factories, humans and animals, machinery, and burning of coal, we get 79.5 million tons per day. (Not pounds, tons!)

Today, the term Global Warming is obsolete, replaced by Climate Change because of the array of threats to the environment other than temperature. Gaia theory proposes it’s all interconnected; the planet is a superorganism. Brush and forest fires in the west, tornados in the Central Plains, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, land slides, mud slides, tsunamis in Asia, beach erosion in Micronesia, and change in Ph of the entire ocean. Scariest of all and bound to affect all of us directly, today’s headline, July 31, 2012, in the Science Daily:

Chronic 2000-04 Drought, Worst in 800 Years, May Be the 'New Normal'

In Mirror Reversal, Cynthia contemplates the underlying reason for humanity’s tragic self-destruction. Perhaps, if we understand the unfathomable etiology of the sickness, we can do something to cure it. As usual, I blame organized religion! The appalling, heart-breaking irony is that for once the Bible was right. The sin of pride will be the ultimate reason for mankind’s extinction, but in a way inconceivable to the writers of the Holy Scripture.


They kissed passionately in the sweet sorrow of farewell.


“You know what I was thinking, before I leave? A thousand years from now, after humanity is gone, maybe ten thousand years from now, extraterrestrials from a far superior civilization might arrive here. They’ll be bound to find some remnants of buildings or artefacts that haven’t decomposed. If they’re endowed with superior intelligence, which they surely will be, having travelled so far, they’ll be bound to ask: ‘what happened here?’

“And being very intelligent, many theories about the extinction of mankind will be hypothesized. After studying remnant cities, libraries and other depositories of information, they’ll accrue a great deal of knowledge about us. One bright astronaut might suggest a deadly, hyper-contagious, man-made flu virus wiped out the humans to the last person. Others might propose a tremendous calamitous event, like the asteroid that caused the Cretaceous Extinction. Another might offer that population growth got out of control, and like E. coli growing on a Petri dish, we simply ran out of food and crashed. Another ET, beyond doubt, might reason that the Mother Ocean died from poisoning—from using her as a cesspool, the Soylent Green scenario—and all life that relied on oxygen perished with her.


“But the most frequently proffered reason for the extinction of mankind will indubitably be that man couldn’t control technology, and some over-ambitious head of state dropped one atomic bomb too many. A nuclear winter destroyed all life touched by rain. Greed, arrogance and lust for power inevitably caused the political leaders to lose control of the technology genie.“But me, Wayne, I truly believe I know the real reason why the extinction of humanity will happen, if it does. The ultimate reason that no ET will possibly be able figure out, no matter how intelligent and advanced the planet it comes from. The reason, to my young inexperienced and naïve mind, judging by all the crimes against humanity, crimes against nature, and above all, the depraved crimes against the animals from which we evolved, the reason consciousness will perish from the Earth is because powerful, misguided individuals couldn’t accept their phylogeny, that humanity evolved from fish and slimy worms, their reflection in the mirror of time, without feeling shame and self-hatred.


Like Beauty in the fairytale she must kiss the Beast and he will turn into a handsome prince. Humans must embrace the inner being or pneuma of our early evolution and our self image will change from a feeble, fawning creation of an omnipotent god to the gestating spiritual creation of the Earth itself—thereby breaking out of the shackles of the Prime Directive. There must be a mirror reversal when we contemplate our image in the mirror of time. If we don’t accept the reality of our remote evolution, we’ll either blow up the planet in a nuclear war, or we’ll go the way of the dinosaurs, handing over dominance to the cybernetic mind that looms in the shadows. Our precious Earth will be nothing more than a sterile computer consciousness—no emotion, no beauty, no joy of being alive. Evangelicals find it to hard to accept a world without God. I can’t continence the thought of a world without love. It took too long to evolve.”

Wayne, whose most profound rumination had to do with winning the Indy 500, had no idea what she was talking about. He remorsefully watched her descend the steps of the condo. “Hey, Cynthia,” he called loudly. “What was the name of the friend of yours where you’re staying? In case we need to contact you. I forgot.”

No answer. She was on her cell phone calling a cab service for a ride home.


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Comment by Alan Perlman on August 2, 2012 at 2:19pm

I will shortly have a blog piece that follows Rich's - about the recreational use of fossil fuel in particular.  In short: no society that is serious about fossil fuels and climate change burns it for amusement. 

Want something to do?  Let's start picketing auto racing and motor sports. You'd be opposing an enormous social consensus.  That's just one of many memes -- good to race fast machines! - that are untouchable in our planet's rush to extinction.  Religion is another, of course.

Yes, I would politely confront religious people if they were persistent or annoying. 

Comment by Rich Goss on August 1, 2012 at 6:40pm

Here’s a good one:  try to picture this.  No bull. 

I was at my local Y yesterday soaking in the Jacuzzi and started rapping with this man about my age, pushing 70, as we were alone at the time.  After a casual and friendly, “sure is hot,” (the weather, not the water) comment, he started to rant about Jesus. 

I listened amiably, not wanting to hurt his feelings; it was after all a Christian organization.  After a few minutes, he wouldn’t shut up and wound up telling me, “If you want to come to Jesus to be reborn, tell me and we can do it right here in the water.”  What balls!  Reminded me of a couple of gays in Greenwich Village who tried to pick up when I was in NYU.    

Pertinent to Joan’s statement, “I have been too timid to say it out loud and to enough people. I know better than most that silence kills and cripples minds and bodies.”  I felt like telling the brainwashed membot, “Do you know who you’re talking to?  I’m the author of Mirror Reversal.” 

Of course I didn’t.  My HMO pays monthly fee.  So to do so would have been foolhardy.  It’s interesting to contemplate if we secularists were equally as aggressive and started stopping passers-by and telling them, “there’s no God and your prayers are futile.  When you die you go to the same place you were before you were born.” 

I think I’ll try that on some busy avenue in Birmingham, Alabama.  That’ll work.

Comment by Rich Goss on August 1, 2012 at 6:07pm

I’d like to thank everybody for such astute comments on my blog post.  First off, I certainly agree with Alan that Joan’s writing is superb and she is too kind to me.  I am certainly flattered and honored.  Also, good to hear from Max Rex; it’s been a while.  Max my son took a truck driver course and is running around the country every day, including Canada. 

The comments are so diverse and intelligent I don’t know where to start to answer. 

Looks like we’re all in the same boat, the cruise ship Earth sailing through the universe at 70,000 miles per hour.  Like Alan, I get so mad at watching the waste and stupidity; it’s difficulty not to get down about being so helpless.  That must be why I write.  As Cynthia says in Chapter One, “I guess that’s the price we have to pay for conformity.  We can only do our jobs as best we can and helplessly watch the natural world being defiled and brazenly violated right before our eyes.”

But she said that five years ago and it’s as relevant as ever. 

Ruth, amazing how we concur in worldview.  Do you still have the roach short story?  I'd like to read it.




Comment by Joan Denoo on August 1, 2012 at 11:50am

Ruth Anthony-Gardner, any chance of reading your short story? Your writing always inspires me or gives me new frames. 

I am sick of "identify the problem" and am READY to "explore options". Given the reality of all that we have been discussing, what are some ways to maintain peace, compassion, critical thinking in the midst of all this madness? 
Of course, the obvious ones are reframe our experience, not try to save the planet Earth, become that which we desire. 

OK, I can do those things. Let me think a minute, instead of working to change people's behaviors, share my awareness to all and any who will read my stuff; saving the planet is a outrageous desire, but saving my little patch of Earth is a possibility; live peacefully and powerfully; speak up when ignorance or prejudice occurs ... OH! I do those things already. I need to stretch my mind further ... kind of like looking at that painting at the Artists Loose on the Palouse Fair. His perspective challenged me to see how he saw the concept. 

Well, thanks to each of you who challenge the status quo and look for healthier life styles. 

Comment by Alan Perlman on August 1, 2012 at 10:00am

Joan, you don't have to yield to anyone when it comes to articulate writing.

The thoughtful replies in this thread reveal the dimensions of the Problem, which is actually several problems, all intertwined and aligned -- war, consumerism/planned obsolescence, religion, the rich getting richer while the poor struggle to survive, all the while creating mountains of garbage (think of megalopolises like Cairo and Rio), finding new and destructive ways to get what oil and coal we have left, and (my hobbyhorse) BURNING IT FOR AMUSEMENT. 

We have no shortage of organizations trying to protect the environment, even an ineffectual government agency for the same purpose.   But still the glaciers shrink, the deserts advance, and the population continues to grow beyond the earth's ability to sustain it. 

To reduce the conflict to its elemenental terms...the immediate needs of the individual, the commercial entity, and the tribe always outweigh considerations of the irreplaceable resources that make it all possible.  Hey, it's a big planet; there's plenty more where that came from.

Someday there will not be enough fuel left to run the Daytona 500 (NASCAR vehicles get 3-4 miles/gallon).   By then it will be too late.   I wish I could see even a hypothetical way out, but there are too many diverse interests that contribute to the destruction of the planet, and no one action will affect them all. 

Ruth, your comment reminds me of the book The God Virus.  Religion resembles a virus in so many ways, spreading and perpatuating its delusions form one generation to the next.    


Comment by Gwaithmir on August 1, 2012 at 7:16am

Sort of makes me glad that I won't be around in another 20 years.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on July 31, 2012 at 11:28pm

I wrote a related short story, of the intelligent civilized roach descendents who inherited the planet after human extinction. In the story a family visits the museum  of human artifacts, which tells the story of human self-extermination. Religion was likened to a computer virus which disabled humans from coping with climate change. Like an infinite loop in a program, prayer to their imagined gods kept their minds running in useless circles. [never published]


I too see the design of buses and trucks, whereby operators are forced to idle engines to run heaters or air conditioners, as revoltingly iconic collective self-immolation by CO2.


But both religion and pride are too facile as explanations. I think there’s a deeper level to “misguided individuals couldn’t accept their phylogeny”, a factor at the cultural level which manifests in part through individual responses. It’s too complicated for a blog comment. Briefly, we’re unable to accept the extent to which our mental functioning resembles that of other animals because we identify with verbal consciousness (I think, therefore I am.) from a Dominator Culture hierarchical mind set (where self esteem is bound up in inherent superiority to animals). This blind spot limits our capacity to reason, to question authority, and to take vulnerabilities into account. I agree that we must embrace the inner being of our evolution without feeling self-hatred or shame, only to me it’s about Triune Brain neuroanatomy.


As to the cybernetic mind that looms in the shadows, temes and Skynet scenarios shrink relative to the escalating probability that we’ll render Earth uninhabitable in a few centuries  through climate destabilization.

Comment by Joan Denoo on July 31, 2012 at 10:52pm

Alan Perlman, you tap into a topic I completely overlooked; warring! What good comes out of war except for death, destruction, impoverishment of dominated people and growing wealth for warmongers?

I don’t see asteroids or aliens or ice or heat being the last factor to end life on earth as we know it; it will be human beings’ inhumanity to humans!

Your notion of dominionism is right on target! One group of people believing their god gave them title to a particular piece of ground and another group of people making a claim on the same ground. It doesn’t matter whether we look at the Israel/Palestinian conflicts, or liberals vs. conservatives in USA, or Africans trying to grasp their way out of a history of colonialism and facing corruption by their own leaders, or South Americans wanting to work their own lands free of the abuse of absentee land-owners, or the many conflicts in Asia and Europe; it doesn’t matter which direction one looks, there are those who would exploit and manipulate others for their own gains.

If one looks at the rape of the earth, as though there is no consequence for such values, the innocent ones have not a chance to survive. They will be the first to perish.

I agree, religion is a very real threat to our survival. I have been too timid to say it out loud and to enough people. I know better than most that silence kills and cripples minds and bodies.

When asked where non-believers in god get their morals, the answer is easy; morals come from inside a healthy, caring, compassionate person who acts out of enlightened self-interest. There is no need for promise of heaven or threat of hell to be moral.

When asked where we go after death the answer to that is even easier; the systems of our bodies stop working, fluids drain out, tissues begin to rot and the electrical/chemical or whatever that is our consciousness stops and we return to soil and atoms. We do not end; we change form to the stuff of the universe. No soul, no reconnecting with our bodies or with our loved ones, no heaven and no hell. We, each one of us, just ends. All that remains are memories others have of us and how we will be remembered depends on how we conducted our lives.

That said, how do we face the challenges that we have and live with joy and beauty and our senses responding to all the wonders that life offers; even as we stand up to ignorance, greed, oppression, domination and destroyers of life?

I, for one, would like to leave the world better than I found it, being courageous when necessary, strong when needed, loving life and living things, and having compassion for all elements of existence. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on July 31, 2012 at 10:16pm

Feelings of anger, rebellion, resentment, retaliation simmered to a hard boil in me this summer, even as we have had no real climate heat wave in Spokane. Growing awareness of betrayal and blarney, as conveyed by people I love and trust, and by institutions I expected to prepare me to be able to challenge such nonsense, is at a cork-blowing level. I feel a little like when I am studying a difficult subject and reach a stage of confusion that some thing happens and I get it. Kind of like trying to understand economics and realizing that there is no understanding to get, it is all a game of chess and I am a pawn in the enterprise. Or attempting to get some sense out of the Bible and and prayer and all the stuff that goes along with that, only to awaken to the realization that I have been conned and need to move on. 

This is what I am feeling this summer. In one way I know a breakthrough is coming, but in another, there is great discomfort in my chaos. 

Richard, in your comment, "The Tragic Irony of Human Extinction," you tap into one of my frustrations: I have been able to see things coming that others could not see. For example, in 1959 I had a conversation with a scientist on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage where he was doing a study on changing patterns of glaciation. He told me the glaciers were reducing in thickness and length and scientists had no idea why it was happening. I started keeping track and paying attention. 

Another example was my training at Whitworth College in "Leadership Institute of Spokane" and my first "Statistical Package for the Social Sciences". Using the computer tool to follow trend lines, I began to see shifts in money flow from working wage earners to those who had "unearned income". I watched as the middle class, as measured by share of profits from production, began to decline, and watched the numbers and ratios of women going into the paid labor force to make up for loss of single-earner family income. It was all right there before me. 

By the time I reached this level of awareness I began to look at the factors that kept people bound to traditions and expectations of society. It didn't take me very long to understand the role of religion in keeping individuals in line, obeying, following directions, being dependent on employers and government to attain economic security and the barriers to individual enterprise. Small mom and pop shops began to dry up and are virtually gone now. My neighbor closed the doors to his hardware store that had been in Spokane for four generations. They couldn't keep up with Home Depot and other huge stores. 

"You have to change with the times," people say, but change to what? Begging for wages and benefits and trying to stay ahead of the unemployed just waiting for the wage earner's job to open up? Working for longer hours for lower pay, or working for fewer hours and having to take two jobs? Watching family living wages going down as jobs are sent to countries with no labor unions, no health benefits or no retirement plans and unhealthy working conditions? Watching Third World countries fall farther behind in health and education and opportunities? Seeing costs of educating our children skyrocket out of range for wage earners, even as scholarships and grants dry up? Coming to the realization that our lifestyles contribute to unhealthy water, soils and air. Smelling fumes of huge refrigerator trucks shipping all across the country, and indeed from all over the world, even as our food quality declines?

Pessimism! Huge changes taking place before our eyes and all the while the world's population explodes to 7,029,899,442 as of Aug 01, 2012. Can you believe, religious leaders instruct humans to eschew contraceptives, political leaders try to prohibit access to reproductive care for women, and the population votes them into office! Insanity!


OK! How do we climb out of that deep black hole of pessimism and put our critical thinking minds to work and put some order into our lives? 


Comment by Joan Denoo on July 31, 2012 at 8:42pm

Powerfully evocative. Would that my words could flow so smoothly, filling others' minds with thoughts beyond the usual into a new dimension of awareness and understanding. 

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