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Memetics, Genetics, and Environmental History

Preliminary Unified Hypothesis of Environmental Degradation

The work presented in these papers is an ecosocionomic investigation of the ‘same-other paradox’, a state of affairs that as far as I know has dominated world history from time immemorial. My interest stems from prior work in the field of political ecologics. For some time I had been studying something I call ecocide: the irrational human tendency to burn down the house, to bite the hand that feeds, to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs: the inability to cooperate for the preservation of the global commons. I believe this tendency follows a very long arc in human pre- and recorded history that has seen human mythological systems shift from a looking-around mode (animism) to a looking-up mode (celestialism). In the process, the human’s place in the comsos has been gradually leaving the firmness of earth and drifting up towards the heavens. This has been the trajectory until more recent times when the prevalent mode has been the collapse of all mythological systems (modernism), the absence of a metaphysics, hyper-individualism, and a kind of randomly chaotic view of things. The environmental consequences of this arc has been a greater and greater detachment from the natural world and especially those parts of nature known as the global commons-- a growing view of nature as ‘other’ rather than ‘self’. The cultural transmission of this view forms the memetic aspect of the unified theory of environmental degradation.

The global commons are the parts and systems of our planet that nobody owns outright: our oceans, our atmosphere, our chemical cycles (e.g., water, carbon, nitrogen, etc.), our biological diversity. These things literally keep us alive. They are also the things that make life beautiful and especially worth living. More primitive cultures tended to view these things as Gods. If we consider them at all, they are usually viewed as obstacles to economic growth. We cannot turn back time for a return to earlier world views. Instead we must develop a new world view, arisen from our current states of knowledge and an objective perception of geophysical conditions as they exist today. The future view must  show us how to live in harmony with the natural world and each other instead of apart. This will require deep understandings of the earth’s biogeochemical systems and of human needs and behavior. Inevitably it will also involve the adoption, conscious or otherwise, of a metaphysics based on these understandings. From this metaphysics will follow all else, all culture, all politics, all economics, all art, all science.

What are the impediments preventing such a program from emerging? I, and many other observers, have discerned a combination of factors such as an ignorance of scientific knowledge, an overestimation of human technological prowess, a refusal to admit that natural resources are limited, a human exceptionalism (laws of nature do not apply to humans), a rampant and unbridled individualist ethic, among others, that help explain and perpetuate the ecocidal tendency. These are all overt factors: they can be measured by social scientists using statistics. My exploration of the question of impediments has lead in recent years towards the investigation of a deeper force, driving us blindly towards these more overt manifestations of ecocide, a subliminal fuel feeding our sociopolitical choices and, generally, overwhelming global cooperative effort, particularly regarding the environmental commons.

Under this light, several years ago I decided to explore the burgeoning field of ancestral genetics in the context of ecocide. I asked whether there might be a connection between ancestral genetic identity and today’s global environmental anomie. I began by gathering data and looking for relationships. In order to illumine such a connection I would need to first find a way to define ancestral genetic identity and then a way to measure environmental behaviors according to these identities. It is my good luck that an amazing amount of data in both these areas has been published by a truly admirable phalanx of researchers in recent years. I was able to pluck these marvelous results and blend them into the ecosocionomic model I now present.

As shown on the pages of these materials, the evidence shows that certain genetic branches of the human family tree have essentially been expanding their use and possession of the Earth’s natural resources while other branches have seen their portions stagnating or dwindling. I theorize that this mechanism whereby one or more genetic branches take and use natural resources while excluding genetic cousins from these same resources has, thus far, taken priority in driving human history—eclipsing impulses to cooperate for the good of the common environment. This mechanism may be manifested superficially in many ways: as political ideology, religious fervor, real-economik or politik, or any number of other sociopolitically recognizable constructs.

These concepts are, in the end, only masks obscuring the haplocentric face of humanity. Much like the movement towards seeing nature as an ‘other’ has come the division of genetically different into groups of ‘other’ and ‘self’, with the same disastrous effects. I hasten to emphasize that the haplocentric force is not always expressed by direct annihilation—such as  carried out by Nazis in Europe, Western Europeans in the New World, Hutus in Rwanda, or Serbs in Srebernica, to name only a few of the more recently infamous examples. Haplocentrism can also be expressed over millennial epochs, in ‘humane’ ways, and very gradually over time. ‘Soft’ genocide is carried out not by direct extermination but by subtle implementation. Slowly, over millenia, certain branches are limited by others from having access to essential resources which in turn diminishes population growth and viability and eventually leads to the same net result. It is the force that seems to produce an endless state of war between branches of the family tree, directly or by proxy. It is possible to view most violent conflicts as battles between haplogroups or sub-haplogroups. Thirdly, at the biological level, a problem called 'undercrowding' (aka the Allee effect) is likely impairing individual and group fitness in diminishing haplogroup populations. Haplocentric social structures form the bio-genetic aspect of the unified theory of environmental degradation.

Human haplocentric tendencies have persisted for a very long time. If one views our species’s current domination of the planet then it must be said that as a survival strategy, haplocentric competition has been successful—at least for certain branches of the human family tree that now proliferate the Earth. Some might even argue a biological law at work here, a group selection with a genocidal dark-side. But like with the arc of human metaphysics viewed earlier, I see ample evidence that, as a survival strategy, haplocentric competition has outlived its usefulness. For a variety of reasons that I have elucidated elsewhere it seems clear that if our species is to persist beyond the meager 200ky since its inception (consider that Homo erectus was around for 1.5my!), group selection must now adapt to the new conditions surrounding us, by embarking upon a new survival path.

I have sketched here a theory of environmental history comprised of a metaphysical arc towards ecocide which is in turn driven by a haplocentric drive, likely of biological origin. Underlying both is the egotistical elevation of a perceived ‘self’ over all ‘others’, or stated another way, the elevation of the part over the whole. It is the egotistic ‘self’ that drives the haplocentrism and it is haplocentrism that creates the state of social disintegration underlying ecocide. I sincerely hope that further research will support the validity of this theory. This website is a small step in that direction.

As I have said, the continuation of prior genetic-memetic tendencies will doubtless lead to greater and greater human suffering and possibly even complete human self-destruction. The only way out of here is for humanity to adopt a new metaphysic, a new world view based on the unity between human and nature and between human branches of the genealogical tree. It would be arrogant of me to suggest this new metaphysic as an abstract concept; what I am suggesting is that the new metaphysic is an adaptation necessary to guaranty the survival of the species. This is the work of all sages, seers, visionaries, teachers, intellectuals, scientists, and shamans. Anyone concerned with human progress and wellbeing should consider their utmost calling the description, explication, dissemination, development, and implementation of the truth of this essential unity.

            I believe that all people in the world are biological cousins, descending ultimately from the same related ancestors. As related beings, I believe that all the people of the world should cooperate to share and preserve the precious biosphere and its products and resources. As I look around today though, I see a world where people do not treat each other as blood relatives, where political discourse tends to emphasize cultural differences and unrelatedness, where certain groups of people seem to suffer more than others from disease, starvation, war and other forms of destruction, where cooperation for the sake of the greater good of the environment is nearly impossible. I am of those who think that if we were to apply our skills and intelligence properly to that end, this Earth could sustain us all for as long as the sun continues to shine. It is my hope that this work may contribute in its own small way to the transformation that will become biologically necessary if our species-tree is to survive here on Earth.

Cherson AD (2012) 
Atlas of Genetic Genealogy