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Not long ago I wanted to share all my impressions and findings with the world. After all, knowledge is useless if not shared.
As time passed by, I started to realise that it was a terrible waste of time. No one really cares what you have to say. Seems obvious now, but because I do care about sharing valuable ideas and knowledge, regardless of the person who expresses them, I just assumed others will do too. I know many individuals will argue that they do, but who they choose to listen to is often guided by their own self-esteem. They wouldn’t listen to a beggar in the street, but they would to a famous business man. Even though the beggar may be more honest in his life lessons than the business man who often spins a nice semi-fake story. Without a strong social position, your ideas are nothing.

So I will not be writing much from here on.

But I would like to share one last thing: the fundamentals of my logic and actions which give meaning to my existence.

I know my life, just like everyone else’s, is a bleep in the never ending darkness of space and time, a spark preceded and followed by infinity. And in the face of infinity, almost everything is meaningless: our homes, our cars, our fame, our lives, hopes and dreams.

Yet we give so much value to these small things in so far that people sell their organs for a new phone. It’s funny how, once we go beyond basic necessities, once we free ourselves from our struggle to survive, we find ourselves empty and aimless. For a time religion filled in this emptiness. But with religion withering away, our egos stepped in and set value to all these materialistic things in an attempt to give meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. We chase nothing but phantasms of our own mind.

Yet, as I wrote earlier, there is a dim, almost impossible hope that in the face of infinity, we may still find meaning to our existence. That’s because as individuals we may fade away and die, but as a collective we endure. Just pick up a book by Plato and read some passage, as you do his thoughts echo in your mind across millennia.  “Speak my name and I will live.” as an ancient Egyptian papyrus wrote.

Our collective knowledge, spirit, ideas and desire transcend the barriers of space and time and through it, our small, insignificant lives suddenly gain some meaning. We as individuals may die, but our thoughts and our genes live on in our collective consciousness. One can only hope that one day our distant offerings will reach the end of the universe and beyond and through them, we will too.

It is said we come with nothing in this world and leave with nothing, but in between we shape it and are shaped by it. If  there is any chance for our lives to have any meaning, however insignificant, we should make sure that those who follow us can pursue their path towards a bigger and brighter future. Our kindness will inspire them, our harshness will make them stronger, our greed and selfishness will chain them to the ground.

I choose to work towards that future and from that follow all my actions and attitudes.

I hope one day I will not be alone on this. That others would have figured it out and together we will all go to the end of the universe.

From my perspective, Carl Sagan has literally brought a revolution in the way people see and understand the world. Although it could be argued that his view on our society is in many ways self-evident, it is the beautiful way in which he can articulate and express this view that is really outstanding and touches not only the mind, but also the “soul” of those who are willing to listen to him. It is highly likely that his perspective on humanity and our place in the universe will leave an important mark on our history, even if this claim may sound farfetched today.

My main argument in this regard is the fact that, in his attempt to popularize science, Sagan has struggled to give meaning to human existence in a way which inspires us to do greater things, things which far surpass our focus on everyday personal achievements. In this way, his view on our place in the universe can give meaning to our lives in a way similar to religion.

I will leave you to him now:

Not much needs to be said about the demographic evolution of the developed countries. Basically, in order to have a stable population that maintains itself over time, fertility rates (the number of children each woman has in average throughout her lifetime) need to be slightly above 2 (applicable only for the developed countries). For values below 2, the population is contracting over time, eventually disappearing altogether. For values above 2, the population is expanding, putting pressure on the environment. Right now, these fertility rates are around 1.25- 1.5 (source) in most developed countries.

These fertility rates are not country specific, but rather group specific. For instance in the US, the white population has a fertility rate of 1.8, while the black population has a fertility rate of 2.0 and the Hispanic population a fertility rate of 2.4. (source) In other words, the low fertility rates are a characteristic of White populations (and also Asian).

Taking the case of the US into consideration, this means that over time, the white population will eventually mix and disappear into other groups; groups that will become the dominant ones within society.

But this is only half of the story, another interesting evolution is that immigrants tend to make a lot of kids (above 3), when they arrive  in a developed country. However, their offspring tend to make significantly less kids. By the time these immigrants reach the third generation, they usually have fertility rates well below 2.5. Also, in the past decades, other less developed countries had witnessed sharp declines in their fertility rates, most likely due to much better means for contraception (source).

So what is happening?

Simple, people now have access to efficient means of birth control and they do just that, control the number of kids they want to have, the moment they want to have them and with whom they want to have them.

The problem?

The problem is that until now, nature sort of tricked us until into having kids. We loved each other, had sex, and as a wanted or unwanted consequence, sometimes this led to pregnancy and eventually childbirth. This is not a very happy situation for many people, since having kids requires responsibility and financial sacrifices: one must give up on a part of himself/herself for the benefit of his/hers children. Today many people don’t feel ready for this until they feel they achieved financial stability. In previous times, without birth control, the entire institution of marriage emerged. Its purpose was to regulate the way people of opposite sex enter into relationships so that unwanted pregnancies are avoided and children have some guarantee that someone will take care of them.

Our modern society allows us to decide very much on the whole child-making issue, we are no longer at the hands of nature or stigmatised if we have kids outside marriage, we can pretty much do what we want. Unfortunately, in a highly individualistic society, where the most cherished achievement is individual self-realisation, the result is predicable: kids fall on the second place.

Why a problem?

This is a problem because the above behaviour leads to extinction.

Let’s take the case of Japan with fertility rates of 1.39. Assuming all kids survive into adulthood (which never happens), then the population of Japan of 127.8 million will be reduced to 20 million in about 400 years and to 3 million in 800 years from now. To some this sounds like a lot, but in real, historical terms, this is a very short time, for instance the Roman Empire lasted for about 500 years.

If our behaviour leads to our own extinction, then one must conclude that current social values and behaviours (especially in the developed countries) are at odds with some fundamental biological characteristics of human nature and for that matter, of any other living organism. This is a matter of further debate and research, but it is without doubt an issue that requires further investigation.

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P.S. A friend of mine once told me that he doesn’t care much about kids, because what he really wants to do, is to become a great writer and have his books read by many people. I asked him: “If you are not interested in kids, then who will be left to read your books after you are dead?”

Evelyn Waugh wrote in his book ‘Robbery Under Law’ in 1938 just before WWII:

‘Civilization has no force of its own beyond what is given it from within. It is under constant assault and it takes most of the energies of civilised man to keep going at all. There are criminal ideas and a criminal class in every nation and the first action of every revolution, figuratively and literally, is to open the prisons. Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly, will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come from merely habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of energy left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on.’

In stark contrast to the “civilisation” of the developed world, there are some places in Central Africa where people, living in stricken poverty, kill each other with untold savagery, where rape is common and cannibalism is still on the menu. Our tendency here, in the so called “West”, is to sweep these things away, feeling compassionate about the people living in those conditions, but at the same time distancing ourselves from them. We tend to think… we are not like them. But five hundred years ago, us, the same peoples of Europe who are now the pinnacle of social evolution, developed some of the most horrifying means of torture, regularly conducted public executions, and developed means of human exploitation which formed the basis of an entire economic system. To some this has the sound of a bad dream, but it was all very real.

Going back in time a few more millennia, we can find that the same people of Europe used to kill each other with fascinating savagery, conducted human sacrifices and partook in cannibalism.

Thus, the difference between Central Africa and our “Civilised” World is not space, but time.

The greatest danger right now is it to think that our savagery has been defeated and it will never re-emerge again. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the past few centuries we’ve managed to cage our savagery in the basement of our mind, under hard locks and steel doors. But, without vigilance, without a constant reminder of how we got to our present state, the danger of spiralling back into anarchy is very real. Paradoxically, it is our thirst for more and more freedom that weakens our self-imposed chains.

It is pointless to hide my pessimistic view of the world, a view that took shape in time and it’s very hard to shake away – too many compromises, too many mistakes, too many unfulfilled dreams, too much reality.
Normally I should give up on everything and throw myself off a bridge, but despite all this, I keep soldiering on, sustained not by the hope of success, but by the feeling of responsibility; responsibility for the world that made me. I am part of the world I live in (all of it, from family to galaxies); I am made by it, shaped by it – and in a larger sense – a manifestation of it. I exist because “it” deems that I should exist and thus, in turn I work for it – in a loose sense I could say I feel responsible for making a “better world”. From another perspective, I could argue that if the purpose of my life is meaningless then my existence must be pointless, but if that was true then I wouldn’t exist – since nothing exists by chance, it’s all caused by something (see theoretical physics).  Thus, if I am here then there’s must be a point to all this, unless of course the universe is one big joke, which may very well be.
Thus, I keep rolling on thinking that one day, the world that made me will require me to give something back, here’s to  “hoping an inch of good is worth a pound of years” (Ray Bradbury).

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Throughout the past few years I have constantly found myself in conflict with the self-centered, present-focused attitude that dominates our society. It is pointless to discuss the divide between the individual and society, between private and public, between agent and structure, between liberalism and utilitarianism which all fundamentally deal with the same problem: Which matters more, the individual or the group as a whole? The obvious answer is both, but the less obvious answer is in what way.

Regardless, this is not what I wanted to discuss. Rather the issue that I wanted to discuss is the lack of perspective in modern day people (in developed countries). By perspective I mean a wider conceptualisation of the world in terms of time. Most of us strive towards short-term benefits like having a nice car, a successful career, social recognition or in less fortunate cases, towards having cloths and food for the next few days. While for some this perspective exists because social and material constraints force the adoption of such a view, there is also a large number of people for whom poverty is no longer an issue and thus they can focus on more complex achievements. Unfortunately, a present-focused view of the world limits the scope of achievements to only those that can happen short-term, forgoing more complex ones that require more time and show benefits later in the future – in some cases well after we are dead. To present my dilemma more clearly: How many would be willing to dedicate their time for future achievements, thus sacrificing some of their well-being today so that future generations would enjoy a better life?

My guess is that very few.

It is as if almost everyone adopted the Keynesian view of “in the long run we are all dead”. The future no longer matters and it remains only in the dreams of Sci-Fi writers and movies.

But has it not occur to anyone that if we no longer care about our future, we may no longer have one?

In world politics the past few years have been an overwhelming cascade of events. But in many ways this was a natural development. The world rarely stays still and it is foolish to think otherwise.

Nowadays information, people, goods, ideas and money travel around the world at speeds unsurpassed in any previous age which in turn makes everything happen much faster, sometimes too fast for anyone to control. And when things get out of hand it takes either a miracle or a strong and competent leader to get them back on track. Unfortunately the world does not have such leaders, not at this time at least. Without such leaders the tasks falls on pretty much everybody to get things working again. It is our responsibility at this time to recognise the problems we face, to accept them as problems (even if they contradict are deepest believes) and try to find solutions to them.

In the worst case scenario, one my think that we live in a world where socialism has failed, capitalism has betrayed us, were tyranny still looms and democracy has become a shop in which we have to buy every few years a bunch of bad, expired products which we are forced to wear until the next shopping spree. But however depressing these times may seem it is important to remember that all we do and all we have matters only in relation to one another. We need one another even if it is to show off or brag, to humiliate or to help, to build monuments or make wars. Nothing makes sense in a world where each one of us would be alone. So as long as we exist as a society, there is still hope.

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