the future of mankind

lonely in Sodom

Today, when I awoke, I checked my watch on the table near my bed… and I had awoken at my regular time. My cat was curled up between my legs, with her head resting behind one of my knees, as she likes to do when the sun first comes up, trying to tempt me to stay in bed just a little longer… It was only later, when I turned on the computer, and noticed that it was an hour later than I thought it was, that I remembered that the clock had been turned forward in the middle of the night. Ah… the computer is so in touch… knows more than I do, most of the time… and the shock of it, that the computer knew what time it was while I still hadn’t reset my clocks and watches, made me think of where we’re going in this world as human beings.

a virtual pond

As you know, my friends, man knows everything. And if he doesn’t know, he’s quite willing to guess. And once he’s guessed, he’s ready to put his money on it. He’s ready to fight for his opinions… he’s more than ready to knock the shit out of anyone who thinks differently. That’s just the way we are… and as the Americans put it so aptly, love it or leave it. As everyone knows, there are two widely accepted theories of how we got here in the first place.

outdoor café in the mall

One is called ‘the creation theory’. This is the religious point of view, and tells us that the king of kings, who is omnipotent, and greater than we could possibly imagine… having some spare time one day, created the universe. The second theory is scientific. It is accepted by a lot of people and taught in public schools, as if there was no question about it. It says there was this little bit of dust (no explanation of how that dust got there), and it just sort of sat around for a long, long time, and then evolved itself into earth, moon, and stars, rivers, seas and mountains, junipers and mosquitoes. And once we had the monkey… it was one small step to mankind. There are so many really great people on both sides of this debate, that I don’t believe it would be right for me to take a side. I’ll just speculate about where man is going…

modern urban landscape

And when it comes to understanding man, it doesn’t really matter which side you take in the great debate between religion and science. If you’re religious, you know that it didn’t take long after man arrived, for him to start eating from the forbidden fruit, and killing his brother… and once we got the population growing, we killed great numbers of people… and often for the right reasons. If you’re on the scientific side, then you know that man started killing animals so he could eat, and used their pelts to make jeans, and raped women because their instinct told them to. They were so successful in overcoming all other life forms on this earth, that by the time Malthus started theorizing, it seemed like we would reproduce till there’d no longer be food to feed upon. And that would be terrible, don’t you know. He published his theory in 1798, and for most of the 19th century, academicians and thinking folks were really depressed about the future of man.

riding a dragon

But by the end of the 19th century, man’s knowledge and inventive powers were leap-frogging, and it seemed that there was no end to the ability of man to influence his environment. And this optimism continued to grow during the 20th century, only mildly discouraged by two world wars, and numerous crimes against humanity, both big and small.

children playing in the mall

Now here we are in the 21st century, and evolution is really hot and jumping. And if you’re on the religious side of the barricades, you’re not really surprised by the way things are going either. It is clear that man has not been taking the path of godliness. However, if you want to look at human progress from an innocent point of view, you could say that mankind is continuously trying to leave his animal existence behind him, and is aspiring to a more spiritual state of being. We’ve left hunting and rape, and sitting around the bonfire behind us (at least I hope we have), and now, as our bodies atrophy, and our waist lines expand (as does the universe), we’ve put the accent on mental activity, as realized by the computer, that fascinating tool which can do almost anything for us, with minimal physical work on our part.

the sky is always blue

The most striking allegory of our spiritual direction, these days, is the mall. It is there that we become oblivious to the time of day or the weather, as we shop under a never ending synthetic blue sky, and choose between infinite varieties of synthetic clothes and playthings, never knowing how they were made or how they work… but so, so happy to buy them, two for the price of one, if we’re lucky… and in the worst case, at 25% off. And they said that the garden of Eden was fun!

Chinese and American food side by side

But there is a fly in the ointment. In order to supply the multitudes with McDonald’s hamburgers, and other forms of meat, we’ve had to use some rather artificial methods to produce that food. And the same goes for fish. Actually, as difficult as it might be to believe, even a large part of the vegetables we consume, are raised in an extremely artificial way… and I’m not just talking about the poisons to discourage other living creatures; there’s an increasing enthusiasm for meddling with the DNA of plant life, and eating is no longer as simple as pulling a wild radish out of the ground and chomping on it. In fact, some of the issues that have popped up concerning the food we put in our mouths, bring back the nightmarish visions of Malthus, a little over 200 years ago. We may have to re-examine our eating habits.

And even for those who are not worried about food, there is a certain alienation from nature. I noticed that at nine this morning, when my computer told me it was ten.


45 responses to “the future of mankind

  1. a fascinating read…evocative…

  2. The future of food may be our Tower of Babel! 🙂

    It is scary what man comes up with at times. Genetic food just cannot be good. It is amazing how we have become so dependent on technology. A tornado ripped through where I lived last year and you could not buy gas for miles because computers were down because the power was out.

    I love how you weighed the two points together.

    • Actually, BoJo, I am pretty optimistic about what might develop. I think the progress in communication is a great plus, and the fact that more and more people can read and write in every generation, brings the hope of freedom to all mankind. But the changes from one chapter to another is often very cruel, and there are mistakes along the way. The technology can help to make us more healthy, and more free, and more aware. But we shouldn’t get drunk on our achievements, and always be careful to check what we’re asking for. Thank you very much for your comment,

  3. “….modern urban landscape…” and “….sky always blue….”

    hit me deeply…. How true and how ironic. It is same here too dear Shimon. Actually in so many world cities we can find the same happenings… Every city begins to be as others… Especially this Great Globalism… Traditional values and habits are being disappeared every day much more… There is only one thing that never changes,”change”… How beautifully expressed today’s picture, dear Shimon, I found myself in there too and you translated my thoughts and my feelings too…. I can’t say I am happy for all these changes… But I can’t struggle to hold them in my hands… Just in my memories, and photographs… What we eat… What we drink… Chemical food industries are in our life now… It is not very far to feed ourselves with a tablet… Like in the science fiction films in the past… Do you need to eat spinach, here its tablet… maybe little green tablet… But I do believe there should be a time to go back again… Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice day and weekend, as always your photographs were beautiful. with my love, nia

    • Yes, one of the disadvantages of globalization, is that we will become more alike all over the world, and that many of the unique characteristics of different smaller cultures will be lost. And since the majority is often most excited by superficial beauty, there will probably be losses in the field of craftsmanship and art too. But changes bring both good and bad. And though I intended this post to be in the style of light humor, and not so much a deep analysis, I have to say that I am optimistic about the future, and think that if we learn from our mistakes, and choose quality, we have much to gain. Thank you so much for your comment, Nia

  4. Hi Shimon, Interesting and thought-provoking post. Your photography is magnificent, as always.


  5. I really liked your choice of photography for this post because it adds to the important debate you raise. There is much to be uncomfortable about when we look around at where ‘we’ are as a planet. Thank you this was very thought provoking.

    • Thank you, Jacqueline. In the post, I said that I thought that the mall was an example of the attitudes and values of this modern age. And that’s why I chose to illustrate the post with photography of malls here in Israel. As someone mentioned here… they are very much the same everywhere. Glad you liked it. The post was meant to be humorous. I’m not sure that was understood by everyone… but I gave it a try.

  6. I found the contrast between your write up and your pics very moving … Yes, that’s us … going about our business as usual while there are issues brewing. I’m reading a book by Sam Harris at the moment, The titel of the book is “The End Of Faith”. It’s a frightening read, especially because I find myself believing in the end of faith as I get older. Greetings, my friend. Love, cat.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Cat. It is always good to hear from you. I am unfamiliar with Sam Harris, but I don’t believe that the end of faith is at hand. I think that faith goes through changes from one generation to another. But that faith is an integral part of the human personality. In fact, I was hinting in this post, that some people have faith in science in much the same way that others have faith in religion…

  7. Our special gift and our special curse (it would seem) is to be able to envision and conceive and conjur up The Perfect, while never able (under our own power) to achieve it. What always humbles me is seeing those with far far less than others, having the longest and richest laughter over the simplest pleasures. Hotly going after having it all is not only a fruitless pursuit, but soul-killing at the same time. However, sacrifice is not a word we embrace with warmth–and so, like many, I fall victim to my own confusion over the words ‘need’ and ‘want’.

    • You have hit on something here, that has occupied my mind for years. I agree that one of our characteristics, as human beings, is to aspire and dream of a perfect world, and a perfect man or woman. If we look at religion, or political movements, or famous revolutions… like the French revolution for instance, or communism in Russia, we can see how people, motivated by a desire to make the world perfect, brought a lot of cruelty to this world. On the other hand, in religious questions, many religiously motivated people try to fool God. I think all of that is because our dreams our so much greater than our own ability to change. But still I have an affection for this aspiration. Just let us not lose our heads! And I certainly agree with you about the necessity to differentiate between needs and wants!

  8. I was enjoying reading but most of all I have to say I was thinking, hmmmm great photos of shopping centres, where is Shimon taking us today!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Claire. I find myself fascinated by closed in malls, because they are so artificial… it reflects something we often see in human nature; the desire to overcome nature as a whole. I love going outdoors and appreciating the sea and the forests and the deserts… but it is amusing too, to see what the humans have created, to compete with wide open nature.

  9. a few thoughts. first, i think you’ve successfully, though maybe not intentionally, shown which “side” you’re on. and i like the thought that we’ll gain more by looking ahead instead of looking behind. looking behind can bring us important information, but then there’s the worry about what we do with it. for example, i recall a teacher i worked with who was starting a discussion about religion, and she said, “you have to believe in god. i mean, if there was no god, then why would be bother being good?” and i wanted to ask, “so, the only reason you are *good* is because of your fear of going to hell? so if you knew there was no god, then you’d start a gang and rob banks or something?” i’m comfortable in the fact, if it’s a fact, that we don’t know for sure about creationism or evolution. i like the discussions and debates, as long as there’s no rape involved.

    about “malthus.” i have a feeling that’s a name i should know, but i don’t, and there’s a project for me – to learn about malthus.

    also, i don’t think that was an instinct for rape. it was an instinct for sure, but it was a combination of procreation and pleasure. i think that the “man” of that era might not have been capable of the psychological abnormalities involved within a man who wants to rape. or – i need to reread it, as usual.

    thanks for more thought provocation. i’ll write the frilly stuff while you write the important stuff.

    • First of all, I have to answer your last line, Rich, and tell you that I always thought that fine literature is just as important as philosophical rumination. I got a lot of my ideas from literature.

      Aside from that, I really thank you for your comment, because I think you’ve raised a couple of points that will add much to this post. You mention that maybe, unintentionally, I have shown which side I am on. Well, when I wrote this post, my intention was to amuse the reader by a light and humorous view of our modern world. I don’t know how successful I was. I tried to draw a parallel between religion and science, because I think that both of them have engendered a lot of faith in man, and that science has become a modern sort of faith. I myself am religious. But that doesn’t mean I believe in Santa Claus. There are many levels to knowledge, and sometimes the greatest ideas seem somewhat superficial when they are presented in comic books. And though I don’t wish to be disrespectful to your teacher who told you that you had to believe in god, I don’t think she really understood what she herself was trying to teach. And on another issue, I agree with you. I don’t believe that there is an instinct in man to rape. I was just making fun of a lot of thinkers and teachers who described the caveman as a rather aggressive monkey who hit women over the head and dragged them to the cave for a quickie. I think that’s ridiculous, and just one of the many false stereotypes we have about man… and about evolution. As for Malthus, I don’t know whether it would be worth your while to read his books today. I had a classical education, so it was part of what I studied. But many of his ideas are reflected in modern literature, which you’ve probably already been exposed to. Again, it is always a pleasure sharing ideas with you.

  10. Interesting ending . . . you depend on your watch to tell you the time instead of the sun/nature . . .and really if we didn’t live in such a time dependent world, what would it matter if it were nine or ten anyway? Numbers on a watch are just abstractions of moments in our existence.

    • Yes, the way I was raised, my watch is a very important part of the way I relate to life. I wake up naturally, without alarm clock. But I do consult my watch or a clock throughout the day. I suppose it is a cultural thing. I have business and other appointments for a particular hour. That’s the way I live. I suppose, if I was living on an island, with all my friends and family around me, I might not need a watch, and I am sure there are people in this world that don’t use them. But it would be hard to build a house without a tape measure, or a car without wrenches… and the world I live in, is a technological world. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the sun, or the open nature. In fact, I do. Thanks for coming by, Jeremy. I’ve checked your blog, and see that you too have given a lot of thought to similar questions.

  11. I especially liked the “no explanation how the dust got there” and “man knows everything.” So many good points you raised, and how we’ve become so removed from our food sources, and how we’re still asking the same old questions about creation versus evolution.

    One thing that always strikes me, (and your photos prove the point), is that when I see just another version of a big shopping mall in some other corner of the world, I always get a bit saddened and dismayed that we’ve come together in how we worship money, but not in how we worship.

    Always provocative, and thought provoking, and intelligently spoken.

    • It doesn’t surprise me that you zeroed in on the salient points, because I’ve already seen that when you read or study, you focus on what matters, N. I was hoping to amuse my readers with a little humor, but I’m not sure that everyone got that, and in the case of science and religion, I was trying to show they were parallel. I agree with you, that the shopping mall has become rather the same thing in all parts of the world, but I don’t think it’s important that we all worship the same way, or see god as the same thing. What is really important, in my eyes, is that we get the essence of religion, which is respect for our fellow men, for all living creatures, and for the planet under our feet… and I think it’s tragic when we let our differences be a cause for contempt… or even worse, violence. I always enjoy your comments. Thanks.

      • I suppose I might have been too brief in my “we’ve come together in how we worship money, but not in how we worship.” I wasn’t intending to infer that we should all worship in a similar fashion, but was, instead, pointing more in the direction of what your response more clearly stated (about respect, and about contempt). Specifically, I was thinking about how religion is so often used to fuel arguments that turn violent (which you spoke to in your comment).

        I think the opposite, actually, as far as everyone being able to worship in a similar fashion. My belief is that even attempting to coerce others to worship in the way that you do, is a violation of their right to choose the source of spiritual enlightenment that speaks to them the most loudly (if they are seeking spiritual knowledge at all). Certainly there are similar threads that weave through various forms of religion, and perhaps you have said it in as succinct a way as possible: respect is good, contempt and violence is bad. That pretty much sums it up.

        As for your humor, I managed to catch several tongue-in-cheek references woven throughout, but when you got to the end, and threw in that last line, the punch line was complete. It was the perfect punctuation for a story told with a delicately humorous touch.

        Of course, as is often the case with humor, if it is based in truth, then we can’t help but more closely examine the truth therein. We shift our focus to the truth, because it makes us uncomfortable. In doing so, perhaps we miss some of the gentle humor that helped us notice the truth in the first place. We get so busy in our scrambling to explain our version of the truth, that we leave the humor in a trail of dust, not unlike that dust from which everything began, assuming you buy into the theory of evolution. If you lean in the direction of creationism, then the humor exists in every direction. I mean, seriously, who can look at a spider monkey or a newborn kitten without smiling? 🙂

    • Thank you for clarifying on the issue of worship. With your comment about the worship of money, you’ve brought to mind a theory I developed some years back, regarding money. I’ll try to post on that in the near future.

  12. First-time visitor here from the US via Nia. A very thought provoking post. The references of sides (science or religion) gives the impression that one must make a choice, thus the two shall never meet.

    • Glad you came by, Frank. Any friend of Nia, is welcome with open arms. I’ve lived all my life here in Jerusalem, and we have many religious people here who are outstanding scientists (including at least one, who won the Nobel prize). So they do meet. But there are these continuous disputes between the different disciplines, and I was just trying to have a little fun here, stepping back and observing dispassionately. I was amused by all the artificiality in our modern life… but I don’t really condemn it. I know the intentions are good. Thank you for your comment.

  13. ShimonZ, I agree that many people today display the same kind of reverence toward Science (with a capital “S”) that religious people have for God. If Science says it, it must be true.

    I think your humor came through – a gentle humor – that pops the little bubble of our pride.

    • Thank you for your feedback, yearstricken. This faith in science is much more prevalent among enthusiasts, than among scientists themselves, who are very often, modest people, good students, and aware if the difference between theory and proof. It is always such a pleasure to see you.

  14. Well it looks like I’ve looked in on your blog for the first time (via Robert Santafede) at a good time; wonderful post. I can see the humor you’ve set forth; I do believe a lot of people have become oblivious to the world, and not only inside a mall….they live in TVlandia. I love the first photo and your caption on it.

    • Glad you came by, Angeline, and I hope you will find more posts that are relevant to your interests. The first picture was taken in a mall, as were all the rest, but it is part of a set called ‘impressions’, and it related to my feelings about the alienation that I see in the modern consumer society. What seems to be missing, in my opinion, is a sense of community.

  15. Malls day by day are starting to look more like casinos. You have no idea what time of day it is, the twinkling lights and inviting offers.

    • It is interesting that you should say that. Because, many years ago, when I visited a casino in Las Vegas, for the first and last time, I was most struck by the alienation from nature, and the inability to know what time it was. I had gone with a friend of mine, who liked gambling, and I was very well treated even though I didn’t gamble myself. But the experience left me with an ‘other world’ impression.

      • It is also an `other world’ experience for me. My father took us to casinos since we were teenagers and although my brothers go almost everyday, now that they are grown men, it is something which I feel is not for me.

    • Not for you, and not for me either… but interesting that it has such a pull.

  16. I really enjoyed the thought provoking and humorous nature of this essay. It certainly made me chuckle. Like you I think Shimon, I am an optimist. One of the joys of teaching was to work with young people who were bright, decent, well mannered individuals quite contrary to what the media would have us believe. The future is safe in their hands albeit a future that older generations will struggle to understand. This is how it has always been. What is important I believe is that good is an inate quality in the vast majority whether religious or not, as is creativity, inventiveness and the ability to overcome adversity. Modern society would appear to alienate and fragement but then we see how people come together when disasters, natural or man made, occur. When it really matters community exists, it is there, just below the surface.

    • Well, we agree in our basic optimism, and our faith in human beings, whether religious or not. However, I do not believe that the health and comfort of living in a certain society can be decided by a statistical appraisal. Often, even a small minority can wreck havoc on all of society. It is like the example of the stubbed toe that becomes the focus of all attention. And it does seem to me that we have reached a more violent time… one in which selfishness is more prevalent. I would prefer to see greater community behavior for positive ends, and not just in the case of a catastrophe. Thank you very much for your comment, Chillbrook. I am so glad you enjoyed the post.

  17. Great post I love your sense of humour and insights. I can only believe in a Creator, rather than this bunch of dust gathering and turning into the universe with all its intricate detail and intelligence.

    • Thank you very much, Maggie. You have no idea how much trouble I’ve had with your comments. I found them in spam. Reported them as not spam. And then had to find them again in back comments in order to approve them so that they would land in the posts. Can’t imagine why this is happening, but glad I found your comments in any cas. Actually, my discussion of the two points of view was pretty much in fun. I understand and sympathize with your belief. I believe that there is more to this world than we can understand… and when Moses himself asked to see God’s face, he was told, ‘you can’t see him and live’.

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