Will the Human Species Disappear?

by Lorna Salzman

An internet colleague recently asked me if I thought the human "race" will disappear. Actually humans are a species, homo sapiens, not a race. The concept of race is hotly disputed by the post modernist left and the social sciences, but that's because they don't know anything about evolution and genetics.

Anyone can see, if they visit certain regions of the world, that there are physical (and therefore genetic) characteristics that are shared by most of the population there and not by people in other regions. This reflects a genome in which various traits are linked and continue to be passed on this way because people in that region generally (but not always) breed with others within that group. Perhaps geographic populations might be preferable to race, but the phenomenon of statistical genomic differences between people in different regions is real.

In biology it is perfectly OK to refer to races of birds, for example. These can of course interbreed outside their race - as opposed to different species which cannot or do not interbreed successfully - but the traits in their genome which distinguish them from other races generally persist within that population. These traits are usually size and intensity of coloration. This differs, by the way, from morphs, which are different color forms within a species but which appear randomly and don't form a separate population that breeds on its own.

Now that I've clarified that....I cant predict whether humans will disappear any more than we can predict whether life exists elsewhere in the universe. Certainly if it does it won't resemble ours unless the exact same elements and forces came together in the same way but that isn't likely.

What will disappear (and one could argue it already is, judging from the pervasiveness of irrational and violent behavior, and the violation of natural laws) will be civilization as we know it. The changes that will be required for our social and economic systems to persist, as well as civilization and culture, will be vast, and will be either conscious and voluntary, or involuntary and onerous.

My opinion is that it will be the latter, and that there is too much conflict and competition in the world for the countries to unite behind saving civilization. They are too focused on saving capitalism. And since capitalism has proven that it is responsible for destroying the world (at least as it has been practiced and in its present form and with present objectives), then rescuing capitalism will necessarily destroy civilization. Thus, we have a single minded focus on restoring the ability of people to buy and consume, and of businesses to produce and expand to meet these needs.

All you have to do is look at the response to the recession, economic hardship, and the stated goals of the stimulus package. With almost no exception, the focus is on economics, not ecology or social justice or sustainability. Conferences and panels are held routinely to promote "Green jobs", Green Growth", "Jobs for All", by unions, activist groups, and others, with scarce mention of the term "global warming". Environment is on the back burner, maybe even off the stove and buried in the cold root cellar. One third of people polled say global warming is an important issue; the other two thirds say it is either exaggerated or non-existent.

No one listens to the scientists, neither the neo cons and right wing who are desperate to manufacture only good news about capitalism, nor the liberals and the left, who, being addicted to ideology and pathetically uninformed on matters scientific, believe only what they read on the internet or hear from their equally uninformed colleagues and associates, and thus have no capacity to examine these various claims critically, much less understand the underlying issues.

I find this extraordinary and depressing. It is symptomatic of a society-wide failure, in the media, our schools, our civic activism, and public discourse....that the most important issues of our day are dismissed as fit only for the elites and scientists to discuss, as if they had no bearing on civil society, social justice, governance and, most urgently, the economy.

No, the human species won't disappear YET, though it is ultimately fated to do so since evolution has told us that 98% of all species that ever existed have gone extinct. Historically this was just because of evolution, which created more NEW species, in new niches, than those that went extinct. But since the industrial era began, we have methodically destroyed habitat, overharvested, and poisoned ecosystems, and now species are disappearing at a rate 100 times greater than evolution did historically or can do today.

So homo sapiens will have, sorry to say, a lot more time to continue sawing off the evolutionary branch on which it sits, before it crashes to the ground. Some cynics say the earth would be better off without humans. It's hard to say that the new possible rulers of the earth - insects, bacteria, rats, etc. - will be "better" than humans.

But then again, evolution has no moral component. What is "better" or "worse" has no relevance. What is relevant is the need for all species to adapt to their environment or risk extinction. Natural selection in animals exists in humans in a kind of "social selection", where conscious choices are made to do something or not do something because the consequences are known and foreseeable, and therefore in theory humans will make the right choice to avoid extinction. Tragically, this is not the case. And none of us will be around to know if future choices will favor survival or extinction.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.