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Joan King: Societal, species survival fits no clear pattern
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The human animal is such a strange creature: Generous and compassionate one moment and vicious and depraved the next.

We spend huge amounts of money and energy to save certain endangered species and then turn around and destroy the habitat of other species that are equally important.

The strongest instinct of all God’s creatures is the will to survive, but mankind as a species is riding hell-for-leather toward its own extinction. An extreme statement perhaps, but not far from the truth.

I suspect that if some cataclysmic event, manmade or otherwise, destroyed most of life on this planet, the human species — or something close to it — would re-emerge, but it would take thousands, maybe millions, of years to do so. This is cold comfort to those of us living today.

It is not so much our personal survival that we desire — we’re all going to die — it’s our culture. It’s civilization itself. Like species, civilizations can sustain themselves through time or they can collapse. Our children study biology in school, but they are not encouraged to apply the principles they learn about the natural world to history and social science, and when it comes to politics, there is no carry-over whatsoever.

There will be no escaping politics in the next year and a half. Billions of dollars will be spent and billions of words spoken, all designed to elect our next leaders, but neither the media nor the candidates will focus on the science behind human societies. Very little of what passes for “getting to know the candidates” will tell us the things we need to know.

I for one would like to know what kind of books these politicians read. I want to know what they have beside their bed at night or in their briefcase when they board a plane. Have they read E.O. Wilson’s “The Creation: An Appeal To Save Life On Earth”?

Most educated people are familiar with “Gun, Germs, and Steel: The fates of human societies.” Jared Diamond’s prize-winning book has been around for almost 20 years. Today, I’m more interested in his recent book, “Collapse, Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed.” It is available on the net or in your local library.

These last two are heavy stuff, and I can understand why more people haven’t read them from cover to cover, but anyone aspiring to a position of leadership should be familiar with the facts presented in Diamond’s work. His research is impressive.

Throughout time various civilizations have developed, flourished for a while and then disappeared, while others have lasted for thousands of years. Some of these societies have lived side by side. One sustained itself while the other did not. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are an example. Why?

What happened to the Norse people who once lived in Greenland? Why were they defeated by circumstances when their neighbors, the Inuit people survived? And what happened on Easter Island?

Diamond points out the mistakes one by one, but do our leaders know what they were? Maybe, but even when leaders and heads of state understand the facts, it is hard for them to take the steps necessary to insure sustainability unless the masses understand why they are necessary.

Sometimes it takes a dictator. Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. He was ruthless and murdered thousands of his own people, but he protected the land and its resources. Meanwhile, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier who ruled Haiti during much the same time, did not.

Today, Pope Francis is speaking out about human-caused climate change and its disastrous impact on poor people around the world. Suddenly, this very popular Catholic leader is running into trouble because his words threaten the status quo of both church and state. Let‘s wish this truly unique man well. Religion aside, the world is in desperate need of this kind of a savior.

Joan King is a Sautee resident. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays.

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