Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The 98 Percent

Scott Bradley


No, this is not about the wealth disparity which thankfully seems to have finally reached the consciousness of us all; it is about the existence disparity between the was-es and the is-es, and those yet not to be.

It is estimated that about 98 percent of the life forms which have existed are now extinct. Extinction, as environmentalists remind us, is forever. This is a sobering reality in view of the daily loss of life forms which is the direct result of the incredible 'success' of one life-form in colonizing Earth — us. "We cover the globe", as one paint company proudly proclaims as neon paint pours over the planet. One road, the moral and contingent one, is appalled at the extinction of these species and rightfully endeavors to stop this human-caused mass extinction, because each thing is precious in itself and because our own survival and well-being is put in danger through this loss of diversity.

But there is another point of view, a longer view, which understands that just as those 98 percent of life-forms are now no more, so also shall be every present life-form, including our favorite, us. The inevitability of the extinction of humanity is a sobering, yet edifying, prospect. Nothing is forever. This may be a truism, but, like so many 'truths', it is one that we are loath to allow to inform our being in the world. This should not surprise us; why would the inevitability of cosmic extinction affect us, when the inevitability of our personal extinction hardly does so? (I default to the death-as-extinction model since it seems to me the most likely, as well as the most challenging.)

Our star, the sun, like every star in the universe has an expiration date. It will most likely swell into a red giant and incinerate its dependent planets. Oh well. But that's a long way off, and it’s possible that an asteroid will eradicate all 'higher' life-forms on Earth long before that. It's a matter of chance, as the unlucky dinosaurs discovered.

Hopefully (?), we will have long colonized other solar systems by then. In this case our extinction might be postponed to a time closer to the extinction of the Universe. Yes, the Universe, too, has an expiration date. Entropy shall win in the end. "Heat death" shall pervade beyond all we can conceive. Oh well.

How might such realities inform our daily lives? They need not, of course. Our innate solipsism is an effective buffer against this and other threatening possibilities. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, I suppose. But alas, in this regard, humanity might have passed its 'best by' date; we know too much. Yet long ago, Daoism, inspired by a contemplation of the prospect of personal extinction, did formulate a response to the fundamental impermanence of all things. The only constant is impermanence. Endless transformation is Dao. Identifying utterly with this, letting go every false fixity, one rides the wave of change. Nothing is lost when nothing ever ‘is’.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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