Human nature has two sides: It has a dark side, to which nationalism and militarism appeal; but our species also has a genius for cooperation, which we can see in the growth of culture. Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate, chilli peppers, and quinine are gifts from the American Indians.
We need to reform our educational systems, particularly the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. We are taught that our own country is always heroic and in the right. We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism by a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving credit to all who have contributed. When we teach history, it should not be about power struggles. It should be about how human culture was gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds. Our common global culture, the music, science, literature and art that all of us share, should be presented as a precious heritage - far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.
Many areas of science can be thought of as history:
Cosmology is history: It is the history of our entire universe.
Geology is history: It is the history of our Earth, its continents and its oceans.
Evolutionary biology is history: It is the history of all living creatures. It is the history of our own species and our place in nature.
Paleoanthropology is history: It is the history of how homonids became humans. The study of languages is history.
Relationships between languages allow us to trace the spread of humans from their origin in Africa to other parts of the earth.
Modern genetics contributes to history: The study of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal DNA allows us to trace the pathways that our ancestors followed in populating the earth.
Two sides of human nature: Compassion and Greed
Humans are capable of great compassion and unselfishness. Mothers and fathers make many sacrifices for the sake of their families. Kind teachers help us through childhood, and show us the right path. Doctors and nurses devote themselves to the welfare of their patients.
Sadly there is another, side to human nature, a darker side. Human history is stained with the blood of wars and genocides. Today, this dark, aggressive side of human nature threatens to plunge our civilization into an all-destroying thermonuclear war.
Humans often exhibit kindness to those who are closest to themselves, to their families and friends, to their own social group or nation. By contrast, the terrible aggression seen in wars and genocides is directed towards outsiders. Human nature seems to exhibit what might be called ``tribalism": altruism towards one's own group; aggression towards outsiders. Today this tendency towards tribalism threatens both human civilization and the biosphere.
Greed, in particular the greed of corporations and billionaire oligarchs, is driving human civilization and the biosphere towards disaster.
The greed of giant fossil fuel corporations is driving us towards a tipping point after which human efforts to control climate change will be futile because feedback loops will have taken over. The greed of the military industrial complex is driving us towards a Third World War that might develop into a catastrophic thermonuclear war. The greed of our financial institutions is also driving us towards economic collapse.
Until the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, human society maintained a more or less sustainable relationship with nature. However, with the beginning of the industrial era, traditional ways of life, containing elements of both social and environmental ethics, were replaced by the money-centered, growth-oriented life of today, from which these vital elements are missing.
According to the followers of Adam Smith (1723-1790), self-interest (even greed) is a sufficient guide to human economic actions. The passage of time has shown that Smith was right in many respects. The free market, which he advocated, has turned out to be the optimum prescription for economic growth. However, history has also shown that there is something horribly wrong or incomplete about the idea that self-interest alone, uninfluenced by ethical and ecological considerations, and totally free from governmental intervention, can be the main motivating force of a happy and just society. There has also proved to be something terribly wrong with the concept of unlimited economic growth. Limitless growth of population or industry on a finite planet is a logical impossibility.
Culture, education and human solidarity
Cultural and educational activities have a small ecological footprint, and therefore are more sustainable than pollution-producing, fossil-fuel-using jobs in industry. Furthermore, since culture and knowledge are shared among all nations, work in culture and education leads societies naturally towards internationalism and peace.
Economies based on a high level of consumption of material goods are unsustainable and will have to be abandoned by a future world that renounces the use of fossil fuels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, a world where non-renewable resources such as metals will become increasingly rare and expensive. How then can full employment be maintained?
The creation of renewable energy infrastructure will provide work for a large number of people; but in addition, sustainable economies of the future will need to shift many workers from jobs in industry to jobs in the service sector. Within the service sector, jobs in culture and education are particularly valuable because they will help to avoid the disastrous wars that are currently producing enormous human suffering and millions of refugees, wars that threaten to escalate into an all-destroying global thermonuclear war.
Culture is cooperative, not competitive!
Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of all the peoples of the world throughout history. The true history of humanity is not the history of power struggles, conflicts, kings, dictators and empires. The true history of humanity is a history of ideas, inventions, progress, shared knowledge, shared culture and cooperation.
Our cultural heritage is not only immensely valuable; it is also so great that no individual comprehends all of it. We are all specialists, who understand only a tiny fragment of the enormous edifice. No scientist understands all of science. Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci could come close in his day, but today it is impossible. Nor do the vast majority people who use cell phones, personal computers and television sets every day understand in detail how they work. Our health is preserved by medicines, which are made by processes that most of us do not understand, and we travel to work in automobiles and buses that we would be completely unable to construct.
The sharing of scientific and technological knowledge is essential to modern civilization. The great power of science is derived from an enormous concentration of attention and resources on the understanding of a tiny fragment of nature. It would make no sense to proceed in this way if knowledge were not permanent, and if it were not shared by the entire world.
Science is not competitive. It is cooperative. It is a great monument built by many thousands of hands, each adding a stone to the cairn. This is true not only of scientific knowledge but also of every aspect of our culture, history, art and literature, as well as the skills that produce everyday objects upon which our lives depend. Civilization is not competitive. It is cooperative!