Sunday, March 25, 2012

We need to go beyond our genetics in order to grow

Our genes have done pretty well so far, haven't they.
You are here reading this post, and I'm here writing this post. Each of our genes have somehow managed to survive so far.
But our world is very quickly changing.
We have access to pretty much as much food as we want, as much as information as we want, and as much stimulation (from the TV, internet, cell phones, iPad, etc...) as we want. Our genes have survived up until now because they were good at keeping us fed, keeping us informed, and keeping us reproducing.
One problem we face in 21th century is the deception of over-consumption and over-stimulation. We actually need to learn to fight what our genes are trying to get us to eat or to watch. But as readers hopefully recognize, this is not a call to stop growth. In fact, it's the opposite. Our genes have wired our brains to want more food and more sex. The problem is that in today's world of junk-food and junk-stimulation, these dopamine-driven desire are actually decreasing our growth rates to roughly zero in Europe (0.1%/yr growth rate in 2010) and in Japan (-0.1%/yr growth rate in 2010). In the US, in the population growth rate is only 1%/yr.
Our genes have set up feedback systems that regulate our dopamine levels so as to encourage us to eat and to procreate. That's what has gotten to where we are. And that would be fine, except we now live in a world in which eating too much actually causes health problems. And now, there is so much sexual stimulation (from TV to the internet) that sex now has virtual nothing to do with its original purpose (making babies.) In other words, eating too much can actually hurt our ability to procreate, and too much extra-martial sexual stimulation can a) decrease sperm count in men, and b) take away the energy we need to maintain a healthy family and raise children. This instinct for consumption and stimulation (even when the outcome has nothing to do with growth) seems to be like our wisdom teeth, i.e. one of the many leftover parts of our body that seem to have no purpose.

We need to increase our global growth rates (both in terms of economic growth rates and population growth rates.) So, how do we go beyond our genetic hard-wiring, which does not seem to be helping us grow?
The solution is pretty easy to articulate, but it's a lot harder to implement because it's an upward battle against our natural instincts that were forged in the evolutionary fires of a very different world that the one we live in today. Here's a recipe for real growth.
1) Recognize that our 'desires' for food and sexual stimulation were healthy and normal. They were part of what got us to where we are today.
2) Recognize that the goal of life is to grow life.
3) Recognize that our 'desires' for food and sexual stimulation can, at times, work against the underlying goal of growing life.
4) Finally, recognize that we have to teach ourselves when to delay gratification, and when not to delay gratification. One way to grow life is to have a stable, healthy family. It takes a lot of work to keep up a stable, health family. At times, one has to fight the natural instincts to over-consume, but at other times, one has to recognize healthy consumption for its positive benefits. [Note that I define the term 'family' loosely because there are many different healthy forms of families and I'm not arguing for any traditional form of family.]

A balanced, pro-growth lifestyle is difficult to maintain because it takes hard work, dedication, and the ability to delay gratification. And it will be probably be harder in the future when there will be more and more siren's calls from people arguing for a steady-state economy and de-growth. The de-growth philosophy has been with us for thousands of years (e.g. Roman poet Horace.) But the calls for a steady-state economy and/or de-growth
will likely continue to get louder in the future. Be very wary of anti-growth advocates because they most likely want to either get you to subsidize their expensive forms of energy production or take your money to 'level the playing field.'  They want your money and they want to keep you from procreating.  [Note that I don't want your money and I want you to procreate. I know how to invest my money because I took the time and effort to teach myself how to invest.]

We are nowhere near the limits to growth here on Earth, and no where remotely near the limits to grow on other planets. The calls for steady-state economics and de-growth are many times actually calls for communism, socialism, and pre-feudalism. And the calls are always attempts to limit your ability to procreate in the future, i.e. to pass on your genes to future generations. Be wary of anybody attempting to stop you from procreating.

So, what I'm arguing for in this post, is that growing life is difficult, but we must tackle the difficult challenge. Not growing is simple, in fact, it's really simple. Growing life, on the other hand, takes a lot of hard work and effort. It will be even harder in the future because our genes have hard-wired into us 'desires' that have worked well in the past, but these desires will not work so well in today's world of over-stimulation.


  1. Our finite planet makes growth of anything an unsustainable proposition. Sustainable patterns require stability and balance, or perhaps an endless series of fluctuations between a minimum and a maximum. But pure growth, one that goes on endlessly, well that's a pipe dream.

  2. Why do most anti-growth proponents always use the term "finite planet" in order to justify their causes?
    There are other planets and there are other solar systems. I'm make this more clear in an upcoming post on populating the Moon and Mars.

    There is clearly a limit to how many people can sustainable live on the Earth. The number of people that can live here sustainably depends on our level of technology. There is plenty of solar energy to be able to sustain 100 billion people at US levels of energy consumption. We will need advanced in agriculture in order to sustainably feed 100 billion, but I see this as a challenge we need to tackle because the underlying goal of life is to grow.

    We each need to do our part to help grow life here on Earth in the short term, and then to other planets in the long term.

    1. Amen. I've been reading through your posts on this blog and they are right on spot with what I've been thinking.

      Glad to know that there is someone else out there with a pro-growth agenda regarding life and humanity and its future AI derivatives.