Bootnecking Modern Civilization
Modern civilization lifted “nature’s boot” off humanity’s neck.
Nature’s boot, to put it simply, is the harsh struggle to exist. In nature, most organisms die without reproducing. That is necessary to prevent populations from exploding. It’s not the design of some benevolent creator. It’s just how things happen: populations increase until competition limits them.
All species have the capacity for excess reproduction, so all species have the capacity for exponential growth. No species could evolve that does not have that capacity. Premature death prevents most organisms from reproducing, and thus prevents the exponential growth of populations.
That’s the boot that modern civilization has lifted off humanity’s neck. In modern civilization, most children live to adulthood. For most individuals, life is not a desperate struggle to survive. Life is relatively easy.
However, the removal of nature’s boot has created new problems. These new problems are counter-intuitive, because the human brain is adapted to nature’s boot. Somewhat ironically, without the boot, the brain doesn’t work. The brain was smart enough to wriggle free of the boot, but it isn’t smart enough to figure out how live without the boot.
Or so it seems.
For humanity as a whole, the absence of the boot creates the twin biological problems of population growth and dysgenics. The boot regulated the human population and genome. Without the boot, the population is growing and the genome is degrading.
The solution to these problems is simple: replace nature’s boot with social regulation of reproduction. Unfortunately, most people resist this solution, because they don’t understand the problem. They don’t understand how making life easier for human beings could cause problems. It is counter-intuitive.
In the past, we solved problems by pushing against nature’s boot. It is hard to understand that the absence of the boot creates new problems, and that we can only solve those problems with a new boot.
For humans, nature’s boot often involved conflict with other societies. Other societies threatened to annihilate us and take our land. We could solve problems of scarcity by annihilating them and taking their land. It is natural for humans to go to war. It is not natural for humans to regulate their own populations. Population growth naturally led to war, which reduced the population.
Occasionally, humans discover a new trick, like agriculture or fossil fuels. Then the population increases for a while, until it reaches a new limit.
Good times are transient and self-eliminating. Hard times are relatively stable.
Now is a good time. We currently have abundance, not scarcity. Most children live to adulthood. The problems of the past have disappeared, for now. So, it is hard for people to understand that there is any problem that needs solving.
We evolved to deal with scarcity by competing for resources. We did not evolve to perpetuate abundance by regulating our population. Likewise, we never regulated our genome in the past — at least, not deliberately. So, the idea of regulating our population and genome seems strange to most people.
Nature’s boot solved the problems of population growth and dysgenics by killing children. We have never solved those problems for ourselves.
I am not proposing that we solve our problems by killing children. We can replace nature’s boot with socially imposed reproduction control. That is a much gentler boot.
But we don’t seem capable of understanding these problems, let alone solving them. So, nature’s boot will probably return in the not-too-distant future.
The absence of the boot also creates psychological and philosophical problems for individuals. It creates a loss of purpose, and the need for an explicit purpose.
When the boot is on the neck, human emotions work properly. They cause us to struggle to survive. That’s what we evolved to do, and our emotions evolved to make us do it. Once the boot comes off the neck, human emotions become dysfunctional.
For example, women evolved to depend on men for survival. Men have a stronger sexual attraction toward women than vice versa, because women were attracted to men for other reasons, and/or women didn’t have the option to refuse sex. Hunger, danger, and even male violence forced women to mate with men. In modern civilization, those ancestral forces are no longer present. The result is a breakdown in human sexual behavior. Men and women are not forming relationships and having sex.
I am not proposing that women be placed in conditions of hardship and danger, so that they will submit sexually to men. But we have to understand that human emotions are adapted to the conditions of the past, not to the conditions of the modern world. If we are going to have a civilization in which women are safe and comfortable, then we might need to make women depend on men in other ways, to restore a balance of power between the sexes.
Birth control is another solution that creates new problems. It gives us a new type of agency: the ability to control reproduction without abstinence. This is not harmful per se. It simply gives us more control over our lives. However, we did not evolve to have this type of agency. With easy access to birth control, most people choose to have few or no children.
In a world with birth control, human beings need to explicitly value reproduction. Otherwise, many will not reproduce, and they will not have a unifying purpose of life. They will just spin their wheels until they die.
Now this is where many people (understandably) get confused. Earlier, I said that unregulated reproduction is a problem. Birth control allows people to regulate reproduction. So surely birth control is not only good, it solves the problem that I raised before. It replaces nature’s boot. So there is nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong. Things aren’t that simple.
Voluntary low fertility is not a substitute for nature’s boot. It is dysgenic, not eugenic. And it is self-eliminating. Many people will choose low fertility, but some will choose high fertility, and their descendants will be the future population. In the long run, genes and memes that cause high fertility will replace those that cause low fertility. Even when something is voluntary, it has deterministic causes that can be selected for or against. The population might stop growing temporarily due to voluntary low fertility, but in the long run only nature’s boot or socially imposed reproduction control can stop the population from exploding.
Individuals can’t solve the collective problems of population growth and dysgenics by choosing not to reproduce. Collective problems have to be solved by collective action.
Modern civilization causes a loss of purpose for many individuals. They simply don’t know what to do with their lives. In the past, people couldn’t choose careers, lifestyles, genders, sexualities, etc. Those things were mostly determined by culture or nature. Women would get pregnant soon after puberty, so they needed to be married. People knew what to do: struggle to survive and raise their children. Today, people have choices that they didn’t evolve to make, and they don’t have the problems that they evolved to solve. They are lost, confused, and spinning their wheels. They don’t know what to do.
That is one reason for the explosion of new ideologies and identities, such as transgenderism. There is a deep sense that something is wrong with modern life, but the real problem is counter-intuitive, so people don’t see it. Instead, they frantically search for meaning in other areas.
To behave adaptively in the modern world, the individual must reject hedonism and explicitly value reproduction. In the past, human emotions caused people to reproduce without the conscious choice to reproduce. Now that we have the ability to control our reproduction, as individuals, we must choose to reproduce. The explicit value of reproduction is a substitute for nature’s boot. It gives the individual a purpose: something to work toward.
The individual needs a new struggle to replace the old struggle against nature’s boot. This struggle requires two things:
- An explicit purpose.
- Society making that purpose harder to attain.
The individual needs reproduction as a core value. This is necessary to make him adapted to the modern world. Society needs to limit reproduction, and make it more difficult for individuals to achieve. Society should require that parents are law-abiding, contributing members of society, and can support the child at a level deemed adequate. Society should also impose the requirement that both parents agree to a child, which would make women depend on men again, and help to restore the balance of sexual power.
By limiting individual reproduction, society could replace nature’s boot in two ways. It would regulate the human population and genome. It would also give the individual something to do with his life, instead of spinning his wheels.
But this is very counter-intuitive.
It is counter-intuitive that society should make it harder to reproduce at a time when fertility is collapsing in most countries. But that is exactly what it should do. The effect would be even more counter-intuitive. Making reproduction harder to attain would actually boost fertility in the developed world, because children would become a sign of high status. Children would demonstrate that the individual is a law-abiding, contributing member of society with the means to support children. Making reproduction into a civilized competition would help to make it a core value. Even without that effect, reproduction would eventually become a core value due to cultural and biological evolution, if modern civilization lasts long enough. In the short run, the best way to boost fertility eugenically is to make it harder, not easier.
Unfortunately, there are no intuitive solutions to modern problems. Only careful rational thought can understand and solve the problems of the modern world.
We have bootstrapped ourselves out of the Malthusian trap, but only temporarily, and by doing so we have created new problems. To stay out of the Malthusian trap and solve our new problems, we have to “bootneck” ourselves.