Nina, 14 April 2013, rated Too Smart for Our Own Good 5 of 5 stars.
In perhaps the most important book that no one will ever read, Craig Dilworth explains the development of the human species, its current state, and the (dim) prospects for our future as being the result of a mechanism he has named the Viscious Circle Principle, defined most simply as follows:
"Humankind's development consists in an accelerating movement from situations of scarcity, to technological innovation, to increased resource availability, to increased consumption, to population growth, to...moreIn perhaps the most important book that no one will ever read, Craig Dilworth explains the development of the human species, its current state, and the (dim) prospects for our future as being the result of a mechanism he has named the vicious circle principle, defined most simply as follows:
“Humankind’s development consists in an accelerating movement from situations of scarcity, to technological innovation, to increased resource availability, to increased consumption, to population growth, to resource depletion, to scarcity once again, and so on.”Too Smart for Our Own Good, p. 110.
Each turn of the vicious circle has allowed us to draw upon more of the resources of the planet and, because of our sexual and social instincts, to use these resources to increase our population, requiring us to develop new methods of extracting resources to feed the larger population. Because the Earth is finite, this is ultimately self-destructive; however it is highly unlikely that humanity will be able to escape this pattern, as short-term benefits will always outweigh long-term costs in our calculations because, throughout human evolution, this strategy has generally tended to work in our favor. After we extinguished the Pleistocene megafauna (by eating them faster than they could breed), we turned to less optimal species of prey and, eventually, to agriculture, with each new technological innovation increasing our population size as the quantity (though not the quality) of food increased. Our population has expanded at the expense of nearly every other species on Earth, with the exception of the plants and animals we have domesticated to fuel our population growth, and the parasitic species that live off our scraps. Each turn of the circle has accelerated the process, and Dilworth holds out little, if any, hope that humanity will be able to change its course before it eventually smacks into a resource limitation that no amount of human ingenuity can circumvent, at which point a tremendous die-off will occur.
As one might imagine, this does not make for very pleasant reading, unless one is a complete misanthrope. Dilworth’s argument is compelling and his evidence is strong. However, I highly suspect that few will bother to read this book and fewer still will be able to agree with him. Pessimism of this magnitude goes against our instincts. Technological innovation has always saved our bacon in the past, and the fact that most of us believe this will continue is illustrated by the fact that, not only can a book with a title as asinine as Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger, and War be published, but also beshelved in the science section of the bookstore. We want to believe in progress because to do otherwise is just too depressing.