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the agent's argument in the matrix

He said to Neo that humans are like a virus, breeding and infecting the world with our “stick” and general disgustingness.

I look around the world, at the state of society, the environment, international conflict and the enshitification of humanity - I’ve gone through my life blindly accepting that life for life’s sake is beautiful, and worth it.

But as I see the state of it all, our perpetual need to destroy each other over ideas and resources, I struggle to come to grips with it. Societies around the world are facing population shrinkage… Do they all know something I don’t?

Is human life beautiful, and objectively worth perpetuating? Or are we a blight? Why should we be?

afraid_of_zombies ,

Not really understanding your question. A virus isn’t alive. Life does not instinctively seek balance, it always act selfishly. Of all the life forms that have existed on this world only one got the idea that some moderation is called for.

some_guy ,

We’re both. We’re capable of great beauty (art and incredible scientific achievements) and terrible harms (I don’t need to give examples). You’re probably awesome. Some others are complete shit. Try to focus on the good and know that the bad exists. Do what you can to make the world a better place.

Randomgal ,

This is true only if you look at the news and look at it from an anthropocentric point of view. Humans being horrible for the environment doesn’t mean we can actually erase all life on Earth, it means we can change it enough that it will no longer support US, but life continues at its own rhythm, we are oarr of that rhythm, not separate from it.

Same with things like aggression. Aggression is the base behavior for carnivorous animals, but it is not for humans. One of the ways I’m which we mark the age of humanity is by looking at the oldest remains of a human which a healed leg fracture, a human that could could not contribute to their band and only could have survived with the help of other humans, compassion for unrelated others is a himan-only trait.

Are agent’s Smith’s words true? Yes, but incomplete, he is taking a few humans to characterize us all, but there is more to humanity than its animal behavior. This is what the movies are about.

deo ,

it means we can change it enough that it will no longer support US, but life continues at its own rhythm, we are oarr of that rhythm, not separate from it

We are not the first instance of life forever changing the environment to the point of mass extinction. When early cyanobacteria figured out photosynthesis, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere they produced as waste killed off massive numbers of other species for which oxygen was toxic.

However, we are the first instance of life capable of understanding our place in the ecosystem enough to do something about how we as a species affect the biosphere and the pressure we are putting not just on other life forms but on ourselves as well. We are not mindless cyanobacteria pooping out oxygen to the detriment of all others; we can and MUST do better.

A huge part of that is understanding exactly what you pointed out: we are part of the ecosystem, not separate from it. I just wish someone could get the mega-wealthy and fossil fuel CEOs and politicians to understand it. There is no safety for them; their money and power will not save them.

Spacehooks ,

humans are only species that is trying to use birth control to midigate the issues. Only wanted children should ever be born. GOP are the blight trying to cause mass growth for no end. Societies shrinking is not a problem as automation will replace the humans doing the menial work like it has for last hundred years. No need to replace manpower that is not needed longterm. We are just getting to our proper steady state to be more balanced. Any pack animal will wage war over resources. Look at ants, those things even farm and enslave.

marcos ,

All of life does that same thing, we are just more powerful than most species. We are also more responsible and restrained than most species. If you think life is a good thing, well, that’s what life does.

And none of that is a excuse for us to not improve, of course. With great power, and etc.

deft ,

We’re just animals. We have so much ego we pull ourselves out of the animal basket

Dinosaurs were animals, ruled longer than us. Sharks even longer. We’re not that special.

Alimentar ,

Exactly, it’s still a somewhat survival of the fittest world, especially politics. Certain psychopaths get in as they have the skill to take down their opponents at whatever the costs.

Then these people with their morals and ethics have the power to make global decisions.

sxan , avatar

There isn’t any evidence that any previous “rulers” of the Earth also took entire ecosystems down wity tyem when they died out.

Humans are special. We’re likely the first to be the cause of our own extinction, probably the first to destroy most of the other higher life forms in the bargain, and almost certaimly the first to make certain no life form following us has a chance to rise above the stone age, due to our exhaustion of easily accessible minerals and energy-dense resources.

We’ll be the first to murder ourselves, everyone else, and stifle any advanced society in the future! That’s pretty darned special, if you asked me.

crapwittyname ,

Agree completely on a planetary scale. The chances are that we are very ordinary on a galactic scale, and that millions of other lifeforms on millions of other planets have risen to roughly this level of sophistication, and thereby become too powerful for their overwhelming stupidity, and died.
See: the Copernican Principle, the Great Filter, and Dissipation-driven Adaptation (in ascending order of how much time you’ve got)

sxan , avatar

Oh, yes, of course. I completely agree with you; I assumed the context was Earth.

My favorite theory to explain the Fermi Paradox is that we’re one of the early intelligent life forms in the universe. Our goldilocks situation occurred fairly early in the overall lifespan of the universe, even considering only the exciting period, when stars are forming and growing their own planetary systems.

If we survive and get off the planet. we could be the mysterious “old ones” some future species discovers evidence of as they explore the galaxy.

If we can just survive ourselves.

crapwittyname ,

I desperately want to believe your optimistic reading of the Paradox. I hope you’re right, and, thankfully, I can’t honestly say with any certainty that you’re not.
The mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs might be quite rare, especially if it was some kind of orbital event. In which case we might have accelerated advancement in comparison to other Goldilocks planets.

deft ,

Actually not true.

There is no reason to think we prevented any life ahead of us from anything. Radiation from us will even one day fade.

sxan , avatar

But easily accessible surface metals, coal deposits, and oil fields aren’t going to miraculously re-appear. The great oxidation event was 2 billion years ago. In 1 billion yearsfrom now, the sun will be so hot that life on Earth will be unsustainable.

We are Earth’s last chance, mainly because we’ve used up all the easily accessible resources a civilization needs to advance past the stone age. The Earth isn’t going to cycle enough metal to the surface, and life isn’t going to create enough coal or petrolium deposits, before the sun cooks it.

Tattorack , avatar

So… You want a hypothetical future civilization to repeat the same mistakes as we did?

wahming ,

Point being, there’s no hypothetical future civilization because we’ve eliminated that possibility

Tattorack , avatar

Yes, but you’re assuming that a future civ requires fossil feuls to advance.

Metals and plastic aren’t a problem as they don’t simply go away.

wahming ,

Plastics don’t take recycling well, even today we can barely do it.

With metals, they’re still around, but we’ve distributed them so widely, plus whatever gets lost to erosion and rust over time, that it would probably be impossible to collect them in any significant quantities.

deft ,

Nah I’m still extremely skeptical. Humans have only been this way for like .01% of that time. There’s no reason to think we’ve doomed anything.

GOE happened a long time ago but that doesn’t matter. The point is the world has been changed often and life recovers and usually advanced further than it did before.

sxan , avatar

I think you missed the point that life doesn’t have the luxury of time that we’ve had, because the sun is going to cook the planet in half the time as between us and the GOE. Our successors will have to advance farther, faster, and with fewer resources to escape the planet - which we still haven’t, in any meaningful way - before the sun makes the panet uninhabitable.

If humans somehow survive in some form and we can cut out most of the evolving-to-big-brains time, most of the knowledge they might inherit will be useless, as it’s based on resources they have no access to.

Sure, it isn’t impossible, but the odds are stacked against anyone following us succeeding in escaping a planet which is 2/3 of the way through its goldilocks phase of life. The best chance is for us to get our shit together, and get some self-sustaining colonies out there. Preferrably in deep space, eventually.

deft ,

Again human arrogance.

Animals have evolved just as long as we have my friend.

sxan , avatar

Humans are animals, and are the only ones who’ve evolved to prioritize big, expensive brains over every other survival characteristic. It took us a long time to do that, and even then, we spent a massive amount of time - most of it, in fact, running around not creating anything more complex than baskets. There is a lot of evidence - 2 billion years worth - that there are a huge number of variables that have to work out just right to produce something like what a human is.

deft ,

We didn’t prioritize big brains though. What we evolved to do lead us to big brains because we simply had great diets through cooking.

Other species can absolutely evolve cooking or at least a process of breaking down food to both be more calorically dense and easier to digest. After that it was what less than 1 million years to get here? Most of that happening in the last 100,000?

We’ve just not seen any species reach this point that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t. Also a bigger question, why should they want to? What have we accomplished actually?

We’ve managed to understand how ecosystems work. Destroyed most of them.

We’ve discovered how to manipulate material to prolong our life span or ease our workload to what? Oppress our own species and others?

I just don’t see us being that great and also don’t see it being impossible for other species to surpass us in ways we don’t even consider because we are arrogant.

Many species on this planet are highly intelligent and arguably moreso than humans. If you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree you’ll think it’s a moron. Dolphins, fungus, ants, moss, fuckin water bears. They’re all incredible creatures, why do we hold ourselves above them?

deo ,

Not the first. The cyanobacteria that first figured out photosynthesis put so much oxygen into the atmosphere so fast that it cause mass extinction of much of the anaerobic life (and most things were anaerobic life back then). They also caused a literal rust belt (since many metals up to that point were now able to be oxidized en masse), and that rust layer can be seen in really old rocks (“banded iron formation”).

Great Oxidation Event

sxan , avatar

Oooooh, ok. Thanks, I didn’t connect those dots.

Pandoras_Can_Opener , avatar

I find my perspective changing a bit as I age. As a species I still think we are a net negative, at the very least since industrialisation started. But no cog in the wheel individual holds responsibility for the species. The big decision makers, the big polluters, yes that’s different. And I think it’s our duty to hold them accountable as much as we can. Obviously the system is stacked against accountability. Difficult position to be in and no easy answers.

On an individual level tho there are also a LOT of humans who do a lot of good. Collecting plastic, renaturalising wilderness, combating the various poverty related issues, improving medical procedures, advocating for human rights, inventing new ways to connect and learn… There’s a very long list.

For myself, I’m chronically ill. I can do some limited waste reduction, attempt as ethical a consumption as possible and love my rescue cat. I don’t have the energy for much more. But I’ve found it helps to follow people and focus on projects that do good rather than what can’t be helped. If you have the ability and capacity to volunteer or donate all the better. Holding yourself accountable and living the best life you can life is really all you have control over after all.

Flax_vert ,

Have you taken your meds today?

Feathercrown ,

Good humans suffer from the evil of others because they’re too forgiving. That’s tragic, but not damning.

alignedchaos ,

“Objective worth” is a bit of an oxymoron, because worth is up to your value judgment.

If you’re questioning the “evolutionary imperative” that organisms want to pass on genes - one fairly human trait is that a lot of us can consciously diverge from that instinct, either fulfilling that need by passing on our legacies socially rather than genetically, or just not looking to pass anything on at all.

Something we have in common with other mammals is we prioritize whatever experience is in front of us. Anyone who’s directly affected by catastrophes and strife will have different beliefs than people who aren’t.

So if objective worth has no neat answer, what’s left?

I’d say it’s interesting to have so many different subjective experiences in one world, with a language-based society able to communicate and share many more varied experiences than most animals. Interesting isn’t inherently good or bad, but if nothing was good nor bad then nothing would be interesting.

So yea. Human life is entertaining. We’ve got that going for us!

P.S. If you’ve ever lived in a city whose infrastructure is strained by overpopulation, you don’t necessarily view declining/shifting populations as a bad thing.

DessertStorms , avatar

Capitalism is the virus, not humanity as a whole (yes, some humans created capitalism, but significantly more people suffer under it than benefit from, or have any control over it)

Nudding ,

How many megafauna did we hunt to extinction long before written language, let alone capitalism?

Psaldorn , avatar

Trees also spread all over the planet and changed the atmosphere. Were just returning the favour.

Klear ,

Early life pumped the atmosphere full of toxic oxigen, changing its composition forever and making it super toxic for itself, leading to a mass extinction. We’re not even original with the way we’re fucking up the planet.

livus , avatar

@cmeu there's a book you might like called The World Without Us that you might find helpful.

It's a thought experiment written by a journalist about what exactly would happen to everything in the world if humans disappear tomorrow.

resketreke , avatar

I think there was a documentary (or several) about this too. It looked interesting, but I never got to watch it in the end.

livus , avatar

@resketreke good to know, will keep an eye out for it.

HerbalGamer , avatar

Miniseries on Discovery called Life After Humans

NarrativeBear ,

The older I get the more I agree with Agent Smith.

Hegar ,

There's no reason why we should be, we just are. Like everything else.

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