Thursday, November 16, 2006

Curry, Wells, and Armageddon

Thought this might stir up some discussion. Forgive its ultimate tendency to be a bit pedantic.

Curry, Wells, and Armageddon

Even the name sounds fictional. Dr. Oliver Curry would be the perfect nominative for a wise but too-oft disregarded scientist who convinces the world too late that it is bound for disaster in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster in the style of “Jurassic Park” or “The Day after Tomorrow.” Or wasn’t he a character in “The Time Machine,” ye olde grim statement of the distant future, by H.G. Wells?

Hardly. Curry is real, and better than that, he’s British and bearing a PhD, some attributes that likely had some bearing on how closely the world listened when he proclaimed the latest results of his research: in as little as 100,000 years, humanity will have divided into two separate species, one tall, brilliant and attractive while the other is equally short, dim, and ogrelike.

All right – perhaps Dr. Curry does belong in a Wells novel.

The truth of the matter is, there are a thousand reasons that I should disregard this supposedly researched theory. For starters, I first heard about it in that most reliable of news sources, the Onion (all right, so I haven’t been keeping up with my pseudoscience lately). And then there was the forum in which Curry made his grand announcement: Bravo television, a British men’s network that boasts of, among other things softcore porn. There was also a great deal of news that should have, in fact, pleased the more stereotypical of men: the next thousand years should hold both great promise for the, erm, endowment of the male sex as well as the smoothing of females into pornographic proportions, if we are to believe Dr. Curry. To cap it off, there is a grim prediction coming straight out of turn of the century sci-fi; and frankly, it was better in The Time Machine (well, unless you count the shoddy movie version).

The thing is though, Curry is a political scientist, not a physical scientist. We could have figured –that- out by his prediction that in the next 1000 years, inter-racial mixing will lead to a world of copper-skinned neutral types (pigmentation doesn’t work that way). Most of the literate world is laughing at Curry, and it is easy. I mean, he says people are going to become more sexually selective, antisocial, longer-living, computer-dependent… well, tell me something I didn’t know. However, we didn’t laugh at Wells. We knew Wells was no scientist; he was an author, and the point of the Time Machine was to entertain – and to make a statement about the current trends he saw in the world. Maybe the humorous “Dr.” before Curry’s name distracts us from the fact that we ought to treat him similarly—less as a prophet, and more as a man who is making a point about current events. What alarms and then, with consideration, amuses us about Curry’s theory is more its air of pseudoscience, I propose, and less its novelty. The ideas of classism, economic/achievement gaps, sexual selectivity, increased longevity: these are less original than tedious. The demise of humanity as we know it may be impending, but it is old news.

In fact, what might be more alarming than the idea of a human subspecies is the amazing display of apathy that most educated people have for the trends we as humans are showing. This does not seem merely to apply to the trends of which Curry took note. The other day, a friend remarked that we never hear about the depleting ozone layer or killing rainforests anymore. My response: sure we do; it just doesn’t catch our attention these days. Chalking this entire trend up to aging and its proportional decline in idealism and naïveté doesn’t cut it; I for one am still petrified by extinct animals, AIDS, and global warming. The problem is, my idealistic attention tends to turn to things that are most immediate, either in chronology or proximity: the genocide in Darfur, a proposed tax cap, presidential candidates, or uneducated children joining gangs. The longer something is with us, and the farther away it seems, the less likely it is that it will hold our attention.

I’m not accusing the media for being at fault with this tendency, but I do think the same phenomenon makes the media search anywhere, desperately, for something new, also makes us shift our attention from familiar threats. A love for novelty is probably genetic. I don’t know much about genetics (…apparently neither does Dr. Curry…), but I think that this is as much of a threat to our species as anything else. I think the whole of human inattention to our greatest long-term problems is worse than the sum of its threatening parts. Curry’s 100,000 years is a long way off, after all. I’m no fool. Before the human race will subdivide, we’ll be killed by global warming, the AIDS pandemic, nuclear holocaust, street violence, the loss of the rainforest, acid rain, famine, and avian flu. I don’t list these disasters to prove myself blasé to their threat or to render them mundane. Au contraire, I am reminding us of their cumulative hazards to make the point that the greatest peril of all may be our world’s sheer multitude of problems – and our own human distraction from many of its worst.

But then – disasters are kind of like clichés; both are undervalued. Like this one: don’t believe everything you read. One apocalypse is plenty. Before we start distracting ourselves with our collective fate in the distant future, we might do well to consider the world in the present tense. This does not mean just watching the news; just as in our children, there seem to be increasing occurrences of ADHD. We may have a host of problems, but we also have the manpower; last I checked, we were at the 7 billion mark. It’s much easier to focus on the impending disaster due to the world’s problems than it is to realize that the first step each of us might take toward solving them… is to pick one.

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