Pride Can Be a Learning Disability (Plus Sixteen Major Adaptive Lifestyle Changes that Humans Need to Make if Humanity Is to Survive)

The French have two words for pride—orguille as in a negative, hard self-pride, and fierté, as in a positive pride—for example, that of a mother who says to her child, “I’m proud of you!” While the positive form of pride can increase self-confidence and openness to learning, the negative pride of self-satisfaction can close the door to learning and growth. It’s paradoxical that those who think they’re okay may drop their guard and render themselves gradually more inadequate, while those who feel unworthy can have their sense of inadequacy become a driving force for self-improvement. Those who think themselves adequate become inadequate, and those who think themselves inadequate become adequate.

The greatest obstacle to Group Genie’s approach isn’t the people who are doing nothing, but the people who are doing something that is good and necessary but not enough. For example, let’s say that you accept that political advocacy is necessary to maintain a stable country and world. You join one or more groups and become politically active. You, in my opinion, are doing something that’s necessary to stabilizing the world. Yet even if everyone did political advocacy, that wouldn’t be nearly enough.

Here’s why: In 1972, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  (M.I.T.) published a study for the Club of Rome called The Limits to Growth. The study predicted that due to increasing population and economic growth we’d soon reach a catastrophic collapse due to exhaustion of food production, resources, or an increase in pollution. The model predicted a global collapse around 2050 due to decreased food and medical services. Next, they ran the program changing some of their assumptions for more optimistic ones such as a doubling of natural resources. In this case the collapse still came, but was caused by pollution and then food shortage. Finally, they ran a most optimistic version, one of unlimited resources, pollution control, increased agricultural activity and “perfect” birth control. This only moved the global collapse back forty years, to 2090.

Twenty years later, in 1992, the M.I.T. study was re-released with updated data. (It’s name was now: Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future. I haven’t read the study, but from a summary I read the conclusion is essentially the same. A terrible crisis lies ahead unless major changes are made fast. Let me add that you don’t have to have a supercomputer to figure out that an increasing population will eventually exhaust at least one of a planet’s limited resources. It’s just a question of when. In order to avoid this, I estimate that the average person needs to make about sixteen major lifestyle changes. I call them “majoradaptive lifestyle changes” because we need to adapt to a changing world or we will perish just as other species have done. Here’s my list:

  1. Regular aerobic exercise
  2. Very­-low or no-meat diet
  3. Learning how to problem-solve, reach goals, do “want-management” and learn
  4. Almost total recycling, including composting
  5. Switching to renewable energy sources
  6. Socially responsible buying
  7. Socially responsible investing
  8. Strategic donating to the best charities
  9. Volunteering an average of five hours a week to a ‘necessary’ cause
  10. Self-tax on products from developing nations to be returned to charities promoting development in these countries
  11. Self-tax on products that harm the environment to be donated to causes repairing it
  12. Political advocacy, including advocacy on the political process itself
  13. Increasing quality time for personal relationships  and small group support
  14. Responsible limiting of offspring
  15. Socially responsible employment and advocacy in the organizations you belong to for them to put back as much as they take
  16. Periodic self-assessment to re-evaluate your impact on all your life-support systems.

As I write this list I cringe at how some people will misunderstand what I write, for example, reading “artificial birth control” into “responsible limiting of offspring” when I am not making a statement on artificial birth control. Neither am I saying that this list is complete. My point in making this list is not to define the major adaptive lifestyle changes precisely but to suggest that sixteen or so are needed, not just one or two. And timing is everything. For example, recycling was bandied about at the first Earth Day in 1970. But it took about two decades for people to catch on. That’s twenty years for just one major adaptive lifestyle change. At the rate of one change every twenty years, we’d make fewer than three adaptive lifestyle changes by the year 2050—when sixteen are needed by then.

To me this is absolutely chilling news. At that rate, we’ll never adapt in time.

The conclusion I draw from the study is that if a majority of people don’t make a majority of the above-mentioned lifestyle changes very soon, then a huge proportion of humanity will die prematurely in the next thirty to sixty years.

How soon is very soon? Here’s what U Thant, former head of the United Nations, said in 1969: “I do not wish to seem overdramatic, but I can only conclude from the information available to me as Secretary-General that the members of the United Nations have perhaps ten years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If such a global partnership is not forged within the next decade, then I very much fear that the problems I have mentioned will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.”

About forty years ago he gave us a ten-year window of opportunity.

If he was right, that window closed. If he’s right, much of humanity is already doomed. But I think that we still have a chance, due to the upgrades of this book. I also think that new technologies will allow us to delay the crisis a little. But, using the analogy of a plane taking off, technology only extends the end of runway. If we don’t “take off” with these lifestyle changes, the crash will be worse. It will be worse because the plane will have more passengers, and it will be going faster when it reaches the end of the runway.

Returning to my earlier point, pride can be a learning disability and eventually it will kill. That’s because the people who’ve mastered one or a few of the lifestyle changes think they already have the answer. They’re too proud of their vegetarianism, aerobic exercise, environmental activism, spiritual community or any other handful of lifestyle changes to take in the big picture. I honestly commend them on their activities, for these are all more or less essential; but name any three and it’s not even close to being enough. Master any six and you still fall short.

I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or fearful or tell you what you should do. I am trying to tell you that there are life-or-death consequences if you don’t.

And while it may seem negative and pessimistic to say six major lifestyle changes aren’t enough, it’s not the way I’m presenting it that makes it seem pessimistic. It’s the way many people will hear it. My saying that six lifestyle changes aren’t enough is like a doctor saying three pints of blood in the circulatory system aren’t enough. Three pints won’t sustain life for one person and any six of these changes won’t sustain all our life-support systems. It’s as simple as that.

The bad news is that I am like a surgeon that’s  saying: “You can’t live the way you’ve been living. You’ll have to undergo sixteen major operations and afterwards you won’t be able to do some of the things you do now (like fail to recycle), and some other things you’ll only be able to do with difficulty (irresponsible buying and investing, since self-taxing will cost you more.)

The good news, however, is that I’m saying: “Things will be a little harder, but you’ll still be able to do all the things in life that count. Also, we can spread the operations out over time, so that you can heal gradually.”

This analogy isn’t precisely true, however, since at the moment most people really don’t have to change their lifestyles to stay alive. The following image is closer to the point: It’s more like a doctor saying: “There’s a huge blood shortage expected in the next century. It will be so bad that billions of people will die. There’s a way for us to conserve blood now, so that there will be more later. Each of you has a choice: to live a life that conserves blood, or to live a life that depletes our reserves. There are sixteen operations you can undergo, each increasing your capacity to conserve. Some of you have already undergone a handful of these operations. I commend you on this, for you are certainly saving lives. Yet in the name of people just being born, I beg you not to cling to your past efforts, but to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve human life on Earth. Each of you holds the lives of a few people in your hands. One of them is yourself. And no one else can save the whole life of the others. You’ll never know their names, but this is certainly one of the greatest, most beautiful things you can do during your lifetime.”

I estimate that making these sixteen changes could take you about five to ten years. If after learning the Eight Lane Highway, you taught it to two others, and if they each passed it on to two others and the doubling continued, the number using the method would be over ten billion in just thirty years. If we allow another ten years for the last groups to make the changes, it would mean that effectively all of the changes could be made in forty years.

Finally, I don’t think that this list of sixteen changes is as important as the process I used to generate the list. The process is to imagine what changes everyone would need to make in order for the earth’s life-support systems to be maintained. Since some of the sixteen are debatable, you are welcome to create and use your own list. But you should accept or reject entries based on objective standards and accurate information. If you are going to invest energy into making a certain change, you should be confident that what you’re doing is appropriate and will make a small but real difference.

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