Home alone?

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Like many of us, The Broad is now on work from home confinement and will be for the coming weeks. Not sick, just socially isolating. She sends good wishes for the health of you and your nearest and dearest in the coming weeks and months. It was tempting to write a round-up of contagion-themed shows and books, but thought better of it because at time like this, we need entertaining, not more of the same.

If you’re at home too, stay sane, try to avoid panic buying and stay well. If you’re using this time to catch up on a little reading or if you’re looking for a new series to take your mind of the news, there are links to book, TV and film recommendations at the end of this post.

But first, this week the Broad wants to share with you an interesting new book she came across recently. If the events of the last few months has you wondering how long we can last, then this one might help answer that question.

Sometimes it’s hard not to think the world is facing an imminent end, but take heart from knowing we’re not actually about to expire just now, despite the evidence of climate change, bushfires, floods and the current pandemic. At least that’s the view of Oxford philosopher Toby Ord in his new book, The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity.

Despite the doomsdayesque title, Ord looks at the threat of human extinction and some of the most pressing issues we have and calculates the various risk levels, and shows how our own time fits within the larger story of human history. But it’s no argument for complacency, instead he says we’re living in one of the most important eras of human history.

Ord argues in the book that in the twentieth century, humanity created the means to destroy ourselves – without developing the moral framework to ensure we won’t. And this is our human-made Precipice. How we respond to it will be the most crucial decision of our time.

Our ingenuity and creativity has delivered us longer lives, better health and incredible innovation for living, communicating, travelling and experiencing life. But, and it’s a fairly large but, it has also brought us existential threats and immense challenges to protect our planet, creatve equitable, sustainable lives and ensure humanity continues as long as its potential promises. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction that sets the scene by this ‘big picture’ thinker.

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Humanity is about two hundred thousand years old. But the Earth will remain habitable for hundreds of millions more—enough time for millions of future generations; enough to end disease, poverty and injustice forever; enough to create heights of flourishing unimaginable today. And if we could learn to reach out further into the cosmos, we could have more time yet: trillions of years, to explore billions of worlds. Such a lifespan places present-day humanity in its earliest infancy. A vast and extraordinary adulthood awaits.

Yet humanity’s wisdom has grown only falteringly, if at all, and lags dangerously behind. Humanity lacks the maturity, coordination and foresight necessary to avoid making mistakes from which we could never recover. As the gap between our power and our wisdom grows, our future is subject to an ever-increasing level of risk. This situation is unsustainable. So over the next few centuries, humanity will be tested: it will either act decisively to protect itself and its long-term potential, or, in all likelihood, this will be lost forever.

To survive these challenges and secure our future, we must act now: managing the risks of today, averting those of tomorrow, and becoming the kind of society that will never pose such risks to itself again.

A Note On Social Distancing

TV, films and books for social distancing entertainment.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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2 thoughts on “Home alone?

  1. Some interesting fiction that also deals with the possible future of humanity into thousands of years in the future is Olaf Stapledon’s 1935 novel Last and First Men, a “future history” that is outdated now (and has some truly bizarre ideas) but is still worth checking out. Stapledon was a humanist who did a lot of writing & delivered lectures on the future of humankind from the perspective of a Europe under the cloud of Hitler’s rise. He explored ideas about how what it would take to build a society where humans were the best they could be.

    1. It’s always eye-opening to learn how futurists of the past imagined the future, some ideas far fetched and others, not so much. At the moment, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in some dystopian film.

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