There are 7.2 billion people in this world

There are 7.2 billion people in this world.

Trying to visualize that number is overwhelming, to say the least. But what if that number were reduced to a mere 100?

The project “100 People: A World Portrait” was created to help people conceptualize the world’s staggering population. By using information from the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the census, the United Nations, and others, the project used the world’s population statistics and scaled them to just 100 people.

Jack Hagely then designed this infographic to help visualize the data.

Here is what the world would look like if there were only 100 people:

The World As 100 People
Courtesy of Jack Hagley

Of 100 people, 70 would not have access to the internet; 48 live on less than $2 a day; 75 have cell phones; and 60 would live in Asia. The gender divide would be split 50/50.

The last statistics by “100 People” were taken in 2006, and there have been dramatic changes to the data since then. In 2006, only one person out of 100 would have obtained a college degree — and now there are seven.


dream – the writing on the tree

Image from the film Elephants Dream.
Image from the film Elephants Dream. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just had a dream that a princess loved me but she was married and her husband who was very honest and forthright didn’t love her and he was forced to marry her.  she was unhappy but at least she wasn’t abused.

I think that she was beautiful. I can remember that, we had in the dream a very strange communication. there was a feeling that we could be together but everything was too obvious, feelings and such.

However after having got up to get some drugs, I woke up it just came to me that did this actually happened and I should have an email from somebody like this that you know I was contacted by a completely


This process was into painting I mean hi family was very understanding Island it seemed like that in the dream get A hot her husband would get divorced unless you wanted to be with me so in tune she even commented on things I wrote online to express how into you about falls regarding politics humanity in anthropology I remember


I remember waking up true a post that I put on line about the princess who dead to be different because we work together in an environment where we can’t let people know that we are contact but it’s just those my new mix how face dying know that she awesome


The picture in my head as I woke up two in my head was a picture of all of woman being hung from a tree

Towards the bottom half of the picture was a man being consoled by his family and she commented on this picture I posted online saying know to go no to go naughty go girl


The dream ended with me sending the new mega chats communications thing

And she sent me a paralegal goo glossesSo that we could communicate in private


The princess who left me

How can I save the world?

How can I save the world?

Before we can start to save the world we need to understand some basic terminology. This terminology is what will help us enact the vision that will be this saving factor of our future.

Lets lay out some ground definitions for the student.

  • Takers as people often referred to as “civilized.” Particularly, the culture born in an Agricultural Revolution that began about 10,000 years ago in the Near East; this is the culture of Ishmael‘s pupil and, presumably, the reader.
  • Leavers as people of all other cultures; often derogatorily referred to by Takers as “primitive.”
  • A story as an interrelation between the gods, man, and the earth, with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • To enact is to strive to make a story come true.
  • A culture is a people who are enacting a story.

We start by taking the the myth enacted by the Takers: that they are the pinnacle of evolution, that the world was made for man, and that man is here to conquer and rule the world. This rule is meant to bring about a paradise, as man increases his mastery of the world, however, he is always failing because he is flawed. Man doesn’t know how to live and never will because that knowledge is unattainable. So, however hard he labors to save the world, he is just going to go on defiling and spoiling it.

When the Takers decided there is something fundamentally wrong with humans, they took as evidence only their own culture’s history- “They were looking at a half of one-percent of the evidence taken from a single culture– Not a reasonable sample on which to base such a sweeping conclusion.”

Ishmael says:

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.


Schooling – The Hidden Agenda

Schooling – The Hidden Agenda

I suspect that not everyone in this audience knows who I am or why I’ve been invited to speak to you to day. After all, I’ve never written a book or even an article about home schooling or unschooling. I’ve been called a number of things: a futurist, a planetary philosopher, an anthropologist from Mars. Recently I was introduced to an audience as a cultural critic, and I think this probably says it best. As you’ll see, in my talk to you today, I will be trying to place schooling and unschooling in the larger context of our cultural history and that of our species as well.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I should begin by explaining what I mean by “our culture.” Rather than burden you with a definition, I’ll give you a simple test that you can use wherever you go in the world. If the food in that part of the world is under lock and key, and the people who live there have to work to get it, then you’re among people of our culture. If you happen to be in a jungle in the interior of Brazil or New Guinea, however, you’ll find that the food is not under lock and key. It’s simply out there for the taking, and anyone who wants some can just go and get it. The people who live in these areas, often called aboriginals, stone-age peoples, or tribal peoples clearly belong to a culture radically different from our own.

I first began to focus my attention on the peculiarities of our own culture in the early 1960s, when I went to work for what was then a cutting-edge publisher of educational materials, Science Research Associates. I was in my mid-twenties and as thoroughly acculturated as any senator, bus-driver, movie star, or medical doctor. My fundamental acceptances about the universe and humanity’s place in it were rock-solid and thoroughly conventional.

But it was a stressful time to be alive, in some ways even more stressful than the present. Many people nowadays realize that human life may well be in jeopardy, but this jeopardy exists in some vaguely defined future, twenty or fifty or a hundred years hence. But in those coldest days of the Cold War everyone lived with the realization that a nuclear holocaust could occur literally at any second, without warning. It was very realistically the touch of a button away.

Human life would not be entirely snuffed out in a holocaust of this kind. In a way, it would be even worse than that. In a matter of hours, we would be thrown back not just to the Stone Age but to a level of almost total helplessness. In the , after all, people lived perfectly well without supermarkets, shopping malls, hardware stores, and all the elaborate systems that keep these places stocked with the things we need. Within hours our cities would disintegrate into chaos and anarchy, and the necessities of life would vanish from store shelves, never to be replaced. Within days famine would be widespread.

Skills that are taken for granted among Stone Age peoples would be unknown to the survivors–the ability to differentiate between edible and inedible foods growing in their own environment, the ability to stalk, kill, dress, and preserve game animals, and most important the ability to make tools from available materials. How many of you know how to cure a hide? How to make a rope from scratch? How to flake a stone tool? Much less how to smelt metal from raw ore. Commonplace skills of the paleolithic, developed over thousands of years, would be lost arts.

All this was freely acknowledged by people who didn’t doubt for a moment that we were living the way humans were meant to live from the beginning of time, who didn’t doubt for a moment that the things our children were learning in school were exactly the things they should be learning.

I’d been hired at SRA to work on a major new mathematics program that had been under development for several years in Cleveland. In my first year, we were going to publish the kindergarten and first-grade programs. In the second year, we’d publish the second-grade program, in the third year, the third-grade program, and so on. Working on the kindergarten and first-grade programs, I observed something that I thought was truly remarkable. In these grades, children spend most of their time learning things that no one growing up in our culture could possibly avoid learning. For example, they learn the names of the primary colors. Wow, just imagine missing school on the day when they were learning blue. You’d spend the rest of your life wondering what color the sky is. They learn to tell time, to count, and to add and subtract, as if anyone could possibly fail to learn these things in this culture. And of course they make the beginnings of learning how to read. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest an experiment. Two classes of 30 kids, taught identically and given the identical text materials throughout their school experience, but one class is given no instruction in reading at all and the other is given the usual instruction. Call it the Quinn Conjecture: both classes will test the same on reading skills at the end of twelve years. I feel safe in making this conjecture because ultimately kids learn to read the same way they learn to speak, by hanging around people who read and by wanting to be able to do what these people do.

It occurred to me at this time to ask this question: Instead of spending two or three years teaching children things they will inevitably learn anyway, why not teach them some things they will not inevitably learn and that they would actually enjoy learning at this age? How to navigate by the stars, for example. How to tan a hide. How to distinguish edible foods from inedible foods. How to build a shelter from scratch. How to make tools from scratch. How to make a canoe. How to track animals–all the forgotten but still valuable skills that our civilization is actually built on.

Of course I didn’t have to vocalize this idea to anyone to know how it would be received. Being thoroughly acculturated, I could myself explain why it was totally inane. The way we live is the way humans were meant to live from the beginning of time, and our children were being prepared to enter that life. Those who came before us were savages, little more than brutes. Those who continue to live the way our ancestors lived are savages, little more than brutes. The world is well rid of them, and we’re well rid of every vestige of them, including their ludicrously primitive skills.

Our children were being prepared in school to step boldly into the only fully human life that had ever existed on this planet. The skills they were acquiring in school would bring them not only success but deep personal fulfillment on every level. What did it matter if they never did more than work in some mind-numbing factory job? They could parse a sentence! They could explain to you the difference between a Petrarchan sonnet and a Shakespearean sonnet! They could extract a square root! They could show you why the square of the two sides of a right triangle were equal to the square of the hypotenuse! They could analyze a poem! They could explain to you how a bill passes congress! They could very possibly trace for you the economic causes of the Civil War. They had read Melville and Shakespeare, so why would they not now read Dostoevsky and Racine, Joyce and Beckett, Faulkner and O’Neill? But above all else, of course, the citizen’s education–grades K to twelve–prepared children to be fully-functioning participants in this great civilization of ours. The day after their graduation exercises, they were ready to stride confidently toward any goal they might set themselves.

Of course, then, as now, everyone knew that the citizen’s education was doing no such thing. It was perceived then–as now–that there was something strangely wrong with the schools. They were failing–and failing miserably–at delivering on these enticing promises. Ah well, teachers weren’t being paid enough, so what could you expect? We raised teachers’ salaries–again and again and again–and still the schools failed. Well, what could you expect? The schools were physically decrepit, lightless, and uninspiring. We built new ones–tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of them–and still the schools failed. Well, what could you expect? The curriculum was antiquated and irrelevant. We modernized the curriculum, did our damnedest to make it relevant–and still the schools failed. Every week–then as now–you could read about some bright new idea that would surely “fix” whatever was wrong with our schools: the open classroom, team teaching, back to basics, more homework, less homework, no homework–I couldn’t begin to enumerate them all. Hundreds of these bright ideas were implemented–thousands of them were implemented–and still the schools failed.

Within our cultural matrix, every medium tells us that the schools exist to prepare children for a successful and fulfilling life in our civilization (and are therefore failing). This is beyond argument, beyond doubt, beyond question. In Ishmael I said that the voice of Mother Culture speaks to us from every newspaper and magazine article, every movie, every sermon, every book, every parent, every teacher, every school administrator, and what she has to say about the schools is that they exist to prepare children for a successful and fulfilling life in our civilization (and are therefore failing). Once we step outside our cultural matrix, this voice no longer fills our ears and we’re free to ask some new questions. Suppose the schools aren’t failing? Suppose they’re doing exactly what we really want them to do–but don’t wish to examine and acknowledge?

Granted that the schools do a poor job of preparing children for a successful and fulfilling life in our civilization, but what things do they do excellently well? Well, to begin with, they do a superb job of keeping young people out of the job market. Instead of becoming wage-earners at age twelve or fourteen, they remain consumers only–and they consume billions of dollars worth of merchandise, using money that their parents earn. Just imagine what would happen to our economy if overnight the high schools closed their doors. Instead of having fifty million active consumers out there, we would suddenly have fifty million unemployed youth. It would be nothing short of an economic catastrophe.

Of course the situation was very different two hundred years ago, when we were still a primarily agrarian society. Youngsters were expected and needed to become workers at age ten, eleven, and twelve. For the masses, a fourth, fifth, or sixth-grade education was deemed perfectly adequate. But as the character of our society changed, fewer youngsters were needed for farm work, and the enactment of child-labor laws soon made it impossible to put ten-, eleven-, and twelve-year-olds to work in factories. It was necessary to keep them off the streets–and where better than in schools? Naturally, new material had to be inserted into the curriculum to fill up the time. It didn’t much matter what it was. Have them memorize the capitals of every state. Have them memorize the principle products of every state. Have them learn the steps a bill takes in passing Congress. No one wondered or cared if these were things kids wanted to know or needed to know–or would ever need to know. No one wondered or ever troubled to find out if the material being added to the curriculum was retained. The educators didn’t want to know, and, really, what difference would it make? It didn’t matter that, once learned, they were immediately forgotten. It filled up some time. The law decreed that an eighth-grade education was essential for every citizen, and so curriculum writers provided material needed for an eighth-grade education.

During the Great Depression it became urgently important to keep young people off the job market for as long as possible, and so it came to be understood that a twelfth-grade education was essential for every citizen. As before, it didn’t much matter what was added to fill up the time, so long as it was marginally plausible. Let’s have them learn how to analyze a poem, even if they never read another one in their whole adult life. Let’s have them read a great classic novel, even if they never read another one in their whole adult life. Let’s have them study world history, even if it all just goes in one ear and out the other. Let’s have them study Euclidean geometry, even if two years later they couldn’t prove a single theorem to save their lives. All these things and many, many more were of course justified on the basis that they would contribute to the success and rich fulfilment that these children would experience as adults. Except, of course, that it didn’t. But no one wanted to know about that. No one would have dreamed of testing young people five years after graduation to find out how much of it they’d retained. No one would have dreamed of asking them how useful it had been to them in realistic terms or how much it had contributed to their success and fulfilment as humans. What would be the point of asking them to evaluate their education? What did they know about it, after all? They were just high-school graduates, not professional educators.

At the end of the Second World War, no one knew what the economic future was going to be like. With the disappearance of the war industries, would the country fall back into the pre-war depression slump? The word began to go out that the citizen’s education should really include four years of college. Everyone should go to college. As the economy continued to grow, however, this injunction began to be softened. Four years of college would sure be good for you, but it wasn’t part of the citizen’s education, which ultimately remained a twelfth-grade education.

It was in the good years following the war, when there were often more jobs than workers to fill them, that our schools began to be perceived as failing. With ready workers in demand, it was apparent that kids were coming out of school without knowing much more than the sixth-grade graduates of a century ago. They’d “gone through” all the material that had been added to fill up the time–analyzed poetry, diagramed sentences, proved theorems, solved for x, plowed through thousands of pages of history and literature, written bushels of themes, but for the most part they retained almost none of it–and of how much use would it be to them if they had? From a business point of view, these high-school graduates were barely employable.

But of course by then the curriculum had achieved the status of scripture, and it was too late to acknowledge that the program had never been designed to be useful. The educators’ response to the business community was, “We just have to give the kids more of the same–more poems to analyze, more sentences to diagram, more theorems to prove, more equations to solve, more pages of history and literature to read, more themes to write, and so on.” No one was about to acknowledge that the program had been set up to keep young people off the job market–and that it had done a damn fine job of that at least.

But keeping young people off the job market is only half of what the schools do superbly well. By the age of thirteen or fourteen, children in aboriginal societies–tribal societies–have completed what we, from our point of view, would call their “education.” They’re ready to “graduate” and become adults. In these societies, what this means is that their survival value is 100%. All their elders could disappear overnight, and there wouldn’t be chaos, anarchy, and famine among these new adults. They would be able to carry on without a hitch. None of the skills and technologies practiced by their parents would be lost. If they wanted to, they could live quite independently of the tribal structure in which they were reared.

But the last thing we want our children to be able to do is to live independently of our society. We don’t want our graduates to have a survival value of 100%, because this would make them free to opt out of our carefully constructed economic system and do whatever they please. We don’t want them to do whatever they please, we want them to have exactly two choices (assuming they’re not independently wealthy). Get a job or go to college. Either choice is good for us, because we need a constant supply of entry-level workers and we also need doctors, lawyers, physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, geologists, biologists, school teachers, and so on. The citizen’s education accomplishes this almost without fail. Ninety-nine point nine percent of our high school graduates make one of these two choices.

And it should be noted that our high-school graduates are reliably entry-level workers. We want them to have to grab the lowest rung on the ladder. What sense would it make to give them skills that would make it possible for them to grab the second rung or the third rung? Those are the rungs their older brothers and sisters are reaching for. And if this year’s graduates were reaching for the second or third rungs, who would be doing the work at the bottom? The business people who do the hiring constantly complain that graduates know absolutely nothing, have virtually no useful skills at all. But in truth how could it be otherwise?

So you see that our schools are not failing, they’re just succeeding in ways we prefer not to see. Turning out graduates with no skills, with no survival value, and with no choice but to work or starve are notflaws of the system, they are features of the system. These are the things the system must do to keep things going on as they are.

The need for schooling is bolstered by two well-entrenched pieces of cultural mythology. The first and most pernicious of these is that children will not learn unless they’re compelled to–in school. It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs. Of course, anyone who has had a child knows what an absurd lie this is. From infancy onward, children are the most fantastic learners in the world. If they grow up in a family in which four languages are spoken, they will be speaking four languages by the time they’re three or four years old–without a day of schooling, just by hanging around the members of their family, because they desperately want to be able to do the things they do. Anyone who has had a child knows that they are tirelessly curious. As soon as they’re able to ask questions, they ask questions incessantly, often driving their parents to distraction. Their curiosity extends to everything they can reach, which is why every parent soon learns to put anything breakable, anything dangerous, anything untouchable up high–and if possible behind lock and key. We all know the truth of the joke about those childproof bottle caps: those are the kind that only children can open.

People who imagine that children are resistant to learning have a nonexistent understanding of how human culture developed in the first place. Culture is no more and no less than the totality of learnedbehavior and information that is passed from one generation to the next. The desire to eat is not transmitted by culture, but knowledge about how edible foods are found, collected, and processed is transmitted by culture. Before the invention of writing, whatever was not passed on from one generation to the next was simply lost, no matter what it was–a technique, a song, a detail of history. Among aboriginal peoples–those we haven’t destroyed–the transmission between generations is remarkably complete, but of course not 100% complete. There will always be trivial details of personal history that the older generation takes to its grave. But the vital material is never lost.

This comes about because the desire to learn is hardwired into the human child just the way that the desire to reproduce is hardwired into the human adult. It’s genetic. If there was ever a strain of humans whose children were not driven to learn, they’re long gone, because they could not be culture-bearers.

Children don’t have to be motivated to learn everything they can about the world they inhabit, they’re absolutely driven to learn it. By the onset of puberty, children in aboriginal societies have unfailingly learned everything they need to function as adults.

Think of it this way. In the most general terms, the human biological clock is set for two alarms. When the first alarm goes off, at birth, the clock chimes learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. When the second alarm goes off, at the onset of puberty, the clock chimes mate, mate, mate, mate, mate. The chime that goes learn, learn, learn never disappears entirely, but it becomes relatively faint at the onset of puberty. At that point, children cease to want to follow their parents around in the learning dance. Instead, they want to follow each other around in the mating dance.

We, of course, in our greater wisdom have decreed that the biological clock regulated by our genes must be ignored.

What sells most people on the idea of school is the fact that the unschooled child learns what it wants to learn when it wants to learn it. This is intolerable to them, because they’re convinced that children don’t want to learn anything at all–and they point to school children to prove it. What they fail to recognize is that the learning curve of preschool children swoops upward like a mountain–but quickly levels off when they enter school. By the third or fourth grade it’s completely flat for most kids. Learning, such as it is, has become a boring, painful experience they’d love to be able to avoid if they could. But there’s another reason why people abhor the idea of children learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it. They won’t all learn the same things! Some of them will never learn to analyze a poem! Some of them will never learn to parse a sentence or write a theme! Some of them will never read Julius Caesar! Some will never learn geometry! Some will never dissect a frog! Some will never learn how a bill passes Congress! Well, of course, this is too horrible to imagine. It doesn’t matter that 90% of these students will never read another poem or another play by Shakespeare in their lives. It doesn’t matter that 90% of them will never have occasion to parse another sentence or write another theme in their lives. It doesn’t matter that 90% retain no functional knowledge of the geometry or algebra they studied. It doesn’t matter that 90% never have any use for whatever knowledge they were supposed to gain from dissecting a frog. It doesn’t matter that 90% graduate without having the vaguest idea how a bill passes Congress. All that matters is that they’ve gone through it!
The people who are horrified by the idea of children learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it have not accepted the very elementary psychological fact that people (all people, of every age) remember the things that are important to them–the things they need to know–and forget the rest. I am a living witness to this fact. I went to one of the best prep schools in the country and graduated fourth in my class, and I doubt very much if I could now get a passing grade in more than two or three of the dozens of courses I took. I studied classical Greek for two solid years, and now would be unable to read aloud a single sentence.

One final argument people advance to support the idea that children need all the schooling we give them is that there is vastly more material to be learned today than there was in prehistoric times or even a century ago. Well, there is of course vastly more material that can be learned, but we all know perfectly well that it isn’t being taught in grades K to twelve. Whole vast new fields of knowledge exist today–things no one even heard of a century ago: astrophysics, biochemistry, paleobiology, aeronautics, particle physics, ethology, cytopathology, neurophysiology–I could list them for hours. But are these the things that we have jammed into the K-12 curriculum because everyone needs to know them? Certainly not. The idea is absurd. The idea that children need to be schooled for a long time because there is so much that can be learned is absurd. If the citizen’s education were to be extended to include everything that can be learned, it wouldn’t run to grade twelve, it would run to grade twelve thousand, and no one would be able to graduate in a single lifetime.

I know of course that there is no one in this audience who needs to be sold on the virtues of home schooling or unschooling. I hope, however, that I may have been able to add some philosophical, historical, anthropological, and biological foundation for your conviction that school ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.


The New Renaissance

The New Renaissance


Daniel calls this speech “a concise expression of the basic message of all my books.” 


Address Delivered to the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston,
March 7, 2002



Back in 1995, when I was visiting a school in Albuquerque that had used Ishmael as the year’s focus book, I was asked to meet with a very high-level group of healthcare professionals–the assembled department heads of Presbyterian Health Care Services, which functions as a regional hospital system. I accepted the invitation but wondered what I might have to say that was relevant to their professional concerns. I know nothing about hospitals or health care or the medical profession. I don’t even watch ER.


It was clear when I sat down with them–perhaps twenty men and women–that they’d all been deeply moved by my book. But none of them could quite explain why it was relevant to them in their profession. I think what it really came down to was that, as a result of reading Ishmael, they themselves had changed, simply as human beings, and they were trying to figure out how this change would or could or should change them as health-care professionals.


I’m afraid I wasn’t much help, but I don’t think I need to apologize for this. I had no way of knowing how their professional lives needed to change; only they could know that.


I had a similar experience a year later when I was asked to address an annual conference of high-level executives involved in the design and manufacture of commercial floor-covering systems. Don’t laugh. This is a multi-billion dollar global industry–and an industry that at that time was highly pollutive, a huge contributor to landfills, and totally dependent on an extremely wasteful of nonrenewable resources (petroleum, mainly).


They too had been profoundly changed by my work, but thereafter the similarity between the two groups ended. These people weren’t in any doubt about how to translate this change into a change in their professional lives. Which is a good thing, because of course, I wouldn’t have had a clue. They knew what they had to change, and they’d already put into place a set of long-range goals that not only transformed their industry but compelled associated industries to change as well. In order to retain their position in this industry, giants like DuPont were literally forced to start thinking a different way themselves.


If I were asked to address a group of investment counsellors or chemical engineers or airline executives–and none of these are out of the question–it’d be the same. My task would not be to tell them what changes to make in their professional lives because I know nothing about investments or chemical engineering or airline management.


With every group, no matter what principle or profession draws it together, my task is the same: to send people home with a new and deeper insight into the central problem that draws us ALL together as humans, regardless of our occupations–and that problem is nothing less than the survival of our species.


People often ask me if I have any hope for our survival. What they really want to know, of course, is whether I can provide them with some grounds for hope.


am hopeful because I feel sure that something extraordinary is going to happen in your lifetime–in the lifetime of those of you who are three or four decades younger than I am. I’m talking about something much more extraordinary than has happened in MY lifetime, which has included the birth of television, the splitting of the atom, space travel, and instant, global communication via the Internet. I mean something REALLY extraordinary.


During your lifetime, the people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably on this planet–or they’re not. Either way, it’s certainly going to be extraordinary. If they figure out how to live sustainably here, then humanity will be able to see something it can’t see right now: a future that extends into the indefinite future. If they don’t figure this out, then I’m afraid the human race is going to take its place among the species that we’re driving into extinction here every day–as many as 200–every day.


As people like to say nowadays, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. The people who keep track of these things and make it their business to predict such things agree that the human population is going to increase to ten billion by the end of the century. It isn’t just the doom-sayers who say this. This is a very conservative estimate, recently endorsed by the UN. Unfortunately, most of the people who make this estimate seem to have the idea that this is workable and okay.


Here’s why it isn’t.


It’s obvious that it costs a lot of money and energy to produce all the food we need to maintain our population at six billion. But there is an additional, hidden cost that has to be counted in life forms. Put plainly, in order to maintain the biomass that is tied up in the six billion of us, we have to gobble up 200 species a day–in addition to all the food we produce in an ordinary way. We need the biomass of those 200 species to maintain this biomass, the biomass that is in us. And when we’ve gobbled up those species, they’re gone.Extinct. Vanished forever.


In other words, maintaining a population of six billion humans costs the world 200 species a day. If this were something that was going to stop next week or next month, that would be okay. But the unfortunate fact is that it’s not. It’s something that’s going to go on happening every day, day after day after day–and that’s what makes it unsustainable, by definition. That kind of cataclysmic destruction cannot be sustained.


The extraordinary thing that is going to happen in the next two or three decades is not that the human race is going to become extinct. The extraordinary thing that’s going to happen in the next two or three decades is that a great second renaissance is going to occur. A great and astounding renaissance.


Nothing less than that is going to save us.


The first Renaissance, the one you met in your history textbooks, was understood to be a rebirth of classical awareness and sensibility. It could hardly have been understood to be what it actually was, which was the necessary preface to an entirely new historical era.


A few key medieval ideas were jettisoned during the Renaissance, but they weren’t replaced by ideas that would have made sense to classical thinkers. Rather, they were replaced by ideas that were entirely new–ideas that would NOT have made sense to classical thinkers. These were ideas that would make sense to us. In fact, these ideas still make sense to us.


The Renaissance (and indeed the modern world) came into being because during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries an interrelated complex of medieval ideas came under challenge. The centrepiece of the complex related to the means of gaining certain knowledge. During the Middle Ages, it was understood that reason and authority were the chief means of gaining certain knowledge. For example, it seemed perfectly reasonable to suppose that the earth was a stationary object around which the rest of the universe revolved.


It was reasonable–and it was affirmed by a towering authority, the great 2nd-century astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, Ptolemy. Similarly, it seemed perfectly reasonable to suppose that heavy objects fall to earth faster than light objects–and this was affirmed by another towering authority, the polymath genius Aristotle.


But during the Renaissance, reason and authority were toppled as reliable guides to knowledge and replaced by . . . observation and experimentation. Without this change, science as we know it would not have come into being and the industrial revolution would not have occurred.


During the Middle Ages, it was taken for granted that our relationship with God was a collective thing that only the Roman Catholic Church was empowered to negotiate. During the Renaissance, this dispensation was challenged by a completely new one, in which our relationship with God was seen as an individual thing that each of us could negotiate independently with God. In this new dispensation was born the magnification and sanctification of the individual that we take for granted in modern times. We all see ourselves as individually valuable and quite fantastically empowered–literally bristling with rights–in a way that would have been astonishing to the people of the Middle Ages.


In the Middle Ages, the universe was perceived as a thing that had come into being as a finished object just a few thousand years ago. It was fixed, finite, and as much known as it needed to be. In the Renaissance, however, the universe began to be perceived in a much different way: as dynamic, infinite, and largely unknown. It was this change in thinking that led not only to the great age of exploration but to the great age of scientific investigation that followed and that continues today.


All this seems very obvious to us today. The Middle Ages obviously couldn’t last forever. Things obviously had to change. But this was not at all obvious to the people of the Middle Ages. As far as they were concerned, people would go on thinking and living the medieval way forever.


We think the very same thing.


Just like the people of the Middle Ages, we’re absolutely sure that people will go on thinking the way we think forever, and people will go on living the way we live forever.


The people of the Middle Ages thought this way because it seemed impossible to them that people could think a different way. How else could people think except the way they thought? As far as they were concerned, the history of thought had come to an end with them. Of course, we smile at that–but in fact, we believe exactly the same thing. We too believe that the history of thought has come to an end with us.


Well, we’d better hope we’re wrong about that, because if the history of thought has come to an end with us, then we’re doomed.


If there are still people here in 200 years, they won’t be living the way we do. I can make that prediction with confidence because if people go on living the way we do, there won’t be any people here in 200 years.


I can make another prediction with confidence. If there are still people here in 200 years, they won’t be thinking the way we do. I can make that prediction with equal confidence because if people go on thinking the way we do, then they’ll go on living the way we do–and there won’t be any people here in 200 years.


But what can we possibly change about the way we think? It seems so obvious that everything we think is just the way it must be thought.


It seemed exactly the same to the people of the Middle Ages.


Although several key ideas of the Middle Ages disappeared during the Renaissance, not every key idea of the Middle Ages disappeared. One of the key ideas that remained in place–and that remains in place today–is the idea that humans are fundamentally and irrevocably flawed. We look at the world around us and find that turtles are not flawed, crows are not flawed, daffodils are not flawed, mosquitoes are not flawed, salmon are not flawed–in fact, not a single species in the world is flawed–except us. It makes no sense, but it does pass the medieval tests for knowledge. It’s reasonable–and it’s certainly supported by authority. It’s reasonable because it provides us with an excuse we badly need. We’re destroying the world–eating it alive–but it’s not our fault. It’s the fault of human nature. We’re just badly made, so what can you expect?


Another key idea that survived the Middle Ages is the idea that the way we live is the way humans are meant to live. Well, goodness, that’s so obvious it hardly needs saying. We’re living the way humans were meant to live from the beginning of time. The fact that we only began living this way very recently has nothing to do with it. So it took us three million years to find it. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s the way we were meant to live from the beginning of time. And the fact that the way we live is making the world uninhabitable to our own species also has nothing to do with it. Even if we destroy the world and ourselves with it, the way we live is still the way we were meant to live from the beginning of time.


But these two medieval survivors are relatively benign. Stupid but harmless. One other key idea survived, however, that is definitely neither benign nor harmless. Far from being benign or harmless, it’s the most dangerous idea in existence. And even more than being the most dangerous idea in existence, it’s the most dangerous thing in existence–more dangerous than all our nuclear armaments, more dangerous than biological warfare, more dangerous than all the pollutants we pump into the air, the water, and the land.


All the same, it sounds pretty harmless. You can hear it and say, “Uh huh, yeah, so?” It’s pretty simple too. Here it is: Humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. There’s us and then there’s nature. There’s humans and then there’s the human environment.


I’m sure it’s hard to believe that something as innocent-sounding as this could be even a little bit dangerous, much less as dangerous as I’ve claimed.


As I’ve said, it’s conservatively estimated that as many as 200 species are becoming extinct every day as a result of our impact on the world. People take in this piece of horrendous information very calmly. They don’t scream. They don’t faint. They don’t see any reason to get excited about it because they firmly believe that humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. They believe it as firmly in the 21st century as they did in the 10th century.


So, as many as 200 species are becoming extinct every day. That’s no problem because those species are out there somewhere. Those 200 species aren’t in here. They aren’t us. They don’t have anything to do with us because humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community.


Those 200 species are out there in the environment. Of course, it’s bad for the environment if they become extinct, but it has nothing to do with us. The environment is out there, suffering, while we’re in here, safe and sound. Of course, we should try to take care of the environment, and it’s a shame about those 200 extinctions–but it has nothing to do with us.


Ladies and gentlemen, if people go on thinking this way, humanity is going to become extinct. That’s how dangerous this idea is. Here’s why.


Those 200 species . . . why exactly are they becoming extinct? Are they just running out of air or water or space or what? No, those 200 species are becoming extinct because they have something we need. We need their biomassWe need the living stuff they’re made of. We need their biomass in order to maintain our biomass. Here’s how it works. Go down to Brazil, find yourself a hunk of rain forest, and cut it down or burn it down. Now bring in a herd of cows to pasture there. Or plant potatoes or pineapples or lima beans. All the biomass that was formerly tied up in the birds, insects, and mammals living in that hunk of rain forest is now going into cows, potatoes, pineapples, or lima beans–which is to say into food for us.


We need to make 200 species extinct every day in order to maintain the biomass of six billion people. It’s not an accident. It’s not an oversight. It’s not a bit of carelessness on our part. In order to maintain our population of six billion, we need the biomass of 200 species a day. We are literally turning 200 species a day into human tissue.


But all too many people–most people, I’m afraid–tend to think, “Well, so what? Humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. Since we’re separate, it doesn’t matter how many species we destroy–and since we’re superior to them anyway, we’re actually improving the world by eliminating them!”


We’re like people living in the penthouse of a tall brick building. Every day we need 200 bricks to maintain our walls, so we go downstairs, knock 200 bricks out of the walls below and bring them back upstairs for our own use. Every day. . . . Every day we go downstairs and knock 200 bricks out of the walls that are holding up the building we live in. Seventy thousand bricks a year, year after year after year.


I hope it’s evident that this is not a sustainable way to maintain a brick building. One day, sooner or later, it’s going to collapse, and the penthouse is going to come down along with all the rest.


Making 200 species extinct every day is similarly not a sustainable way to maintain a living community. Even if we’re in some sense at the top of that community, one day, sooner or later, it’s going to collapse, and when it does, our being at the top won’t help us. We’ll come down along with all the rest.


It would be different of course if 200 extinctions a day were just a temporary thing. It’s not. And the reason it’s not is that, clever as we are, we can’t increase the amount of biomass that exists on this planet. We can’t increase the amount of land and water that supports life, and we can’t increase the amount of sunlight that falls on that land and water. We can decrease the amount of biomass that exists on this planet (for example by making the land sterile or by poisoning the water), but we can’t increase it.


All we can do is shift that biomass from one bunch of species to another bunch–and that’s what we’re doing. We’re systematically shifting the biomass of species we don’t care about into the biomass of species we do care about: into cows, chickens, corn, beans, tomatoes, and so on. We’re systematically destroying the biodiversity of the living community to support ourselves, which is to say that we’re systematically destroying the infrastructure that is keeping us alive.


It’s conservatively estimated that our population will increase to ten billion by the end of the century–and people take in this hair-raising piece of information very calmly. No one screams. No one faints. People are as untroubled about our mushrooming population as they are about those 200 daily extinctions. They see no reason to get excited because they firmly believe that humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. They don’t see that the extinction rate is going to increase as our population increases–and probably exponentially. This is because when we make species extinct, we don’t gain 100% of their biomass. A great deal of it is simply lost, contributing to the desertification of the planet. By the middle of the century, if our population has indeed increased to ten billion, then the number of extinctions will be a thousand a day or ten thousand a day (the number is incalculable at this point).


If there are still people living here in 200 years, they’ll know that humanity doesn’t belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. They’ll know this as surely as we know that the earth revolves around the sun. I can make this prediction with confidence, because if people go on thinking we belong to a separate order of being, then there will be no people living here in 200 years.


What everyone wishes I could do (and what I myself wish I could do) is describe how people will be living here in 200 years–if there still are people living here. All I can tell you is how they won’t be living: they won’t be living the way we do. But why is that? Why can’t I tell you how they will be living? The answer is: because no one can tell you that.


You can see why this is so if you put the question back into the Middle Ages. You might very well have been able to convince Roger Bacon that people would be living differently in 300 years, but how in the world could he have predicted the Age of Discovery, the rebellion against feudal oppression, the Industrial Revolution, the emergence to power of a capitalist bourgeoisie, and so on? To expect such a thing would be absurd.


You could say that if the Middle Ages had been able to predict the Renaissance, then it would have been the Renaissance.


Social evolution is inherently chaotic–which is another way of saying inherently unpredictable. This is true even in relatively stable times. Consider the fact that every intelligence agency in the world was taken by surprise by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which days before had looked as stable as Great Britain or the United States.


And if social evolution is chaotic in even stable times, then it’s going to be even more chaotic in the times ahead, when people are either going to start thinking a new way or become extinct.


Of course, I understand why people want to have a description of the sustainable life of the future. They think this would enable them to adopt that sustainable life now, today. But social change doesn’t come about that way, any more than technological change does. It would have been useless to show Charles Babbage a printed circuit or to show Thomas Edison a transistor. They could have done nothing with those things in their day–and we could do nothing today with a picture of life a hundred years from now. The future is not something that can be planned hundreds of years in advance–or even ten years in advance. Adolf Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich didn’t even last a thousand weeks. There has never been a plan for the future–and there never will be.


Nevertheless, I can tell you with complete confidence that something extraordinary is going to happen in the next two or three decades. The people of our culture are going to figure out how to live sustainably–or they’re not. And either way, it’s certainly going to be extraordinary.


The fact that I’m unable to give you a prescription for the future doesn’t mean you’re just helpless bits of cork bobbing in the tide of history. Each of you is about where Galileo was when he was told in no uncertain terms to shut up about the earth moving around the sun. As far as the gentlemen of the Roman Inquisition were concerned, the earth’s movement around the sun was a wicked lie they had to suppress–and could suppress. But as he left his trial, Galileo was heard to mutter, “All the same, it moves!”


Surprisingly little hung on the matter. The future of humanity didn’t depend on destroying the medieval picture of the solar system. But the future of humanity does depend on our destroying the medieval picture of humanity’s relationship to the living community of this planet.


Galileo didn’t know that people would someday take space travel for granted, but he did know that they would someday recognize that the earth revolves around the sun. We don’t know how people will live here in 200 years, but we do know that if people still are living here in 200 years, they will recognize that we are as much a part of the living community–and as thoroughly dependent on it–as lizards or butterflies or sharks or earthworms or badgers or banana trees.


People don’t want more of the same. Yet, oddly enough, when they ask me what will save the world, they want to hear more of the same–something familiar, something recognizable. They want to hear about uprisings or anarchy or tougher laws. But none of those things is going to save us–I wish they could. What we must have (and nothing less) is a whole world full of people with changed minds. Scientists with changed minds, industrialists with changed minds, school teachers with changed minds, politicians with changed minds–though they’ll be the last of course. Which is why we can’t wait for them or expect them to lead us into a new era. Their minds won’t change until the minds of their constituents change. Gorbachev didn’t create changed minds; changed minds created Gorbachev.


Changing people’s minds is something each one of us can do, wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever kind of work we’re doing. Changing minds may not seem like a very dramatic or exciting challenge, but it’s the challenge that the human future depends on.


It’s the challenge your future depends on.


Comment from Daniel Quinn (7 March 02):
Invitations to speak to gatherings like this one are for me invitations to look again and to think again–to see if I can find some way to illuminate our situation that I’ve missed in the past, and it always makes the event more valuable to me personally if I succeed in this.
One of the perennial difficulties people have with my ideas can be phrased this way, “Yes, Mr. Quinn, I understand what you’re saying, but what are we supposed to DO about it?” What this question betrays is in fact that this person does NOT understand what I’m saying. This was at the front of my mind as I began preparing for this event a month ago–looking again and thinking again–something new did sneak up on me.


Paradigms Beyond Civilisation

No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one.

Paradigms Beyond Civilisation

No paradigm is ever able to imagine the next one.

It’s almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle Ages didn’t think of themselves as being in the “middle” of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living until the end of time.

Even if you’d managed to persuade them that a new era was just around the corner, they would’ve been unable to tell you a single thing about it—and in particular, they wouldn’t have been able to tell you what was going to make it new. If they’d been able to describe the Renaissance in the fourteenth century, it would have been the . We’re no different. For all our blather of new paradigms and emerging paradigms, it’s an unassailable assumption among us that our distant descendants will be just exactly like us.

Their gadgets, fashions, music, and so on, will surely be different, but we’re confident that their mindset will be identical—because we can imagine no other mindset for people to have. But in fact, if we actually manage to survive here, it will be because we’ve moved into a new era as different from ours as the Renaissance was from the —and as unimaginable to us as the Renaissance was to the Middle Ages.