Yeah, But What About Human Ingenuity?


Trail at Bell Smith Springs in Southern Illinois

OK, I wrote that title sarcastically. Still, it's a valid question if not a hilarious one. How do people promote human ingenuity when the predicaments you see all around us are the result of human ingenuity? If we were or are so ingenious, why do we live in a system (civilization) that is unsustainable? Why, if we are so ingenious, are we busy promoting infinite growth on a finite planet? Of course, these are all rhetorical questions and it should be obvious to almost anyone with a pulse that we are quite hypocritical in our behaviors. We certainly aren't as ingenious as we think we are. Hubristic, arrogant, and self-absorbed seem better adjectives to me, but what do I know?

Asking this question about human ingenuity and doing just a small bit of research will bring up all sorts of answers, some of which actually show true goodness, true spirit, and true genius. One of the answers given that I don't agree with was the development of the plow, which is what started agriculture. Sure, at the time, it seemed like a good idea which could save us a lot of time and spare us from hunting and gathering. But there were serious downsides to the idea which were not foreseen back then. Just like many ideas today - the positive attributes are seen immediately but the negative ones usually require time to take effect. In fact, most ideas that we've come up with involving technology seemed like great ideas when first developed because at the time they were developed, there weren't any shortages of the materials required to build them and there was plentiful stocks of energy to accomplish the end goal of not only building them but also of actually using those ideas. Little attention was given to the consequences of scaling such ideas up once society adopted such ideas as the norm. Another idea that really hasn't been looked at critically is the production of electricity and the infrastructure required to build and maintain such a system at scale

The sad truth, once one is willing to admit it, is that technology and its use is precisely what is driving us over the cliff. We were previously able to live in a sustainable manner (more or less) before the adoption of agriculture as the main system of food production, allowing for the development of civilization. But with this development came permanent housing and the development of towns and cities, the system of government, the banking system to control the flow of money, and the bureaucrats throughout all systems to count and keep track of all of it. We can now see the evolution of all of this and come to the understanding that this was always how it was going to turn out, by analyzing why we did this

One of the largest troubles about our so-called ingenuity is our ability to be clever but not wise. For instance, one of the symptom predicaments of ecological overshoot, climate change, is causing many ski resorts difficulties due to a lack of snow. One so-called "solution" is to use snow-making machines to allow skiing without snow and/or temperatures which would allow snow in the first place. Of course, the trouble with this is that the so-called solution actually acts as a positive feedback loop, contributing to the very predicament it is marketed to "solve." The same can be said for practically every product manufactured claiming that it is a "solution" to some predicament. Predicaments don't have solutions, so people buying these products are only fooling themselves in purchasing such products and claiming they are "taking action" against or "fighting" climate change. 

Herein lay the fault of logic with regard to so many issues today. No amount of technology and no amount of human ingenuity can solve predicaments because they do not have solutions; they have outcomes. So, anytime you hear of something being a solution for climate change, or energy and resource decline, or collapse, or extinction, or cryosphere loss, or pollution loading, or sea level rise, or any other predicament, you can confidently ignore such claims as nothing more than denial of reality. Buying a new technological product of any stripe (car, electricity, solar panel, wind turbine, house, etc.) will not solve (and frequently not even help reduce) a predicament, period. 

So, considering how human ingenuity brought forth this set of living arrangements to begin with, what does this say about the prospects of human ingenuity to be able to deal with the set of predicaments overshoot has dealt us as a consequence? If we are so ingenious, why is civilization collapsing? When so many of the proposed "solutions" amount to nothing more than bargaining to maintain civilization which accomplishes nothing to reduce ecological overshoot, the master predicament causing all the symptom predicaments, what does this say about our ingenuity (or lack thereof)? I would go so far as to say that what is really needed is a sense of indigenuity. For this, I will need a new article explaining what that actually is. 

Until next time, Live Now!



  1. Fracking could be described as an example of "human ingenuity". Sure it's done a great job at extracting oil and gas but it's just giving a few more years of life to our ugly civilization. As much as I find collapse terrifying things like fake snow in ski resorts make me feel like it can't happen soon enough.

  2. Are you suggesting we live as Adam and Eve?

  3. Two books that come to mind as I read this, Eric: Neil Postman's "Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology" and Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America-Culture and Agriculture" (in which I first read a critique of the 'moldboard plow' and how it had so many unforseen consequences.) I read both books over 30 years ago, long before I know about our "collapse predicament" but I intuitively knew both authors had something essential to say....

  4. The problem is that human ingenuity is totally distorted by existing within this capitalist system that inherently puts profit and growth first and is willing to exploit people, place, other creatures and the future in order to keep going. Capitalism is a human construct (so a result of human ingenuity or maybe human short sightedness / madness) but now it's the juggernaut heading us towards the cliff. So it's not the use of oil or consumption or the pharmaceutical industry or farming etc etc its all of those things under this system that distorts everything. (continued in next comment)

  5. Under this system decisions about whether human ingenuity is acted upon are made based on potential profits. So dangerous technology that is nonetheless profitable gets developed whereas technology that would be for the good of all but isn't profitable isn't. Relying on market forces which got us into this mess to get us out of this mess is madness. The greed of the people who own and control the wealth is obscene but the blocks are structural. System change isn't just a hashtag. When the problems are inherent in the system we need to change the system.

    1. Very accurate points, Anonymous. The one thing that we do well is to use technology to harness energy and resource inputs to produce lots and lots of pollution. While there is a considerable amount of good in all of this as seen from our perspective, it comes at the cost of many other species' continued existence, which threatens our own. The item most ignored in all of this is the fact that technology removes and/or reduces the negative feedbacks which once kept our numbers in check. This is why even technology that could quite possibly be considered "good" by us will and/or would inevitably be our downfall. Because technology use and civilization (supported by the technology of agriculture) are unsustainable, as time moves forward, they will be abandoned by the requirements all technology needs for its existence - the energy required to extract/mine the materials needed (including said energy itself) and to use those materials for manufacturing these ideas, the energy required to utilize these products and ideas, and the ability to transport these products from location of manufacture to location of end use.


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