So in talking to a new acquaintance about philosophy and permaculture last night, the recognition of our precarious position occured to me again. I was really tired and couldn't articulate it well, but here's what I would have liked to say:
The idea of permaculture is definately admirable and worthwhile from the perspective of living with a balance of consumption and production. However, I would argue that we are currently so far out of balance that individual actions to reduce consumption, even as a cultural movement, will be insufficient to prevent humanity from coming to a breaking point. Why? Because as the rest of the world develops, the richer parts can't very ethically say to them "listen here; you're standard of living is improving too quickly. You need to be content with living with limited educational opportunity, rudimentary healthcare options, and unfufilling work." Improving those things requires tons of economic development, and it seems quite distinctly wrong to ask aspiring people to abandon their dreams.
Then again, maybe they (and we all) should just be happy with the level we're at. We could, conceivably, live happy, 40 to 50 year-long lives in the total absence of technology, education, and advancement. We could save ourselves alot of pain and frustration by abandoning these silly attempts to find meaning in work and social pursuits and discovery, and just live day to day and enjoy our lives.
We could, but we don't have to. We have a huge amount of cognative capacity that I think would quickly tire of all that serenity. The problems and drama we create for ourselves give us rich environments to which we can apply our considerable creative power. Advancement beyond biology is the reason intelligence evolved, after all; genetics can model behavoirs into organisms over the course of millenia, intelligence (ie memetics) can model behaviors into organisms over the course of the individual organism's own lifetime. Plus, memetically-modeled behaviors are corespondingly more flexible and responsive to changes in the environment.
[For anyone who's missed it: Memetics is the theoretical analog to Genetics. The idea is that from a high level of abstraction, Genes can be viewed as merely complex patterns of chemicals that replicate themselves and respond to selection pressures in the environment, thus evolveing. Memes, then, are patterns of ideas that replicate themselves via communication between organisms, respond to selection pressures, and evolve in a way that may be similar to genes. See Richard Dawkins for more depth.]
I've heard the quip that "humans have stopped evolving" and that "civilization inhibits natural selection" relatively often. Two points I'd like to make, and the second one will tie it back into the memetics idea. First: humanity's only been around for a blip in evolutionary time, so expecting to see our bodies changing in response to evolutionary pressures is just an error in timeframe-perspective. Second (and more significantly), those quips ignore the breakneck pace at which human ideas have been evolving. Is this a valid comparison, one might ask? What's so significant about patterns of chemicals changing rather than patterns of ideas? The ideas are alot more powerful anyway, so I think it would be accurate to say that humans are evolving faster than anything ever has before, and doing so via cultural transmission.
The point of saying all that is to expose the basic choice we have to make: evolve memetically faster than our environment changes, or return to the level of sustenence that our genes alone are designed to handle. The latter option is itself unsustainable in the very long run, as we can count on the earth changing to some state that's not suitable for our mode of existence (with or without our interference).
So my take: augment permaculture with technologocal advancement. Then you basically get singularitarianism, which is of course my point.
I just noticed that I seem to be in a habit of making titles in the format "X and Y."