Continued from previous
John’s eyes aimlessly circled up and down Olivia’s blog entry, desperately searching for the meaning that language cannot express. It was there, in the white emptiness between the words. It lurked in the shadows that formed behind each letter, every time John’s eyes momentarily lost focus. The text was being etched like a pyrograph on the back of his cornea. It encapsulated both science and spirit. It was the big picture, just how he had taught Olivia to think. While making a technological prophecy, Olivia had also exposed a curse: will all of us forever be hostages to behaviours encoded in our DNA script? In most of us, our Apocalypse Genes push us towards more procreation, more exponential exhaustion of resources, just as the end draws near. Just when we need to be cutting down. We accelerate our demise, just like Olivia’s microorganisms growing in flasks full of liquid food: continuing to grow their population exponentially even in the face of adversity and existential crisis. We insist on economic growth, even as everything runs out: food, water, space, other species to eat. Other humans to exploit.
Extinction Biologists like John knew that this suicidal behaviour is not only a human trait. It is replicated across countless plant and animal species: their Apocalyptic Genes trigger a “last ditch to procreate” period: a desperate suicidal breeding frenzy, triggered by the very depletion of resources. This paradox is actually a biological mechanism. All organisms, and arguably humans, will rush to spend the very last reserves of their energy into the most useful thing that they can possibly do: ensure that they have left behind as many progeny as possible while the ship is going down, so that the species can survive. But it’s all a huge gamble: what is left behind is a starving generation of progeny whose life is about to be cut short: or, in the case of plants, seeds that can stay dormant until the Apocalypse is over. In the case of bacteria, spores that can resist desiccation, chemical corrosion or even temperature extremes. The list goes on and on. Every species has an in-built mechanism to “hunker down”, to deal with an extreme Apocalyptic scenario. Why? Because these events have happened before.
So what was the human mechanism? This was the question that Olivia was only just beginning to explore. The DNA sequence she had discovered was a different type of Apocalyptic gene: If indeed it coded for empathy, it would mean that the human species was “wired” to overcome obstacles through social cooperation.
But most people had lost their natural expression of the gene, in a world that rewarded them, every day, for being selfish. Our society had become a victim of its own success: human societies had formed originally so that humans could find shelter and support in the company of other humans. But modern societies had gone too far. They had made each human believe that they are completely self-reliant. That they don’t need other humans. All they need is a job, a bank account, a car and a supermarket close by. People had become single entities, all of them reporting not into each other, or into society, but into their Big Brother Boss: consumption and capitalism. There was no place, no use at all for empathy in this new world.
John closed his laptop. The blue painting was now covering all four walls of his main reception. The waves and flames seamlessly merged into one another, surrounding him. He was the only static piece in the painting. A Human. The life form who had started all of this chaos in the first place. And who was now unable to stop it.
(from the upcoming novel A New Earth)
to read from the beginning, go here
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books