The Rise of the Garden Empires
What is the destiny of man and Earth? Editor-in-chief Wolf Tivy’s new article has an answer.
Editor-in-chief Wolf Tivy has published a new visionary article on the future of man, intelligence, and life on Earth.
If the story of civilization is one of man differentiating himself from the natural world, then we are now arriving at an inflection point. Industrial civilization has reached a level of production that has strained the Earth’s resources. Climate change and ecological collapse have occurred as a result.
But from this same ecological collapse comes a profoundly new sense of global ecological awareness that primitive man could never experience. Only having the tools to observe his immediate environment, the big picture of life could only be grasped obliquely through poetry and myth. The story of total awareness of the environment is reserved for modern man.
But this story doesn’t begin with industrial civilization. It doesn’t even begin with man. It begins with intelligence—originally a word for divine forces we could not see. It is the charting of life’s evolution from its origins in Earth’s primordial soup that will clue us in on the inner nature of intelligence, and thereby its destiny. The coming synthesis of man, machine, and ecological environment will be the result of millions of years of intelligence preparing to manifest itself as an organism.
Intelligence has its origins in sex. While bacterial life could propagate itself, it could not sustain life-forms more complex than individual prokaryotes:
With sex, different individual bloodlines could now trade genes in an orderly way, creating new mixtures where any given gene has an even chance of not being present at all. Bad genes could be isolated and removed, and good genes could be rapidly spread around the whole pool. The average member of the species became much closer to the ideal, with more or less all the good genes and only a few bad ones. Where asexual reproduction could not sustain high genome complexity, sex unleashed it.
But this Precambrian eugenics program didn’t just boost general health and refinement—it amounted to a large increase in species-level intelligence, which meant that sexual species could run evolutionary circles around the stagnant asexual ecosystem. It didn’t have to involve brains or neurons— optimization power is intelligence wherever you find it. That intelligence became the basis for the growing vital force of life.
This new proto-intelligent agency rapidly—by geological standards— mastered two more foundational technologies: protein nanotechnology and the lipid bilayer cell membrane. Mastery of the cell membrane allowed it to defend its own machinery from a hostile, competitive environment, establish a definite domain of influence, and attack the membranes of other proto-organisms. Mastery of protein nanotechnology allowed it to construct almost any desirable chemical machinery and apply it to problems of production. The first life thus assembled the fundamental functions of any organic order—guiding wisdom, security, and production.
Eukaryotic life also learned to master different suborders of life, martialing them for a higher purpose. Today, cellular organs like mitochondria and chloroplasts are the result of eukaryotic life disciplining and incorporating bacterial life for the purposes of production:
Superior intelligence does not just incorporate inanimate natural phenomena like proteins and lipids into its order of life. It also absorbs anything it can wrap its control processes around, including any other living organisms fortunate or unfortunate enough to be useful and nearby. This has all happened before, and it will happen again.
When mankind arrived on the scene, what distinguished it from other life-forms was language, which enables intelligence to exist in culture. Through language, culture can store memories, learn from mistakes, and coordinate disciplined action. Cohering its human substrate to master the world around it, language became the new sex.
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The Garden Empires and Babel
A human civilization existing in a reflexive feedback loop with its environment is just another progression of intelligence through life. The needs of the planet to sustain life will shape future human habitation—possibly even the human body—and the human being in turn will directly shape what life on Earth even looks like. Through his technological instruments enabled by culture, man will merge with the Earth into a unitary organism.
But make no mistake. This next stage of civilization will not resemble a new world order that dictates planetary governance. Life naturally detests hegemony:
Influenced by such ideas, our twentieth-century predecessors imagined that planetary environmental problems meant planetary governance solutions. Excited at the prospect of being able to fulfill the enlightenment ideal of a rationalistic universal polity, they used global environmental issues and arguments about globalization to justify their political projects.
But despite the lack of technical barriers to this unification, political unity only happens at the expense of the ambitions of its constituents. It is only ever justified by the presence of some even more pressing external need. In the absence of an outside threat, the tendency for all internal suborders is to push apart and cannibalize the political commons for their particular gain. This has been the eventual fate of all attempted universal empires in history and myth all the way back to the Tower of Babel.
So despite the centralizing tendency, the most natural outcome for this new order of life is not full unification but a diverse patchwork or multipolar balance of powers that only partially cooperate, and mostly compete within the shared noosphere. This is fortunate in a way, because all individual organisms are mortal. A diversity of powers is necessary for life to survive the inevitable rise and fall of particular powers. Full unification is not only impossible; it would be deeply dangerous to the future of life.
This process will take a long time. But the next stage of intelligence coming into itself has already begun, because human civilization has begun to nurture an ecological consciousness. When the technological means to alter the ecosphere are more developed, it will raise the stakes of our existence to a greater point than they are even now. This entails a shift from a Promethean to an Olympian form of existence. To quote Stewart Brand, “We are as gods, and might as well get good at it.”
Read Wolf’s article online in print in PALLADIUM 07: Garden Planet. It ships September 21st to all Palladium members.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
The Rise of the Garden Empires by Wolf Tivy. Mankind’s environmental destiny is to build garden empires, synthesizing ecology and industry together into a new form of life.
The Apostle of the French Revolution by Ash Milton. Beginning his career as a countryside priest, Henri Gregoire was an unlikely figure of the French Revolution. Outrun by its upheavals at first, his ideas have become crucial in modernizing revolutions since.
Everyone Is Moving to the Metropole by Adam Van Buskirk. As young people flock to the global cities to work, what happens to the rest of the world?
The Mineral Conflict Is Here by Brian Balkus. The future of energy will be more mineral-intensive than ever before, leading China and the U.S. to compete for the world’s mining and refinement capacity.
A Papal Revolt Created Europe’s First Bureaucracy by Jonathan Culbreath. In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII fought local rulers who dominated the church. To counter them, he created Europe’s first modern bureaucracies and changed the organization of power forever.
That’s all for now.