What are people for?

Through the miracles of electromagnetic radiation, electrical conduction, and microcrystalline imperfections in cold-rolled steel sheet, Mr. Trashcan is able to watch TV. It took him a while to dope out digital TV, but it still wasn’t a big deal.

One of the things Mr. T has noticed on TV is the number of programs that warn of impending disasters. Big cosmic objects have impacted the planet several times, wiping out lots of species, we learn, and they will continue to do so. There are super volcanoes, one of them under good old Yellowstone National Park, no less, that are ready to blow at any time (in a millennial sense) and… here’s that line again… wipe out lots of species.
In descending order of their entertainment value, there are a score of other threats like giant neutron stars and other cosmic objects that emit sterilizing beams of radiation. If our planet happens to intersect one of these beams, we’re toast.
And when they say “wipe out many species,” you can bet your last bag tie that your human being will be high on the list of vanished critters. We’re intelligent and adaptable, but we’re complicated and finicky and nowhere as rugged as things like cockroaches. And, unfortunately, we depend on a long chain of other organisms to live. Even if we could digest grass, which we can’t, we would still need grass, so we’re doubly fucked.
So our ten thousand year party/brawl on this planet will eventually end, maybe sooner than anyone is prepared for. Cancel your rumba lessons. In contemplating this, it is only natural to think of the various trans-galactic authority figures like Mother Nature, Father Time, Jimminy Cricket, God, and perhaps Mr. Trashcan (though modesty prevents him from voting himself onto that list) and to wonder how they will feel about our passing. I think they will be shaking their heads in disbelief that we made it as far as we did. It’s like the neighbor’s teenager who has been warned again and again, but just doesn’t believe or just doesn’t give a shit. When he ends up in a body bag no one is surprised.
We have had several Millennia, since developing written communication and domesticating wheat, to get our act together. With his cosmic perspective, Mr. Trashcan thinks he knows how it was supposed to have gone down: life is an organization, just like IBM or the Army. It wanders the universe as tiny spores of data, encoded in organic molecules. It has been through this whole process many, many times: land on a planet, try some life forms, change them until they work, try to ride out the extinction events while building a support structure: green plants, herbivores, carnivores, social carnivores… and then, finally, some kind of critter that can make steel and build space ships and deflect asteroids and finally, maybe, relax a little. Then, and only then, is it Miller Time. But humans, they’re another story. They declared Miller Time the minute they were able to make a can and fill it with beer. And so they continue in a kind of arrested adolescence, tapping the keg and punching each other out while the frat house burns.
From time to time, someone (usually someone who won’t drink and is not having a good time) sounds a pious warning, and is rightly viewed as slightly crazy. And they are slightly crazy. It’s party time, it’s been party time as long as anyone can remember, and there’s no reason to think it will ever stop.
I’m sure Mother Nature and the rest have seen this before. It may be that life has never made it beyond the belligerent chug-a-lug phase of its development. Those cosmic radio receivers that we have pointed out into the blackness have been awfully quiet. There’s no programming out there, folks. 
We have all the good stuff, right here, and when its gone, it’s gone.
 
 

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