Jordan Bates • • 5 min read
The Ultimatum of the 21st Century: Why Humanity Must Level Up or Self-Destruct
“If we are gaining the power of gods, then without the love and wisdom of gods, we self-destruct.”
— Daniel Schmachtenberger
Our species is gaining godlike power via technology—the power to create and obliterate worlds.
But without commensurate godlike care, wisdom, and love, we will misuse this technology and likely destroy or cripple ourselves.
The imperative of the 21st century, then, is to upgrade our collective wisdom and intelligence—our collective capacity for sense-making, choice-making, cooperation, and benevolence.
These three sentences are a concise summary of Daniel Schmachtenberger’s viewpoint on the future of humanity—a viewpoint which synthesizes/echoes mountains of research/theorizing by leading experts on global catastrophic risk and many of the most luminous thinkers/futurists of the last century.
Sadly, it is not controversial to observe that unless humanity collectively becomes substantially wiser and more skillful, we will almost surely decimate ourselves and the biosphere within a few centuries, or much sooner, as we’re facing an increasing number of existential risks, most notably risks posed by our own technology.
We need to get better at understanding what is happening, making wise choices in light of that understanding, cooperating efficiently at scale, recognizing that the fates of all sentient beings/ecosystems on this planet are deeply intertwined, and expanding our circles of compassion to include the entire global community of life.
If we do this, it is within our power to create a much more beautiful world. We can do marvelous things like end extreme poverty, minimize war and violence, create sustainable civilizations, increase freedom and opportunity, and take better care of all people and animals.
If we’re unable to upgrade our capacities, our not-so-distant descendants are unlikely to see the light of day, to experience this Cosmos.
Thus, our situation can be roughly summarized as a grave ultimatum: level up or self-destruct.
Only We Save We
This collective upgrade, or “phase shift,” as Schmachtenberger calls it, will naturally require us to enhance, recalibrate, and/or rebuild our current global systems in ways that create conditions for an “omni-win-win” planetary civilization—a win-win world for everyone.
There’s much that one could say about the new forms of governance, economics, culture, technology, urban life, resource utilization, social networking, AI-assisted civilization-orchestration, etc. that will likely be necessary to realize this phase shift on a global-civilizational level, but digging deeply into that territory is beyond the scope of this article.
What I want to emphasize instead is that macro-level change must be preceded by micro-level change. The level-up we need begins with each of us, in our day-to-day lives—in our choices to be kind, curious, aware, self-actualizing participants in the world and to experiment with new models/modes of life.
So, you know, enact benevolence and interbeing. Activate your mind. Do all that you can to attain a global perspective. Test your limits and transcend them. Study the work of great thinkers/feelers. Rigorously investigate what has worked well throughout (pre-)history. Relentlessly question how we can do even better. Build an eco-village test tube for experimenting with permaculture and new forms of social organization, or something like that. Create things to point the way for others.
And use your attention wisely—it’s your most valuable resource.
What am I paying attention to each day?
What am I choosing each day?
What am I contributing to?
What am I creating?
What am I learning?
What are my core habits?
As Annie Dillard put it, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
The future of the planet hinges on our individual decisions to aspire to greater heights: to become more loving, curious, creative, sagacious, and useful; and to tinker with new possibilities.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of standing still.”
— Chinese Proverb
To do this work—to learn and grow and experiment—we must loosen our grip on our convictions. “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows,” Epictetus wisely observed.
Open your mind and heart. Activate your capacity for discernment. Be vigilant. Read widely. Let go of dogma. Never stop expanding.
We reside at a pivotal moment in the history of Earth, and our choices matter.
This doesn’t have to feel like a burden. Giving and growing are not lame chores, they’re enlivening paths to real fulfillment. The weight of the world need not rest on your shoulders; billions of us are co-creating the future together. And even if the worst-case scenarios occur, the Cosmos will always be just fine. So breathe easy. Enjoy life. It’s all okay.
But nonetheless, it would be magnificent if we avoided extinction, preserved and cherished Earth, explored the Cosmos, and claimed a more beautiful future for ourselves and our descendants. And we each have a say in whether that happens. It’s being decided all around us right now.
That’s pretty fucking cool. I can think of few scenarios more exciting than our own.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be a hell of a show, and we have the opportunity to do more than merely watch it all unfold.
We can participate.
We can alter the script.
We can rewrite the ending.
You, me, us.
What say you?
Shall we dance?
Follow Jordan Bates on Facebook and Twitter.
Down the “Save the World” Rabbit Hole
First, I’d like to drop a note of thanks to Daniel Schmachtenberger for inspiring this post and supplying several of its key ideas. Daniel is a visionary genius who understands what humanity must do to level up, flourish, and live in harmony with the rest of the biosphere. I recommend following him on Facebook and checking out his work via the links below. Kudos also to Daniel’s brilliant partner at Neurohacker, Jordan Greenhall, whose ideas influenced this post as well—follow him on Facebook and find links to his work below as well.
If you’re interested to go deeper down the rabbit hole to understand humanity’s current situation, the significance of this moment in history, and what we need to do to survive and flourish moving forward, here’s a buffet of links for you to peruse; check out whatever catches your eye:
- Daniel Schmachtenberger on Why Humanity Needs to Go Through a Phase Shift
- Designing a Win-Win World for Everyone With Daniel Schmachtenberger
- Jordan Greenhall Explains Why Humanity May Be on the Verge of Global Collapse
- Daniel Schmachtenberger on How We Can Avoid Extinction and Win Humanity’s Existential Game
- The “Species-Level Panic Response” and Other Stunning Ideas from Vinay Gupta on Humanity’s Future
- Jordan Greenhall’s ‘Situational Assessment 2018’: Analyzing American Politics Through the Lens of Collective Intelligence
- Vinay Gupta: The Man Who is Constantly Trying to Solve Humanity’s Largest Problems and Save All of Our Lives
- Sam Harris’ TED Talk on Artificial Intelligence Will Show You Why We Might Be Building Our Own Exterminator
- We’re Living in the Most Peaceful and Prosperous Period of History, But There’s a Catch
- Why Humanity Must Become a Multi-Planetary Species
- The World in a State of Extreme Transition
- The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein
- Global Catastrophic Risks by Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic
- Daniel Schmachtenberger: Neurohacking, Evolutionary Philosophy, and the Future of Humanity
- Vinay Gupta: Mad Science on Mars, Ending Poverty, and Saving the World
- Why Politics and Religion Make Everyone Crazy and What You Can Do About It
- The Ultimate Flowchart For Determining How You Can Help the World
- Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards — By Nick Bostrom
- The Venus Project: Beyond Politics, Poverty, and War
- EXISTENTIAL RISK — A Rap Album by LOSTBOYEVSKY
- Dominator vs. Partnership Cultures: A Profound Re-Telling of Human History
- Building God: Why Superintelligent A.I. Will Be the Best (or Last) Thing We Ever Do
- Altruism 2.0: How to Do 1,000 Times More Good by Donating Effectively