“Si spegne, signori, si chiude”
("Lights off, gentlemen, we are closing down”)
Recently a well-known professor of Siena University, a hydrology expert and director of FAO development projects in Africa, launched an extraordinary thesis, using instruments of cultural anthropology, in an Italian publication.
In the middle of the renewed interest in demography, with one side decrying the population dearth and the other denouncing the obscene threat of overpopulation, professor Pietro Giuliano Cannata has introduced what amounts to a new world vision, challenging both views.
Liberation from the shackles of determinism is at hand.
For Cannata, the long and anguished process of evolution, dictated by biological necessity, but without a design (telos) has been overtaken by culture, which now governs evolution.
Reading the book is in itself an experience regarding the revelation of the psychological forces that impel our behaviour and preoccupy every human being. Fear of death and attempts to dominate and exorcise it, using a variety of means from civilisation to civilisation, define those civilisations in major leit-motifs.
I use the editor’s comment to convey the main thesis:
“Suddenly one day, it became clear that the human species was taking control of its own destiny, because humans started to “choose”, in a confused and intermittent way, between life’s accidentally encountered bifurcations, in the long story of biological blind evolution.
Among these choices one triumphed over others: the decrease of births and the consequences of this, plus a significant new element: the refusal to procreate.
What were the reasons for this reluctance? Apart from the usual causes of economic difficulties, lack of social services, demand for political and professional participation by women, and aspirations for a continuously higher quality of life, another reason appeared. This one is a guiding anthropological, psychological and cultural factor, the unconscious determination to shirk the call for procreation, to refuse to transmit life.
After winning the competition for nourishment and space, after madly multiplying and achieving extraordinary levels of well being, consuming to satiety almost all the world, the human species refuses to grow anymore. Humans are getting ready for the final decline, in a disciplined way.”
The author wants to show an ontological transformation of evolution, no more driven by blind necessity and condemned to repeat the past. Life then, as glimpsed through the testament of some great philosophers and poets, is an insensate flight towards Nothing. The question about our final destination has no answer since the faith in a divine origin and destiny has dwindled.
The old fertility paradigm
The old paradigm imposed the fertility imperative on women. The female of the species will however soon everywhere be liberated by contraception and the possession of her body. History points to a rather different view of the maternal instinct: "Against the terror of repeated pregnancies, reality shows abortion and infanticide to be common practices. The casual smothering of the new born (which resulted in the canonical law of the suspended cradle), exposure to freezing weather, the fable of the children lost in the woods…”
Did men invent the maternal instinct?
Was the notion of maternal instinct invented by men, to better subjugate women and insure their cooperation in the propagation of their genes?
These and other strange questions run through the book, supplied and documented with vast philosophical, environmental and anthropological knowledge. The mind boggles and is taken over by a sense of despair, an outcome which I am sure the author did not intend. On the contrary, he seems to present the vision of a future without humans as the best solution to this absurd eternal flight towards death, the only sure thing in the uncertainty of life.
To be born - "Ed è rischio di morte il nascimento" - ("To be born is to risk death" - G.Leopardi) is the same as being mortal. Mortality is a state of being so intolerable that every century, every culture has invented a way to exorcise and justify it. The thirst for meaning cannot be satisfied: the enlightenment has eliminated all dogmas and the crumbling edifice of faith brings with it isolation and alienation.
Challenging paradigm of dominant males' reproductive success
Among the numerous themes to be dissected is the presumption that dominant males dominate natural selection in reproduction, denying the weak the chance to reproduce themselves.
“But the examination of DNA explodes this theory, showing more exceptions than confirmations of the dominant male theory, revealing six different fathers for each of the six kittens born to one female cat. Every male cat had a chance. Selection is therefore dictated by chaos.”
"It is clear that the health of the planet is a human task. It depends on humanity. Humanity is freeing itself from the unbearable weight of the world. This liberation will be the end of the future and maybe the end of history, because our descendant’s won't continue to get on and off the merry-go-round. Inexorably, the merry-go-round will slowly empty itself and finally stop. Nobody will get on anymore."
"Lights off, gentlemen, we are closing down."