Nature vs. Nurture vol.2: Technology vs. Culture
by Nadiya Korkuna 12.11.18
Drawing from the personal experiences and the observations that I have been making about the world around me, I always imagined that there could be two possible ways my future, and ultimately the future of the human race in general, could go. The first one, I like to refer to as the “ultimate sci-fi utopia”, where humans find the most efficient ways to coexist with each other and new technological developments, such as AI’s, SpaceX, and pretty much all other projects that Elon Musk is currently working on. In this scenario, much like any modern science fiction film, humans live in a new pro-technology era where the machines are used as tools to maximise our capabilities and help us go above and beyond our biology, space, and time. The second one is an “ultimate dystopia” where our differences speak louder than our similarities and conflict is born leading to the Dark Age which brings us only loss, pain, sorrow, and overall destruction of the world as we know it (possibly even the human race as it is). And on top of that we have all of our technological discoveries, which we thought will change the world for the better, do the complete opposite and stand up against us in the human vs. the machine war. So we end up struggling in the World War III which in its turn will be the inevitable “solution” to the problems such as immigration, economy, resources, and all the other political issues that world governments “enjoy” fighting about as well as the Artificial Intelligence uprising. Now, while both of these scenarios are pretty extreme in their own ways, I neglected to recognize another very important factor that will definitely play a huge role in envisioning and creating our future. In Fall 2018, during my first semester at the University of California Berkeley, I took a Theater 121 Class, which was themed around apocalypse and discussed a lot of new and old ideas around this topic. That class introduced me to a lot of fascinating concepts and very interesting angles that I never even recognized, thus did not consider before, and the one “very important factor” which turned out to be as simple as our culture. Yes, our culture. The one thing that, if taken seriously and properly analyzed, will make such a tremendous difference in the way we imagine and create our future. And before I go any further I want to give a special definition to the way I will discuss culture. Instead of looking at the amazingly huge variety of different cultures all around the world, I will focus on the overall concept of a so called human culture because when looking to at the root of it, pretty much any culture creates traditions around and celebrates in its unique ways things like family, community, love, support, beginnings, endings, relationships, and the overall circle of life. So now, taking this new information into consideration, the organizing principles by which we live, must let me imagine that it is possible to find balance between the roots of our humanity (culture) and the machinery we created as the step in our evolution (technology) to create the absolutely new era of enlightenment and thus far unimaginable possibilities for humans on Earth and beyond.
In the past decade, one of the most popular themes that has been overcrowding news, film, theater, television, art world, and means of social media is apocalypse. Every author, director, screenwriter, artist, and even small column journalist wants to put their hands on and create their version of this very scary, yet for some reason extremely relatable topic. From zombies to AI; from natural disasters to government planned purges; from the Judgment Day to predictions in Mayan calendars. There is enough material that explores this new apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic imagination to satisfy even the most fastidious audience. However, it is important to point out that even in such a commonly understood issue there are certain interpretations of it that seem to be more favorable than others. Considering the pace in which the world is moving today, it is more believable than not that the said apocalypse will come upon us in the form that will somehow be related to the technology and its’ colonisation of humans.
Every single day this sphere of interest comes up with new ideas and ways to make human life almost completely technology dependent. To name a few of them, Elon Musk and his vision that makes us think about space travel, life on Mars and possible abandonment of Earth, and projects such as SpaceX and Neutralink never leave the fan or the critic disappointed. And in its turn, provocative or better say conflict sparkling ideas like that raise a lot of concerns in various groups of people regarding the fact that the more technologically dependent we become the less culturally educated and skilled we turn out to be. It also is a topic of concern for some that Musk is frequently talking about Earth as if we do not have a choice or chance of preserving life here. In his view, Earth is more of a starting point that does not necessarily play an important role, if any role at all, in the end game or the trajectory that humans should be taking. He believes that there is not much left for us to do here and we should undoubtedly move on to other places for a fresh new, but much better start. However, I believe that technology advanced life that brings us possibilities of space and time travel as well as exploration of other planets and culturally rooted principles that were created around life on Earth in particularly, while being very different, do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Although Elon Musk’s idea to colonize space and move on from Earth sounds promising, I claim that human life will always be based here, because it is through our intergenerational experiences with our planet, and each other, that the precious knowledge is gained and passed. And in combination with newest technological developments humans will be able to reach a thus far unimaginable possibilities.
Together, they will create the ultimate new world with unlimited choices and inhabit it with the most spiritually advanced, self-aware, and space-aware humans. It will be the world where your age will not create a huge generational gaps between you and your grandparents because you all will be sharing what you know with one another. It will not be a world where we leave behind those who have hard time understanding, learning, and adjusting to new technology. It will be a world where everyone, even a 90-year-old grandmother will know how to operate time machines and space shuttles. It will not be a world where the only thing that a teenager knows how to do is play videogames. It will be a world where a teenager, while being an exceptionally successful in video game advancements will also be just as educated on his personal cultural uprisings as well as really well informed on the cultural backgrounds of his friends and neighbors. It will be a world where with the help of elders who know how to grow crops combined with brains of young men and women who will design machines that will speed up the process of plant growing will find a way to completely change the food industry and potentially solve the world hunger. It will be a world where the combination of old readings and descriptions of ancient animals and newest DNA technology the extinct animals will be brought back to life. A world where the combination of Native-American weather songs and dances and rituals and newest research on understanding the physics behind every possible weather and season will make it possible to stop global warming and let humans control the weather on Earth and possibly other planets as well. And on top of that we will be able to colonize and fully maintain life not only on Mars, but wherever we want, maybe even beyond the Milky Way Galaxy. Yet, most importantly, in this new world the Earth will be the center of it all. It will not be the planet that is fighting its human parasite, it will be a planet that thrives and gladly shares its resources with its caring cohabitator - human.
Now, doesn’t all that sound just almost unrealistically incredible? I know, it may be hard to believe at first and there of course will be people who might disagree with everything that I am about to say (I used to be that person too; I believed that Musk’s way is the only way), but the experiences that I had in this class over the course of almost four months, showed me that everything I am envisioning is possible. In the following sections I will talk about why the harsh ideas Musk has regarding leaving Earth are not really our only option as well as how Dia de los Muertos performances completely restored my belief in humanity. I will describe how and provide a very detailed research, with examples to help the reader understand why I think that all of that is absolutely possible. Of course it will probably not happen in my lifetime, but it only takes one person to start a chain reaction of change and if my destiny is to inform the world about this vision, then I will dedicate my life to do just so.
“I think the most important thing is to create a self-sustaining city on Mars. That’s, I think, the critical thing for maximizing the life of humanity; how long will our civilization last.”
Throughout the years the most technologically influential man and visionary Elon Musk has been saying that the human civilization faces many great threats in the long run. From asteroid strikes and climate change to artificial intelligence becoming self aware and declaring a war against its ultimate creator, humans. However, one of the most recent things that he has been highlighting in his interviews is our inability, as humans, to get along with each other. Looking at all the conflicts that have been sparking up over the years that are based on our differences in religious, political, cultural views has been completely terrifying. One thing to take out of this is that following the “norms” and what we currently accept as those, humans will literally shoot each other because we have different opinions not only in politics and religion but even such unconventional things as music. As the mass shootings that occured at the country music festival in Las Vegas in October of 2017 and country music bar in Thousand Oaks in November of 2018 prove, that a man is such an animal that can easily kill many other men because of a difference in music taste (New York Times, 2018).
All these scary events have so far been on a somewhat smaller scales if compared to World War I or World War II, which both are an exceptionally great examples of how much humans actually can’t get along with one another, yet could easily be reasons that lead to World War III and possible even IV (if there still will be a world to fight over). "Last century, we had two massive world wars — three if you count the Cold War," Musk said at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas (Wall, 2018). "I think it's unlikely that we'll never have another world war again." And he is not wrong. Given the track record that humanity has, it is more than likely that there will soon be another conflict that will lead to another war of a global scale. And if it happens, given the nuclear advances that we currently have, it would lead to a much darker age than the one described in Jose Rivera’s play Marisol. Then, not having a moon would seem like a piece of cake in comparison to mass destruction of well, the Earth and humanity in general. And when this darker age will come upon us, “Then we want to make sure that there's enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else to bring civilization back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages," Elon Musk said. "I think a moon base and a Mars base that could perhaps help regenerate life back here on Earth would be really important, and to get that done before a possible World War III.” A Mars base would create a sturdier safetynet for our civilization than moon, because it is farther from Earth. But it's worth scoping out two places and create something new and life sustainable on both worlds, as each outpost would thin our risk of complete extinction as a human kind (Wall, 2018).
While it may seem as if Elon knows exactly what he is talking about, in reality his reasoning for scoping out more than one place for spreading the human life is flawed. He is completely disregarding the fact that it is still not too late to save Earth and that our planet-mother will always be here for us, that is given we take proper care of her. What can the moon give us that Earth can’t? The life on the moon will be just as bad as the one described in Marisol since one will not be able to appreciate the beauty of night and ability to see the moon while living on it. If anything, that play concludes a very important lesson: preserving the cycle of day and night is a crucial factor in creating the future. And this is not something that is new. It is a fact that most humans are directly affected by the changes in the cycles of moon and sun. Humans are destined to be in tune with the mother Earth and each other and that is the only way that we can continue evolving. One cannot simply disconnect itself from the invisible wires that are connecting us and nature. There is not, and will never be, a technology that can change how our biology reacts to and lives with the world we have here on Earth and this is where the importance of our culture and our awareness of it comes in.
One of the most important things that makes every individual unique is his past. We all come from very different backgrounds and cultures and we all have something so unique about us based on where, when, and how we were born. Each one of us has a story to tell and as the famous phrase goes “without knowing your past, you can’t have a future” so sometimes we need to learn to listen to those who came before us to help us see where we can go next. Unfortunately, nowadays and especially in Western culture it is a very common practice to “send away” those who came before us aka our elders to special houses so that trained nurses will take care of them as they live off their final days without even a given opportunity to share their life experiences with new generations. So in such manner older generation “dies off” without having a chance to learn more about the new world and new generation lives on with their life without the generational knowledge that could help them better understand themselves and the world around them and help them avoid numerous mistakes.
Being born in Lviv, Ukraine and living with my grandparents I was fortunate enough to dip my toe in some of the knowledge that they had for me. Yet, I think it's important to consider that although I have been born only 22 years ago, things and the world in its turn have changed so much. Growing up I did not have even remotely as much access to the technology as children do now and no one was talking about global warming or abandonment of Earth and colonization of Mars. The biggest thing everyone was worried about was the Mayan prediction of the ending of the world in 2012. However, while I was naturally born in a family that cherished and appreciated elders and had a strong belief in family and connectivity of society, I found myself being “abandoned” after I immigrated to the United States. Here, my life quickly became fast paced and technology dependent. So even though I had the luxury of growing up in a very culturally rich environment, I lost it all in the blink of an eye and thought I could replace it with my laptop or my phone. For a while now, I believed that technology is the only future for us and that only those who are worthy or smart enough to absorb the new information can survive and evolve with it. For years I was a firm believer that I need to go to Mars and move away from the Earth because I thought there is nothing more it can offer me. This all has changed so drastically after I visited the performances of the Day of the Dead.
Although Die de los Muertos was a mostly Spanish performance, and I do not speak a word of it, I still felt so warm and welcomed by everyone. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the wide range of age of performers on stage and I was shocked that there were men and women who are way in their later years who are still thriving on stage as if they are in their teens. Surrounded by the spirit of youth, that was also present on stage, I could see and feel the energy flow that was interchanging between every performer as well as every person in the audience. Their vibrant and colorful costumes helped us all celebrate the beginning, the ending, and the overall circle of life. They lived, fully and not some sad, disconnected life that everyone lives in the city behind their screen, It was through dance motions, words in songs, waves in sounds that a human life was celebrated. Those two hours taught me more about me and people around me than weeks of research on my computer would have. It gave me a sense of belonging to a community where I did not even grow up in but felt oh so apart of. The human culture. I was there for it and it was there for me. And at that moment a hope was re-born in me. I realized that no, we do not need to abandon Earth and go someplace new. The only way it will all work is if we expand, but under no circumstances may we leave Earth bursting in flames and filled with trash after we destroyed it. Earth is our mother and just as any relationship works one gets the outcome that is directly correlated with the income imputed. If we treat earth with respect, nurture it, show it love instead of littering every living square meter of it. If we stop draining its final resources and finally listen to the desperate screams in forms of climate change and extreme weather conditions, it will give us back. It will improve our health, it will show us love, it will nurture us and share its precious knowledge if only we will finally listen. Earth has our roots, our history and that is something Mars or moon or any other planet will never have, thus it will not be able to give us the future that we can have here on Earth. We must find ways to save and preserve Earth and our life on it.
Destroying something is always easy, and it is a very common idea nowadays that “new is always better”. That is why as a society we face issues like intergenerational disconnection and that is a direct cause of many more societal problems. By sending our elders away when we no longer want to take care of them we sort of willingly unplug ourselves from years of experiences and knowledge which they could share with us. We limit our possibilities of evolving when we decide to neglect where our roots are. And a new place will never be the answer because just as we are having conflicts on Earth we will continue having them on Mars unless we finally start doing something to solve them, without violence. We all are born in culture and it doesn't matter if our families practed the traditions or no, at any point in our life we can always go on own adventure and consciously become a participating part of a human culture. It will nurture us and reward us with unimaginable knowledge that so many of us seek, yet sadly in all the wrong places. The answers to all the questions are always in the roots of them and for us, humans, Earth is the root so we absolutely must listen to it, respect it, and love it. Because if we destroy this one, there will never be another one. Sorry Musk, but we belong here. All of us do.
Del, Jose A. “California Shooting Kills 12 at Country Music Bar, a Year After Las Vegas.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Nov. 2018,
Galeon, Dom. “Here's a List of Everything Elon Musk Says He'll Do by 2030.” Futurism, Futurism, 22 Nov. 2017
Marshall, Alan, and Environmental Social Sciences. “These Six Utopian Cities of the Future Will Help You Re-Imagine Life on Earth.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 14 Nov. 2018
Wall, Mike. “Mars Colony Would Be a Hedge Against World War III, Elon Musk Says.” Space.com, Space.com, 28 Mar. 2018
“Why Does Everyone Think Cities Can Save the Planet?” David Wachsmuth, 26 Nov. 2015