You should expect the next great era after ours to be as different from our era as ours is from past eras. In the last few million years, the three biggest changes on Earth were arguably the arrival of humans, the arrival of civilization based on farming, and then civilization based on industry ( Boserup 1981 ; Morris 2015 ). As I’ll discuss more in Chapter 2 , prior Eras section, each of these three eras greatly changed people, society, and the Earth. people who adopted these new ways of life quickly displaced and dominated those who continued with old ways. Compared with primates, wandering human hunter-gatherers greatly expanded technology, art, language, norms, and politics, and displaced many top animal predators. Then farmers and herders stopped wandering, expanded marriage, war, trade, law, class, and religion, and hunted many animals to extinction. Finally, our industrial era has expanded schools, cities, firms, and individual wealth; it has displaced even more of nature and almost all foragers, and it has seen a partial return to forager values. Over this whole period, we’ve seen increases in travel, talk, organization, and specialization. We’ve also had faster change, innovation, and economic growth, and a more integrated and unequal world culture. We have also, I will argue, become increasingly maladaptive. Our age is a “dreamtime” of behavior that is unprecedentedly maladaptive, both biologically and culturally. Farming environments changed faster than genetic selection could adapt, and the industrial world now changes faster than even cultural selection can adapt. Today, our increased wealth buffers us more from our mistakes, and we have only weak defenses against the super-stimuli of modern food, drugs, music, television, video games, and propaganda. The most dramatic demonstration of our maladaptation is the low fertility rate in rich nations today. While the industrial era has deluded many into thinking that old constraints no longer apply, as we will see in Chapter 2, Limits section, many recent constraint-evading trends simply cannot continue forever. Even if our descendants eventually conquer the stars, if we haven’t greatly misunderstood physics then our long-lived but bounded universe must eventually limit innovation and growth. And without strong regulation from a universespanning government, we should eventually see less change, more adaptive behavior, and (perhaps surprisingly) near-subsistence living standards.
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