The Red Meat
The final two chapters do not constitute a linear series of statements about the world, but rather a tapestry of ideas, woven into a modern and original world view. However, the way these ideas are presented has a rhythm designed to take you up, up and up in the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of an orgasm.
Chapter Nine: Global Deconstruction
The travel story during chapter nine consists of leaving Quito and heading south across the Amazon and Andes to the Pacific coast, then down through Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina to Buenos Aires. That’s the backdrop to the following …
First, the current dynamic of human civilisation is set within the wider story of Earth’s biosphere since the Cambrian Explosion. Salient features of the way humans perceive reality are then noted: a conceptual theme running through to the end of the book. These ideas are then applied to the first part of the human world to be examined: governments, what they are and why they work in the way that they do.
Next, a model for thinking about how seven billion fallible beings on the surface of a planet take decisions in a mysterious universe is outlined. That model is used to illustrate how the underlying realities of humanity’s situation set parameters constraining what is, and is not, possible in terms of power and decision-making apparatuses in human societies over long time frames.
The implications of those parameters for the relationship between individuals and their communities are then explored: another conceptual theme running through the rest of the book.
An opinion as to humanity’s medium-term goals is then laid out in order to set the expanding world view against real objectives. Contemporary ideas regarding the structure of the human world are then woven subject-by-subject into the expanding thesis, including: economics, humanity’s relationship with the ecosphere, cultural anthropology and the past 70,000 years of history and prehistory. A key idea running through these sections is that most of our current global problems are the inevitable consequence of historical patterns which are now well understood.
These ideas are then applied to the economic and political rise of China. That rise is set in historical context, as are the wider realities of modern geopolitics. The reader is then invited to consider the underlying mechanics of how seven billion evolved fallible beings organise themselves.
The broad characteristics of human progress are then noted, along with the timeframes in which such progress is (or might be) achieved. The reader is then presented with long-term data on human welfare (including life expectancy, disease, literacy, homicide rates and nutrition rates) which support the book’s argument that, in every way which can be measured, the early twenty-first century is the greatest golden age the world has yet seen.
Chapter nine ends by arguing that far-reaching questions regarding the implications, and ultimate direction, of the human story are simply not under discussion due to an understandable concentration on short and medium-term issues.
Chapter Ten: Pilgrim Unplugged
The travel story in chapter 10 consists of leaving Buenos Aires, heading north through Paraguay to Brazil, then travelling up the Atlantic coast to Rio and finally through the Amazon Rainforest to Guyana. That’s the backdrop to the following …
Cosmological ideas regarding the circumstances under which life can exist (or question its own existence) in the first place are introduced. These ideas are then used to postulate the trajectories which civilisation might, in theory, take. Its actual trajectory is set in that context and used to argue that pessimism regarding humanity’s experience and prospects is a product of comparing reality against hypotheticals.
One of the main themes running through the first eight chapters is then reintroduced: religion, God and what those things are. Contemporary debates regarding theism/atheism are then set in their historical context. These ideas are expanded to speculate on the future of humanity’s spiritual journey, and the book’s own spiritual thesis is set out.
As the story reaches its zenith, the distinction between the two narratives breaks down, as does that between the reader and author. During that finale, some of the paradigm shifts which the human race will one day face are considered, as are the relationship between an individual and the universe, personal mortality and death.
Remember: this is a message of hope.
As the travel story reaches its conclusion, one last phenomenon of the modern world is discussed: the institution of travelling. The author’s own experience of that institution is summarised and used to pay homage to planet Earth, its humans, and their extraordinary civilisation.
One question implicit in all this is: why do I use a travel story to reinterpret the collective human experience?
Getting people to think about the world from outside the social constructs which happen to be relevant to them is difficult. To do so you need a vehicle: a story; something to get them in the mood. Actually writing a travel story which offers such a reinterpretation is extremely tricky (I’ve learned). How does one do something like that?
What I ended up doing was being brutally honest.
Some bits of this book don’t make me look very glamorous, some are absurd and some are distinctly undignified. But it’s all true.
Nothing has been contrived. Nothing has been made up. A two-year round-the-world adventure was, as it happens, the vehicle by which I synthesised this stuff. I’m going to be completely straightforward about why I ended up doing what I did.