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Humanity’s Unclear Mandate

In the discipline of project management, there is a very key principle which must be followed for a project to even have a chance of being successful. There must be continued business justification throughout the project while it is being executed. It is the single most important principle in the field of project management and if that business justification cannot be shown at any point in the project, it is recommended that the project be immediately stopped – regardless of how painful that may be to project stakeholders. Keeping that in mind, it is quite is important that we examine just exactly what is the human project and what is its mandate.

Last week, apparently of some significance, The Mall of Africa was opened in South Africa’s city of Midrand. Boasting over 6500 parking bays {{citation needed}}, the mall opened to a spectacle of gridlock traffic cuased by people who flooded to the shopping mall as there are many stores who had marketed opening day specials. Ridiculous.

Please keep in mind that the average South African owes R 46,829.50 ($3170) to some creditor somewhere. And those are 2014 numbers. Jacob Zuma (and the worst drought in 30 years) have done well to worsen the economy since then.

It’s also worth mentioning that South Africa is considered to be the second most stressful society to live in. It is quite remarkable that with a society that is so indebted, so stressed (seemingly about everything), has one of the worst education systems , ranks as one of the worst countries for upward mobility, would flood like mindless zombies to ANOTHER  new mall when there were already 1785 other malls in South Africa – ranking behind only the US, Japan, Canada, the UK and China.  This insane phenomenon was also visible when people queued for a considerable time just to be one of the first people to drink Starbucks coffee when it opened some days ago. It’s truly bizarre.

More than anything, societies are being slowly reduced to being rampant consumers as constant advertising tells people they are not good enough or not cool enough if you don’t (have) buy product A. Company B will push a marketing campaign which essentially tells you that you were stupid for buying product A but instead you should have bought product B. And we fall for it every time. This targeted indoctrination starts from a very early age as parents all too often have to suffer their children throwing a fit in shopping malls because some toy is not in the trolley.

It can be deduced that these symptoms we see in society are (partly) a result of a larger disconnect society has with its own vision and its purpose. But as this question can quickly be answered by any religious dogma, maybe the question should be has humanity evolved to be enlightened enough to have a truly unified mandate that would have a positive (or negative) effect on this Earth? If we were to explore the idea that there is a unified negative mandate that we do share, even on a subconscious level, it would obviously be the destruction of this planet by progressively making it unsuitable for human (any) life. And we are very good at this. There is not single peer-reviewed scientific paper that has found that modern societies have a positive effect on the natural environment. Every living ecosystem out there that has humans active in it is in decline. One of the best examples of this is the Chernobyl exclusion zone where only a handful of people are still living there after reactor number 4 went nuclear in 1986. Even though all life in that area suffered heavily due to radiation poisoning in the immediate aftermath following the accident, it’s widely accepted that wildlife is now thriving again. Similarly this trend has been noted in the Korean demilitarized zone. And the evidence is clear that wildlife is thriving because there is limited human activity in those areas. If our human presence does more to hinder natural life than the worst nuclear disaster this world has ever seen, one can fully appreciate the destructive power of our habits.

Yet even this example, which has been expanded from the plasticity of the human mind to mindlessly indulge in materialism to show the negative impact of human society as a whole (at least in its current fashion), does not do justice in fully motivating the fate of the human and their place in this world. For even though we are destroying this world, there is recognition and there is wisdom for an alternative path – even though that alternative path may arguably not yet be fully attainable or fully understood. A project with a 7 billion stakeholder base that maybe recognizes that the business case is unknown and probably flawed, but still paralyzed by the fear of dropping it.Yet ancient societies with very limited knowledge have been at this crossroads and have managed to find solutions which continued their survival.

In a construction site somewhere in what is now the United States, a construction crew found human remains of what turned out to be evidence of the first people to have settled in those lands. A child buried in symbolism with over 1000 spear points. This symbolism, according to anthropologists who studied the case and the Clovis culture, concluded that the burial of that child was to mark an end to way the people had lived. We now know that within the first 1000 years humans had arrived in the Americas, over 50 great species directly and indirectly went extinct because of human hunting. There was a North American lion which was one-third bigger than what we know here in Africa. There was a giant sloth, much larger than the South American counterpart we know today. There was a short-faced bear – by far the largest mammalian predator to have existed anywhere, five kinds of horse, two kinds of camels … and so many more which were all there when humans arrived in the Americas. Simply put – humans using just spears, are responsible for the greatest mass extinction since the age of the dinosaurs. The Clovis culture who, as a generalization, are one of the ancestors of indigenous American tribes, at some point recognized the damage their lifestyle was having on the very environment and wildlife they depended on for survival. And the culture did change. Evidence shows that for the next twelve thousand years after the approximated year when the child was buried in symbolism with over 1000 spear points, there were no mass extinctions in the Americas. [source]

The history and science in understanding the Clovis people is one of the most important pieces of evidence we have today regarding the human’s ability to change on a large scale. A paradigm shift to a clear and long-lasting goal that is generally shared in society – and in this context, a clear mandate for the human project. This abstract leads me to my second major example which in contrast, can be perceived as a positive for humanity. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an attempt to keep spare copies of every plant seed from every country. And the contributions of the vault have come through from almost every country. This insurance policy from a global catastrophe large enough to prompt food shortages is one of only a handful of projects which all countries are generally in consensus with. And in 2015, for the first time since the vault opened in 2008, seeds were taken out and shipped to Syria – which should give you an idea of the humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in that country since the civil war started.

But this brings about an elusive question. Humans are probably the most creative species that has evolved on this planet. This creativity leads to different cultures, religions, languages, philosophies and so much more. As a side effect, this can lead to differing opinions on what to have for dinner or conflicting geopolitical policies and everything in between that. But if we can agree for seeds to be frozen and stored for safe keeping in case a nuclear war breaks or in case we get hit by a doomsday asteroid – does it mean that the only mandate we have given ourselves is to survive? Just to survive?

I thought over 200,000 years of human evolution would have moved us slightly beyond just surviving. As much as we have advanced technologically it appears that our values are in complete disarray. If we can agree to store seeds, why can’t we agree not to war each other in the first place? If we can agree that pollution is generally bad for everyone, why do we give more attention to the next shopping mall that is opening? Has the spiritual nature of existence been reduced to what we know today as religion – which has been shown to be one of the most divisive of ideologies? Obviously just because the human project does not have a clear mandate cannot mean the project be discarded, as that would be self-inflicted oblivion. But I think people would appreciate each other, their environment, their infinitesimal place in the universe if each person can wake up and know that there is a collective something which we are all working towards.

Surely life is too precious not to have a unified goal which can be applicable to all 7 billion of us. And as project stakeholders, we owe it to ourselves and our future generations to figure that out and commit to it, before we fumble ourselves to an abyss which we cannot get out of.

… which is probably sold at your nearest shopping mall.

Sizwe

 

2 Comments »

  1. Hi there would you mind sharing which blog platform
    you’re using? I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and
    Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style
    seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had
    to ask!

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