Karl Marx called the primary purpose of human existence “species-being.”  What he meant by that is that humans only realize their purpose in life by feeling attached to the products they produce.  Of course, Marx was writing in light of capitalism and argued that capitalism alienates workers from their products (particularly proletarians).  Regardless of your view towards Marx, I think he was right to raise the issue of what it really means to be human and what will actualize us as individuals, a society, and a species – i.e., a species-goal.

As I was teaching The Manifesto of the Communist Party in my sociological theory class, it struck me that we as a society and as a species don’t have any real goals.  I know there are some groups who do.  But let’s assume for the moment that Jesus is not going to return and that the world is not going to end in some cataclysmic apocalypse.  Let’s also assume that there is no “heaven” or “hell” or divinity or anything supernatural, just the natural world.  This means that, barring a nuclear or environmental catastrophe, humans are simply going to continue to exist for the foreseeable future.

In light of that assumption, do we, as a species, have any collective, long-term goals?  And what about as a society?  Do Americans have any long-term goals? With a new, charismatic president in power, are Americans inspired to accomplish anything greater than ourselves?  Or are we simply trying to recover from the economic collapse (a.k.a. Bush’s Legacy)?

I’m sure many individuals have long-term goals, like, say, financial security or to finish graduate school or to have a child.  But those goals seem somewhat artificial in light of the fact that we are social beings, a social species, and a collectivity, even though we don’t usually act like one.  So, I have to wonder: Who is setting the agenda for humanity?  Is anyone?  Or are we simply stumbling forward, blindly, putting out fires (both literally and metaphorically) and reacting to nature as it acts upon us?  Are we actively trying to accomplish something?

To date, the only person I know to have suggested a species-goal is Stephen Hawking, who suggested that we find a way to leave planet earth (not all of us, but at least some settlers) and find a way to colonize another planet to ensure the survival of our species (pending the inevitable destruction of our planet via the expansion of our sun as it runs out of hydrogen or the impact of a large asteroid).  Assuming the naturalistic worldview I laid out above, what would you suggest as a species-goal and why?  The eradication of poverty?  Gender equality?  Human immortality through medical advances?  Off-world colonization?

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4 Replies to “species-goals”

  1. So if Hawkings idea is to get to another planet due to our planet being destroyed, what next? What would be his goal once we’re on that planet? Would the goal be to get to yet another planet when the new one was about to be destroyed? Just some weird thoughts I had on the subject.

  2. Well, at least I got someone thinking. 🙂

    I think the general idea would be: simultaneous colonization of as many planets as possible. The idea being that if we have humans on thousands of planets (preferably in thousands of galaxies), the odds of them all being destroyed simultaneously would be pretty low. Thus, the future of humanity would theoretically be guaranteed until universal heat death , which is pretty far into the future.

  3. Maybe I should! I like the one philosopher I know at my university (there are only two right now). He and I would probably get along really well and would control the department that way (it really is a department of 2; apparently the department meetings are very awkward; I can’t even imagine department chair elections…).

    Actually, isn’t this a sociological question, too? I know it’s not an “academic, objective, value-free” sociological question, but it is an applied sociological question. We, as students of society, should have the long term aims of society in mind as we study it, right? You, for instance, are probably hoping that your work will help reduce racial prejudice, with the eventual aim being “the non-significance of race” in negative ways (to paraphrase Wilson), notwithstanding a continued importance of ethnic and cultural variation.

    But what, pray tell, is the aim of sociology generally? Sometimes I wonder if all the president of the ASA does is pick a nebulous, generally ignored theme for the ASA meetings without really giving any thought to the ASA having a real agenda.

    It may be kind of awkward, but wouldn’t it be kind of cool if, on occasion, a president of the ASA or a section-president said, “Hey, members, I want to solve problem X. Can you all pull away from your other very important work for 1 month and focus all of your attention on problem X?” What do you think would happen?

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