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Man’s Fate/Man’s Hope

For quite a while now—certainly since the terrorist attacks on the US of September 11, 2001, and before as we watched the slaughters in Kosovo, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Rwanda, and Congo on our televisions—the news has been dominated by war and rumors of war, by violent death and threats of violent death. Everyone, everywhere is keenly aware of the power of our weapons. From nuclear-tipped missiles down to trucks full of fertilizer or explosives worn as belts, we have used our technology to amplify greatly the dark parts of our nature as a violent—and not even a properly predatory—species.

I certainly do not want to downplay or dismiss this side of humanity’s history and our current events. I do not want anyone to forget that over less than half of the years contained in the past century—from the outbreak of World War I to the famine that followed Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”—about one in every ten people alive on this planet was shot, gassed, stabbed, burned, or starved to death by his or her fellow human beings.

But that is not the whole story. Indeed, the human abattoirs of the twentieth century—and even the slaughterhouses that various humans are preparing now—may not appear from the perspective of the future to be the most important part of our experience and condition, and of what our descendants will regard as their history. For them, the most important features of what our experience may instead be:

· What UN demographers foresee as the end of the population explosion: the halting of the growth of the human population at ten billion or so around the middle of this century;