Estrangement XXV: An Ethos Conflict -Birth, Population, Economics & Artificial Intelligence

African Diaspora. Credit. T J Agabo

by LJ Frank

This series on estrangement seeks to understand some of the differing faces of estrangement and the crossroads it approaches for good or ill.


humanity continues down the muddied road of uncertainty versus certainty. There exists an unsettling ethos and what appears as crude side narratives. It’s a question not of a natural desire to give birth to life but the challenge of individual viability and planet sustainability.

Diminishing land and food resources, woven with climate change and rising seas, and the necessary reassessment of alternatives are mixed with economics and the downstream effects of artificial intelligence.

The problem is both individual and systemic. The systemic crossroads is where wealth and power make decisions affecting all of humanity. How many people can the planet sustain before creating a Malthusian catastrophe or point of no return? Or is that a false theory? The conversation has yet to be settled.

To say that God works in mysterious ways or but for the grace of God go I are comfortating rationalizations. If there is a God, what was His intent for creating Earth and human beings? “Can such a God be vain” was asked in whispered tones and jotted in the margins of a monastery’s medieval manuscript. “We think we know, but have yet to discover,” are the alleged words of Thomas Aquinas, scripted upon completion of his Summa Theologica.

From a theological perspective, Jonathan Edwards, the brilliant 18th Century American philosophical theologian, in his Freedom of Will, wonders what that intent was of a Creator man titled with the name – “God”. Edwards thought that human Will plays an essential role in our spiritual and physical relationships. Whether one believes in a Creator conceived as a “personal” God, or not, the issue also of what is “Man” and his responsibilities is real, regardless of the natural desire or forced event – to procreate. The purpose of procreation maybe natural but is there a critical and ethical juncture in which people say, “wait”.

Work, literacy, technology, food, and land resources are limited. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. Illiteracy is ancient. The associated bloodshed of people vying for their piece of space and material well-being are historically part of our diet.

The flipside is for the rulers that need people in which they can rule unless supplanted by technology. The animalistic ugliness of the mind seems at times to overwhelm its beauty. The ugliness is revealed in using the language of social change and justice dressed up in words of fairness to neutralize those who would question that ugliness. It is the wanton disregard of humility and humanity. The impoverished body and spirit are not ordained to their lot in life except we live in a world rigged for the wealthy and powerful. A basic universal living income works against the established model of wealth and power. Billions of people are suffering and will continue to suffer.

The devastating effect of overpopulation and scarcity of resources is complicated and the center swirls around illiteracy, lack of education, suppression and manipulation of factual information leading to and reinforcing powerlessness, more so among women. Incremental changes no longer work. What are the expectations from the men who father a child? On the crude side of the narrative, an illiterate woman in Appalachia explained to me that “there was nothing else to do on the weekend. My boyfriend and I had no money. I love the children but…things happen. We now have four children.” How widespread is that crude narrative?

And yet as I think of rulers, I am reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s words on Who Built the Seven Gates of Thebes, the books are filled with the names of kings. Rulers need people to rule unless they have artificial intelligence to transcend the need for warm bodies.

That said, let’s look at population growth. Families and tribes evolved from nomadic cultures. In 5000 BCE (Before the Common Era) the world’s population was estimated at 5 million people. By 1000 CE (Common Era) there was an estimated 275 million people spread around the world. Around 1804 the estimated world population reached 1 billion people.  The 2 billion mark was reached around 1927. And over 3 billion people by 1960. Could the world sustain another billion people was asked in the 1960s.  By 1974 the world’s population surpassed 4 billion.  The 5 billion mark was passed in 1987. The 6 billion mark was passed by 1999. *

The 7 billion mark was passed in 2011 and by 2023 – the world’s population was reaching 8 billion people. ** Hunger, starvation, poor diet, and poverty grew by the millions as the population grew.  Education, empowerment, and literacy are significant.

In an over-populated world in which artificial intelligence is disrupting social, economic, and political structures, humanity is faced with another reckoning of past and present injustices. Divisions grow as competition, vanity, and materialism grows. Still, there is hope through innovation. What skills will be needed to exist and live?

The concept of winners and losers has limited entertainment value. Technology and artificial intelligence is an opportunity to support the needed systemic changes in the world. The question remains whether artificial intelligence will have inductive and deductive reasoning capability?  And will that AI be programmed for compassion? The questions and solutions are complicated. A redistribution of wealth, good information and a literate world my help solve many of the issues. War is not a solution.

The ethical is at odds with the unethical. Compassion, cooperation, and fairness begin in the human heart and mind.

*United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division  World Meters

**US & World Population Clock