Feature

Editor's Letter: A panoramic view of humanity

I’ve never tired of the God-like view of man’s works one gets from a plane window. From on high, we human beings seem so numerous, and so…busy.

Humanity, I have found, looks best from the perspective of 30,000 feet. I’ve never tired of the God-like view of man’s works one gets from a plane window: the geometric symmetry of farms, with their precise circles and rectangles; the intricate lacework of roads and highways; the tiny cars and trucks, windshields glinting in the sun; the teeming anthills of cities, dense with hundreds of years of accumulated ambition, ingenuity, and industry. From on high, we human beings seem so numerous, and so…busy. In 10,000 B.C., there were just 5 million people on Earth; it took until A.D. 1800 for there to be 1 billion. In just a few months, the United Nations announced this week, the global population will reach 7 billion. Can we keep going? Will we finally destroy ourselves with our busyness, and ruin the planet we cover like kudzu?

There are so many reasons to be pessimistic. As the stories in this magazine make clear this and every week, human beings are largely driven by the same primitive, tribal impulses that governed us in 10,000 B.C. We slaughter one another in appalling numbers. We’re petty and selfish and shortsighted. We routinely fall prey to gobsmacking stupidity. And yet, whenever it has seemed darkest, heroes and geniuses and visionaries have stepped forward to awaken what’s best in us, and we have continued on, a bit better than before. By 2100, the U.N. guesses, about 10 billion people will share the Earth. As financial advisers say, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, but my bet is that our species will be as busy as ever at century’s end, and that the view from 30,000 feet will be more impressive still.

William Falk

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