The last time humanity went off the deep end (or at least – western civilization did) was at the end of the Roman era an signified the Dark Ages. While some deny the Dark Ages were not in any way particularly bad. Also, it may not be the ebb and flow of human civilization that was the cause of the dark ages. It may actually be that recurring (1,2, 3, 4) cycles of nature may have been the cause of (relatively speaking) certain cultural morbidities in human civilization.
We can’t say with any certainty we are in a period of actual morbidity right now, comparatively to other ones, but there are ominous signs in the bizarre Trump phenomenon, in the wholesale denial of climate change and science itself we see world wide, and in the Brexit disaster. The TYT people (which I watch daily) did a segment on this kind of thing happening., where for some reason or another people find reasons to completely dismiss reality as undesirable and collectively prefer to live in denial.
If we are to conclude progress is a desirable thing, progress happens when large numbers of people find themselves empowered as to temporarily embrace fact – largely because it helps their state in life. But it is by no means certain that acceptance of embrace of reality will always benefit the majority of people. For instance – A wellknown Neoconservative, Strauss (as well as Plato), insisted that for some societies to prosper, a certain set of “Noble Lies” may come in handy. This makes sense, albeit in a perverse manner. Various cultures of the human species might be going through cycles in development of respective world orders (expanding, consolidating, decadent, in decline) where in certain aspects of a cycle the denial of certain facts or truths would be generally deemed to be too negative as to be palatable. There may be a certain strength in unreasonable optimism, even if that optimism might be construed as deeply irrational or even self-destructive.
Take for instance our current situation world wide. We have now end up in a state where the world consumes so many resources that in effect a mass die off of the world’s animals – and with it ass catastrophic (premature) death of the majority of human beings would be plausible if not probable this century. Humans are clearly creating the pretext for existential risk, be it on account of catastrophic climate failure, or geothermal nuclear escalation. But a whole grocery list of dangers will do. In a perverse manner if humans were to accept this reality and act upon it, the outcome of “rational” policies might be far more horrific than just letting the chips fall where they may. In other words – to actually go and act on resource depletion, excessive human population growth rates and numbers, catastrophic climate change, nuclear proliferation (etc.) might compel us towards a very unpalatable and tyrannical world order – where we to accept the facts with utmost honesty. So maybe it pays to throw caution to the wind and barrel full steam ahead, because as some might argue “we have precious little to lose either way”, and maybe by maintaining progress and status quo and business as usual and all that, we might stumble ourselves ot of our imminent problems. Superficially it seems to me that this is the position of various Transhumanists, in particular Peter Diamandis. Many Extropians in particular seem to argue that there’s no benefit in curtailing the plausibly horrific and destructive trends because the actual act of curtailing those trends would in itself be worse medicine than the disease.
The jury is still out if we will we “go with a bang” and enter in to a new (and potentially quite gruesome) dark ages. This is (roughly) the position of the “Olduvai Gorge” crowd. They say that human modernity (industrialization and absurd population rates foremost) is a temporary fluke spurred on my consumption of a very constrained quantity of petrochemical energy sources. As soon as these people argue, the energy sources deplete, the population levels (and the sophistication of the civilization) resets to a more Pleistocene level. Or worse, humanity goes extinct, along with about 90% of all vertebrate and plant species on the planet.
So aside from the few caveats I could come up with, there is some reason to be utterly terrified of the urgency of certain minorities world-wide to have grown hostile to science, materialism, progress and technology. My first impulse is to regard such a position (or world view) to be deeply hypocritical and immoral since the people who advocate anti-science positions (or, more gently put – they have a radically different interpretation of science) do benefit to an absurd degree from the unmitigated blessings of the same scientific endowments. I mean, you can’t go around posting angry articles about science on the internets, while the internet itself is about as decadent a product of progress you can come up with.
There are a lot of diverse people who have taken it upon themselves to actively resist the established scientific world view – People who believe in UFO aliens visiting Earth frequently, people who insist the moon landing was a hoax, people who think the government is spreading toxins via “Chemtrails”, people who believe vaccinations cause autism, people who believe the world was created about 6 thousand years ago, people who believe our political leaders are some kind of lizard species, that sort of thing. And you don’t have to look far to come to viotrilic exchanges and disagreements. I am in part one of “those people”, since I absolutely do not buy in to the official narrative of the collapse of the world trade centers myself. So where does one draw the line in these debates? Even inside comparatively mild “conspiracy” or “denial” movements such as the “truther” movement you will find a range of less plausible, arguably plausible and arguably bonkers speculations. Each person makes an estimate of how likely or unlikely certain things are based on personal experiences and testimony of perceived authorities, and I can only state that based on my understanding of physics the collapse of WTC7 was utterly inexplicable and massively conflicts with the established US government narrative.
And that’s the problem – there is a grey area. There is no alternative than people relying on authorities, and a certain number of people then deciding, for whatever private reasons, that the established narrative can’t possibly be true. This often becomes a chessgame in terms of word views, and a lot of secondary considerations come in to play. Take for instance denial of the Holocaust – people who deny the Holocaust enter in to a realm where active antisemites make arguments based on viciously racist arguments, as well as people who claim to be historical authorities and then make claims that fly in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. It is often a matter of conscience, as well as what you believe about the world to be possible or true.
Still, we are witnessing a sharp decline in acceptance of the official narratives. In some cases these discussions are horrible and deeply inflammatory, as is the case with the debate around the 911 events, or “holocaust denial”, or the thesis that immunizations may cause autism. People on either side of such debates are likely to be extremely bitter about the arguments of the other side, and understandably so.
But whatever the case, there is an increasingly irrational movement whose positions (and respective support of positions by their preferred authority) are so grotesquely off the cuff and mainstream it is just shocking. I wouldn’t even include the minorities that actually do believe in biblical floods and the Earth being six thousand years old and that sort of LARP style intransigence. That’s just faith based reasoning, conducted in an understandable echo chamber of constant affirmation. It is where people in the relative mainstream, who are exposed to constant input of media come to positions that just …just… I duno what to say. Here’s an example that just .. just.. I have no words for it.
I am trying to … come up with ahm.. a position on this but… I am at a loss for words.
Yes right now in the year 2016 the stakes are so gargantuan high I can not emphasize how important it is we elect the most suitable leaders for office and I am not even debating the sheer surreal quality of today’s US elections. The situation in the US is absurd all the balls aren’t even in the general area of the pool table People in the US aren’t just entertaining a healthy side dish of non-orthodoxies, a significant majority of people in the US are willing to vote for absurd.
In most things counter-intuitive, money is the deciding factor. The easiest example is the organized process of attacking the idea of climate change. It has been in the active interests of petrochemical industries to actively deny the idea that human industrial activity can alter the climate. This is now a proven fact, and it has now come under investigation. It follows the same mechanism as we have seen in decades upon decades of organized denial that smoking has a very strong correlation with cancer. There were profits involved and by systematically denying the problem those involved were able to wring out a few measly more years of relative profits.
Another example is the rather remarkable alliance between the political right in the US and the evangelical voter base, primarily incentivized (or incensed) by the issue of abortion. As it now turns out abortion was pretty much created as a contrivance to actively mobilize certain religious minorities in support of the Republican party. In effect Evangelicals were recruited by means of a phony issue that was engineered to this effect. There clearly was a benefit to this, in the same manner than actively dumbing down the electorate, or actively lying to the electorate has a benefit.
A society that has a healthy denial of adversity may temporarily prosper, but a society that pervasively, consistently, frequently enters in to near-universal denial of reality is in trouble. Some might argue, serious trouble.
So what to do? Make “having unorthodox ideas” illegal? It is already illegal in Germany to “deny the holocaust”. I know I’d be in trouble if the law came after me for “actively doubting the official narrative of the 911 tragedy” because that’s what I see – I occasionally find myself in uncomfortable disagreement with established wisdom and orthodoxy. But clearly the people who actively benefited from decrying the idea that smoking causes cancer, or that unbridled emission leading to 400 ppm co2 levels in the atmosphere is a recipe for mass extinction on the planet may very well end up accountable, as the acts of organized dissent led to victims. It can be proven and quantified how many people died because tobacco product manufacturing industries were actively opposing health measures. And they still are and these industries still are in the business of killing people. That’s criminal intent.
There’s a lot of denial going around world wide. For instance people deny (or choose to ignore) the fact that most consumer articles consumed nin the western world are manufactured under conditions we’d classify as slavery. I wouldn’t go as far as dragging Beyonce in front of court for actively benefiting from this and arguably being a hypocrite about it but my point is that future generations, with the benefit of hindsight, might decide otherwise.
And there’s a very interesting caveat to this and that is life extension. Most people assume they will be dead in a few decades. It may very well be argued a lot of people are willing to accept immoral acts because there is next to no consequence for being a dick right now. Who cares if you contribute to climate change when you’ll almost certainly be dead in a few decades. It may sound to some as some kind of perverse version of Pascal’s wager, but one might very well argue in favor of moral behavior in the here and now. for reasons of distant future consequences. That does go both ways though – I might hav e considered my private behavior in terms of my gender transition in the light of a potential distant future where Sharia law governs over my country – in such a future the consequences of my current acts may be held in such disdain that in such a future I might end up immortalized by medical science and then summarily thrown of a large building because of me being transgender.
But aside from a range of remote possibilities, I do occasionally speculate about what damages we (me and you, the reader) might be inflicting upon people right now, or on people of a future generation by our wilfuil ignorance of reality, truth, science and facts. Or for that matter what damage we might be construed for as being liable for wilful abuse of animals this very day. What if a hundred years from now I still find myself alive and end up as co-defendant in a mass trial of Chimps-versus-Humanity, where uplifted intelligent animals would hold humanity accountable for mass violence againstv the same apes? This is no mean part of the movie Dawn of the planet of the Apes, where an artificially mate intelligent simian had intense and seething hatred for all humans, and with some good reasons I might add. If I were the viciously scarred Koba, I’d probably be similarly vindictive.
But what of people who are currently forced to work as indentured slaves or starve? There are literally hundreds of millions of people who might demand “repair payments” and they might be awarded them. Future generations might make a reasonable claim, for merely existing in a world ravaged by climate change, on people who lived in the era of mass CO2 emission, and demand fair damages.
And that’s pretty much the only reasonable ethical position I see here. Parents who disallow their children vaccinations already suffer the fallout and blowback of these choices., since there are real and quantifiable consequences to refusal of vaccination. Courts of law tend to be a lot more likely to affirm science, facts, reason, technology and truth and that allows us to create a more robust intersubjective realm of discourse. Granted it is a far from imperfect realm, but it does have its bright moments now and then. Sides in an argument must have fair means to settle claims and must rely on robust and mutually agreeable truth finding, and in that simple fact there is hope that negative consequences will one day end up taken in to account in making choices, with any Madman strategies taken in to account for good measure.