When I started the first draft of this post, early in the morning of October 16th, 2018, the R.E.M. song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” seemed perfectly appropriate. Except for the part about, “I feel fine.” Because I definitely didn’t feel fine about the world, as I have known it, coming to an end. At the time, the conflagration of news had me saddened, furious, and despairing. I wondered if George Orwell’s dystopia of 1984 was being realized, and if humanity will survive it. If we even deserve to survive it, given the way we are destroying the planet. It’s been a bit since I started, and lots has happened in the meantime, but I’m still not terribly hopeful.
While there were many factors in that bonfire of emotions, these articles will give you an idea:
- The Suffocation of Democracy by Christopher Browning
- The Growing Crisis of Democracy by David Leonhardt.
- Learning that the United States of America hasn’t been among the top 20 democratic nations in the world since 2015.
- The IPCC report that human civilization itself is at stake because of man-made climate change without immediate and drastic action on a scale unprecedented in human history.
- The 30% increase in measles cases worldwide around the world
- The populist Italian government firing their entire board of health experts.
- Mitch McConnell and the GOP’s confirmation of Kavanaugh to SCOTUS without real investigation
- The WHO officially & ignorantly adopts Traditional Chinese Medicine in the ICD-11
- Is Pseudoscience winning the war against skeptics?
Where did we go so wrong?
I Used to Be The Unbreakable Optimist
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a huge fan of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s vision of humanity’s future. Science was advancing rapidly, technological barriers were falling even faster, and the future seemed impossibly bright. Who cared if travel among the starts wasn’t realistic? I often wished that I could live at least a few hundred years, to see how far we could go. While I could see hurdles and challenges ahead, I had faith in humanity’s ability to overcome them.
That faith in humanity began to die the night of November 8th, 2016, when Donald Trump somehow, inexplicably, impossibly, beat Hillary Clinton to become the President of the United States. My faith in the goodness and good sense of Americans, was shaken to its core.
By July 2017, I wrote the following post on Google+:
Humanity Will Destroy Itself Through Stupidity, Not Artificial Intelligence
In a small section of a recent personal blog post, I argued that science, medicine, & technology have, in a sense, failed humanity. I argued that they did so by defeating evolutionary pressures that generally lead to the death of people, populations, and genes that confer either no beneficial traits or even confer disadvantaging traits. And because of such people, who likely would have died because they are unable to learn from events and knowledge bases like doctors, stay alive and reproduce, outlets like Goop thrive.
It’s not an argument I’ve thoroughly fleshed out, but it seems quite plausible to me based on many issues currently facing our species.
And then I think about my 2 daughters, and I weep for the world they will apparently inherit as they grow up.
Since I wrote that post, many things have gotten worse. True – many good things are happening around the world and the USA. The Blue Wave, powered by women and people of color, swept the November 2018 midterm elections. Democratic wins across the nation mean some counterbalance to the horrendous Trump administration. It is difficult to remember at times, but the progress that has been set in motion won’t stop on a dime. In fact, many of those things will continue to get better for some time based on momentum. Unless the momentum stops, because we stop pushing. That Blue Wave gave me hope for continuing the momentum. Since then, however, our government has been partially shut down since late December, because of a stupid border wall that Trump and his base are demanding.
Knowledge is Growing Too Fast; We Can’t Escape Our Evolutionary Roots
In 1900, it’s estimated that the sum total of human knowledge was doubling every 100 years. Today, it’s every TWELVE (12) MONTHS OR LESS! We are now creating so much knowledge, not even the most intelligent, educated, trained person can stay current. Medicine is now sub-sub-sub-specialized. No one really understands how technology works, except perhaps within their own very narrow fields. While people are studying how all of this affects humans, we have no methods to ensure that all humans receive the most current understanding. With the Internet, all of it – both good and bad – is instantly available to everyone.
As hard as it is to get current knowledge out to the public, it’s even harder to get outdated or bad information/knowledge OUT of the system, so people stop being exposed to it so easily. Not only that, humans have a lot of difficulty absorbing new knowledge, discarding old knowledge, and knowing the difference between accurate and inaccurate information. We just don’t do a good job at updating our knowledge bases, because doing so is both time- and energy-intensive. I mean…just these 5 books took me weeks to read, squeezed around the rest of my family and work life. Not many people have the luxury of a profession like mine though, which does afford me the money and time to buy books, and the leisure time to read them.
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism
- We Were Eight Years in Power
- The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
- From Bacteria to Bach & Back: The Evolution of Minds
Evolution Takes Generations; Technology Takes Months or Years
In early 2018, I read Daniel Dennett’s book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, which covered much of current research on the evolution of consciousness. Of necessity, Dennett reviewed a lot for evolutionary biology. There are a few lessons that can be drawn from it to support my thesis:
- As Dawkins explained in The Selfish Gene, which Dennett builds upon, evolution isn’t about survival of the fittest individual organisms or even species; it’s about survival of GENES and gene clusters, and eventually about the survival and propagation of MEMES in consciousness.
- There is no “morality” associated with the survival of genes or memes; there is only survival and propagation.
- Evolution is a process that happens over many generations, as gene (and meme) populations mix, mutate, mix, compete, etc. As long as our technology and science took that long to develop, too, there was time for our genes to adapt to them.
- Once the Scientific Method was refined, the growth in our knowledge & technology exploded.
- If one thinks of how radically different life is in 2018 compared to 1918 (at least in the most modern parts of the world), a mere 100 years and about 6 generations apart, and how little the average human being has changed, the problem is clear.
Too Much Information, Too Fast, Inadequate Filters, and Human Bias
Once social media platforms appeared, all these problems grew exponentially. People were already faced with too much information, yet they weren’t being trained in how to deal with it. We keep falling further behind the knowledge we’re creating. With all that information at our fingertips though, people gained the illusion that they knew and understood more than they do. Tom Nichols’ book, The Death of Expertise, talks about this extensively. Our educational systems can’t keep up.
Beyond the sheer information overload, however, we are still dealing with the fact that our brain functions, information processing systems, are built on rather primitive systems designed to help us survive, not to thrive. Evolution has never been about creating whole species of super-high-performing organisms; it’s only about organisms (genes/memes) that survive well enough to continue propagating themselves. We’re still using parts of our brains that helped our hominid ancestors survive hundreds of thousands, even a million years ago, but most people have no idea about that. Heck, we’re still figuring out what parts of our brains do what!
That’s not good enough.
Religion, Politics, & Magical Thinking
Yes, I’m an agnostic atheist (that means I don’t believe, but I don’t claim to know for sure). Right now though, I’m going to be as blunt as I can be: I have begun to hate religion. No, I don’t hate all religious people, but as a sum total, I hate religion. Why? Because it is my opinion that religion, (all deity-worshipping religions, but in the USA, Christianity the dominant one) is one of the biggest drivers of ignorance and magical thinking that has resulted in Trump as President and the GOP being on the verge of creating a despotic Christian theocracy on the model of the Taliban, right here in the USA. It makes me sick to my stomach, seeing Graham, Falwell, and so many others talking about Trump, that he’s literally God’s anointed one. Just look at some of these headlines:
- This Christian woman is scared about witches hexing SCOTUS justice Kavanaugh. WTF? Really?
- Four-fifths of Evangelical Christians voted for Trump.
- Jerry Falwell Jr. says Trump doesn’t need to ask forgiveness for all his infidelity
- Marie Osmond says that Christians in the USA might not be able to worship God freely
- Pat Robertson says to ignore a journalist’s murder because of gun sales
When I began this post, the Republican Party controlled all 3 branches of the US government and was using every dirty trick in the book to maintain it, regardless of the effect on our political system. And because the Republican Party allied itself with the Fundamentalism, racism, fear, and propaganda of white rural Christian Americans, they will never change. Because they can’t. In early 2019, Democrats have begun making a comeback and are challenging Republican power, but it’s still early days yet.
Sure, it’s nice reading articles like these, about former passionate conservatives who see the GOP turning into a racist, xenophobic, white nationalist party:
- I Left the Republican Party. Now I Want the Democrats to Take Over, by Max Boot
- Why I’m Leaving the Republican Party, by Tom Nichols
Hey – we liberals have been screaming about the growing racism, xenophobia, white nationalism, and science-denying Christian fundamentalism within the GOP for at least a couple decades, but at least they’re finally figuring it out now. A little late, really, but better late than never.
I despise religion as the single most important factor that will lead to a dystopian future of humans struggling to survive. It leads people to think that magical thinking works, and to deny evidence and data that is incontrovertible. No, it’s not the only factor, true. We have people like Gwyneth Paltrow and her pseudoscientific company GOOP (check out Dr. Jen Guenter’s latest article on Paltrow/Goop), homeopathy, Flat Earthers, chemtrails, anti-vaxxers, chiropractic, organic food scaremongers, and lots of other nonsense helping, too.
To be clear: I also understand that many Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc are fighting to preserve our world and better humanity. I value those people and their efforts. I just wish they understood that their religious faith is completely unnecessary to do so.
I Fear for My Daughters’ Futures
I used to be one of the world’s biggest optimists, wishing that I could live a few hundred years, just to see what we accomplish. Not anymore. Now, I have no desire to ever have grandchildren, because humanity is destroying the planet, and Christians and Muslims are leading the way with their denial of science and reality. I now see that, within our own lifetimes, climate change will ravage not just humanity, but all life on Earth, and make life unlike anything we’ve known before. My 12yo daughter told me yesterday, that she thinks humans will all be dead and gone in 200 years or less! That kind of blew me away, because I don’t talk around her as I’m talking in this post. And she’s expressed disbelief that people in her school don’t accept the evidence for AGW (she’s a really smart girl, obviously!).
- Current CO2 Levels Now Over 409ppm
- Humanity is destroying mammalian diversity
There’s so much more that I had wanted to include in this post, but heck – I started it just over 3 months ago, and if I don’t publish this now, it may never get finished. I’ll just have to do a Part 2, if I get to it. I barely even touched on any of these issues:
- Systemic racism is still the foundation of so much in America today;
- the utter dishonesty of the GOP;
- the destructive propaganda of Fox News;
- Evangelical Christianity revealing itself as the party of white Christian male supremacists
And this is just in the USA, never mind the rest of the world. 🙁
Maybe It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way
I hope that, just as it has in the past (World War I, World War II), humanity will collectively find the willpower to stand up for goodness, for equality, for peace, inclusion, protecting the weak and disenfranchised. At the moment, however, I don’t have very much hope.
Feel free to try and change my mind, because I would love to!