What happens when you suddenly realize we really have no future? That's a rough one. Go back over everything again and see if it is just a case of too many stories from Fox News? One too many outrageous, bigoted, ignorant statements from some dimwit in Congress? One too many plane crashes or murders or pointless disasters?
That's what's happening here and I keep coming up at the same place. Maybe someone out there can point out where I went wrong but it sure seems that the best hope left is to give up all hope and go from there . . .
The causes for worry are many but one of the primary ones is our polarized, overly politicized information media sucking everything into debate with no standards. It’s been obvious that our political and social discourse has gone bad. The problem is that discourse leading to acceptance if not agreement of action is required in order to meet real needs and solve shared problems. If the shared meanings of words disintegrates too far into religious or ideological slogans discussion becomes pointless and the discourse fails.. My feeling is that we are approaching that level of breakdown. And, again, this is not something new as populations have ceased to communicate in the past usually leading to violence or someone leaving town. Race, religion and ethnicity come easily to mind. Our most brutal and violent wars have always been driven by the perceived inability to understand, let alone communicate with the other. Societies regularly breakdown and why should modern postindustrial society be any different?
So what’s different now? Now we have planet wide problems on a scale that is beyond our, apparent, ability to even grasp. The massive problem of global warming could kill our grandchildren and maybe our children but we allow that to be dealt with as if it could still be debated. Does the suffering and death of our grandchildren mean anything? Tragically it doesn’t seem to mean much, at least not enough to call a halt to political posturing. But that’s not even the full problem as a significant chunk of the population refuses to recognize the scientific reality that ended the debate long ago. In fact they refuse to accept science at all as if there were some other option. I don’t think this is still an argument between conservatives and liberals or traditionalists and progressives. The irony of this, and the real worry, is that shared meaning (extended to morality and social standards) is the very essence of the conservative mentality but, I realize now, the absolutes of mythical thinking are more important than shared standards to a surprising part of our population. When did we cross the line to acceptance of irrationality against objective fact?
The realization that started this is the accelerating collapse of shared meaning. I realized I have always assumed that an increasing level of rationality or logos, to use the mythos versus logos terminology, is essential as the foundation of our shared species meaning. The converse is also true that we must have a reduced level of mythos or mythical thinking. This is true because we, by our sheer numbers and impact, are creating planet wide, long term problems that require planet wide, long term solutions. Only rational scientific thinking can solve those problems. Sorry but praying to late Iron Age gods or performing rituals in the forest at night don’t cut it. Even traditional folk medicine (shamans) used specific tricks to make people think that some magic had happened so they would experience at least the placebo effect. This is clearly rational if no other cures are available. If the tricks, passed on as secret knowledge, are denied as tricks then the shaman lose their logos knowledge which leaves them with only myth. We, as a species have always worked at that balance, I thought, with that balance tipping steadily in the direction of logos or rationality and science. I no longer think that.
There are just too many people and even institutions that are willing to fight with great violence to deny reality and denounce logos. A look at the writings that represent mainstream Republican thinking in this country has gone from depressing to scary. You need only look at the people who are dealt with as news worthy and who, whatever they may know, are willing to denounce science and recite complete nonsense that is potentially disastrous to anyone who might believe them. We end up finding hope in people who occasionally show some signs of rationality but who, not long ago, would have been ignored as damaged. Of course even these marginally rational people are publicly threatened unless they “walk back” their heretical misstatements. The current pope comes to mind.
A huge problem exists with completely alienated, impoverished populations who are herded into terrorism and religious suicide. But the utter brutality of these groups and the absurdity of their tragic “wars” is still almost understandable coming from the exploited and repressed who have never really had a chance. We, in the rich, industrialized and educated world do not have that excuse. We almost had it all but again have political groups grasping ignorance and hatred with a fervor that seems unexplainable.
Of course you can say that is the way politics always is with the radical fringe threatening to get control but in the end sanity prevailing. Religion is clearly in decline with a more personal search for spirituality replacing it for more and more people. That’s good but at the same time a growing list of depressing surveys shows the level of ignorance of people in general seems on the increase despite continuous educational reform. The ones most agitated about Benghazi seem to think it is in Cuba somewhere or maybe Iran. More than half the population has no idea which party controls the parts of Congress. A very recent University of Chicago study revealed about half the population believe at least one popular health conspiracy theory. Of these the completely disproven link between vaccinations and autism is perhaps the most dangerous. People most excited about attacking somewhere are the ones with the weakest idea where it is. We are becoming more open and accepting of others, mostly, but that is, I think, the inevitable and totally good human result of seeing and “knowing” more and more people through social and other media. At the same time bigoted minorities become more entrenched and extreme. Conversation disappears as people listen to ideological echo chambers and can’t tell the difference from reality. No decisions are made except to not make a decision. The best we can do is to stop stopping people from doing something they do anyway. That is success and we feel hope. But that does not solve the unique planetary problems that we have been able to create but are not able to actually comprehend.
So that brings us back to my insight into this problem and the first part of that is very simple: I now know we aren’t going to make it. I have no choice but to admit that we are done. Our evolutionary development has come up short. Our rope has run out and it wasn’t long enough. We are going to die on this planet because we don’t have what it takes to make the next evolutionary jump. We can’t stop our need for mythos from killing us. While we can sort of see where we need to go we are grasping at straws and becoming desperate. Marriage equality is surprisingly successful and is sweeping the country. But why so suddenly? I’m afraid because it is low hanging fruit. It really doesn’t affect most people and doesn’t really require doing much of anything. We just stop stopping certain people from marrying each other. Because we are scared and that is the right thing but it may be that is the only thing that we can do. We don’t even try to tackle the real problems and how long will we have to fight to defend this minor gain of marriage equality? The howling hoards of the mythos enraged never stop. Even if an area of sanity is held what is the cost?
This is actually pretty momentous as I have never faced this before and don’t actually remember hearing of anyone who has. The only fully human alternative that I see would be some sort of brutal, scientific dictatorship that would destroy the good part of our mythos in order to control the bad and we have been there before. It was called the twentieth century. Even when we are trying to be evil scientists . . . think about it a minute . . . we get in the way of our own science and screw it up.
With the frightening realization of evolutionary failure, where does this lead? It was as if the death of our future cleared the air to see what was left, to see our hope. We need to give up on us and build our successors. They are not going to be completely or even at all human but they are going to be our children. This is not a fantasy or a nightmare, it is the only hope we have left. The key is that we don’t need to build machine gods or artificial humans. We don’t even need to get to Kurzweil’s Singularity although that will fit right in whenever it happens.
We are close . . . But it is going to be very scary to achieve. My insight was that the only hope we have is to have faith in our tools. We are closer than we realize to the kind of fully rational processing power that can augment human thinking if we let it. We simply need to realize that we do not, as evolved primates, have the natural ability to process information in a consistently rational way. We misunderstand much that we know and delude ourselves to protect our social standing. We need to admit that our intuition sucks. It is the basis of our erratic creative genius but let’s be happy with that. For everyday living on a crowded and damaged planet? Not so much.
We need help. Let’s have the faith (we can do faith) to trust the tools that we have invented. We do it now more than we realize. When the weather is really bad we know to look online for storm warnings and radar images. Hurricane forecasts are scientific and the priests have no say. They are busy looking, too. We have a nearly dysfunctional political system but about half of us still vote. What do we watch? The statistically processed projections that we know may be accurate with as little as 5% of the vote counted. Want to make yourself a laughing stock? Ignore the statistical projections. Karl Rove comes to mind.
If we work on accepting the premise that all people are equally bad at objective analysis and predicting the future we can begin to work on identifying the best, analytical modeling systems and give those a try. The mythos defined will squeal with the usual rage but we just need to get the majority to actively agree to ignore them in the areas of economics and climate for now. Let’s elevate our national information systems to the level of political leaders. We actually do this partially already. At least we spend the money for it already. In a purely objective analysis what economic adjustments work best to increase both per capita income and over all GDP over the next three years? Let’s give it a try. The model that appears to provide the best numbers should be presented for a national referendum. The people vote on a range of projected results and the system that provided those results. There is no success or failure simply how well it worked delivering the projected results. The people can chose the model that gives higher GDP over all or the model that gives higher GDP per capita. That is a human kind of choice.