David Brin— astrophysicist, technology consultant, one of theWorld’s Best Futuristsand best-selling author — speaks, writes, and advises on many topics including national defense, creativity, and space exploration. You can find David’s books at hiswebsiteand his latest thoughts at hisblog. If you missedmy interview with David, read it here.~ Ilene
Courtesy of David Brin
(Originally posted on David's blog on June 20, 2018)
I just finished 9 weeks of relentless speechifying around the globe, from the Arctic and Russia to South China to LA, to a dozen events in DC. More than 25 talks! Culminating in last week’s commencement at UC Santa Cruz (Crown College.) Time to get back to writing.
Two minutes. Watch this, you Americans. Two minutes for your country. (And you others, learn from this!) As for those cardboard election mailers you were getting, and will get again, come November? Do what you should do with anything received over the web. Start by looking at the return address. (The "paid-by" is usually some made-up shill phrase.)
There's lots more we need to do, to shred the veil of lies. But that should only be a start.
It truly is simple. One party wants a return to the campaign accountability laws that worked mostly-well in the past. Ronald Reagan was elected under them, by the way. Vote for that party and against the one that has adopted wholesale cheating supported with acts of war by foreign powers.
Better yet, join Lawrence Lessig's campaign to bring all the funding into the light.
Is there any protection from the inevitable meltdown?
With Paul Ryan announcing his retirement (to spend time with family), and the last professionalsleaving a White House in full melt-down mode, talk of a bill to protect Robert Mueller is going nowhere, because GOP pols are desperately afraid of Rupert Murdoch. And yes, just in time, the Murdochs are getting a huge, cash war chest of $70 Billion they can spend on perverting the Enlightenment. Thanks a bunch, Mickey.
What happens when a toddler with presidential powers enters full panic mode? What are the skilled and grownup men and women of the officer corps, the civil service, and adults both in and out of the "deep state" to do, when faced with a life-or-death choice between their duty to all of us, and the chain-of-command?
There is a solution! It can pass, quietly, in a three sentence resolution from both houses. Far less daunting or traumatic than impeachment, it would give our military officers and others a place to turn, if they are ever given "spasm" commands.
Three sentences -- that could be slipped into almost any bill — that would quietly let us sleep at night. Give it another look… and pass it along to anyone you know who might know someone who knows someone…
We haven’t lost… yet
Long ago I learned something from my friend Ray Bradbury… that people want to be optimistic, but they are worried about looking naïve or foolish. Still, they can be chided into seeing the advantages of a positive attitude.
Hated on by both the far-left and the entire-right, Steven Pinker dares to beat the drum of optimism in an era of stylish cynicism and self-indulgent gloom. He and I choose different examples, and reasons to feel guarded hope. But first, ponder this Pinker excerpt:
> "Consider the U.S. just three decades ago. Our annual homicide rate was 8.5 per 100,000. Eleven percent of us fell below the poverty line (as measured by consumption). And we spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 34.5 million tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere.
> "Fast forward to the most recent numbers available today. The homicide rate is 5.3 (a blip up from 4.4 in 2014). Three percent of us fall below the consumption poverty line. And we emit four million tons of sulfur dioxide and 20.6 million tons of particulates, despite generating more wealth and driving more miles.
> "Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty, barely able to feed themselves, compared with 9.6% today. True, 2016 was a bad year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths. But 1988 was even worse, with 440."
Pinker has mountains of such examples, enraging those who think that only hand-wringing guilt trips can possibly motivate people to take action to improve things further.
Fools. It's confidence that spurs action, not despair! See his new book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.
Along these lines, famed statistician Hans Rosling's final book (published posthumously): Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, explores the upward trend of human progress, which Bill Gates calls "One of the most important books I've ever read." As a matter of fact, Bill Gates is giving a free ebook of Factfulness to all 2018 college graduates.
Have things improved? Enjoy this vivid video of Hans Rosling: 200 Countries, 200 years in 4 Minutes -- joyfully detailing statistical progress across the globe, over decades.
Here's an example or two of my own.
If you were around in 1985, when Star Trek IV came out, would you have bet that in 2018 all species of whale would still be around, and in greater numbers than ever?
Oh, but can they survive long with idiots denying that the oceans are going acid? It's not to late to stop the bad trend and save the good. It's that mix of confidence-building accomplishment with urgency that might empower us to save the world.
Seriously, any of you who would trade places with any generation of our ancestors need to get a grip. Try actually, actually confronting the facts of feudal oppression, inquisitions, and the plain reality that nearly all of those forebears had experienced the smoke, blood, screams and terror of a burning city or village, not once in their lives, but several times.
Spoiled rotten, do not add ingratitude to your list of faults. Confront your place on the slope of progress! Gaze briefly (with Pinker's help) across how far we've come… then dig in your feet and get to work climbing further.
Which brings us to another big perspective… and what it says about our disruptive era.
A member of our comment community corrected my impression that the American democracy has lasted longer than the Athenian:
> “Athenian democracy lasted from around 594 BC when Solon instituted the Ecclesia to when Phillip II conquered Athens in 338 BC, a total of 256 years. It started in revolution because a very small elite had turned all the others into debt slaves. Solon made the very deep reforms thereby avoiding civil war. It lasted for through many existential crises but was eventually brought down by hubris brought about by empire, a lost war and afterwards a general slump into insignificance all in 256 years. Our democracy started in 1788 so if democracies have a lifespan then we will reach our end around the year 2044. In the critical stage Athens produced Pericles, the best of leaders, but it also produced Alcibiades who was brilliant, from the best family and had been a pupil of Socrates but was totally devoid of principles. Who is our Alcibiades these days?”
Well, yes, sort of. Athens went through wilder swings, across those 256 years, including stretches when the oligarchs resumed control, and others when democracy resembled more a mob than a deliberative assembly of adults. (In fact, the U.S. has gone through swings, as well, which I call "phases of our ongoing/recurring Civil War.")
Much of this came to mind while watching Mark Zuckerberg testify to Congress. I've been to Facebook twice, in the last year or so, advising one of the teams trying to come up with ways to make facts and reliability more a part of that online roiling stew. (In EARTH (1989) I predicted social media would become a morass of self-reinforcing echo-chambers.) Alas, people keep inviting me to come and consult… and never take my simple advice.
How to defend Truth
Which brings us to this chilling revelation about foreign electoral meddling and our current "Infopocalypse Now.”
Those with less education are more biased by false information – even once they know it's false. Scientific American recently published an excellent analysis of the research on fake news, misinformation, and cognitive ability. The nut of it is this: those with low cognitive ability are more likely to believe false information even after they've been explicitly told it's false.
Cognitive ability also correlates with education, which teaches meta-cognitive skills – the ability to monitor and regulate one's own thinking, which can be used to combat the effects of misinformation on worldview.
Among the disturbing findings:
- The Trump campaign targeted low cognitive-ability voters.
- Repeated exposure is more convincing than one-time exposure.
- Fake news is more viral than real news.
Case in point: "The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now. But now they're setting records. They're at a record level." - Donald Trump, to Reuters, quoted on msn.com.
You and I find it hard to believe we are members of the same civilization – nay, species – as people who are able to murmur such an incantation, knowing full well that – if they allowed any fact person to speak, the nostrum would prove diametrically opposite to truth. The word “Idiocracy” comes to mind.
But is this surprising? The Confederacy always relied upon this: Aristocrats pay for propaganda to get the most dimwitted whites to march off and fight for the rights of the richest.
And yes, this is using democracy to destroy itself. When the war on all fact professions is done, and the aristocracy is the only power left standing, you can bet that democracy will be curtailed. The one thing puzzling me is how – once all the fact and skill professions are pounded down – the feudal lords expect that strategy to ultimately go well for them.
Ex-Speaker John Boehner Joins Marijuana Firm's Advisory Board. Seriously. How many times have we seen this? These guys scream at Martin Luther King… then later proclaim themselves to be his heirs. They cry out: "cars don't cause smog!" And "it's okay that rivers catch fire!" And "tobacco is good for you!" And "Russia is our pal!" And "glaciers are expanding!"… and a jillion other fact-hating nostrums. Then, when utterly disproved and the delaying tactic is used up?
It's "who, me? I never!"
The last thing they'll admit it that being always, always, always wrong should affect a jerk's credibility.
Experts and reformers aren't always right! But you troglodytes have such a horrid record that you bear the burden of proof. And hence your all-out war on every single fact-using profession.
Light-up, John. Inhale. Maybe it will deaden the dull ache in some residual stump of a soul, after a lifetime spent betraying your nation, world and civilization.