In “It’s Getting Better All the Time” by Edward Hudgens Eskeptic publishes a review of two contrasting books: “Dr. Edward Hudgins reviews two books: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler and Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, by Robert Zubrin.” Do the merchants of science degrade scientific research by either despair or being Pollyanna? Is there no balance?
First it seems neoenlightenment embraces space settlement as both authors promote space homesteading. One wonders how it is getting better if there is a need to homestead in space or is it all just good fun to live off planet.
Daimandis and Kotler promote technology as creating a bright future. For example:
- A new economical water purifier.
- A low-cost, low-tech X-ray machine for medical diagnosis.
- Accessible, cheap computer-based education.
Hudgens then reveals his Objectivist position and professional alliance to the Atlas Society by gleaning three insights called “Entrepreneurial Drivers”–hmm, gleaning, means the waste left behind from production as in the gleanings left from threshing wheat. It’s what we feed the animals off the back.
First, respect for the power of human reason gives us an almost infinite capacity to change the world for the better. The pre-modern and post-modern ideologies hold that humans are ultimately ignorant and impotent in the face of divine providence or the forces of nature. This erroneous philosophical assumption has no place in the abundance worldview.
An infinite capacity? That’s a pretty big number. That it is unending in our puny vision doesn’t make it almost infinite. Past ideologies have actually been arrogant in considering themselves highly intelligent and sure of themselves–so much so they created an omnipotent, omniscient being and claimed themselves that–kings as gods, people as chosen by god. Postmodernism did reveal holes in anthropocentric Western thinking and did show intrinsic biases that must be dealt with. If past societies felt and were so ignorant then how is it we came to dominate the planet, sheer breeding wasn’t enough.
Second, individuals are the driving force behind human progress. It’s Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Venter, Kamen, Camera, Whitesides, Mitra, Rutan, Musk, Kurzweil, and a long list of others—not impersonal social forces—who make the difference between poverty and abundance.
This isn’t true at all. I too have my heroes but I am also antiheroic; the janitor is essential and could be the exRussian physicist. Often the named hero in history was merely one of many aspiring but we forget the others. Your greatest success will always be working with others and collaboration, sharing of knowledge–that is the heart of science and democracy. Einstein said:
Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.
No one is an island. Privileging the brain over the kidney, the heart, the skin misconstrues the importance of the parts to the whole. Respect for all people creates an ecological of respect where success is most possible. Too often in zealous competition the new status seekers, so called innovators, stand on the shoulders of their ancestors and shit. Humility was never a strength of Objectivists and doesn’t lead to cooperation and equal, yet moral, competition.
Third, the individuals creating the world of abundance love their work. Yes, they say that they work for the good of humanity and a more prosperous world for all is certainly the result of their efforts. But it is their love of meeting impossible challenges, challenges that call on the best within them, that really motivates them and that deserves our emulation.
Posh, people work to pay the bills, feed their families, and often evaluate their success by status. Not everyone can chase the golden apple. The people you refer to are heroes that depend on others: the wife who accommodates her workaholic husband, the son who never sees his dad, the grant that allows them to do research, and a market that isn’t dominated by monopolies that hinder innovative competition. There are so many support structures required it is not accurate or fair to insist the rest are to support the few as oligarchs of innovation, monarchies of value, entrepreneurial kingdoms with serfs. Dr Seuss’s Yurtle the turtle stacking his friends in a miserable tower, was an ass even if he did want to see farthest of them all.
Hudgens rightly notes the caveat “all things being equal.” Technology will not always save us. It is the working arm of ideology. Blind faith is just that, blind. The balance, the hard choices are evaluating technologies, ideologies, and minding the very real human biases that elide long-term success.
Zubrin in “Merchants of Despair” deals with just that balance of humanism versus the world. Does the environment have priority or humans. Much like my friend who hates speed-zones in Florida to save Manatees: the world was made for man not Manatees. Much like the often touted castigation against banning DDT which caused a rise in deaths from Malaria, the original green revolution that fed the world but created monocultural agriculture, or the concern that humans will suffer if we slow global warming. Finally, some despotic attempts to limit population.
And there are those today who grant intrinsic value to nature apart from its value to humans—valuing a forest because we enjoy its beauty or harvest its trees for lumber. This implies nature has “rights” and that we humans must sacrifice our own wellbeing lest we violate them. That is antihumanism. Zubrin challenges readers to examine closely their own beliefs.
The modern arrogance of technocrats is no different than the previous assurance of divine support. Not everything we shit is healthy. God technology isn’t our safety net. We will happily clear the forests to desert. We have too many heuristic biases to claim total certainty of our import. Allowing nature to have some rights helps us assuage our effects on the world. Effects that create a monoculture that supports more for now but then collapses. Like Egyptians we would build the world’s largest canal system and then be unable to recover from historic floods because they could not rebuild their infrastructure fast enough to prevent starvation. History is littered with growing phases of infrastructure that cannot recover in the face of hardship because there simply wasn’t the capital at the time to match the accumulated capital within the infrastructure, now needing to be replaced. The same happened with Yurtle the turtle. His stack of mates wobbled and collapsed as he had no capital left to build supports when he needed them.
My friend had ALS and his wife wanted to try the new drugs and not be in a double-blind research. It is a hard choice. A nard balance. If we are not careful more cruelty happens. That’s the problem. Blind faith in any innovation, blind faith that the market decides best, blind faith all technologies sort themselves out in time can cause worse damage, more death, and greater human suffering.
The belief that nature has a utility we don’t understand doesn’t privilege nature. It calls caution to consider and test in controlled settings before letting it lose. Humans are neither good nor evil. Just another organism in the universe.
I hate the story of Frankenstein because it is anti technology. I also hate the arrogance that humans know it all. Caution is in order. We must have lifeboats and we must have ideologies that allow us not to overfill them and swamp everyone.
X-rays were originally used to measure feet in shoe stores–not a good idea. Lead paint, asbestos, and chlorohydrocarbons all created more problems than they solved. Since nature is efficient most new technologies are designed to meet a need and time is of the essence. Was the atom bomb worth winning the war, did it really hasten its end? The very scientists involved spoke against it. 60 years ago 155 scientists working on the Manhattan Project posted a petition expressing grave moral concerns about their work. It was ignored.
Science gets a bad reputation when it is reckless marketing of early research and corporate funding bias. It makes science look like a fashion runway. Heart disease: fats are bad, no certain kids of fats, no these other fats, no sugars, well maybe gum bacteria, no inactivity, no genetics, no a byproduct of digesting meats. This hyperactivity to bring a product to market to create wealth creates the fashion. A little care would go a long way and would support better conclusions.
Without due consideration or following the scientific process of collaboration and verification of technology, others devoid of compassion will convert wise use to wise abuse and the consequences will not be heard until greater costs have been created. Let us not continue an era where holes in the ozone from hairspray products causes a president (Reagan) to say it’s just a business opportunity to sell hats and sunscreen.
Jim Newman, bright and well