New Year (and Decade) Musings

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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(1) The devastating defeat of Labour by the Tories in the recent British election, when added to Trump’s victory over the Democrats in 2016, indicates that the current liberal/Left-wing coalitions one finds in the US/Britain are no longer viable when it comes to nationwide political contests.

(2) If the Democrats lose to Trump again — and I think they will — the party will not survive. Even if they beat him in 2020, the contradictory interests of the various constituencies within the party will pull it apart.

(3) The Republican party will not survive the Trump presidency.  Too many have been complicit in too much. The party has disgraced itself by its association with him, beyond the point of any possible atonement.

(4) The combined effects of globalization and automation will soon leave so many people un- or under-employed that it will engender forms of populist reaction that will make our current populisms seem tame by comparison.

(5) It is quite clear that we are in the midst of a substantial political realignment in the developed world that is rendering the prior, Cold-War inspired Left/Right divide no longer apt. The new parties that emerge will be centered around geography — rural, suburban, and formerly industrialized areas on one side, major metro-areas on the other side — and attitudes towards globalization and neoliberal economics.

(6) The extent to which so many people seem willing to pursue malicious personal vendettas against others, solely on the basis of political disagreement, should be disturbing to all of us.

(7) The ease and vigor with which people embrace apocalyptic predictions and catastrophic characterizations suggest that large sectors of our society suffer a perpetual hypervigilance typical of those with clinical psychiatric disorders. It is odd that this should be the case at a time of unprecedented freedom, prosperity, and long life in the developed world.

(8) The Greta Thunberg phenomenon reveals the utter abdication of responsibility on the part of our political leadership and adults more generally, regardless of one’s views on the climate-change issue.

(9) We are in the process of raising a second generation of young people who will be unsuited to adult life. The behavior and ethos of the first (the Millennials) is already transforming our institutions significantly for the worse.

(10) Sympathy for trans-activism will rapidly decline, spurred on by (a) continued dominance of trans athletes across women’s sports; (b) large numbers of young people de-transitioning and thereby revealing the lack of diligence and care with which the medical and psychiatric institutions treated them; (c) overreach in demanding access to women’s intimate spaces.

(11) I find myself managing the second hospitalization of my father this year and am beginning to realize the extent to which making it through life is more a matter of one’s capacity to endure than it is of intelligence, wealth, or any other quality or asset.

(12) It is a tremendous challenge to sort out one’s feelings, when confronted with a person who causes you and others you care about great harm, without any malicious intent. It is even more difficult, when the relationship is unquestionably a loving one.

(13) One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is having too well-conceived of a story arc regarding my life and the lives of my loved ones and investing too much emotionally in its fruition.

(14) More and more, in every sector of my life, I find myself forced to do things I don’t want to do: To narc on my students; to counsel students suffering serious mental illnesses (despite being completely unqualified); to participate in the death of my department by a thousand cuts; to make life/death decisions for my father; to manage relationships and referee conflicts among people I love. More than anything, I’d like to just disappear, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did.

(15) As a child and adolescent, I had a view of the future informed by science fiction’s Golden Age.  Two decades into the 21st Century, I fear that Messrs. Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and Rodenberry thought far too highly of us.  Two years ago, I said that driving down an average street in 2018 isn’t much different than it was in 1980, and I suspect the same will be true in 2030.

(16) Who could have thought that rather than pursue the heroic, ennobling, and unifying course set by Mercury Atlas 6 and Apollo 11, we would instead devote our scientific and technical genius and RND to feeding our narcissism and social degeneracy by way of smart phones, social media, and other such fare?  I become less impressed with us as each year passes.

(17) More than anything, in the coming decade, I am looking forward to what my lovely, darling daughter will become, as she embarks upon her adult life.

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45 Comments »

  1. great list, I find it hard to disagree with any of the points, unfortunately.

    If i could add to #15 – I think the realization that the future is already here is going to slowly percolate in the public and this is going to have a tremendous impact on our culture. I think the idea that a tech-utopia is just around the corner has allowed tough questions about our society to go unasked. For some time, there been a sense that if we can just stall tough questions about our political and social problems long enough, developments in technology will make those issues go away.

    A sense that innovation has really stagnated (definitely suggest 1st episode of eric weinstein’s the portal podcast on this topic) an that we basically already have the tools that will be available for the foreseeable future will totally upend the narrative of our civilization, I wager. I do not know what our society will look like without a tech utopia galvanizing its unconscious, but I suspect it will be something like a child who discovers that some of the guiding narratives learned while young are empty fictions… this can provoke a reckoning with reality, which can be transformative in both noble and terrible ways

    in some ways this point conflicts with the flags raised concerning automation, somehow i think both points are going to be true…

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    • Very honest heartfelt piece. Thanks for writing it. It makes me want to do a bit of soul-searching too. I feel very pessimistic about the world since Trump was elected. However, you can call me Quixotic, of the windmill tilting variety, but I feel like this is the time to reconstruct philosophy from the ground up. Exhibit A is contemporary philosophical theories of truth. Once you “deflate” the meaning of truth, you are left with no defence against Donald Trump. What he said and what he did was “perfect”! Contemporary analytic philosophy has left us defenceless against this creep, and I’m not taking it sitting down. Time for wholesale reconstruction – metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. And all I have is the internet. So be it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t see how a theory of truth wins a presidential election. It’s not as if Trump or the electorate give a crap about it. You are granting far greater efficacy to philosophical theories than they have.

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  2. Thanks. I think I agree with most of your points.

    I disagree a little with #16. My disagreement is that you direct your criticism at science rather than at technology and capitalism. There is still a lot of good science being done.

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  3. The decline of transactivism requires the recognition that sexual dimorphism matters, but that contradicts the premise of “marriage equality” which holds that there is no meaningful difference between same- and opposite sex relationships and that, therefore, sexual differences do NOT matter.

    Happy New Year!

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  4. As I read your list, I was doing spit takes while drinking my New Year’s Baileys Irish Cream:

    1). Nonsense, it doesn’t indicate that at all. The same liberal/left wing coalition won the US mid-term elections in 2018. And in the UK general election of 2017, Labour achieved one of its largest electoral gains in recent history by capturing 40% of the vote, just 2% behind the Tories. People like to spin the narrative that Labour’s defeat in the UK in 2019 somehow translates to similar results in the US in 2020. The problems with this idea are: a) The UK election was almost entirely about Brexit, whereas there is no similar such national economic issue facing the US b) A whole year away is an eternity in politics

    2). Bold prediction. Especially given that the same contradictory interests were threatening to pull apart the Republican Party leading up to the 2016 election with the far right Tea Party coaltion lining up behind Trump and internally fighting with both the business moderates and the neo-con war hawks.

    3). Bold prediction. But I suspect the outcome of the Republican Party will be similar to that of the Democrats: both parties will continue to exist, and limp along until the next election.

    4). Higher under-or-unemployment has occurred before. People will simply accept it, and blame immigrants, poor people, ‘the left’, Muslims, affirmative action, etc. you know, like we’ve always done.

    5). Yes, the old left-right paradigm is dissolving. It can’t dissolve fast enough for my liking.

    6) That’s because political disagreements matter more than ever before. There’s more at stake now than has existed since perhaps the early 1960s. The problems of climate change, immigration, mass incarceration, political corruption, lead in drinking water, mass shootings, civilian and police violence against blacks and other minorities, political correctness and gender issues, and the unprecedented economic disparity — all have been growing and festering for at least two decades. Political disagreements have real world existential consequences to individual human lives now, in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.

    7). Nonsense. Imagine living in a bubble so Pollyanna-ish that you actually believe we (whoever ‘we’ is) live in “a time of unprecedented freedom, prosperity, and long life in the developed world”.

    ‘Freedom’? Whatever wisps of ‘freedom’ we have left are under constant totalitarian surveillance by governments, corporations, and twitter mobs. Habeas corpus is gone. The government can arrest or kill anyone at any time under the aegis of anti-terrorism laws.

    ‘Prosperity’? More people in the US, Canada, and the UK are living paycheck to paycheck than since the Great Depression. The majority of these populations do not have enough savings to cover a $1000 emergency. There is a giant private debt crisis looming. Massive homelessness and tent cities affects almost all developed countries except in Scandinavia.

    ‘Long life’? Life expectancy in the US has been falling since 2014 and has stagnated in Canada and the UK.

    8) Finally, something we can agree on.

    9). You mean the same Millennial Generation who have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to survive? The same generation that may not be able to retire? The same generation that have been moving to small towns in droves to make ends meet? The same generation who have been protesting climate change, who started Occupy Wall Street, who are doing tree sits to save forests, who formed Black Lives Matter, and who now are among the most popular politicians in Congress? This generation is “unsuited for adult life”? Ok boomer.

    10). I think the whole issue of trans-activism will simply fade of its own accord due to lack of interest. As an esoteric niche issue, it is simply unsustainable as a popular concern. Looming economic concerns will overwhelm it.

    11). Sorry to hear about your father. My father and mother were hospitalized in 2011 and 2012 (respectively) and did not make it out. I do hope and wish your dad a better outcome and is able to spend more time with your family.

    12). True.

    13). Interesting.

    14). My best friend of 30 years (who was a high school teacher) had similar feelings near the end of his life. He sometimes confessed to me thoughts of moving to an ashram in India to escape everything. He had grown very tired of teaching and tutoring. But he was very emotionally attached to his two youngest daughters and wanted to be there for them when they turned 18-20. He told me he would just feel too guilty if he moved away.

    15). I also had a view of the future as a child that was informed by science fiction….the dystopian kind. Unfortunately, many of its scenarios have come true.

    16). It’s not “instead of”….there are several planned human missions to the moon by 2024. These are called Artemis (the ancient Greek twin sister of Apollo). NASA just received a budget increase, and the newly built Orion spacecraft is being tested right now. The first unmanned Orion launches will begin in 2020. There’s also Space-X, which will be launching their first manned Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station. 2020 will be an exciting year for space news.

    17). I’m sure your daughter will have the intelligence, skills, and benefits of a good upbringing, to do and be anything she wants.

    Happy New Year to everyone at Electric Agora!

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  5. I read your article on the morning of January 1, when perhaps my own state of retrospection is heightened and my resistance to melancholy is lowered. It’s possible that if I read it tomorrow, I will feel differently. After all, the first day of the year and, more poignantly, of a decade, is fraught with the dissonance of regret and hope.

    There is nothing in your article that I disagree with. As I alluded to, it’s a matter of perspective, as everything is. We can but look at the world from where we are and where we are individually. Now while that makes our individual perspective true, it does not make it more true than someone else’s perspective. (And, no, I am not entering into the Truth minefield, which can be left for another article).

    The only future that is certain is our mortality. Roads that seem so clear often turn out to have gone in a different direction. The only way we know what will happen is when it has happened. In other words, we know the future only when it is in the past. The beauty of history is that there is nothing we can do about it. We do not learn from our mistakes because the causes of those mistakes are always different.

    So when you say “Who could have thought..?”, you have hit the nail on the head. Just as we couldn’t have thought then what was to be, we cannot predict today the results of yesterday’s causes. The history of erroneous predictions is perhaps the most interesting one. Whether that history is a cause for relief or pessimism depends on our subjective perspective.

    So…Happy New Year to all.

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  6. Dan,
    (11) I find myself managing the second hospitalization of my father this year and am beginning to realize the extent to which making it through life is more a matter of one’s capacity to endure than it is of intelligence, wealth, or any other quality or asset.
    You have my deepest sympathy. I hope you don’t mind me saying this but you are beginning to sound like a Stoic. I am sure Massimo would nod approvingly. You are displaying the deep strength of family bonds that have held the Jewish people together. I admire this so much.

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  7. I feel you, re: #14. One thing that especially wears on me is that I feel forced to contribute to the bullshitification of higher education: for one thing, I feel forced to spend more time making sure I look like I care about teaching than actually cultivating the minds of my students.

    On a happier note: I thank all of those associated with The Electric Agora for another year of education. I know EA is not to everyone’s taste. But from my point of view, I share just enough of a sensibility with the EA project that any substantive disagreements I have — with Professor Kaufman, with other contributors, with commenters — make an irreplaceable contribution to my philosophical education. Thinking through the topics addressed here has not only helped me sharpen my own views, it has opened up whole new avenues of intellectual exploration for me. I’m truly grateful. I’m sure the next year won’t be any different. Happy 2020 to all!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dan,
    (17) More than anything, in the coming decade, I am looking forward to what my lovely, darling daughter will become, as she embarks upon her adult life.

    I am confident, knowing who you are and the great start you have given her, you will have every reason for being proud of her.

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  9. Dan,
    I note the the overall air of deep despondency in your post. I share your concerns, and, though living in an entirely different continent, I see the same trends that you do.

    But I am more hopeful than you are. That is because in this strange society I have found small pockets of like minded people where love, sharing and supportiveness is the norm. This is in the first place a refuge but it is also a repository that preserves values that will later enable the recovery of society. This is what sustains my hope for the future.

    The Jewish people are a perfect example of this and they have my deepest admiration.

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      • If I may offer a bit of unsolicited advice about the situation with your parents….

        Anyone with a normal sense of responsibility (that includes you, I’m sure) does as much as they can in such situations, but when the inevitable end comes, they feel that they haven’t done enough. That seems like a normal reaction of any scrupulous human being.

        Given that, it seem wise to do even more than one can during such situations, even though probably one will still feel that they haven’t done enough when it’s over. If one does even more than one can, one can then “reason” or”negotiate” with one’s feeling of not having done enough when the end comes.

        This is not a rational response, but there’s no rational ethical system that can guide you in such situations.

        I wish you and your family well in this new year.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. And by the way, I think it is appropriate at this time to voice my gratitude and appreciation for the fine series of posts that have graced the electric agora in the last few years. I have learnt so much from them. As a result my intellectual life is richer, wiser and better informed. You have made a large contribution to my life.

    My wish for the new year and new decade is that you find the strength to transcend your personal tragedies and your deep despondency. My hope is that in the new decade you continue to enrich our lives with your stimulating, informative and challenging posts.

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  11. Dan, a happy and healthy new year to you and your family and for the best possible outcome with regards to your father’s situation.It is clear from the many interviews that you have done, that you understand what is the highest human value: to be a mentsch.

    On a (seemingly) (but on further reflection, not really) unrelated note, is there a reason why you haven’t done a dialogue on Camus ?

    Be well

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  12. Agree with much of this; sorry to hear of the personal strains and stresses.

    “We are in the process of raising a second generation of young people who will be unsuited to adult life. The behavior and ethos of the first (the Millennials) is already transforming our institutions significantly for the worse.”

    I think you are on to something very real, but it is not helped (in my opinion) by “generation” talk. As I see it, the consequences of certain longstanding cultural trends are now playing themselves out.

    “The extent to which so many people seem willing to pursue malicious personal vendettas against others, solely on the basis of political disagreement, should be disturbing to all of us.”

    This is the scariest thing. It is almost as if the fabric or texture of normal cultural and social life has been hollowed out leaving only individuals in conflict (or potential conflict).

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    • Well, the generational talk indicates the age brackets we are talking about. And there is a reason why they share certain characteristics that they don’t with people who are 50 or 80.

      You’re funny sometimes. You want to eachew certain words — ‘’metaphysics”, “generation,” “millennial”— but then go right on talking about what they reference. It is reminiscent of evangelicals who say “oh sugar!” When everyone knows they mean “oh, shit!” It’s a rather strange practice.

      I appreciate your condolences. It’s a pretty terrible time here. Always nice to exchange with friends. Best distraction there is. So have at it!!

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      • My point is that the generation concept tends necessarily to oversimplify. I concede that it can be a useful concept. I see recent history to some extent in terms of generations. How can you not? But I am very wary of narratives which impute explanatory force to the concept.

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        • I agree with Mark English.

          Probably no one from my generation (boomers) preferred Bing Cosby to the Beatles, but there were huge cultural and ideological differences among us although almost everyone wore blue jeans and liked the Beatles.

          We are all products of the general media culture of our time, to be sure, but we are also products of our social class, our ethnic or racial cultural background, our religious upbringing or lack of one, our level of education, etc.

          I don’t know, but I wonder if serious academic historians use the concept of generation. That’s a real question. I see you, Dan K., as a serious public intellectual, a welcome voice among educated people and if the concept of generation is not much used among academic historians, I don’t quite understand why you use it so much.

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          • Maybe I’m not as serious as you thought. Or maybe academic seriousness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Many in that world seem to be absolute fools.). The sharpest of our social critics — Joan Didion being one of the sharpest — certainly used it when appropriate.

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          • I have no doubt that academic seriousness isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, but unless you’re Joan Didion, what academia has to say about any given matter is still a good starting point for any search for truth.

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          • This discussion really isn’t about popular culture. It’s about whether generalizations about what any given generation is like tell us much about society or whether before or maybe after generalizing, we have to examine the variations within any given generation, due to other social factors such as level of education, social class, ethnic or racial background, where the person grew up, etc. We may discover that the variations are so striking that we may have to discard the generalizations.

            By the way, we live in a much more diverse society today than the one Joan Didion wrote about in the 60’s or 70’s and that diversity is apparent in each generation.

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  13. Dan,
    Been wrestling with this essay, have written a couple essays in my head in response. Not in disagreement (although as you know I have $25 riding on Trump losing in November), but because these fairly casual comments have a lot of interesting implications through them. Some of what you say reminds me why I have gone politically inactive and disinterested over several long periods in my life. I was an anarchist in the ’70s, then got involved politically when Reagan was coming elected because I saw no good coming out of the change in national consciousness that represented. This was underscored when the wholly illegitimate invasion of Granada (invade Granada at the invitation of Jamaica? say what?) proved so popular (and everyone knew that was really about winning a war after Vietnam). So the people of America disappointed me, and I retired from politics again. Until the first Iraq war, when I made early effort at protestation – only to have the public demonstrations I joined hijacked by post-Marxist radicals insisting that the real issues of the war were that America was racist, homophobic, misogynistic, capitalistic, and generally needing some kind of revolution that wasn’t coming anytime soon. As disappointed by the left as by the right. I retired again, only to campaign for Bill Clinton, not because I thought he was anyone’s savior; but Chomsky had convinced me that the two Parties were in fact factions of the same “Businessman’s Party.” However, by then a semiotician, and recognizing the value of political faith in the struggle for democratic values – sometimes you must, as John Wayne put it in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, “print the legend,” I thought (and still think) it a good thing if Americans believe they have two parties; a single party government being a recipe for some calamity, as we saw in the unravelling of Bush II, as well as of the first two years of the Trump era. So I worked to make sure that America retained the hope of a system having disagreeing parties needing to reach compromise. But eventually I just lost interest in Clinton, even before the impeachment, due to NAFTA and the ‘Welfare reform,’ which actually amounted to very little, but did continue the deconstruction of the New Deal and the Great Society begun under Reagan. Now I was disappointed in a politician whom I hadn’t even trusted. So I retired a couple years more, then came Iraq war II which was obviously doomed to create chaos in the region, which it did; but at the time of the invasion, the war had a popularity rating of 83%. Once again, those ‘peace-loving’ Americans.

    I could go on, but the point is made. Now, there are other, more creative ways to deal with the vagaries of political disappointment, and I admire those who do, but what bemuses me most about it is that people seem unable to learn from it. I don’t mean simply moments like some I’ve gone through myself, where one comes to believe that certain changes are possible, that certain politicians believe what they say, that certain comprises will map out a path through progress. We all get suckered by social hope; and sometimes, by curious coming together of circumstances, a hope is fulfilled, and positive change is brought about. But that’s not typical, and that’s not even what ought to be learned from politics. The lesson to be learned from politics is that people will disappoint us – because they will disappoint themselves, but they will never admit they disappointed themselves, so they will disappoint themselves again in the next election; and if we believe they won’t, we will again be ourselves disappointed.

    Anyway, your post reminded me of some of the reasons why I am a Buddhist, why I am a Pragmatist; and why I am a pessimist.

    Sorry hearing about your father; glad you look forward to the future for your daughter. Have a good new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. On the least important of your points: The UK has a first past the post electoral system with party selection of candidates. Under that system Clinton is president, Democratic Party has a large majority in the a House and slim majority in the Senate. The UK election seems more about Brexit than anything else and there is no similar issue here. And it lacks the strong bias against urban residents that US politics has. Greens are in government in Austria but nowhere here. But immigration is an issue in UK although much I the immigration is intra-EU, for which I don’t see an analogue. As noted, your issues are, I think, more important.

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  15. My thoughts on some of the above points:

    4. Regarding automation, That it has caused and would cause uncompensated unemployments is really unfortunate, but if it is a necessary step towards lowering production costs of popular basic needs (such as food, water, and healthcare), which then results in the lowering of the prices of those goods, which may eventually allow for human society to become post-scarce (in which everyday is a holiday with machines doing most or all of the works for us, and basic goods become so abundant that they are priceless), then it would be worth it in the end.

    6. You can “thank” the hermeneutics of suspicion for this. Unsurprisingly, suspicion and distrusts create more conflicts, which in turn create more suspicion and distrust. But this remains popular partly because for many people, it feels good to be suspicious and to blame other people for adverse events that affect them or those they care about (suc as members of the group with which they identify), for now they have more control of the cause of those events than they would otherwise have if the cause is not other minds (i.e. those events being just accidents).

    16. I won’t comment on your declinist narrative, but please see how modern migrations in the era of nation-states show that so many people have and would trade their pride for a substantial increase in their well-being and opportunity. So it is easy to see why humanity’s excursion beyond the Moon (‘Earth I’) is not being prioritized.

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    • Varun,
      “in which everyday is a holiday with machines doing most or all of the works for us, and basic goods become so abundant that they are priceless” – exactly the utopian fantasy, muddled optimism that is creating this crisis. Capitalism makes social divisions between haves and have-nots inevitable – how is it going to go away? Global revolution? Universal spiritual awakening? 8 Billion people world-wide (because your vision has to be globally realized to work) are suddenly going to come together, ‘oh, we can all share the wealth produced by our machines, relax and enjoy ourselves!’ Ha!

      “That [automation] has caused and would cause uncompensated unemployments is really unfortunate,” – hey, you starving street people in Calcutta, your deaths contribute to the building of Utopia – unfortunate, but be happier for the rest of us! (Fortunately their religious beliefs may keep them from the violence that would actually be quite reasonable, given their situation.)

      Sorry to be so sharp here; but your argument is one of the reasons people are losing faith in science/tech expertise. Such arguments no longer talk about – or to – people as they actually are, or political/economic problems and possible solutions that might actually obtain.

      It is unclear, given the demands of various forms of capitalism with which we live, that technological development can be, or could ever have been, constrained so that it could be reasonably integrated into the real needs of real people, rather than just the cluttered materialization of vain desires and fantasies. The most rigorous attempt was by the US government that once hoped it would be the only kid on the block with nuclear weapons. We all know how that turned out. Perhaps nuclear war – possibly in Korea, or the Kashmir, or, thanks to recent events, in the Mid-East – well, that would be unfortunate, but think of the holidays we’ll enjoy in the nuclear winter to follow! No more need for sun-block!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Claim: ‘exactly the utopian fantasy, muddled optimism that is creating this crisis’
        Response: ‘Fantasy’? What a loaded term. Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a fantasy that turned out to be a “Great Stumble Backward.” Also, about the causation of this crisis, citation needed! Be sure to eliminate confounds in the process.

        Claim: ‘Capitalism makes social divisions between haves and have-nots inevitable – how is it going to go away?’
        Response: Social inequality is never going to go away. It has always existed and would always exist in a society regardless of whether or not there is capitalism. But equality and inequality aren’t what matter here unless you are willing to swallow some horrendous conclusion.

        Claim: ‘ ‘oh, we can all share the wealth produced by our machines, relax and enjoy ourselves!’ Ha! ‘
        Response: Then how would the operator of these machines deal with the cost of their operations? And why wouldn’t you want to make profit from your machine capable of mass-producing basic goods? The basic goods that your machine produce for you wouldn’t be wealth at all if you don’t desire it because you already have enough of them.

        Claim: ‘hey, you starving street people in Calcutta, your deaths contribute to the building of Utopia – unfortunate, but be happier for the rest of us!’
        Response: And what cause their death in the first place? Why are foods so expensive that they cannot obtain them? Why aren’t food supply abundant there? Why do people there have so many children? (Oh right, for providing themselves caretakers when they grow old!) Why aren’t there welfare program for them? Why is the place in which they live in that condition? Why are they trapped in the place in which they grew up? Why are people in the U.S. buying diet books while people in sub-Saharan Africa worry about starving? Why are Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore so highly developed?

        Claim: ‘It is unclear, given the demands of various forms of capitalism with which we live, that technological development can be, or could ever have been, constrained so that it could be reasonably integrated into the real needs of real people, rather than just the cluttered materialization of vain desires and fantasies. The most rigorous attempt was by the US government that once hoped it would be the only kid on the block with nuclear weapons. We all know how that turned out. Perhaps nuclear war – possibly in Korea, or the Kashmir, or, thanks to recent events, in the Mid-East – well, that would be unfortunate, but think of the holidays we’ll enjoy in the nuclear winter to follow! No more need for sun-block!’

        Response: So what do “real” people really want? How has the human population grown so high and the average life expectancy increased so much compared to before the agricultural revolution? I am still waiting to see if a nuclear war would actually happen. Still, none has occurred so far despite the nuclear proliferation.

        Claim: ‘I just don’t understand how utopian optimism can simply ignore the basics of human psychology, and ignore the fragmentation between the various nations and social classes that actually exist. Not to mention the evident failure, as with Varun, to account for the structure, processes, implications and results of capitalism.’
        Response: The basics of human psychology? More hermeneutics of suspicion, this time with both biological determinism and social determinism! Where are religions in this? Where are the faiths in divine commands that drive people to try living “moral” lives? Where are collectivist cultures? Why do so many people talk of rights and injustices? How were Enlightenment publications able to persuade people to topple the old aristocracies and monarchies? Monolithic grand narratives like this just doesn’t work. Human history is just too complex. Sorry, Marx, Foucault, critical theorists, etc. We weren’t stuck onto land, onto sea level, onto Earth, onto a short life, onto death by smallpox, onto anarchy, or onto the culture in which one was raised, and we aren’t stuck now.

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        • Varun,
          You seem willing to complain about the results of capitalism without any willingness to confront its structures and processes and their implications. And “Grand Narratives”? It is you who seems to believe the Enlightenment somehow changed human nature. It did not. It simply reflected changes in human reasoning. Certain stories fell apart, others came together. But humans still want sex, toys, and too much to consume, but also family, community, meaningful labor, and whatever myths help them make it through their day. I’m afraid, despite your disclaimer, it is you who thinks human nature reducible to some spiritual urge to progress, I think the human is just another form of animal life – perhaps with too big a brain, and too little of interest to use it on. Despite its penchant for self-inflicted tragedy, its shenanigans are sometimes nonetheless amusing.

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          • Claim: ‘You seem willing to complain about the results of capitalism without any willingness to confront its structures and processes and their implications.’
            Response: Which complaints? Which results? Evidences?

            Claim: ‘It is you who seems to believe the Enlightenment somehow changed human nature. It did not. It simply reflected changes in human reasoning.’
            Response: When did I say that? And what are the human natures you are referring to other than eating, breathing, drinking, sleeping, etc.?

            Claim: ‘But humans still want sex, toys, and too much to consume, but also family, community, meaningful labor, and whatever myths help them make it through their day.’
            Response: Sorry, there are just too many counterexamples to this claim, too many different religions, too many different monasticism, too many different cultural practices, and too many different ethical systems. For many people, these were and still are considered taboo: prostitution, homosexuality, extramarital sex, masturbation, non-procreative sex, incest, alcoholism, drug use, violence, gluttony, wrath, lust, pride, sloth, envy, greed, etc. In the old days, many more people considered them taboos.

            Claim: ‘it is you who thinks human nature reducible to some spiritual urge to progress,’
            Response: I’m afraid that you are mistaken. My point is that a human person can overcome his/her “basal” urges coming from his/her brainstem using his/her frontal lobe. The many different cultures and religions in the world show this.

            Claim: ‘I think the human is just another form of animal life – perhaps with too big a brain, and too little of interest to use it on.’
            Response: Humans are social animals by definition. But there are significant differences between what humans had done that set us apart from other animals. Even non-human animals practice reciprocal altruism. Humans also practice reciprocal altruism, and just plain altruism in addition to that because they believe that their creator deity commanded them to do so.

            Claim: ‘Despite its penchant for self-inflicted tragedy, its shenanigans are sometimes nonetheless amusing.
            Response: You are a human yourself. You yourself are a counterexample to your claim about the inescapability of human nature, similarly to how Sally Haslanger is a counterexample to her own claim about a person’s inescapability from his/her cultural upbringing (she was raised in a Christian Scientist household but now she is an atheist). How ironic, and amusing.

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          • And yes, it is human nature that drives capitalism. And I’m glad that it did! I, and no one except for anarcho-primitivists and neo-Luddites, would want to go back to living in a hunter-gatherer society, where there is no reliable medicine and lifespan is short. Surprising isn’t it, that human’s selfishness and the competition between them would have results such as that a person living past his/her infancy when he/she wouldn’t have otherwise. Would you be happy if your infant child dies or if your family members die from illnesses. This is why Bhutan’s system is so flawed. Here is a challenge for you: try living without any products of capitalism (no medicines, no Internet, no canned food, etc.). If we hadn’t let loose our incentive to control nature and make profits from doing so, we could have gone extinct long ago from diseases, famine, natural disasters, etc., long before we created weapons capable of self-extinction.

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        • Beyond its open-system codification of exchange value (which necessitates that someone pay something in symbolic wealth for something that may have either material or symbolic value) , it is in the nature of capitalism to manufacture and multiply desires, while reducing animal needs (even/ especially social needs) to mere dependencies.. The toys become more important, the families less. In times of crisis, reversal of this trajectory is difficult, perhaps impossible. At any rate, speaking simplistically (admittedly, for the sake of brevity), the automation your argument offers us is simply the manufacture of toys capable of producing other toys for assuaging manufactured desires of consumers with available symbols of exchange value. Those who lack such symbols feel the lack as a yearning; the desire doesn’t disappear. What gets lost is the meaningful labor, and the sense of community and family. But there will always be those who, in the words of Rocco from Key Largo, simply want “more.” That’s what the Romans wanted’ that’s what the medieval aristocracy wanted; that’s what the colonialists wanted in the 19th century. And you haven’t answered that, except to invoke the Enlightenment as some major change of human nature – in a grand narrative that apparently even you don’t accept.

          The displaced Ik were technically kept alive by the Ugandan inheritors of British colonialism.. Eventually, having lost their culture, they ended up shattered, atomic individuals who could trust nobody and could not be trusted.

          Technology made European colonialism possible, We’re still debating which designer poisons are more ‘humane’ in the execution of criminals, which missiles make smarter death machines.

          The notion that technology is a good in itself and always targeted toward progress, is simply laughable nonsense. It is actually true that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. It is also true that a machine gun can kill hundreds in the time it takes to load a 17th century musket. And it is also true that there are people who delight in such slaughter. And no amount of wish or will, no mass spiritual awakening, has ever changed that, and probably none ever will.

          Human reasoning does change over time, to account for material developments; no one denies that. And sometime the change in human reasoning forwards further changes in reasoning that actually change the material conditions with which we live. No one can deny that either. However, the assumption that human nature changes with this is demonstrably absurd – because we are a certain kind of animal, and not a soul in a machine.

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          • Claim: ‘the automation your argument offers us is simply the manufacture of toys capable of producing other toys for assuaging manufactured desires of consumers with available symbols of exchange value.’
            Response: Citation needed!

            Claim: ‘And you haven’t answered that, except to invoke the Enlightenment as some major change of human nature – in a grand narrative that apparently even you don’t accept.’
            Response: Where is this invocation? Citation needed!

            Claim: ‘The notion that technology is a good in itself and always targeted toward progress, is simply laughable nonsense.’
            Response: Where did I say this? Citation needed! My point was that some techs were beneficial, and some were harmful. But in the end, the net utility is positive, and that is good according to my moral theory. That you are using technology to post these claims is laughably hypocritical.

            Claim: ‘However, the assumption that human nature changes with this is demonstrably absurd’
            Response: Where did I say this? Citation needed!

            You have only responded to a fraction of my claims, and the responses are laughable (you did use this word).

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        • “But humans still want sex, toys, and too much to consume, but also family, community, meaningful labor, and whatever myths help them make it through their day.’
          Response: Sorry, there are just too many counterexamples to this claim, too many different religions, too many different monasticism, too many different cultural practices, and too many different ethical systems.”

          Laughable. You can only provide contradictory counterexamples to a universal claim, and my statement is clearly not that. I wrote “humans” not ‘all humans’. And indeed your claims are by nature universal, and thus if at least some humans “want sex, toys, and too much to consume, but also family, community, meaningful labor, and whatever myths help them make it through their day,” then your argument is disproved.

          You want a human nature’ that is unified and thus can change globally through some great awakening (which apparently motorized toys and AI will further). I regard human animals in all their variety, throughout history and different cultures, adapting to the demands of survival and the vagaries of wealth and want.’

          It is apparent we live in different worlds. That’s unfortunate, but part and parcel of the Post-modern condition. I would like to urge you to consider these matters in terms of practical politics. But you have your faith, and a bubble of savants to whom you pay attention. May your tribe find it’s promised land. I simply suggest that it will look something like a sound-stage in the production of a Hollywood musical. (Finally got a chance to see the Olsen & Johnson Hellzapoppin’! Not a great movie, but great fun taken on its own terms. “Woo woo woo!” as Martha ray would say.)

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      • Also by the way, my claim about the post-scarce society is a conditional and I even used the word ‘may.’ What an uncharitable hermeneutics you have here, an unwise hermeneutics to use if you want to avoid straw man.

        Martin Luther, among others, successfully showed, using his ideas and the new technology of the printing press, that Catholicism wasn’t the unchangeable, default ways that societies can be. Enlightenment-era philosophers did the same towards monarchy and aristocracy. Significant changes happened and the ways things were, which people thought were the default, unchangeable ways, collapsed, giving rise to new ways and new systems. And I, following their examples, will try to destroy group rights, nationalism, and rights-based ethics popular nowadays. In addition to the printing press, there is the Internet now. And modern migrations have shown that national pride isn’t insurmountable.

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  16. –Lower income will lead to lower consumption and the embracing of more sustainable and less stressful ways of living, with still fewer children. The meaning of “being an adult” will change.
    –Cheap, reliable, satisfying contraception controlled by men will eliminate most of what remains of unintended pregnancy.
    –Findings of positive psychology will become more influential in education, life planning and policy. The “final frontier” will be spiritual.
    –People will begin to understand the negative impact of screens and click-bait and adjust, looking at your screen in public will become very uncool for young people.
    –Taking advantage of cheap, vacant commercial real estate, people will increasingly forms clubs and associations that play the role formerly played by religious congregations. Over the long term, some of these clubs will self-organize into a new kind of national voice of progressivism.
    –Having cared for their parents, people will begin to face the difficulties of ultra old-age and embrace more humane end-of-life strategies for themselves.

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    • I find these remarks/predictions so far out on the wacko scale that I have no comment. EJ has voiced some of what I might have said. Suffice it to say that they evince a complete lack of even rudimentary understanding of human nature.

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    • Kyle,
      see my response to Varun, above.

      I just don’t understand how utopian optimism can simply ignore the basics of human psychology, and ignore the fragmentation between the various nations and social classes that actually exist. Not to mention the evident failure, as with Varun, to account for the structure, processes, implications and results of capitalism.

      Unless there is demonstrable wealth to be produced by optimizing your hopes, don’t expect any of them to be realized soon.

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