For those of you who missed it, there was a very long and very interesting rant posted in response to the previous blog entry. I highly recommend it for people who have time. SOme parts are hilarious. I decided to respond here at the top level, instead of down in comments.
Your long and erudite plaint about the rise of cowardice and backward thinking vs. modernist confidence -- was fascinating and -- in many places -- remarkably illuminating. And pretty good writing.
Still, it makes me wonder.... were you aware of how deeply we already went into this topic, months ago? Especially my lengthy screed on “Modernism and its Enemies.” Indeed, that essay was the principal reason that I started this blog, in the first place.
(See also http://www.davidbrin.com/realculturewar1.html)
In any event, it seems you have come to the right place. Although I have lately become fiery-political... because I think the short term calamity of American Democracy is overwhelmingly important right now, in rescuing a civilization from monsters... nevertheless, the OVERALL topic here is still the same. What must be done in order to tap the great reserves of pro-enlightenment attitudes that still surge and flux beneath the surface of a majority of Americans?
THAT is where you and I part company. I see all the same things that you do. Like the fact that John Stewart on Comedy Central is the last voice of modernism left on the air. Or that “reclaiming Christmas” has become the latest in-your-face aggressive Culture War offensive, aimed at keeping the coalitions of the right and left unified in insipid opposition over symbols. Still, I refuse the sick-sweet attractions of cynicism.
Take a gander at so-called “Intelligent Design.” Would they have retreated so far from older “Creationism”... using every trick to dress it up in scientific-sounding and rationalist language, eschewing every reference to religion and even dropping all mention of the age of the Earth/universe (!)... if they did not realize how deeply and strongly science and enlightenment still hold attraction to the American majority? (See my article on this in the next SKEPTIC Magazine.) Yes, 15% think the sun revolves around the Earth. Hey, 15% believe anything. This is not a world of alphas or slans. We are cavemen who have been to the moon and actually changed our minds about racism and sexism and half-broken several other really nasty habits. I find that worthy of some respect.
Here’s the trick. Expect little! Then encourage yourself to be surprised at how full the glass is!
I mean it. That mental strategy is more likely to:
1. leave you optimistic enough to keep trying, instead of shaking your head sadly in despair...
2. make you more persuasive, because people listen to enthusiasm and hope...
3. help you come up with fresh ideas...
4. preserve you from the sick allure of self-righteous indignation. (http://www.davidbrin.com/addiction.html)
Truly, your pessimism was refreshing because it cheered me up! In contrast. Seriously, you reeeeeeeally must do that little exercise I recommend. Go to a street corner and do a slow 360, taking your time to notice all the technologies, institutions, laws, and ad hoc character interactions that you see at work. Do this VERY slowly, in order to notice all the little things we take for granted, street lights and sewers and people who could have hurt or stolen things, but instead took gracious turns, negotiating stop signs with tiny finger flicks of courtesy... Remember these are genetic CAVEMEN whose later ancestors mostly lived under oppressive cabals of feudal lords and incantation-mad clergy. This modernist experiment is still new! And yet, see how many ways they do it well! If you look -- really look -- then, completing your 360-degree turn, you’ll have to admit a really eerie truth.
That your neighbors simply CANNOT be as stupid as they look!
Yes, they look very,very,very,very, stupid. And - often - they really are. But enlightenment civ’s trick is to hold the bad stuff accountable while giving the good stuff freedom to interact. It works astonishingly well. For cavemen.
Moreover, the enemies of the Enlightenment are doing what they are doing for one reason, above all others. Because they are scared. Because if things keep going this way, we may reach a tipping point where feudalism and dogmatism and oppression and retro-nostalgism will lose their final chance. We’ll emerge into light where faith will survive, but not exclusionary hellfire, demure decency will thrive, but not oppressive prudity, cultural traditions will be cherished, but not used as weapons, lively market capitalism will flourish, but not aristocratic kleptocracy, multiculturalism and social nets will be maintained, but not at the cost of PC gestapo-policing of thoughts and speech.
This is the horror that drives anti-engineering loonies of the left and anti-science loonies of the right. This is why they have colluded (unconsciously) to create “culture war”, in order to distract Americans from the Great Project. They are doing this because they were losing!
Take that message and cheer up. Then help us figure out how to win this struggle.
A few specific comments :
It would seem to me that the painting at: http://wiredblogs.tripod.com/sterling/index.blog?entry_id=1297057 (“Stuffing the technological genie back in the bottle”) was meant to be satirical.
You portray the internet as driving reactionary impulses because: “The internet, which turned from a thoughtful discussion salon into a combination red light district / spam factory / plague quarantine zone.
It is now estimated that the time before an unprotected PC connected to the internet gets infected by a worm or virus has dropped to 20 minutes...and still falling: www.theregister.co.uk/2004/08/19/infected_in20_minutes/
Please. Soon after the Gutenberg Bible, the biggest uses of printing presses soon became (1) religious hate tracts and (2) porn. Yes, the Thirty Years War resulted. Not something we dare repeat, with atom bombs, plagues and nano-weaponry. But eventually printing did a lot of good.
I do share your loathing of the cabal among electronics makers to make DVD players vastly less usable than VCRs were. These people deserve to go to the same place as those who designed the HP OfficeJet G85 “all in one” printer... somewhere abused purchasers and users get a chance to get even with engineers who betrayed their central tribal mission and our trust.
All told, I wish you would refine your posting. Run it past some friends in order to tone it down from a howl of despair into something that sounds more like a reasoned indictment. Organize, then POST IT online in a way that makes it perpetually accessible, as I have done with many of my rants! People (including me) can then refer to it. But then, it would require that you no longer be “anonymous.” ;-)
Some other items...
This offered by Chris Phoenix: “Marshall Brain wrote a column claiming that technologies like solar
Stirling dishes could solve our energy problems. I calculated that to keep our oil use constant (instead of growing at 2% per year) would probably require $50 to 100 billion worth of solar Stirling dishes installed each year. That doesn't count the land cost, financing, maintenance, infrastructure to replace oil with electricity, etc. And that's just to keep our oil use constant, not to deal with maybe a 5% per year decline in supply.”
Also: “Two of Greenland's largest glaciers are retreating at an alarming pace, most likely because of climate warming, scientists said Wednesday.One of the glaciers, Kangerdlugssuaq, is currently moving about 9 miles a year compared to 3 miles a year in 2001, said Gordon Hamilton of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute.
The other glacier, Helheim, is retreating at about 7 miles a year — up from 4 miles a year during the same period.
"It's quite a staggering rate of increase," Hamilton said at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting.