I am finding the row over Intelligent Design vs Evolution fascinating and you are encouraged to continue it in comments here. Still, I think it’s important to answer one interlocutor who seemed to be replicating the old argument for cynicism.
In essence, it is always some variant on: “A cynic is an optimist who has snapped out of it and realized how awful people are.”One of the great cliches of all time. Heck, I’ve used it myself.
This is one of those shibboleths that I am resigned to having to face several times a year, for the rest of my life. Almost as much my trademark as CITOKATE... and based on similar underlying premises. I think many you have heard me (contrarian to all cliches) respond to this one with --
”What is a cynic who snaps out of it even FARTHER? Enough to realize that, despite the gruesomely stupid, self-delusional and abysmally corrupt aspects of human nature... things are getting phenomenally better. And have been for some time?
I mean, which is more amazing? That the Enlightenment is under threat from a collusive cabal of conniving aristocrats, imperialists and extremist nutjobs? Or the fact that this routine and utterly predictable alliance, which ruled every other urban culture for 4,000 years has been staved off repeatedly, till now, by a republic -- and a civilization -- that has kept combining redesign and renewal and revolution with an almost infinite capacity for resilience in the face of repetitious human nature?
Go do Brin’s Exercise... I command you! Go to a street corner, preferably one with a very busy four (or twelve!) way stop signage, where people must negotiate traffic rules every second, with little hand-flicks and nods. Do a slow 360. Notice all the things that are working! The quiet and efficient courtesies, the technologies, the tiny acts of honesty and cooperation. The hidden competence of a myriad professionals that make all the switches turn on time and fill the restaurants with food. Do not let a patch of one square degree pass your view without comment, or noticing something that you took for granted, before! If you finish the turn having counted less than a thousand miracles, start over!
People accuse me of being a flaming optimist, because I have a naively positive view of human nature. How absurd! No, friend. I am a flaming optimist because I understand just how wretched human nature is! I am uniquely qualified, as a student of all sciences, of history... and a licensed professional alternate world builder in Speculative History... and a person whose third cousins were all murdered by unprecedented rationalization and human savagery...
... as one who awakens every morning surprised that Cossacks have not yet burned my home, taken my wife and kids, tied me to a stake and ruined my proud civilization.
Hence the ferocity of my optimism, friends and co-rebels. Hence my deep and abiding disdain for cynicism. Because it isn’t helpful. And if it isn’t helpful in this fight, I have no time for it.
We have one hope. The Modernist Agenda -- combined with a little faith. It’s a program that’s worked so far. Indeed, we cannot properly fight for it without conceding -- indeed, AVOWING! -- that it has worked. Fantastically. Epochally. Better than any other program for living and working together.
Like everybody else, I am drawn to cynical contempt-for-the-masses around me. Masses who seem so dimwitted... who support imbecile politicians... who don’t know where Rwanda is or what happened there... who actually think we are at “war”... who raise such dopey, XBox-addicted brats...
...only then I do the exercise. I go to that street corner and start turning. And every time I finish one of those 360 degree rotations, noticing the myriad marvels all around me, the incredible courtesy and skill and competence that it takes to (ironically) make a civilization that is proof against the individual incompetence of countless fools...
... I find myself forced to make a concession. To accept that my inner drives must be wrong. To grasp that (as the best scientists say) I might be wrong.
And that is when I mutter, grudgingly --
”My neighbors simply... cannot be as stupid as they look.”
Yes, they look stupid. I am sure yours do, too. Perhaps, as individuals, they are. But when they are taken together, combined, made free to interact under rules that encourage decent cooperation and competition, something happens. We all get smarter than we ever deserved to be.
It is called an Emergent Property. And, friends, you live in comfort and wallow in information and freedom because of it. Moreover, the shortsighted dogmatists who hate complexity have no idea what it is that they are prescribing, when they offer their simplifying nostrums. What they are offering is to take it all away... and replace this marvel with rule by philosopher kings.
By platonist philosophers of left, right, libertarian and religious and weird. Dig deep and it's all the same thing. Dolts who would kill the goose that gives a flood of golden eggs.
Oh, yes, some of our neighbors are fools, after all.