As the dysgenic Idiocracy settles over the global landscape, an almost universal cultural pessimism accompanies the progressive dumbing down of Europe, the Anglosphere, and the rest of the advanced world. Fertility rates decline with the general outlook.
It seems reasonable for intelligent people to be pessimistic when observing the rapid growth of stupidity in the world, and the many stupid and counter-productive things their own governments are doing.
But persons who are both intelligent and wise will find ways to get past the easy cynicism and plot out a wide range of possible strategies to create a more expansive and abundant world of wide open possibilities. Even if it seems that the entire world is against you.
We live in an age of all-pervasive cultural pessimism. In one sense, this is understandable. The 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, produced an explosion of scientific discovery as men’s minds escaped from the shackles of subservience to authority, both political and ecclesiastical. The 19th century was the great age of optimism, as technological development exploited the achievements of science, bringing inventions like the locomotive, the electric light and the telephone.
That optimism dissipated in the 20th century, when two disastrous world wars exposed the dark side of mankind. Far from recovering a sense of hopefulness during the relative peace of the 21st century, gloominess has become the default position of the intellectual classes in the Western world. __ Nigel Lawson via WSJ
This pessimism is far more than skin deep. It is propagated by academics, journalists, politicians, and virtually all other cultural institutions — including most religions. Pessimism has become popular because it is so easy to just give in to it, without thought or reason. Join the groupthink echo-choir, and exercise the circular jerkular with the rest of the clones.
On the other hand, a countervailing optimism is fighting back, swimming against the ugly tide of doom. Ronald Bailey‘s recent book, “The End of Doom,” typifies this strain of contrarian optimism, struggling against the tsunamis of groupthink coming from virtually every direction.
Among the scares examined by Mr. Bailey in “The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century” are overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources (particularly oil), the perils of biotechnology and genetic modification, and global warming.
Mr. Bailey has little difficulty demonstrating that, despite an explosion in world population greater than Thomas Malthus could possibly have envisaged in the 18th century, global living standards are higher than ever. “Food,” he writes, citing statistics from the World Bank and other organizations, “is more abundant today than ever before in history.” In the past 50 years alone, global food production has more than tripled __ Nigel Lawson _ WSJ
Although doomers have been predicting catastrophe from famine, pollution, energy scarcity, climate catastrophe, and apocalypse of every type, Ronald Bailey’s book reveals that they have been wrong on every count for several decades running.
Below are clips from reviews of Bailey’s book by three very sharp cookies: Rupert Darwall, Gregg Easterbrook, and Roger Pielke Jr. Following those three review excerpts is an excerpt from Bailey’s response to the three.
One after another, Bailey neatly picks off each “peak everything” fear. Even though commodity prices are now coming off the top of a super-cycle, since 1871, the Economist industrial commodity price index has sunk to around half its value. Thanks to improved energy productivity, in 2007, the U.S. consumed half the energy it would have if energy productivity had remained at its 1970 level. Technology will continue to make more efficient use of resources. 3D printing could reduce materials needs and cost by up to 90 percent.
Bailey makes the crucial distinction between scarcity and shortage. Scarcity exists because human wants are boundless while the resources to satisfy them are limited. Shortages arise when something is not available at any price and when governments intervene to stop markets working properly. According to a survey on water access in major cities in the developing world, poor people pay a multiple of what those connected to the water mains do. How to improve water access for the world’s poor? Privatization. __ Rupert Darwall
Outside your window, living standards are rising, crime is declining, pollution is down, and longevity is increasing. But in pop culture, we’re all doomed. The Hunger Games films have been box-office titans, joined by World War Z, Interstellar, The Book of Eli, Divergent, The Road, and other big-budget Hollywood fare depicting various judgment days. Over in primetime, the world is ending on The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, The 100, and Under the Dome.
The same outlook obtains in nonfiction literature. Books that foresee doomsday— Collapse by Jared Diamond, The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett among them—win praise from commentators and sell briskly. Books contending that things basically are fine don’t do as well. One might think that optimism would be marketable to contemporary book-buyers, who live very well by historical standards, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Readers prefer material that depicts them dwelling in the final generation. Perhaps declining religious belief in Armageddon has been replaced by an expectation of some natural-world version of the event. ___ Gregg Easterbrook
Disappontingly, Roger Pielke Jr., son of the better scholar Roger Pielke Sr., tries to make himself appear worldly wise and above it all, in his short review of Bailey’s book.
… Bailey accurately finds that the predictions about a “population bomb” advanced in the 1960s and 1970s were wildly wrong. Advocates like Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren—currently President Obama’s science advisor—warned of a global crisis that might require draconian action such as forced sterilization. History has proved these arguments ridiculous and even unethical. Yet, as Bailey shows, latter-day Malthusians are saying the same things.
It’s easy to see the end of the world in every technological innovation. It is just as easy to look at the generally improving state of the world and conclude that things will always continue to improve, and that when problems do arise, they will be easily solved.
Our public debates over economics, technology, and political power deserve better than a tired rehashing of Neo-Malthusianism v. cornucopianism. And yet, these polarities remain appealing to many. Bailey recounts a conversation he had with his editor back in 1992, when he brought an earlier version of these arguments to him. His editor said that he’d publish the book, but “if you’d brought me a book predicting the end of the world, I could have made you a rich man.” __ Roger Pielke Jr.
Bailey responds to Pielke:
For the most part, Pielke agrees with me, admitting that he is “quite sympathetic to critiques of apocalypse around the corner.” He is impatient with my chronicling of environmentalist doomsaying over the past several decades, but he should remember that the more than 200 million of his fellow citizens who are younger than he is (46) do not know the sorry ideological history of Neo-Malthusianism. As philosopher George Santayana reminded us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” By reminding readers of the past, I hope to spare future generations from being duped by doom dogmas. I suspect that even Pielke would agree that that is a worthy aim.
Pielke further objects that I give Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution too much credit for forestalling the world-spanning famines widely predicted to occur in the 1970s. It bears noting that in 1970, the chairman of the Nobel committee explained why it had chosen Mr. Borlaug for its Peace Prize in this way: “More than any other single person of this age, [he] has helped to provide bread for a hungry world…”
… I certainly agree with Pielke that securing a “bright future for people and the planet” is “by no means simple or guaranteed.” I do explain in some detail how the technological progress and wealth generated by democratic free-market capitalism makes environmental renewal in this century possible. While Pielke strikes a world-weary pose of intellectual ennui over a supposedly “stale” debate, he oddly fails to mention that there is between me and the Neo-Malthusians one big difference: My predictions have consistently proven right and theirs wrong. ___ Ronald Bailey
More praise for The End of Doom:
“Ronald Bailey sets out factually and simply the unassailable, if inconvenient, truth: that if you care for this planet, technological progress and economic enterprise are the best means of saving it.”
-Matt Ridley, bestselling author of The Rational Optimist
“Bold, opinionated, and unapologetic. Everyone, right and left, should read this book. It doesn’t blur partisan divides on the environment and growth-it obliterates them.”
-Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet
“Bailey’s thoughtful, evidence-based new book is about more than the end of environmental doom––it’s also about the beginning of hope. While conservatives and liberals will never agree on everything when it comes to the environment, they might increasingly agree that the keys to saving nature in the twenty-first century are cities, agricultural intensification, and technological innovation.”
-Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, co-authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto and Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility __ https://reason.com/eod
Here at Al Fin, we prefer the approach of cooking up a wiser and tougher human substrate. We call it The Dangerous Child approach. But each person must follow his own preferred path, in the quest to open the way to an expansive and abundant human future.
Remember the end of cynicism:
Cynicism grows and grows until finally, it becomes cynical of itself. That is one step toward wisdom.
__ Attributed to Al Fin
Peak Oil catastrophism is largely a manifestation of our primary cultural myth: that all things end with suffering, death, and then resurrection. Belief in apocalypse is programmed into western civilization. Given our heritage, “the end is nigh” is the nearly unavoidable personal and collective response to times of uncertainty and rapid change.
Apocalypticism is at the core of the Judeo-Christian social mythology, and it influences our beliefs far more than we are conscious of. I can hear the objections: “I’m not religious—I’ve never even been to church.” But that’s like saying, “I never studied Greece, so ancient Greek culture hasn’t influenced me in any way.” Cultural beliefs are in the air we breathe. We are programmed by our knowledge of mortality and of the natural world, as well as by millennia of myth-telling, to believe that all things, from organisms to businesses to civilizations, progress from birth to a shuddering death … ___ http://www.patternliteracy.com/130-the-origins-of-peak-oil-doomerism
It’s not always easy, but wise and intelligent people need to get past these doomer myths of culture, these apocalyptic memes, and their own inbred cynicism — and start scheming various approaches to a better world for their progeny.
Your ancestors — both human and pre-human — went through a lot of shite to make sure you were born. Don’t you squander it all on a mindless cultural defeatism.