50 Reasons Why The Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do not read this if you are depressed or are easily depressed. I’m not kidding. I hope I’m proven wrong. I really do.

I write this on the day I turn 63, while thinking about the future. Usually I’m extremely positive about the future, probably because I love science fiction. However, if I wrote a science fiction novel today I’m afraid it would be a pessimistic apocalyptic novel. Normally I hate being cynical, but I thought for this essay I’d let it all hang out. I’ve spent my whole life assuming we were getting smarter and we’d become a rational species before we made ourselves extinct. I now think I’m wrong. We’re going to cross the finish line before we can get our shit together. Up until a century ago, the world was safe because there wasn’t enough of us, and the Earth’s carrying capacity could absorb our endless acts of stupidity.  My bet, is those saving graces will run out in the next one or two hundred years. We won’t go extinct, but our global civilization will be stillborn, and collapse. The once mighty homo sapiens will end up being subsistence farmers and fish folk, and the industrial civilization will fade into distant myths. So it goes.

tundra

I doubt many people will read this essay, and I beg anyone with a depressive nature not to read these cases I present to make my point because they are truly depressing. Since I am not a true cynic, I hope I am proven wrong. These essays are just random articles I’ve run across recently, in no particular order, but taken as a whole paint a very bleak picture for the human race.  And it’s so sad, because most people are good, and many people are smart, and we should be much better than our collective self.

I think there will be a number of reasons for our downfall, and they roughly fall into these categories:

  • Pollution.  The byproducts of billions of human lives are overwhelming the ecosystem. Rising CO2 levels is just one of many indicators that we are self-destructing.
  • Scarcity. We’re using everything up.
  • Theocracy. If it wasn’t for Islamic fundamentalism the globe would be mostly quiet regarding wars. But the more we work to stop worldwide terrorism it’s pretty obvious that’s there is an unresolvable conflict between democracy and theocracy. Even in America there is an upwelling for theocracy. I believe such movements are causing civil wars around the globe, and we’re seeing the emergence of World War III. Theocracy is the evil our Founding Fathers feared when they created the Constitution.
  • Inequality. Social order breaks down when there is too much inequality, and inequality is on a sharp increase.
  • Corruption. Wealth and plutocracy protect the few against the many and this undermines order.
  • Crime. As the population density increases, resources dwindle, inequality grows, humans attack each other.
  • Extinction. We are currently in another mass extinction event. There have been several in the history of Earth. Humans are the cause of this one.
  • Hate. As our problems grow with more and more fellow humans sharing the planet, we lash out at each other.
  • Tyranny. As long as billions are oppressed by political and social injustice then we haven’t developed a practical political system to support humans on Earth.
  • Misogyny.  Hatred of women is so deep rooted in all the cultures of the world that for many, including women, it’s hard to see. As we approach the worlds first global civilization freedom for women is on the rise. Sadly, this freedom will be the first to go when things fall apart.
  • Prejudice. For all the enlightenment we’ve achieved in the last fifty years over race and sexual orientation there are strong indications that many people are still ignorant of the scopes of their prejudices.
  • Xenophobia. Many among us can’t get over their tribal instincts.
  • Disease. Drug resistant diseases are on the rise, and the global spread of dangerous diseases because of transportation and warming climates indicate the revenge of mother nature is near.
  • Denial.  There are too many reality deniers among us. Up to now, we’ve been able to deny the gloom and doom of the population bomb, our inherent stupidity, and greed, because the Earth could absorb our mistakes. We deluded ourselves into believing we could always beat the system. Well, the bill is coming due, and we can’t pay the check.

These are some of our main Achilles heels that will bring about our downfall. People used to think God would save us, many still do. More recently, we thought we could save ourselves, especially with science and technology.  I use to think that. I wish I still did.  Most people live with their heads in the sand, cramming their minds with sports statistics, shopping for new cars, planning a wedding, buying Christmas presents, and ignoring all the dying canaries falling from the sky. If you think I’m wrong read just a fraction of the articles I list below. I firmly believe we know enough to solve our problems, I just doubt we have the collective will to work together to get the job done.

  1. Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure” – 60 Minutes. It’s not that we can’t fix these problems, we’re just too cheap and short-sighted to do so.
  2. A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” – Rolling Stone. Some men don’t have a clue to how evil they are to women. If this is the best and the brightest, at what is supposed to be an institution of higher learning, then I rest my case.
  3. Depleting the water” – 60 Minutes.  Jared Diamond wrote a huge book about past collapsing civilizations. Even when older civilizations saw the end coming they didn’t change course. Neither are we.
  4. Dismembering History: The Shady Online Trade in Ancient Tests” – The Daily Beast. Greed and self interest know no bounds.
  5. Stop Trying to Save the World” – The New Republic. No matter how hard we try to do good we seem to fail. Do-gooders just can’t outwit stupidity and bad guys.
  6. Iran Nuke Deal: A Matter of War or Peace” – The Daily Beast. It’s not the war on terror, but the war of theocracy v. democracy. Three great religions claim to have the same God. Do their animosities end when they die and go to heaven, or does God segregate paradise by faith?
  7. The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa” – Der Spiegel. Didn’t believe my point in #6? Try this one, and wonder if WWIII hasn’t already started.
  8. Hell is Other People” – GQ (British). This is what happens when civilization collapses. That seems to be happening a lot lately. This is what humans are really like when there’s no big government to rule them. Yeah, that’s a fuck you to my Tea Party friends.
  9. Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone – Especially the Wealthy” – The New Republic. Everyone should read Thomas Piketty.
  10. The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi” – The New York Times. With all the money we spend on education, with all the discoveries of science, why do so many people still embrace bullshit ideas?
  11. Inside the Vigilante Fight Against Boko Haram” – The New York Times. Without big government guys with guns rule. Is this what the NRA means when it says “An armed society is a polite society?”
  12. In Brazilian city, homeless face ‘extermination’” – Aljazeera America. As our population grows, and we compete for less and less, we seem to lose our higher natures.
  13. Groundwater declines across U.S. South over past decade” – Climate.gov. New NASA satellites can measure ground water, and we’re using it up so fast that ground is sinking all around the world.
  14. The Horror Before the Beheadings” – The New York Times. From another front of WWIII.
  15. Poor teeth” – aeon. Is this how a great nation takes care of its citizens? As long as the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” attitude prevails in America, we’re heading downhill.
  16. ”Hurt That Bitch”: What Undercover Investigators Saw Inside a Factory Farm.” – Mother Jones. What if the survival of our species depends on how kind we are to animals? A certain percentage of humans are evil to other humans – is that the same folks who are evil to animals? Or do we have two problem groups to deal with?
  17. The Ebola Wars” – The New Yorker. Ebola can be easily contained if you have a big government. Science can destroy Ebola if we have a big government that supports science.  You know the next line I would write.
  18. The Future Of The Culture Wars Is Here, And It’s Gamergate” – Deadspin. Some men just don’t have a clue about women. Their minds have never evolved out of the Neolithic, yet they are a product of the 21st century education and culture. When civilization starts circling the drain, I advise women to kill all the men and take up cloning for reproduction.
  19. Where the Tea Party Rules” – The Rolling Stone. America is coming undone, and it’s not because people are bad. Most Americans are good, salt of the Earth folk who do the best they can. But things keep falling apart. We can’t go back, and we can’t work together to go forward.
  20. My Terrifying Night With Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord” – New Republic.  The real Katniss Everdeen who fights the dystopian world order called democracy. If you had the choice between dystopia and chaos, which would you pick? The decisions we have to make are very complicated.
  21. George Clooney, South Sudan and How the World’s Newest Nation Imploded” – Newsweek. Report from another front in WWIII. This war is not going to come to an armistice.
  22. Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming” – New Republic. We could solve the global warming problem, it’s why we don’t that’s the real problem with our species. Climate change is another world war, one we’re ignoring. You can’t win if you don’t fight.
  23. A Hundred Women” – The New Yorker. One measure of how civilization is succeeding is to study how women are being treated around the world.
  24. Inside the New York Fed: Secret Recordings and a Culture Clash” – Pro Publica. As long as we have a plutocracy we’re not going to solve many of our problems because money always trumps common good.
  25. The Fight of Their Lives” – The New Yorker. Strangely, many Kurds are Sunni, just like ISIL/ISIS, yet they want to destroy each other. Not all Islamic people are the same. The ones we call terrorists do not believe in borders. They are a threat to everyone that does not believe exactly like they do. Their brand of Islam is now spreading across the world. How do you have a global civilization that requires a choice between independent democratic nation states versus a borderless theocratic world rule?
  26. Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson” – The Atlantic. Why does skin color divide us so? The color of our skin is about as important as the color of our shirts. What drives this senseless hatred?
  27. Was Moses a Founding Father?”  – The Atlantic. How different is this from the Taliban or ISIS?
  28. The Case for Reparations” – The Atlantic.  They say Christianity teaches compassion. Does this sound like a nation of Christians?
  29. Zero Percent Water” – Medium.  Like CO2, H20 is one strong indicator of our future.
  30. Meet the College Women Who Are Starting a Revolution Against Campus Sexual Assault” – New York.  How can this problem exist if these are our daughters – and sons?
  31. Young Carlos” – New York. Conservatives won’t do anything about climate change, but also hate new folks moving in. Being a climate change denier means learning to live with the side-effects of the thing you refuse to see. Maybe you’ll change your mind when all those people from western USA moves east to find water. People move to America now because there’s less population, more equality, more opportunity. The I’ve got mine, fuck you philosophy fails us ultimately, because if we have it good and everyone else doesn’t, they are going to come check us out. Think global, act local.
  32. China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet” – Rolling Stone. How can we say “Don’t be like us.”
  33. Nuclear Tourism” – National Geographic.  Is Chernobyl the portrait of Earth without people?
  34. The Afghan Girls Who Live as Boys” – The Atlantic. The title says it all.
  35. Will Misogyny Bring Down the Atheist Movement?” – BuzzFeed. Even the sons of the Enlightenment treat women badly.
  36. Zoonotic Diseases” – National Geographic. The complexity of the biosphere is astounding. But our ignorance and cruelty is more astounding.
  37. Hell in the Hot Zone” – Vanity Fair. Ebola is not the scariest thing about the outbreak, it’s us.
  38. Son, Men Don’t Get Raped” – GQ.  The lack of empathy in some humans compared to the compassion in others illustrates how far we have to go to change and save ourselves. You decide if we can make it.
  39. Dignity” – The New Yorker. Another report from the front on inequality.
  40. The Forsaken: A Rising Number of Homeless Gay Teens Are Being Cast Out by Religious Families” – Rolling Stone. I should have put “Intolerance” on the list above. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. It’s a shame that religion is often not the solution.
  41. Why not kill them all?” – London Review of Books. What if America was like this? It will be if big government breaks down.
  42. How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy” – Businessweek. Sometimes an evil dictator is better than chaos. It’s hard to start a democracy.
  43. Putin Dreams of Empire” – New Yorker. Why is it still about alpha males?
  44. The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers” – Smithsonian. If humans lack empathy for other humans, why expect them to feel for animals?
  45. The Social Laboratory” – Foreign Policy. Will it require Big Brother to bring about law and order?
  46. Gambling with Civilization” – The New York Review of Books. By denying reality to preserve their self-interests, aren’t Republicans gambling with our future?
  47. Two degrees” – Vox. CO2 is how we set the global thermostat.  Changing it two degrees will have untold consequences. It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.
  48. A Convenient Excuse” – The Phoenix.  Addicts are great a rationalizing another fix.
  49. Climate Change and the End of Australia” – Rolling Stone.  It’s one thing to deny what might happen, it’s a whole other thing to deny what’s right in front of us.
  50. The Battle Over Climate Science” – Popular Science.  Don’t kill the messenger.  The real reason why we won’t survive is too many of us are reality deniers. We rationalize, we put off, we shirk, we ignore, we pretend, we lie, we escape in fantasies.

Happy Birthday to me. Tomorrow is another day. I’ll go back to being positive.

JWH

The Future of My Trick or Treaters

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 31, 2014

Tonight while I sat near my front door waiting for the kids to come begging for candy I read The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. This is a very slight book, only 105 pages, that costs $6.31 for the Kindle edition. I read it so fast that I felt it should be priced like a Kindle Single, probably at $1.99. However, what it has to say should make you do at least $6.31 worth of thinking. If I reread it several times I’ll probably get a hundred bucks worth of thoughts out of it because it does present a tremendous amount information to think about. It condenses many heavy-duty ideas into powerful phrases and concepts.

tbe-collapse-of-western-civilization

Oreskes and Conway are known for their brilliant Merchants of Doubt which explains how conservative politics corrupts science to achieve its goals. Their new book is a kind of science fiction story, set in 2393 and told from a future Chinese historian about how the failure to heed science’s warnings led to The Great Collapse of 2093. It accuses science and scientists of being too timid in it’s statements about climate change.

As I frequently got up from six o’clock to nine, to give handfuls of candy to little kids in their Halloween costumes, I imagined their futures. Many will live to see 2093. If Oreskes and Conway are right, they will see more upheaval and misery than we saw in the 20th century. The Collapse of Western Civilization is the scariest horror book I’ve ever read on Halloween. It’s too bad I couldn’t have filled their sacks with science books, instead of sugary addictions.

Oreskes’ and Conway’s main points boldly states our political ideology and economic theories are outdated for dealing with climate change and the current mass extinction. We are doomed, we know how and why, and we choose to do nothing about it. Human life will not come to an end, but the effects of carbon pollution will be devastating.

Climate change deniers shout that science hasn’t offered enough proof is ridiculous. Oreskes and Conway claim science has the proof, and accuse scientists of being too timid to promote their results. The authors assert that scientists feel that unless they have 95 percent testable certainty they shouldn’t speak out. But if you were told you had a 10 percent change to contracting Ebola you’d panic. The collective results about climate change is often 95-100%, and yet we ignore it. If you were told going to a shopping mall or flying in an airplane involved a 1% chance of catching Ebola you wouldn’t go. Yet, science is confidently saying our children have a 95-100% chance of having a catastrophic future and we ignore it.

After reading The Collapse of Western Civilization I started The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. Reading the introduction to the collected essays I knew if I took the time I could list 1,000 examples of how climate change is impacting us now. One of the first essays I read was how animals species all over the world are mixing with their cousins to produce hybrid species because of changing habitats caused by climate change. This is not new or unnatural, but the frequency is. One example they give is the mating of grizzly bears with polar bears. I could probably list 1,000 different hybrids to get to my 1,000 example count, or I could use it as just 1 of 1,000 and still find 999 articles about other specific examples of climate change happening now.

It is insane to deny climate change. To promote ones self-interest over the future of mankind is a crime against humanity. The Republican Party has a good chance of taking back the Senate in this week’s mid-term election. Their political religion is the exact wrong solution for saving the Earth. But Obama and the Democrats have done nothing significant to help either. The free hand of capitalism will always ignore the future. Choosing a smaller government and deregulation is sticking our heads in the sand and our asses up in the air. The trouble is every citizen of this country, of this world, must change the way they live. We need to go cold turkey on our wasteful way of living.

JWH

Are Humans Smart Enough?

We humans are quite proud that we’re the smartest species on the planet, but are we smart enough to survive?  Evolution has been characterized as survival of the fittest, but what happens if one species succeeds so well that it kills off all other species and self-destructs?  That’s not very smart, that’s just being cancerous.  The trouble is we don’t think as a species, but as a collection of individuals, and our self-interests are now in conflict with our species best interests.  The Republican party, and many Americans have chosen to just ignore global warming in favor of self-interests.  Is that a realism that we must just accept?  This morning at Vox.com they presented “7 reasons America will fail  on climate change.”

Ezra Klein is totally pessimistic that Americans will change, and he makes quite a good case with his seven reasons why we will fail to do anything significant about climate change.  The trouble is as individuals we don’t change until we’re force to, and it looks like we won’t be force to until after we’ve reached a point of no return.

climate_change_inequality_map

One point that Klein didn’t make is  people who want to be politicians do it for reasons of self-interest and not altruism for the species.  Even if young people start out idealistic about saving the world, the political system corrupts them by forcing them into a game of political self-preservation which corrupts them into selling out.  But we don’t see many save-the-world young people going into politics anyway.  Instead, the newest politicians with the most passion are Tea Party types who want to do just the opposite.

The only counter trend to this pessimistic black hole is technology.  Cars were invented just as cities were about to drown in horseshit.  If clean energy alternatives become way cheaper than carbon producing non-renewable resources then things might change.  But what if there are other technological changes that might help?  What if technology changes politics?  Hasn’t the Internet already changed the political climate?

This will sound silly now, but what if we replaced our political representatives with AI machines?  This will sound facetious, but obviously we’re not smart enough to solve our own problems, so what if it was obvious to all that someone smarter was, a brilliant machine?  Would our individual self-interests vote for it?  Right now politics is more of a personality contest than electing the best person for the job.  What if a robot was an option, one that knew a thousand times more about the issues of your district than any human?

We will always be surprised by unexpected game changers.  Klein might be right, and we’re already defeated, but we never know when a black swan might show up.

JWH – 6/7/14

The Impact of Atheism on Well-Manicured Lawns

When I think of good Christians I think of close-knit families with spotless houses and beautiful lawns.  The most successful people I know, those whose lives are full of love and happiness, are my Christian friends, because I equate big loving families with social success.  These same people have great houses and yards.  Most of my non-believing friends tend to be childless, and like myself, self-centered, and our homes and yards show a difference.  Its odd, but I think our philosophical differences are reflected how our lawns compare.  My neighbors with the best lawns seem to be family oriented and Christian, whereas my own lawn is weedy and chaotic.  And the lawns of my Christian friends who don’t have children seem to fall in between.

The history of western civilization and Christianity has been one long war with nature.  Christians believe they have dominion over the Earth and wish to subdue nature.  That’s reflected in their lawns and gardens.  A well ordered yard reflects a well ordered mind, or so we thought.

lawn2 

The faithful think atheists are amoral, but most ardent nonbelievers I know tend to be liberal with strong beliefs about improving society, helping the needy and living ethical lives, but sometimes our personal habits reflect disorder.  Atheists I would contend, lean towards embracing nature, rather than ruling over it.  If I had my druthers I’d let my yard run wild and encourage more wildlife to settle in it.  We use to have a fox that lived in my neighborhood that would run through my backyard, but sadly it was killed by a car.  I’m not totally crazy—I don’t want nature coming in my house, but as long as fellow creatures don’t attack me, I don’t mind sharing my yard with as many plants, animals and insects as the natural ecology allows.

I want a Darwinian lawn.  I also want a lawn that helps the Earth and our species.  I want to lawn to helps other species from going extinct.  I want to coexist with nature and not dominate it.

I’ve often wondered about landscaping my yard so it would be perfectly adaptable to our changing climate.  I’d like the plants and other living things to adapt to the emerging weather patterns so I wouldn’t have to fertilize and water anything.  I’m not sure my neighbors and zoning czars would think about that though.  However, as soon as the perils of climate change are accepted by good Christians and they realize they must be stewards of the Earth and not conquerors, they might change their minds too.

For all their talk of heaven, Christians embrace life on Earth.  Deep down they aren’t the kind of people who commit suicide or pull the plug when the going gets tough.  They fight for life to the bitter end—and when it becomes all too obvious that they are committing species-cide they might change their minds.   We atheists accept personal extinction, but we hate the thought of humans dying off.  One day, both sides of the spiritual divide might agree on a new approach to lawn care.

For every gallon of gas you burn the warmer you make it for your descendants.  For every pesticide you add to the environment the more you poison your children, their children, and their children’s children, and so on until the Earth is cleaned up.  Denying manmade climate change is denying your own sins against the Earth, and the crimes you are committing  today will burden far more than three generations.  Easy Christianity has convinced millions to shirk their debts, because isn’t sin incurring debts to others? 

Okay, I’m an atheist, so I can’t expect you to speak my language, so let me try to speak yours.  One Christian book that impressed me was The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   Modern Christianity has made the pardon of sins way too easy.  There has to be more to grace than just claiming belief.  What humanity has done to planet Earth is one giant cross that we must all bear.   You can’t escape your sins by denying they exist anymore than running away from them by believing.  We live by our actions, and any grace you seek must be earned by how you live and not how you think.

JWH – 5/12/14

Possible Outcomes of Climate Change Politics

Most people believe climate change is happening now and we’re the cause.  Yet, there are millions of people doing everything they can to prove we have no problem at all.  These people are climate change deniers.  Of course, these folk feel they are right.  To these people I ask:  What if you’re wrong?  What happens if we follow your advice?  There are four possible outcomes.  If we follow your beliefs we will suffer two possible fates.  Are either of them good?

Global Warming True False
Do Something Save the World Save Energy
Do Nothing World Suffers Waste Energy/Pollute

Being a climate change denier puts you at risk of destroying civilization at worse, or promoting wasteful and polluting societies at best.  I don’t see how you can win either way.  Essentially you are litterbugs who don’t want to clean up your own mess, and even denies it exists.  All the things we need to be to protect ourselves from climate change involve virtuous personality traits, and all the things that go into denying the issue involve negative traits.

Pogo2

Most climate change deniers are very religious, yet they are taking an ironic stand against being clean, accountable, disciplined, frugal, committed, cautious,  caring, moderate, cooperative, decisive,  temperate, pure, willing to sacrifice, industriousness, simplicity, and supporting many of the seven deadly sins instead – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, envy and gluttony.

Even if climate changers are right about global warming, won’t they end up being wrong anyway?

JWH – 4/12/14

Climate Change Observations #1

Here’s a week’s reading about climate change happening now.

  1. The Face of Climate Change: Walloped Wildlife and Flowers in the Colorado Rockies
  2. Scientists Adopt Tiny Island as a Warming Bellwether
  3. Climate change helps local man set Arctic sailing record
  4. Warming Lakes: Barometers of Climate Change?
  5. Climate-change denial getting harder to defend
  6. Climate change may force evacuation of vulnerable island states within a decade
  7. Dutch Drinking Water May Be Hurt by Changing Climate, Pollution
  8. Polling climate change in thirteen countries
  9. Climate Change And Seafood Supply: Developing Countries Most Vulnerable To Ocean Acidification
  10. Pentagon Study Cites Climate Change as National Security Threat
  11. Climate Victims Deserve a Hearing, Whether Here or in The Hague
  12. Climate Change’s Effect On Marine Life Will Leave Winners And Losers
  13. Climate change cripples forests
  14. Global Warming Is Already Causing Loss of Life and Damage to the Economy Around the World: New Report
  15. Climate change is already damaging global economy, report finds
  16. Research reports climate change could cripple Southwestern forests
  17. Are we wrong about climate change?
  18. Carbon Feedback From Thawing Permafrost Will Likely Add 0.4°F – 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100
  19. Unanimous vote to support climate change refugees
  20. Climate Change Offers Grim Long-Term Prognosis for Seafood

I have Google Alerts configured to send me links to anything published about “climate change” every day.  Often the daily update links to climate change deniers, or just to articles about climate change in general, but frequently enough, it finds articles that relate stories about places around the world where climate change is happening now.  The links above are just a week’s worth of stories I found interesting.  I get many more links total.

I am not a scientist, but like Bob Dylan’s famous line, “You don’t need a weather man To know which way the wind blows,” I feel keeping the pulse of what’s happening is revealing.  I’ve given up thinking humanity will work on limiting climate change, so now I’m just an observer.  Go configure a Google Alert for yourself and read the stories.   [Or for that matter, create an alert on any topic and just watch it.  It’s a real learning experience.]

And there’s more than one story happening.  The political fight against even believing that global warming is happening is fascinating.  It’s the forces of greed versus the forces of science.  It’s a story of how delusion works wonders on minds who refuse to listen.  It’s a story of psychological warfare and FUD.

I don’t know what will happen.  However, if the liberals are wrong, the worst that happens is we spend billions making America very energy efficient.  If the the conservatives are wrong, millions die and suffer.  In making a moral decision, it’s not about who is right, but the harm you cause by thinking you’re right.

JWH – 10/7/12

Is Cynicism a Side-Effect of Aging? – The Mark Twain Syndrome

Samuel Clemens, known famously as Mark Twain, became extremely bitter and pessimistic about the human race as he got older.  I’m 60 and I’m starting to feel I’ve caught a touch of pessimism myself, so I’m wondering if I’m developing the Mark Twain Syndrome?  And will I get more negative as the years pile up?

Mark-Twain-by-Alvin-Langdon-Coburn

Is cynicism a side-effect of aging?

Now Twain had a lot of reasons to feel depressed and bitter.  His wife, and two of his three daughters, died before he did.  He made fortunes and lost them.  He ran up staggering debt.   In his old age he had to constantly tour the world giving talks so he could honorably pay off his creditors.  Plus he saw a lot of the world that he just didn’t like, and he felt he had good reasons to think humans were a nasty species.  Twain died in 1910, so he never knew the horrors of the 20th century, but the vicious satirical stories he wrote in his later years feel spot on to modern readers.

I would think anyone following the highly polarized politics of the 2012 presidential election would feel depressed about our political system.  I would think anyone studying how humans treat the environment and our fellow creatures would feel gloomy about the Earth.  I would think anyone comparing the growing greed of the rich versus the expanding misery of the poor would feel doomed over the fate of mankind.  It’s hard not to believe that homo sapiens aren’t going to use up every last resource on this planet and never feel guilty.

How can you have faith in Congress when the national debt grows and all they can talk about is tax cuts?  How can feel good about America when one party stonewalls the other for four years in hopes of winning the next election?  When did serving the party become more important than serving the country?

Our current economic calamity is due to a man-made economic catastrophe.  Billions were stolen but no one was ever put on trial.  And the rich are spending billions to get a President in office so they can go back to business as usual.

I can’t help but believe that a perfect storm of national collapse is brewing.  Is the U.S. in decline like the Roman and British empires were long ago?

Here some of the factors:

  • Growing economic chaos
  • World-wide shift to fundamental religious thinking
  • Global warming
  • Diseases becoming immune to our medicines
  • Population growth
  • Dwindling resources
  • Relentless pollution
  • Accelerating species extinctions
  • Uncontrolled debt
  • Political polarization
  • Aging population
  • Growing segment of population that’s not in labor force
  • Escalating crime and corruption around the world
  • Rising healthcare costs
  • Rising food costs

Now, do I dwell on all of that because I’m getting older?  If I was young would I feel that all of those issues were just problems to be easily solved?  I don’t know.  It’s not like I want to walk around with a sandwich sign proclaiming “The End is Near” but I feel like I’m on a fast train and the brakes just went out.  Is that feeling caused by getting older?

How do you know when things are bad or when you’re just feeling bad and think civilization is in decline?

Conversely, when I read about developments in science, technology, medicine, I feel positive and my thoughts about the future are uplifted.  Science is the one constant positive – but most people reject science.  What makes me feel good makes other people feel bad.

When I was young and read about Mark Twain I hoped I’d never become bitter and negative like he did.  Even now I try to stay positive.  But its not easy.  Oh, if I keep busy and ignore the problems I’m as happy as a two-year-old with a box of cookies.  And I tend to think that’s how most folks handles the problem–they eat more cookies.

When I was young, growing up with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, I assumed we’d have permanent bases on the Moon and Mars by now, and men and women would have explored the entire solar system.  In my teens, I felt before I died engineers would be drawing up plans interstellar spacecraft.  Maybe not manned ones, but at least for interstellar robotic explorers.  I think part of my disappointed about getting old is none of this has happened.

I’ve read enough history to know that the present has always been on the tipping point of chaos.  I should feel confident that we’ll continue to bumble though.  But I’ve also read enough history to know that nations rise and fall, and that all over the globe there are sites where people live who think about their country’s former glory.  We revel is the decline of communism, but who is to say capitalism will last?  Personally, I think free market capitalism will fail under overpopulation.  We have over 12 million people defined as unemployed, but we have over 87 million people not employed, or considered unemployable.  This population is over 16, not in jail or in military service that doesn’t work.  They are retired, mentally or physically can’t work, gave up trying to find work, or won’t work.  Less than half the U.S. population has jobs and they must fund the living expenses for the entire population.  Capitalism isn’t creating enough jobs.  It’s worse in other countries.

And the people who are working and paying taxes want to pay less.  This is at a time when our economy depends on socialism.  The reality is the U.S. has been a socialistic country since the 1930s.  To reject socialism now means condemning tens of millions of poverty.  The growing nostalgia for fundamental religious beliefs and conservative values is no solution at all.  It’s just a plea, “Stop the world I want to get off—why can’t things be the way they used to be?”

Now I’m dwelling on the bad again.  Are my worries just from getting old?  Or do we all have something to be depressed about?

JWH – 7/15/12