Thursday, 1 October 2009

We're all doomed! But wait, don't panic!

Now all of you Dad's Army fans have finished having a little chortle at the play on words in the title (You're not laughing? Well, at least I tried) I would like to draw your attention to the common question we've all asked ourselves at least once: Are we all as good as screwed or is everything going great?

I was mulling over this today, sort of in the back of my mind since I was conversing with a friend. You see I recently watched TheAmazingAtheist's interview with PaulsEgo on YouTube, and I was particularly interested by what they had to say about humanity, and what is to become of humanity. They both seem to have a slight disconnect in that they can concede things are better now than they were in the past, but they are still insistent that things are getting worse due to human nature (something we have no reason to think has changed all that much during the period of our 'moral ascent'). These guys tend to be well spoken and justify what they say reasonably well, so it got me thinking why they didn't see this blatent mismatch between their analyses and conclusion.

So, through a bit of amateurish logic, I realised that there is something we all tend to overlook, and it is something akin to the anthropic principle used by physicists as an explaination for the condition of our universe (specifically that the universe is suitable for our existance). By this I mean that we can imagine two possible futures (extremes); the first is a future where everything is fine, things continue to get better and humanity develops and thrives; the second is a future where everything is in decline or humanity is either extinct, or on the brink of being so. We can attribute a few properties to these possible futures based on what we understand of natural processes:

A developed future would require a high social drive for change and development. We know from biology and history that necessity tends to drive biological, social and technological evolution - so it stands to reason that development will generally be the result of a driving force which imposes the necessity to change and develop. To see an example of this one only has to briefly look over the technological advances made over the course of the two World Wars.

A future in decline would either have undergone some immense disaster (which is somewhat irrelevant to the argument here) or experienced a lack of drive for change and improvement. Many endangered species of animal are highly adapted to their immediate environment, they are said to have reached an evolutionary steady state - as such the range of environments they can live in, as well as their evolvability (potential for evolving so as to adapt) is compromised. You could almost describe such species as evolutionary stagnant, destined to one day become extinct in the face of inevitable environmental changes. The point of this biological example is that systems not being driven to change and adapt will tend to stagnate and become brittle in light of sudden environmental changes.

Now, what do we see in our world? The vast majority of people, to some extent, think that we are in a perpetual state of moral decline, and a notable amount of people think there is little to no hope for us. Far from saying this gives everyone the drive to strive for change and improvement, all I am saying is that without such a drive even the few people who are motivated to improve conditions would probably not feel any need to bother. This is what we do see, many people are indifferent, but there are many who perceive decline and are motivated to do something about it.

I'm sure you can all see why I think this is good news, since if we did not think things were getting worse there would be no reason - let alone drive - to change anything. Seeing cynical people like TheAmazingAtheist and PaulsEgo is something we should rejoice about and find hope in. It's seeing air-headed, postitive, "it'll be alright on the night" types that should concern you.

If you have been, thanks for reading, good-night (or whatever) and god-less.