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Are We Near The End Of The World?

August 8, 2010

We may well be nearing the end of the world, but not for reasons found in the Book of Revelation or the Mayan calendar.  I share the opinion of Dr. Stephen Hawking:

Here’s is the video’s transcript:

“I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully, but I’m an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe as we spread into space. If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth but to spread out into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years, but if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I’m in favor of manned, or should I say, person-ed, space-flight.”

– Stephen Hawking, Big Think

With aggression, if we do not abolish national armies and our conflicts between nations, we’re likely to destroy ourselves in war.  At heart, wars have always been a form of organized theft.  They came into being when mankind first began settling into small towns, and nomadic raiders came to steal their grain and livestock.  They’ve been with us ever since.

“… unless and until mankind have achieved the security of a single government for the world, everything else of value, of no matter what kind, is precarious, and may at any moment be destroyed by war.”

– Bertrand Russell, Authority and the Individual

Because of our innate inclination toward selfishness, and our tendency to steal the property of another man via aggressive force and legal maneuvers, I’m wary about large concentrations of power of any kind.  When you look at our massive governments, they’re monstrosities full of bribery, theft, and pillaging of the people.  Historically that’s nothing new.  The ambitious and power hungry always seek control of governments because they offer a monopoly on the legal use of force.  Considering the legal use of force is so important, I would like to see most all political power of this kind flushed back to state and local governments.  That way people could feel more involved and in control again.  I’d like to see the democratic process extended into many other aspects of our lives, not just the political arena.

I oftentimes find myself entertaining almost radical libertarian ideas mainly because political change through the normal political process forces people to do things at gunpoint.  I don’t like that.  When a man fights for change in the government, what they’re really fighting for is a law allowing them to force their fellow man to do things at gunpoint.  If people don’t comply with the law, they’re fined, thrown into jail, and face other serious punishments.  I try to advocate freedom as much as possible, so I’m leery of the use of political force to change the way other people live.  I believe in changing people through argument, being a living example, and letting people come to their own conclusions on how to live.  I don’t like to use force on people because you can’t change a person’s opinions by forcing them to do things at gunpoint.  You can only temporarily change their actions, but tensions will build.  Eventually that will explode on you.  We’d be wise to listen to Pascal,

“We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

– Blaise Pascal

Powerful political positions represent, at heart, the ability to use force to get your way.  I find this incredibly dangerous, so I personally feel that if the most powerful positions in government were rather petty, local, and offered nothing but the capability to actually serve the people, half of our problems would go away right there.

It’s very difficult to exploit citizens at the local level.  As long as  you have transparency, people would be able to see where the money is going and it would all make sense to them.  Citizens can drive around town and see their tax dollars at work, and know where their money went.  Their leaders would also be far more accessible.  That’s the way I think things should be.

At the local level, your vote would count.  And if you wanted change, you could go around town talking to people and actually make a difference.  You could go to your barber and say, “Can you believe what our mayor just approved of?  He’s wasting our tax dollars.  We need him out of there.”  You could stand outside the grocery store handing out fliers talking about corruption which people relate to and understand.  Then the politicians, who live in that same town, would have to confront the people they’re exploiting everyday.  When they went to get their haircut, they’d have to face that barber who they’re cheating.  That is so much better than our world today.

I like the idea of states having a lot more power than the Federal government.  Take healthcare for instance.  If say the state of California wanted a socialist style healthcare system, whereas Alabama wanted a more market driven healthcare system, both states could have it how they wanted.  Then we the people could see both governments in action and let them compete to prove which is better.

Personally, I feel the state should provide healthcare to all its citizens, as well as provide for all secondary education needs.  I would move to a state which offered this.  It’s certainly not a tax I mind paying.  But other people feel differently, and it’d be nice if they could live in their own state with other like-minded people.

If you allowed citizens to freely move between states and cities, if one state government became corrupt you could move to another state which treated you better.  It offers more diversity and puts states in competition with each other.  People would leave corrupt states, which would force them to get their act together. It would also relieve a lot of the tension which is out there.

There’s a nasty cycle to selfishness and hatred. When mankind became a social animal his instincts developed in such a way to hate those who cheat the system.  Most of us live honestly and don’t exploit those around us, but there’s always those who try to cheat the system.  We’re wired to hate these people.  That’s to give us motivation to change things or boot them out.  This leads to violence, unfortunately.  The exploited seeking revenge operates off the same principle.

There’s always violence when people are wronged and mistreated. Capitalism without a social safety net is filled with wrongs.  People work hard to get an education in a certain trade which then gets cast along the wayside with changing times.  What’s a person to do when their job is no longer valuable, is replaced by machinery, or even worse, when it’s outsourced?  We need systems to help people get back to work.  We also need retirement plans which aren’t reliant on the caprice of the stock market and Wall Street.  And anyone who isn’t appalled by the vast income inequalities is just blind.  I could talk about capitalism and its flaws all day long.

I do know one thing – we’ll never have a peaceful society if we don’t provide security to people.  We all need a degree of security.  The world’s a far too lonely and dangerous place.  We need to look out for one another.  Our economic system is just terrible.

I recently was watching a documentary and they were talking about the Incas.  There were no starving or hungry in their society.  Everyone was provided for.  I don’t see why we can’t have that today.  And you know what?  When you talk to people they all feel the same way.  They say, “Yes, we should all look out for one another.”  But what holds us back?  Why does that never happen?

Well, there’s always someone who believes that helping each other out is going to destroy us all.  I’ll be first to admit that helping others is a subtle business. People abuse the system, no doubt.  The thing is, not having these sorts of social safety nets is a more dangerous than dealing with the few people who take advantage of it all.  If we moved our social programs to the local level, I think we could cut down on a lot of the abuses.

Just last weekend I was visiting my parents, who are very religious.  They were watching John Hagee, a fundamentalist Christian.  He got behind the pulpit and said, “The Bible has a lesson in economics we have forgotten.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”  He was talking about entitlement programs.  I just shook my head thinking, “Here’s the rich TV preacher, millions of dollars in the bank, flying around in private jets, himself not doing anything productive for society, just running his mouth spreading superstition, advocating wars and intervention in the Middle East, and calling everyone else lazy and not entitled to unemployment benefits after losing their job in a recession, looking for new employment.”  Then he pretends he’s spreading the love of Christ. Please.  These are the sorts of reasons intelligent people can’t possibly respect these religious zealots.

Here we have a new college graduate, who just spent the last decade studying to prepare for a job, and for whatever reason can’t find work.  Then Hagee walks up to this downtrodden individual and says, “You’re lazy.  You don’t work, you don’t eat.”  Then he waddles off to his jet.  That’s how people are and we wonder why there’s so much bitterness.  That’s the cycle of greed and hatred.  You don’t care about anyone, and because you don’t care about them, they don’t care about you.  With Hagee, there’s no love in that man.  He’s completely devoid of compassion. Jesus teaches to help the struggling man along the wayside, but his so-called followers are Spartan war-mongers.  If the Bible is true and there is a final judgment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see guys like Hagee come before God who then says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  A shocked expression comes over his big plump face and the demons drag him off to hell as he exclaims, ‘Jeeeessssuuuuusssssss’

Selfishness and violent aggression are not mutually exclusive; they’re inextricably bound together in a cycle.

If we were to have a global government, modeled like our national governments are today, our feelings of insignificance and helplessness are only going to increase.  Here in the U.S. I already feel completely insignificant.  I don’t feel in control at all.  My vote is drown out by the sea of people out there.  Imagine how bad it would be at the global level.

If we do have a global government, we need to make sure it has very little power.  I want most of the power to reside in the individual cities and small states.  Even the big cities are too big for one man to govern.  I would want a big city like St. Louis broken up into 50,000 or at most 100,000 people sectors.  I want people to feel in control over their lives and be free to live or work anywhere in the world.  We should not be subject to exploitative politicians who hide in their distant offices.

I could never imagine my hometown raising an army and attacking some other city.  The people who run local governments are just normal everyday people who actually do care about you.  It’s mainly the scumbags in the federal government who are up to no good.  I want their power taken away from them and national armies abolished.

There are some deep questions to consider as well though.  Take science research.  Institutions like NASA and the NSF need funding at the national level.  So there are some exceptions, but in general, I want most all power and tax dollars collected and spent at the local and state levels.  Other issues include environmental concerns and overpopulation.  Those things will probably have to be enforced from above.  Our current population would require 1.5 Earths to sustain itself.  We have to change.

All in all, I’m very open to different solutions to the problems of aggression and selfishness in society.  I think the central problems though are these massive governments and big corporations.  I would move to a state which forces these corporations to provide full benefits and sound retirement plans to their employees.  There also should be much more profit sharing, and far less profits for Wall Street tycoons.

It’s all very depressing, however.  There’s a very high probability that mankind will exterminate itself within the next few centuries.  That very thought sends me into such a deep despair, I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  These issues regarding the environment, corrupt economic systems, superstition, religion, and scientific literacy are not trivial.  I think they literally represent whether or not the human race will survive.  If we don’t solve them, we’re done for.

Blind faith has to be replaced by reason based on empirical observation.  That way our conflicts in beliefs can go away and be rooted in principles which are proven to work.  We have to start taking care of our planet and stop abusing it.  We’re going to have to live in harmony with it, or it’s going to kick us very hard in the rear, and may well boot us off to extinction.  If we can’t come up with an economic system that works, there’s no way we’ll have peace.  We can’t have a world where 95% of all the wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1% of the population.  We also can’t have industrial super-powers living right next door to third-world countries.  These nation-state borders have to go down and humanity has to unite.  It’s obviously a broken system.

The fundamental premise in capitalism basically says, “What can you do for me?  Why should I do something for you?”  and if you don’t have something to offer in return, there’s no “free lunch”, as they like to say.  That whole line of thought has to go.  It causes all the miseries and struggles mankind faces in this world.

I feel strongly that the world needs to live like the scientific community does.  They share all their research, are completely open to critique and change, have a deep respect for truth and empirical observation, and most of them go to great lengths to educate the public and their students teaching them everything they know.  It’s a very open-doors endeavor, where everyone is encouraged to get involved.

Capitalism on the other hand, everything’s about control.  In order to stay on top, you have to keep your technological research a secret, so that your products remain superior to your competitors.  It’s a tooth and nail struggle to stay on top, constantly battling for the almighty dollar.  If you lose that battle, and you don’t have some money saved up, you’re literally cast out onto the street and left to rot.  If there’s no safety net, you’re left to die, literally.  It’s a matter of life and death whether you can compete on the marketplace.  If you lose, you’re cast out into abject poverty.  Or, you have to work for one of the big corporations which exploit you, offer you no benefits, work you until you’re old, and then cast you aside.  With just a matter of changing times, you can end up losing your job, and lose everything you’d worked your whole life to accumulate.  You end up defaulting on your loans (which were cooked up out of thin air), and you lose your home, your car, and your means to provide for yourself.  As for the profits, they go to a few Wall Street fat-cats, who don’t even do the work.  I agree with Einstein that this is the main reason for conflict in this world.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.  We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules.

– Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?

In this same article Einstein talked about man’s relationship to society,

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

– Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?

I agree with him that our world is much too self-centered.  We live for us and us alone.  Our entire way of life encourages this and we hope the invisible hand is going to guide us to prosperity. We can’t have a world directed primarily by selfish principles. We probably need worldviews which are more collective in origin, but of course, everyone will disagree about what direction we as a society should go.

If I were to identify how we should live, I think a good role model would be Bertrand Russell.  Listen to his own life self-evaluation at the age of 84:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found. With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved. Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

– Bertrand Russell, What I have lived for

If we were to develop those same passions of love, the pursuit of knowledge, and compassion for those less fortunate, I think the world would transform dramatically.  Whatever changes we make to society, I believe strongly that those will have to be the guiding principles.

Topics: Economics, Philosophy | 4 Comments »

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