The Number of People Who Think We Are Doomed is Somewhat Concerning

I never grew up with Star Trek, but I watched a bit of it in law school and found it very uplifting. I obviously find it agreeable partially because it’s communist (or at least it’s evident that something quite different is going on in their gentle egalitarian spacefaring society). It aligns profoundly with my own aspirations for the human future, which have always been toward the Saganesque. I’ve long felt hopeful for a future in which national borders are erased as we recognize our shared humanity and begin the quest to connect with our sisters and brothers elsewhere in the universe.

But in talking with others about social problems, I’ve discovered that this view puts me on the very fringes of human thought. There seems to be a pretty widespread consensus that nothing but doom stretches out before us. On the right, the view is that “human nature” is violent and lazy and irreparable, and that brutal struggle is an ineradicable part of life. On the left, it’s that environmental catastrophe will soon destroy us all. And even those who share neither of these views seem to believe that we have a maximum of about 100 years before the Silicon Valley capitalist creeps unleash a monstrous form of Artificial Intelligence that will likely devour us all.

These views concern me. I refuse to accept them. I don’t like living as if I’m one of the last human beings before Armageddon. I think that (1) if there’s a chance that’s not true, one should be an optimist, since having the opposite view is more miserable and that (2) this view leads to destructive acts that help fulfill the prophecy. I believe we should act as if we’re going to be around in 500 years. Assuming we’re going to be around in 500 years is exciting, because it means we can set 500-year goals! Everyone I speak to is skeptical of the possibility of eliminating warfare and misery from the Earth. I’m not, though, but not because I think these things are easily solved. Rather, it’s because I have not resigned myself to our inevitable impending doom, so I can think in multi-century increments. Alright, we obviously won’t get rid of guns in 10 years, but 1000? That seems far more plausible, if we actually put our minds to it and stopped believing we had all of human nature and possibility figured out.

I have always been a utopian, albeit of a peculiar sort. (This is why Marxism never had any appeal for me; Marxism explicitly positioned itself in opposition to more utopian socialisms.) I am what I think is a very reasonable utopian, because I do not believe utopias are easily built. In fact, I do not think they are ever built. But I think they could be successfully strived for and gotten closer to, if we were serious. Unfortunately, everyone I talk to seems to either never really think in long time-frames, or believes very strongly we are doomed. They need to stop it, or we’ll get nothing done.

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