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How the modern fantasy of an eternal civilization warps our view of technology

How the modern fantasy of an eternal civilization warps our view of technology

What historians call the Golden Age of Greece—which ran from about 500 to 300 BC—spawned the foundational Western philosophers Plato and Aristotle; mathematicians such as Euclid whose geometry is still taught in schools today; classical Greek dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, whose plays are performed even now; an architecture so grand that it has been imitated in our own time, especially in government buildings; and the practice of democracy, a form of governance that would go into eclipse for over 2,000 years until the American and French revolutions.

What most people don’t know is that the ancient Greeks who lived through that era did not think of themselves as being in a golden age. Instead, they thought of their society as a much degraded version of the heroic age that preceded it, an age described in such works as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Works and DaysHow utterly difficult it is for most people living today to imagine a society whose members believed that the future would only bring further degradation and decline perhaps until civilization itself disappeared. History was to them cyclical with dark and golden ages—golden ages that start out with great vigor and hope and then grind down to dark eras that destroy the progress of the past.

Today, most modern people think of time as linear and history as merely a story of the gradual and now rapid rise of technological, social, political and cultural progress. Since time is linear, the trajectory is always forward and expected to be up. We humans will never again fall prey to the civilization-ending mistakes of the past. Our technology has no equal. Humans have decoupled from the limits nature previously imposed on them…

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You’re Not a Fearmonger. You Have Sentinel Intelligence.

You’re Not a Fearmonger. You Have Sentinel Intelligence.

Some of us are cursed to hear the future.

You’ve probably heard about Helen of Troy. She’s blamed for starting the Trojan War. Not many people remember Cassandra.

She predicted it.

In Aeschylus’s tragedy Agamemnon, you get Cassandra’s full story. In some ways, the Trojan War is really about a bunch of dudes who don’t listen to a woman, and it leads straight to the collapse of their civilization.

In later retellings, they ignore her twice.

Surprised?

Cassandra doesn’t exactly ask for the gift of prophecy. The Greek god Apollo falls in love with her. He puts her under a spell in one of his temples. Then he tells his pet snakes to go lick her ears. When she wakes up, she can hear the future. Apollo tries to seduce Cassandra, but she’s just not that into him. He has a meltdown. Zeus tells him no backsies on divine gifts, so he finds a loophole.

He curses her.

Now when Cassandra hears the future, nobody believes it. If you want to drive someone insane, that’s a good start.

Now get this:

Not only does Cassandra predict the Trojan war, but she also scoops everyone on the Trojan horse. She tries to warn the city that a bunch of Greek soldiers are hiding inside it, waiting to sneak out and unlock the gates after they go to bed. Once again, nobody listens to her. They start calling her names. She tries to smash the horse open with an axe and gets dragged away screaming. A giant wooden horse full of our enemies? What nonsense!

You know the rest.

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Wrong Again: 50 Years of Failed Eco-pocalyptic Predictions

Photo Credit: Getty

Thanks go to Tony Heller, who first collected many of these news clips and posted them on RealClimateScience.

SUMMARY

Modern doomsayers have been predicting climate and environmental disaster since the 1960s. They continue to do so today.

None of the apocalyptic predictions with due dates as of today have come true.

What follows is a collection of notably wild predictions from notable people in government and science.

More than merely spotlighting the failed predictions, this collection shows that the makers of failed apocalyptic predictions often are individuals holding respected positions in government and science.

While such predictions have been and continue to be enthusiastically reported by a media eager for sensational headlines, the failures are typically not revisited.

1967: ‘Dire famine by 1975.’

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, November 17, 1967

1969: ‘Everyone will disappear in a cloud of blue steam by 1989.’

Source: New York Times, August 10 1969

1970: Ice age by 2000

Source: Boston Globe, April 16, 1970

1970: ‘America subject to water rationing by 1974 and food rationing by 1980.’

Source: Redlands Daily Facts, October 6, 1970

1971: ‘New Ice Age Coming’

Source: Washington Post, July 9, 1971

1972: New ice age by 2070

Source: NOAA, October 2015

1974: ‘New Ice Age Coming Fast’

Source: The Guardian, January 29, 1974

1974: ‘Another Ice Age?’

Source: TIME, June 24, 1974

1974: Ozone Depletion a ‘Great Peril to Life’

But no such ‘great peril to life’ has been observed as the so-called ‘ozone hole’ remains:

 

Sources: Headline

NASA Data | Graph

1976: ‘The Cooling’

Source: New York Times Book Review, July 18, 1976

1980: ‘Acid Rain Kills Life in Lakes’

Noblesville Ledger (Noblesville, IN) April 9, 1980

But 10 years later, the US government program formed to study acid rain concluded:

Associated Press, September 6, 1990

1978: ‘No End in Sight’ to 30-Year Cooling Trend

Source: New York Times, January 5, 1978

But according to NASA satellite data there is a slight warming trend since 1979.

Source: DrRoySpencer.com

1988: James Hansen forecasts increase regional drought in 1990s

Futures That Work

Futures That Work

Among the most curious features of the current predicament of industrial society is that so much of it was set out in great detail so many decades ago. Just at the moment I’m not thinking of the extensive literature on resource depletion that started appearing in the 1950s, which set out in painstaking detail the mess we’re in right now. I’m thinking of those writers who explored the decline and fall of past civilizations, in the vain hope that ours might manage to avoid making all the usual mistakes.  In particular, I’m thinking of Arnold Toynbee.

Toynbee’s all but forgotten these days, but three quarters of a century ago his was a name to conjure with. His gargantuan 12-volume work A Study of History set out to trace the histories of all known civilizations and, from that data set, determine the factors that drove the rise and fall of human societies. One- and two-volume abridgements leaving out most of the supporting data were widely available back in the day—my parents, who were not exactly highbrow East Coast intellectuals, had a copy on a bookshelf in the family room when my age was still in single digits. Plenty of academic historians denounced Toynbee, but a great many people read his work and saw the value in it.

Those days are of course long past, but there’s an interesting twist to the disappearance of his ideas from the collective dialogue of our time. Those ideas weren’t rejected because they turned out to be wrong. They were rejected because Toynbee was right.

To summarize an immense body of erudite historical analysis far too briefly, Toynbee argued that new human societies emerge when a human society is faced with a challenge it can’t meet using its previous habits of thought and action…

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Micro utopias for an inclusive future

When Gijsbert Huijink, a Dutch national living in Banyoles, in the Catalan province of Girona, set out to install solar panels in his home he stumbled upon a legal labyrinth that criminalized energy self-consumption. “If I wanted to connect to the grid to recharge my batteries and supply my excess, I had to pay a fortune,” Gijsbert Huijink said in an interview.1 Huijink then hatched a plan to exact sweet collective revenge: he founded Som Energia,2 Spain’s first power cooperative. With the help of his wife, his university students, and some friends, Gijsbert laid the foundations to effect a change in the Spanish energy market. Som Energia has since grown from an initial 150 contracts in 2010 to 125,589 in March 2021,3 and it is currently the fastest growing energy cooperative in Europe. Hundreds of city governments have hired its services and dozens of new energy cooperatives are replicating the model.

Som Energia has a characteristic that sets it apart from most environmentalist efforts. It is not a project that merely reacts: it proposes. It does not focus on protesting, but on action. It does not stop at defending certain ideals, but puts those ideals into practice. It goes beyond criticizing an economic model based on fossil fuels: it sets a new model in motion. It does not just denounce the injustice of certain regulations, but goes on to experiment with new forms of democracy. It does not focus on the individual: it aims for sustainability with community and networked solutions.

Som Energia was one of the thirty-two initiatives that participated in the first edition of the Transformative Cities People’s Choice Award and the Atlas of Utopias, the unique coopetition4 launched by the Transnational Institute (TNI) in 2018. Having completed a total of three editions,5 it perfectly embodies the spirit that infuses all those initiatives…

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Is the Future Already Written?

Image credit: Emile Guillemot

Generally speaking the future is impossible to tell. The story of us could take many different paths branching into ever different versions of its current self. There are an infinite number futures, which we shape and select every day, every hour, every minute with our conscious decisions, our actions and deeds. We make our choices based on free will and select the right or wrong path ahead of us based on morals and ethics.

The bad news is, that this is only a myth, incompatible with the laws of physics.

Living in an illusion

Having self-consciousness comes with certain limitations and a good deal of illusions to help us disregard those limits. Through what appears to be a cause and effect relationship however— like having a desire to eat an apple, then grabbing one from the kitchen table — it makes us believe that it is us who are making conscious decisions resulting in deliberate action.

The hard truth is that there is neither ‘you’ or ‘I’, ‘us’ or ‘them’ in this story, nor there was a ‘conscious decision’ in the first place. There is no need for those. We’ve lived without these concepts for many millennia just fine, so do our fellow animal companions we share this planet with. Pronouns are mere artifacts of our language accidentally ‘invented’ together with the story of an ‘independent self’. One, which is free to decide what to do, where to go, whom to talk to. One, which has a free will to do so. The problem is that this idea is fully incompatible with the laws of nature and physics — and thus can safely be called an illusion.

Sorry to disappoint you, but you neither have free will — and as you will see — nor a separate independent self.

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Collapse: a Decadal Scenario

Collapse: a Decadal Scenario

The “Nineties”

Three generations after the collapse, most folks are illiterate and animistic.  They gaze in wonder at the vast ruins of dead and decaying cities:  “Who built these places?  How did they do it?  Where did they go?  We hear stories, but truly, they must be gods.”

Food and energy remain scarce in 2090, but with reduced threat of armed conflict, communities are finally able to settle peacefully in agricultural lands around the world.  With scavenged materials they build self-sufficient towns, villages, and hamlets near waterways and important crossroads.

Settlements are resource limited, and socially cautious, averaging 150 people – “Dunbar’s number”.  For survival requires reliable families, dependable friends, and trustworthy neighbors.  These bonds minimize conflict and allow consensus to guide group action.

With careful and intensive community management, healthy soils slowly return.  Cover crop, rotation, fallow, and herd grazing practices are strictly followed.  Old cultivars when found are highly prized, while new ones are developed and exchanged with other regional growers.


Forest and woodlot management is rigorously enforced and culturally defined and imprinted.  The “woods” are a valued resource, heavily guarded and protected to insure future energy supplies, provide construction material, and create habitat for remaining biodiversity.

Communities are proud of their forests and woodlots, land and soil, seeds and crops.  They are proud of their people who with determination and against all odds, survived the “dark passage” of war and brutal hardship.  And they are proud of their strong children who will replace them in the home, shop, and field.  And so they hold yearly spring rituals to encourage good growth, summer celebrations to bring good weather, and fall festivals to show thanks for a good harvest.

Farmers and craftsmen from these communities provide surplus grain and goods to hub cities – some with several thousand citizens – all dependent on the productivity of rural agriculture…

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The Techno-Fix Won’t Save Us

Editor’s Note: Unquestioned beliefs are the real authorities of any culture, and one of the central authorities in the dominant, globalizing culture is that technological progress is an unmitigated good. We call this “the lie of the techno-fix.”

The lie of the techno-fix is extremely convincing, with good reason. The propaganda promoting this idea is incessant and nearly subliminal, with billions of dollars pouring out of non-profit offices, New York PR firms, and Hollywood production companies annually to inculcate young people into the cult of technology. In policy, technology is rarely (if ever) subjected to any democratic controls; if it can be profitably made, it will be. And damn the consequences. There is money to be made.

Critics of technology and the techno-elite, such as Lewis Mumford, Rachel Carson, Langdon Winner, Derrick Jensen, and many others, have spoken out for decades on these issues. Technological “development,” they warn us, is perhaps better understood as technological “escalation,” since modern industrial technologies typically represent a war on the planet and the poor.

In this article, Helena Norberg-Hodge asks us to consider what values are important to us: progress, or well-being? Breakneck speed, or balance? She articulates a vision of technology as subordinate to ecology and non-human and human communities alike based on her experiences in the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh.


The most recent topic explored by the thinkers and activists who make up the Great Transition Network was “Technology and the Future”. As writer after writer posted their thoughts, it was heartening to see that almost all recognize that technology cannot provide real solutions to the many crises we face. I was also happy that Professor William Robinson, author of a number of books on the global economy, highlighted the clear connection between computer technologies and the further entrenchment of globalization today.

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Is the Future Predetermined?

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; it is easy to see why the government wanted Socrates. You said Monday would be the low then a bounce and that is what unfolds. You forecast so many markets and you get it to the day. Others claim this is the guy who called 2008 so buy his latest forecast resting on a single forecast. Your track record is far beyond anyone ever. How can you do this? Is the future predetermined?

HC

Many people have written in to ask the same question, for example: “I had begun settling on the position (with relative comfort) that while technicals provide insights into the market, its the market makers that manipulate conditions to the point of driving it in one direction or the other – unless of course, there’s a significant fundamental reason for the market to be guided by the invisible hand.
However, after experiencing Socrates and learning more about your approach, I find it challenging (mentally) to accept that there isn’t a pre-designed aspect guiding markets the way they roll.”

Others have asked: “Does Socrates foresee the birth and emergence of great teachers to come who have the capacity of overcoming the Deep State and bringing the world back into an economic balance?” Then there are questions such as: “Because Socrates was created by you, does it carry an inherent bias on economic theories about the world that it generates 1000 reports on a day for? Is it not impossible to truly be conscious and to accurately see the global economic landscape without having a fundamental empathy (being truly human to know what human nature is).”

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#222. The Forecast Project

#222. The Forecast Project

PREDICTING THE ECONOMY OF THE FUTURE

In the Western world, at least, there’s an almost palpable sense of public uncertainty, anxiety and discontent which might be attributed to a variety of causes.

Some ascribe it to specific issues, some to the over-reach and incompetence (or worse) of governments, and others to widening inequality between “the elites” and everyone else.

The view taken here is that the deteriorating public mood has a more straightforward explanation, which is that prior growth in economic prosperity has gone into reverse.

In fact, we don’t need to posit conspiracy theories, or look to ‘the machinations of the mighty’, to explain worsening hardship.

The simpler reality, hidden in plain sight, is that the prosperity of the average person is eroding and so, at the same time, is his or her sense of economic security. Efforts to use financial innovation at the macroeconomic level to stave off this trend have failed, driving people ever deeper into the coils of debt and other financial commitments.

In short, the average person is getting poorer, and feeling less secure. He or she doesn’t like it, and is baffled and suspicious over official assurances that it isn’t happening at all.

Projection – the land of hazard

Forecasting involves entering territory ‘where angels fear to tread’. But the publication of projections has now become imperative, made so (a) by the rapid worsening in the public mood, and (b) by the incomprehension that continues to inform policy decisions.

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Watching the End of the World

Watching the End of the World

The Anthropocene: Where On Earth Are We Going?

The Anthropocene: Where On Earth Are We Going?

Against Doomsday Scenarios: What Is to Be Done Now?

Against Doomsday Scenarios: What Is to Be Done Now?

Fist with windmill

John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. John Molyneux edits the Irish Marxist Review, is a member of People Before Profit, is coordinator of the Global Ecosocialist Network, and has written widely on Marxism and ecosocialism. Owen McCormack is a longstanding socialist activist. He is a bus driver who has also worked as a parliamentary researcher for People Before Profit, with a special focus on ecology.

This interview took place in early October and first appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Irish Marxist Review under the title “The Planetary Emergency: What Is to Be Done Now?” It has been adapted for publication here.

John Molyneux and Owen McCormack: Given the extreme summer weather and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, just how bad are things now? What do you believe the time scale is for catastrophe and what do you think that catastrophe will look like? Are things worse than the IPCC report claims? Some, including Michael Mann, have warned against “doomsday scenarios” that might deter people from acting. In your view, are doomsday scenarios the truth that needs to be told?

John Bellamy Foster: We should of course avoid promoting “doomsday scenarios” in the sense of offering a fatalistic worldview. In fact, the environmental movement in general and ecosocialism in particular are all about combating the current trend toward ecological destruction. As UN general secretary António Guterres recently declared with respect to climate change, it is now “code red for humanity.” This is not a doomsday forecast but a call to action.

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The Future According to Andrew Nikiforuk

The Future According to Andrew Nikiforuk

He gives the Southam Lecture at UVic Wednesday. It’s sold out in person but sign up for free to watch his talk live online.

Andrew Nikiforuk shares a lot of words in written form in The Tyee. But hearing him speak his brilliant mind in person is a rare event. You’ll have that opportunity on Wednesday, Nov. 17, when Nikiforuk gives the prestigious Harvey S. Southam lecture by invitation of the department of writing at the University of Victoria. If you can’t be in the room, the address will be livestreamed.

The title of his talk is “Energy Dead-Ends: Green Lies, Climate Change and Chaotic Transitions.” If you’ve been reading Nikiforuk over the years, you may recognize some of those themes. This presentation, he said in a phone conversation, will not only knit together research and forecasts in new ways, but explore fresh territory.

“I’ll be driving towards six general thoughts for young people, including withdrawing from the technosphere, defending the natural world and building refuges,” he said.

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Creating a Preferred Future

Creating a Preferred Future

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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