This post is in response to one by Joe Brewer on Medium: Quite a few people did see it coming. I was one of them – on the subject of why ecosystems reach a critical threshold in terms of thermodynamics and particularly entropy. However my response is dealing with the historical, psychological and sociological aspects of answering the question why they didn’t see what others could.
Article response follows:
The reason why so many “didn’t see it coming” in history prior to the industrial revolution, was partially because the world was so large, and the population so relatively small, along with limited knowledge of the size and scope of the world’s resources (not to mention a great many falsely held beliefs about the supernatural origin of these resources, rather than understanding the renewal and replenishment processes of the planet, it’s biochemistry, ecosystems and species etc.) … which led to of course the failure to even consider such a thing.
Furthermore: the power held by religion and the crown in feudal society was no incentive to question the status quo, as the thought of being imprisoned, tortured, enslaved, or executed (including being burned at the stake), were not helping the advancement of understanding & knowledge, particularly where publicly funded education did not exist. You were either ruler, or ruled.
HOWEVER I did actually encounter in my research one example of a guy from either the 1670s or 1760s (I can’t remember which it was, but it was impressively early), who in very general terms predicted where we are now … so it was not entirely impossible to predict even back then, by extrapolation of population growth, resource consumption, and the gaining of efficient methods of harvesting resources. Perhaps this man saw the simple fact of deforestation being an indicator of human influence over time … whatever it was, he was several centuries ahead of the others.
Following from him, with the advancement of the population, the acceleration of technology, the influence of this technology, and the resulting distractions and complexity this introduced to society, which was so vastly different to anything that had happened before in the history of our species … and which has still not stopped accelerating … along with the changing tides of socioeconomic and political power held by various factions … all of which has resulted in a situation, perhaps many people were simply too distracted to think about, too overjoyed at the benefits, and too overconfident to consider any negative ramifications.
Nonetheless, a limited number of people did see the writing on the wall, and which number grew and grew … but the vested interests of resource exploitation simply bought everyone else’s compliance and loyalty (which was easily bought), and the visionaries were once again ignored or silenced … meanwhile the sophistication of propaganda and brainwashing grew, now aided by technology and science.
… AND ALL THE WHILE:
- the global population grew;
- technology advanced;
- resource consumption accelerated;
- no one at the top cared about waste;
- the planet kept paying the price for everything we did …
… and eventually we hit a point where we were destroying things faster than they could be replenished.
Taking a few steps back however, there were generally still so many reserves and so much stock of these resources on the planet as we continued to expand, that we hadn’t yet passed peak production … so of course, while people may have seen what was going on, that things were diminishing, it never occurred to many of them that they could run out of resources globally (even though this should have now been a no brainer for anyone, even the very stupid) … they simply assumed they would always find another source, no matter how much they used or destroyed.
This attitude of course is what led to all the colonialism that was going on … need more resources? Go steal someone else’s.
… and then of course the very early days of the technological revolution hit, with early electronics (valve tech.), eventually replaced by circuits of more advanced chips etc. … and we got all these human activities leading to peak production of things such as oil.
One of the only saving graces of humanity has been our love of the beauty of nature … and while the more selfish amongst us simply planned to hold a pocket of land for themselves, protect it with guns, but happily destroy anything else; Poets like William Wordsworth and others argued the case for the preservation of nature, which eventually manifested in the National Parks of the USA, which was repeated later in other countries such as Australia … and a handful of much wiser nations were simply not destroying their wildlife in the first place.
More people noticed the difference between what was & what could be, and it eventually became a social movement … people like Jacque Fresco and others before him were the forerunners of these modern day movements, arguing for change in the days before (or just as) you and I were being born … but as much as they wanted change, they didn’t really know how to achieve this exactly, so they did what they could and argued convincingly on principle … but without definitive plans they still required more help and thus resources in order figure it out … and this required greater consensus.
However any strategy relying on consensus contains a risk of failure resulting from that requirement, and the greater the required consensus, the higher the risk of failure … simply because it’s so hard to get human beings to agree on anything, especially when so many are brainwashed, poorly educated, desperate, resource starved, or ideologically fascists.
So now that our generations are here, we have the advantage of all the work (including mistakes) of past generations, we can see what they could not … we are standing on the shoulders of giants …
BUT it is still true that with greater vantage, it is not a simple matter of height … you want to be able to view from multiple heights and angles simultaneously, from all distances, and in all directions … AND … to know when a particular vantage point presents what is actually (or metaphorically) an optical illusion … ie: asking the question of whether the interpretation of what your predecessors discovered, was in any way incorrect? Because even the slightest of changes, such as the subtle difference in meaning between two words like mutagen and carcinogen, can justify a radically incorrect interpretation of facts, and I’ve seen this exact thing happening in multiple instances at otherwise reputable universities.
Now we have the situation where people who are otherwise smart, but not very wise, highly brainwashed, and corrupted by vested interests are looking straight down the barrel of all the information you could ever hope for … and yet still getting things wrong to some degree or another. We all do this, some more than others, but the trick is how to identify when it’s happening, especially if you’re locked in to a way of thinking that never really sees outside itself.
So the situation today stands on a threshold where:
- Despite every bit of evidence pointing towards it INCLUDING things visible with the naked eye so to speak, many people still neither understand nor believe what the science is telling us about the rate of destruction;
- Even amongst those who do understand, there are many misconceptions;
- All of which is driven by an economic system which is so fundamentally flawed, it rewards this destruction and requires imperfect (and easily corruptible) external regulation, in order to put any brakes on the destruction it causes;
- The wrong people hold all the power and resources of the status quo, and they refuse to give it up without a fight, even if this means their own destruction along with their entire network of family, friends & colleagues;
- The right people sometimes lack the education they require, and almost universally lack the resources they require …
- and almost everyone (regardless of which side they’re on) is motivated by the existing system to do the wrong things.
This situation is so calamitous, it’s a lot easier for people to listen to the story that makes them feel most comfortable, than to invest the time and effort, and to endure the sacrifice and suffering which would actually bring them to an understanding which doesn’t require them to rely on someone else as a reliable source of information and interpretation.
I feel like Neo in The Matrix sometimes … seeing the world for what it is, including those aspects of the code that represent sentient beings … I can see the vast scale and scope of the issues we face. But I do not fear it … It terrifies me, yet it does not … I am fascinated by it, and I can’t stop looking. Hence, after looking for quite some time now, I see the patterns in it, the patterns that to others are chaotic and random, and thus I see the pathways through it, along with the variable event probabilities of each pathway.
I’m not however sure if we will succeed … I only know which pathway holds the greatest probability of success under all circumstances, and how the decision making framework operates along that pathway … My predictions of what precisely will happen are little more than educated guesses … BUT WHAT I CAN TELL YOU, is that the alternatives all suck for one reason or another, because of the manner in which the influence the probability of certain classes of events and consequences; so that eventually, over some scale of time, space, and frequency, failure always occurs down those other pathways, whereas the one I’ve selected can potentially deal with any contingency, and thus there’s always at every turn a chance of success no matter the challenge, if you choose wisely.