I've been writing lately, but I'm just keeping busy. I've lost much of my former interest in the Human Condition. It exists, it sucks, it can't be changed, there are no alternatives to it, so I've got to live within it. And that's all there is. I can't help thinking about this stuff today as I complete my 61st year on this planet.
I see stuff here and there, little islands of sanity in a sea of cluelessness, which don't give me hope but do reflect my own views. Not that I require outside validation—I don't. It's simply nice to see that not all human beings are utterly hopeless. It's nice not to feel so lonely. I'll mention two items today.
The first appeared in the New York Times (of all places!). It's a review of Thomas Piketty's new book Capital In The Twenty-First Century. Piketty, along with Emmanuel Saez of U.C. Berkeley, does important research in wealth & income inequality. Like me, Piketty believes that the existence of elites and pronounced social stratification are inevitable outcomes in human societies. He wouldn't put it that way, perhaps, but that's what he's saying.
His most startling news is that the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free market capitalism, is wrong.
Rather, the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time.
It is possible to slow, or even reverse, the trend, if political leaders like President Obama, who proposed that income inequality was the “defining challenge of our time,” really push.
“Political action can make this go in the other direction,” Professor Piketty told me. But he also adds that history does not offer much hope that political action will, in fact, turn the tide: “Universal suffrage and democratic institutions have not been enough to make the system react.”
This stuff is beautiful to read from someone who isn't me. I strongly recommend that you read the review, if you are interested, although I understand that >99.99% of humans are not interested, including many readers of DOTE.
The second item comes from an interview with former environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth. I wrote approvingly about him a few years ago, and he's progressing very nicely. Check this out. Remember, this is the U.K.
Q: We’re in a situation where lots of Somerset is under water, Cornwall coastlines are crumbling into the sea, the river Thames is swelling ... it’s been extraordinary in the coverage over the last week or two how rarely anybody’s mentioned climate change. Really, really extraordinary. If you’re in a situation where the impacts are so clear and nobody puts two and two together, is there still a role for you in terms of raising awareness and talking about it? Is the idea that we can get people to care about this a lost cause?
A: I think one of the reasons I moved on from green campaigning to the Dark Mountain kind of writing I do now, is I kind of gave up on raising awareness as a useful response. I think that there’s a false assumption within the green movement and within all political movements actually, that if you give people enough information, and you raise their awareness, that that will lead to action. I believed that for a long time, and I can remember in the early 1990s writing about climate change and campaigning on it, no-one else in the mainstream was talking about it, it was just a few greenies.
We all believed that if people knew about this on a big scale then obviously they would act, it’s just so obvious that they would act, isn’t it? Now they know about it on a wide scale. It’s been on the front pages of newspapers for the last 10 years. Everybody knows about climate change, all the information is out there, and nothing is happening.
And as you say, you can get into this astonishing situation where half the country’s flooding and hardly anyone talks about it. They don’t even ask the questions. No-one in the media even asks the questions. What does it take? I think there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding.
We assume people are being rational all the time and that if you give them facts they’ll act on the facts. That’s not really what happens. We all make assumptions based on our prejudices and intuitions and then we use the facts to back them up. Call me cynical but I think that’s the way that humans work. I think that’s the way that we all work.
If you start off on the assumption that if you raise enough awareness things will change, I think you’re in the wrong place. My conclusion personally is that the useful thing you can do is keep telling the truth, to keep being honest about what’s actually happening to provide information for people who want to act on it, but also just to hunker down really and get on with doing what useful work you can do at your local level without imagining that you can change the way that society is going, because I don’t think at the moment that you can.
Kingsnorth has figured out an important source of human confusion—we assume people are being rational all the time and that if you give them facts they’ll act on the facts.
Eventually, Kingsnorth will get past the point where he hedges his remarks ("call me cynical"). There's nothing cynical about it, Paul. You're absolutely right, that's how humans work. The journey out of Flatland is long and difficult. There are many pitfalls, garden paths, hidden traps. It's the most elaborate maze one can imagine [image left].
In the past, I've called this fallacy the imputation of rationality. But of course there is little rationality in human cognition generally, especially when some piece of Bad News runs afoul of instinctual behaviors (self-interest, groupiness/group identity, growth, etc.).
God love 'em, but scientists make that mistake all the time. Scientists discover some Bad News, usually about the environment, and then assume they can simply hand that information over to policymakers, who presumably will act rationally based on the new results. Wrong! Hardly ever happens! Humans don't work that way. They don't want to hear it!
The thing that makes it so hard to figure this out is that humans always sound so reasonable when really they're bullshitting like there's no tomorrow. But if you stop listening, and start paying attention to what humans do, not what they say—these are frequently at odds—you can figure out what's going on.
And even with Reason in short supply, there is even less Compassion, especially here in the United States.
Anyway, it's nice to see some points of view out there which are largely in accord with Reality. That is to say, which aren't delusional in some fundamental way. I'll let Leonard take it from here. Needless to say, I'm no longer waiting for the miracle to come