Archive for September 28th, 2010

September 28, 2010

The Folly of Ignorant Thinking

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Big Questions Online site, there is a post that is titled “The Power of Realistic Thinking” with a subtitle “How can we avoid the pitfalls of too much optimism and too much pessimism?”  That post strikes me as highly unrealistic (and hence ignorant).

The central idea of the post is to warn against what it calls utopian visions of the future, and against what it calls dystopian visions of the future.  Here is an example of what it considers a utopian vision:

The future in most popular scenarios  is progressive: we move forward, solve problems and make things better. In these utopian scenarios, humanity is increasingly perfected through technology, freed from the ordinary burdens of life, and able to focus on things wholly outside ourselves. Reason and the rule of law will ultimately prevail, because the fruits of rationality and order — including science and technology — are key to overcoming obstacles that stand between humankind and a more peaceful, prosperous, and free future.

And here is how it illustrates the idea of a dystopian vision:

In the dystopian vision of the future, various apocalypses threaten to destroy humanity. The future is a dark and threatening place in which the progress humankind made in more enlightened eras has led, tragically, to its potential destruction. The solutions to problems of an earlier time often turn out to create even worse difficulties.

Well, that sounds reasonable enough.  So let’s be realistic and avoid the extremes of optimism and the extremes of pessimism.

The problem is with what the author says next.  She writes:

Environmental dystopians, for example, believe the petroleum that created the modern world, and that dramatically improved the lives of billions, is leading to a planet-wide climatic disaster.

No, dummy, those are the realists.  They are not warning of a disastrous future.  They are advising about the kinds of steps that can be taken now so as to avoid a future disaster.

For a real example of dystopian thinking, look to the Armageddon nonsense being predicted by the religious crazies.  And what makes the Armageddon scenarios even worse is that the religious crazies actually believe that to be utopian, and some of the crazies might actually be in a position to try to carry it out with the misuse of nukes.