Progress Leads to Extinction

September 29th, 2016

Civilization has gotten itself into a fatal trajectory. Here’s the core logic:

1. Civilization generates progress: population growth, economic growth, technological growth.
2. These forms of growth change the environment in which we live.
3. In order to cope with a changing environment, society must adapt by changing itself.
4. The changes in our environment and our society are growing ever more complicated.
5. Progress is accelerating: the rate of change is increasing.
6. This requires society to change ever more rapidly.
7. Because of #4, it is growing increasingly difficult for people to understand the reasons for change.
8. Many such people feel that the changes in the society are nonsensical.
9. Those who don’t understand what’s going on lose confidence in those who are making the changes. 
10. They support politicians who either a) resist change or b) promise to upend the current political order.

We have seen manifestations of this in many countries. Here in the USA, we saw it with Sarah Palin in 2008. Educated people laughed at her idiocies, but she attracted a hard core of believers from item #10. After she lost, they re-organized themselves as the Tea Party, pushing hard for a program to resist the forces of change.They were somewhat successful. 

But the big leap came with Donald Trump. He captured the imagination of the portion of society that is baffled by and opposed to the rapid pace of change in our world. Instead of complicated responses to complicated social problems, he offers ridiculously simple (and hopelessly ineffective) solutions to our problems. Immigration? Just build a big wall. Global warming? Merely a hoax. Globalization? Just erect a bunch of tariffs to stop it. 

Anybody who knows the basics of our current political situation dismisses Mr. Trump’s ideas as idiocy. Yet he has not only captured the Republican nomination, he is doing fairly well in the polls. This maniac has a real shot at becoming President of the United States, a truly catastrophic outcome. 

Most observers remain optimistic that the American people will come to their senses and reject Mr. Trump. But that won’t be the end of it. The underlying historical forces that gave Mr. Trump the Republican nomination are only gaining in strength. Four years from now, the world will be changing even faster, and will be even more inscrutable than it is today. Even more people will be unable to comprehend what is going on, why changes are necessary, and what those changes must be. The ground swell of reaction against the social and political progress necessary to stay in step with technological, population, and economic progress will continue to grow, not just in this country, but in countries all over the world.

Perhaps the forces of reason will hold their own against the ignorant in 2020. Perhaps they’ll manage it in 2024. But there can be no question that more and more people will lose touch with a reality that is simply too complicated to comprehend. Such people will become ever more insistent that simplistic solutions be applied to our problems. 

Our Hitler is coming someday soon. I very much doubt that civilization will survive him.