One aspect of our re-ignited American Civil War is getting a lot of air-play — the so-called “class war.” That's the tag-line ordered up by Roger Ailes: Any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates — when the U.S. was vibrantly entrepreneurial and generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history — is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping off heads in the French Revolution's "class war."
The stealing of Adam Smith's movement by fanatics and cynically manipulative oligarchs is not just a tragedy for market capitalism; it is tragic for civilization. His philosophy admires and promotes individualism and the stunning power of human competition, but also recognizes that competitive-creative markets — and democracy and science — only achieve their wondrous positive sum games when carefully regulated... the way soccer or football must be, lest the strongest just form one team, stomp every potential rival flat and then gouge out their eyes.
Brin loves a contrarian. And yet, those who have read his denunciations of romantic nostalgia — respectful denunciation when speaking of the honest romantic Tolkien, but disdainful when it comes to the cosmic ingrate, George Lucas — won't be surprised to learn that he has no patience for the romanticizers of feudalism. We owe absolutely nothing to those who hoarded secret "wisdom" (what we moderns call "useful information about the world") for thousands of years, leaving men and women to flounder and die in miserable ignorance, when they could have engineered flush toilets and sewers to battle the waves of plagues.
Those who feel only contempt for the Neoconservative Revolution are hurting their own cause by not studying how that revolution was achieved. After all, it's not the unctuous ideology or the charm of its snake-oil salesmen that convinces people to elect real-life versions of Frank Underwood or Bob Roberts. The neocons' relentless march from post-Watergate nadir to unprecedented dominion, aided by Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, ought to be studied carefully, especially by those who want to turn America away from amoral ruthlessness. Bottom line: people want promises.
The difficulty of maintaining a civilization of empowered citizenship — the "diamond-shaped social structure" — was well described by the famous historians Will and Ariel Durant, in The Lessons of History. First, that an open, citizen-based "diamond-like" system may have many of the advantages that Adam Smith wrote about, e.g., vigorous competitive-creativity and the rapid delivery of positive-sum outputs. But such enlightenment systems as markets and democracy and science, unless carefully tuned and maintained, are inherently unstable.
2006 was the year when the people took a leap of faith and voted closer to their own interests — and action that took experts, pundits, and 'conventional wisdom' by surprise. Knowing that electoral victory is meaningless if it's botched, or implemented without imagination or with a mean-spirited zealotry that plays into the hands of those who want perpetual "culture war," David Brin posted "You Broke It, So You Fix It: A Modest To-Do List for Congress," detailing how Congress could change the nation's way of governance.
Ideological polarization used to be secondary in American political life, pushed aside by a singular attitude of modernist pragmatism. This pragmatic attitude — essentially rooted in the Enlightenment — recognized several facts about history that are inconvenient to ideologues. What Locke emphasized — and his followers gradually implemented — were systems designed to take into account the devils within us, the ever-present temptations to oppress, cheat and exploit our neighbors, while creating new opportunities for the angels within to act and to grow.
Here David Brin offers some rebuttals to those denying the possibilty of human-caused climate change — with links to the full climate science. It's extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it out before your next crazy-uncle encounter. BONUS: Print too the latest report that details how denialism is beginning to harm the economy.
Across time nearly every human culture was dominated by narrow castes of men who ruled according to fiercely-protected delusional systems, crushing voices that might speak up with criticism, or alternatives, or inconvenient truths. Gradually, we developed enlightenment methods to reduce the severity of delusion, not by changing human nature but through the simple but daring method of competition. This is the magic of our five competitive "arenas": markets, democracy, science, courts and sports.
Across 4,000 years we’ve seen that whenever a small group of men become powerful enough to control an economy and command-allocate its resources, they will do so according to biased perceptions, in-group delusions and fatally limited knowledge. Whether they do the normal oligarchic thing — cheating for self-interest — or else sincerely try to "allocate for the good of all," they will generally do it badly. Time to stop using Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek to rationalize oligarchy.
The oligarchs who have hijacked the GOP have manufactured and spread so many narratives, from "birther" paranoia to climate denialism, from preaching "oligarchy is gooood for you" to utter lies about U.S. history. The worst and most damning example — the George Soros demonization campaign. Let's illustrate the mad-right's narrative machine, and how sadly incurious millions of our neighbors have become.
The worst aspect of this century's polarization has been the devolution of politics into clichés, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward scientists and every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. Isaac Asimov once commented: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
It's all-too-easy to forget that Karl Marx was brilliant in some areas. His work on the underlying process of capital formation was a huge leap forward... before he got sucked into the egomania of becoming a cult guru. Still, what his true believers (of all kinds, not just Marxists) cannot wave aside is a decisively mistaken explicit prediction, one that is absolutely fundamental to the entire Marxian edifice... and one that has proved diametrically wrong.
Why do so few politicians — especially incumbents — run ON their record? They run FROM it: Every election they vow to tackle problems they were elected 10, 20, even 30 years earlier to fix. What do they do between elections, when they are supposed to be exercising the power they've been given? Are there any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders normally brag about their past effectiveness? In this article, "The GOP won’t run ON their record — they run FROM it," Brin takes a look at the notably substance-free campaign rhetoric.
The one trait shared by anti-modernists of both left and right appears to be a disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things. In reviewing Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, Brin explores how politically-based interpretations explain much of this collapse of confidence. Alas, politics — despite centuries of hard refinement — is still far more ego-driven art than craft.
After every mass murder journalists, shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motivation, perhaps hoping that knowing what sparked that particular killing frenzy might prevent the next one. Yet, when we stop and look for common threads, a pattern emerges: these seem to be less about the killers' specific hatreds than a frenzied, bloody tantrum staged by a string of losers with one common goal: immediate, global fame. It's time to deny killers the notoriety they seek.
What the deep-right calls "culture war," Brin suggests, is actually Phase Three of the American Civil War: "... an educated person knows that Marxists at least have thought a lot more than the rest of us have about this whole 'class' thing that most of us blithely ignored, during the anomalously flat era from 1945 to 2000."
There are still millions of our neighbors who are sincere in seeing themselves as reasonable (if conservative) Americans — who have agreed to look the other way while their beliefs are redefinition into its opposite. From prudence to recklessness, from accountability to secrecy, from fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy, from consistency to hypocrisy, from civility to nastiness, from logic to unreason — no cherished principle has been left intact. And still they aert their eyes. In "The Ostrich Papers: How It Will Take ALL Decent Americans To Restore Decency To America" Brin proposes begin a dialogue with the ostriches. Perhaps you might want to start by studying how the GOP so successfully demonized Bill Clinton during his Presidency (the tactics and techniques haven't changed).
American neoconservatism and Islamic fundamentalism would — at first sight — appear to be polar opposites. Indeed, that appearance deliberately cultivated by both groups. After the folly of the Iraq War, Brin wrote a nuanced, abstract dissection, "Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War," describing the weird symbiosis between the various neoconservative movements. Now the façade that the two are ideological opposites has crumbled.
The widely-circulated nostrum called the "Tytler Calumny" is the great example of what has gone wrong with the mental processes of our friends on the right, who used to be represented in sage debate by great minds like Barry Goldwater and Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley... but who are now reduced to slinging around aphorisms and fact-free faux-assertions.
We don't yet live in a civilization that rewards openness and forgiveness, Brin reminds us, and in a warning to enthusiastic-yet-incautious neophytes and idealists, he advises a little "protective paranoia." Powerful people will see idealism as a threat to their interests, and some of the more unscrupulous may seek to neutralize that threat using one of the most basic ancient techniques — going back to biblical times — of entrapment and blackmail, which can systematically undermine even the most well-meaning person.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 300 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings. Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was appraised as "#1 influencer" in Onalytica's Top 100 report of Artificial Intelligence influencers, brands & publications. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
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