Sunday, January 22, 2006

The optimistic pessimist

Hartmann – The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

“Whatever our worldview, we collect evidence that we’re right.” (P. 105)

I think that for the most part, this world is ruled by emotion, not by reason.  The more tunnelled and isolate a person is allowed to get, the easier it is to avoid things that challenge her worldview.  I think the big example of this is the internet.  There is so much information that a person only has time to look at the things that interest him.  Therefore, I can use the internet as my connection to the world and never really be challenged in what I believe, and if it does start to challenge me the only way I am going to see it through is if I am interested in it.      

Another example is TV.  Hartmann gives the stat that 27% of American adults are functionally illiterate but fewer than 1% don’t own TVs (p. 102).  He also states that TV leads to shorter and less functional attention spans.  What was I saying, I forgot.  Oh yeah, shorter attention spans.  Dr. Glasberg told the class about an article that he wrote for the Gauntlet about the corruption of the student body.  People don’t like all the readings in General studies because we don’t possess the attention span to reason and struggle through the arguments, and because we lack this it isn’t interesting to us.  

Hartmann says that this is a new phenomenon that is exclusive to our society (the last 7000 years) which he calls a young society.  He compares young societies with old societies that contrast ours in that they are sustainable.  I found his analysis to have a romantic outlook of life in past societies.  Becoming a hunter-gather won’t solve all a person’s problems.  There is still jealousy and envy.  Fast Runner is an excellent movie to illustrate this point.  He does have a point though that some of these societies have existed for tens of thousands of years.  

Another point that he brings up is a challenge to a common misconception about development, a misconception that is taught.  The misconception is that hunter-gatherers become pastoralists and pastoralists become farmers and farmers become merchants all because they see that it is a better way of life.  I think the truth is a lot closer to the fact that the way of life that is supplanted isn’t worse, but less dominant.  Hunter-gatherers are supplanted by farmers because farmers are more dominant.  Look at North America, the native population didn’t see farmers and adopt the way of life because they thought it was better.  They resisted, and it was a fight and might won.  That is the history of the world, the west isn’t powerful because we had the best way of life, we have the most powerful way of life, and it might kill us.  There is something to the saying that we will never be found by aliens because a civilization with that kind of technology would have destroyed itself.  It is much like the image of a modern corporation, the people on the top got there by cutting some throats.  

I am both an optimist and a pessimist.  I think I see a disgusting world the way it is, but I still think that good will win in the end.  It all gets back to freedom and Chekhov’s Bet. Evil ends up destroying itself.  Good is what is sustainable, it will last and people will be forced to see what is beautiful, instead of “exchanging beauty for ugliness.”  Hartmann ends on a similar note.  He says that we can change our story (the story that informs how we interact with the world).  The faith that the western world will change it’s story and that our story will not end with everyone dying is optimism.  

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