Has Tech Destroyed Society? Here is a very interesting story about a bet made 25 years ago covered by Steven Levy. The antagonist - techno-optimist Kevin Kelly and “anarchocommunalist” Kirkpatrick Sale. The prediction – the society would collapse. The date – 2020. The judge – William Patrick, a book publisher whom both have worked with. He is to decide based on the three agreed upon criteria - an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.
25 years have passed and 2020 has arrived. Who won? The verdict turned out to be much less clear cut than expected. The wild ride of 2020 especially forced us to reexamine many of our viewpoints. Patrick declared Kelly the winner. But this is not really a vindication of the optimists. Of the three predictions, Patrick gave each side one and half points. The economy did not collapse; the environment was disastrous; the war between the poor and rich, a toss up. Kelly won because the rule needs all three to happen.
Let me inject my views. The society has not collapsed. Having lived through 2020 with wildfire raging around me and woke up to the apocalyptic orange sky day, it is justified to say it was catastrophic. But to qualify as civilization destroying climate change, there should be a significant pattern depart from the regular great flood or great earthquake that people have endured historically. The jury is still out for the long term environmental impact. Moreover, people have overlooked nature's resilience. There are many success stories of pollution getting cleaned up. Disturbed forests and wildlife, if left alone, are found to roar back in just decades. On the one side there are doom and gloom stories, and on the other side, hope and restoration. I am not convinced that the environment was irrecoverably ruined.
Is a class warfare being waged? Donald Trump’s far right movement has advanced much further than anyone would have imagined. What if he successfully overturned American’s election and declared himself president for life? This would be a nightmarish collapse of the democratic institution. However, is this a collapse of civilization as envisioned by Sale? Or is this just a different form of civilization, a fascist dictatorship? This is, for the adherents of the ideology, a preferred form of civilization.
A real collapse will be that people are afraid to get out of the house because bullets are flying. Food is hard to get, roads are blockaded, the power grid has fallen apart, the sick are left to die. As bad as things stand today, our civilization hasn’t decayed to this point. Praise the almighty god.
This is my big picture view. My faith in humanity has greatly shaken since the last few years. Yet I am not moving to the pessimist’s side still.