20 May 2013: Read this frightening future history … if you dare!

Here is a stunning “virtual” yet highly likely history of the near future. As many intelligent people are aware, other folks down the road increasingly believe nonsense and refuse to believe scientific fact such as global warming’s high probability: the authors of this study blame neo-liberalism and its idiot, quasi-religious faith in markets.

While using the trappings of rationality, neo-liberalism’s “fundamentalist” denial of the utility of any government intervention is supported by increasingly ignorant individuals in a neat reversal of enlightenment, where “logic” means “believe me or else”.

Read the PDF and then my comments since my comments contain “spoilers”.

In this virtual history Western civilization collapses along with the seacoasts of Europe and the Americas: England becomes a rump state dominated by Scotland, probably a bit of luck: Canada and the USA merge so US citizens can escape killer heat. If I am still alive at this time (2030? 2020? 2015?) my lack of mobility and cancer will cause me, I hope, to simply sit still and pray, not only Catholic prayers but also Lakota death-songs: songs of gratitude. But if I can rescue my grand-daughters I should probably try.

At the worst of it The Second Black Death, with mortality levels of 50% plus, matching those of the Black Death of the 1340s, lays waste to Europe. Governance, scientific data-gathering, local authority, all collapse in a way that could only please dirtbags such as neo-liberals and “anarchists”. Dazed mothers carry babies dead for several weeks through howling storms…

China survives because it isn’t committed to neo-liberalism and (perhaps for the same reason I have not been allowed to die and rot of prostate cancer and its side effects in my apartment) Chinese authorities are able to vacate China’s coasts in a humane fashion.

This virtual history is quite factual up to 2012 and its drafting. It reports things not found in the media in the USA, whether liberal (MSNBC?) or conservative (Fox). Was 2012 in the USA the year without a winter as 1815 in Europe was the year without a summer? I do remember a series of balmy winters in the 1990s whereas back in the 1950s one could count on snowy winters, uncertain springs, hot summers and glorious “Indian summers” in each of the respective seasons. Today nobody knows what to expect.

These authors also wrote “Merchants of Doubt”, how the tobacco firms retained public relations firms and Mad Men to assert “doubt” about the health effects of smoking. Had they not been permitted to do this, my Mom, so easily frightened yet so paradoxically daring in her smoking, would probably have quit, there being NO voice whispering that maybe she’d get away with smoking; she did not, she died at the relatively young age of 72, whereas most well-to-do American and international women die in their eighties, their nineties, past 100: Mme Chiang Kai Shek died in 2003 at the age of 105.

“Truth is an absolute defense”: on behalf of our tobacco lords, the Mad Men spoke demonstrable truth. Many people do smoke and live until their nineties. The Mad Men never dared to contradict the testimony of data sets, such as the British data set that showed a spike in a disease previously rare in British WWI vets, the first British soldiers to smoke heavily: lung cancer. They simply said, with respect to the assertion “the association you show us is doubtful: perhaps the cancers were caused by another delayed reaction, to the conditions of the Front in the war, or those of the General Strike and depression”. This is to say of x, doubt(x), and this is always “analytically” true: true by virtue of its form and knowably never false when x is any meaningful scientific assertion.

It takes only a reading of Hume to understand this: but as the chair of my undergraduate philosophy department, E. D. Klemke, told me in the 1990s, increasingly students were being directed by “pastors” and homeschoolers to avoid philosophy and demand classes in comparative religion to satisfy accreditation requirements. Hume is considered perniciously skeptical whereas the taxonomy he introduced of statements is a form of knowledge and a highly useful tool.

Hume’s taxonomy should be identified here precisely because it will be unfamiliar to many educated people: analytic a priori, synthetic a priori (an empty class to Hume), analytic a posteriori (JS Mill’s mathematics, to some, although Mills may have not agreed) and synthetic a posteriori (scientific claims outside math).

Because “synthetic a posteriori” assertions such as “smoking causes lung cancer” and “mankind’s economic activity is producing greenhouse gas in the troposphere such that the planet is absorbing and retaining more of the sun’s energy, leading to runaway global warming, and, possibly, the ‘Sagan effect’ which would transform our climate to that of the unlivable climate of Venus in as short as a year or less” can be doubted as in “I rather doubt that smoking causes lung cancer” or “I doubt global warming” which statements are analytic apriori and as such true by virtue of their form.

Lawyers are trained to spot such assertions which must be admissible because true. The law bows to such assertions if made in a court of law by a lawyer in a nice suit, and while the PR men, the Mad Men, may not have majored in philosophy, they knew from the streets that doubt works.

The PDF is a hell of a read, especially if you like science fiction and virtual history. The original 1960s concerns about the environment and overpopulation inspired a spate of scary novels including Phillip “Generation of Vipers” Wylie’s “The End of the Dream”. These books caused many frightened people to get active in environmental causes over the last fifty years which may have delayed our doom.

The common mind delights in fictions like these. I used to, wasting hours at the library reading virtual future histories of nuclear war and environmental crash but never becoming active as a result. Whereas a 1983 TV program about a nuclear war inspired Dad to join Physicians for Social Responsibility. Its far more graphic and frightening BBC counterpart was Threads, available on You Tube for the very, very brave and strong of stomach; please don’t watch it if you’re not.

But we refused to listen to VP Al Gore and his far more factual warning in 2000, preferring several years of dirtbag pseudo-prosperity.

Learn logic, math and rhetoric to avoid being manipulated. Demand that your child’s high school incorporate the International Baccalaureate’s tutelage in critical thinking in which logic and rhetorical studies are used to expose false claims such as are made by global warming denialists; Texas recently forbad such material in its schools which is probably a recommendation.

Only French high schools world-wide teach philosophy, with its strong demand for critical thinking, and when “critical thinking” is taught in American universities, it is taught too often in the outdated Modernist register where the student is assumed to be in need of tutelage in doubt. This is true, but having destroyed foundations, the class (in logic or philosophy) should demonstrate new paths to knowledge.

Students must be required to at a minimum be able to read, check and understand proofs in logic and geometry, but ideally, she’d construct such proofs. Along with the usual crop of true believers who believe positive nonsense based on faith, or an overdose of comic books (“graphic novels”, indeed) and counterfactual TV, we have only slightly less devolved individuals who regard themselves as “skeptics” because they literally don’t understand the mathematics of exponential or “hockey stick” curves. These people have never constructed a proof and as a result they are “skeptical” children, lost in the wood.

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