“What’s wrong with the world? What prevents us from living a utopia?”
The variety of answers would be as large as the number of people asked the question. Yet, I bet you could fit all those answers into one of two categories: either people are too stupid, or people are too evil. Look at any ideological, religious, or political discourse, and try to look for a reason that doesn’t fit either of those. In particularly cynical worldviews, the answer is both: people are too stupid and too evil.
Let’s look at a particular problem, climate change. Why can’t we combat climate change? Why is this still a problem?
One common reason given: people don’t understand it, or prefer to believe conspiracy theories. (People are too stupid, they don’t understand science). Solution: more education, more propaganda, more activism.
Another common answer is: fossil fuel companies made great efforts to discredit climatic science. Not only it is profitable for the companies to lie, but conspiracy theories about anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are also an industry in itself. (People are evil, they prioritize profit over the environment and future generations’ livelihoods). Solution: more activism, political in particular, since it’s necessary to overthrow evil people from power.
There exists a third answer, a variation of people are evil: people are indifferent. They see climate change as a problem that can’t be solved, so they ignore it as best as they can. Solution: motivate people to take action, make it a priority in every organization and sphere of life.
Many of the problems faced by our species fit one or more of these three categories perfectly. Religious fundamentalism? Ignorance. A racist lynching? Murdering someone for drawing a cartoon? Both good examples of evil, in my opinion at least. On the other hand, people not taking note of your pronouns or certain difficulties? Largely indifference.
However, when you look at climate change closely, it doesn’t seem like any of these reasons fit the bill. Are we too ignorant to solve climate change? No, most of the world takes the threat seriously. The only country (to my knowledge) where anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is such a political issue is the United States. Even there, it took Trump to mess up America’s compromise to fight climate change. Biden’s presidency will probably address it.
What I wrote above also refutes evil’s argument. If evil powers want to set back renewable energies, they’re failing pretty hard. Governments around the world subsidize solar and wind despite both technologies not exactly delivering on their promises.
People are not being indifferent either, obviously. World leaders would not oppose the fossil fuel industry without an electoral incentive. Consumers care about green energy and the environment, and will choose and support those causes if they can. We care. In fact, we might care too much.
I was enlightened by this image I randomly found on Twitter. Look at which quadrant is considered, not useless, but dangerous: dumb and energetic, “will make things happen, but the wrong things”.
It was like I was struck with a mace. I always knew it, yet it took this to help me crystalize the thought.
We already solved a very similar problem to climate change, the threat to the ozone layer. It required international cooperation and enforcement of specific regulations by national governments. We did it, and there was no fanfare, people simply forgot.
Climate change should have been the same. What’s different? Well, to replace fossil fuels at the rate we need, we have to use nuclear energy.
People oppose nuclear energy because…uhh. I don’t know really. Climate activists act as if they were terrified of climate change, but apparently, they fear nuclear centrals more. I understand the impact atomic bombs and Chernobyl had on humanity’s psyche, but it’s time to grow up. Nuclear energy is safe, clean, and can solve most of our energy needs (link).
We are not adopting nuclear energy because those most active in fighting climate change are not simply dumb, but dumb and energetic. If they stayed quiet when entrepreneurs and governments tried to invest in nuclear energy, we could have solved the problem by now. Countries would not need to ration electricity, our energy needs could be met, and climate change would be a topic of the past, a problem undergoing solution, like the recovery of the ozone layer.
As our society becomes increasingly complex, these kinds of problems will arise more and more. Everyone wants that high of feeling holier than thou, the feel of fighting for something higher than yourself. One sure way of getting it is activism in a morally charged problem. Climate change is not the only issue that we’re unable to solve because of this problem. Everyone can think of one.
One wonders what can possibly be done about this.
It’s not as if I stumbled into obscure knowledge here. We’ve known for a while that people with good intentions can cause problems: “Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works”, or so goes the aphorism.
I’m tempted to write that good intentions are not enough, but that’s not how I feel.
When I was in high school, our teachers used to tell us that young people were the most revolutionary, the most idealistic. They told us to hold to those values, and change the world. That we were the future.
I would look around as my classmates played with literal fire in the back of the room and thought: “These idiots are going to change the world? Am I missing something?”
I don’t think I was missing anything, and I’m tired of pretending good intentions are good enough. I’m tired of pretending that idealism is something good. It’s not.
If you have no idea what you’re doing, if you can’t engage reality like an adult, step down.
I’d say we can start by telling people to stay out of topics they have no idea about. We need to start identifying the dumb and energetic in our society, and start punishing them for being rash and impulsive on topics they have no business stating an opinion.
We need to start valuing intellectual humility and well-defended positions, over demagogic certainty and appeals to emotion. We need to start punishing knee-jerk reactions, and rewarding a modicum of self-control. We need to stop catastrophizing every single issue we face (individually and as a society), and start looking at our problems in relation to our past, and in relation to the problems faced by others.
More importantly, we need to stop forgiving people just because they intend to do good.
They’re just idiots that happen to be motivated.