We landed on Mars but can we fix the madness of humanity?


Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, mad cow disease dominated the headlines in the UK. Its real name is BSE, but the human variant is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. For a while, it seemed quite scary. The narrative at the time was that you caught it through eating beef from infected cattle and died an excruciating death. But what was, and indeed is, truly scary is that the incubation period was thought to be decades in length. “We might not know how serious this is for another 20 years,” said the pessimists. The good news is that more than twenty years have passed, and the dreaded outcome has apparently been avoided. But I sometimes wonder if mad-cow disease has mutated — causing a new type of human disease. It’s not directly fatal, but in its own way, just as scary, I’ll call it mad human disease.


I am worried about conspiracy theories and the growing threat of fascism. Often, the ones who seemed most concerned about the erosion of our freedom cling to views that have so much in common with fascism in many ways.


What's fascism? What's people's fascism and what's the link with technology and revolution?

Let me lay my cards on the table. I don’t know Bill Gates personally, and I am uncomfortable with the number of billionaires out there, but I do think his heart is the right place.


Let me reveal a few more of my radical ideas — I think Covid-19 is real, lockdowns have helped reduce fatalities, and vaccines provide hope.


And while I am in radical mode, I quite like the ideology of George Soros, I think climate change is real, possibly a more significant long-term threat to humanity than is generally supposed, but providing we are not collectively stupid as a species, we can defeat it.


The trouble is, I think we are collectively stupid as a species or at least a bit lazy and self centred.


We live in the era of post-truth, an era when the phrase true-facts is not seen as a tautology, when experts are condemned as the enemy of humanity, and balanced journalism is seen as radical

Take as an example the view that Covid is a fake virus and a secret plot to control us. I don’t want to be rude, but really it is f*****g stupid. In fact, I think I will add a few more explores: *******, *******, and *******,.stupid.





I stare in bewilderment at some of the comments on social media — especially YouTube. Some ridiculous video with some nut-job stating an array of half-facts and creating half-baked theories, which are about as credible as the belief that the moon is made of cheese. And then I read the comments. I can imagine this sea of people nodding in agreement. Some appeal to the wider public to open their eyes; others say, “if only more people could practice critical thinking.”


Yes, they actually say that. They regurgitate the latest claptrap like it was gospel and smugly claim they have critical thinking skills, which explains why they can't see the truth for what it is.


Meanwhile, the Murdoch press busily denies climate change, and in the US promotes wild claims about electoral fraud and promote whatever lies people want to believe. The freedom-loving, libertarians who lap it up have probably never read Orwell, have no concept of doublespeak, and if you were to quote Winston Smith from 1984 saying: “Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4,” would not have an inkling of what this means.


The Texas deep freeze and the wind turbines lie

But then we live in the era of post-truth, an era when the phrase true-facts is not seen as a tautology, when experts are condemned as the enemy of humanity, and balanced journalism is seen as radical.


We can blame Covid — but it predates that. You can blame the echo chambers of social media, but such madness predates the internet, probably going back to the dawn of civilization.


I think the underlying problem today is fear of change. Fossil fuels are deadly — yet such a statement creates fury among the eyes-wide-open, 'critical thinkers' who would love to do their shopping at Luddites’r’us if only it wasn’t forced to close down thanks to internet shopping.


Echo chambers are only so potent because they echo back that which we want to hear. Confirmation bias exists because we have a susceptibility to specific sets of beliefs.

The true fact is that change is not new. However, the pace of change has been accelerating just as climate change is accelerating, and neither the planet nor humans can adapt quickly enough to avoid a catastrophe.

Major, seismic changes were once rare. The advent of electricity wrought great change, but it took the best part of a generation for it to gain high penetration. One could say ditto for the motor car. This meant we were given time to adapt. If motor cars existed in small numbers on the streets when you were a child, then their rise is not such a shock.


It is not like that now. From computers to the internet to smartphones, technologies that change how we look at the world seem to emerge every decade or so. The next generation of technologies: AI, augmented reality, robot assistants, gene editing, and brain-to-computer interfaces — each as radical as the TV or electricity were — will all move from unproven technology to mass adoption within the next decade or two.


We are not equipped to deal with such change.


Echo chambers are only so potent because they echo back that which we want to hear. Confirmation bias exists because we have a susceptibility to specific sets of beliefs.


The extraordinary change that will occur over the next decade or two will create a longing among many of us for times gone.


It won’t take much to reinforce that longing, with conspiracy theorists thinking secretive individuals with hidden agendas manipulate us. The true fact is that we select our own echo chambers, and we only believe the politicians who say the things we want to hear.


We have sent robots to Mars and developed vaccines for a virus at a pace that not so long ago would have been impossible. But unless we can solve the factors that make our species so self-destructive, it will be pointless— because we will be too busy destroying ourselves to notice.

Sure, we can be manipulated to feel even more strongly about our core beliefs than we did; we can be manipulated to become more convinced we are right — but something has to be there first. We can be manipulated to believe that people of another ethnicity represent a threat to us, but only if we are already predisposed to hold such a view.


The extraordinary technology change we will witness, and the potential job insecurity, sense of powerlessness, and frustration with growing inequality, which, by the laws of maths, will affect most of us negatively, will soften-us up.


Some will look for people to blame, whether they are ethnic minorities, immigrants, or people of different religious faith. We will turn on 'wokeism' because we will want to blame others for our plight, and removing from us the right to express such beliefs is against our freedom of speech!


Some of us will long for a return to the good old days when things were great— longing for a mythical past, a hallmark of fascism.


And in this way, we risk imploding.


Echo chambers, extremism, poor critical thinking skills, especially among those who celebrate their perceived ability to think critically, must be combated.


But unless we can reverse the underlying drivers that make us so susceptible, it will be in vain.


We have sent robots to Mars and developed vaccines for a virus at a pace that not so long ago would have been impossible. But unless we can solve the factors that make our species so self-destructive, it will be pointless— because we will be too busy destroying ourselves to notice.


And the doomsday clock is ticking. I reckon we have twenty years to find collective sanity, or mad human disease will deal us a terrible blow.


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