climate, extinction 

humanity will go mostly extinct (climate change, etc) in:


What is your outlook on the future of human civilisation?

(Piggybacking off @cwebber's thread / poll)

@dredmorbius @cwebber

I'm most for "undermine capitalism to diminish damage."

@alienghic There are multiple mechanisms for that. Some more constructive, some more destructive.

Capitalism tends to react violently toward both, as I see it.


What is the present state of civilisation and challenges facing it?

(Piggybacking off @cwebber's thread / poll.)

Intent here is to focus on the relationship and scope of problems, not the specific problem(s) themselves, if any. Though I suspect some may wish to discuss that in comments....

Boosts to both my polls in this thread welcomed.

Usual poll caveats 

Self-selected polls are all but useless in judging sentiment. At best they're a tool for getting some very rough idea of sentiment ranges.

Discussion of why given answers were chosen tends to be more substantial than the answers themselves.

I'm trying to be as objective as possible in framing Qs and responding to As. Typically I'll try to limit any indication of agreement/disagreement whilst a poll is active. I'll ask for reasons, whether I agree or disagree with PoVs.

That said, the two frameworks here are ones that I wish I'd thought to incorporate as polls / questionnaires earlier. I've found both useful for years.


Present state of civilisation and challenges facing it poll

Again, looking at responses, I'm surprised that there were no takers for #2: "There is one major problem".

I'd really be interested in what the rationales for #1 are, and what might constitute a major problem in the views of such respondants, as well as why any of a set of issues in heavy play in recent times don't qualify.

"Other" explanations are also appreciated.

The general trend to #4 & #5 (87% of responses) is pretty strong unanimity on an underlying complexity. Again, self-selected polling is not a good guide to general sentiments, though it speaks to this crowd.

(Maybe I need to diversify my contacts more?)


Answering "What is the present state of civilisation and challenges facing it?"

I'm very solidly in the "The predicaments we face are fundamental to and concern all aspects of life" camp.

As I just noted answering the other poll in this set: humanity's challenges are endogenous, self-created, self-imposed, and largely emergent from our present conditiona and intrinsic behaviours.

This makes addressing them rather a challenge as solutions tend to go against "human nature".

Which I suspect extends well beyond humans, to fundamental dynamics of complex adaptive systems.


@dredmorbius @cwebber
Other: some combinations of the community actions with lots of improvisations. No one answer.

@dredmorbius Most of humanity will be hit hard, with millions to billions of casualties; rich people – most in the global north – will be continue ignoring the problems, and succeed at least partially because of their wealth.

@jaranta Which problems do you see as being most significant / intractable?

@dredmorbius @cwebber
My "other" response: some combination of 5, 8. 10, and "I don't know".

@woozle Interesting. I'd long read you as more optimistic than that.

Unsatisfied with the present system, concerned, but ultimately hopeful.


@dredmorbius @cwebber

Well... "Together we will save ourselves" is in the mix, as is "Find / Rebuild communities / tribes on a scale that works".

I guess I just don't want to be complacent.

You'll note that "Hulk Smash System" was not in my mix :D

@dredmorbius @cwebber
Also -- the increasing degree to which some people are apparently willing to be led around nasally by someone who is so clearly and obviously not on their side is something I've found to be... kinda disturbing.

How much of humanity is even suffiently self-aware to grasp the necessity of introspection? Sometimes I wonder.

@woozle Excellent questions and points, though I'll leave my own discussion until after the poll closes.


@woozle Examples of the nasal-directors and/or directed?

Any insights as to why people might choose this?


@dredmorbius @cwebber

Examples of the nasal-directors and/or directed?

Directors: I was thinking of der Trumpsterfïhrer in particular, but take almost any GOP leader or right-wing TV personality (Shapiro, Carlson...)

Directed: people who agree with the above; participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection; self-identified "conservatives"; followers of fundamental religious sects; authoritarian followers.

Any insights as to why people might choose this?

My current theory is that it has to do with how the emotional need to escape fear (and seek comfort) conflicts with the use of higher reasoning.

It seems there's a range of ability when it comes to being able to reason in the face of fear. This is probably due to a mix of nature (wiring) and training (socialization, indoctrination) but I don't know the exact mix (research needed).

Some people are apparently emotionally triggered (amygdala hijack) by certain kinds of fears -- e.g. disorder, change, loss of authority/privilege -- to the point where their reactions to political ideas become primarily emotional, and they are much more willing to unskeptically believe someone who offers any kind of respite or escape from those fears.

Conversely, more factual information tends not to offer an escape, or at least not an escape that fits nicely into an emotionally-comforting narrative.

For example, it's much more comforting to believe

"poverty exists because some people are just lazy, and I'll be ok as long as I work hard"

than to believe

"poverty exists because the system requires and creates it in order to maintain the power of the powerful, and I could end up in poverty no matter how hard I work because of plain bad luck, and the way to be safe from poverty is going to require decades of coordinated action -- for which I will probably suffer, if I participate in it -- to effect systemic change."

In other words, the fair world fallacy is emotionally seductive, and some people are more seduceable than others -- some people are willing to listen to anyone who tells them they can be safe if they do X rather than experience the fear of understanding the reality that they are not safe.

In the event anyone wants an example of a case of "discussion trumps polling", see the above.

Woozle and I have gone back and forth on areas of agreement and disagreement for years. There's pretty much always food for thought even where we differ strongly.

@woozle @cwebber

@dredmorbius @woozle
So where do y'all disagree about those questions?

(But I see the difference between a poll and a discussion...)


@bhaugen Not a whole lot of daylight between us here, though I need to think and consider before replying.

@woozle @cwebber

Not necessary, I am not trying to manufacture an argument.
@woozle @cwebber

@bhaugen Manufacturing might be a stretch, but I could conceivably jury rig one from spare parts.

@woozle @cwebber

@dredmorbius @bhaugen @cwebber

Here at Hypertwin Manor, @Harena and I definitely prefer homebrew arguments over store-bought.

[insert joke which somehow analogizes starter yeast with sources of contention, don't ask me, I only work here, welcome to Argument Startbucks may I take your order]

@woozle On the nasally-directed:

I see times of uncertainty as points at which old frames and narratives are breaking and showing their holes. The problem is that even a bad world-model is useful in that it gives a way to rapidly discard excess information, cheaply (with little thought or regret), which when everything's going to hell, is useful, even if that information would have been useful.

There's also the obvious tribal-affiliation / affirmation element, including the idea that declaring a common allegiance to facts in opposition to observed evidence is a credible signal of group allegiance.

There's the us-vs-them mentality.

The left has its own forms of reality denial / following shibbolths, whether that's doctrinaire Marxism, some forms of minority ethnic identity, or neoliberal free-market fallacies. Their own tribes get sucked into these beliefs as well, though perhaps not quite so catastrophically as the extreme right seems to in most cases.

(Can anyone see how I manage to piss off everyone much of the time?)

Fears become operative, especially paranoia (again: information overload, no good models, black/white thinking & splitting).



@woozle The end-game seems to typically involve one or more of:

  • The in-group starts turning on itself (fears, jealousies, trust breakdown).
  • The out-group organises and attacks the in-group.
  • Actual true enemies or opponents recognise the fighting between factions and either join one side, attack both, or simply sieze effective control entirely. Divide-and-conquer.
  • Critical survival needs are neglected for too long and essentials of life / existence prove insufficient / disease & plague invade.
  • Some remote contender simply rises in significance and becomes a new centre of activity, development, progress, etc.



@dredmorbius @cwebber

[...] a way to rapidly discard excess information, cheaply (with little thought or regret), which when everything's going to hell, is useful [...]

"useful" in the broadest sense, I suppose -- like sanding down your tires for a smoother ride or removing your brake pedal so you become more unstoppable.

@woozle No, I mean genuinely useful.

In a situation in which an individual or group has too much infformation coming in, more than it can process, and enough that its decisionmaking cycle actively slows down or stops responding or processing, then what you must do is discard information.

And the best ways to do that are fast and cheap: they take little effort and leave no regrets.

Even bad methods can be useful *so long as they improve cycling times to the point that you arrive at justifiably-actionable decision points faster, so long as those decision points aren't themselves dead ends, e.g. you've boxed yourself into a corner.

A pursued fly or prey will often change directions at random. It's not informationally based behaviour, but it's useful in throwing off a pursuer.

There are many ritualistic actions which make no sense if they're considered as informed decisionmaking tools, but do if they're considered as unbiased ones --- that is, they produce an outcome without some inherent bias.

Mind that many of the group behaviours we're considering do have an obvious bias (and specifically counterfactual / reality-denying biases). That complicates the story, though broader explanations may fit.

The logic may be "just so" stories, though I suspect modeling and simulation could show where high-cost total-awareness information processing is inferior to cheap-discard / random selection methods. Note that in statistics, random sampling is exactly this technique, applied: discarding most information on an utterly random basis and exploring a small set of instances to form a general inference.


@dredmorbius @cwebber Not sure why all the above options look to a positive outcome.

@lydiaconwell NB: I've addressed this concern in my summary just posted.

@dredmorbius @cwebber I have feelings about 7. but they're filed under impractical, because I think taking it all down fast and hard enough to do any theoretical good would in practice have knock-on effects driving the problem right back up, while undermining ability to adapt more than ability to continue down the harmful paths.

@dredmorbius @cwebber
My outlook is that one day people will look back on our time as a memory of the good old days, then they will look back on it as a tale of hubris, then they will look back on it as the deep and mysterious past, then they will not look back on it at all.

I view myself as part of the grand project of mathematics, which has survived multiple civilization-level collapses. My main responsibility is to keep the flame alive. Unlike 'saving civilization', that is something I can do.

@mithrandir "Bearing witness" is among the possible responses I've had in mind.

It might not be possible to change the direction at all. But preserving some record ... maybe. Influencing that narrative seems at least a reasonable possibility.

(I'd hope for more. But that's a baseline, and is more or less my fallback to the "but what could you possibly do" refutation / rejection. Though truth to tell I let that one bother me less with time.)


@dredmorbius @cwebber well I suppose if someone is observant they could bear witness, sure. And if someone had their pulse on the narrative they could maybe influence it. I am neither, so I do math.

outlook on the future of human civilisation poll results

Looking at result and with my earlier disclaimer in mind (

  • Optimism seems to skew low amongst those answering. Though a bare majority of respondants (51%) seem to be generally hopeful. I suspect that's low relative to, say, a US or OECD population sample poll. (I'd really like to see that performed.)

  • I'm most surprised at the absolute lack of faith in #3 "hard-nosed elites". I thought there might be some technotopian / technocratic advocates among followers.

  • The lack of representation from religious points of view #2 was somewhat expected. I think there was one response, and I'd like to hear rationalisation.

  • There was a criticism that all the options seemed to suggest solutions. My view is that #9 "know & prepare yourself" can reasonably be interpreted ominously, and 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11 all give serious consideration to failure.

  • For anyone answering "other" who's not already commented (or wants to comment additionally), I like to hear views.

I'd also be interested in seeing rationale or arguments behind #1, #4, #5, #7 (both pro and con), especially. I think other arguments are more self-explanatory, though again discussion is of interest.

(I'll share my own views shortly.)


@dredmorbius @cwebber I guess I expressed my views in an answer to Chris. I am basically short-term pessimistic in that things will definitely get worse. But long-run I am optimistic. I think after a series of disasters there will be a "come to Jesus" moment when we take the problems seriously.I would not expect that to happen soon, though.

Answering "What is your outlook on the future of human civilisation?"

Speaking for myself, I tend to fall on the pessimistic side of the responses, with "Find / Rebuild communities / tribes on a scale that works" probably my strongest agreement, though 5 & 8, and occasionally 7 & 9, might be my mood on any given day.

The present track seems unsustainable. Scale is the principle problem (that has dimensions of both population and per-capita resource consumption, as well as complexity, resilience, antifragility, risk, equity, and more).

If the present can be contrasted with earlier times, it's that humanity's greatest risks are endogenous rather than exogenous. It's our own activities which present (or exacerbate) our greatest threats.


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