Is it true, as Churchill said, that the only thing democracy has going for it is that all the other systems that have been tried are so much worse?
Is it also true that “People aren’t smart enough for democracy to flourish,” as some recent studies suggest?
Is what’s left of democracy going to be one of the earlier casualties on the road to imminent destruction? Or is our great experiment already terminal, having some time ago transmuted into a formal, no longer functional democracy, as Noam Chomsky and others contend?
Here’s my (provisional) theory: Human nature is superbly attuned, via evolution, to promote human survival. Too bad we’re talking about survival in a prehistoric, natural environment that has little relevance to anything humans must deal with in the developed world, circa 21st Century. When it comes to living in this kind of world, all indicators suggest we are maladapted in most ways that count, and it shows – OMG, does it ever show! Based on what has gone down the past 30 years or so, it seems highly unlikely that this brief human experience is going to have a good outcome. It appears as if we’re bent on destroying ourselves, along with countless other life forms. We already have a good start on the extermination of other species.
Evolution at the mammalian level, where we’re classified, is glacially slow, orders of magnitude too slow to help us now. What’s urgently required is cultural adaptation that can compete with our ancient, outmoded biological tendencies. Is that possible? Perhaps, as the rapid evolution of nonsectarian, non-nationalistic science shows. Is it probable? Hell no, based on recent trends, i.e., what has taken place politically in this country in the past 30 years.
In a narrow, personal sense, it won’t make much difference to me: Being old (even if still healthy), I know I’m going to die, sooner rather than later; and I probably won’t be around to watch the worst case scenario play out. So I guess I should thank the impersonal, utterly indifferent, mindless forces™ for bestowing on me the privilege of having lived in the best of times, by far. Not that 1939 to the present has been a cakewalk for me or humanity – far from it. Only, to paraphrase Churchill, all the other times have been so much worse. Imagine yourself living in any century before the 20th.
Suggested epitaph for humanity: It could’ve been worse.
Look, humans never would have made it to this point if we hadn’t been equipped with a “survival instinct” / reality-distorition field that persisted in the face of suffering and hopelessness. As Harvard psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Gilbert ably and entertainingly explains, we have an irrational but no doubt adaptive psychological immune system that keeps us within a tolerable range of happiness and optimism across a wide range of circumstances. (The book is “Stumbling on Happiness” – it could become one of your favorites.)
The message is this: there is such a thing as human nature (natural tendencies, impulses, etc.), and it appars to be maladaptive in direct proportion to the advancements of science and technology. Another way of putting it: survival skills in this world are not encoded in our DNA but require knowledge, understanding, and disciplined cooperation that are sorely lacking and not likely to come online in time to save us from our primitive instincts. You know, like bigotry, tribalism, superstition, ideology and blind faith (reference: Fox News).
Everything besides rational, evidence-based cooperation.So I ask you, is there any reason for humanity to be hopeful? Any reason at all?
Conservative Christians think the answers are in the Bible. Yeah, we need more ancient myths, superstitions, prayers and exorcisms. That package of ancient nonsense will help us a lot. Unfortunately, that’s where humans are programmed to turn for answers and assurance. Too bad – nothing fails like faith.
Conservative politicians think the answers lie in the unregulated free market and all that entails. Just turn everything over to the plutocrats. Need I point out that’s an unsupported, faith-based ideology, no better than religion?
So I ask you, are we fucked?
I would be grateful to learn that I’m wrong. So have at it, I’m listening. But please, evidence and reason only – no religion, no political ideology. That stuff is tiresome and useless.