Unapologetically Hopeless

Truth only comes in one flavour: Bitter

People often ask me why can’t I be more hopeful. Why do I need to spread doom and gloom around the world. How does this actually help the “situation”.

It is the same criticism that is placed on all “collapsitarians”, climate scientists and environmental organisations who, for more than half a century now, have been trying in vain to sound the alarm about climate change and the ecological apocalypse. Only that they strangely find themselves in one of those bizarre nightmares where everything is black and white, the air is made of some type of odourless, colourless, sticky liquid, and figures have turned into barely distinguishable, hazy silhouettes. As one of the silhouettes begins to stalk them, they find themselves struggling to run in this invisible quicksand. And then they suddenly discover that the sound has been switched off. However loud they try to scream, they have no voice. However hard they try to hit the alarm bell, it seems to be made out of rubber. One hit and it turns into feathers. 

And in the meanwhile, all of us are in the same car driving off the cliff, yet those of us screaming “watch out!” are being asked “Why are you spreading panic?” This question often takes a personal attack tone: “Why can’t you be happy?” or “Isn’t this all a bit blown out of proportion?” The absurdity of it all can be summed up as follows: “Why can’t you browse social media like all of us normal people as the car wheels make the big jump into the abyss? Why can’t you pretend that, when the crash happens, you are surprised? You are devastated and shocked?. Why can’t you wait until the bitter end to be a doomer?”

It is this recurring nightmare that has led me to write two books about the origin of humanity’s serious cognitive distortions and biases, which are preventing us from recognising, processing, and responding to danger in a proportional manner. However you try to look at our malfunctioning mind, be it psychology, evolutionary biology, survival and our socioeconomic power dynamics, bias of all types has always been the limiting factor for humanity: whether it is bias about climate change, race, religion or social justice.

Luckily, in science, and in the courts, things are a bit more clear cut. Not only do you need a solid dataset that is reproducible and statistically significant in the first place, you also need to go through peer reviews, juries and other “systems” that we have developed over time to minimise bias and ensure that we are interpreting the evidence correctly. Being a scientist and researcher, my job has always been to search for the truth, and to interpret that truth in a way that does not distort it. Having worked in the data and research consultancy business for over 20 years, and with three scientific degrees, I know very well how tricky the line can be between actual fact and personal opinion, as well as how convoluted the journey from the initial data and evidence gathering to the actual verdict can be. This is true for whatever area we talk about where facts, evidence are crucial: from vaccine development to a court case. One needs to be extremely careful in how they interpret their data.

When it comes to climate change, the actual facts, the evidence, is enough to skip the court case altogether and go straight to jail. The problem is with the judicial system, and the jury, who suffer from a serious mental issue: the inability to distinguish between two very different things: fact, and opinion. So let’s pick this up from the top and let’s see who in the end is the actual pessimist here, the one who is “bringing everybody down”, literally. Down the cliff. Prepare to be surprised.

What is a fact?

A fact is something measurable and tangible, which cannot be challenged by anyone. Facts are never up for discussion, because they are things that have already happened in the past. They are not hypotheses, opinions, or interpretations. They are real events. This is why facts are the most compelling, actual evidence that is used in a court of law. Facts are what determine the outcome of a case and the specific verdict.

When we talk specifically about climate change and the ecological collapse, facts consist of things like CO2 concentration, average temperature, rainfall, extent of ice cover, extent of permafrost melt, % population decline. These have all been measured. They have all been assigned a number, a value, and they are being monitored over time. 

What is an opinion?

An opinion is when someone interprets a piece of evidence. In the case of climate change the evidence is so stark that it is equivalent to the defendant pleading guilty in court. This case was closed from the outset, but The System has kept it open. It is the same exact system that is refusing to convict racist policemen, CO2- emitting corporations, and kleptomaniac billionnaires. 

Who is the real pessimist?

So when it comes to Hope, I don’t have any. Hope is for those who want to delude themselves. Hope is for those who are deep down so scared, so terrified that their children may not get to live their full lifespan, that they have given up and instead consciously choose to delude themselves. I choose despair over hope. Because while hope means giving up, despair means sounding the alarm bell. Who is the real pessimist here? And isn’t it strange that all those being called “doomists” and “collapsitarians” are the ones that actually most passionately advocate real, structural change?

As an ordinary passenger in our doomed car, I refuse to go down the cliff without the dignity of being self-aware of my situation, as much as I know that the brakes are already broken. I prefer to stare the abyss in the eye and die with my eyes open, rather than looking down the LCD abyss of my phone, scrolling through the memes of The System. Unapologetically hopeless, defiantly desperate. A crystal clear mirror that reflects the truth, rather than a wall of denial.

to be continued…(or not)

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17 thoughts on “Unapologetically Hopeless

  1. I wonder how much of this ‘optimism’ bias is cultural, or it reflects some subtle difference in how our brains organized (with more popular optimistic version being MUCH more widespread), or combination of two (culture exploiting pre-existing brain disbalance).

    Why this might be important – because ..well, something must be done about ‘us’ 😦 I hope soft-mod (culture change) should be enough, even if hard-mod looks simpler (but we already live in dynamic world, so variable part will be of great use anyway ..and it avoids monetary and other costs of invoking spectre of eugenic ..)

    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/optimism-bias

    I think at some point I read in comments section of similar blog about how one activist said something along the lines ‘ I spend 10 years explaining this problem, and may be rise total awareness level from 0.1% to 0.5%’ – I have same sad feeling usual methods of (counter)propaganda works very slowly. As of today music, tea (coffee), internet (both as searchable something with biases, and videogame-related something, also with heavy biases towards re-talking same problematic ‘narrative points’, even in latest titles ..because they rely and wish for widespread adoption/mass buying, and thus try to hit same successfull nerves as games before … conservativeness built-in!) available for many, but thinking AND acting on some meaningful scale and depth still very uneasy …

    For example look at comment under this blogpot:
    https://www.futureconscience.com/are-we-ignoring-the-techno-mythologies-of-our-age/ – money and social trickery still rule the game ..:/ Some different kind of research and application must be done if we want to break free from our own past … Like how to _isolate_ ourselves from current mainstream culture, measuring/observing changes in ourselves accurately(looking for negative sideeffects for example), and very carefully trying to spread different views/ways of living as real practice, not just talks …

  2. Brilliant courage thank you. I spend my days wondering WHY some can take reality on board and most not.
    What will it take? Think I am beginning to accept that the bulk of humanity is indeed hard-wired for denial. Even now with Covid19 that’s where most go in their minds. The full truth is too hard for them to take on-board so other stories are created and followed. Hope to read more of your work. Helps me remember that I am not crazy.

  3. We have this permafrost melt and microbe carbon digestion process down. We know the carbon digestion process generates specific amounts of heat depending on end products. The science ain’t that Complicated

  4. Science is not complicated .. *if* you have time to think it (and usually a lot of work must happen behind the scenes, measuring, computing, thinking ..so, a lot of man-centuries of work!). Yes, it seems today you don’t need complicated measurements to SEE and FEEL change in climate. But then other factors emerge – like humans have hard time understanding difference between (social) authority, official authority, and science proper – because, not surprizingly scientists themselves used a lot of human social manipulation to get into their positions, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by just doing ‘what works’ without thinking ‘too much’ about bigger picture … so, from outside (of science) it really uneasy to tell when scientist talk as scientist, when – as politician, and when as simple human being (segregation of science into narrow niches hardly helping matters! You can be brilliant radioastronomer and still share a lot of misconceptions about social world with 99.9% of other humans who speak same language as you …!)

    There are things like Jevons paradox, and ultimately someone must act – and today’s elites apparently not about to give up their ways of doing things, even if pressure from below and from around actually can’t be denied ..
    https://www.wired.co.uk/article/corporate-greenwashing – they still prefer this over real change …. Humans who spend decades building their monetary mountains hardly likely to change their core dramatically … in sense, they are broken, too!

  5. Hi all, if the temperment, aka personality type, research is correct in its understanding of our inability to significantly change our individual self centered personal view of reality, then we are more likely than not collectively to remain fatally and suicidally optimistic. Myers Briggs and David Kiersley. If it is true that only 20 percent of us can think abstractly, that size minority of big thinkers is probably not enough to sway the 80 percent concrete thinkers that cannot fathom the fact that 13.8 billion years of stimulus response haphazard evolution was not all about we rapaciously clever apes exclusively exploiting the planet for our benefit blindly unconscious of the consequential outcome of our so called success. We are hell bent on turning as much biomass into human protoplasm as possible. And our tool making brains are helping us achieve that fantasy at an ever accelerating exponential rate. Doomed ? Love Rick

  6. marvellous article. Yes I am a radical pessimist. Optimism is mental illness. But Hope is not optimism. We can act out of despair, only out of hope. Who knows, there may be viruses, earthquakes,a meteorite that leaves a few sentient beings in livable conditions somewhere

  7. Thank You for the terrific insight.
    Finally feeling supported as I share your views whole heartedly.
    I lost the concept of Negative/Positive view and traded it for reality some time ago.
    I often share on FB about Capitalism and the mass of mind programing.
    The awareness to self cherishing I learned about and meditate upon through Budism has helped much. So often I speak in terms of self importance.
    It’s difficult for many people to become aware of anything as the mind is hijacked by self importance.
    See the Gov’t sells me on “Rights.
    The Military on “Freedoms”.
    Corporations on “Choice Comsumption”.
    Capitalism unites the three for self importance.
    However I was born free, of rights, of choice.
    Values belong to the individual and aren’t provided by a Govt or Miltitary.
    So what it is in fact is propaganda.
    I meditate often for a balanced mind and encourage others to have a better human experience.

  8. Once you understand the trajectory, the only thing left is where to put your energy and it has to be on structural change. Even then, if enough people act in conjunction, exactly which areas, can be impacted and can be redirected enough i.e could we apply brakes, could we move the steering wheel, change gears or could we influence the driver (and by enough). Definitely no point arguing which radio station we should be listening to like the rest. The areas I would submit for coordination with others on, for maximum impact are Renewable energy (mitigates up to 70% carbon budget), 1 trillion well-planted trees (our full carbon budget), regenerative agriculture (unknown at this point but huge) and efficiency, plus a circular economy to deal with waste from it’s conception. I was a complete ‘pessimist’ until I became aware of exponential curves and tipping points in 2008. All I can say now is we do have a chance. It’s a low %, but we do. And don’t throw out capitalism just yet as changing gears is still useful and the engine still has lots of power for rapid transformation. I sometimes joke “4-5 Elon Musks could do it” based on his joke with Obama ‘100 gigafactories should do it’ – one Musk on each of the above topics. His impact on RE has been phenomenal. Just as one example to illustrate: All the experts have been wrong about the speed that renewable energy has grown. They are still wrong as they do not factor in exponential curves, tipping points and leap frog technologies. It is and will be much faster. Also, one more huge thing: Remember AI could be even more of a threat than Climate Change, or be our saviour: When computers a million times more powerful than current are the size of your phone and even much smaller, will be here before 2050. Our brains cannot conceive of that much intelligent power or its viewpoint. That’s way before Climate Change kills us, at least in terms of many ‘machine generations’. Food for thought George?

    1. yeah, if only capitalists were able to say ‘FUCK money, FUCK wealth accumulation, bits for everyone, for free, no strings attached!” Because right now it really not even about capitalists vs. people, but Money (The Thing) vs. Everybody!

      https://stephaniemcmillan.org/a-little-story-about-you-the-capitalist-capitalism-cant-be-less-greedy-the-greed-is-baked-in/

      I looked into history of computers, as hobby. yes, computers will be more powerful, but how many real groundbreaking innovation field saw? Massively-parallel machines were researched since early 1990 (Pixar image computer, Connection Machine …from memory), 64+ bit wide registers, SIMD, SMP, caches – it all was known for 25 years. In 1988 NeXT Computer was desktop powerhouse with “3M” categorization – megapixel display, megaflop of floating point computations (1 million fp ops/s), I forget that third M was – megabyte of memory? Actually, machine had some 8-16 Mb. Today it sounds very small, yet software on this machine was already quite modern! Optimizing compilers, profilers, DSP and DMA, Ethernet. Today’s machines can do TeraFlops of computations, with 32+ Gb of ram even for simple desktop – yet they run same technology under the hood. Humans write programs, profiling compilers, debuggers and source version control systems helps them. Scale is bigger – but real innovation hard to come by!

  9. Forget Lovelock, McPherson etc. Just because it seems difficult don’t take on a hopeless mindset. Firstly, it’s a design problem. 1. People who care either give up ‘because they ‘used cloth bags and rode a bicycle for five years’ or whatever, but everything got worse. 2. Or it’s all too complicated and they don’t know what they can do. 3. Or the baddies are too powerful, the system (capitalism) doesn’t work or support change etc. So a) Personal change does very little (we tried that) b) It’s actually not that complicated if you prioritise as I showed above – meaning you can educate people on solutions (v. important as this is a major reason people are despondent – see 2.) And c) Don’t blame the system – look back in history and see that other systems also failed because human nature is what it is (greedy, hierarchical, favours psychopathic leaders etc… but is also largely cooperative) – right Andrew? (Also Andrew being asleep to AI is exactly the same as being asleep to climate change i.e. boiled frog mentality, so read further than 1 article.)
    If you educate people and sell a clear vision vision of solutions instead of moaning about the problems you have a vastly improved chance of escaping what you thought was certain death. Ask James Bond.
    Jokes aside, lastly it’s a design problem, meaning not that big. Climate change is just excess greenhouse gases, mainly carbon. That’s all. Frankly, the plastic problem as more difficult. Design thinkers who map out, de-scary-fy and condense seemingly complex problems, and who design and share multifaceted solutions that maximise outcomes and minimise further problem-reaction-solution outcomes, are the people we need right now. Also be very clear on exactly who is opposing change and why. It is design factor. For example, the current crop of redneck numbskull leaders is exactly a reaction to smug, self-righteous lefty PC-ness – so ‘I-told-you-so’ is not a solution. BTW if you don’t know what I mean by designer, don’t just think of Elon Musk; Bill Mollinson was also a brilliant designer; as is Gunter Pauli. Bless the intelligent designers and innovators. They are our chance of survival, at least as a civilisation. The rest, including the hopeless, will just be along for the ride.

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