From the Mailbox – Hard Not to Be Pessimistic

Posted by on July 2, 2011 in From The Mailbox, Thoughts | 2 comments

Recently I recceived this correspondence in my mailbox from my Twitter friend @mysickbones. It was in relation to my post “I WON A TICKET!” where I asked people if they had any questions for the speakers at Think Inc, but I thought I’d try and tackle this one myself, since it’s a topic I often find myself faced with:

I’d be fascinated to know if (all / some / none of) the contributors at Think Inc believe that their repeated calls for change (to stave off the numerous looming disasters facing the Human Race in the coming Century), will actually bring about change or will Humanity procrastinate and continue to deny these realities until such time as they begin to have catastrophic and undeniable effects?

I’m especially interested in how they think the developed Western, and rapidly emerging, BRIC economies, will react. The poor after all have little choice; for them it’s a brutal case of adapt or die and they have a far smaller stake in maintaining the status quo anyway. What will the rich countries do? How will they be persuaded of the impossibility of perpetual economic growth and the dire need for them to rain in their increasingly unsustainable lifestyles?

I’m pessimistic, I’m afraid, and becoming more and more convinced, by the day, that it’s going to take mega deaths before the reality of resource scarcity sinks into the collective consciousness.

Firstly @mysickbones, thanks for your question. Your question is a difficult one, and possibly the most difficult question of our times. The threats of overpopulation, climate change and access to food an water really are the challenge of the century and things we must either prevent from getting much worse, or face the very real consequences. But at the same time, we are in an age, even the only age, where we actually do have the power to do something about these problems.

One example of how change can be affected reasonably quickly is by the pressure that can be asserted by social media. Social media has no boundaries, except access to a computer, and given its popularity, it is a very powerful tool for gathering people and putting pressures on companies and governments. I recently attended a talk at the Australian Skeptics where Jason Brown outlined, very briefly, how social media can affect changes in the real world by sheer numbers and its ability to connect like-minded people. Jason used the numerous examples of ways that a combination of Twitter and FaceBook have made governments stop what they’re doing and listen to the people, even in some cases changing policies and actions.

A great example of this was the backlash at the Australian government over the ABC’s Four Corners story on Monday 23 May about live cattle exports to Indonesia from Australian soil. In the story the cattle were being ritually brutalised in the name of Islam, for the sake of halal slaughter. Most people did not know this was how cattle were slaughtered in the name of Islam, and most who saw it would agree it was a very disturbing thing indeed. This had never been aired before, but on the Monday night it was shown, waves of disgust and horror shot through the Twittersphere and FaceBook alike. The reaction was so strong that the website Ban Live Exports was knocked off the Internet for several hours. Within 24 hours the government had received over 60,000 names on an Internet based petition, demanding that the Australian government take action, and cease this live export. 6 weeks later and the ban on live cattle exports seems likely to spread to a ban on live export of sheep to the Middle-East.

I only use this as an example of where we are in history, and what our options are. Talks like Think Inc are great for those who are already thinking of solutions for the problems of the world, and also a great way to spread ideas to those who may be living in apathy of the situation. But the connectedness of the Internet is the real tool of the people, one that CAN bring single and small voices together to become on large voice. This gives me some hope that we can make some changes in the future.

I wrote earlier that “Social media has no boundaries, except access to a computer,” and this is true, however I do realise that not everyone has access to computers or the Internet. This is not really a problem, because the changes in third world countries are more difficult to fix from within than they are from without. Many of the problems we see in third world countries can are either inadvertently being cause by the first world, or can be pressured into change from the first world. Overpopulation is not caused by the first world, but it is encouraged by the Catholic church by means of discouraging the use of contraception. Studies have shown that education, especially education of girls and women, causes  communities to not only stop breeding incessantly, but to educate themselves with better farming practices, better literacy and numeracy, better hygiene and better social practices.

So rather than yelling into the void, when organised, the Internet is a tool to affect these kinds of changes in the world.

Food, water and overpopulation in third world countries is something that will affect the people living there more than it will those in the first world. I do agree there will be a lot of people dying over the coming century or so, and there will also be a lot of political unrest as people struggle to strike a balance between what they want and what they need. It’s not going to be an easy road, but it’s one we must travel.

Mahtma Gandhi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” While this may be a quote bandied about like a bad teeshirt, it still stands as wise words. I try to live this every day, and until the advent of Twitter I really felt that I was alone in this sentiment. We, in the first world are the only ones who can affect change in the world’s situation, but we are not the ones to really gain from these changes in the short term. In the long term however we will all benefit.

Added to this, the rise of the atheist’s voice, a voice unfettered by the ties of religion and dogma, is being heard by all. The top-note atheists such as The 4 Horsemen have now entered into popular culture, and are being seen as voices of the changes we need to see in the world. So we mustn’t stop, because the voice is getting stronger. This has the religious up in arms because they see in front of them their weakening powers at the hands of reason and rationality. It’s not atheism alone that is the cause of this rising voice either, rather it’s the voice of a world that is asking the hard quesions, and rather than throwing up our hands in defeat, this voice is coming up with some solutions, or ideas that could lead to solutions.

This may seem to be an overly optimistic view of humanty’s future, but it can be achieved. The more we speak with reason and rationality about the future, without the blinkers of religious dogma and cultural fear, the more likelihood we have to move forward, to exist, co-exist, and survive.

I hope this sufficiently answers the question. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Don’t forget that you can ask me anything, give me feedback or suggest blog topics for me to pursue by going to this page.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)


  1. Marty, it’s blog posts like this that allow seeing a brighter, bigger picture than the one often presented in most media outlets, then again, good news, whether optimistic or realistic (and this post seems a mix of both), rarely gets ratings. entries like this one give me just a little more tentative hope for the future of us jumped-up plains apes.

    Thanks. I hereby declare this post retweetable.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  2. Well my optimistic friend it’s time for a little rain to fall as the pessimist is rereleased to do his worst. Now make no mistake I would LIKE everything you wrote to be correct but unfortunately I still have a few questions:
    1. “Change can be affected reasonably quickly is by the pressure that can be asserted by social media”. I’m afraid me thinks you maybe being a trifle over optimistic here. Certainly there are particular issues one can point too to demonstrate how effective social media can be in certain situations. But there are two problems here. First, it is equally easy to point to unresolved issues where the effectiveness of social media is as close to zero as to be indistinguishable from it. Human Rights reform in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia are examples that immediately spring to mind. I may be forced, at some indeterminable point in the future, to eat these words if change does erupt and this change can trace its origins back to social media. But for the present the signs aren’t encouraging. The Great Firewall means that effectively China is able to choose who it lets play in it’s digital garden and as the rewards of playing there are so enormous the players tend to be very well behaved and obey the owners rules. Should one refuse, as Google did, the effects of this refusal are hardly earth shattering. Secondly and closely linked to the first point is that the power to effect change is inversely proportional to the importance the Government places in the area in which such change is sort. What does this mean? Well, let’s take the Halal Slaughter Issue you cited. Why did social pressure that was excreted through social media bring about rapid change? Quick answer – the Government didn’t give a shit one way or another and so were quick to bend in the direction of perceived prevailing wind of public feeling. It was a cheap win for the power of Democracy because those in power held no strong views about the issue and saw benefits accruing to them if they played along. If the supply of cattle to the Halal market had constituted a significant proportion of Australian agricultural exports you can be sure there’d have been no change. The cost off alienating the effected community would vastly outweigh the benefits gained by acquiescing to the lobbing community. Most politicians, on this particular issue, were, probably, also personally sympathetic toward the issue given modern “Western” attitudes toward animal cruelty. Have you, as yet, observed any truly significant changes to climate change policy that have been brought about primarily by the use of social media?
    2. “Social media has no boundaries” I’d again reference the three examples cited above but in addition to this call your attention to the increased calls, even ion the West, to place limits on peoples use of and access to the Net. There are proposals currently being debated within the European Union to put in place restrictions, the reasons given being protection of copyright and controlling hardcore porn especially kiddie porn. In Australia there has been a similar debate which I believe continues as I write. So, far from having “no boundaries” social media, for the very reason of its potential to threaten established power relationships, may find itself being rained in by those self same relationships. That’s a badly phrased sentence but hopefully you see my point.
    3. One area where I do share your optimism is the increasing access to the web that the mobile revolution has brought about. The ability of more and more people to access the WWW from a device that they can carry in their pockets is indeed, as our American cousins might say, awesome.
    4. Tied to this mobile revolution is the ability of social media to get the message out to a wider audience. In the case of Halal slaughter I’m sure many people who signed the petition did not in fact see the program but rather heard about through FaceBook and Twitter and other social media outlets (are there any others left?).

    “But the connectedness of the Internet is the real tool of the people, one that CAN bring single and small voices together to become on large voice. This gives me some hope that we can make some changes in the future”.
    5. In addition to the possibility/probability of increased state control two other factors mitigate against the somewhat optimistic position outlined above. These are:
    6. First, the increasing ethnocentrism of the net. Soon we’ll speak not of the Net but of the English web the Chinese web the Spanish web and so on. Connected by a single technology but separated by a babble of different languages As such nets develop they are almost certain to divert further and further from one another as the social forces underlying them exert greater and greater influence. One could envisage two USA weds. One English One Spanish overlapping a little but not much
    7. Second, the commercial pressure to develop the two tier web where the pipes can charge different prices for different levels of access to the end user. The Net Neutrality Debate. The repercussions of changes in this area on social media could be immense. Farmville Any One? Political Activism No One?
    8. The comments you make about the first World certainly have merit but I’m afraid I think you over estimate it’s ability to bring about change. No degree of lobbying is going to change the Catholic Churches’ position on contraception until after the devastating effects of massive over population possible sweep from the pages of history well something pretty big would have to happen I’m sure you see my point. I mentioned in my original question the effects and consequences of the rapidly industrialising BRIC (Brazil, Russia, China, India) economies and it’s from these that the greatest pressure will come to continue with business as usual. These are the people, who still want that first car, aren’t going to listen to FaceBook telling them they can’t have it.
    9. Female education has correctly been identified as the single biggest break on over population you can have. Girls with prospects won’t accept a life of endless pregnancy. However it’s here you run into the chicken and egg conundrum. How do you educate women in societies where the dominant male population wishes to prevent this very thing? Saudi Arabia doesn’t even let women drive and in Afghanistan men kill people who try to school little girls.
    10. Regarding the effects of overpopulation etc I won’t repeat the points I made in the original question as we appear to be in agreement that lots of people are going to die its how many that separates us. I hope you’re nearer the mark than me but time will tell and of course the whole basis of this conversation is a discussion of how much or how little social media will affect this outcome.
    11. The affect of the Atheist revolution? Is there or will there be an Atheist revolution this century. Will the 21st century finally be the one where we cast off superstition and embrace science? NO, is the short answer. Far from reducing its influence religion seems to be extending it. From the virtual take over of the USA Republican Party by the Creationist Anti-science Christian right to the resurgence of militant Islam and Hinduism men and women continue to joyful embrace unreasoning belief. We Social Media atheist may turn out to be a small mutual admiration society and the Four Horsemen May Only Be Preaching to No One But The Choir.
    Well perhaps that’s a good point at which to end, after all I am supposed to be at work plus tweets won’t write themselves. I have a duty to all the ladies out there you know. Anyway let me know what you think.
    At this point I’d like to acknowledge the help of no one in particular in preparing this document but freely accept that any errors contained there in are all their fault.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Have your say

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: