From the Mailbox – Hard Not to Be Pessimistic
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.
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