Tuesday, July 9, 2019


With no good reading materials on hand, a guest in the house, technical telescope issues to solve, tomato plants to attend to and a few hot days, circumstances haven't been conducive to writing new posts. The visitor has left, the temperature has cooled and I have a book on order, so eventually I'll resume my regular posts.

I had been thinking about writing a long post that would sum up the nonfiction that I've been reading over the last few years, with the title "The Disunity of Knowledge," which would connect my ideas more clearly than I have done so far. However, I get the sense that my very small group of readers isn't really interested in that kind of thing, so I'm going to skip it for the time being. Nevertheless, I feel an impetus to write something of the sort, because it is alarming to me how much new knowledge has accumulated in recent years, and that the implications of this knowledge are hardly discussed publicly; public awareness remains several decades behind the present in terms of the comprehension of potentially critical situations that have already begun or may arise within the next few years. For example, if you follow American politics, many of the "issues" are framed as if it were the 1990's, not 2019. Of particular interest to me are the economic effects of AI and the alteration of human cognition by digital media. Then, of course, there are well-documented events such as anthropogenic climate change; this is getting some attention now, but when you consider how disastrous the effects are already proving to be, the reaction in the U.S. makes it look as if the year is about 2010. One of the most striking aspects of the current period is the ineffectiveness of democratic processes, which has resulted in the routine election of incompetent politicians who make inappropriate policy decisions. As the complexity of the world has increased, the popular vote has become more vulnerable to manipulation by special interests, and at the moment special interests seem to be gaining the upper hand. If the goals of special interests were in alignment with the best interests of the public, I wouldn't care, but in most cases special interests are indifferent to the common good. Some of the ill effects of special interests occur as secondary results of seemingly innocuous activities, when, for example, businesses seek to increase their profits without violating any laws. To a certain extent, we got stuck with Donald Trump because he was a free source of reality TV for the news media. If the news media wasn't governed by the profit motive and instead followed responsible principles of journalism, Trump might have been exposed long ago and may never have been elected president. The media is in dereliction of duty to the extent that the encouragement of critical thinking has been marginalized by profit-seeking. Although in the past there was a sense that journalism and free speech could serve as counterbalances to private enterprise and criminality, truth seems recently to have taken a back seat to profit throughout all levels of American society, and a collective reality seems no longer to exist. The environment that we inhabit increasingly exceeds our ability to comprehend it, and there isn't anyone out there offering good advice.

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