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By J. R. Mooneyham
Extinction. Or collapse into a permanent medieval (or worse) state of anarchy and deprivation. These appear to be the normal ends of technological civilizations in our galaxy, based on everything we know circa early 2003. The above statement is not made lightly. Rather, it is a conclusion based on more than a decade of dedicated research into the matter.
The Fermi Paradox which contrasts the 100% probability of life and intelligence developing on Earth against the thunderous silence from the heavens so far (no alien signals) may be resolved by four things: One, gamma ray bursters which may have effectively prohibited the development of sentient races until only the last 200 million years; Two, the lengthy gestation period required for the emergence of intelligence (which almost requires the entire useful lifespan of a given planet, based on our own biography); Three, the need for an unusually high measure of stability in terms of climate over hundreds of millions of years (the ‘Goldilocks’ scenario, enabled by a huge natural satellite like our Moon moderating the tilt of a planet’s axis, as well as gas giants parked in proper orbits to mop up excess comets and asteroids to reduce impact frequencies for a living world); and Four, an extremely dangerous 600 year or so ‘gauntlet’ of challenges and risks most any technological society must survive to become a viable long term resident of the galaxy (i.e. getting a critical mass of population and technology off their home world, among other things). That 600 year period may be equivalent to our own span between 1900 AD and 2500 AD, wherein we’ll have to somehow dodge the bullets of cosmic impacts, nuclear, biological, and nanotechnological war, terrorism, mistakes, and accidents, as well as food or energy starvation, economic collapse, and many other threats, both natural and unnatural. So far it appears (according to SETI results and other scientific discoveries) extremely few races likely survive all these.
There’s six major guiding principles by which to defend civilization against all the worst possible threats to its future:
- One, remove or minimize the sources of all reasonable motivations to harm others from the entirety of humanity– as well as the means to carry out such harm
- Two, put into place and maintain robust structural impediments to, and socio-economic discouragements of, the domination of the many by a wealthy, powerful, or charismatic few
- Three, insure the utmost education and technological empowerment possible of the average individual world citizen, wherever this does not unreasonably conflict with the other principles listed here.
- Four, work to preserve existing diversity in life on Earth and its natural environments, as well as in human behavior, culture, media, languages, and technologies, and even nourish expansion in such diversity within human works, wherever this may be accomplished with minimal conflict regarding the other principles listed here.
- Five, excesses in intellectual property protections, censorship, and secrecy all basically amount to the same thing, so far as posing threats to the robustness, prosperity, security (and even survival) of civilization is concerned. Therefore all three must be deliberately and perpetually constrained to the absolute minimum applications possible to protect humanity. In these matters it would typically be far better to err on the side of accessibility, openness, and disclosure, than the other.
- Six, seek out and implement ever better ways to document human knowledge and experience in the widest, deepest, and most accurate fashions possible for both the present and future of humanity, and offer up this recorded information freely to the global public for examination. This means the more raw the data, and the more directly sourced, the better. The more raw the data and less colored by opinions of the day, the better present and future citizens will be able to apply ever improving tools of scientific analysis to derive accurate results, and drive important decisions.
Work faithfully and relentlessly to implement and continue the enforcement of these six principles into perpetuity (always seeking the optimal balance between them all), and you should reduce overall risk levels for civilization to that stemming from true mental illness or pure accidents.
Robust and enlightened public health programs (among other things) can reduce the total risk of mental illness to society to negligible levels. That would leave the risk of accidents to deal with. Reducing the risks presented from various accidental events is another subject in itself, that I’ll leave to others to address.
Especially in a world where shortages of money, talent, knowledge, and time still define more of our economics and society, than anything else. Anyone working to achieve one or more of these aims immediately encounters active opposition from various quarters too. That may sound hard to believe, but look at a few examples: Cuts in military spending even in the most advanced and highly developed nations like the USA face stiff opposition from many politicians because defense cuts are apparently less popular with voters than defense budget increases– almost no matter how peaceful the world happens to be at the time. Any cuts that do somehow get passed can often only be implemented by shutting down unneeded bases or various extravagant weapons programs. But either of those considerations bring up cries of “lost jobs”, even in good times when those jobs might easily be replaced with other, less lethal ones. Weapons proliferation around the world likewise is often defended as generating jobs at home, despite the fact those weapons often end up being used by naughty allies to kill innocents in conflicts where we ourselves have little or no involvement– except for our brand name and label being prominently emblazoned on the blasted shards in various scenes of mass death and destruction. Later on we often wonder why people on the receiving end of these weapons (in the hands of others) hate us so. And sometimes the weapons we sell end up being used against our own soldiers. But still we sell and sometimes even give them away.
Maybe aiding in the spread of democracy and free speech through the world would seem an easier goal than stopping the proliferation of weapons and weapon technologies? Sorry, but no. Indeed, here in America our track record for a long time now is behavior that says democracy and free speech is too good for lots of folks other than ourselves. You see, the ill will built up from all that weapons proliferation, plus other actions on our part, has resulted in lots of countries where we’d be tossed out on our ear if real democracies suddenly sprang up in them.
Like what actions am I talking about? Things like manipulating elections and interfering with other attempts at legitimate changeovers in power in foreign countries. CIA involvement to prop up dictatorships with whom we have deals for things like oil or other items. Stuff like that. There’s no telling how many democratic movements we’ve helped crush or cause to be stillborn around the world in the past century. Of course, you could say we were just emulating our parent countries such as those of western europe, which did many of the same things for several centuries before we ourselves successfully rebeled againstthem.
It’s almost like we don’t want any other rebellions to succeed, in order to retain our own ‘special place’ in history. But is that fair? No.
Of course, sometimes a nation manages to overthrow its oppressors despite our opposition and dirty tricks. But when that happens, our previous sins in the conflict result in whatever new government emerges being dead-set against us. Like in Iran, with the fall of the Shah. Our interference with their internal affairs so antagonized and polarized the Iranians that one result was eventual domination of the country by an Islamic extremist movement, which managed to overthrow the US-supported Shah. And naturally, when things didn’t go our way there we froze Iran’s assets and put in place trade sanctions against them. And in response, they may be seeking to obtain their own weapons of mass destruction and supporting various terrorist actions around the world.
Could it be we are gradually arranging our own (maybe even civilization itself’s) spectacular end with all this chicanery? For the longer we continue this type of behavior, the more difficult and scary it becomes to consider stopping it. And the worse the eventual consequences might be. After all, we’re making a lot of enemies out there. A pretty hefty chunk of the human race, in fact. If and when they all finally overthrow their US-supported dictators or oppressive ruling regimes, they might not exactly want to send us flowers.
I vote we try to find a way out of this mess now rather than prolonging and worsening it with politics-and-economics-as-usual. Before it’s too late. Before our world too becomes one of the silent ones in the galaxy.