[extropy-chat] On difficult choices (was: Books: Harris; Religion and Reason)

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Sat Jan 14 18:54:39 UTC 2006

On Jan 12, 2006, at 2:18 AM, Russell Wallace wrote:

> The entities exterminating us aren't aliens from outer space in  
> flying saucers with force shields that can withstand a nuclear  
> explosion. The terrible truth is that we already know them. MTV.  
> East Enders. Zoning laws. MAs in political science.
> http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007760
> It makes sense, of course; the one thing an exterminator meme can't  
> look like is an exterminator meme, otherwise almost by definition  
> it wouldn't be one. Bacteria die to penicillin; HIV, the simplest  
> thing, slips by.

I read this article.  Not to put too fine a point on it, I found it  
laughable.  Religious faith is not going to save the West and  
secularism sure as hell isn't dooming it.  As much as I think welfare  
statism is evil and dangerous I can't in honesty lay the blame there  
except as a large contributory drain on the economy and on the  
character of the people.   The notion that we must reproduce more  
this close to Singularity is the biggest laugh of all.

What is wrong imo is that we have lost heart, lost vision, lost fire  
as a people.  We have lost it to enshrinement of mediocrity and it  
has died from a million cuts, mostly inflicted by our own government  
on us and in the world, draining away our self-respect and belief in  
ourselves as a people.   Civilizations decline for many reasons.  But  
a common denominator is that in their hearts their people no longer  
believe in the goodness of the country or its ideals or if they do  
then they don't believe those ideals can ever be achieved.   They  
become sneak thieves out to grab what they can before the house of  
cards comes crashing down.

We need a new strong vision.  I thought transhumanism or extropianism  
might help supply it.  But one of those is being shanghaied by the  
Left and the other seems to doubt that creating such a Vision is even  
a good thing.

In America we have dug ourselves a deep hole.  Our total debts and  
account payables approach $40 trillion.  We have been fed too long at  
the public and private level the notion that we can spend, spend,  
spend our way into prosperity.  We have spent.  So much so that the  
individual savings rate is negative and the government has become the  
largest debtor nation in history.  We suck down > $ 2 billion a day  
of foreign money just to pay for the party.   We are only a few more  
missteps away form financial ruin.  Our descendants are in hock  
before they begin.

The threat is from ourselves to a large degree.  It is from our  
assumptions of superiority and of wealth without any longer paying  
much attention to where wealth comes from or what it takes to create  
and grow it.   After the stock bubble blew followed by 911 many of us  
Americans made ends meet and kept right on consuming by sucking down  
easy credit and cheap money by taking cash out of our homes.  So much  
so that the retained equity in homes fell rapidly.  We created a  
housing bubble in the process that is now venting and deflating.  We  
spent so much energy and determination keeping that bubble growing  
that we put out interest only loans and no down payment loans that  
actually gave back money to the buyer.  In 2005 it is estimated that  
over half of the home sells had these very questionable types of  
loans and that over 40% of the sales were bought not as primary  
residences but on speculation that the prices would continue to  
rise.  Woe to the banks who hold the derivatives guaranteeing these  

The key to the future is surely knowledge and education.  In America  
according to recent studies  over 60% of college graduates are not  
competently literate.  China is turning out engineers and scientists  
an order of magnitude faster than we are.  India's college level  
education is much tougher than our own and people compete fiercely to  
get into the technical programs.  These people of the East are  
bright, hardworking and hungry.  If we in the West do not wake up  
from our complacency they will eat our lunch.

All of that and more has zip to do with religion or how fast we breed  
or how secular our culture is or even with welfare and social  
entitlement.  It has a lot to do with a mixture of cynicism,  
arrogance, ignorance and lack of enough courage to look at reality.

- samantha

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