There is a simple fact that people are unable to ingest. You can explain it carefully, with charts, graphs and solid documentation… and they may even like the sound of it… but after the explanation, it fades away and is forgotten.
The problem is simply that this truth is too foreign. It just doesn’t fit within our mental universe. Most of us don’t directly fight against it, but even so, we aren’t able to integrate it.
So, before we get to the idea itself, please bear this in mind. It may be something that affects you too.
This truth, by the way, is massively good news, which is strange too. Bad news we believe instantly; good news we doubt instantly. So, that’s a hurdle as well.
The immediately-suspect good news is this:
Scarcity upon Earth has been fundamentally overcome.
We’ve been growing more food than we can eat for decades now, and we could grow much more if we needed to. Building houses for everyone would be no problem: we have the entire set of technologies and processes worked out, materials are no problem, and there is no lack of people who’d be glad to work as a homebuilder.
Likewise providing medical care to all – certainly at a 2010 level – is well within our reach, and of course cars and roads are no problem. So, before I get to support and objections, I’ll restate our main point: The doors to a golden age have swung open before us, but we can’t accept that it’s real.
But Why Can’t We Believe It?
Before I get to the details of our disbelief, let me tell you were you can find all the documentation you’d like:
Free-Man’s Perspective #100. We cover many of the primary sources in this issue, and even studies showing an increase in intelligence from overcoming scarcity.
- The work of Julian Simon, especially The Ultimate Resource and The State of Humanity. You’ll find lots of hard data in these.
- The work of Stephen Moore and Johan Nordberg. Particularly It’s Getting Better All The Time and Progress.
And just to support this a bit, here’s part of a presentation from Norman Borlaug, the man who revolutionized modern agriculture (Nobel Prize, etc.) and saved a billion lives in the process. It was delivered in in September of 2000:
I now say that the world has the technology – either available or well advanced in the research pipeline – to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people.
You’ll find similar passages in the resources noted above. So, from a scientific standpoint, our main points are very solid, and on the production side, scarcity was overcome some decades ago. Why then is this non-believable?
First of all, we’ve been raised to believe in regimentation; to see it as the path to paradise and to treat it as a sublime invention. But regimentation is entirely focused on the bad: We believe that by suppressing evil (the supposed purpose of laws) we create a better world for ourselves. And so we focus almost entirely on bad things. Most people imbibe bad news like they drink water, and see their focus upon it as essential.
And so, anything that smells of a present golden age is incompatible with our beloved path to paradise. If we already have a golden age, further regimentation wouldn’t offer much. And that means that our deep assumptions – our deep beliefs – would have to be revised, and we don’t like that prospect. We especially don’t like thinking that we were wrong in a central devotion of our lives.
The fact of scarcity being overcome isn’t the real problem: it’s that the new model is contrary to the old model, and we’ve committed a huge portion of our lives to that old model. And so the good news can’t stick; it gets washed away by the continuing stream of bad news.
Beyond that sits the fact that scarcity is a psychological necessity to us. If we no longer need to fight over resources, how many of our cherished assumptions are exposed and left to die?
Objections to this fact tend to be indirect, dealing with things like “human desires are infinite.” These, however, are paper arguments: we’re discussing concrete things like food and houses, not how people feel about them. And, of course, there is a difference between wants and needs. Wants are bounded only by our imaginations, and so are unfit for a serious and this-worldly discourse. A comfortable home, good food and reliable transportation are needs. Ferraris, mansions and caviar are wants.
Likewise, arguments over finite resources are distractions: Doom porn be damned, we have plenty of materials right now (including uranium for fission and heavy water for fusion). Additionally, there are planets and asteroid belts waiting for us in the not-too distant future.
And in actual fact, there are fewer starving people all the time. Moreover, the cause of whatever starvation remains is almost wholly political, not technological.
What we need is to talk about these things: To review the sources, examine the graphs and start working this into ourselves as an actual possibility.
The fact is that we’re ready to step into a golden age, as impossibly foreign as that may seem. In fact, we’ve been doing precisely that, mostly by accident, for decades. If we bothered to work at it, we’d go down in history as the generation that transformed humanity forever.
These are things we need to discuss.