I watch for evidence that supports or contradicts Varki’s MORT theory.
With average citizens it’s hard to distinguish ignorance from denial. The only way to know for sure is to explain the facts and associated evidence about human overshoot to someone and then observe if they still deny our predicament and what needs to be done about it.
It’s much easier to detect denial in polymaths because almost always fossil energy driven overshoot is the only important topic they are completely blind to.
I’m therefore on the lookout for smart polymaths, especially those with physics degrees, because with a physics background it is impossible to be blind to energy overshoot without denial of reality being in play.
I recently discovered Eric Weinstein via an interview on the Joe Rogan podcast. Weinstein has a PhD in physics from Harvard and hosts a podcast called The Portal in which he discusses big picture problems facing society.
Weinstein has been quietly working for a couple decades on a theory to unite general relativity with quantum mechanics. There’s no consensus yet on whether he’s onto something promising, but he’s clearly a really smart guy, as this recent unveiling of his theory demonstrates.
I’ve listened to several of Weinstein’s Portal podcasts and he demonstrates an impressive command of many disciplines. This one is a good representative sample covering a wide range of topics:
Weinstein is thus the perfect polymath poster child for testing Varki’s MORT theory.
On the important issues facing our species, this is what I think Weinstein is saying:
- Economic growth and scientific advancement slowed in the late 70’s which is a big problem, but he doesn’t know the cause. He thinks we should invest more in physics research, we should make higher education more effective, and we should encourage innovation. He’s apparently blind to the effect of rising energy costs. I wrote about our stagnation after the 70’s here.
- Economic growth today is faked with debt which is a big problem that threatens democracy. He doesn’t know the cause and makes up crap like all the other pundits. He’s apparently blind to the relationships between energy, wealth, debt, and growth.
- He thinks that we need to return to 3+% economic growth to avoid a zero sum game and the human violence this will unleash. He’s apparently blind to the implications of 3% exponential growth on a finite planet.
- One of the new technologies he thinks has promise is radical lifetime extension in which people will live many more years before dying. He’s apparently blind to human overshoot and the need to get our population down quickly.
- He thinks non-carbon energy is a feasible solution to climate change, and is thus just as wrong as all the other famous polymaths.
In summary, Weinstein understands everything except what matters. Given his impressive intelligence and education this is impossible without strong reality denial.
I’ve added Weinstein to my list of famous polymaths in denial.
60 thoughts on “Eric Weinstein: A Case Study in Denial”
Eric Weinstein is a case of serious and profound denial by someone that has no excuse. When (not if) the population crash happens, it will be by all means possible – disease, starvation, dehydration, violence, exposure to excessive heat/cold, suicide, execution, piecemeal cannibalism and so on. The deaths may not be evenly distribute geographically or temporally, but they will be undeniable. Those of us that make it through the first years of the real crash will see things that we might prefer not to see – alas, nature does not negotiate.
There’s something goofy and synthetic about Weinstein, who reminds me of Carl Sagan in his style. At least Weinstein, born in 1965, chose to have only one kid; Sagan, born in 1934, had five, two well after overpopulation was presented to the public.
Some Population Matters doomer said this once about the future:
“With the earth groaning under the weight of 7+ billion people, most wanting to consume as much as possible, I think the last thing any ecologically literate person would do is add to the burden. Ah, but it’s so important that my special genes have a connection to the future, isn’t it? Never mind that that future is going to be a nightmare on stilts.”
Thomas Ligotti, born in 1953 and child-free by choice, said this once about the world:
“Madness, mayhem, erotic vandalism, devastation of innumerable souls — while we scream and perish, History licks a finger and turns the page.”
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Nature is harsh. Homo sapiens are the only species with a brain capable of avoiding the worst of nature’s harshness, if we could break through our inherited reality denial. The catch-22 of course is that denial enabled our intelligence. Replicators just want to replicate. Could it be otherwise?
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I used to believe this. I no longer do. As best I can read the evidence of ABRUPT climate change, it’s already out of our control. As I discuss in my “Collapse 101: The Inevitable Fruit of Progress” video, even if 7.8 billion of us woke up tomorrow somehow miraculously cured of denial, I no longer think there is anything we can do to stop (or even slow down) irreversible, runaway abrupt climate disruptions. Whether 100% of our species dies this century of if it’s only 99%, we cannot know. But it’s likely to be in that range, it seems to me.
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I concur Michael. CC is in runaway mode. It can be argued that slowing it down is still technically possible, but that would require a monumental change in human behaviour or a very fast intentional kill off of billions.
The humans are incapable of meaningful voluntary collective change & it’s not their fault. This has been noted long before the scientific revolution by many observant thinkers.
“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.”
— Niccolo Machiavelli
Yesterday I worked as a mason’s assistant building a brick wall. I decided to ride my motorcycle 60 km to the job site because the weather forecast in the morning promised no rain. A southeaster stormed and rained all day resulting in a miserable ride home. Our forecasters can’t even predict 6 hours in advance these days. It seems CC has broken their prediction models.
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Ligotti introduced me to Zapffe, Celine, Pessoa, and others who weren’t afraid to look at reality. And since the majority of humanity is comprised of a sheep-like mentality [eat, sleep, compete, fornicate], we never stood a chance anyway.
“In modern life the world belongs to the stupid, the insensitive, and the disturbed. The right to live and triumph is today earned with the same qualifications one requires to be interned in a madhouse: amorality, hypomania, and an incapacity for thought.” Fernando Pessoa, “The Book of Disquiet”
Quantity of offspring is a poor criterion whereby to judge another human being’s behavior. What if Sagan’s 5th child’s great-grandson finds the cure for cancer or interstellar warp drive?
Simplistic number crunching (using n=1 case reviews) is weak evidence and your comments smack of ad-hominem attacks (see goofy and synthetic above… would you prefer smooth/charismatic & vapid?)
You’ve listed a number of ways for people currently living to die prematurely, but another way for population to crash is by young people simply deciding that they’re not going to procreate. It seems that some prefer to watch porn, some decide that they’d rather be sterile simulations of the opposite sex, some prefer the romantic company of their own sex, and some just can’t see how they can afford to raise children. A 30-year “none-child” policy would do the trick, and the prosperous countries are well on their way. The less well-off are trying to deal with locusts, infectious diseases, climate-change crop failures, depleting water resources, and just plain excessive heat.
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You do realize that your reference to “infectious diseases, climate-change crop failures, depleting water resources, and just plain excessive heat.” agrees completely with my ” … disease, starvation, dehydration, violence, exposure to excessive heat/cold …”
Regarding “A 30-year no-child policy”, do you have a basis for thinking we have the luxury of 30 years to sort out what we have already done? Also, why 3o years, why not 25 or 35? Are you just guessing?
My position on a population crash, is with regard to those that either already exist or are about to. You seem to belabor a “possible” solution way off in the future. Lets also ignore that people who do not have children are still going to spend or invest any money saved. It is not the population number per-se that has caused our predicament, it is what we are all trying to do – live in big houses, drive big cars, etc.
I see literally nothing in your post that addresses where we are today. Are you in denial?
I thought you would enjoy this piece from Wikipedia about space exploration. Since many scientists are cited, it’s a perfect example of smart people seemingly not understanding how important energy is in underpinning everything that we do in this world, let alone anywhere else in the solar system.
Thanks, an excellent example of in your face denial.
In case you missed it, this recent essay by Alice Friedemann is relevant.
I wager many to most of them know, but along with that other yet major unsolved barrier to human space travel, space radiation, they knowingly remain quiet as per the unwritten rule of don’t say anything that could jeopardise funding. IOW, only tell the public what they want to hear – that all their ScFi fantasies are possible…..some day. But we need more funding. Similar to climate scientists who need more funding so they can give politicians better policy recommendations. No mention that all policy recommendations to date have been completely ignored & all political efforts went to MORE.
Perhaps The Chinese will pull off a moon mission as a last hurrah. Maybe some more advanced rovers, probes & space telescopes that are in the works will be launched before the bank is closed for good. Seems rather pointless for a species that might be gone in less than one human life time.
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And in Alberta, we get to go “back to basics” in education, which really comes out to ‘making good, obedient workers who have no critical thoughts in their heads and thus cannot rock the boat we want to build!’
I spent several memorable summers learning to be a man working on a family farm in Duffield Alberta when I was 11 years old in 1969. Oil then was a side show to the farming main event. I expect Albertans will be returning to farming. It was a hard but honest life. After a week of stooking and stacking hay bales we’d celebrate Friday night with a bottle of coke, a bag of chips, and a deck of cards. Best coke and chips I ever had.
I’m Alberta born, baptised & raised for my first 7 years. I moved back in my late 20’s to work, but was long intellectually divorced by then. Lasted 4 years. It could be worse. Trust me, I lived in Atlanta Georgia for 8 years – it could be worse.
Thanks Rob; Very interesting take on Weinstein. Did you watch this episode with Daniel Schmachtenberger, on the topic of “Avoiding Apocalyspe”? Schmactenberger is another polymath; one who seems to be less in denial than the others you have listed.
Not yet but that episode is queued up next in my podcast app. Thanks for the tip.
David, I’m curious… have you seen my “Collapse 101” video yet? Or the new documentary, “Living in the Age of Dying”? I’d be very interested in hearing your response to both. Feel free to call me on my cell, if you’d like. As you and Rob both know, I much prefer a live call to text-only based communications. Love you, bro!
See here to access both: https://postdoom.com/resources/
I finished the Avoiding Apocalypse episode. It was an interesting wide ranging discussion that touched on many of the risks our civilization faces. I observe that the high probability and/or certain risks that we have little or no ability to influence, like peak oil and climate change, got a brief mention with no discussion. The low probability risks that we have some ability to influence, like AI, nuclear war, and social engineering, got extended discussions.
This money quote by Weinstein says it all, “We’ve always had the possibility of decoupling economic growth from burning fossil fuels but we’ve just never got around to doing it”.
The episode reinforced my opinion that Weinstein is a brilliant polymath in deep denial of reality.
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That money quote is here : https://youtu.be/_b4qKv1Ctv8?t=8514
Weinstein comes across as a sophist, in the pejorative sense as opposed to complimentary. It would have been nice to see Schmachtenberger talk with the late Christopher Hitchens.
I just managed to watch the last hour of the conversation. In fairness to Eric Weinstein, it could not have been easy to host a guest like Daniel Schmachtenberger (true brilliance) and keep the conversation semi-grounded without drifting too far off into the esoteric. The final 45 minutes were better than the first couple of hours.
The society that Daniel is advocating for (non rivalry, full recycling closed loop, etc.) may be possible in a theoretical sense, but from a practical perspective, seems somewhat of a fantasy. There was no part of the conversation that focused on the “how” of getting from where we are today, to where Daniel thinks we could/should be. Also missing was any discussion of time scales.
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I agree with your assessment, Rob. IMHO, those like Weinstein (Schmachtenberger, too, to a lesser degree) who don’t GET ecology, energy, overshoot, and the history of boom & bust civilizations almost always have a misplaced faith in technology, the market, and human ingenuity. (They are what William Catton in “Overshoot” referred to as “cargoists”.
On a separate note: I just created a two-part series titled, “Collapse and Adaptation Primer”: I reference Varki’s book, of course, and discuss denial in both programs: “Collapse 101: The Inevitable Fruit of Progress” and “Post Gloom: Deeply Adapting to Reality”. Both are accessible here: https://postdoom.com/resources/
Would love to know what you think, if you take time to watch either or both.
Keep up the great work!
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Thank Michael. I’ll check out your new series. I really like the look of your postdoom site.
Schweet! Two of my post-doom guests who live in a largely denial-free zone (and speak boldly from that place) are Meg Wheatley and Rory Varrato (others, too of course, but those two stand out). Have you seen the new 52-minute documentary, “Living in the Age of Dying” yet? A beautiful example of un-denial thinking and feeling!
Curious minds want to know: Why isn’t the US government more visibly outraged over an engineered virus that leaked from the Wuhan lab and damaged the world economy?
A few months ago there were reports that US intelligence agencies figured out what happened. Then that thread went quiet. Now we see efforts to rebuild US manufacturing capability for key products required to survive, and policies to damage the Chinese economy.
Watch what they do, not what they say.
Trying to hurt China is obvious, but I’m not up to speed on, “efforts to rebuild US manufacturing capability for key products required to survive”
Do you have a link or example? I have to admit that I’m only paying a fraction of attention compared to to what I used to. Civilization & the biosphere will continue to collapse whether I’m watching or not. I did a 50 day media & collapse watching total blackout just before Covid hit & the only thing that changed was me. I felt much more relaxed. Read books, listened to more music & re-watched old movies & foreign films & fixed stuff.
No I don’t have a link but it’s a theme I’ve recently detected with a push to re-localize manufacturing for drug precursors and PPE, and a push to move manufacturing from China to other more friendly Asian countries. I couldn’t understand why the US was not more vocal on the virus source until I thought about the implications of China shutting down the supply of key products.
In fairness I guess another explanation is that the US funded research in the Wuhan lab.
Nobody discusses our Byzantine debt bubble machine and denial thereof better than Doug Nolan. It’s a shame he doesn’t understand the underlying thermodynamics, but then he’d probably be unable to function.
One economist who understands debt, thermodynamics, climate, and energy: Steve Keen
Yes, I agree. Keen is the best economist on the planet. But he doesn’t regularly discuss current affairs like Nolan.
Sorry, the first 28 minutes of the video on the link above is for economic nerds only. It gets very interesting at the 28:19 mark, where he reveals the devastatingly simplistic and obviously incorrect assumptions of economists who contribute to the IPCC reports (Richard Tol and William Nordhaus).
And here he is talking about debt.
Thanks for that link to a video that spells out just how far we have gone down the wrong road. Alas, less than 3,000 views. It is a shame he had a time constraint and had to race through the final few minutes. I quite liked “labour without energy is a corpse”.
Richard S. J. Tol is a professor of economics at the University of Sussex (U.K.) and won a Nobel peace prize – how ghastly!
This interview explains what enabled the Beirut explosion. As usual, money is at the core: a poor state wanting more money, and a ship’s owner wanting to keep his money.
h/t James @ megacancer.com
Great image from Dave Pollard’s latest effort.
Links of the Month: August 2020
Nice. Got a feeling man will be fearing man when the economic and climate crises really start to bite.
One of the reasons Daniel Everett’s book resonated with me is that I went through a similar experience as a young adult as Daniel did when it comes to faith in God.
There have been other beliefs in my past that I’ve been in denial about aswell and subsequently abandoned.
I wonder why I was able to overcome false beliefs. Is it genetic or is it a product of the environment in which I lived.
Years ago when I was at university I attended lectures on evolution in 1st year biology. There happened to be a girl in my course that went to the same childhood church as me. At the end of the series of lectures she told me that she couldn’t believe the university was allowed to teach so many lies! (I was beginning to think the exact opposite – how the hell is it that I’ve got to my late teens and never been taught this!)
Yet if it wasn’t for a series of events in my life such as the one just described I probably would have spent my entire life a God fearing individual. I consider myself lucky.
But it is interesting. Why have I been able to recognise my own self deception and adjust while others clearly find it very hard or impossible. While genetics is probably heavily to blame I can’t help think the environment has some big influences.
I don’t consider myself a rare genetic mutant when it comes to denial genes. I have those genes. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have believed some of the bullshit I’ve believed over the years in the first place.
Maybe my genetic profile has a weaker variant which enables me to eventually come to my senses. That’s possible I guess.
I actually think I’m just an average Jo who was lucky enough to live in an environment that fostered learning and had access to good information.
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You raise interesting questions. Since I was a little boy the most important question for me has always been Why?. I don’t know where it came from as neither of my parents were obsessed with Why?.
I also was infested with the Elephant Child’s insatiable curtiosity. A story told me by my mother from before my first memory to which I can assign a date (early March 1948) is that she asked me why I had stopped calling her “Mama” and started using her given name. I answered, “Mama is what you are. Gayle is who you are. Every boy has a mama. My mama is Gayle.” Some particular questions “attack” me and won’t leave me in peace, sometimes for days or weeks, sometimes for many decades. I am still seeking answers to many of my questions.
There is no individual behavioural determinism. It’s complicated. We are born with inherent traits, like hyper or laid back, but most of it is your unique combination of nature & nurture. There is no VS, it’s both.
I highly recommend this great book by Robert Sapolsky which delves deep into this topic – “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”.
Behave by Robert Sapolsky review – why do we do what we do?
This magisterial account of human behaviour journeys from immediate brain response back to long-term social causes. It also suggests we have no free will
“Sapolsky goes back through adolescence, childhood and gestation (including genetics), and, beyond the birth of the individual, to more distant causes still – those found in culture, evolutionary psychology, game theory and comparative zoology. He makes the book consistently entertaining, with an infectious excitement at the puzzles he explains, and wry dude-ish asides. (Humans, he notes, can “delay gratification for insanely long times” compared with other animals. “No warthog restricts calories to look good in a bathing suit next summer.”)
This book is a miraculous synthesis of scholarly domains, and at the same time laudably careful in its determination to point out at every step the limits of our knowledge. Sapolsky offers a vivid account of a standard view before lining up complications or objections to it from other research, particularly in brain science. (Testosterone, for example, does not cause aggression but amplifies pre-existing tendencies for or against it. The actions of such molecules in general “depend dramatically on context”).”
“Throughout, he insists on how much individual variability there is hidden beneath the statistical averages of studies, and how the explanation of nearly every human phenomenon is going to be “multifactorial”: dependent on many causes. The literature on one scientific question, he notes comfortingly, is “majorly messy”.”
“Along the way there are many counterintuitive ideas and stern lessons. Empathy – feeling someone’s pain – is not as likely to lead to useful action as dispassionate sympathy, or “cold-blooded kindness”. Income inequality is concretely causally bad for the health of the poorer. There is a well-established link between rightwing authoritarianism and lower IQ. Genes are not destiny, and they are not “selfish” a la Dawkins; “we haven’t evolved to be ‘selfish’ or ‘altruistic’ or anything else – we’ve evolved to be particular ways in particular settings”. (According to one astonishing survey, 46% of women would save their own dog rather than a foreign tourist if both were menaced by a runaway bus. The evolutionary explanation is that they feel more “kinship” with the dog.) In general, if our worst behaviours are “the product of our biology”, so are our best ones.”
Interesting Apneaman. I’ll put it on the reading list.
An interesting comment from another site:
“I think intentional non-breeders are a manifestation of an extremely rare allele or gene, which is probably some sort of empathy gene. Essentially, if I were to gauge or poll those in this category, I think the majority would test for high degrees of empathy and/or higher intellects or spatial awareness than on average.There are genes for risk-taking (DRD4), so there are other genes that would encourage empathy. I’m also positive that most of them, and I include myself in this group of outliers, view most human interactions as extremely selfish and frustrating, and we find ourselves questioning why people do the things they do. And I don’t really have the answers.
The only thing I can think of is that there is a very human psychopathy that defines our species, and for whatever reason, we intentional non-breeders did not inherit it. Either it is that reason, or the non-breeder possesses a very old and very latent gene that went the way of the dodo centuries ago.”
Tough but fair & very well written. Sad too.
The Unraveling of America
Anthropologist Wade Davis on how COVID-19 signals the end of the American era
Good article, thanks. I respect Wade Davis.
I recently had a long conversation about root causes with a friend who has spent a lot of time in the US. He thinks the public education system broke down after desegregation. The majority of US citizens have no knowledge of science, history, or geography, and can’t form a sentence.
Yabut, no matter what happens, Canada will be fine. ConOmists said so, so you know it’s true.
No need to worry about a deficit when the government can print money, say some economists
‘Modern Monetary Theory gives us the power to imagine a new politics and a new economy’
“Since the pandemic hit, much of the world seems to be adopting measures that come right out of the modern monetarist’s playbook; central banks have put their printing presses on high speed, and governments have been piling up trillions of dollars in debt.
“MMT gives us the power to imagine a new politics and a new economy. It challenges the status quo across the political spectrum with sound economics,” wrote Stephanie Kelton, an economist at Stony Brook University in New York, and the author of an upcoming book The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy.
At the core of the “deficit myth,” Kelton argued, is the idea that deficits are bad for the economy, and that governments need to limit spending in order to achieve a balanced budget.
“Spending should never be constrained by arbitrary budget targets or a blind allegiance to so-called sound finance.”
Balance economies not budgets
Modern monetary theorists are essentially looking to shift the focus of economic policy-making away from a preoccupation with balanced budgets. Their central argument is that any country that controls its own currency, as Canada does, can do whatever it wants with it, including printing as much money and ringing up as much debt as it needs to, in order to achieve a more balanced economy.”
What planet is she living on? We’ve been running unsustainable deficits for 20 years.
I don’t attribute this to denial, economists are simply idiots.
Our free lunch will stink like shit before long.
Except for a few years in the 1990s, call it 40 years. The dollar, though, is the international reserve currency. Other countries borrow in dollars–don’t need higher rates to attract borrowers. So, when deficits explode yet interest rates continue to trend down, you think you are king of the world. Then one day you’re not. When is that day? Beats me, but the alternative view must be that debt can rise faster than income forever, which is a mighty long time.
Apocalypse never: what coronavirus teaches us about doomsday denial
“But COVID-19 has shown us that this paradigm is actually incomplete, and in a fairly surprising way. It’s something that authors of apocalyptic narratives have rarely, if ever, envisioned. It turns out that an unwillingness to cooperate can also arise from the complete denial that a global catastrophe is underway.
In this age of pandemic, such denial is frighteningly commonplace. Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are filled with posts from individuals proudly trumpeting their unwillingness to wear a mask in public. Unfortunately, this kind of denial isn’t limited to poorly spelled social media posts. Noisy protests—sometimes armed—and reports of violent acts of defiance appear repeatedly in the news, and not just in the United States.
Although some of these restless groups accept that COVID-19 is a pandemic, they typically downplay the danger. It gets worse, though; it’s easy to find arguments online (or even on the fringes of mainstream media) that COVID-19 isn’t a real problem, or is actually a cover-up for the rollout of purportedly malevolent 5G technology, or was caused by Bill Gates. For an unsettlingly large part of the global populace, COVID-19 is a hoax intended to frighten us into submission.
There’s no reason to expect that this kind of thinking would be solely limited to a pandemic crisis. It’s very likely that this form of denial would also emerge amidst other global cataclysms, even a nuclear war or an incoming asteroid strike. It’s a morbidly comical image.
A resistance to facts doesn’t arrive spontaneously. Some of the denial of the risks of COVID-19 comes from religious or political beliefs, or simply from a lack of first-hand experience with the virus; sadly, COVID-19 causing the death of a family member or close friend is too often the only way to crack the wall of denial. Moreover, these populations also seem to overlap with groups conditioned to disbelieve anything they see in the mainstream news. The combination is dangerous.”
*I don’t disbelieve anything I see in the mainstream news. I distrust the MSM in general, but they earned my distrust & everyone else’s over decades. I don’t read most of it because 95% of it is not ‘news’ and there are other sources. Some MSM is worse than others.
Denial is the default behaviour for many in cataclysms, war & late/last stage societies & civilizations. People are scared now and FEAR is the mother of denial. Pandemics put it on steroids. Pandemic behaviour has a special place in the annals of the history of humans losing-their-shit. Being under attack by an invisible enemy is a terror and I don’t think germ theory has changed that and has possible made it worse for many. There were no germaphobes prior to the discovery of microorganisms. It birthed an entire new branch of anxiety.
Sure Covid’s not the worst pandemic in history, but one must look at in context of the other ongoing threats: Climate change, mass extinction, recession/depression, declining net energy, political chaos, broken social contract, etc. The cumulative effect is the very definition of decline-collapse. There’s a psychological cumulative effect that accompanies it. Folks are filled with fear and uncertainty and rightly so. I can practically smell the Terror Management behaviour.
Terror Management Theory (TMT), Worldview Defense
Nearly everyone fears death. How that fear influences human thinking and behavior is the focus of terror management theory (TMT) research. According to TMT, death anxiety drives people to adopt worldviews that protect their self-esteem, worthiness, and sustainability and allow them to believe that they play an important role in a meaningful world. Some of these views lead to troubling actions.
According to TMT, people need to insulate themselves from their deep fear of living an insignificant life destined to be erased by death. One path to address this fear is to assure themselves that they are part of an important group. This desire to reinforce cultural significance in the face of death often results in displays of prejudice based on the belief that the group with which one identifies is superior to others. In this way, people confirm their self-importance, at least to themselves.
TMT proposes that individuals are motivated to develop close relationships within their own cultural group in order to convince themselves that they will somehow live on—if only symbolically—after their inevitable death.
The Fear of Death
Terror management theory was developed by Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski and expanded in their 2015 book, The Worm at the Core. But the concept is built on the earlier work of anthropologist Ernest Becker, whose 1973 book, The Denial of Death, argued that the majority of human actions are undertaken primarily as a means to ignore or evade death.
Most psychologists consider TMT to be a sort of evolutionary trait. Humans naturally became aware of dangerous threats as a means of preserving their lives and continuing their gene pool. The deep existential anxiety that comes with that knowledge is an unfortunate byproduct of this evolutionary advantage.
How do people cope with mortality?
The awareness of our mortality, TMT suggests, terrifies us, and forces us to adapt to it in some way. Some individuals avoid thinking about it at all, while others devote their energy to leaving a legacy that could make them “immortal.” This could manifest in a heightened desire to start a family or a stronger belief in an afterlife.
What are the benefits of terror management?
The fear of death may promote insecurity, bias, and even global conflict. But the psychologists who developed TMT also considered the potential upsides—specifically, that when one is aware that their actions are being influenced by the fear of death, they can consciously choose instead to take positive steps toward acting with kindness and finding meaning in their lives.
The Ramifications of Terror Management
Terror Management Theory suggests that large groups, and even entire societies, may make decisions, or put them off, primarily to gain comfort from avoiding thoughts of death or reassurance that their ideas will live on after they are gone. Research finds that this plays out in some unexpected ways, both beneficial and potentially hazardous.
How can TMT affect political views?
A core element of Terror Management Theory is that humans will go to great lengths to avoid thinking about their mortality. This may be one reason it’s so difficult for societies to take action on global warming. Individuals may derive some psychological comfort from the denial of climate change, but counterintuitively, doing so could jeopardize the survival of the species.
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Terror Management Theory (TMT) is to Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) as Newtonian physics is to General Relativity. The latter is a much more complete description of reality, but the former is still useful for making predictions.
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How Pandemics Change History
In his new book, “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present,” Frank M. Snowden, a professor emeritus of history and the history of medicine at Yale, examines the ways in which disease outbreaks have shaped politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and economic discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and the man-made and natural environments. Gigantic in scope, stretching across centuries and continents, Snowden’s account seeks to explain, too, the ways in which social structures have allowed diseases to flourish. “Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning,” he writes. “On the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. To study them is to understand that society’s structure, its standard of living, and its political priorities.”
“Diseases do not afflict societies in random and chaotic ways. They’re ordered events, because microbes selectively expand and diffuse themselves to explore ecological niches that human beings have created. Those niches very much show who we are—whether, for example, in the industrial revolution, we actually cared what happened to workers and the poor and the condition that the most vulnerable people lived in.
Cholera and tuberculosis in today’s world move along the fault lines created by poverty and inequality and the way in which, as a people, we seem to be prepared to accept that as somehow right and proper, or at least inevitable. But it’s also true that the way that we respond very much depends on our values, our commitments, and our sense of being part of the human race and not smaller units.When Bruce Aylward, who led the W.H.O. mission to China, came back to Geneva at the end of it and was asked a question very similar to the one you posed, he said that the major thing that needs to happen, if we are to be prepared now and in the future, is there has to be an absolutely fundamental change in our mind-set. We have to think that we have to work together as a human species to be organized to care for one another, to realize that the health of the most vulnerable people among us is a determining factor for the health of all of us, and, if we aren’t prepared to do that, we’ll never, ever be prepared to confront these devastating challenges to our humanity.
Well, that’s a very bleak thought, if I may say so, because I think it’s unlikely we are going to experience that change of mind-set.”
“…. I think it’s unlikely we are going to experience that change of mind-set.”
Here’s a free Ebook version (PDF). I’ve downloaded it, but have not started it yet – on the list. Originally published: October 22, 2019, so it’s pre Covid.
Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present – Frank M. Snowden
“A wide-ranging study that illuminates the connection between epidemic diseases and societal change, from the Black Death to Ebola This sweeping exploration of the impact of epidemic diseases looks at how mass infectious outbreaks have shaped society, from the Black Death to today. In a clear and accessible style, Frank M. Snowden reveals the ways that diseases have not only influenced medical science and public health, but also transformed the arts, religion, intellectual history, and warfare. A multidisciplinary and comparative investigation of the medical and social history of the major epidemics, this volume touches on themes such as the evolution of medical therapy, plague literature, poverty, the environment, and mass hysteria. In addition to providing historical perspective on diseases such as smallpox, cholera, and tuberculosis, Snowden examines the fallout from recent epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola and the question of the world’s preparedness for the next generation of diseases.”
Coping with ‘Death Awareness’ in the COVID-19 Era
According to terror management theory, people can have surprising reactions
“The coronavirus pandemic has brought all of us a lot closer to our impermanence. Faced with news photographs of makeshift morgues and dire headlines reporting body counts, we see that all of us, from Tom Hanks to Boris Johnson, are vulnerable—a fact that we push out of our minds in less threatening times.
But our reactions to this heightened sense of mortality can be dizzyingly inconsistent. We’ve seen amazing examples of people stepping up to help others during the pandemic: from a 99-year-old army veteran who raised $33 million for the U.K.’s National Health Service by walking laps in his garden to a royal milliner who started making face shields for hospital workers. On the other hand, we have also seen people stockpiling guns, hoarding canned food and toilet paper, and putting others at risk by defying science.”
On the family front, some of my cousins in Calgary have become facebook spreaders of rightwing-nut anti-masker, covid hoax, propaganda (most of it’s from the US & some UK). My 73 year old mother went the other way to deal & has made & donated over 500 cloth masks on her 1960’s era sewing machine (they don’t make em like they used to – sewing machines & moms).
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I get pissed off when I see Alberta plates driving around the Comox Valley and think go home you disease spreading rednecks!
Can you imagine the mayhem when JoeSixPack wakes up to the reality and implications of peak oil and climate change? Covid is a bad hair day in comparison to what’s coming.
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The Wienstein brothers are working under the old assumption that innovation will save us from the problems of population/expansion. The sad thing is that they could – IF we had been strongly focused for the past 50 years on expanding our economy beyond planet Earth. Now, it’s too late. We simply don’t have TIME to create a space infrastructure of a scale needed to save our economy – we are already past the time period where we had the excess resources to effectively build that infrastructure.
Our only hope on that front is that the conspiracy theories are true and we DO have some of that technology and infrastructure, hidden from public knowledge.
You can’t make this shit up. Still doubt Varki’s MORT?
Today Weinstein published a 3 minute high quality video explaining our predicament and what we need to do.
– our 2 big threats are nuclear war and genetic engineering
– because we’re not wise enough to control these technologies, our species is doomed
– to ensure the survival of humans we must colonize Mars
Despite Weinstein being really smart and well educated he missed the most important short-term threat (energy depletion), and proposes a solution that any physicist should know is impossible, and doesn’t explain why we wouldn’t take our nuclear weapons and genetic engineering with us to Mars, and doesn’t mention the only thing that would help our predicament (population reduction).
How is this possible?
It’s not, unless Varki’s MORT is true.
I no longer know, if it is possible to be constructive, by being critical.
A thought leader like Weinstein should not be propagating bullshit fantasies and ignoring what needs to be done, but it’s also true that what he does or doesn’t do probably won’t make a difference.
2022-02-24 Eric Weinstein’s video above : 11k views / 262k subscribers.
2022-02-18 Jordan Peterson (Population collapse is coming) : 1.7M view / 326k subs.
Perversely, Peterson thinks collapse will be caused because there is not enough procreation – (he says) the youth are our source of innovation and that is how we get out of the predicament.
Which is worse – his insanity, or that of his religious followers?
I don’t fret about Peterson because without a science background it’s understandable that he knows nothing about how the world actually works. He’s popular because he makes shit up that people want to hear. (Yes I have read his books).
Weinstein, on the other hand, has no excuse for ignorance and therefore is a poster child for Varki’s MORT.