October 10, 2017

My Little Pony And The Downfall Of Western Civilization

Our current political climate is best described as a bunch of chimpanzees angrily throwing feces at each other. Many people recognize that there are many problems with modern politics, but few agree on what those problems actually are. Liberals, republicans, Trump, millenials, capitalism, communism, too many regulations, too few regulations, gerrymandering, illegal immigrants, rich people, poor people, schools, governments, religion, secularism, the list goes on and on and on. These, however, are not problems, they are excuses. They are scapegoats we have conjured up from our mental list of things we don't like so we can ignore the ugly truth.

At some point, Americans are going to have to admit that the entire problem with this country has been summed up in a TV show for six-year-old girls designed to sell toys. My Little Pony was released seven years ago, and as the series has progressed, it has focused more and more on reforming villains instead of defeating them. Time and time again, ponies refuse to give up on those who seem lost to darkness and try to figure out what is causing them to lash out. A central theme of the show is that almost no one is truly a "villain", only misguided, misunderstood, or pushed towards lashing out after a traumatic experience. While a select few villains have been show to be truly irredeemable, this is rare, which is in line with reality. Only a very small percentage of the human population is deliberately evil as opposed to simply lashing out, being stupid, or being tragically misinformed.

It is no longer possible to argue with anyone anymore. This is not because everyone suddenly became incapable of critical thought, but because no one can agree on any facts. When we built the internet, we thought having access to the sum of all human knowledge would bring infinite prosperity, but instead it brought us infinite misinformation. Russians have been making this worse, feeding false narratives to both sides to make us hate each other. It worked. When scientists themselves have been manipulated by corporations without anyone bothering to attempt to reproduce experiments, there simply isn't any good way to verify the truth of anything. The entire point of the scientific method is to make sure something is reproducible, but a staggering number of retractions in recent years has demonstrated that barely anyone actually checks anyone else's work. This has fostered a general distrust in science, even for results that have been reproduced thousands of times, like the thoroughly debunked "Vaccines cause autism!" claim.

This kind of political polarization is untenable. We no longer live in a world where we can get into a fight, stab someone else with a sword and call it good. If our political polarization goes unchecked, it will result in nothing less than the total collapse of western civilization. Humanity will have proven itself too dumb and tribalist to wield a tool as powerful as the internet. Whatever civilization comes after us will struggle to reclaim the technological progress we enjoy, now that we've stripped the planet of resources. If we fail now, humanity will never again be capable of reaching for the stars. We will have sentenced ourselves to live on this small rock until the sun boils the oceans away, doomed by our own stupidity.

There was an episode of My Little Pony that explained the origin of their country, Equestria. The three races, Pegasi, Earth ponies, and Unicorns, hated each other. Evil forces fed on their hatred, smothering the land in snow and threatening to freeze them all to death. So, each race set out to find a new land to colonize, only to suddenly realize that each of them had wound up on the exact same new continent. The leaders of each race immediately started yelling at each other, and the blizzard returned, until each of them was encased in ice. Only when the assistants of each leader realized they didn't actually hate each other were they able to dispel the evil forces by starving them of hatred and talking sense into their leaders. The moral of this story is very clear: either we figure out how to get along, or we're all going to die. I really, honestly don't know how to explain this better than a saturday morning cartoon show about magical ponies.

The problem is that I don't know if humanity is capable of moving past this. I've seen one of my friends rapidly devolve into insane conspiracy theory nonsense, and I simply don't have the mental willpower to engage with them. I eventually had to block them, and accomplished two things at once: reinforcing their echo chamber and reinforcing my echo chamber. I tried to hold on to them as a window into conservative nonsense so my twitter wasn't a complete echo chamber, but when the other side is saying truly horrible things about you, this becomes more and more difficult. It also make it more likely for me to say truly horrible things about the other side, in a vicious, endless cycle, and I simply have too many other things to worry about to be capable of dealing with that level of toxicity. At this stage, I'm not sure humanity has the strength to actually reconcile with itself. I think there is a real possibility that our worries about AI were misplaced - the technology that might ultimately destroy us could be the internet, simply because our tribalist brains are too desperate to find someone to hate. We may be fundamentally incapable of sustaining a global, interconnected society with instantaneous communication.

At least then we'll have a very definitive answer to the Fermi Paradox.