This used to give me a dangerously false sense of optimism - that the modern society is a stable scientific one, where good intelligent people are in charge, and that the state of affairs are always improving. This notion partly came from the privilege of never having lived in a war-zone. The life of chaos of those who are unfortunate to be in one is even now beyond my understanding.
I think that the idea that humanity is always marching forward to better days is something implicit among people who live in peaceful affluent societies. But if you look at history, the world has always gone through cycles. No matter how much we improve socially, a regression seems almost inevitable. The Roman Empire did fall, and was followed by the Dark Ages.
Even in the most democratic countries of the world, fascism is only just around the corner. There is a large chunk of society who're easily swayed by purely emotional rhetoric based on in-groups and out-groups, and likes to follow leaders who make a show of macho masculinity. The status-quo is pretty fragile. The nerds aren't safe. Those with warrior tendencies always have upper-hand over those with nation-building tendencies, and that reads like a tautology.
I think this sentence is the biggest indicator of the problem. The Problem being not that there are large parts of society swayed by emotional rhetoric, but that to most people, the emotional swaying happens to others. It's never me who's swayed by emotions, it's always less rational people, and if only those people could get their shit together, like me, we'd be in a much better place.
You're just as swayed by emotion as those non nerds, you're just swayed on different values. Pretending like you're above it gets us nowhere, because it perpetuates an unhelpful me vs everyone else mentality. It's very satisfying to the ego but it just serves to further drive a wedge between you and everyone else.
In particular, when Russell writes about "the philosophical radicals ... who were just as sure of themselves as the Hitlerites are[, who] dominated politics and ... advanced [the world] rapidly both in intelligence and in material well-being," he is very likely writing about people who would definitely be a Hacker News they, given what I know about his politics and given statements like "if at any future time there should be danger of a Labour Government that meant business, [the British Fascists] would win the support of most of the governing classes."
So, if this essay leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling about your "wider and truer outlook" and the feeling that you are being oppressed because of your "skepticism and intellectual individualism", well, congratulations! You've discovered the power of emotional rhetoric.
It's why the Elon Musk's, Larry Page's and Bill Gates of the tech world retreat into their own private dreamlands as far away from the politics of the real world as possible, cause they know they don't stand a chance against the rhetorical snake charmers that are Bush, Obama, Clinton and now Trump.
I'll leave here, Matt Taibbi's more modern take on this that blames the media or what I like to call the rhetoric amplification industry.
The solutions are complex but eventually we'll have to start looking at China. Cause no one else seems to be working on alternatives to what the media has become today.
Elon Musk: capitalist. Larry Page: capitalist. Bill Gates: capitalist. Obama and Clinton: capitalists. Bush: capitalist with special emphasis on heavy resource-extraction industries. Trump: capitalist with special emphasis on finance and real-estate.
Honestly, what do the above list of men even disagree about? Gay marriage, and maybe one or two other minor cultural issues.
I mean, maybe Elon Musk could be seen as having a few leftist sympathies in naming his spaceships after Iain Banks characters, but I'm pretty sure he didn't actually mean to shout-out anarcho-communism.
Hate on western media if you like, but just remember the same industry that gave the world Fox News also gave it The Intercept and The Economist.
But still, if you want to look for an alternative to western media, you'll need to look elsewhere - China is turning more and more free, and is becoming increasingly like the rest of the West - good and bad, the whole package.
You say that like it's a bad thing.
Maybe the case for fast trains stacks up (in some places), but Nuclear power just doesn't. I know some people assume that because some of the safety problems are overstated it makes it a good option, but that chain of reasoning doesn't hold.
This book does a pretty decent and math-based argument that the chain of reasoning for nuclear energy holds up pretty well. Have there been some new developments that suddenly made it not so?
Heres a good article on the costs: http://theconversation.com/what-does-nuclear-power-cost-old-...
The democracy once did, and in fact, was probably more democratic when it chose to. Of course, now it chooses not to because the vast majority of the population are NIMBYs, while nuclear power and fast trains are actually supported only by a technically-educated elite (ie: us).
On the other hand, none of Bush, Obama, Clinton or Trump are stupid (although I have no evidence that Bush is especially sharp). And none of them are any more evil (or more good, for that matter) than any of your apparently favored three.
There is no solution to this; politics is how humans make large-scale and not-so-large-scale social decisions. Get used to it.
Personally, I think I'll pass on China as an example. I'm a bit too constitutionally unwilling to give up my crabby individuality.
Doubt is inherent in the process of intelligent reasoning. A highly intelligent person cannot come to correct conclusions about a topic without thoroughly examining it from as many sides as they can. They weigh up the pros and cons and then come to a conclusion. But even after all of that they will be aware of its flaws and downsides and thus doubt themself.
So why do I say aristocracy? Because the upper classes, the gentry and the wealthy were born into a position of power and confidence. Just because of who they were in society, they believed they were right. And as they were wealthy, they also made up the vast majority of scientists/philosophers/etc. The downfall of the aristocracy throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries led to the new thinkers no longer having that inbuilt "born-to-rule" mindset, that while arrogant, also lent an arrogant confidence to their position that a common intelligent man may not have.
In short, it's not confidence that led the thinkers of old to undoubting - it's arrogance. And maybe a little bit of that is always necessary to get things done...
I'm not sure who you think we is on HN, but if you consider HN to be mostly populated by people who prefer some kind of evidence-based reasoning then I'd think they would fit in very well.
No the problem is ALL OF US, we're just as emotional as these manipulated people!!11 Stop worrying about the broken voting system, the owned press and mislead population. Instead worry about your own emotionally driven mind.
It appears like a wise argument against HN hubris but you're really trying to derail people from a clear view of a problem and instead move the debate into introspection.
Whenever one side is totally in the right and the other side is totally in the wrong, you'll get people calling for moderation. "There are two sides to every story," they say. "How can you be sure that you're so different from your opponents?"
Whenever two sides are exactly the same, you'll get people calling for action. "Look at the atrocities they commit! You can't justify that."
And in the first case, you'll also get people calling for action. "Look at the atrocities they commit! You can't justify that." And the people calling for moderation will further say: "whenever two sides are exactly the same, you get people calling for action..."
And in the second case, you'll also get people calling for moderation. "There are two sides to every story." And the people calling for action will further say: "whenever one side is totally in the right and the other side is totally in the wrong..."
So it goes.
My takeaway is: just disregard what everyone is saying and focus on the consequences of the actions proposed.
Focusing on the consequences seems like one way out, but... I feel like both sides will always tell me that if I just focus on the consequences, it will seem obvious that they're right and their opponents are wrong. And when I ask both sides "okay, what are the consequences?", they're going to argue about what the consequences are, and the argument is going to look like all the other arguments.
But anyway, arguments about consequences should not be infinitely recursive, because they deal with the real world, the observable reality. If you're stuck in such a loop, you're doing it wrong.
Sadly, most of the policy-related discussions are done wrong.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno's_paradoxes
Oh come on: stop stealing Scott Alexander's lines.
As to the rest, well yes, the whole point is that levels of contrarianism and meta-contrarianism, the location of a position on today's political landscape, indicate basically nothing at all about the actual merits of the idea.
Except if it's a Republican idea, in which case it's been carefully optimized to be wildly insane. But they're a special case: other country's right-wing parties often aren't like that (say, the Christian Democrats in Germany).
The best type of leading is leading by example. Encouraging introspection by doing it, regardless of whether you think the problem is with you or not, is more likely to bring in good habits faster than telling people they're wrong.
To be frank, women's sufferage really was formulized in 1848 arguably, and then took until 1920 to actually happen. During that time, there was similar discussion to what we're having now. The idea of basic values have changed because of cultural discussion, over the course of decades.
I would argue that equality of sexualities has increasingly become another core value, with the debate of such happening over similar amounts of time. The discussion of course is still ongoing in this field and I'm eager to see what will happen in the future.
One of the points he makes is that the left and right don't agree on what the words "equality" or "fairness" mean. Right wing people tend to focus on equality of process. Left wing people tend to focus on equality of outcome.
That is, a conservative will tend to say "is the hiring process fair? yes? then if 90% of the jobs go to men, there's no problem". Whereas on the political left, they may say "if 90% of the jobs go to men then by definition the hiring process is not fair, and we should find a Solution, like by setting quotas". Right-wingers will tend to reject direct intervention like that, as they don't trust in human ability to intervene without causing unexpected and undesirable side effects.
>It's never me who's swayed by emotions, it's always less rational people, and if only those people could get their shit together, like me, we'd be in a much better place.
That is true, though I would amend it to "even if they got their shit together, like me, we would still have a long ways to go in that regard. But it sure would help if everyone knew what confirmation bias was so that politicians and the media couldn't so easily use it to convince people of things that might not be true!"
Nerds working daily towards that? Lol, no. Psychologists, maybe.
"Nerds" of the Hacker News variety are every bit as susceptible to various psychological failings as anyone else. There's nothing special about programming or physics or chemistry that makes you into some sort of uber-rational superhuman and it's very dangerous to believe that.
As time goes by, the more it seems to me that deep down we're all pretty much the same. The spectrum of human nature is pretty small: the gap between the most intellectual and moral and the least isn't anywhere near as big as some would like to think. For every intellectual with a convoluted theory that leads to an unintuitive conclusion, there's a man on the street armed with common sense and a degree from the University of Life who can blow it out of the water with a single sharp observation.
However, I think it's too pessimistic to say that people can't learn to be better at this. Just knowing that bias exists is a step in the right direction. I can have productive discussions with those self-described rationalists, (although I have to learn their terms of debate first since they keep making up their own). But there's something admirable in people trying to adapt these great intellectual traditions to their lives now.
And furthermore, who else are you going to turn to? Maybe there will eventually be professional bias-shattering specialists you can call on, but for now we all have to do what we can.
> Nerds working daily towards that? Lol, no.
You realize that the only difference between those two is a piece of paper? Getting a college education is - or rather, was - literally being a nerd of $SUBJECT_MATTER.
(Not that there aren't parts of EA that I think are worthwhile, such as givewell.org. Just as an example of how hard it seems to be to arrive and any purely rational outcome).
The chances are 5%. That is, 5% of people involved in EA actually put any money towards the AI stuff. 80%, on the other hand, consider global poverty worth throwing money at.
No. That requires knowing what the rational decision would actually be, if you would only make it. Knowing exactly how emotionally distraught you are about your grandmother dying during a physics exam doesn't give you any information about physics.
But as you noted, there is a degree of hidden bias in my statement. I will be more careful in such thoughts in the future. However, one cannot think about the world in a completely detached manner without making any sort of personal value judgements. We have to ascribe some degree of validity to people's opinions and decisions, and to where we personally stand in that spectrum. It is just that such judgements should be made after deliberation, and not slip in as a patterned thought as I have erred here.
From a purely mathematical point of view, any political grouping is arbitrary and non-exact.
Until someone figures out a social calculus - in effect, an algorithm to compute what is good and what is evil - there really is no scientific high ground for thinking fascists are in absolute terms worse than 'computer geeks'.
What we can do - and improve on- is recognise we have different opinions and that's ok (although pathological behaviour which sometimes stems from certain political beliefs is not).
Ignoring all the politicians, businessmen and artists trivializes civilizations development quite a bit.
Also, science and technology is morally and politically impartial. Note that saying increased knowledge or productivity 'is good' is again a value statement.
Yeah, I think so too but that's just my position - but this is not a mathematical truth but a political position that requires constant backing up.
The point that this requires constant backing up in adiscussion (and that that's the way it should be) and not considering people with different values and priorities as 'being wrong' was the whole point of this thread.
> The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
The so-called Dark Ages were a period in which Roman-style governance was exported to the individual kingdoms of the former Roman Empire. Rome could only ever maintain political dominance for so long. Stability increased the might of kingdoms, these kingdoms didn't always want to live under the thumb of Rome. Rome kept it up for a good long while, but it couldn't do so forever.
The Middle Ages was when Europe became Europe. It saw the rise of a completely new type of institution, the pan-national Catholic Church, which became a third check against the power of kings. The manorial system grew out of the old Roman villa system and increased the output of farms and industry. This allowed militaries to professionalize and central government to flourish. Instead of one Rome and many vassal states, the vassal states each became their own Rome.
The intense competition between states eventually produced a theory of sovereignty that cut down on warfare tremendously.
The Middle Ages were not some dystopian hell out of which the Renaissance magically sprung up.
i.e. the Catholic Church did not invent checks and balances. They used to have those in the Old Republic, but those were abandoned after the Roman Civilization reached the appex of its, let's call it cultural vitality. I see the authoritarism of the Caesars as a symptom of Rome having run out of fresh ideas, they "jumped the shark" if you will.
I agree the Middle Ages were not some sort of dystopian hell. There was a Dark age after (or more precisely, around) the time when Rome fell. Those were hungry and dangerous times, and the people that survived were more impoverished (both in the material and the intelectual sense) than their forefathers, but survive they did. The Middle Ages is what resulted when the survivors rebuilt society out of the wreckage.
I agree that many former Roman institutions were repurposed during those times, but I do not see this as a way of purposeful progress. Rather, those obsolete institutions were salvaged and repurposed by the new Medieval society for its own needs. Superficially they look like a continuation of the same, but they were successful because they had a different cultural sensitivity, they had fresh ideas now, with their own new values and their own expectations of how things should be. And they pushed those in directions that no old Roman philosopher would've been able to imagine.
I think people tend to conflate Middle Ages with "Dark age" because the Middle Ages ended in a relatively mild collapse. The (Christian) Reformation and the Enlightenment allowed much of the cultural treasures of the past age to be preserved, but also caused warfare, famine, dislocation of whole nations, etc. Again, hungry and dangerous times, and again the survivors picked up the pieces and build the world we know today.
Our world looks superficialy like a continuation of the Renaissance, but it is not. The Renaissance is the apex of the cultural vitality of the Middle Ages, and our own World's foundations rest upon many of its repurposed ideas and institutions. But it had ideas and values of our own, and our forefathers took that in directions that no Scholastic monk would have ever imagined.
So, you can see, we are no closer to a future of endless joy, anymore than any other society that inhabited this planet ever did. We are going our own way around the cycle, and clearly we have ran out of fresh ideas ourselves.
I will not pretend to be subtle, our times will be on the down slope and depending on how fast this proceeds we ourselves or our children may end up in one of those dark ages (no uppercase, thank you very much) where hungry and dangerous is the norm. And then others will come and pick up the pieces. I guess what I expect to acomplish in life is to leave behind some cultural artifacts in good working order; and I hope that, one or two centuries from now, some smart guy will pick those up and push them in directions that I'd never be able to imagine.
> I agree that many former Roman institutions were repurposed during those times, but I do not see this as a way of purposeful progress. Rather, those obsolete institutions were salvaged and repurposed by the new Medieval society for its own needs.
Seems to me a distinction without a difference. The "new Medieval society" was the same as the old Roman society. It may have been different families in charge in many areas, but they were all cut from the same cloth.
> Again, hungry and dangerous times, and again the survivors picked up the pieces and build the world we know today.
I think you overestimate the scale of collapse and rebuilding. The most devastating collapse the world has ever seen, World War II, directly transitioned to the biggest boom the world has ever seen.
To me, a collapse is like a forest wildfire. It burns away overgrown areas and makes room for a fresh start. If we see a decline in American hegemony in our lifetime, and that's big if, I'm confident it will be replaced by something far more interesting.
I suggest you don't dig too deeply into why this might be, or the provenance of most of the historical documents we have that describe Rome. When I did, the results were quite disturbing.
The fact that many historical documents are forgeries or were edited for political reasons is not in doubt. The Donation of Constantine is one notorious example, in which a document that claimed to be "a forged Roman imperial decree by which the emperor Constantine the Great supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope" (quoting wikipedia). In fact it was forged some time in the 700s.
During the Renaissance there was a craze for collecting works of antiquity, to the extent that the Catholic church actually posted large rewards for the discovery of previously unknown manuscripts. Not surprisingly, large numbers of works that were previously entirely unknown or merely rumoured were "discovered", often in circumstances that to a skeptical modern eye seem completely implausible.
A typical origin story involves a scholar/adventurer type venturing to a remote monastery, upon which a previously forgotten ancient manuscript was located. The monks that toiled at the abbey copying these manuscripts throughout the dark ages were invariably ignorant of the great importance of what they had, until the discoverer presented the manuscripts to an amazed and delighted world (and collected a reward).
Examples of texts with such stories are the Annals of Tacitus, the Poems of Catellus, and the History of Velleius Paterculus.
These stories have repetitive, severe problems that would be torn apart in a world that had snopes.com, but of course the medieval era did not. In no particular order:
• The texts frequently have a single source document, with none others ever being found. That document was invariably treated with little caution, meaning that the oldest copies of the text are said to be copies of this one original manuscript. It's implausible that works that were recognised immediately upon "discovery" as great works of literature had literally a single copy in the entire world.
• The origin stories are sometimes absurd, like the Poems which is claimed to be discovered under a beer barrel.
• The texts are often not cited at all or their existence is barely even mentioned from the time they were supposedly written up until the time of their "discovery", at which point citations suddenly appear all over the place. It is difficult to believe that such large and historically important works could be barely noticed by scholars for literally centuries.
• They sometimes have mistakes that a contemporary author could not possibly have made, e.g. in Tacitus' Annals he refers to London as "remarkably celebrated for the multiplicity of its
merchants and its commodities" although at the time the book was supposedly written London was little more than a village around the size of Hyde Park at the far end of the empire, and wouldn't have been known to anyone in Rome. A medieval forger with little knowledge of actual ancient history, on the other hand, could have easily made this mistake.
The more you dig into the back stories of important ancient documents, the more you discover that if they had simply been invented for profit, we'd have absolutely no reliable way to discover it.
Our societies are driven by emotion, and by reactionary forces. Revolution leads to expansion, which leads to consolidation, which leads to narcissism, which leads to complacency, which leads to inner turmoil, which leads to revolution.
I've recently re-read Asimov's Foundation series end-to-end, and his ideas of how an empire rises and falls, while quite clearly based on Rome, hold very true, particularly in today's world.
All we have now will ultimately end in ashes, and assuming we don't end up with an uninhabitable planet, something new, and marginally better, will grow from those ashes - but it will take time, and the setbacks will be enormous.
As long as we have humans making decisions, the same ideas will take root, the same feelings will be in effect, the same dichotomies of "us" and "them" will arise, and the instinct to hoard for winter will never subside.
The only way out is probably strict technocracy run by benevolent AIs - but it's not one that anyone is going to be willing to accept, as by doing so one loses much of what it is to be human.
Ultimately, you have to accept the bad with the good, enjoy what little life you have, and make your goal maximising the happiness of yourself and others - as there's quite literally nothing else to do.
Clearly it's not as simple as "complexity is bad." Ask any engineer: complexity often enables performance and efficiency. A modern V6 is far more complex than a 1960's car engine, but smaller, lighter, more powerful, and more fuel efficient. Complexity is just a fact of life that needs to be managed.
Indeed, the story of our civilization is progress driven by ever-increasing complexity, facilitated by technological innovation. Amazon is far more complex than a local mom-and-pop. It's also far more effective at getting products to people quicker and more cheaply. Going back in history, Great Britain's financial system was vastly more complex than what contemporary countries had, but it enabled the tiny nation to build and control a vast economic empire.
The complexity of something that overlays or models a system should reflect the complexity of that thing.
Complication is different. Complicated systems have dependencies that are more tightly bound together. Because of this, they can't adapt as easily to environmental changes. Consequentially, this creates conflict between system and environment that can often be destructive or violent.
Or at least that's my social hypothesis. I based my idea on the Rich Hickey "Simple vs. Easy" talk on software complexity. I think his ideas could be generalized to societies as well.
This is along the lines of Plato's philosopher kings, who he insisted were the only hope. This is fascist crap. Benevolent Philosopher kings don't exist, and neither do benevolent AIs.
There was, in fact, rule by philosopher kings in Plato's generation, by a gang of thirty who learned from Socrates. Unsurprisingly, they were brutal fascists. An AI regime would be the same.
This is because there is only one way to ensure human needs are met, and it isn't technocratic anything. It is to ask people and empower them to get what they need directly. I.e. democracy, in as direct and total a form as we can manage efficiently.
In any case the point is: no hyperintelligent monarch is going to appear to introduce a reign of reason that will save us all.
Which would work, except that what one person needs or wants does not align with what the other needs or wants. If you'd then purpose to 'weigh' the needs and wants against each other I'll point out that there is no way to do such a thing. Since all human judges of what is ethical are biased by everything they are.
Supposing a AI regime could be established it'd be so powerful as to completely annihilate proponents of values that it considers inferior and thereby creating a 'perfect' society from a certain point of view...
Sure, we have many tools for achieving this. Compromise, conversation, empathy. We've been using these tools to solve our differences for as long as there have been humans.
You've simply replaced one unproven ideal with another here.
Rome didn't "fall", the "Dark Ages" weren't "dark." Those are oversimplifications from historians centuries ago, a point emphasized in most introductory history classes.
I don't know. With the cognitive relativism of our times, we want to make sure each civilisation, and each of its ages, are "equal". They certainly can be equally interesting for studies, but if we take a simple way to measure its effect on the human race by checking out how many books that are still read today have been written during these periods, you'll see that ancient Greece and Rome (and ancient China, and French enligthment) have been periods of great fertility, while for the normally educated man it is hard to find more than 2 or 3 books from the Middle Age that are still read and having influence nowadays.
So, at least following a few similar criteria, the Dark Ages were "dark". And it is not very surprising: when all the intelligensia spend almost all its brain power in obscure religious debates, you get very few results.
I don't know what a previous poster meant by mentioning Augustine and Aqunas and then saying "the morality developed during that period" (Augustine 4th century BC, Aquinas 13th century). The truth is that Augustine was especially heavily influenced by Plato and Aquinas' entire philosophy was mostly an attempt to synthesize Aristotle with Christianity. There is a tendency by some Christians to think morality somehow can't exist without God, but the truth is otherwise. The Greeks certainly had well-developed modern morality, along with brilliant moral theory. And the reality is that most of the important advancements in morality have come from "liberal", often secular, thinkers, while Christianity (and other religions) get pulled upward from old barbarisms only while kicking and screaming.
Any references for this? I find it highly doubtful.
The Greek philosophy was universal in that it applied to anyone who was a "person". I don't think that's different from any morality that's followed, it's just that the "universe" has always been limited, e.g., in U.S. rights were created universally for "all men", but that didn't originally include women or slaves.
Pretty much every philosopher is influenced by the great philosophers who came before them. If you look at philosophical (or indeed scientific) work today, it is no less under the influence of previous work. Augustine and Aquinas were very original in many respects, but they quite rightly built on the best philosophical ideas that they knew of rather than starting from scratch just for the sake of it.
He died in 430 AD, 20 years after the sack of Rome by Visigoths. Pretty much what people call the beginning of medieval period.
Lots and lots of innovation was done during Middle Ages, as was interesting philosophy. Ancient Rome and Greece get the attention because they are the oldest stuff that is somewhat preserved, not because they would not have been surpassed in the following centuries.
First of all, medieval builders constructed churches and palaces that were bigger and higher than ancient ones. That's what Gothic architecture is all about (even though the name "Gothic" is a later pejorative). This was possible because of new innovations in structure of arches etc.
They were also able to construct these buildings with real windows, which was not actually the case in ancient times. (For instance, look at Pantheon: ancient, and quite big and impressive, but no windows, just the oculus at top).
For construction tools, medieval times came up with e.g. the wheelbarrow (although this was independently developed in China much earlier) and various types of cranes.
If we look at politics, law and economics, well, medieval politics was sophisticated in many ways and I cannot see why we should call it regression. As I wrote in another comment, during Middle Ages the development achieved, for instance, abolition of slavery and things like Magna Carta. As well as the start of merchant banking and foreign exchange contracts.
And many of our well-known poetic legends are medieval: Roland's Song, Carmina Burana, The Canterbury Tales, the Divine Comedy, Beowulf, and if you go to religious arts, people like St. Francis.
Edit: regarding sculpture, I'd imagine that the Greek had easy access to sculptable stone materials that medieval Central Europeans had less so. There's even less stone sculpture in northern Europe where the bedrock is granite and it takes absolutely modern tools to sculpt them.
You can keep on going down the list. Medieval poetry and literature developed extensively into forms we take for granted within our modern culture. The ideas of chivalry, nobility, and courtly love are so deeply ingrained within our society that we take them for granted.
As for architecture? Come on! Take a look at Aachen Cathedral (built in 800 AD) and tell me that's a "regression" compared to the Romans.
What's great about this sentence is how it brings the whole narrative full circle, back to fascism and Germany.
The Papacy in the middle ages was basically a fascist institution - ridiculing and condemning anyone that didn't agree with it.
But it wasn't till the 16th century that a German named Martin Luther dealt that fascist regime a serious blow by nailing some thoughts to a Cathedral door.
Luther wasn't the first to have those thoughts, though. He was simply the first credible mind to have those thoughts outside the sphere of influence of the Pope. The German politics Luther lived under enabled him to contradict the Papacy without fear of punishment.
In Europe perhaps, but there's a whole world out there.
The Dark Ages weren't "dark" in the sense that many understand them, but they were a period of fragmented power, small empires, and warring dynasties - much as much of the Roman period was, but the fact that their structure disintegrated is undeniable.
In their case, it all tied back to lines of communication and an increasingly inefficient taxation system, which lead to declining revenues for Rome, rot at the fringes, and eventual atomisation.
The 'dark ages' witnessed the high mark of Western Christendom, which had its own fascinating form of 'international' unity and an impressive legacy of achievements, and it certainly shaped modern Europe. I mean, I think everyone knows that 'Dark ages' is a made up label from centuries ago during the Enlightenment era.
Either way, neither of those labels are endorsed by any serious modern historian as far as I know.
And quite a number of low marks in terms of industrial production, technical knowledge, public health, collective wealth, individual freedoms and so on. In fact, without the rising Arab civilization undertaking huge efforts to acquire and preserve what the Western countries were discarding as "unchristian", we would have lost even more knowledge than we did.
There are so many reasons the "dark" attribute stuck and survived for almost 700 years (it wasn't an Enlightenment construct but rather a Renaissance one, although technically coined even earlier). It might be too generic a term to survive the contemporary level of analytical debate of history, but ignoring it would be a disservice to the cause of science and progress.
What makes you claim this? The growth of population, economy and individual freedoms continued through the Middle Ages. Ancient Rome was not a particularly "civilized" place if you look at it by, say, medieval English standards.
And lots of technical innovations were made during Middle Ages (both through interaction with Middle East and Asia, and through independent development). Technical knowledge accumulated. Public health learned some lessons - yes, some of those very slowly, it took 200 years to fully recover form the Black Death - but the population and economy grew, except for this plague anomaly which the ancient civilizations would hardly have handled any better.
Throughout Middle Ages, agricultural output grew and new tools were brought in and new crops were introduced, as well as crop rotation in farming (from just farming to fallowing and then to three-field rotation).
New scripts were developed, e.g. Carolingian minuscule enabled faster writing and producing of books (prior to the printing press which is seen as the starting point of Renaissance but was developed by medieval people).
Regarding individual freedoms: slavery, common in ancient civilizations, was largely abolished in Europe during medieval times. Magna Carta is clearly a medieval document.
Medieval times were not dark. Development was not as fast as later on, but it existed, almost continuously, with some (mostly local) setbacks.
One of the odd things about the fascination with Greece and Rome as the basis of all civilization (ahem) is the failure to understand how alien those civilizations were.
Not to discount the advancements of Arab world during this time period, but this is not an either/or thing and is much, much more complex than you are portraying it. Large amounts of knowledge were actually preserved by the church (mostly in monasteries) and the parallel church structure set up during the latter periods of the Western Roman empire helped cushion the decline of the West as Rome shifted East.
The "Dark Ages" were not dark (which is why historians have almost universally quit using that term in favor of "Middle Ages") and are a very complex and interesting time period.
I highly recommend Dan Carlin's excellent Hardcore History episode "Thor's Angels" . He spends four hours talking about just this very specific period (what happened in Europe when Rome declined), and spends lots of time talking about the church's role in stabilizing what could have been a whole lot worse.
Actually, the idea comes from Petrarch, who was a late Mediaeval writer who was upset at the disrespect paid to ancient Latin and Greek literature and culture during the Migration and Mediaeval periods. Of course, Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment intellectuals all picked up on the idea for their own reasons.
It is a historic fact that Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 to Constantinople, where it remained the center of the Empire for the next 1100 years.
To be more precise in Nova Roma or Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and this since the 11th May 330.
It remained the center of the Roman empire until 1453, this was long after the Roman culture in the west was almost completely destroyed. (and with it western Christianity turned into a tool of oppression)
So while the West during these times faced oppression and feudalism, the Roman empire certainly did not.
The term "dark" should not be used, as it still much too frequently is, as some negative value judgment that covers a thousand year period which encompassed hundreds of different societies and cultures spanning an entire continent.
It is understandable why people think this way, since European history (at least in the United States and Canada) is still largely taught in a way that skims over the Middle Ages: check out how awesome Greece and Rome were, then, well, the Middle Ages when they had these grand churches, but who cares because then came the Renaissance when everything was cool again.
I've taught European Medieval history survey courses at the university level and one of the most difficult challenges was getting this idea of a horrible "dark" age dispelled from the students' minds. This is not to say that everything was somehow great or that all ages are "equal" in "value" (whatever that really means), but you can not begin to study a period of history without facing your own preconceptions of it (and, really, your own society).
Summary is that though Rome didn't fall overnight, there was a massive economic collapse first in the west and then several centuries later in the east (the latter coming on the heals of a devastating outbreak of the plague).
What makes you think nerds are any different?
Admitting that one is not immune to biological influences is really what matters. In this respect, nerds are more mindful. Also, nerds historically belonged to the out-group. Again with mindfulness, we will hopefully sympathize with the out-group even if our recently elevated social status is permanent.
As a counterpoint to the demise of the Roman Empire, the Chinese Empire not only survived for thousands of years, it assimilated all the different people's living in the Chinese Mainland into one race (the Han). I feel like something similar is likely to happen in the future of the world.
The world has had laws since the beginning of man's time on this planet. What made the last 100-200 years different for the US and for the world has been free market economy, not laws alone.
>> It did - social progress has made institutions like democracy and ideas like liberty and rationalism more popular than it has ever been in history.
Democracy by itself fails. The most successful partial Democracy has been the US which is a Democratic Republic, not a true Democracy or Republic, the strength lies in the constant struggle of both.
>> that the modern society is a stable scientific one
Societal stability has nothing to do with science and everything to do with the choices people make every day and the military that defends a free world.
>> Even in the most democratic countries of the world, fascism is only just around the corner.
[Even in the most democratic countries of the world, Communism is only just around the corner.]
Yes, if you wait for long enough, everything fails. If it didn't fail yet, it's just a matter of waiting a few more centuries. But those failures are getting shorter and shorter in duration, while the periods societies are "failing to fail" get longer and longer.
Also, what's this about cycles? Have you ever seen a population graph? It literally looks like a backwards L. But from your comment, one might expect a sine wave. And if you've been following say... Bill Gates's blog, the third world has significantly and measureably improved in the past 50 years.