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The Road to Utopia: A manifesto for reclaiming a humanist future (2020) (culture.io)
61 points by durakot 32 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 129 comments

(Paraphrasing Sapiens): 1,000 years ago a person living in China had a varied diet, spent time catching food in a forest, was not exposed to industrial pollution, had large amounts of free time and time spent socializing with other humans.

Today, a person living in the same spot in China works 6.5 days per week doing the same task all day in an electronics factory, lives in a dorm with other workers and away from family, has no privacy, suffers from massive industrial pollution and noise.

Humans are adapted for the hunter gatherer life and this is likely the environment wherein human flourishing can be expected.

Each revolution (agricultural, industrial, information) has chipped away at that life more and more until it does not exist.

When Jared Diamond said in the 1990s that the agricultural revolution was the worst thing to happen to humans, there was outrage and he was forced to apologize. Now, that thinking is becoming accepted.

This comment is the following Douglas Adams quote, but unironically

> Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

Also if you believed the Chinese were hunter-gatherers 1000 years ago then you might want to read up on Song dynasty (960–1279AD) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_dynasty

The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human being to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries.

- Industrial Society and its future, by Dr. Theodore John Kaczynski

I know this is pedantic, but I think your point applies to 10,000 years ago :) 1000 years ago many empires had already risen and fallen in China and it was a centralized agricultural civilization. Not an expert.

Also fall of civilizations podcast is awesome!

Here’s a timeline of dynasties.


> 1,000 years ago a person living in China had a varied diet, spent time catching food in a forest, was not exposed to industrial pollution

There was plenty of pollution in the middle ages. People were burning wood to heat up their non-isolated homes. Not to mention that, at least in Europe, 1000 years ago homes were heated up in central open fire (chimneys were not invented yet) and so basically the whole house was a chimney. People sometimes literally couldn't see the other end of the room they were in, due to smoke. Welcome to primitive technologies...

Here's a writeup of a sustenance hunter in Alaska.[1] He has guns, steel traps, ammo, and satellite TV now, but he did grow up without electricity.

Not many people can be supported that way. He has 35 miles of traplines.

[1] https://www.nrafamily.org/articles/2019/7/12/forty-below-and...

Have you considered some people actually ENJOY the work, leisure, convenience, busy-ness and thrill of fast paced modern life?

In what other era could I instantaneously, from the comfort of my home, despite a raging pandemic, inform you of your ignorance?

Technology is as essential to utopia as milk is to milkshake. Your cynicism has destroyed your sense of LIFE!

The internet is educating you! Wake up! You live in the future!

> Have you considered some people actually ENJOY the work, leisure, convenience, busy-ness and thrill of fast paced modern life?

I wouldn't consider the modern system of wage-slavery to be a life of leisure, convenience, and certainly not enjoyable for the thrill of a fast paced modern-life. As the above commenter observed, the lifestyle of the modern worker is anything but leisurely and thrilling, rather, more reminiscent of the life of a caged bird. While this may not be true for the privileged, for millions of factory workers this is an everyday reality.

> Technology is as essential to utopia as milk is to milkshake. Your cynicism has destroyed your sense of LIFE!

My take on this is more similar to what the author of culture.io's manifesto wrote:

"To blindly reject technology is to reject an aspect of our humanity. To blindly embrace technology is similarly misguided. We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being."

Technology aids the development of the utopia, but to simply accept all forms of technological development as beneficial for humanity is short-sighted. Indeed, in the words of the author, "The point is simply that we should always treat individuals as ends, never as means." If the utopia is not individual-centric, then it is no utopia at all. Therefore, if technological innovation comes at the cost of the livelihood and well-being of individuals, then we must reject it.

This, I think, was what the above commenter was communicating and what I agree with.

> I wouldn't consider the modern system of wage-slavery to be a life of leisure, convenience, and certainly not enjoyable for the thrill of a fast paced modern-life. As the above commenter observed, the lifestyle of the modern worker is anything but leisurely and thrilling, rather, more reminiscent of the life of a caged bird.

Being a farmer in the middle ages wasn't no picnic either. That's just the nature of work, I'm afraid, to the degree that it was even put into the story of Adam and Eve's banishment ("In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread").

> Have you considered some people actually ENJOY the work, leisure, convenience, busy-ness and thrill of fast paced modern life?

Some people enjoy getting kicked in the balls for the sexual thrill. Is that supposed to mean that we should all be getting kicked in the balls?

> agricultural revolution was the worst thing to happen to humans

Funny because that was one of Rousseaus core ideas from the 1700s.

A 1000 years ago a stronger someone could easily decide to steal your lunch, not today. Well it depends where I guess ...

Someone infinitely stronger than me takes part of my lunch everyday and punishes me if I make a mistake.

Humans have been conquered, for lack of a better word.

Sure but anybody can arguably choose between living in the forest and being part of civilization. I agree with the philosophical point, just not sure of why would somebody rather fight in the forest

It is illegal to live in the forest in most "civilized" societies.

>> agricultural revolution was the worst thing to happen to humans

I think its an outrageous statement because having an abundant supply of food is unquestionably good. It's allows us to not worry about food supply and focus on other problems in our society.

We can have full-time scientists, doctors, police etc.

I think its outrageous to say everybody should be gathering food all day because they can't find anything more useful to do.

There is so much around us that needs doing!

> having an abundant supply of food is unquestionably good

It's not unquestionably good. It allows a small number of people to have really great lives but blows up the population of people with terrible lives. Most people in all of human history had short and miserable lives where they slaved away all day to make bread and die from war or disease. They would have been better off as hunter gatherers. Is that worth it? I don't really know

The great hunters gathered it would be more convenient to have the spoils of war served to them by slaves. Ecofacism will hold the masses managable, while still allowing for real hunting in the forbidden natural reserves and great adventures in space!

Spaceward Ho!

I think that is a questionable statement. Without agriculture there is no modern medicine which provides a lot of life quality, also there is very little starvation in the world today.

I would recommend reading the referenced title (“Sapiens”), as it has some interesting arguments that may surprise you. It’s difficult to boil down the nuance of its argument into an HN comment.

makes me think of children of dune wishing for the desert

Take the Tedpill my brother

If the implicit goal of life were the enjoyment of it, the world would be a radically different place. A rational hedonic species would have a peaceful society, use some technology but only when it directly improved life, and would regulate things like economy and reproduction to keep them within strict limits and to keep any system from "running away." Preventing the emergence of any "Red Queen's race" would be a high priority.

But that's not the world we live in, and that's not what we are.

The implicit goal of life, as resulting from the nature of its embodiment as a self-replicating catalytic system, is the replication of genes, organisms, ideas, societies, and possibly eventually biospheres. Life makes life to make life.

The runaway industrial/technological system has been driven by the implicit drive of various living systems to replicate. There are more humans today than ever before, and more ideas in human brains than ever before. The fact that this has been achieved at the expense of other living things is an artifact of the limited size of our biosphere, but run this system long enough and it's possible that it will lead to the full-scale replication of entire biospheres:


Over a long enough time span, life as a whole may come out ahead.

When life gets to other biospheres what will it do? Replicate, diversify, evolve, and replicate more. Remember "grey goo" from 90s nanotechnology speculation? It already exists. It's you. Life is grey goo, and if nothing stops it it will eventually convert as much matter and energy in the universe into life as physically possible before heat death.

Pleasure is an effect, not a cause. The things that please you do so because they've been wired that way to get you to survive and reproduce. Since humans are complex and social, our pleasures and motives are similarly complex. We experience pleasure from eating protein, fat, and sugar because it nourishes us. Socializing is pleasurable because we are semi-colonial organisms that depend on socializing for survival. Sex feels good because it leads to reproduction and in humans (and many other complex creatures) cements critical social bonds.

Change some neurological wiring and you'd derive immense pleasure from sitting in front of a screen solving problems for 40 hours a week. There are a few non-neurotypical people who do.

I am not necessarily arguing that this is all there is to existence or consciousness. We don't really know what consciousness is, and it may be a broader phenomenon somehow than biological life. But as far as biological embodied life is concerned, this is how it works.

I'm also not arguing that no improvement to our condition is possible. Being intelligent and self-aware we have some ability to drive this thing. Yet nature to be commanded must be obeyed. Anything we do to improve things probably has to work with the overall thermodynamic direction of life, not against it. This is probably why all utopian ideologies that revolve around constraint and reaction eventually fail or are washed away by a tide of less conservative social phenomena.

Counterpoint: communications and the creation of a global community can be profoundly life-changing for the better for many individuals. People who are LGBTQIA+, people who are neurodiverse, people who are curious about deeply learning about specific subjects, people who have any interests that differ from the social orthodoxies of their immediate physically-colocated tribes - finding that one is not alone can be transformative. Certainly there is a balance, and perhaps we have seen examples where user-generated content has become so prevalent and hyper-optimized that it permits dangerous levels of propaganda to spread. But I truly believe that a balance can be found.

I'm not so sure about that. We live in a golden age compared with, say, how things were in ancient times. Mostly thanks to technology.

For example, I'm sitting in my warm house sipping coffee typing this, lit with electric light, with the stereo playing softly in the background. I'm trying not to go eat that box of donuts in the kitchen. Maybe I'll watch a movie later.

I'm not shivering in a cave drinking water, sitting in the dark, and wondering if I'll get lucky and catch a squirrel to eat tomorrow. That is, if I can walk on my broken ankle.

For some definition of lifestyle and culture relative to the notion of "golden age".

It is true that we are supremely comfortable. It is true that we have an abundance of information. It is true that more people have more access to more wealth than ever if by "wealth" you mean how many things that were luxuries in previous generations have become commodities we can consume now, even if it's on credit and rent instead of ownership and entitlements.

But not everyone would value such things, nor the incentives and affordances new technologies provide. There are many poor aspects of our civilization such as greater neuroticism and strong pressures against our physical health flooding our environment since birth. Are these better problems to have than subsistence hunting? Maybe, but regardless they're still widespread and glaring and demonstrate that our utopia is based on tradeoffs.

Things that make human beings truly happy, like opportunities for compassionate service, large tight-knit families, natural environments to be physically active in, living space sufficient for privacy if necessary, moments of quiet for centering and concentration, easy access to healthy foods of moderate caloric density without having to fight temptation, consistently good sleep - all of these have become more difficult to attain relative to the attitudes and commitments required to maintain our current manner of civilization.

It is also an absurdum to use cavemen as a point of comparison. It would make the Dark Ages as much of a golden age as the Renaissance.

Comfort is soul killing. We're heading for comfortable serfdom, where people are locked in a Brave New World style prison without healthy community, opportunity, or growth.

Comfort is something which should accompany a well lived life, at the end of the day, when it's time to rest. Comfort as the de facto circumstance of your life makes people unable to act in the interest of their own wellbeing - they are sabotaged by it.

As an allegory: There are millions of people who are addicted to various drugs, which they desperately wish they could stop using because their lives are being wasted/destroyed. It's the same thing with comfort, there's a level of addiction to it which is extremely difficult to overcome.

Obviously, comfort (addiction) alone isn't the problem, but when you add to it the constant abuses of our society, people fall apart and can't get off the couch. When people are isolated, denigrated, and treated like cattle they get weak. Give a traumatized person a comfy prison cell and they'll never leave it.

Talk of Utopia is dangerous though, whenever people start talking like this some atrocity seems to be just around the corner.

This is a position that can be taken only from a place of comfort. Have you ever thought why the heaven of most religions is basically doing nothing, forever? Because that is the dream life most people imagined when faced with their actual pre-industrial existence. Comfort comes before self-actualization, not the other way around. Comfort is simply, unquestionably, in all cases, better than some mythical "growth" and "community" without comfort.

What you're saying is complete nonsense.

For one, you don't seem to have any concept of our evolutionary biology. Humans have evolved to be goal-oriented, and we receive happiness for participating in activities that are beneficial to our long-term survival.

Second, you don't seem to understand the predatory nature of our economic system and social media. Modern "comforts" (consumerism) and tech are hijacking those endorphin pathways to make us "happy" while we rot. At the back of our minds we know this, and we try to stop it, but few are meaningfully able to and most spiral into depression and anxiety.

That sounds like something good to you? Naive visions of heaven where you spend eternity doing nothing are actually closer to hell than anything else - even a sloth would go insane after a few months. I can understand our ancestors trying to come up with an end-game that they knew would be unattainable, but you think they actually properly thought it through?

I don't think you've properly thought it through. Navel-gazing is a game for prisoners, not people living their lives.

1) What in "evolutionary biology" can you cite for this preference for striving over comfort? What you are referring to is more like evolutionary psychology, and barely even qualifies as a just-so story.

2) I understand very well how misguided many people are about "our economic system", because I lived in ~3 different ones. Our economic system is amazing. Consumerism is great (I say it as a frugal person). The social media is not conceptually different from television, just "better" at the good as well as the bad aspects of the latter.

3) The "naive" vision that is "closer to hell" for you was apparently used to entice masses of people for millennia as the vision of heaven. Nobody seemed to be asking much about striving in heaven until the enlightenment philosophers, comfortable middle-class guys. Why do you think that is?

I actually thought this thru very well. It is natural and fine to want some meaning and goals, but the only reason you pine for "striving" is because you already have comfort. I've heard people close to me say things like, "I don't regret not having hobbies or social life [during that entire decade of my youth]; in fact, I don't recall thinking about that, or the meaning of life, or the future, I was too busy and tired putting food on the table.". Tell someone like about the value of striving. And that is most people, throughout most of the history. I'll take being locked in the TV room over being a "striving" peasant any day.

> We're heading for comfortable serfdom, where people are locked in a Brave New World style prison without healthy community, opportunity, or growth.

There's never been more opportunity for starting a business and rapidly moving up. Just look at the never-ending stream of new billion dollar companies.

> But not everyone would value such things


> It is also an absurdum to use cavemen as a point of comparison

Not at all. It's technology that got us out of caves.

Besides, we live a life unimaginable even 100 years ago. I mean that literally, having read scifi of the time.

With the caveman example, you were making it too easy on yourself, because it is not hard to make improvements from that situation and call it a golden age. Comparing how the top billion live now versus the bottom billion is a fairer comparison, and yeah so is looking at the last 100-200 years. Creature comforts are nice and make life luxurious, but there are people in the bottom billion that are happier than people in the top billion without as much.

You are right to point out that there are people who are going to be miserable despite modern advantages; this was in fact my point. The things that actually make people happy have to do with good health, social integration, exposure to nature, love and compassion, and having a sense of mastery over one's life outcomes.

The issue is that our civilization, through the technologies it's chosen to accentuate, makes it harder than it has to be achieve all of the things that actually give happiness. And using more technology to solve problems caused by technology, rather than moderating the enthusiasm of adding and layering technology because technology is just good, exacerbates these issues further. It's a problem because it's unacknowledged irony.

For instance, industrial agriculture keeps more people calorically satiated, but has lead to an epidemic of diabetes; hyperspecialization required to maintain complex technologies, means people have smaller families later, and move far apart from one another. Nature is a victim of technology, since industrialization and urbanization require a lot of space, and produce waste which disrupts ecosystems and eventually our own bodies.

(Mastery is more difficult and subjective, but it's affected partially by feeling like you own the outcomes of your own labour, and addictions to comfort end up displacing the pursuit of mastery, and there are ways in which e.g. market volatility and income inequality (things modernity has exacerbated) can put people in a position where they don't have control of their life at all.)

Some technological solutions to these technological problems work. Before COVID we could fly to meet our families, negating geographical distance. Some just add complexity for no good reason. Fitness apps and calorie counting are there to make up for the difficulties produced by mass industrial agriculture that is not in anyone's control, because addictions are profitable.

>I'm not shivering in a cave drinking water, sitting in the dark, and wondering if I'll get lucky and catch a squirrel to eat tomorrow. That is, if I can walk on my broken ankle.

Sadly, there are millions of people who live in conditions not to dissimilar from this. Technology might not always help.

"The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed." William Gibson

Anti conception and medicine helps a lot with making sure that population in extreme poverty is not growing in exponential way.

It gives us chance to take care of our kids. As opposed to having 6-10 kids per couple hoping that two will survive.

Populations with high birthrates are in many cases spurred by the need for laborers on the family’s subsistence farm. Giving anti-conception and medicine isn't enough, they need to be offered opportunities beyond subsistence farming.

Yes, absolutely, a lot of things have to go right for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

We all need education, stable political climate etc.

> I'm not shivering in a cave drinking water, sitting in the dark, and wondering if I'll get lucky and catch a squirrel to eat tomorrow. That is, if I can walk on my broken ankle.

I think this highlights another angle to "progress." It may be getting better in aggregate over time but there will never be a utopia.

People 200 years from now might describe our best conditions as a struggle.

Exactly. Technology has lifted so many out of slavery and poverty...

Even with the problems it introduces we have a utopian society compared to so many throughout recorded history.

I don't think so, I think it's civilization. A lot of people are still slaves in another sense, and tech will not prevent extremists from plunging the world into a new dark age of slavery and poverty.

Tech "empowers" people, but its what we choose to do with that power that makes our lives better (or worse)

You cannot have civilization without technology.

The reason people invent technology is because it makes our lives better.

I posed this above Walter, but just wanted to post again in case you didn't see it.

I didn't actually read the link, I'm only responding to the original title which was "There is nothing inherently utopian about technological progress", and while I agree that technical progress is a vital part of achieving utopia, I don't agree that new technology will lead us to utopia without other forces "steering the ship" towards that utopia

There is something inherently utopian about technological progress, simply because the people doing the progressing are doing it to serve a human need.

After all, people invented knives not to display them on the mantel, but because it would make their lives better.

Haha, we'll I guess we can start debating the definition of Utopia, but if they invented the knife to stab their neighbor then that ain't my definition.

Although I disagree with OP, technology put people into slavery. It's not some natural state of humanity

Stone age tribes enslaved people.

Have a source for that?

Uh oh, this contradicts your claim. No evidence of stone age slavery and says to my point that it was only after the agricultural revolution with a surplus of resources, which came due to technology.

> No evidence of stone age slavery and says to my point that it was only after the agricultural revolution

Uh...the agricultural revolution did happen in the Stone Age.

> No evidence of stone age slavery

Read it again.

BTW, stone age cultures had agriculture. Stone age means no metals, not no agriculture.

It's not "technology" that has provided you all those things, its civilization. Without technology you could still be sitting in a nice sunlit cave drinking fresh clean river water eating a delicious buffalo steak.

Technology != Civilization.

Watcha gonna kill that buffalo with? You don't have arrows, spears, traps.

Watcha gonna slice off that buffalo steak with? You don't have knives.

Watcha gonna cook that steak with? You don't have fire.

Watcha gonna carry that water into your cave with? You don't have pottery.

You don't have technology.

Don't think those things are simple, either. Go out into the local woods and try building yourself a fire without matches. Try making an arrowhead. Try making yourself a stone knife. Try making a clay pot.

Good luck.

With a little imagination you could imagine a happy chimpanzee sitting in a tree eating fruit instead.

Technology is "empowering" there is no doubt. But you can choose to build civilization with that power, or you can tear it down.


I should add that I didn't read the link, I'm only responding to the original title which was "There is nothing inherently utopian about technological progress", and while I agree that technical progress is a vital part of achieving utopia, I don't agree that new technology will lead us to utopia without other forces "steering the ship" towards that utopia

Chimpanzee are extremely brutal in comparison to our modern homo sapiens standards. They will literally, physically tear apart chimps from outside groups because they compete for territory in order to survive. Their idea of advancing in the group includes raping everyone below you, especially females.

You *would not* want to be a chimp.

So Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, and Jimmy Saville are/were chimpanzees? :P

Also 'strategic infanticide'...

It's very easy to hunt buffalo without technology. You just need some friends and a big cliff.

You have no meat storage technology, so that isn't likely to keep you alive all year round. There are only so many herds you can run over a cliff. Besides, the hunters used technology to herd those buffalo. I doubt the buffalo would have taken much notice of a few naked people hopping around waving their arms.

And then an asteroid impacts, or a volcano farts loudly, and all these discussions are moot. At least for a while.

Because all of this happened before, and it will happen again.





I’m not making things up. This is how native americans hunted bison in the Canadian plains.


And obviously they could preserve it somehow because they didn’t die.

The link also describes them using technology.

Remember: no technology means no fire, no spears, no arrow, no knives, no pottery, no weaving, no making glue, etc. If you believe those aren't technology, just try doing it yourself with nothing but your hands and nature.

You can even watch some youtube videos on making fire from scratch. Then try it yourself. You'll fail. Even the one guy on "Alone" who didn't take along flint&steel used advanced technology to make a bow drill (using modern cord and a knife). He was an experienced outdoorsman and still had a lot of trouble with it.

If you, I, or anyone else on HN were dropped naked into the wilderness, we'd be dead within a week. Likely within a day from exposure.

This is how will your hunting look like:


What they're saying here:

Some tech can be directionally utopian and some not. Various technologies lead us in various paths along the gradient of utility. Some tech is actively dystopian, when put in the context of social psychology. Tech is inherently meaningless - its usage in the real world by real societies defines its effect.

Tech's overall effect on utopia is based on our collective ability to predict and responsibly use it. That ability may not scale.

I think a lot of people are reading this as "technology is bad" which is totally off base. I very much agree with your sentiment- technology is obviously very useful and I literally owe it my life from my first breath (emergency c-section), but it is only as just and good as is allowed by its distribution and implementation. It's like saying "hammers are not inherently utopian"- of course they aren't, but they are damn useful. It's an important insight, and I always feel concerned when it sparks so much controversy.

I thought it was put in a way that was pretty straightforward and uncontroversial:

To blindly reject technology is to reject an aspect of our humanity. To blindly embrace technology is similarly misguided. We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being.

10 years ago or so I had a sudden and excruciating pain on my right side (my gallbladder was filled with stones), according to my doc the stuff was pretty serious and what it could be very well a life-threatening situation became a routine operation, I was out in less than 3-4 days. I dont think my experience was exceptional. Reading posts like these make me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Respectfully, I think you've missed the key points of the article.

As another commenter pointed out, nowhere does the author make the claim that technology isn't utopian. Rather, the author asks us to critically evaluate whether a technology is beneficial:

"We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being."

Moreover, the author supports the point you are trying to make in your anecdote. The author makes it very clear that certain technologies, like medicine and hospitals, are examples of technologies which are inherently utopian:

"There are profoundly anti-human technologies (nuclear weapons) and pro-human technologies (vaccines)." "Our struggle with death, especially untimely death, is a utopian struggle. Hospitals are perhaps the most utopian institutions we’ve built."

The author's central claim is that a utopia must be humanist. In the words of the author, "The point is simply that we should always treat individuals as ends, never as means." In the context of technology, if utopia must be a humanist one, the author argues that if technological innovation trades off the humanity of individuals for growth, it must be rejected.

That is a truism, "Keep the technologies that are good and dont adopt the ones that are bad". It says nothing.

Congratulations on your insane level of tone-deaf privilege. Meanwhile, worldwide, millions live in abject poverty and millions die of cancers wrought by poisoning from chemicals that are wastes of our "progress".

You’re trying so hard to be enlightened and woke that you’re missing the point. Advancements in medicine has saved and improved billions of lives. But somehow technology = bad and OP having a simple medical procedure disqualifies him from having an opinion.

We’ve had inequality throughout history it’s not unique to 2021.

I took umbrage at the OP "laughing and laughing" at how apparently technology has no downsides. In America, millions of uninsured and underinsured people get shitty healthcare. Many die. Many more go bankrupt. "Laughing and laughing" in the face of that is callous.

I'm not "trying hard to be woke" and I'm not missing the point. I've been through this whole techno-utopia, all the way to the end, and without fail technology has its blind adherents whose overconfident pronouncements mean the rest of us have to eat the dust of this never-ending rollercoaster ride. I've been around long enough to tell you exactly what is in store for you. Future shock. Long years of struggling as every skill you have is rendered utterly obsolete by change; every fond memory of places and people you knew is chewed up and spit out by change, and the world, the physical world--how it works, how you go about life, will keep changing and changing and changing, and you'll end up old, surrounded by kids who literally have no memory of the past, who cannot understand your pining for a walk in the forests obliterated to put in a subdivision, for empty fields overrun by this--this technology. And yeah, it's technology. It's all technology. It's a machine eating all of us up.

Technology is not just some nicer drugs and cancer treatments. Technology is our entire society revolutionizing itself because we have made change itself our only value. Technology is a helpless 80 year old person who can't do damn thing because their dead-simple phone has been replaced with some new-fangled machine that they simply cannot comprehend, and shouldn't have to.

And yeah, that's great technology has improved so many billions of lives. But the number of people on this Earth has doubled in my lifetime. It's crowded. And I don't know most of these people. But their waste products are all over this planet, not just in the air. You'll find out. Have fun until those kids grow up and revolutionize the world you like to be some dumb arcade.

> We’ve had inequality throughout history it’s not unique to 2021.

Inequality is essential to the idea of social progress so if it's exacerbated in degree, it challenges the idea that we have progressed whatsoever.

In the case of the 20th century there was a brief period where we developed a large middle class, and then post-1971 ended losing much of our gains in equity-per-capita along with stagnant wages. https://wtfhappenedin1971.com/

Many luxuries have become cheaper, which raises the overall standard of living for those people integrated into the global economy (a large number to be sure, still dwarfed by the number of people that need to be lifted out of poverty).

But as seen on that first chart in the link above, the ability to capture the wealth of the economy on a whole has diminished for the individual (without resorting to measures that exacerbate inequality further, like inheritances or usury). In the long-run this reverses many of the gains made in having a middle class.

Just because the entire world isn’t perfect doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress. The population of the earth is 7 billion or more. More people live in relative comfort now than all people were alive 100 years ago. Many poor countries have high birth rates and could reduce poverty straightforwardly.

Even if that was true, the people who are suffering the most in those high birth rate countries have very little they can do to alleviate that suffering. If there are major changes that could be made in a political system to drastically improve it, and they haven't been made, that is a sign that we are very far from utopia, once we ask ourselves "why hasn't that happened yet"? Either it's not that easy or simple, or it is, and the people with the capability to make those changes are unwilling. The former invalidates one of the assumptions behind that reasoning, and the latter tells us that rather severe injustices are occurring.

> high birth rates and could reduce poverty straightforwardly.

If humans produce more than they consume over their life, then reducing the birthrate would increase poverty. Your suggestion implies that additional humans are worth less than nothing, but that doesn't seem to be true, at least not in the many countries that have both growing populations and economies. Is there some country that's getting both bigger and poorer because its people can't support themselves?

> Many poor countries have high birth rates and could reduce poverty straightforwardly.

This is pretty reductive if not ignorant.

I live in a 3rd world country, I was indeed "privileged" because I had a good insurance via my job. My sister had the same procedure (not an emergency like me thankfully).She earned by that time 300 USD/month. Talk about being tone-deaf.

The image of a utopia where all disease are stopped in their tracks, where there is enough food and shelter for nearly 50 billion humans and where every nook an cranny is infested with homo sapiens and they live and breed incessantly and whose ideas never die, where most other species become extinct and where nature is confined to artificial habitats makes me smile. Yes we can do it! And yes we will do it if nothing stops us. I'm glad I won't live enough to be part of it.

Undeniably, these are complex and depressing times for many, maybe even most, people.

However, I'm sitting at a desk, two windows into all human knowledge in front of me.

You can buy computing hardware at tens of dollars per petaflop per second.

Aging is starting to be considered a preventable disease.

Humanity is on a path–a tumultuous one, albeit–towards utopia.

Aging is great! If people lived forever we’d just have a immortal ruler class of vampires set in their 1800s ways. I truly hope that never happens

Aging sucks dude. I don't want to get old.

In fact, aging is the worst moral disaster in the entirety of human existence. It would be immoral not to stop it given the opportunity.

It sucks for the individual but it's great for the society. Can you imagine politics or inequality if it was the 500 year olds running everything. Just with compound interest you would glitch out the world economy.

>Aging sucks dude. I don't want to get old.

Why? Every single one of your ancestors got old and died. It is simply natural. Nature has a way of recycling and death is part of that as much as birth is. It would be a disaster of civilization if we start messing with immortality.

I have to admit that I'm not fond of aging and gently pushing the boundaries of what we can do about it doesn't bother me in the least. Even curbing the process of aging but still have a hard limited lifespan would work. But immortality is the most narcissistic idea one can have.

My best guess is I'd likely get bored with living at age 500 and be ready to check out. But I'm in my 60s and am excited every day to get up and work on my various projects, and follow lots of events in the world.

Being alive is glorious.

I wish you another productive 40, in good shape and health. Ok, another 60 healthy productive years so you live till you’re 120. Would you want more than that? Im 40 and am looking to expire at 70 or 80 (if I make it of course). Is there something wrong with me to expect that? I find the thought about death in old age somewhat comforting as if there is an end to all this movement and that is the exit. Im not afraid either.

Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I'd like to live beyond 120. But absent a medical revolution, that isn't going to be.

If my body has failed to the point where I can no longer do the things I enjoy, and there was no hope of improvement, I'd probably rather check out.

In the meantime, I intend to work until they carry me out in a box. I have no interest in puttering about in the garden :-/ and playing bingo. Ugh.

You're going to be on the tail end of the age scale, but I suspect if you keep extremely healthy and try out any new treatments and relevant supplements as soon as you can get them, you'll still be able to participate in longevity escape velocity.

I have been looking into "The End of Alzheimers" book. It's recommendations are simply healthy living.

A bunch of my ancestors probably died of syphilis. Doesn't mean I should do that.

Many people depend on modern medicine to be alive. Maybe even you or someone you love. Who should get decide when they've gotten enough? Do you want to tell a 100 year old that you're sorry but their time is up because not wanting to die is apparently narcissistic?

utopia for the wealthy

god help you if youre poor

I recommend reading Pinker's Enlightenment Now. Forget middle ages, median lives in the poorest countries today are better by many metrics than the life on the world's richest ones 150-200 years ago.

if you enter the fray by bringing up pinker it’s already lost

happy to disagree fucking completely with you now and forever

pinkers work on that is and has been a joke completely lacking nuance and is an exhausting and boring mess to litigate with privileged tech employees on the internet


Do you have any actual arguments against Pinker, or really any coherent arguments? See my other comment - while "privilege" is post-modernist BS (really the entire edifice loosely based on foucaultian power/knowledge is), in this particular case I don't even need that - I'm pretty sure I grew up much poorer than you have, in a less stable environment. Yep, still better than any pre-enlightenment and anti-enlightenment system (right or left) ever practiced.

Modern poor people in America live better than royalty in the Middle Ages. A lot better.

you ever been on food stamps yourself?

You mean receiving food of more variety and better quality than anything available to medieval kings? Oranges and strawberries all year round? Wow!

sounds like the answer is "no."

see: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26033031

not everything is about getting seasonal fruits year round. there is a lot more to life.

and you have not lived in the shoes of the poor in america, so maybe when it concerns issues of poverty you should listen more than talk.

> not everything

I didn't say or imply that. Please stick with what I wrote.

> maybe when it concerns issues of poverty

Maybe you'd prefer statistics. Modern poor people today are much taller than medieval kings (I've seen Henry 8's armor). Height is a strong indicator of having been well fed with good nutrition throughout childhood.

American poor children grow tall and strong. They don't work. They get 12 years of free education. They have good clothes (not rags). There are plenty of government programs to give them free medical care, housing, indoor plumbing, and electricity. They can visit a free library with vast resources available for the asking. They likely have a phone in their pocket with instant access to anyone in the world and a pretty large chunk of all the world's information. They don't suffer from smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhus, rickets, scurvy or cholera.

They live longer than medieval kings did, too.

> and you have not lived in the shoes of the poor in america, so maybe when it concerns issues of poverty you should listen more than talk.

or just keep talking. wealthy boomer has opinions. world keeps spinning.

the point has entirely evaded you and i don't expect that to change. may your void screaming bring you joy in your retirement.

have a good weekend, bud. i'm glad you never had to experience real modern poverty.

you clearly have no fucking idea what it's like to live it, and that's great. read some more pinker.

Well, let's start with the important stuff, establishing my standpoint-theoretical credentials. I grew up in Russia during its economic collapse, in a "lower-middle-class" family. Food stamps were not a thing, but my mom definitely spent a lot of time e.g. taking transit to some far-away store to buy chicken cheaper... and when my grandma would visit she would report smth like "tomatoes and potatoes were cheaper on Kievsky market today, and oranges were cheaper on Izmaylovsky market, I can buy you some so you don't have to go all the way there". We couldn't afford even to replace a TV, forget e.g. a car. The first cellphone I ever had was purchased from my first full-time paycheck.

Still, the other guy is absolutely right. The penny-pinching food we ate was luxurious compared to the vast majority of people throughout most of history.

Moreover, most American poor live the life of royalty. The only unique real problem (a subset of) the American poor has is housing insecurity; if you don't have that (or frankly if you have that in an expensive city and don't move out), the rest of the complaints I hear are, from my "lived experience", a joke.


I'm guessing you made this comment to be edgy.

I would hope that you, having access to both a brain and the internet, would realize that viruses are respirated in water droplets large enough to be blocked by filters and–to a lesser extent–cloth.

Which people? Everything I've read says the point of masks is to prevent airborne droplets, (that said nanoscale particles hitch a ride on). Does it make more sense to think of a cloth mask filtering droplets in the 10um range?

E.g. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/06/417906/still-confused-abou...

I gotta say, reading your post takes away some of my hope too.


Because of this, we should reject any ideology that stresses the primacy of a group at the expense of individuals. Similarly, we should reject any ideology that places a system (such as markets) above individuals.

Refreshing to read these days when culture wars are mostly waged by collectivists.

The statement probably doesn't agree with you, at least from my interpretation, because markets are already placed above the individual. That is, most groups think markets matter more than individual lives.


I subscribed, but did not receive any email confirmation message :(

I did received it; it was just a bit late.

running hot water comes pretty close.

I agree. Having a hot shower is just total pleasure. If I was a king in the middle ages, my first efforts would be to invent a way to have a hot shower.

It's pretty trivial. Just have worker/slave heat up water and deliver it to a point above the shower head. They had more advanced solutions than that even in the Roman empire.

That’s only progress if you’re old enough to be dead or underprivileged enough to be excluded from something that’s generally solved.

There are a lot of people on this planet who do not have regular access to this.

You’re very much right and I addressed that by acknowledging the fact that a solved problem isn’t available to people who deserve to have it.

And many more who do. As a percentage humanity is living better all the time.

I don't think anyone would deny that. But treating something as seemingly mundane as running hot water knowing it's not a guarantee is a form of proximity bias.

Utopia literally means "no place"… read the title "the road to utopia" with that in mind.

The manifesto seems to agree with that:

> Utopia is not a destination we should ever expect to reach—it is a point on a compass.

> The American West is burning. The Arctic is melting. Populism and authoritarianism are on the rise. Nearly a million people have died from the coronavirus. Economic inequality continues to grow, only accelerated by the pandemic.

Compared to what came a couple of generations before, all those "bad" things are either imaginary or not very serious. It's ridiculous that people are wringing their hands over them. Of course we're going to find something to worry about if there are no actual problems. That sounds like a pretty good state to be in compared to having a world war (killed 10s of millions) or HIV (killed 10s of millions) or the Spanish Flu (killed 10s of millions), or actual communist dictatorships (killed 10's of millions).

I'd say technology enabled all that good and we're living in a technological utopia which is still getting better and better. There's just some strange social effect causing people to blind themselves to the greatest achievement in the history of the Earth.

I think utopia is a really high bar. To restrict that bar to a single and simple facet of economy, I will say that a necessary condition for an economic system to be utopian, is for no one to regularly find themselves without an adequate quantity of food. However, apparently in 2020 more people died of malnutrition than any other cause. [0] I don't want to make this a long post, however I think on the basis of this fact alone, I am justified in not considering myself part of a utopian global economy.

0: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/global-nutrition-re...

Well, yes, we'll never be perfect. I'm talking about a relative improvement, but it's a huge relative improvement that we've had. The fact that you had to use malnutrition instead of starvation, shows how far we've come.

Be careful of articles that identify something as the biggest category. It's usually a trick to mislead people. Which category is biggest depends on how you choose your categories. If a person is malnourished, and that causes them to suffer worse from the flu so they die, was their death due to malnourishment or disease or a virus or the flu or the 2020 flu? Or what if there were two types of malnourishment classified separately (say lack of protein and lack of vitamins)? Suddenly neither of them would likely be number 1 because they'd both be smaller categories. The article doesn't explain any of that so it's safe to assume that it's misinformation even if technically correct in some way.

I won't disagree about a relative improvement, but that is simply not what the word utopia means. 'a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions' - merriam webster.

As for being tricked by poverty, malnutrition, etc. statistics, check out these from the UN group FAO.[0] One in nine people go to be hungry every night. That doesn't just make me think 'this isn't perfect' that makes me sick to my stomach. Can you imagine one in nine people in your group of friends and family going to bed without enough to eat? I don't find that acceptable, and while I surely owe my life to modern medical science, I find it truly galling to compare our current state of affairs to a utopia.

Or we could extrapolate from this UN report about child mortality: [1] 'At least one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen because of preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections.' That boggles my mind. Assuming that trend was accurate for an entire year, more than 50 thousand children would have died of preventable causes, just in Yemen, just in 2016. That is not utopian.

0: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1152031/icode/ 1: https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/malnutrition-amongst-c...

I won't argue about the meaning of utopia. But my point is that the world is rapidly improving and is already vastly better than ever before.

I don't understand how you can be surprised by any of those statistics you quoted. Go back 10 years, 20 years, any number of years and it was worse. Malnourishment is in decline. Have you never looked up any poverty stats before? My mother was happy to get an Orange for Christmas, and this was in a developed country. That would never happen today.

Consider what it would mean if hardly anyone died from preventable causes. What would the causes of death be instead? Heart disease? Preventable already using artificial machines if you really really didn't want to die from heart disease. What if a new super-expensive treatment was discovered. Suddenly, overnight, most of the world would be plunged into tragedy for dying from a now-preventable disease. Maybe you utopia requires no lifesaving medical advances because they will all, at least initially, be possible but restricted to only a few people.

Perhaps more people dying from preventable causes is actually a good sign because it means more causes of death are now preventable!

Dying of malnutrition in modern America is not a result of lack of access to food, it's more a consequence of other diseases, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, etc.

America's biggest health problems come from overeating.

I don't know if the subject matter is just coloring my perception, but this is the first time I've ever felt that a web page design was pretentious.

Utopia the goal, dystopia the result. It's a trap.

"If we believe that only individuals matter, and that individuals are ends in themselves, then we cannot “accept” death, even while acknowledging its inevitability."

Here's the problem according to me

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