I have been writing essays on society and the world for 53 years. Beginning as a freshman in college in 1970, and almost steadily since then, I have paid attention to the most important developments that have made or affected humanity.
During that half-century, as I observed and wrote about human events and the play of events, much has happened. rice field. Terrorism, gas shortages, stagflation, inflation, recessions, globalization, and the Rust Belt. Political parties competed for influence, the Soviet Union collapsed, civil rights advanced, and the world’s population doubled.
Capitalism and technology evolved, media changed, and the effects of global warming began to emerge.
Until about 2015 or 2016, I will write about the development of the world using themes and narratives that I feel are honest and comfortable with and that are generally accepted by most Americans (and many other cultures). I was able to. I am not referring here to my politics or the politics of my readers (which may all be different), but instead to a larger concept that most of us hold.
What I mean is that it was widely believed that society had problems, that it could be solved, that solutions existed, and that sincerity in this endeavor was the prevailing norm — in any case. 2016 or so ago — belief.
From 1970 to 2016, I found that my columns were read, digested, and associated with nearly every reader. Both the column and the reader were rarely alienated from each other, regardless of the topic, politics, or conclusion of either the column or the reader.
So if I write a “liberal” column and a conservative reader reads it, he may disagree with some of it, but we are all sorts of large-scale, fundamental perspectives. shared.
Today, in 2023, that is no longer the case. America has always been diverse and has always had deep divisions — just ask any black man — but today the population is divided in even more fundamental ways. It’s more fundamental than your income level.
Today, we are divided by knowledge and opinion on the greatest big picture of all. In other words, it is questionable whether civilization and organized societies here and around the world will exist in a very continuous way.
For several reasons, I believe that organized societies will collapse well before 2100, as rapid global warming is paramount. Humanity will not go extinct, but we can return to our pre-agricultural lifestyle.
With each passing year, more scientists, economists, journalists, and citizens believe that a stable future is not guaranteed.
At the same time, many citizens do not see or believe in the potential of an ecologically upended future for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is not a threat that requires major changes for them now.
As a result, a large division exists and continues to grow within society. It’s a divide between those who believe that human footprints on Earth are increasingly cancerous and those who don’t hold that view.
This division is important because depending on which side you’re on, your perspective has a big impact on your attitudes, actions, and politics.
Perhaps more than any past issue, even race, this division alienates one from the other. Bridging this rift and interacting across it is very difficult.
I just finished reading “The Precipice,” a bestselling book of 2020 that looks at some of the dire threats we face. Written by Toby Ord, a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, the book highlights the catastrophic dangers embodied in advances in artificial intelligence, global warming, and various other developments.
But the most unique aspect of the book is its discussion of existential risk, the potential for humans to cause the destruction of civilization.
Ord points out that this is the new heightened risk today. Therefore, we are not accustomed to pondering it or discussing it. Many would have a hard time believing that we might destroy ourselves.
That shocking and indescribable idea — something that requires a great deal of knowledge to understand and believe — forms the basis for the schism I referred to earlier.
Every time I sit down to write a column today, I feel a split in my readers. For fifty years I have carefully crafted essays for all readers. Given today’s deeply divided society and the strangely diverse narratives our citizens have, how can one column speak profitably to all readers?
This is the same problem facing our country and the world at large. Toby Ord says the solution is for the critical mass of the population to better understand how endangered our societies, problems, and civilizations are. Along with that, we need a moral philosophy that includes a debt of gratitude to the past and the future.
All these consist of difficult orders, but they are necessary. Somehow we must create a national and global solidarity that recognizes where humanity is now.
Swamp Scott’s Brian T. Watson is the author of “Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We’ll Face.” Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.