I wonder how history will look back on the first decades of the 21st century. When I was growing up, this was supposed to be the century of miracles and wonders, of science and technology leading us to a golden age. It hasn’t panned out that way.
America throwing away its freedoms in a frightened response to terrorism. Spastically bombing and blowing up distant countries in a futile 20 year war that ended in defeat. Electing the dumbest bumbling president in our history, then doubling down by later electing a corrupt clown. QAnon. Billionaires getting richer, unchecked, while demonstrating their idiocy. Our public intellectuals are Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson. The IDW. A congress that sits on its thumbs while trying to decide if an insurrection to take over the capitol should be punished or not. Previously mentioned corrupt clown planning another presidential run while announcing his intent to jail anyone who disagreed with him…and not being arrested. Black people being murdered at will by cops. Climate change, and its neglect. The MAGA movement. Brexit. Boris Johnson. A serious pandemic that is approaching a million deaths in the US alone (although, to be fair, the US has been the absolute worst at making a coherent response to the threat.) Anti-vaxxers. And, to put the slimy icing on the shit-flavored cake, blockchain and bitcoin madness.
Here’s another story about how cryptocurrency is a giant Ponzi scheme. It was obvious from the beginning that it was a scam. It divided the population into three groups: the wealthy grifters who have been promoting it, the gullible marks who happily handed over their money to the lying con artists, and the rest of us, who were smart enough to see that it was another fraud by the rich to bleed the less well-off. Perhaps just as damning is the fact that our government closes its eyes to this massive Ponzi scheme running unchecked — perhaps because our government is run by and for the kind of people who benefit from it — when there are solutions.
Going after fly-by-night stablecoin issuers will devolve into a hopeless game of whack-a-mole. The only real solution is to ban the trade of private cryptocurrencies entirely. We cannot stop foreign actors from issuing unbacked stablecoins and manipulating crypto prices on unregulated exchanges. But we can make it illegal to sell cryptocurrencies on banked exchanges, such as Coinbase, operating entirely legally while they cash people out of the Ponzi scheme.
This would, of course, kill off cryptocurrency almost entirely, relegating it back to an oddity of the tech enthusiast. No one should shed a tear. Cryptocurrencies have virtually no legal use case. They’re great for facilitating ransomware, laundering money, distributing narcotics and child porn, running Ponzi schemes, and… not much else. They fail as currencies due to high transaction costs. They fail as “digital gold” or a “store of value” because they consume ludicrous amounts of energy to run what is essentially a glorified spreadsheet.
China already banned cryptocurrencies entirely, and India and Pakistan are poised to do the same. Other countries have also made moves to prohibit or constrain cryptocurrencies, but Western liberal democracies are notably permissive. This is in no small part due to aggressive industry lobbying, which includes hiring former financial regulators and compliance officers into the industry to influence policymakers.
We do nothing. Congress has been bought.
So yeah, I’m curious. How will the world summarize this moment we’re living in from the perspective of the 22nd century? So many problems, all with solutions that we talk about but never act upon, future citizens will wonder whether it was a consequence of contaminated tap water or some brain-eating fungus, because it’s otherwise inexplicable. Unfortunately, I’ll never know, because even if I had a time machine, the histories will probably be written in Mandarin, and all the ones in English will all be censored.
Marcus Ranum says
How will the world summarize this moment we’re living in from the perspective of the 22nd century?
Amitav Ghosh: “the great derangement”
Akira MacKenzie says
It won’t. Humanity won’t make it past 2050.
As the good old days.
This is a joke.
Although, now that I think about it, it could easily end up being a correct statement.
It is certainly not impossible.
We don’t really know where the bottom is in the death spiral we seem to be in. Roe versus Wade hasn’t been killed yet. That is a week or so away. The US eastern sea board hasn’t yet been flooded by the inevitable sea level rise due to the Global Warming that we have failed to stop.
And so on.
In the 2000s, phone companies in the Philippines, Kenya and elsewhere gave people the ability to use phone credits as cash, in countries where ATMs were few to non-existent, especially in remote areas but still had cell phone setvice. Banks complained that phone companies were “doing banking services, they’re not allowed to!” yet failed to offer remote banking services themselves.
But the phone companies weren’t inventing something out of nothing. Those phone credits had to be bought and paid for with cash, not “cryptomined”. If regulated banks today had offered people international banking without fees, the scam of “cryptocurrency” would likely never have happened.
The miracles and wonders of science part did pan out sort of.
Our science and technology is still advancing.
Cell phones are every where, the internet is everywhere and getting faster all the time.
Medical science continues to advance. We managed to come up with 6 different vaccines to a novel evolved virus in a year, the Covid-19 virus vaccines. In times past, it took years to even identify the HIV virus and more years to come up with effective therapies to turn it from a death sentence to a manageable medical condition.
Cancer therapies get better and better every year.
We still have a space program up and running.
Electric cars, once considered not practical, are now common.
Where we are failing is in running our society, economy, and government.
Our problems are self created social problems.
You point to all of these external evils, largely caused by corruption and capture of government and media. How much of a corrupt, twisted version of reality is your media giving you? How many atrocious things are “just the way the system works,” thus beyond your control? How many things that are completely unacceptable in another context now seem perfectly normal because you’re steeped in this shit? How much of that evil has seeped into you, too, without your even noticing?
Could that be what happened to the people you vilify? And could they have similarly been taught to loathe you and all of the rest us, your fellow round-earther monkey-people?
Whom could this all benefit? Certainly none of us I’ve mentioned so far.
Ian King says
When we look back at history, there are many examples of civilisational collapse. I doubt many of the people who lived through them realised what was happening. As with ecological collapse and mass extinction, both of which are clearly happening, certain events unfold so slowly as to be almost imperceptible on the scale of a human lifetime. This age will be known as the collapse of the post modern electronic society, when everything was connected and technology ruled. There’s no way to know what the future will look like, but ‘not like this’ is a pretty safe bet. This mode is entirely unsustainable. It’s ripping itself apart after only a couple of centuries.
What must it have felt like to be on the brink of the Civil War, or to have just found out Lincoln was assassinated five days after the surrender at Appomattox? Or during WWI and the onset of the Spanish flu which killed so far about twice as many per capita in the US? These events must have also felt apocalyptic, with the first literally fracturing our country in two.
Climate change, an existential global threat, dwarfs our country, our democracy; and I am certain that the national fear and call to action that comes from recognition of the threat will take a single, irrefutable disaster on a massive scale. Our country has always been fractured by dissonant and even fascist voices. They were the factions that kept us out of WWII until Pearl Harbor. The current multiplicity of regional disasters has clearly not been sufficient to unite us in a call to action.
I am not trying to diminish the reality of “contaminated tap water or some brain-eating fungus” infecting our country. I, too, find our response to threats to be inexplicable. But, my daughter just gave me a grandson yesterday, and I am trying to keep our predicaments in perspective. There are so many that we can celebrate and fight for.
Toynbee pointed out that all previous civilizations have collapsed. Out of 22 civilizations, 19 collapsed from within.
Which means, someday it will be our turn.
I’m just hoping now that everything holds together for my projected life span. Which isn’t all that long since I’m a Boomer.
Here it is 2022. My flying car and jet pack never arrived.
Instead, I’m risking my life (from the Pandemic) to go to the store to buy cat food.
raven@5 I agree that we have the miracles and wonder. The mistake was thinking it would lead to a golden age or the benefits would be fairly distributed.
mRNA vaccines are new, effective, and a game changer for the next pandemic. That you cannot get some people to accept any vaccine is a different issue. The James Webb telescope is one of the most amazing things we’ve put into outer space, and we’re also getting rover data from Mars that dwarfs anything we had 20 years ago. China has a rover on the lunar far side. Electric cars are practical, albeit still expensive. (I wrote that before reading your full comment). We are so rich in computing power that idiots can burn it on “mining” digital currency.
I can buy a 5 terabyte hard drive on my normal weekend shopping trip to Costco. I forget the details but I once estimated that you could store a 24-bit RGB voxel map of Manhattan at a resolution of about 36cm voxels in 3TB. This would give semi-recognizable human beings and could be made a lot larger if you use a sparse representation for air space. But people fill up these devices somehow.
A human being just received a heart from a transgenic pig. As of two days ago, it hasn’t rejected. Antirejection drugs for human-human organ transplants have improved slowly, but they are still more reliable than when cyclosporin was a drug of choice. Childhood leukemia was a death sentence as late as the 70s, I think, and is now usually treatable. Cancer still looms large, but successful treatments are common now that were once unheard of.
Yes. What’s broken is not the miracles and wonders. It’s the social contract. And this is the result of an intentional push by deluded “libertarians” and wealthy people who believe they’d be better off in a society that favors those who can pay for everything they need (including roads and clean air). There’s nothing inevitable about this change.
Our history will be written by raccoons. Who knows what they’ll think; maybe that we didn’t wash our hands enough.
Dennis K says
@10 PaulBC – You’re right, nothing’s inevitable about this change. Here in the US at least we still have nine whole months to avert locking in social disaster.
PZ Myers says
I, for one, will welcome our new raccoon replacements. Or rather, I’ll rest quietly in my grave and not raise a complaint.
PZ’s word choice recalls Paul Simon’s “these are the days of miracle and wonder” and Simon’s examples: “the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart” show how far we’ve come in technology since then. David Vetter was kept alive for years in a sterile “bubble” but that’s obsolete now. There have been advances in bone marrow transplants that can cure many SCID patients. I don’t think anyone is now trapped in a bubble for years. The miracle and wonder came later. And of course, the baboon heart transplant was pure malpractice. It was never going to work and should not have happened.
(Not sure what lasers in the jungle refers to.)
The lasers in the jungle are clearly laser raptors.
“Will you three Herbert’s keep up”.
“Don’t want to”.
Dennis K@12 I agree we’re in bad shape. But what I meant to say is that the collapse of society is part of an intentional project spanning decades by people who believe that they will benefit. This is not a conspiracy theory. Ronald Reagan spelled out the whole game plan in no uncertain terms. If you believe government is the problem, then the only reason to vote for someone is so they can destroy it from within, and they’ve been doing yeoman work in that category.
I still don’t think it is inevitable, but it definitely wasn’t due to our failed expectation of technological advance. In fact, technology marches happily on. That it doesn’t come in the form of flying cars just shows we’re bad at predicting particulars. I was going to say it doesn’t come as “food pills” either (thank goodness) but the last couple of years does seem to have brought us nutrition in non-food form (highly processed products for keto and gluten-free diets marketed to those with no medical need for them).
We seem to have forgotten the details of the last century, how fascism rose to power, what actually happened beyond the parades and the images that everyone remembers and no one knows the context of.
I don’t think the future will remember this period much better.
The rich and the powerful have conquered even the last bastion of our brains: our attention.
The information will be there, but it will be completely covered by a loud sea of vapid distraction.
Anyone interested in learning more about the decline and fall of civilisations and how it affected the people who lived at the time should subscribe to the podcast Fall of Civilisations by Paul Cooper. It’s brilliant.
Here’s a link to the Fall of Civilisations podcast that isn’t Apple-specific.
How would a law like that be enforced? It strikes me as a non-solution along the lines of, “Someone said something bad about me on Wikipedia. Ban the internet!”
Heard it before about every other technological improvement that faciltates more privacy for the masses. You’re not stopping any sufficiently resourceful and/or desperate criminal by taking away good tools; you’re only making it harder for marginalized groups to avoid surveillance.
Cryptocurrencies are riding a stock market bubble of ridiculous proportions. I don’t hear any clamoring to ban trading stocks.
Admittedly Americentric, there has been some changes in the right direction this century. In 2003, gay sex was made legal in every state. A 1996 Gallup poll found 27% of Americans supporting same-sex marriage. Today it is 70% of Americans – including most Republicans. It is (for now), the law-of-the-land. In 18 states, recreational pot use no longer means entering the criminal “justice” system. Police body cams and civilian videotaping is starting to make a difference in accountability. The right to die with dignity has made progress in the last couple of years. Trans issues were barely visible to most Americans in 2000 (looking in the mirror). 70% of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque in 1999. Today it is a minority. MeToo. BLM. Latino home ownership. Etc.
I see us – generally – moving in the right direction. Which is not to mean that there won’t be battles and setbacks, or that we can’t still lose the Cultural Wars, (I miss Ed).
Yes. This. It is becoming clear to me that compared to climate change, nothing else really matters. I recently shocked myself when I realized that (thought experiment), if Trump came out seriously and credibly to drastically reduce greenhouse gasses (and thus bringing enough Republicans with him so that we could do something about it), I would vote for him in 2024. And I HATE Trump.
I still wouldn’t vote for trump As a black woman he risks my safety and my civil rights . I would applaud him for hypothetically supporting doing something effective about global warming . But for me , it’s the same situation as Mussolini making the trains run on time . It’s not worth the other abuses!
“Black people being murdered at will by cops.”
Can’t blame this on the century; it’s been going on for a loooong time. We White people only know about it now because we no longer have to take Black people at their word for it, now that everyone has a video camera in their pocket.
Right now, white people in Britain is waking up to how corrupt the London Metropolitan Police really is.
Climate change is indeed the top existential threat.
I find it ironic and horrifying that the awful repressive Chinese totalitarian system is the only country where the ruling elite really are taking on the threat of climate change. But then again, their rulers have always given higher priority to the survival of the system than the comfort of the people.
I would like to believe that even liberal democracies can adress the threat in time.
Trivially easily. Just order banks to treat crypto currency trade (especially “stable coins” like Tether) as money laundering, and ban companies from buying/selling them.
The “price” of bitcoin etc. is just the current spot price to buy/sell the currency for US dollars and other real currencies. The casino chips are useless in themselves, which is why all the competent criminals cash out as fast as they possibly can. If there’s no way to buy in or cash out, then the whole thing is a joke.
@PZ: thanks for the cryptocurrency article link. One of the better plain-language explanations out there.
Jet packs kind of have arrived. If you are willing to strap on four 30 kg thrust class jet engines. You’ll need about 6 lb of fuel per minute and the noise level of a single engine is in the order of 120 dB. Oh, and there is a jets of 1200 F gas coming out of each engine, so better bring your fireproof pants. Not to mention the fact that most failure scenarios end with “you fall to your death” and a cost that would probably buy you two high-spec luxury cars.
The problem hinges around “credibly.” First off, Trump will promise whatever he feels like and forget about it the next minute. He had 4 years, and didn’t make our airports look like Singapore’s. That’s no surprise, but he literally didn’t do anything at all about an “issue” he claimed to be incensed about. He did that one lame ass Carrier refrigerator deal before he was in office and declared victory on manufacturing jobs. Second, he does not have have the power to bring his minions to their senses. He’s actually tried that with vaccines and they boo him. All he’s able to do is inflame them. On the rare occasions that he’s talking sense, they are all “LALALALALALALALA I can’t hear you!”
I might disagree with you in principle for other reasons. It is a lot like the idea by insane evangelicals that he’s the new Cyrus. I agree global warming is the most significant issue for the future of life on earth right now, but the idea that electing Trump could help is so remote that I don’t have to think too hard about any dilemma.
If Trump were “seriously and credibly” capable of doing anything other than fucking things up, he wouldn’t be Trump.
Rich Woods says
“You fucked us real good. Thanks, Grandad.”
lasers in the jungle = war and the tools of war?
maps of incredible accuracy?
It is not the human race that is in the balance it is the current state of the global civilization.
the portion of the human population that is at the most risk are those at the top of the current civilization. The ruling classes and the wealthiest elites. people and especially the poor in their squalor are all ready living in a collapsed state.
what became of the elites of those long gone civilizations of the past?
John Morales says
I know I’m happy to have lived in the first decades of the 21st century than the first decades of the 20th.
(But yes, we’re still primitive)
people like dumpster and the powerful who support him and the radical libertarians do not seem to realize that they are the beneficiaries and are living on the pinnacle of a vast pyramid that they are shaking and undermining the foundations of .
that is what the Chinese know they have gone through many collapses before it is to their benefit in fact it is imperative that the foundation be taken care of above all. As long as that is seen to first nothing of value can be secured nor any great thing attempted nor accomplished
Down in the dumps, are we? It’s a dark time, and interest rates are going up.
I have been curious about blockchain, tho not BitCoin, because security is such a bellwether in technology. So I searched Bruce Schneier’s website for his take. I’m no authority on security matters, but two years ago Schneier debunked blockchain in an article titled Blockchain and Trust:
And on the subject of Joe Rogan, more artists are pulling out of Spotify and some others are saying the would if they had control over their material but they sold their rights. Not good messaging for Spotify. So, Joe is attempting to redeem himself by apologizing to Spotify and promising to “balance things out”. He’s so clueless he doesn’t understand that there is no way to balance out bullshit.
I too am happy to be living in the first part of the 21st century. On the other hand, I changed my facebook background to a frame from The Iron Giant that briefly shows the headline “Disaster Seen As Catastrophe Looms.” I must have done that in the early stages of the pandemic but still can’t think of a more appropriate motto.
robro@35: Thanks for the link. Bruce Schneier is always worth reading.
I’m reminded of a song…
John Morales says
PZ, the same pathetic troll.
Hey, spammy troll. Your comments will soon be gone into the bitbucket.
(Ah well, you can just keep making new IDs to feed your need, what’s minutes of your time vs. a click or two from PZ? ;) )
I’m sure your comments will soon disappear like the worthless froth they are – but just how much of your time do you devote this pursuit? How empty does your life have to be for you to think that this is a good use of your finite time on earth.
I don’t know what you actually feel about PZ, but spending this much time and effort spamming his blog with comments that you must know will simply be removed indicates that you value his time and attention far more than you do your own. Is this all just a desperate cry of “notice me, blog-daddy!”?
Get a life. Seriously, the world is so much better when you don’t spend your time on people you dislike
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
The “lasers in the jungle” in the song are meant to be satellite links and fiber optics — the next line elaborates it with “staccato signals of constant information, a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires”. The Internet, in its early phases. We’re supposed to equate it, basically, with The Boy In The Bubble and the Baby With The Baboon Heart, something flashy and high-tech but ultimately futile because self-proclaimed aesthetes and people who are “spiritual” like Paul Simon don’t find them “meaningful” enough and therefore they are on some level worthless. The immunocompromised kept alive by The Bubble and the transplant recipients who would otherwise be dead don’t get a vote — if they want us to find their lives worth living, apparently, they should go write their own songs.
The Vicar@54 Your interpretation of lasers in the jungle makes sense, but Paul Simon was a long way from Sounds of Silence by 1986 when Graceland was released. I don’t think he’s judging “days of miracle and wonder.” He’s being a little tongue in cheek, but he’s observing and even celebrating the 80s. (And as I noted above, the “bubble” was a stopgap that’s now obsolete, and the baboon heart transplant never would have worked; the doctor who did it was a crank.)
Graceland is about being middle aged, successful, and not particularly idealistic or inclined to attack “neon gods.” Boy in the Bubble is fine, but far from my favorite track. There are great lyrics like
There are also amazing African singers that he basically ignored a boycott to get hold of, but produced great art in the process.
I mean, I would happily accuse Paul Simon of apathy towards David Vetter, the bubble boy, but I don’t think he’s critical. He just doesn’t care. Graceland is a nearly perfect album that makes the entire Simon and Garfunkel discography look like juvenilia.
I think you’re misinterpreting seanbf, who is kindly giving an illustration of the subject of the thread.
wow what a mess some people like to make!
I had not thought of fiber optics I was thinking of laser sights and laser targeting. It does fit with the following lines.
I think that
simon likes to contrast things to point out the neglect of his main subject the human experience and point out the depersonalization of the modern world