Monday, October 12, 2015

Mono no Aware

Freeman Dyson, October 2015
Interviewer: You were being invited to help solve problems in an era when things looked pretty grim ... now we've conquered a lot of these, but there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for apocalypse. 
Dyson: Yes. I don't know why, it's a mood of the times. I don't understand that better than anyone else. It is true that there's a large community of people who make their money by scaring the public, so money is certainly involved to some extent, but I don't think that's the full explanation.
It's like a hundred years ago, before World War I, there was this insane craving for doom, which in a way, helped cause World War I. People like the poet Rupert Brooke were glorifying war as an escape from the dullness of modern life. [There was] the feeling we'd gone soft and degenerate, and war would be good for us all. That was in the air leading up to World War I, and in some ways it's in the air today.
The years before 1914 were a tremendously promising time. Russia was getting richer, [but then] the whole thing fell apart. It's comparable today – we've done a much better job with feeding the world and if you look at the number of desperately poor people, it has been decreasing quite steadily.
The most important thing at the moment is China getting richer. What the rest of the world is doing doesn't really matter. 
Have we abstracted our lives to the extent that we aren't living? Will it take mass slaughter to man to search for meaning again? It's not a surprise that as globalization has improved things materially, it only spreads the sameness and dullness of McWorld. Maybe on a long enough timeline, becoming Tyler Durden is inevitable.

Elon Musk is similarly pessimistic.
Interviewer: What kind of cars will we be driving 20 years from now? 
Musk: Huh, man. I hope civilization is still around in 20 years


Maybe the end of civilization won't happen in 20 years. After all, humankind is moving toward ever decreasing birthrates; Italy and Japan can't even replace their populations. The Japanese twilight is quiet; you can get a feel for how life will increasingly look like from this documentary about its remote islands.

But what meaning and purpose can you find in your civilization if it is only going to end?

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