Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXII

 

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

From 2001: A Space Odyssey

AN ALIEN INTELLIGENCE WILL BE ALIEN TO US

I saw someone commenting that he doesn’t like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey much because he doesn’t understand the alien aspect of the story. For me, that’s one of the brilliant things about the movie. The story is shrouded in mystery.

An alien intelligence will be alien to us. It will be mysterious. We won’t be able to make sense of it based on our own experiences, and our own experiences is all we have. It’s easy to imagine an initial alien encounter that’s a complete mystery and completely baffling to us. And even if we gather more information and think we understand more, we may discover we don’t understand it as well as we thought.

In most sci-fi, the aliens are us in another form. They have human drives and motivations, and they represent sides of us and are mirrors for us. Since that’s the explicit intention of most sci-fi, that’s completely appropriate.

If we want more realistic sci-fi stories, then we have movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Arrival. The alien intelligence here is alien to us. It’s mysterious, baffling, and confusing. It doesn’t quite make sense to us.

This is also one of the problems I have with some of the traditional alien-encounter stories. The aliens are too often just us in another disguise. They are scientists traveling through space to probe and examine us and tell us we need to take better care of Earth. In other stories, and especially the more shamanic or fairy-tale like ones, the encounters are truly mysterious and inexplicable, as I imagine is closer to how it may be in reality.

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POLLS ARE WRONG?

I keep seeing people saying that the “polls are wrong” leading up to the 2020 presidential election in the US.

The problem in the 2016 election wasn’t the polls, it was how these polls were interpreted and presented by the media.

The day before that election, FiveThirtyEight said it was a 71% probability that Clinton would win. And that, in turn, means that out of four situations that looks about like it did before the 2016 election, Trump would win in one of them. And that’s pretty good odds.

Even if it had been a 90% probability in Clinton’s favor, it would still mean that out of ten situations that looked similar, Trump would win in one. And even that’s not terrible odds.

It’s the media that created the false impression that Clinton was almost guaranteed to win before the 2016 election. And it’s the media that has created the largely false idea that “polls are wrong”.

I almost wonder if many in the media missed basic math in school.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2020

LIVING WITH THE C19 VIRUS

From the beginning of the pandemic, I have assumed that the Swedish approach – taking steps to reduce transmissions and protect at-risk groups without lock-down – is the most sober. This is something we have to live with for a long time so we need an approach that works in the long run.

We may have one or several vaccines next year, but it will take several months before at-risk groups receive it, and several more months before it’s available for the rest of us. Also, a good percentage of people will not want the vaccine for whatever reason (including conspiracy theories). This, in itself, means we will be well into 2021 or 2022 before we start seeing the effects of any vaccine.

Also, the vaccine itself may not work as well as some seem to think. It may give limited protection for some people or groups, but it will certainly not give 100% protection to everyone.

Governments and media often talk about a vaccine as a silver bullet that will take care of the whole situation, but that’s a fantasy.

THE END OF SARCASM AND IRONY?

When I see some social media comments, I cannot anymore tell if it’s meant as sarcasm & irony or if it’s meant sincerely. I guess it’s a feature of this weird post-truth / conspiracy theory / echo chamber world.

For instance, when people write that the recommendation to wear masks (to reduce the spread of C19) is a conspiracy by the government to depersonalize the population, is that a joke? Or are they serious? Just a little while back, I would have taken it as a joke. These days, it’s – bizarrely enough – more likely to be meant sincerely.

It’s possible to discuss these things in a grounded way. Yes, perhaps there is some depersonalization that happens if people wear masks. But it’s equally likely to bring people together since we know we are all doing it because we care – about ourselves and each other. And as soon as people don’t wear them anymore, we are back to how it was.

Also, since we know masks reduce the spread of viral infections, it’s difficult to see that a conspiracy is needed. It’s just governments following the science, and – really – common sense.

The problem, as with so much these days, is polarized views – supported by social media algorithms and internet echo chambers. I know I sometimes fall into that too.

AN APOCALYPTIC AGE?

The current era of mass extinction is enough for us to feel we are living in an apocalyptic age. And this is currently heightened by massive wildfires around the world, Trump, the pandemic, and the weird post-truth world we find ourselves in.

It’s pretty clear that we are in an ecological bottleneck. A lot of species are already gone. A lot of natural ecosystems have been destroyed. A lot of people have died from this ecological crisis. Many more will die. And our civilization will be hugely impacted.

My best guess is that we will muddle through, but it will get a lot worse before it gets better. We may, at some point, find more of a collective motivation to do something about it. It may not be as bad as the worst predictions, and it won’t be as good as the most optimistic. The political world on the other side will likely be as diverse as it is today, apart from – by necessity – some minimum sustainability. Some places will be authoritarian. Some will have great gaps between wealthy and poor. Some will be more egalitarian and operate from a bigger and longer view. And so on.

SUPPORTING POLICIES THAT DON’T BENEFIT US

This seems very obvious, but it’s still happening so it’s worth pointing out.

Throughout history, those in power has found ways to get the rest to support them and the system that maintains their power. The Christian church has done it through theology and promise of salvation. Royals have done it through splendor, coercion, and with the support of the church and theology. It’s happening through neo-liberal economic ideologies presented as the only valid economic system. And Trump is now doing it in the US, partly through hate and by appealing to the worst in people.

I also see it in Norway, and especially with the right-wing parties. They continue to promote policies aimed at increasing the wealth of the already wealthy at the expense of everyone else. It’s understandable if some of the wealthy support it, if they happen to lack empathy and operate from a short-term and narrow view. It’s more difficult to understand that some who won’t benefit from it support it. I assume it’s because it’s tied up with general “conservative values” and they resonate with these values even if the policies goes against their own interests.

This is what we see when identity and (superficial & short term) emotional satisfaction takes priority over rationality.

SETI & UFOS

There is a slightly irrational rivalry between SETI folks (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and UFO folks.

Some SETI people seems to automatically reject anything having to do with UFOs, even if it comes from the military and is written about in the New York Times. Probably because they want to distance themselves from the UFO field and its, often deserved, reputation for abandoning science and rationality for the sake of wishful or fearful thinking.

And some UFO folks reject SETI because, as they see it, it’s obvious aliens already are here, so why search for them out there in space?

I hope we’ll move past this. I hope SETI will gain more support and the UFO field will gain more mainstream acceptance. I hope the UFO field will receive more attention from science. And I hope that the two fields will be seen as complementary.

The reality is that UFOs deserve serious attention from scientists, the media, and society in general. And the reality is also that even IF we knew aliens were here (and we are far from knowing that), SETI would still have it’s place.

WHEN SOMETHING GOES MAINSTREAM, THE PIONEERS ARE SOMETIMES IGNORED

This is a common pattern: We have a small group of pioneers advocating something. They receive a lot of resistance from the rest of society. It then goes mainstream.

Sometimes, some of these pioneers are remembered and acknowledged, for instance when it comes to suffrage and the civil rights movement in the US.

And sometimes, the pioneers are largely forgotten by mainstream society. People may assume that what went mainstream is obvious or that they just collectively figured it out, or they ignore the connection between the pioneers and what they have now, and they overlook or don’t know about the struggle of the pioneers.

What transitions are we in the middle of these days, where what’s pioneering may go mainstream? Sustainability is one obvious example, and within that those who point to the need for profound shifts in our worldview and economic system. We also have the animal rights movement. And those promoting a deeper respect for all groups of people.

Since I am in the middle of it myself, I also can’t help to think of acceptance of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as an example. The acceptance of CFS as a real biological (and likely multifaceted) illness has come some way the last one or two decades, but there is still much further to go.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2020

PEOPLE WITH GOOD LIVES WANTING TO DISMANTLE WHAT MADE THEIR LIVES GOOD

This is something I see in Norway, and specifically with people supporting the libertarian/far-right party (FrP). They have benefited greatly by the social-democratic model over the last several decades. And from that position of privilege, they do what they can to dismantle it.

It seems incredibly short-sighted. Have they no knowledge of history? Don’t they know how it is in other parts of the world? Can’t they see why they have a good life and a life of privilege? Why would they want to dismantle it?

I assume the answer is a combination of many things. They may not resonate with or value a bigger picture. They may not realize or think about why they have a good life. They may not care if they dismantle it since they assume others will have to deal with the fallout and not them. They may be drawn to it because of genetics, personality, and immediate social environment.

P.S. A current example is the Supreme Court candidate promoted by Trump to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. RBG opened the doors for her to get to that position, and through her ideology, she wants to close those doors for other women.

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