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Tim O’Reilly on “The Golden Age”

Posted on January 24, 2013

Claiming he has “lived with the shadow of the fall of Rome, [and] the failure of its intellectual culture,” Tim O’Reilly fears that too many today “lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance.” More specifically, he warns that “conservative, backward-looking movements often arise under conditions of economic stress” and worries that when “conservative elements in American religion and politics refuse to accept scientific knowledge, deride their opponents for being ‘reality based,’” this is evidence of dangerous reactionary forces that may pose in our own day the sort of threat that overcame Rome. “[T]he so-called dark ages,” he writes, “were not something imposed from without, a breakdown of civilization due to barbarian invasions, but a choice, a turning away from knowledge and discovery into a kind of religious fundamentalism.”

Quibbles over details aside (monocausal accounts of the Fall of Rome are never really the best idea), I find a lot to sympathize with in the thrust of O’Reilly’s point so far. Definitely I agree that the threat of reactionaries denying the separation of church and state, denying catastrophic anthropocentric climate change, denying evolutionary biology, denying the benefits of sex-education, denying the promise of investment in medical and renewable energy research and development, denying the efficacy of harm-reduction policy models, denying Keynes-Hicks macroeconomics and so much more are indeed very real threats, especially since so many of the shared problems that only sound, sensible, scientifically warranted approaches would address are so urgent in their dangers to us all, here and now.

What worries me about O’Reilly’s worry, however, is that it seems to me in his righteous jeremiad against “anti-science” “anti-problem solving” “anti-intellectualism” he is actually buoying up one of the most relentlessly reactionary, pseudo-scientific, anti-intellectual cohorts of wish-fulfillment fantasists imaginable: mainstream and superlative futurologists. “Yes,” O’Reilly enthuses, “we may find technological solutions that propel us into a new golden age of robots, collective intelligence, and an economy built around ‘the creative class.’ But it’s at least as probable that as we fail to find those solutions quickly enough, the world falls into apathy, disbelief in science and progress, and after a melancholy decline, a new dark age.”

Let’s just take a minute to be very clear about this, shall we?

Read more: Tim O'Reilly on "The Golden Age" | World Future Society.

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