What is different about the 20th century?
Why is there a crisis of identity and moral relativism despite all the goodness and achievements?
This is the Dream Time by Robin Hanson is written from the point of view of our distant future descendants looking backward.
They try to understand us by identifying the defining behavioral trends of the 20th century:
- Demographic transition We took far less than full advantage of the reproductive opportunities our wealth offered. Instead, we spent our wealth on purchases that we thought would elevate our social status or acceptance..
- Obsession with super-stimuli Our evolved survival instincts were overridden so that we chose taste without nutrition. We spent vast sums on things that didn’t actually help on the margin, such as on medicine that didn’t make us healthier, or education that didn’t make us more productive.
- Extreme mating patterns Capricious and casual attachments that are a normal part of adolescent growth into maturity remained lifelong habits. Extreme gender personalities were common.
- Idealism We acted on strange religious, political, and social beliefs.
- Governance Democracy was our preferred political system. Leadership and policy was driven by the casually considered opinion of the median voter rather than the considered opinions of our best experts.
- Many pivotal historical choices were made quickly and emotionally History hung by a precarious thread on a few crucial choices. Some of these choices were strongly influenced by rather strange delusions e.g. rampaging robots. Our delusions may have led us to do something quite wonderful, or quite horrible, that permanently changed the options available to our descendants.
Perhaps the most enduring memory of our explosively growing Dreamtime will be a legacy of adaptive behavior (with mostly harmless delusions) become strange and dreamy: Call it “un-adaptive behavior”.
A possible future
It remains to be seen whether adaptation will reassert itself. What would that imply, if one were to believe these conjectures about humanity and society during the 100 year interval ending in 1999? Adaptation ascendant would solidly connect human behavior to reality. If this is to be the case, we should start seeing evidence of such as we traverse the twenty-first century.