I just want to identify one little concern.
Ary Jonathán
51

Hi Ary, thanks for the reply! A few things.

First, I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say that I ‘believe that false alarms are just good for arousing fear, therefore it’s best to sit down and watch the unpredictable’. By definition, false alarms are not worth taking seriously. But I certainly don’t think all alarms are false. I list seven major risks which I think we should take extremely seriously, and warn against lapsing into complacency:

“ That is not to say that we should be complacent. Clearly, the prospect of Trump becoming President, or Bangladesh disappearing underwater, should terrify us. Fear can be a powerful impetus for action. But we should not automatically assume the worst.”

It’s simply the case — as a matter of fact — that most eschatological predictions are false. Probabilistically, then, Stone’s probably is as well. Of course, we can have better or worse grounds with which to predict the future. I set out what I think are good criteria for predictions: a judicious interpretation of our socio-historical context, laying bear its tendencies and vulnerabilities. Stone doesn’t do that. Instead, he relies on the idea of ‘cycles of violence’. Incidentally, none of this implies that I don’t think there are risks in the future: I just don’t think we’ve been given a satisfactory argument to that effect.

IMO, the reason that we haven’t witnessed an war between the major powers (USA, China, USSR/Russia, Germany, UK, France) since WW2 is probably by virtue of the increasing costs of large-scale conventional wars (industrialised warfare is expensive and kills lots of people, especially with nuclear weapons) and the increasing benefits of peace-time (economic interdependence means that trade is more cost-effective than conquest), mixed with the liberal world order created and superintended by the USA (reconstructed Western Europe and Japan, set up military and nuclear network, and the big global economic institutions). The last of those factors can and will change; and that could put the post-war ‘peace’ at risk, depending on when and how it happens.

Second, I would like to think that my argument isn’t just based on ‘desire’. I make at least four major claims of fact or reasoning:

a. There are thousands of predictions of calamity, and very few calamities. As such, this particular prediction of calamity is probably wrong. We should keep that in mind when reflecting on the future, and not always assume the worst.

b. There are always small-scale disruptions. Yet they only yield a catastrophic effect when the system is fatally vulnerable. Accordingly, we should focus on the broad socio-historical context, not small-scale disruptions.

c. Empirically, there are no cycles of violence.

d. Historically, no human phenomena whatsoever repeat themselves. There are no inescapable cycles in any domain of social life.