Re your points in order as presented:
John Hopkins
1

> ‘Enforcing choice’ is an oxymoron

One one level, I simply meant “enforce the pro-social decision” if you prefer. But at another level, there is still choice involved. People frequently choose to vote for policies that nonetheless bind their later ability to choose. Taxes are an example: we are forced to pay money that we could otherwise individually choose how to spend to the government. The locus of choice thus shifts from the individual to the government, from the individual to the “collective”.

> We seem to defend our ideas because they have become precious in relation to meeting the expectations of living, working, earning and being accepted by human society, rather than because we can properly verify any true authenticity within them…And yet we remain reluctant to consider that we too may be blinded by the cultural delusions of our age. The nature of delusion is of course that one is deluded.

Our brains evolved to process information to enhance our ability to survive and thrive. I do not see a good definition for “we (partially) know the ‘truth’ about X” other than “we can partially predict the behavior of X and manipulate X to our benefit”. The question of what is value/utility/beneficial is in my opinion a values question that has no truth-value. I agree with Hume on the is-ought distinction.

About “delusion”, there are two main things we can be “deluded” about that I can see. We can be wrong about facts (the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the reverse), or we can be wrong about philosophical foundations or paradigms (do immaterial gods control the weather, or do physical processes — “gods” being a completely different paradigm than physical processes).

I believe *all* knowledge is probabilistic. Thus, I would never say, if I were trying to be philosophically precise, that “DNA exists” is 100% certain. It is merely supported by lots of evidence, and the probability is close to 100%, but is not, and can never be, 100% certain. The remaining probability is there to account for the possibility that we might be deluded or mistaken despite all the evidence.

Nevertheless, I believe we are getting closer to the truth over time, though we will never get all the way there. The fastest way to explain this is to refer you to Isaac Asimov’s “The Relativity of Wrong”.

> Sure, it is easy for you and I to defend the material luxuries we enjoy, but those luxuries often appear to be at a cost to others… not to mention the very continuation of the biosphere as a viable life support system.

I completely agree there are cons to industrialization. I was merely enumerating what I see as the main pros. I am not sure if they come at a *net* cost to others. For instance, take our cheap goods made in China/India/Africa. They undeniably have a lower standard of living than we do, but it is higher than it was when they didn’t have these jobs. Of course, in some cases, it has come at additional costs in terms of pollution for those areas, etc. However, advanced industrialization comes with technology to lower (local) pollution (e.g., LA used to be very polluted but it is decreasing despite the population continuing to increase). So it is probable that those problems will be only temporary.

> Unless we can see ourselves as dependent on nature and therefore vulnerable to our very exploitation of the world, we are like a family who has set its house on fire in order to keep warm.

I generally agree. We are dependent on nature to some extent but not in the sense that we need to keep nature exactly as it is. If climate change continues, we will end up killing ourselves. On the other hand, it doesn’t generally significantly affect us if rainforest species go extinct.

> There is considerable evidence that the reality of greening the economy is that we are simply adding so-called green technologies on top of existing technologies.

I see it a different way. I think in highly industrialized countries we are gradually replacing non-green technology with green(er) technology. That process will not be completed until green technology is cost-effective compared to non-green technology.

> All the key indicators of our problems fail to show any positive movement.

I disagree. U.S. per-capita carbon emissions have been decreasing since 1970, and total carbon emissions have been decreasing since mid-2000s. The same story is true for other highly industrialized countries. The reason net global emissions are not decreasing is because of industrializing countries, namely China and India. The consensus solution is that we need to hurry them to post-industrial or advanced-industrial status.

> And why do we need abundant power anyway? To do what? The answer is often to carry on with more industrialisation that causes other problems.

True. Let me put it a different way. Imagine we could have the pros of industrialization without most or all of the cons. Wouldn’t that be a net benefit compared to nonindustrialization? I think the answer is yes, and that is the goal with green energy development and similar initiatives. Whether that is practical/possible or not, I don’t know, but I strongly suspect we will find out.

> Scientists, not by coincidence, rank among the world’s better paid. They generally do not want to look in the mirror, and prefer the idea that they worked hard for their qualifications, and so deserve the privileges they enjoy… and then they soothe any remaining guilt by convincing themselves that they are dedicated to helping the human race as a whole.

Haha. Among the “world’s better paid”, perhaps. Compared to others in industrialized countries with similar education levels, not so much. The first 9 years of my career, I made $22K or less. People at my level (early/mid-career post-PhD) make an average of $42K. I do slightly better because of demand for computing ability. A typical late-career scientist will make $80K or slightly more in high-COL cities. People do not get into science for the money.

Guilt? Climate change started long before I was born. To the extent that biomedical scientists are directly guilty for these problems, it is mainly in the sense that they have extended median lifespan, causing the human population to increase. I must admit it’s hard to feel too guilty about that. Of course, I am “responsible” for climate change in the same sense that any person in the U.S. is, but I don’t see much additional responsibility beyond that.

> Do you see how important it is for the powers that be to always push the deterministic perspective? We cannot change the government. We cannot get off fossil fuels. We cannot challenge Wall St. We cannot unite into a real force. We cannot topple the MIC. Most fundamentally, we cannot change human nature.

I think we can challenge Wall St and topple the MIC, although it will take a lot of work. These are pathologies on our society and are not necessary for our society to move forward. I have said I *do* think we can get off of fossil fuels. I only meant that we will not stop using them tomorrow without a viable green replacement.

But I do not think we will reverse industrialization. Perhaps we *could*, if the majority of people decided it was harmful. But I do not think they will.

When I view these things from a “deterministic” perspective, I am trying to predict “is it likely the majority of the electorate will decide X is a net harm?”. If so, X can be reversed. If not, it probably won’t. As part of this analysis, I ask “do *I* think X is a net harm? how much would *I* be willing to give up to reverse X?”. I hope you don’t think I view myself as a purely detached observer of these things.

> We need to examine what makes us tick, what drives us, what constitutes a meaningful and fulfilled life — as opposed to finding a partner, earning money, and basically complying with a host of social expectations that rob us of our soul, but leave us telling ourselves we must be happy because we have partially achieved a bit of the fantasy seen in the ubiquitous publicity for the consumer society. Through tacitly deterministic cultures we have become fatalistic about our own future, at the same time as we seek shallow distraction in materialist toys.

I wholeheartedly agree that “more stuff” does not mean “better” and that naive consumerism is very harmful. Europe is less consumeristic and happier, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Most scientists I know are not doing what they do to enable consumerism. They are trying to improve life at a more fundamental level. When I decided to get into medicine, I asked myself the question: “what is good?”. We are told many answers to that question from so many sources. I concluded that I cannot decide whether most things are good or not in net, but I am pretty confident that health is better than disease and life is better than death. That is my primary philosophical touchstone.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.