The New Dark Age, update

with Bronwyn Williams

The New Dark Age is a topic I’ve lectured on often since the late 90s, when I first realized the pseudo-religious nature of many of the ‘isms’ people many subscribe to. I found it rather amusing that they often bragged how they had outgrown religion, but were actually just substituting a new one for old and lacked the personal insight to recognise it. Since 2000, many others have noticed the same and it is now common to note the religious equivalence of many areas of political correctness. My early work in the field isn’t available online, but my first wordpress blog on it in 2011 bemoaned the return of stone age cultures:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/stone-age-culture-returning-in-the-21st-century/

My most recent blog on the topic, including a slide set to make it easier to read is at:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/utopia-scorned-the-21st-century-dark-age/

Even that was written a few years ago, before people started using that ridiculous term ‘woke’, so it is due an update given all that has happened recently. To that end, I have solicited the assistance of Bronwyn Williams, an insightful up-and-coming futurist from South Africa.

Perhaps the most conspicuous change since 2017 is that science has become even more politicised, to such an extent that it has lost a great deal of the trust it had. Without good science, we can’t progress reliably. If scientific results are only accepted and published when they align with the favoured political narrative, we might as well not bother doing the research, we could just jump straight to the conclusion without doing any – it will still be treated the same by the various branches of media, still get the same grants and political influence.

Even worse, perhaps, is the other, more ironic, side of this slide from science to sciencism, where populations are encouraged to blindly “believe the science” without question. Of course, science that cannot be questioned or tested or falsified is no science at all.

The present breakdown in trust in the intellectual integrity of science can be traced back to the environmental research field in the latter part of the 20th century, became highly conspicuous in the 2000s in the field of global warming, spread rapidly throughout energy production and has now spread to other areas such as biology, psychology and other areas of medicine – and even pure maths. More recently we have seen huge polarisation of the presentation and acceptance of science surrounding COVID treatments and medications, masks, vaccines, even lockdowns. New research in every field is parsed for political correctness before it is presented and will then be rejected, hidden, blocked by social media filters, or spun as fake news if it doesn’t align, announced as a major scientific breakthrough, amplified with any issues carefully concealed if it does. Regardless of any good intentions, that is a very anti-science position – on most social media we are not allowed to say so if we see that the emperor is naked (not if we would allow our accounts to remain open anyway). Sadly, some of those same companies are responsibly for much of the development of AI and automation, and we know from history that problems embedded in computer code can often remain a problem several decades after. Driven by activist positions today, instead of rigorous pursuit of scientific objective truth, they are very likely embedding flaws that will remain for the long term. After all, who fact-checks the “fact checkers” or bias-checks the “bias bounty hunters“?

Politicisation of science has reached the point where you can reliably determine someone’s views on the effectiveness against COVID of face masks or lockdowns by asking what they think of wind farms. Such is the nature of pre-packaged party-pack politics were the values of the faithful come defined as a menu fixe. Science that is just another branch of politics makes no contribution to development. This trend has been remarkably pervasive, with populist capture of once-trusted journals such as Nature, Scientific American, New Scientist and even bodies such as the Royal Society. Most news channels will only report research that supports their political leanings. Science is one of the most important pillars of progress, and its capture and distortion by politics is perhaps the strongest force pushing us further into a new dark age.

It isn’t only in science that large tracts of thinking are blocked. The last few years have seen severe stifling of free speech across large parts of the West, accompanies by equally severe distortion and redefining of language. The perceived truth of a statement now often depends more on the age, gender, background, ethnicity or political affiliation of the speaker than the meaning of their words. Again, this greatly undermines the structural integrity of knowledge and wisdom, lubricating our slippery descent back into the dark ages.

The prominent feature of this caustic cultural environment is the new religion of virtue, a collection of often nonsensical assertions with no supporting evidence apart than other nonsensical assertions, arising from the ever-shifting boundaries of political correctness as its advocates realised people were becoming more resistant to that term. Based primarily on emotion rather than reason, a whole new language has sprung up, the meaning of its words evolving quickly as its endless logical flaws are highlighted, searching for new niches where it can flourish. Like the Spanish Inquisition of old, its weapons are not logical reasoning and gentle persuasion, but oppression and aggression disguised as superior virtue. The law may not yet allow burning heretics at the stake, but destruction of careers and reputations and social exclusion are quite sufficient threats to force most people into line. Denying heretics platforms to speak, or simply shouting them out and intimidating potential attendees of the platform can’t be denied are hardly behaviours we’d associate with civilisation, but they are effective nonetheless. Accusing anyone who still won’t conform of being a racist, Marxist, or fascist can be an equally effective deterrent. Aggressive activism in an environment that doesn’t protect freedom of speech has created a semi-permeable cultural membrane, permitting flow in only one direction. As areas are captured, such as academia, any re-capture is prevented by ostracizing unbelievers and using consequent power to change syllabuses and ban teaching of anything that might resist the march of the new (ironically culturally homogenous, if optically diverse) virtuocracy.

This weaponising of virtue has resulted in many people, companies and other organisations falling in line with the ethical hegemony, sometimes even at the expense of losing many customers. As if making a sacrifice to the secular gods might just make someone else the target of their wrath instead.

This all coincides dangerously with the spread of surveillance technology, AI, and increasing tribalism. As one tribe gains control, and since that control can be more effective, the other feels more threatened, so emotions are reinforced, tribal lines strengthened, divisions deepened. Now, thanks to ubiquitous technology, the virtuocracy has the means, motive and opportunity to track and trace the virtue-compliance of other individuals and organisations. It’s no secret your passenger Uber and AirBnB score can penalise you (financially) for bad (moral) behaviour.

Now, we are seeing “citizenship grades” (reminiscent of Chinese-stye social credit scores) appearing in Californian schools – and potentially business-destroying guilty-until-proven-innocent Yelp ratings for businesses deemed (by legitimate customers… or malicious competitors) for moral, cultural or political transgressions.

In such an environment, where neighbours are incentivised to report neighbours; employees, turned whistleblower against fellow employees, employers and customers; trust – the very fabric of society – breaks down and social cooling, where everyone is incentivised to wear a social mask, perform a social ritual or publicly confess to a set of social beliefs they do not really believe in, sets in.

Cooperation suffers, and with it speed of progress. Progress slows and even reverses. Darkness takes hold.

If the dogma of the virtuocracy were different, it might not matter so much. But the “virtue” we are being pushed to adopt is divisive, tribalist, intolerant, racist, anti-capitalist, anti-equality, anti-science, anti-liberty, anti-thought. It replaces objective reality with a fantasy constructed from nonsensical assertions. We cannot possibly have a flourishing society based on such ethereal foundations, where something is true simply because it is asserted by a member of the self-appointed “right” side of history. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

Where something is true simply because it is asserted. If we do not act soon and effectively, descent further into the new dark age will be inevitable and it will take decades to recover.

In short, the progress into the new dark age has accelerated dramatically since my 2017 blog. The forces pushing us that way are stronger, barriers to our descent dismantled.

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment. Semi-retired and has relinquished four former professional fellowships, but still a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and life member of the British Computer Society.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timeguide

One response to “The New Dark Age, update

  1. Pingback: Futureseek Daily Link Review; 29 October 2020 | Futureseek Link Digest

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