Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Dirty Secret of Catastrophism Exposed





If you are a reader of this blog, you may have been wondering what fun is there in writing every day about catastrophes to come: peak oil, abrupt climate change, mega financial collapses, etc.  Why would anyone want to engage in that? Isn't that a lot of stress?

Good questions; and I think I can confess to you our (the catastrophists') dirty secret. First of all, you surely noticed that most catastrophists, though not all of them, are male. So, being one of them, I can tell you that it is all a trick to seduce women. It works like this: first, we convince our female target that the world is going to end soon. Then, why should she oppose having a little fun with us before it is too late? Simple, isn't it? But, before you think ill of me, let me also tell you that, a) I never tried that, b) it never works, and c) the lady is normally so stressed by the news of the impending doom that she fails to provide her best performance. (*)

That's a joke (of course!!). It came to my mind while reading some recent news about Guy McPherson, the main proponent of the idea of the "Near Term Human Extinction" (NTE), who has been accused of being a sex predator for having abused of a follower of his, a woman. About this story, let me say first that I stand by the rule that everyone should be assumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Then, I can tell you that I see the near-term extinction of humankind as not impossible, although unlikely. This said, I think it is interesting to examine this story in some detail.

First of all, the row that erupted among the NTE followers was truly amazing for its verbal violence. Some people turned on Guy McPherson with a glee and a vehemence that I can only understand as the result of deep grudges that existed well before the story became known. McPherson's own defense, then, was weak and probably counterproductive. He didn't deny the accusations against him, rather, he erased his facebook page as if he was ashamed of something. Then, he vaguely spoke of "trolls" and "the deep state" having framed him and that surely didn't strengthen his position.

Clearly, there was a lot of stress to be vented out in the NTE group. Not surprising: if you go around telling people that humankind will go extinct in a few decades at most, it has got to have some effect on your nerves. One of the reactions to such a situation is for people to find some solace in being together with other people who share the same ideas. It is human but, in the case of the NTE group, it seems to have taken a certain "cultic" aspect. At least, I noticed that, in many cases, NTE-oriented people tend to close all arguments with the statement that "Dr. McPherson said so". That doesn't mean that the NTE idea has generated a suicide cult or something like that; it is just that a strong reliance on a charismatic leader it is typical of these cases. And, not rarely, cult leaders tend to misbehave in various ways, even though we have no proof that Guy McPherson did.

Within some limits, all of us, the catastrophists, may fall into the "cultic" trap and form tight groups of like-minded people. I notice it with what I write on this blog. Although I believe that our civilization is going to start declining in the near future (see my work on the "Seneca Effect"), I am far from being a hardcore doomer and sometimes I try to say that things are not so bad as some people say. In that case, I am often heavily criticized, apparently for denying the core ideas of the group (the cult). This effect is especially strong when I argue that renewable energy in the form of PV and wind can help us mitigate the unavoidable future decline. Some people seem to take this position as a personal insult and react consequently.

Again, it is understandable: for some people, it is less stressful to remain inside a group of like-minded people than venturing outside it. Yet, this is not good for one's mental health. We are not necessarily doomed and we can still do something and help others to mitigate the effects of the future decline. For this, we don't need to retreat into a cult (**).



(*) It is a version of the joke of the excuses of the lazy schoolboy for not having done his homework. It was because, a) he lost it, b) his dog ate it; and, b) he didn’t know it was assigned. (h/t Dmitry Orlov)


(**) An earlier version of this post included a video clip of the Beatles singing "A Little Help from My Friends". Some people overinterpreted it as if I was advocating the use of drugs to reduce the stress from catastrophism. Noting that the strongest drug I use is an occasional glass of Chianti wine, I thought it was better to remove the clip, just to avoid misunderstandings

Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)