The Power Of Light Works
July 2019
LightSail 2 is changing its orbit using only the power of sunlight. The Planetary Society announced this week that their LightSail 2 solar sail is working well, and actually raising the orbit of the spacecraft as it travels around the Earth. According to mission managers, they've been able to raise the orbit of the spacecraft by about 2 kilometers at the high point of its orbit. Unfortunately, they'll only be able to go for about a month before the sail dips into the atmosphere at the low point of its orbit and it crashes.
Sci-Fi Writers Include Religion
October 2018
At his appearance at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, John Scalzi said that it is important that science fiction writers include religion in their universes, "When 5 billion people out of 7 billion very strongly have professed religious belief of some sort or another, to ignore it, minimize it or just say it doesn't matter is foolish," he said.
For The Betterment Of Mankind?
James C. Rocks
For a long time, I thought it was only the religious who thought we were somehow special what with being the only creatures supposedly created with souls and in the image of our divine creator even if such claims do force some amongst us to ask what such a god would need with a penis. Outside of lions and tigers ("Oh my!") and the various other creatures that prey on us, clearly, we are special but that's pretty much only to us. Then there's the different classes in society where it becomes equally clear that some of us consider ourselves rather more special than others. That latter kind of view has come rather more forcefully to the fore with recent political developments in both the UK and US with populist politicians and others persuading many of us to vote against our own best interests. And it is observations such as these that has forced me to wonder if humans are really special. To ask if we are really worth saving? I'm beginning to wonder if the Rastafarians had it right where, in some of their songs, they would claim that "Babylon" (that's us, western society, by the way) is corrupt and falling.

I don't believe in true altruism but there are, as anyone can tell you, many "nice" people out there, those who are willing to put themselves out for others and who come as close to being altruistic as we humans can. But, is "being nice" enough? I mean sure, if everyone was nice to everyone else, if everyone considered the consequences of their actions on others and on the world around us, we would certainly live in a much better place but the evidence doesn't support such an enlightened point of view. One only has to look at some of the online hatred to understand what a petty, small-minded, selfish and hateful species we can be; only yesterday I read reports of Daily Mail readers celebrating that 39 immigrants who died in the back of a refrigerated truck. That kind of hatred for fellow human beings whose only crime was to seek a better life than the one they knew is literally is enough to make one throw in the towel and accept that we're really not worth the effort.

If I'm being brutally honest, I'd have to admit that I'm no longer fully convinced that mankind is worth saving. I mean sure, some are, but as a race I think we do far more harm than good, I think that while people as individuals can be caring and compassionate, as groups they are often hateful, vicious and uncaring about their fellows. It's a view I have come to with some regret because, while I always realised mankind was often a very bad thing, I have always known that at our best we can be very, very good. I look at science, art, writing, people that help each other and I see the good in humanity. I look at the tribalisation of society (e.g. the way people flock to one politician or cause or another, Trump and Brexit being the perfect examples) and the bad hits home. And, trust me, that when I refer to these things, I am not excluding their polar opposites but, I hear you ask, what do I mean by "tribalisation"?

Nuclear Amrmageddon

Essentially tribalisation is the manner in which people seem to decide, for whatever reason (be that informed or, it seems more typically, uninformed), that they support a particular camp or adopt a particular position and that it doesn't usually matter what evidence they are given demonstrating that position wrong, they just declare them lies. Those supporting Brexit refer to the evidence that they are wrong as "Project Fear", this despite mountains of evidence that it is continually being demonstrated to be "Project Reality". It's like being a fan of a football team and believing that no matter how badly your team does, they're still the best and can do no wrong. For sports I kinda get it but for real life I don't.

I heard today that 40% of American voters still support Donald Trump despite the fact that he can be verifiably shown to have told MORE THAN 12,000 lies or mistruths since he became US President. It's not much different for Brexit supporters. It is crystal clear that businesses are leaving the UK; that few, if any, new businesses are arriving to exploit the new post-Brexit UK which would surely happen if it were such a good thing; that jobs will be lost especially affecting many of those people that voted for it; and that they simply won't reach the sunny uplands and see the unicorns they were promised. Despite that, Brexiters cling to the promises made (and are still being made) by those who sponsor it, they still believe it will be best for the UK and that we will somehow be better out of the EU. They still believe that "Remainers" are characterised by a political elite despite verifiable evidence that it is their side that is led by that very class e.g. the owners of The Ritz, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. In fact, I strongly suspect, many of them believe that somehow, exiting the EU (in an age when huge power blocs are understood to be the best way to secure good trade deals) will allow us to enter a new golden age of prosperity and that a new British Empire will arise. That's something that makes no sense given that The British Empire is long gone, that the US and China are now the biggest single nation empires in the world and that the EU is the largest single trading bloc. And I don't exclude those nominally in my own camp; I've seen too many examples of my own side just following the herd and I think that's probably true of many of Trump's critics too.

For me, a number of things are clear, Trump is a populist politician, he tells lies, he clearly cares about one person and one person alone, himself. Many of our Brexit supporting politicians are also populist, the Johnson's, Farage's and Rees-Mogg's of this world. None of these people (US or UK) seem to care a whit about their country in any meaningful way (they don't even seem to care about the political parties they claim to be members of), they all say appalling things about ethnic minorities, about disabled people, about those of low wealth or about anyone who is of differing gender or sexual orientation. The only thing they really seem to care about is what their voters can do for them!

I'm a humanitarian, fairly liberal, very left wing and for me it is very simple equation; any group that people like that are part of (groups that attract the kinds of people they appear to, people that behave in often utterly unacceptable fashions) are groups that I not only don't want to be part of, I want to actively oppose!

In the Second World War, I, like most other people, believed we had defeated the forces of fascism; we hadn't. We had defeated their military arms but hadn't dealt with those who still subscribed to fascism as a philosophy. Since that war, I like most other gullible liberals, had believed that our societies were getting generally more open, more tolerant, more liberal but it appears I was wrong. It was something of a mirage, caused in part by simple niceties of not giving fascists and bigots a platform; people we simply didn't know existed and that seems to have led many liberals to embrace the delusion that the world was becoming a better place. It wasn't; under the calm and peace of our society it turns out there was and still is an ugly undercurrent, one I suspect has always been there and probably always will be.

Society seems badly divided in many ways. There's always been a huge disparity between rich and poor though today we seem to be far more divided than ever and I don't think I have ever seen a time when the poorer sectors of society seem so keen to accept those of wealth as their literal superiors. Bigotry of many forms has always been around but again, today it seems to be getting far worse with people adopting extreme camps where they won't recognise even one point made by the other side despite it being clear (to me, at least) that the arguments of both sides sometimes have merit. Political parties, certainly in the UK, are further apart than ever before, that there is no longer a political centre ground, so much so that people like me who adopt a basically non-authoritarian and liberal position, no longer feel there is a party that truly represents them. In short, I now feel, like so many others, politically homeless.

It is this tribalisation of society, this recognition that society has a seriously ugly side, this belief that feelings trump facts, that the truth is whatever one believes it to be and that those who don't agree with you are "the enemy" that is the problem. Personal observations like that have led me to the tentative conclusion that mankind may not actually be worth saving.

And things seem so extreme, with those not born here (and even some that were) being branded as "others", "them" and often much, much worse. Similar ideological and societal planks seem to be falling into place much as they did in Germany before the Second World War. The world seems to be a much scarier place, so much so that I am forced to wonder if we are heading for a third global conflict. And I say that in the knowledge that, although nuclear weapons were employed towards the end of the last big war, they were small, chicken-shit compared to the devices we have today. We have not only got weapons that are vastly more powerful, we have the means to deliver them to anywhere in the world, we have enough to wipe our world out several times over and that is AFTER the reductions that resulted from the various SALT treaties.

To return to the subject of my post, the question of whether mankind is really worth saving, I'm more than a little unsure. Baffled even!

Where I would once have answered with a hopeful, "I think so, yes", I no longer feel I can and my answer would be a far less definite, "I really have no idea" because there is so much evidence that we are, on the whole, a truly awful species.

Perhaps fate will intervene and a meteor will end our existence or perhaps our sun will go nova? Or maybe we'll screw ourselves the way we always seem to, maybe we'll successfully create AI that can outthink us, act independently and will do the universe a favour by wiping us all out?

    Copyright UK Atheist, 2019    

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A lion wants to eat an antelope's body, but the antelope has very different plans for its body. This is not normally regarded as competition for a resource, but logically it is hard to see why not.
Richard Dawkins