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Attempting To Meet The Challenge
A response to a challenge presented by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists presented this challenge to it’s readers.
The Challenge: "Our belief is that because humans created these problems, we have the obligation and opportunity to fix them. So, in the 75th year of the Doomsday Clock, we’re asking people to share their ideas about what can be done to turn back the Clock."
Here’s one attempt at a response:
1) Let us stop pretending that what we've been doing for 75 years is working. Let us stop doing the same things over and over while expecting different results. Letting go of the well intended, but failed, efforts of the past seems a precondition for a willingness to seriously examine different approaches. New approaches? Like what?
2) Leverage instead of talk. As just one example, instead of scientists making strong statements which nobody listens to, they can go out on strike. And then people will listen, because the scientists have applied leverage. Contacting politicians and telling them they won't get our vote and donations until nuclear weapons is their primary issue is another example. Leverage means taking away some benefit that people want so that they will listen, negotiate, and change behavior. What leverage do we have, and how can we apply it so as to interrupt the sleepy status quo?
3) Prepare for the next detonation. First, let us stop pretending there might not be a next detonation. Just say it plainly, the next detonation is coming. Period. Nuance is the enemy here. Second, what constructive action can we take after the next detonation happens and consciousness raising about nuclear weapons is no longer needed? How can we prepare today for what is likely to be a coming turning point moment?
4) Shift some focus to the source of all the technology based existential threats, our outdated relationship with knowledge. Example: If we did get rid of nuclear weapons, that's not going to matter that much so long as the knowledge explosion continues to generate new threats of vast scale faster than we can defeat them.
5) Embrace unpopularity. If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there. So we need to explore that which we don't want to hear, which is probably going to make us unpopular. We can be good sports and accept this price tag with a smile, while dodging any incoming tomatoes.
6) Keep business out of it. Once any of us become dependent on making a living talking about any existential threat we become prisoners of the status quo. We can't travel too far beyond our audience without losing our customers, and thus we become chained to our audience's limitations. That is, money interferes with real leadership.
7) Get on the climate change bus. Climate change denial is vanishing, which is great. Next step, inform citizens that the most likely outcome of a failure to manage climate change is geopolitical instability leading to war leading to the use of nuclear weapons. Start where people already are, and help them think it through to the end. Climate change and nuclear weapons are not two issues, but one.
8) Create an online discussion forum (NOT social media!) where nuclear weapons experts, activists and regular citizens can have intelligent _in depth_ conversations about existential threats. I would have already created such a forum myself, but I know that intellectual elites won't show up if a non-elite hosts the forum. So if intellectual elites want to be real elites, they'll either have to take the lead here, or get over the notion that their job is to talk at the public and about the public, instead of with the public.
9) As a fall back position, we can give some positive constructive thought to the alternative to success. What if we fail at managing existential threats, and most of us die, what then? What is death? Is there any credible evidence that life is better than death? Have we assumed the worst about death from a position of fear and ignorance? What, if anything, can we learn about death from philosophy, religion, near death experiences, meditation, nature or other modality of our choice? We're all going to die somehow someday anyway, so such an investment in reflection will probably prove useful whatever happens with existential threats.
10) I'm pooped. You do this one for us, ok?
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