28 June 2015
We hear so much these days about cancer and Alzheimer’s, but these diseases have been around for most if not all of human history, it’s just they were the minor killers of people who had a long life of 50 or 60 years. The lucky ones got cancer or senility, the rest died from such things as a scratch in the garden, or a bad cold that turned into pneumonia. For the last 70 years, we’ve lived in an age like no other in human history, an age where strep throat does not mean a significant chance of death, where getting a cut by shaving is nothing more than a minor bother, soon forgotten in the busy day ahead. If you doubt this, go do some genealogy. The first thing you notice when you start tracing your ancestors (by looking at census records) is how lucky you are to even be alive! Very few brothers and sisters grew up to old age together. That’s just the way it has always been, until Penicillin.
It now looks almost certain that humanity is on the edge of returning to those days when even a minor bump, or cut would often lead to a quick death, and we ourselves are responsible for this catastrophe that looms in front of us, which is already beginning. We should insist on giving ourselves as much time as possible to prevent the worst of what may happen. That means no more antibiotics to livestock, and strict regulations on prescribing of antibiotics for illnesses. If we do not do it, then your grandchildren will live in a world as dangerous as 1930. Don’t believe me? Think I am exaggerating about the risk?
Watch Maryn McKenna’s TED Talk:
We can and must say enough is enough. The events of this past week are proof, that at some point, polite society rules out using religious belief or “heritage” as a veil to hide their bigotry and intolerance behind. If we can change as a society that much in a week, then we can start tackling the issues like this that science is warning us about.
That includes doing something about antibiotics, climate change, and the growing pollution of our air and water. Our children’s lives may literally depend on it. Reason and critical thinking have taken it on the chin lately from fear, intolerance and ignorance. We as a society should never look down on those who lack a certain level of education, and we should do everything in our power to see that everyone who wants one can get one, but it’s time for polite society to refuse to accept ignorance as a cultural identity.
Issac Asimov put it this way-
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
Carl Sagan put it best in The Demon Haunted World (which every student in high school should read).
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”
If Carl were alive today I think he’d be very worried, but perhaps a bit more hopeful after this past week. Just a bit though.