You write:

"But why, when things have been getting rapidly better for your entire life and well before, would you predict that they are about to start, or have just started, to get rapidly worse?"

You appear to be looking at global statistics. I don't think most people look there when deciding whether "things have been getting rapidly better for [their] entire life and well before". I suspect they are more likely to compare what they have with what they expected to have by this stage of their life. That's a little hard for outsiders to measure (we don't know what they were thinking 20, 40, or even 60 years ago). So one commonly used proxy compares individuals with their own parents.

I regularly read articles stating as an unchallenged truth that the median American is less well off than their parents. Their parents bought homes younger; their parents lived comfortably on a single income; their parents had relatively secure jobs; their parents had far less debt. This is blamed on a combination of increasing inequality and a rearrangement of the work force requiring two incomes to attain the same living standard previously attained with a single income. (That would of course be among those not desperately poor - poor women have always had to work, even while middle class feminists were complaining about being stuck in their homes.)

You will of course notice what isn't mentioned. Their parents didn't have the same tech tools modern youngsters can't imagine living without. Their parents may or may not have had better access to routine care, but moderns who can afford them have access to effective treatments for conditions which would have killed their parents. (I compare my experience with cancer to that of my grandfather.)

And that's before we talk about unrealistic expectations - in particular, that they'd be doing *better* than their parents, perhaps enormously better.

My parents imagined me as becoming a famous academic scientist, perhaps complete with Nobel prize. Instead, I'm merely a retired Principal Software Engineer. That's more prosperous than they were - dad was a unionized factory worker. But I certainly didn't live up to their (inflated) expectations. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of folks like me, not achieving inflated expectations ;-)

Bottom line though: improvement or its reverse can be in the eye of the beholder. and the perception of improvement, as well as hope for future improvement, tends to be very localized.

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For people who would like to interact in real time, I host an online meetup on Saturday mornings as well as a very occasional realspace meetup, originally for readers of the blog Slate Star Codex. Details:


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Too much of my favorite reading for pleasure, Science Fiction) now routinely has some sort of climate disaster in the story, even if it takes place lightyears from Earth. Also, most i=of it also has gratuitous mention of LGBTQ+ talking points.

Even Analog magazine (the SF with nuts and bolts) has fallen into this kind of story. Seldom is there a need for either in the story, it's just jammed in there.

OTOH, I'm still waiting for the SF novel/story where people 50 years from now go all medieval on those who lied to them about Climate Catastrophe to the detriment of their lives. I want an angry woman in a story who is hunting down the "97%ers" because she didn't have children de to their lies, and now she wants to go all Rambo on their *ss.

BTW, just saw a picture of the Plymouth Rock (it's smaller than most people think), and oddly enough, after 400 year of global warmening it's still above sea level.

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There are vested interests in believing that humanity is worse off: activists, NGOs, and CNN lose their reason for existing if things keep getting better. Same with many politicians: look how bad current politicians are; clearly this candidate or that party will make things better. Their ideas trickle into the popular culture.

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My argument is this: culturally reinforced belief in God is effectively a high prior on hope. I think that kind of prior is like posture: it decays overtime unless it’s continuously reinforced via intentional effort.

Most of what most people “believe” isn’t based on evidence, it’s just culturally transmitted narratives. So from my perspective what’s happening is, the Protestant reformation is still playing out in the west, as the complex philosophy of thomism slowly gets replaced by more competitive memes, each one less subtle and more emotionally resonant than the one it outcompetes.

In other words, I think this despair simply makes sense as the default for people who haven’t cultivated a mindset of hope and optimism. Just as material wealth requires explanation, whereas poverty is the default, I think the same is true of spiritual wealth, such as hope.

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I think your instinct that it's an excuse, not a real reason (or the main reason, at least) is spot on.

In developing countries it seems that one of the driving forces for not having kids or holding off until later or having less kids is that more women are going to college/work force. I'm a first born Gen-X (b. '65) and when I was in my teens it was just sort of normal to think about getting married, having kids, and you know, living the life.

I have two childless daughters (my eldest has two kids, but he married a Catholic -- she waited until well after getting her degree to start having kids).

Of my two (and many of their peers) they're spending (or had spent) their 20s getting degrees and putting off the idea of a starting a family. I think it's pretty normal for that age range to consider waiting, especially if they have plans for university. Perhaps I'm overgeneralizing based on my personal experience, but it seems like a good theory.

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Dystopianism might in part be an outlet for illegible unhappiness/dissatisfaction/anxiety. People are much richer now, but have less power over their own lives; eg a medieval peasant got their food by growing it but a modern employee gets their food by obeying instructions. Similarly, raising children is subject to far more social pressure, and every aspect of human life is subject to competitive pressure (competition is bad for the competitors). I don’t think many people have the concepts necessary to articulate this as a source of unhappiness though, and without the intellectual legwork that would involve saying “I’m unhappy that I’m not a subsistence farmer and my kids have opportunities.” I don’t think I’ve even grasped the whole of it, particularly as I probably could live like that if I wanted to.

Dystopianism tends to involve political and economic systems either breaking down or being obviously awful, and may be the only way most people can give expression to that.

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As a sidebar, I think Robin Hanson's response to guys like Yudkowski was comical.

He takes such an extreme "everything is going to be uptopian," I have to wonder if he's on drugs, selling something, or has never picked up a history book.

AI has the potential to extinct humanity. That's not even debatable unless you're going on some kind of faith and injecting a God or gods or miracles into the picture.

That doesn't, however, mean it's likely or very likely, it's just in the light cone of possible futures. To act like that's not the case, well it seems silly, although I pretty much admit there's not a damn thing we can do about it and trying to stop it would be futile.

In one of Yudkowsky's essays he points out that teenagers, while they acknowledge that people die in car crashes, cannot conceive that it could happen to them. There is a magical thinking that "I'm an exception."

He relates this same illogical thinking to the idea that humans cannot go extinct, as if there is a magical force protecting us from nature. No, he writes, nature doesn't care about humans.

Perhaps part of the Grabby Aliens and Fermi Paradox discussion is that evolution drives carbon based sentient life towards compute and the end result is machines take over....or not....who knows about some of these ultimate answers but, anyway, the more I read about it, the more convinced we live in a simulation. So, yeah, at the end of the day, I'm staying an anarchist hedonist who remains optimistic only because the alternative is suicide and that wouldn't let me see the possible outcomes of staying alive (which, when practiced well, is pretty fun and challenging).

As to worrying about human populations...haha, Ted Kaczynski had this correct: the future population will be either destroyed or enslaved by the AI robotic overlords, OR Mark Zuckerberg will rule the world and we can only hope, as a good socially conscious leftist, he instructs his machines to treat us like loved house pets. Say hello to UBI and universal everything...

As Kaczynski says, we might be well cared for, well fed, and have tons of leisure time, but we won't be free.

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My understanding is that most cultures in history have had a pessimism of the future. They see culture as being in decline from the once great ancients. But most cultures had high fertility rates regardless.

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Social media disproportionately elevates the voices of unhappy people, because they spend more time online. Previously we mostly talked about public affairs with cheerful extroverts, because those are the people you tend to meet and talk to, and got our news from successful professionals because those were the people who wrote news articles as a profession. Because moods are contagious, everyone is now more unhappy.

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I think it's precisely because life has gotten so good that people try to find catastrophes to be worried about.

Current generations (especially born after the 1970s) lack the intimate knowledge of what it's like to live in extreme poverty or war. We have to imagine it. I read a few months ago someone freaking out about the Ukraine War, because it represented a time of strife. I pointed out to him that it was a tiny war, by any historical standard, and that the 100+ years before the 21st century saw bigger wars more frequently than we've seen since 2000 - even if you excluded WWI and WWII! He seemed shocked by this, perhaps not really believing it.

I think we find it necessary to have things to worry about, and because we have so few real things to worry about, we latch on to things that might appear real or could potentially represent a problem.

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"But why, when things have been getting rapidly better for your entire life and well before, would you predict that they are about to start, or have just started, to get rapidly worse?"

The glib answer is regression to the mean. I don't think that's really what's going on, though.

I suspect the world is getting better in easy-to-measure, number-go-up ways and worse in complex ways. That's why you can point to graphs where simple metrics like GDP and starvation levels are improving, but there's a universal sense of doomerism. I think that intuition is really telling and not worth dismissing. For one thing, it's common across so many groups. For another, it's happening now in particular, more than at other times in history even when mass media existed. You could think of these varied visions of apocalypse as the dreams of a collective unconscious, which sounds woo, but I think it's a reasonable hypothesis if you buy a few uncontroversial assumptions:

1. Collective intelligence exists. The stock market (or prediction markets) can generate information no individual can, a corporation can process information and act in a coherent way, cultural memes spread and evolve independently of their human hosts. On a society-wide level, something you could call "cognition" is occurring (this doesn't require sentience).

2. In the human mind, some information is known only (or mostly) on the emotional level, and this has an analog in the case of society-level cognition.

3. Dreams have random elements but are largely not random; rather, they often correspond to complicated emotions in the dreamer, with made-up plots to contextualize the emotions.

So different subcultures collectively develop narratives that stick because they capture a mood, an intuition lots of people have but don't know how to describe, and each culture substitutes its own mores and bogeymen. From this perspective, you can't debunk climate doomerism any more than you can look at someone tossing and turning in their sleep and say, "Ha! You fool – you're not really showing up late for the final exam naked, you're just lying in your bed!" instead of saying "Huh, what in your life maps onto a feeling of being stressed and exposed?".

One theory for the underlying cause of the parallel evolution of these dystopian dreams is something like "misalignment" – AI is one instance of this, but the general principle is something about technological advances quickening the pace at which the modern environment differs from the ancestral environment, so that the subtler human and cultural capacities, the ones that had to evolve instead of being invented as technologies or discovered from first principles, become ineffectual; and load-bearing traditions and institutions get displaced faster than we can catch up to rebuilding infrastructure to handle all the auxiliary loads those traditions/institutions were bearing without us realizing it. The left calls it capitalism, the right calls it the decay of traditional values or something, the gray tribe calls it Moloch.

Also, "things are consistently getting better" seems largely orthogonal to "shit's on the brink of hitting the fan", rather than being a counterargument. If you're running a scam, your trajectory looks like "get more and more and more money and then oops implode and go to jail". If you're using up a finite resource, your trajectory looks like compounding returns followed by a nosedive. The higher you build on top of an unstable foundation, the less robust your system becomes; optimization pressures tend toward centralization pressures, which trade off against resiliency. (In fact, I'm not totally convinced the population argument, at least the more mainstream version of it, was implausible. Things didn't turn out that way, but I haven't heard a knockout argument for "people could have and should have known at the time that overpopulation wouldn't be a big deal", especially since I think it's not so much that population skyrocketed and it was fine, as that the population growth rate started going down right after The Population Bomb was written.)

Incidentally, I don't really think any of this is the proximate cause of people having fewer kids; my best guess is that that's more due to hormone disruptions.

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AI may kill us. It’s the most likely outcome but certainly not 100%.

In climate change... yeah Gen Z think it’s a much bigger problem than it is. Even more pessimistic takes than yours are nowhere near as bad as what teenagers today assume their future holds.

Mostly likely most of these problems are meaningless because AI will change the context to the point that geoengineering seems like a minor problem. Either we’ll be fucked or massively more capable.

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Fatalistic pessimism helps with more than just excusing low fecundity. For one thing, it excuses inaction when one would otherwise be expected to sacrifice and work hard toward change or to support resistance efforts.

Also, any community focusing on a particular set of shared ideas faces a common problem whereby the social dynamics of competitive sanctimony unleash a kind of signaling spiral that can incentivize members to quickly express the most extreme form of or commitment to those ideas. Those extremes manifest on the dimensions of confidence and severity as well, which leads straight to "black pill" positions.

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Can you reference the IPCC claim please? Or anyone else?

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"But why, when things have been getting rapidly better for your entire life and well before, would you predict that they are about to start, or have just started, to get rapidly worse?"

Perhaps because when you have a lot, you become more fearful of losing it than excited to get more.

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