As we've previously said, this is pretty informal. Both sides are putting forward their initial opening statements in the text body of this post. We'll do our replies & counter arguments in the comments.
u/stumo & u/eleitl will be the debaters for r/Collapse
u/lord_stryker & u/lughnasadh will be the debaters for r/Futurology
OPENING STATEMENT - R/COLLAPSE By u/stumo
Does human history demonstrate a trend towards the collapse of civilization or the birth of a planetary civilization? It can never be argued that technology isn’t capable of miracles well beyond what our minds here and now can imagine, and that those changes can have powerfully positive effects on our societies. What can be argued is that further, and infinite, technological advancement must be able to flow from here to the future. To regard perpetual technological advancement as a natural law commits a logical sin, the assumption that previous behavior automatically guarantees repetition of that behavior regardless of changes in the conditions that caused that prior behavior. In some cases such an assumption commits a far worse sin, to make that assumption because it’s the outcome one really, really desires.
Every past society that had a period of rapid technological advancement has certain features in common - a stable internal social order and significant growth of overall societal wealth. One can certainly argue that technological advancement increases both, and that’s true for the most part, but when both these features of society fail, technology soon falls after it.
While human history is full of examples of civilizations rising and falling, our recent rise, recent being three centuries, is like no other in human history. Many, if not most, point to this as a result of an uninterrupted chain of technological advancement. It’s worth pointing out that this period has also been one of staggering utilization of fossil fuels, a huge energy cache that provides unprecedented net energy available to us. Advancements in technology have allowed us to harness that energy, but it’s difficult to argue that the Industrial Revolution would have occurred without that energy.
Three hundred years of use of massive, ultimately finite, net energy resources have resulted in a spectacular growth of wealth, infrastructure, and population. This has never occurred before, and, as most remaining fossil fuel resources are now well beyond the reach of a less technological society, unlikely to occur again if this society falls.
My argument here today will explain why I think that our reliance on huge energy reserves without understanding the nature of that reliance is causing us to be undergoing collapse right now. As all future advancement stems from conditions right now, I further argue that unless conditions can be changed in the short term, those future advancements are unlikely to occur.
OPENING STATEMENT - R/FUTUROLOGY By u/lughnasadh
Hollywood loves dystopias and in the news we’re fed “If it bleeds, it leads”. Drama is what gets attention, but it’s a false view of the real world. The reality is our world has been getting gradually better on most counts and is soon to enter a period of unprecedented material abundance.
Swedish charity The Gapminder Foundation measures this. They collect and collate global data and statistics that chart these broad global improvements. They also carry out regular “Ignorance Surveys” where they poll people on these issues. Time and time again, they find most people have overwhelmingly false and pessimistic views and are surprised when they are shown the reality presented by data. Global poverty is falling rapidly, life expectancy is rising equally rapidly and especially contrary to what many people think, we are living in a vastly safer, more peaceful and less violent time than any other period in human history.
In his book, Abundance, Peter Diamandis makes an almost incontrovertible case for techno-optimism. “Over the last hundred years,” he reminds us “the average human lifespan has more than doubled, average per capita income adjusted for inflation around the world has tripled. Childhood mortality has come down a factor of 10. Add to that the cost of food, electricity, transportation, communication have dropped 10 to 1,000-fold.
Of course we have serious problems. Most people accept Climate Change and environmental degradation are two huge challenges facing humanity. The best news for energy and the environment is that solar power is tending towards near zero cost. Solar energy is only six doublings — or less than 14 years — away from meeting 100 percent of today’s energy needs, using only one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth. We need to adapt our energy infrastructure to its intermittency with solutions like the one The Netherlands is currently testing, an inexpensive kinetic system using underground MagLev trains that can store 10% of the country’s energy needs at any one time. The Fossil Fuel Age that gave us Climate Change will soon be over, all we have to do is adapt to the abundance of cheap, clean green energy soon ahead of us.
Economics and Politics are two areas where many people feel very despondent when they look to the future, yet when we look at facts, the future of Economics and Politics will be very different from the past or present. We are on the cusp of a revolution in human affairs on the scale of the discovery of Agriculture or the Industrial Revolution. Not only is energy about to become clean, cheap and abundant - AI and Robotics will soon be able to do all work needed to provide us with goods and services.
Most people feel fear when they think about this and wonder about a world with steadily and ever growing unemployment. How can humans compete economically with workers who toil 24/7/365, never need social security or health contributions & are always doubling in power and halving in cost? We are used to a global financial system, that uses debt and inflation to grow. How can all of today’s wealth denominated in stock markets, pensions funds and property prices survive a world in a world where deflation and falling incomes are the norm? How can our financial system stay solvent and functional in this world?
Everything that becomes digitized tends towards a zero marginal cost of reproduction. If you have made one mp3, then copying it a million times is trivially costless. The infant AI Medical Expert systems today, that are beginning to diagnose cancer better than human doctors, will be the same. Future fully capable AI Doctors will be trivially costless to reproduce for anyone who needs them. That goes the same for any other AI Expert systems in Education or any field of knowledge. Further along, matter itself will begin to act under the same Economic laws of abundance, robots powered by cheap renewables will build further copies of themselves and ever more cheaply do everything we need.
There are undoubtedly challenging times ahead adapting to this and in the birth of this new age, much of the old will be lost. But if you’ve been living in relative poverty and won the lottery, is mourning for the death of your old poor lifestyle the right reaction? Paleolithic hunter gatherers could not imagine the world of Agriculture or the Medieval world that of Industrialization, so it’s hard for us now to see how all this will work out.
The one thing we can be sure about is that it is coming, and very soon. Our biggest problem is we don't know how lucky we are with what is just ahead & we haven't even begun to plan for a world with this good fortune and abundance - as understandably we feel fear in the face of such radical change. The only "collapse" will be in old ideas and institutions, as new better ones evolve to take their place in our new reality.
This most profound of revolutions will start by enabling the age old dream of easily providing for everyone's material wants and needs and as revolutionary as that seems now, it will probably just be the start. If it is our destiny for us to create intelligence greater than ourselves, it may well be our destiny to merge with it.
This debate asks me to argue that the trajectory of history is not only upwards, but is heading for a planetary civilization.
From our earliest days, even as the hominid species that preceded Homo Sapiens, it’s our knack for social collaboration and communication that has given us the edge for evolutionary success. Individual civilizations may have risen and fallen, but the arc of history seems always inexorably rising, to today successes of the 21st century’s global civilization and our imminent dawn as an interstellar species.
More and more we seem to be coming together as one planet, marshaling resources globally to tackle challenges like Climate Change or Ebola outbreaks in forums like the United Nations and across countless NGO’s. In space, humankind's most elaborate and costly engineering project the International Space Station is another symbol of this progress.
The exploration of space is a dream that ignites us and seems to be our destiny. Reusable rockets are finally making the possibility of cheap, easy access to space a reality and there are many people involved in plans for cheap space stations, mining of asteroids and our first human colony on another planet. It’s a dizzying journey, when you consider Paleolithic hunters gatherers from the savannas of East Africa are now preparing for interstellar colonization, that to me more than anything says we are at the start of a united planetary civilization.