One of the sharpest (and most cantankerous!) minds commenting on “the state of the world” at any given time is that of science fiction writer David Brin, best-known for his six “Uplift” novels.

Trying to have a conversation with “Doctor Brin” (his Ph.D. is in space science from the University of California San Diego) is genuinely like trying to have sex with a porcupine. Eventually, you should expect that you are going to give blood. It is simply the only way Brin knows how to have intellectual coitus. (He has attempted to justify his perennially short fuse and tart tongue this way: “Serenity is nice, but serenity alone never brought progress. Hermits solved no problems . . . . We do each other a favor [though not always appreciated] by helping find each others’ mistakes.”)

Here at LEAP! headquarters, we find that we agree with him far more often than not, and that almost no other commentator can issue a LEAP! alert as compellingly as David Brin. He has just done so again on one of the Yahoo Groups he contributes to. This time, he is warning others in the world not to get too self-congratulatory if they have managed to escape the consequences of America’s current dysfunctional politics.

His outburst was triggered by this comment from a fellow list member: “This is US politics, so only indirectly interesting to non-US-list subscribers (although note that historically at least if the US goes down to corruption and incompetence we’ll drag a lot of others with us) . . . .”

Brin’s reply:

“Sorry but this is parochial and contemptuous and silly. The great failure mode of humanity—our penchant to clutch delusions and frantically justify them while squelching or avoiding the very criticism that might refute them—is universal among all human civilizations, 99% of which adopted patterns of governance that perfectly played into that penchant.

“Feudal and other oligarchies—pyramid-shaped and brutally suppressive of criticism—dominated all but a few societies . . . leading to the long, horrible litany of wretched statecraft that we call ‘history.’ Those few exceptions—Athens, Florence, Venice and the neo-enlightenment West—exhibited glorious successes . . . though each soon suffered from the incessant tug backward, forces dragging them back down to insipid oligarchy.

“Let’s be clear about two things. (1) the present neo-enlightenment would never have flowered anywhere near as well without America and it experienced its greatest burst of brilliance under the protection and leadership of Pax Americana after WWII and the Great Peace that ensued. So any attempt to shrug off the present US crisis . . . resisting a strenuous attempted oligarchic putsch . . . is so much short-sighted dullard-witted nonsense.

“The enlightenment is far from safe, yet. Indeed, I reckon one of the Top Ten (of 100 explanations for the Fermi Paradox) is the tendency of ALL sapient races to be drawn by Darwin into pyramidal oligarchies. The way-out offered by the Enlightenment may only be available to a small fraction . . . those who are like gregarious, omnivorous apes . . . and even so it is likely rare. And we may blow it still.”

A serious threat to the Enlightenment is easily deserving of a LEAP! alert.

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