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Relevant Quotes

Many famous figures have made statements that people like to quote to prove their points. It’s a waste of time really because a quote from a great leader, or scientist, or artist, or anything else, is no more a source of real proof than a random statement from anyone else.

But I do think quotes can be a good starting point for pursuing an idea and can be a clear way to express a concept, assuming the quote is supported by the facts of course.

So after that introduction explaining that quotes must be treated with great suspicion I am now going to present some quotes which I think support a theme I want to develop in this entry.

My first quote is this: “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.” This quote is from legendary science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov.

I have often commented on the threat that the voting power of ignorant groups presents to the modern world. It’s entirely possible that through valid democratic processes there will be no action on climate change for example, simply because various groups in society vote based on the ideological premise that climate change is some kind of vast left-wing conspiracy.

Climate change deniers are both ignorant and anti-intellectual. A friend of mine, when challenged over why he believes the opinions of a journalist but rejects that of the vast majority of climate experts, said he doesn’t trust scientists and thinks expertise based on “common sense” is more important. What he really meant to say was that he would prefer to believe anyone who supported his ignorant political belief that climate change cannot be true.

My second quote is this: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”. This well known quote is from the German philosopher, Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

This does seem to be depressingly true. People seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe this is a further side effect of the anti-intellectualism I mentioned above. People don’t want to listen to historians and other experts because what the experts say often contradicts what they desperately want to believe.

This related quote is from Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

This seems to get to the core of the world’s problems today. The big problems we have: environmental disasters, unstable political systems, dysfunctional economics, and others, are all caused by an economic system which just doesn’t work. It relies on constant growth which cannot continue, cheap energy which is running out, and unfair distribution of wealth which is becoming unacceptable.

But the answer most people give is more of the same, sometimes in an even purer form. They say we need even more growth, cheaper energy, and greater redistribution of wealth. It’s obvious that this cannot work and we are now seeing the beginning of a revolution which our leaders don’t seem to have noticed. Einstein and Hegel were both right: more of the same will not work and we can see from history that is a fact.

I’m not sure what will work better but the first step to improving the current system is to admit that it needs to change. I don’t mean we have to fine tune the current system, I mean we have to replace it. And I’m not advocating communism or a return to a pre-technological simpler time. That would also be ignoring the lessons of history.

What we do need to do is decide what we want to achieve and design a system to make that happen. And I’m fairly sure that won’t involve rescuing big banks, giving corrupt corporate leaders even more money, or reducing taxes for large multinationals which actually contribute very little.

That is one quote which I think really is true: we can’t solve the problems of the world by using the same tactics that caused them in the first place.

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