RALL: Intelligentsia Predicts End of History, Again


Four years ago conservative historian Francis Fukuyama argued in his book, The End of History and the Last Man<>, that the triumph of capitalist democracies over socialism in the Cold War signaled that humanity had evolved to the highest and most fully-developed political and economic system possible. Events would continue to occur, but history -- the linear progression of people from ancient dynastic rule to feudalism to industrialization to contemporary society -- had ended. We might devolve into past forms of society, Fukuyama said, but there was nothing new to look forward to. We'd seen it all and done it all, been there, done that.

Similarly, science writer John Horgan's new book, The End of Science<>, (Helix Books/Addison-Wesley Publishing, $24) encourages physicists to hang up their Hubble telescopes and get cracking on the mysteries of deep-frying and secret sauce. After all, astronomers and chemists have already described the universe to an enormous extent, from the gravitational interaction of galaxies down to the tiniest subatomic particles, Horgan points out. There will be new discoveries, but nothing on the order of the Theory of Relativity that would be worth e-mailing mom about: "Further research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns," he asserts. So science is a wrap. Please take your personal belongings with you when you leave.

Film students are taught that there are only 36 types of stories that can be told. Every tale, whether it be by Poe, Tolstoy or Scorcese, is by necessity a variation on one of those 36 themes. A logical mind might extrapolate that as there were once only 35 stories, there must be a 37th story lurking in one of the 6 billion minds running around out there, but devotees of screenwriting theory are adamantly opposed to this possibility.

Rock critics write that there are no new songs to be written, just rehashes of old ones. Mediocre painters and architects interpret their own lack of new ideas as proof that there are no new ones to be found.

What an utter load of dung.

Throughout history moribund societies have always thought that they had developed the ultimate art, political system or technology. Every new regime has considered its own to be the logical -- and final-culmination of everything that had come before it. They couldn't imagine a different world, so they denied that change was possible-and here we go again.

If history is really over, why try to make society more egalitarian? After all, we already know the option of socialism is a washout. Einstein proved that travel faster than the speed of light is impossible, so give up those romantic dreams of flying to some distant star. If painters really have nothing new to say, why bother with those messy oils? Human existence becomes predicated on the base struggle for day-to-day survival.

Given the track record of Hitler's "Thousand-Year Reich," Khrushchev's assertion that he'd bury the U.S., and the music executives who thought rap would never catch on, by now we should know to always expect the unexpected. Instead our shortsightedness is matched only by our arrogance.

The Fukuyama-Horgan school of developmental finality is especially disturbing for the inevitable corollary to its millenarian "that's all, folks" thesis: That there's no point in even trying to accomplish, see, experience anything new. We might as well kill all of our children, since they'll know all of life's misery and none of its joy of discovery.

Intuitively, we know that there are millions of new ideas, some waiting to be stumbled upon and others already around but unnoticed by the world at large. There have to be, otherwise we'd never get up in the morning. Those of us who know that we'll never have all the answers should recognize those who say differently as the irrelevant, exhausted wrecks that they are. And just because they have abandoned their own imaginations doesn't mean the rest of us should do the same.

By the way, did you hear that geneticists have just discovered how to clone a person who died decades ago from a tissue sample-the scenario predicted in The Boys From Brazil?
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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
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