Are We There Yet?

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
―Carl Sagan (1934-1996) in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

This quote has been going around recently as Sagan’s “prediction” of “2017’s events” and obviously he “somehow read today’s papers.” No. Sagan was not a fortune teller; he was an astronomer* who thought about what things might mean, and how they might develop. It’s certainly not a stretch to “predict” the dumbing down of America when you’re an educator. It does, however, take a real sage to think about what it might mean given the conditions around him, and that’s what it meant for him: a “foreboding.”

So: are we there yet? Maybe, maybe not. But clearly it’s something to think about.

* Sagan was a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. Sagan and his works received numerous awards and honors, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, two Emmy Awards, the Peabody Award, and the Hugo Award.

In May 1997, Smithsonian magazine wrote that the late astronomer wrote The Demon-Haunted World “in defense of science and reason in a world he sees as darkened by ignorance, superstition, pseudoscience, deceitful advertising and mindless television.”

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Randy Cassingham is best known as the creator of This is True, the oldest entertainment feature on the Internet: it has been running weekly by email subscription since early 1994. It is social commentary using weird news as its vehicle so it’s fun to read. Click here for a subscribe form — basic subscriptions are free.

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