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The Massive Danger of Societal Nihilism
Khannea Suntzu   Mar 29, 2014   Ethical Technology  

Just a short while, a researcher by the name of Safa Motesharri came out with an article that got some support from NASA. NASA at least put some money in that study, and it caught on in the media that the story was an officially NASA sanctioned, supported or otherwise prominent study. It isn't but that does not make the conclusions in the study any more relevant.

“Collapse is difficult to avoid,” largely because “elites consume too much” and will bring about “an inequality-induced famine,” the report authors found.

I have been hearing similarly despair laden phrases from other sources, and in some of this talk there are a number of a common themes. - the world has a number of affluence, income and power elites - these elites have massively increased in income, prosperity and power in the last few decades - these elites overconsume labour, resource and energy resources - this overconsumption crowds out people who are substantially less rich - this "crowding out" is a form of displacement that can cause some form of global collapse - this collapse can cause massive death of humans in the next few decades

If this is true, the simple series of premises is of considerable importance. The probable argument for mass human death 'in a few decades' is about as important a topic as you can envision. If such potential mass death were the result of a comet striking us in a few decades, then immediate action would be taken. We face however a problem that much of this die off would arguably be influenced by the consumption habits of extremely powerful elites, who have an active stake in using media, politics and corporate and financial sectors.

If a population of people of a hundred on an island would be in a state of severe overconsumption collectively, this overconsumption should be subject to calculation. Lets say that a hundred people on an island consume a thousand coconuts, a thousand fishes and a thousand side of pork and a thousand trees (as building material and firewood. In all three categories of resources we see visible decline - there is decline in coconuit trees on the island, as not enough seeds are available to grow in to new coconut trees, etc. In terms of consumption of resources, when there is power disparity an elite will allow itself to consume massively more than anyone else.

So when any measures for collective rationing are proposed, the small minority who wields most extraordinary political and economic power would be hardest hit when the collective would be reduced to sharply reduce consumption to "rational" or "sustainable" levels. This would be especially true if some of the blame for the collective consumption can be argued to be the result of systemic overpopulation.

This is also true the real world, and probably more insidious in the real world. You can't easily assess how much "the rich" over-consume, but that they do, we can be sure. So I conjecture that the more a certain class of elites have engineered opportunity to (criminally?) overconsume, the need for rationing will increase exponentially in the next few decades. And since the relative power of the hyper-entitled on the planet is still increasing relative to "the rest of us", the odds we can on this planet even begin to agree on a more equitably rational rationing of available resources is also becoming increasingly unlikely.

Democracy sure isn't going to do the trick, and as of George Bush junior, and this newfangled business of "war on terror" (It does make you think now, doesn't it?) there seems to be a handy infrastructure put in place as to quell any such attempts to come to sane constraint of human consumption on the planet.

I have often argued that the easiest (!) escape from this stalemate would be the invention of radical means for extending human life. This may appear as a tangent on the above discussion, but it is precisely how I regard the problem. For most people current states of overconsumption isn't a concern, since "most people who currently overconsume can assume they have secured the prosperity of this genetic lines (their offspring) by means of rather liberal inheritance laws world wide, and they are only going to live for a few more decades.

The world may suffer terrible climate, resource depletion, water table collapse, food scarcity unrest between now and 2035 (I.e., "the next few decades") but fullblown collapse does not at this moment seem exceedingly likely. In the words of Cheney - The American Standard of Living is NOT negotiable, or the words of his eminent protege, "In the future, we'll all be dead" is exemplary of this attitude of mostly white, anglosaxon, very rich and somewhat older men.

If this demographic would suddenly have access to safe and affordable means for life extension, they would have to contend to having to potentially live on a planet with sharply diminished resources and a lot more consumers, and a lot technologically more empowered consumers, "the next few centuries".

There is a perverse rationality at work in the white, mostly anglosaxon, male, somewhat older men. They are driven by the urgency to amass resources, money, power and inalienable property for a relatively short pension cycle. Most do not anticipate living beyond their 80s, with very few notable exceptions. The world's economy is driven by interests of the very powerful, and those interests have a functional shelf life determined by their personal expectations on how long they will live.

This increased short term interest can be represented algorithmically, where the number of policy decisions in banking, government, the corporate sector (and arguable - even in white protestant patriarchal churches) is more aimed at the very short term (years, rather than decades). Being not very religious myself I would invoke the subconscious when I point my accusing fingers at Judgement Day cult beliefs. In my personal analysis I would characterize these as de facto subconscious affirmation that the current reality on the planet has become dire.

I won't spend a second on deliberating about emerging technologies and other solutions often espoused by technoprogressives, extropians, transhumanists and singularitarians. Yes there may be technological solutions, but you don't take bets on the survival and general well-being of ten billion human beings.

There comes a point when this will start to become pretty self-evident, and there comes a point when the majority of people in relatively more affluent and free countries, will get the message. If the majority of people "who can still make a political difference" becomes aware soon (say, within the coming decade) then they (we) still have a somewhat fair shot at implementing just the right amount of change, just in time. If however the people catch on more slowly,. then the global geopolitical elites (otherwise known as the 1% of the 1%) should be capable of engineering societal conditions where grassroots political resistance against any catastrophic outcomes makes little sense.

I am sounding a very serious warning here. In my personal life I am no stranger to nihilism and despair. I have seen it up close, I felt how it emerges and I have lived what it does to a human being. As soon as human beings lose faith in the potential for fundamental self improvement, they simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

They no longer act, they expect to be served by others and they lose interest in the future as being of any tangible relevance. There is an even more sinister exponent of that, and it is an active, outright love of armageddon, an active and hungry looking forward to "getting it over with". I have seen those sentiments during the cold war, where some people were so sick and tired of the pervasive threat of geothermal nuclear annihilation they'd rather welcome the event to happen soon than having to live with the fear for another year.

Once a sufficiently developed percentage of people actually get the idea the situation is pretty much hopeless, and fairly soon we are all going to perish horribly (which is at stake here, pretty much) then any arguments of "austerity", "economic ​growth", "morality", "self-respect" will mean nothing. This statement itself is a guarantee for massive cognitive dissonance, as for most people to briefly entertain the very idea of total systemic collapse of the world's infrastructures and affordances is literally beyond their capacity to entertain - and anyone who utters such ideas will be branded a troublemaker.

Crowds tend to be fairly decent mechanisms of future prediction. If you source a question to a crowd, the total consciousness of large amounts of people tends to act as a pretty decent predictor of what is likely to happen. So my prediction in turn with regards to the global collective subconscious is to insist is that we closely watch where the herd stampedes.

This moment of a stampede isn't very close - probably several years away - but the moment the majority of people catch on to how bad it might arguably become, is the moment that you will see a culture of nihilism we have not seen before on this planet. The moment where we all realize that no matter how efficiently we ration what's left, and that large percentages of people will die, or be reduced to extreme developing world poverty, is the moment a lot of people will lose the capacity to care about the future, and be only interested in the very very short term.

The breaking point of modernity will become, by and large, a crisis of faith. Once people collectively lose faith, there will be hell to pay. My estimate? Probably not before 2018, but certainly no later than 2025. When it happens it will make Arab Spring and Occupy look at dress rehearsals, and the end result will almost certainly be the most ruthless planetary dictatorship the planet has ever known.  

Khannea Suntzu describes herself as cosmist, cosmicist, upwinger, socialist-libertarian, hedonist and abolitionist. Khannea is a woman of transgender origin, and currently lives in the Netherlands.


Although the consumption of planetary resources by wealthy Western(?) nations poses a real threat to Climate and Humanitarian crises, just how much resources do elites themselves expend?

Is it not the corrupt system of “hoarding” exorbitant profits and wealth from the control of market forces and perpetuation of Global debt that is the ultimate planet killer?

Global debt and how to deal/diminish/relinquish/forgive it is the major barrier holding back real investment in dealing within ALL other dilemmas, including Poverty, famine, unemployment, Climate change and long term investment for renewable energies, proficiency and need of Geoengineering?

We Are Now One Year Away From Global
Riots, Complex Systems Theorists Say
Article From Sept 2012 - still pertinent?



I find this pretty convincing. Already I see many signs of defeatism in our culture, especially in the West, and the Weat is after all where people are not empowered to act (or not) with the future in mind. Learned helplessness abounds.

I don’t think I’ve had quite the same experience of nihilism and despair in my personal life as Khannea reports, but I have certainly experiences listlessness, and I recognise - for example in my own reaction to John Gray’s highly nihilistic and defeatist Straw Dogs a decade or so ago - this wish to get the apocalypse over and done with that Khannea also refers to. It’s taken me quite some work - and help from books and people - to develop a really consistent sense of purpose. (And it’s still work in progress.)

So I hope people will heed Khannea’s warning. As long as calamity is not certain, individuals can alter the probability of it occurring. There are things each and every one of us can do to nurture the kind of courage that we need to get us through this bottleneck, both in ourselves and in those around us.

Good news is.. that so far.. and by any measure, WW2 was a peak in Human destruction, and so, and therefore, we are yet to discriminate any statistics for an era worse than this - no surprise then?

However, there are figures on the internet that suggest 51 million lives lost to war and conflicts from 1945-2000 - (still searching for comprehensive data on this - does anyone know if this is true)?


wiki says… you may see a trend, (technology & war)

List of wars by death toll

OK… phew!

Tried to list in chronological order, and stopped at 1,000 minimum casualties regardless, (exhausted). Anyone good at sums? Will try to total these up later..

Special note: Early decades post 1945 show least casualties, only 2 million died in 1950’s?

Starts here..

1,119 - Political violence in Egypt, 2013 (2013–present)
140,000 – Syrian Civil War (2011–present), see Casualties of the Syrian civil war

45,852 — 78,946 — War in North-West Pakistan (2004–present), part of the War on Terror

8,136+ — Iraqi insurgency (post-U.S. withdrawal) (2011–present)
1,371-1,397 - Post-civil war violence in Libya (2011–present)
2,557 - Sudan internal conflict (2011–present) (2011–present)
176,913-189,736 – Iraq War/Third Persian Gulf War (2003–2011), see Casualties of the Iraq War, part of the War on Terror

300,000 (TFG)-500,000+ (AFP) - Somali Civil War
5,641 - Sudanese nomadic conflicts (2009–present)
2,198 - Insurgency in the North Caucasus (2009–present)
1,554 - South Yemen insurgency (2009–present)
178,258-461,520 – War in Darfur (2003–present)
6,000 - Insurgency in the Maghreb (2002–present)
272,000-329,745 - War on Terror (2001–present)
47,246—61,603 — War in Afghanistan (2001–present) (2001–present), part of the War on Terror

106,800+ - Mexican Drug War (2006–present)
5,469 - South Thailand insurgency (2004–present)
25,000 - Shia insurgency in Yemen (2004–present)
4,000 - 10,000 Conflict in the Niger Delta (2004–present)
3,699 - Al-Qaeda insurgency in Yemen (1992–present)
2,000-3,000 - Xinjiang conflict (1989–present)
41,000–100,000 – Kashmiri insurgency (1989–present)
200,000—500,000 — Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency (1987–present)
69,000 – Internal conflict in Peru (1980–present)
14,000 - 21,000 - Western Sahara conflict (1970–present)
120,000 - Islamic insurgency in the Philippines (1969–present)
13,812 - Naxalite-Maoist insurgency (1967–present)
25,000 - Insurgency in Northeast India (1964–present)
200,000 - Colombian conflict (1964–present) (1964–present)
34,000 - Ethnic conflict in Nagaland (1954–present)
15,000 - Nigerian Sharia conflict (1953–present)
210,000 - Internal conflict in Burma (1948–present)
16,765 - 17,065 - Balochistan conflict (1948–present)
43,388 - Communist insurgency in the Philippines (1942–present)
1,000 - Khuzestan conflict (1924–present)
115,311 - Arab-Israeli conflict (1920–present)

Sub total = 3,228,696

3,524 - Northern Mali conflict (2012–2013)
45,000 – Kurdish–Turkish conflict (1979–2013)
2,000 - 2011 Yemeni Revolution (2011–2012)
25,000–30,000 – Libyan civil war (2011)
3,000 - Second Ivorian Civil War (2010–2011)
1,229 - Basque conflict (1959-2011)[
2,000 - 2010 South Kyrgyzstan ethnic clashes (2010)
1,310-2,026 - Chadian Civil War (2005–10) (2005–2010)
1,179–1,430 – Gaza War (2008–2009)
54,402 - 74,402 - Second Chechen War (1999–2009)
60,000 – Sri Lanka/Tamil conflict (1983–2009)
8,500 - Insurgency in Ogaden (1995–2008)
60,000 - Ituri conflict (1999–2007)
100,000 - Insurgency in Laos (1975–2007)
3,000 – Civil war in Côte d’Ivoire (2002–2007)
1,500 – Second Lebanon War (2006)
13,000 – Nepalese Civil War (1996–2006)
1,000,000 – Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005)
300,000 – Second Burundian Civil War (1993–2005)
2,500,000–5,400,000 – Second Congo War/Great War of Africa (1998–2003)
150,000 - 300,000 - Second Liberian Civil War (1999–2003)
138,800-320,100 - Iraqi–Kurdish conflict (1918–2003)

500,000 – Angolan Civil War (1975–2002)
200,000 – Algerian Civil War (1991–2002)

200,000 – Sierra Leone Civil War (1992–2001)
125,000 – Eritrean-Ethiopian War (1998–2000)
1,400 - 1999 East Timorese crisis (1999–2000)
2,000 - Six-Day War (2000) (2000)

Sub total = 8,759,111

2,000–7,000 – Kosovo War (1998–1999)
13,929 - Republic of the Congo Civil War (1997–1999)
1,227-5,600 - Kargil War (1999)
15,000 - 20,000 - Bougainville Conflict (1990–1998)
3,529 - The Northern Ireland Troubles (1969–1998)
50,000–100,000 – Tajikistan Civil War (1992–1997)
3,800 - Albanian Rebellion of 1997 (1997)
800,000 – First Congo War (1996–1997)
50,000–200,000 – First Chechen War (1994–1996)
220,000 – First Liberian Civil War (1989–1996)
200,000 – Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996)
15,000 – 20,000 – Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995)
116,000-500,000 – Yugoslav Wars 1991–1995
104,000-250,000 - Bosnian War (1992–1995)
7,000–10,000 – 1994 civil war in Yemen (1994)
1,000-1,500 - Cabinda conflict (1994–present)
1,000 – Zapatista uprising in Chiapas (1994)
30,000+ - Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994)
23,000 – Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994)
900,000–1,000,000 – Mozambican Civil War (1975–1994)
20,000+ – War in Abkhazia (1992–1993) (1992–1993)
800,000–1,000,000 – Rwandan Civil War (1990–1993)
78,000-88,000 - Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992)
1,643-2,237 - War of Transnistria (1992)
1,000 - 1991–92 South Ossetia War (1991–1992)
85,000-235,000 - 1991 uprisings in Iraq (1991)
40,000–57,000 – Second Persian Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm (1990–1991)
230,000–1,400,000 – Ethiopian Civil War (1974–1991)
60,000 – Nicaraguan Revolution (1972–91)
570,000 – Eritrean War of Independence (1961–1991)
150,000–170,000 – Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990)

Sub total = 7,013,832

1,500 – Romanian Revolution (1989)
175,300 - Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1977–1989)
957,865-1,622,865 – Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989)
1,000,000 – Iran–Iraq War/First Persian Gulf War (1980–1988)
1,000+ - Thai-Laotian Border War (1987–1988)
3,781 – War of the Camps (1985–1988), part of the Lebanese Civil war
8,500 – Toyota War (1986–87), part of the Chadian-Libyan conflict
5,000–12,000 – South Yemen Civil War (1986)
500,000 – Ugandan Bush War (1979–1986)
100,000–400,000 – Western New Guinea (1984–) (see Genocide in West Papua)
1,600 – Mountain War (Lebanon) (1983–1984), part of the Lebanese Civil War
9,000+ - Dirty War (1976–1983)
26,500-87,000 - Islamic uprising in Syria (1979–1982)
28,000 – First Lebanon War (1982), part of the Lebanese Civil War

Sub total = 3,850,546

2,000 – Uganda–Tanzania war (1978–1979)
2,781 - Iranian Revolution (1978–1979)
30,000 – Sino-Vietnamese War (1979)
30,000 – Rhodesian Bush War (1964–1979)
100,000–200,000 – Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975–1978)
6,500+ - Ethio-Somali War (1977–1978)
200,000-300,000 - Cambodian Civil War (1967–1975)
800,000-3,800,000 – Vietnam War/Second Indochina War (1955–1975)
70,000+ - Laotian Civil War (1953–75)
63,500-88,500 - Mozambican War of Independence (1964–1974)
5,000 – Turkish invasion of Cyprus (1974)
2,000 – Turko-Cypriot War (1974)
10,000–21,000 – Yom Kippur War (1973)
300,000 – First Burundian Civil War (1972)
500,000 - First Sudanese Civil War (1955–1972)
23,384 – Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (December 1971)
300,000–3,000,000 – Bangladesh Liberation War (1971)
1,000,000-3,000,000 - Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970)
5,573–13,521 – War of Attrition (1967–70)
150,000 – North Yemen Civil War (1962–1970)

Sub total = 11,544,686

2,000 – Football War (1969)
7,264–10,000 – Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 (August–September 1965)
100,000-200,000 - Congo Crisis (1960–1965)

350,000–1,500,000 - Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962)
100,000–1,000,000 – Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962)
4,600 – Sino-Indian War (1962)

14,000–24,483 – Six-Day War (1967)
3,533 - Dominican Civil War (1965)
14,077 - Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960)
11,053 – Malayan Emergency (1948–1960)
180,000–300,000 – La Violencia (1948–1960)

Sub total = 3,069,746

3,203 – Suez War (1956)
1,000,000 - First Indochina War (1946–1954)
1,200,000 – Korean War (1950–1953)

Sub total = 2,203,203

200,000–400,000 – Indonesian National Revolution (1945–1949)
45,000 – Greek Civil War (1945–1949)
14,400–24,400 – 1948 Palestine War (1947–1949)
2,000 - Costa Rican Civil War (1948)
1,724 – War of Lapland (1945)

Sub total = 473,124


Grand total = 40,142,944


List of wars by death toll

Since the end of WW2

1. Humans have become less violent
2. Humans have become more civilised
3. Humans have become more rational
4. Humans have become more wise

The proliferation of Nuclear weapons since the end of WW2 has

1. Kept peace through equanimity
2. Made Humans more rational
3. Made Humans more fearful
4. Made Humans more indifferent to war and peace

Technology, communication, Globalisation and the spread of ideas since WW2

1. Has educated Humans to the necessity of peace
2. Has educated Humans to the futility of political violence and war
3. Has educated Humans as to the manipulation of Nationalism and religious politics
4. Has educated Humans to actively pursue peace

Continuing Technological weapons innovation since WW2 to present

1. Has led to decrease in global conflict and violence
2. Has led to increase in global conflict and violence
3. Has helped to resolve global conflicts more quickly and efficiently
4. Has reduced overall numbers of war casualties through technological power and might

In times of global economic stability and prosperity

1. Human civilisation is more peaceful
2. Humans are less fearful, angry and violent
3. Humans are more fearful, angry and violent
4. Humans sentiments towards violence are indifferent and much the same

In times of global economic instability, austerity and poverty

5. Human civilisation is more peaceful
6. Humans are less fearful, angry and violent
7. Humans are more fearful, angry and violent
8. Humans sentiments towards violence are indifferent and much the same


“Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition. A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don’t mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain. The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire’s quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

“I am sometimes asked, “How do you know there won’t be a war tomorrow (or a genocide, or an act of terrorism) that will refute your whole thesis?” The question misses the point of this book. The point is not that we have entered an Age of Aquarius in which every last earthling has been pacified forever. It is that substantial reductions in violence have taken place, and it is important to understand them. Declines in violence are caused by political, economic, and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times. If the conditions reverse, violence could go right back up.”

― Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

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