Printed: 2020-02-26

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Millennial Tendencies in Responses to Apocalyptic Threats

J. Hughes

in Global Catastrophic Risks eds. Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic. Oxford University Press. 2008. pgs 72-89

April 14, 2008

Abstract: Popular discussion of utopian possibilities and apocalyptic risks from new technologies is sometimes dismissed as ungrounded millennial hysteria. In this essay I reflect on the various types of historic, pancultural millennialism. I then suggest how contemporary forms of secular techno-utopian and techno-apocalyptic discourse reflect these millennialist types and their characteristic biases to over- or under-estimate catastrophic risks, and adopt fatalistic or inappropriate stances toward risk reduction. Then I suggest that awareness of these characteristic millennialist cognitive biases help us separate grounded assessments of catastrophic risks from their attendant psycho-cultural baggage. By carefully parsing our hopes and fears about the future from the characteristic dysfunctions of millennialism we can tap millennialism’s energy without being led astray by it. (Download the chapter PDF and the Powerpoint presentation from the July 2008 Catastrophic Risks Conference at Oxford University )

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837