Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The despair is stronger than hoped

Nicholas Agar
Nicholas Agar
Nicholas Agar is a New Zealand-based philosopher. The philosopher Agar is from New Zealand and writes a lot about the consequences of new technology for humans. His latest book is How to be Human in the Digital Economy.
OPTIMISM / By taking positive ideas more seriously, we can give them the same attention that toxic ideologies receive today.


No matter where, whether in the media, in the rhetoric of politicians or in discussions on Internet – one finds a bias against bad ideals and ideas. I don't mean to imply that most of us support racism, misogyny or homophobia, but we give them effect. We believe that extremist ideals must be fought because we implicitly consider them strong enough to attract new followers and infectious enough to spread.

At the same time, we tend to take positive ideas less seriously, we instinctively believe that it is neither possible to make good progress towards a zero carbon economy or to close the wealth gap between rich and poor. Policies proposed to achieve such ethical goals are considered unrealistic. Politicians who support such a policy are viewed with distrust or rejection. Our partiality means that we attach to the villains the motivating power of idealism instead of utilizing it for our common good.

magic Dust

During the election in NewIn 2017, many commentators criticized the optimistic vision of Labor leader Jacinda Ardern and called it "magic dust".

When U.S. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was contacted by schoolchildren who wanted her to support the "Green New Deal" legislation, she dismissed the claim as unrealistic: "The resolution will never be approved by Senateand you can tell it to those who sent you here, "was the answer.

We believe that extremist ideals must be fought because we implicitly consider them strong enough to attract new followers and infectious enough to spread.

Think of the white nationalist who killed 51 people at the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand in March last year: His stated goal was to reverse "The Great Replacement" (replacing white Europeans by Africans and people from Middle East), in addition, he argued that the action would "save the environment." It is clearly absurd.

Still, when a 19-year-old killed one person and wounded three others in the attack on a synagogue in California in April last year, we turned our attention to the fact that the 19-year-old may have referred to the Christchurch shooter manifest Online. In both cases, we openly acknowledge that these men are the ideological offspring of the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

Extremist ideals

Obviously, we still have to worry about extremist ideals spreading online. But if we are to take the persuasive power of such "influencers" seriously, we should do the same with positive ideals, even if they initially seem absurd.

In Ardern's "magic dust" there was a hope to erase the students' debts and reduce them child poverty. Taking the goals seriously can give them the same power of influence that we already attach to toxic ideologies. If we stop rejecting the goals immediately, we can start thinking about how they can actually be achieved.

Not all moral ideals are achievable. Imagine a young medical student dreaming of curing cancer. Towards the end of her career, she is at the forefront of a revolutionary treatment of acute leukemia. Technically, her dream wasn't realized – but would she have been able to contribute just as much if she hadn't embraced the dream of curing cancer?

Early in his prime ministerial term, Ardern promised to halve child poverty in ten years. Her electoral opponent, Bill English of the ruling National Party, long rejected any goal child poverty on the grounds that it was difficult to measure. Eventually, he committed himself to a relatively modest goal.

If Ardern retains the prime minister post for ten years to come, child poverty is unlikely to be halved by the end of the period. Her promise will be broken. However, like the failed cancer researcher, Ardern will be able to look back on efforts that have made a measurable difference.


That to reduce child poverty or coping with climate change requires extensive cooperation and, to a certain extent, individual sacrifices. The problem is that it is easier for us to imagine a technological solution to complex problems than it is to have confidence that politicians and citizens will come together on a common cause. And since we regard technological barriers as superior, we have greater determination and tendency to be more tolerant if something fails.

For example: Although the astronauts on Apollo 1 – Edward H. White II, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee – killed in fire, complied with NASA John F. Kennedy's deadline to land on the moon. Similarly, we silently cheer on SpaceX boss Elon Musk as he fantasizes about colonizing the planet Mars.

We should treat ourselves to optimistic ideas and fantasies – at least they usually bear some fruit.

Yet we cannot expect a generous billionaire to develop a new one technology that will save us from climate change. Only genuine cooperation can solve such problems.

Common ideals. Gathering on common ideals can be an effective motivator, regardless of the moral content of the ideal. Many in the first generation of Soviet revolutionaries sincerely believed in the vision of a communist #utopia, free from human exploitation. They made the necessary personal sacrifices to make it happen.

Not so long ago we perceived Neo-Nazis as hopelessly lost. Their occasional marches were considered comical, presented in the media with the same priority as the pensioner's report, which willed the entire fortune of his cat. Now we must take the neo-Nazis seriously; In fact, we have to worry about what sacrifices they can bring to their evil cause.

Unfortunately, we have no choice but to accept that their ideals have a perverse effect, though nor should we ignore the possible power of positive ideals – as a driver of cooperation and moral progress. We should treat ourselves to some of our most optimistic ideas and fantasies – at least they usually bear some fruit. And a little fruit is better than no fruit.

Translated by Iril Kolle

- self-advertisement -

Recent Comments:

Siste artikler

The future is already here

COMMUNITY: What happens when there is further pressure on falling profit rates brought on by cheaper products for consumers, triggered by greater competition? And with a kind of intensified state control of virtually all socio-economic aspects of life?

Bilderberg under the cover of Watergate

POWER: Millions of people's lives are affected by what is cooked up in such a nest of robbers as the Bilderberg League – but nothing comes out about the decisions. Just a summary: "The energy crisis and security issues were the most important topics of conversation" – people don't need to know more.

Intelligence beyond the human

ECOLOGY: A tangle of interconnected life. Developments in ecology and technology herald a new Copernican revolution: Language, the bastion of supposed human superiority, also belongs to nature and machines. Can an expanded definition of intelligence improve our relationship with other beings?

A post-capitalist horizon

SOLIDARITY: For a recipe for an ecological revolution, the subject that can constitute the active social force that can move society towards a radically different future is missing. Radical futurisms are here a new thinking for what may come.

Without shame in life

SHAME: The Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has noble motives for her outbursts against the establishment, but she is also part of a modern trend where shame and shaming have become part of everyday politics and the often dystopian debate on social media. This book takes a closer look at shame.

Sophie's Choice: 'Don't Be Evil' or 'Don't Be Good'

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: In this book, Robert Leib worries that our trust in artificial intelligence could backfire on us. 'Sophie' is a collective consciousness, one 'among many'.

A kind of creative primal cry

USA: What does it mean to be an American? Who are they, how did they get to where they are today, where have they left cultural traces? Here we see the voices of the civil rights movement that inspired the hippies in the 70s, the champions of gay rights and feminists for several generations.

To read and decode the signs of nature

SUSTAINABLE: A new movement within agriculture that draws on so-called regenerative principles works to increase the humus content, the microbiological life in the soil and cultivate the soil's ability to bind CO2.

I was completely out of the world

Essay: The author Hanne Ramsdal tells here what it means to be put out of action – and come back again. A concussion leads, among other things, to the brain not being able to dampen impressions and emotions.

Silently disciplining research

PRIORITIES: Many who question the legitimacy of the US wars seem to be pressured by research and media institutions. An example here is the Institute for Peace Research (PRIO), which has had researchers who have historically been critical of any war of aggression – who have hardly belonged to the close friends of nuclear weapons.

Is Spain a terrorist state?

SPAIN: The country receives sharp international criticism for the police and the Civil Guard's extensive use of torture, which is never prosecuted. Regime rebels are imprisoned for trifles. European accusations and objections are ignored.

Is there any reason to rejoice over the coronary vaccine?

COVID-19: There is no real skepticism from the public sector about the coronary vaccine – vaccination is recommended, and the people are positive about the vaccine. But is the embrace of the vaccine based on an informed decision or a blind hope for a normal everyday life?

The military commanders wanted to annihilate the Soviet Union and China, but Kennedy stood in the way

Military: We focus on American Strategic Military Thinking (SAC) from 1950 to the present. Will the economic war be supplemented by a biological war?


Bjørnboe: In this essay, Jens Bjørneboe's eldest daughter reflects on a lesser – known psychological side of her father.

Arrested and put on smooth cell for Y block

Y-Block: Five protesters were led away yesterday, including Ellen de Vibe, former director of the Oslo Planning and Building Agency. At the same time, the Y interior ended up in containers.

A forgiven, refined and anointed basket boy

Pliers: The financial industry takes control of the Norwegian public.

Michael Moore's new film: Critical to alternative energy

EnvironmentFor many, green energy solutions are just a new way to make money, says director Jeff Gibbs.

The pandemic will create a new world order

Mike Davis: According to activist and historian Mike Davis, wild reservoirs, like bats, contain up to 400 types of coronavirus that are just waiting to spread to other animals and humans.

The shaman and the Norwegian engineer

cohesion: The expectation of a paradise free of modern progress became the opposite, but most of all, Newtopia is about two very different men who support and help each other when life is at its most brutal.

Skinless exposure

Anorexia: shameless uses Lene Marie Fossen's own tortured body as a canvas for grief, pain and longing in her series of self portraits – relevant both in the documentary self Portrait and in the exhibition Gatekeeper.