By now you’ve likely seen a prediction made by Carl Sagan going around on Facebook. You know what we’re talking about — it’s the one about “the dumbing down of America.” Maybe you wrote it off as a gag, maybe you took it seriously, but there are two points to make here: The first is that, yes, the prediction is very real; the second is that it’s far older and, in its own way, as anti-scientific, as the thinking it bemoans.
If you missed it, here’s the full passage, from Sagan’s book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. 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 key 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.
If you’re not terribly optimistic about the current direction of the world, it’s easy to indulge in a belief this really is the end. The problem, though, is that Sagan is just the latest in a long line of doomsayers. And as we all know, doomsayers tend to be wrong. And they’re not just wrong in the idea that the world is about to end, they’re wrong in how they characterize the rest of the world.