Carl Sagan may have died back in 1996, but one of his predictions has some people a little tweaked out 21 years later.
Making the rounds on Twitter and on reddit is a passage from Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark in which he forecasts a future where America’s manufacturing would be totally outsourced and people would be unable to question authority among grim possibilities.
Here’s the complete passage from Sagan’s 1995 book that has some people on edge:
“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 whats true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), the lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.
The passage definitely has people talking, mesmerized by the iconic scientist’s words. Theoretical physicist Robert McNees commented on the passage a few months ago: “Good grief, I couldn’t believe how spot-on that Carl Sagan quote was. I had to check to make sure it was accurate.”
While it’s great that major scientists like Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye are treated like celebrities nowadays, it’s also vital to remember that these men can be wrong and sometimes their high profile ends up being detrimental to actual progress. People should probably take what these scientists say or tweet with a grain of salt.
Dan Seitz at Uproxx observes that doomsayers tend to be wrong (looking at you, ancient Mayans who said we’d all be gone in 2012). Predicting a bleak future isn’t anything revolutionary. Somebody’s always going to be pessimistic about what’s next — that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all lay down and let it take over.
Sagan’s prediction holds some legitimacy, but parts of it can also be debunked. Yes, China beats out the United States when it comes to manufacturing. But the United States is still the second-most competitive manufacturing economy. Also, “awesome technological powers” aren’t in the hands of “a very few.” According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone of some kind. It’s worth noting that those who control the most powerful technology forces are few in number as well as narrow in demographic makeup, though.
Then there are those that are genuinely intrigued by Sagan’s prediction and are questioning whether or not he’s actually a time traveler.
OK, they’re probably all joking, because you know, time travel’s practically unattainable, according to experts.
Fittingly enough, the prediction comes from the same book that Sagan touts the “fine art of baloney detection,” also known how to recognize bullshit when it lands right on your face. While there definitely is some truth to Sagan’s prediction, it might be worth it to evaluate all parts of before choking on some fake deli meat.