The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

“The chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is its polarization: Us vs. Them — the sense that we have a monopoly on the truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, to hell with you. This is nonconstructive. It does not get our message across…”

“Us vs. Them” pretty much describes the state of the world today. Not just science vs. superstition but left vs. right, rich vs. poor, men vs. women, Marxists vs. capitalists, etc. We discard the 99% we have in common in order to hate each other over the 1% we disagree on. That’s good for the leaders of the various factions but very bad for humanity as a whole.

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

Have you ever tried to convince a religious person their religion is wrong? It doesn’t work. The same thing happens with a political ideology where a person might have to rewrite their entire worldview. Even people who have been defrauded may continue with the fraud just so they don’t have to damage their self-image of competence.

Changing the human heart is a painfully slow process. Not many are interested in trying. Fighting a cultural war is more fun.

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.

Just… wow! How perfectly this describes the world today.

This was written in 1995 by Carl Sagan, probably the most important advocate for science and rational thought of the 20th or – maybe any – century.

I understand that it is easy to cherry-pick your predictions. Point out the ones that worked out and ignore the ones that didn’t. These are so prescient that it saves me from having to write them myself. Were I to describe the US – and indeed the world – today, this is exactly what I’d say.