"So if fairness is your prime social value, and by fairness you mean something like equal socioeconomic outcomes for all members of a society, capitalism won’t get you there. That’s not what it’s designed to deliver. What capitalism does deliver is material comfort, leisure time, and hope. It doesn’t deliver them to everyone evenly, but to all increasingly."
"The first problem with our current climate crisis, then, is not its nature but its pace: in evolutionary terms, it is a Mt. Everest that has arisen overnight. In the next sixty years, the range of one songbird, the scarlet tanager, will likely move north almost a thousand miles, into central Canada. All on its own, the bird could make that adjustment fairly swiftly—but there is no such thing in nature as a species all on its own. The tanager thrives in mature hardwood forests, and those cannot simply pick up their roots and walk to cooler climates. Compounding this problem of pace is a problem of space. Over the past few centuries, we have confined wild animals to ever-smaller remnants of wilderness, surrounded by farmland or suburbs or cities. When those remnants cease to provide what the animals need, they will have nowhere left to go."
"There is one context in which I think recursive self-improvement is a meaningful concept, and it’s when we consider the capabilities of human civilization as a whole. Note that this is different from individual intelligence. There’s no reason to believe that humans born ten thousand years ago were any less intelligent than humans born today; they had exactly the same ability to learn as we do. But, nowadays, we have ten thousand years of technological advances at our disposal, and those technologies aren’t just physical—they’re also cognitive."
"Magic is something which, by its nature, never becomes widely available to everyone. Magic is something that resides in the person and often is an indication that the universe sort of recognizes different classes of people, that there are magic wielders and there are non-magic wielders. That is not how we understand the universe to work nowadays. That reflects a kind of premodern understanding of how the universe worked. But since the Enlightenment, we have moved away from that point of view. And a lot of people miss that way of looking at the world, because we want to believe that things happen to us for a reason, that the things that happen to you are, in some way, tied to the things you did."
"Sometimes change is neither slow work nor painful humiliation, but an unstoppable and uncaring force, uninterested in our silly little efforts. As this year has demonstrated loudly and as every year demonstrates quietly, far more often than it is anything any one of us can effect personally by our actions, change is something that happens to us, in all the horrorshow of luck and the inexorable tide of time passing, the bad weather swooping across the landscape where all we can do is stare, powerless to stop it, swept up in the grasp of something too large to comprehend."
"For most people who purport to communicate with animals, the ability is considered a lost art, something that was widely practiced before the advent of modernity, before mechanization and urbanization. This was, in part, a matter of necessity: reading animals helped humans evade predators, find prey, and monitor the needs of livestock. As the balance between humans and the nonhuman world has shifted, the thinking goes, we have become less attuned to natural signals—which isn’t to say that one can’t recover and master these skills today."