Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, January 20, 2017

System and Lifeworld

That's the subtitle of the second volume of The Theory of Communicative Action, by Jurgen Habermas. It's very heavy going so I don't necessarily recommend that you try to read it. But it seemed like a good title for this post.

Our modern, complex society is nothing like the kind of societies in which humans evolved. People lived in bands in which everybody knew everybody else, in fact they had varying degrees of kinship, and they communicated face-to-face. Many people are still part of communities like that, to some degree, although for most of us they are more diffuse. We're mobile, we don't see most of our kin regularly. Most of our daily interactions are in the form of narrow role relationships -- worker and boss, customer and server, teacher and student, colleague. And of course there is a vast system of mass communication that is our only window into a world far wider than the village or band, that affects us in ways that are often mysterious, in the face of which we feel largely helpless.

People's brains aren't really built for this. It's not hard to understand why people who are frustrated about the conditions of their lives would have mistaken ideas about what is causing their problems and what to do about it. It's perhaps a bit less obvious, but I hope it is now that I point it out, that messages may come through the system that people perceive as slights, or offend their sense of propriety. But in the old days any such message would come from a person you could have a conversation with. You could tell them how you felt, hopefully work out an understanding, or choose to avoid that person in the future. But people can't talk back to their televisions.

NPR has devoted about half of its news content of late to interviews with Donald Trump supporters. I can't even listen any more, I turn off the radio during my commute whenever they do this. It's just too disturbing to realize that we wound up with a malignant narcissist, authoritarian blithering idiot as president because these people are so deeply incapable of critical thinking. But as Chauncey DeVega explains, perhaps with a subtext less sympathetic than I would like, the shit will hit the lifeworld.

No, they won't get well-paying jobs bolting cars together or mining coal. If the Mexicans all get shipped back to Michoacan, their food will get more expensive. In fact, more of it will be imported and a lot of the local farms will go out of business. If we throw up high tariffs, everything in WalMart will cost more and our export industries will decline. If they repeal the affordable care act, a lot of them will lose their health care and it will get more expensive for the rest of them. And those are just the promises Trump made that they thought they liked. He's going to trash their public schools, make them breathe toxic fumes, cut their social security benefits, and oh yeah, their taxes will go up even as their wages go down.

The dirty secret is that federal taxpayer funds flow from states with liberal electorates to Republican states. As DeVega writes:

As philosopher Henry Girioux has repeatedly warned, the “dead zone of capitalism” will only be expanded by Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s obsessive advancement of predatory capitalism and austerity. “Red State” America is already economically unproductive and parasitic, largely dependent on the taxes and economic activity generated in “Blue State” America. As such, Trump’s policies will disproportionately punish his greatest supporters.

So what will happen when they look around in a couple of years and find themselves worse off? We'll find out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The dog who caught the car

It's actually amusing watching the Republicans in congress flailing around trying to figure out how to repeal Obamacare. It turns out they didn't actually understand what it does and have no idea of what to do instead. Here's Sen. Schatz (D-HI) telling the amusing tale of Republicans begging him for help because they don't want to own what they are about to do.

"They want to be able to claim this is part of a good faith negotiation, but it's simply not.They have no idea what comes next so they want some bipartisan cover for their nonsense behavior," Schatz said.

He also said Republicans were looking for Democratic cooperation so that they can share the blame."They're really worried because anyone who pays any attention to health care knows exactly what is about to happen to the system, to the market and to individuals, and they don't want to be blamed for it so they're trying to see if they can take us off the cliff with them and we aren't going to abide by it," Schatz said.
They've been spending the last seven years telling people they're supposed to hate the Affordable Care Act, but they never got around to explaining why they are supposed to hate it. The fact is, the only way to extend affordable coverage to the population is to do what the ACA does: get everybody into the pool, require community rating (i.e. don't charge more to sick people), and provide subsidies for low income people and families. There's no other way. The ACA is something of a Rube Goldberg contraption, but that's because Congress is unwilling to pass the right solution, which is:

Universal, comprehensive, single payer national health care.

UPDATE: I commend to your attention Kevin Drum, who also asks why Republicans hate Obamacare. He notes that when polled, people like all the individual pieces of it; they also like it much better if it's called Kynect or the Affordable Care Act. Quoth Mr. Drum:

So why the continued rabid opposition to Obamacare? It's not because the government has taken over the health care market. On the contrary, Obamacare affects only a tiny part of the health insurance market and mostly relies on taking advantage of existing market forces. It's not because the benefits are too stingy. That's because Democrats kept funding at modest levels, something Republicans approve of. It's not because premiums are out of control. Republicans know perfectly well that premiums have simply caught up to CBO projections this year—and federal subsidies protect most people from increases anyway. It's not because everyone hates what Obamacare does. Even Republicans mostly like it. The GOP leadership in Congress could pass a virtually identical bill under a different name and it would be wildly popular. In the end, somehow, this really seems to be the answer:

Republicans hate the idea that we're spending money on the working class and the poor. They hate the idea that Barack Obama is responsible for a pretty successful program. They hate the idea that taxes on the wealthy went up a bit. They hate the idea that a social welfare program can do a lot of good for a lot of people at a fairly modest price.
What kind of person hates all these things?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Words of Wisdom

As I've been struggling to understand how so many voters -- not the majority,  we need to keep repeating -- but a lot, could have possibly thought it was in their interest or the world's to make a malignant narcissist, raging idiot and bigot president of the United States, along comes George Lakoff to remind us of how electoral politics really works.

I have noted that most voters have little understanding of public policy. I'm a particularly rational type of person. I try to collect information and work out the logic of problems. I study public policy the way academics do, because that's what I am. But few people have the time or inclination to do that. People live in constructed worlds, what Lakoff calls frames. Any information that doesn't fit in the frame will be ignored, disbelieved, or dismissed as anomalous.

What he is a bit less explicit about, but I believe he would agree with this formulation, is that the frames are built out of words. There are images in there as well but Lakoff focuses mostly on language. The words connect with each other in a web of presumptive causal and affinal relationships, and they have positive and negative connotations. Lakoff also says that frames contain value systems, and he sees a divide in U.S. (and possibly other countries') political culture between a system based on the view of the family as nurturant, and a contrasting view of the family as authoritarian. The family is our fundamental metaphor for the organization of society at higher levels, so these views of the family shape people's political allegiances.

Conservative political activists understand all this better than liberals because they study business and marketing in college, while we're off studying history and biology and useless stuff like that. Marketers know how to reach people, and they are totally amoral. Sell the sizzle, not the steak, the saying goes. Buy this car and you'll get a hot girlfriend. Drink this beer and you'll be a fascinating person. Vote Trump and win, win, win!

We need to learn these lessons. Elections are not machinery for turning people's self-interest into policy. If they were, the self-interest of 5% or less of the population would not continually prevail. We need to get a bit cynical, I think, and start talking to people in their own language.

Anyway, read Lakoff.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tragedy or Farce?

It's getting to the point that I can't write anything because I don't know where to begin. The idea of Donald Trump as president was preposterous from the beginning, but nobody could quite imagine what the reality would be like. At this point it's an even bet, for me, whether the Trump presidency self-destructs in an explosion of idiocy, or whether it destroys us first.

The oppo research memo on the Russian connection is a lot of fun, but the absurd prospect of appointing RFK Jr. to head a presidential commission on vaccine safety is more telling. This will almost certainly not end up convincing people not to vaccinate their kids -- instead it will convince people that Donald Trump is a fool. If he wants funding for it he'll need legislation, which he won't get. If he tries to let Kennedy mess with the CDC in any way, the entire medical establishment will rise up in outrage. He is certain to make blunders of the same magnitude almost daily. For example, Ben Carson as secretary of HUD is similarly buffoonish, although HUD doesn't have such an influential constituency.

My thinking is that it's going to become increasingly damaging to the Republican party to continue owning him. They're going to start flailing for a way out. They are already flailing with the realization that they can't just repeal the ACA, but their president in waiting is trying to order them to do it next week. Their Chamber of Commerce constituency most definitely does not want tariffs and they don't want their low wage workers deported either. Their foreign policy establishment is going to howl like a pack of wolves with their tails on fire about buddying up with Vlad.

Public policy doesn't really matter to voters, who don't understand it anyway, but the man is a clown. The Republicans benefited enormously from Ronald Reagan's avuncular persona -- it's cast a glow over them ever since, despite Reagan's manifest incompetence. Trump, in contrast, will go down in a golden shower of ridicule. That gives me hope.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The historical moment

The historian Andrew Bacevich takes a step back from the present wailing and gnashing of teeth to look at the big picture. He should concede that there is a stochastic element to the outcome of the election, and that massive failure by the corporate media is a necessary condition for it as well. Nevertheless he has much of interest to say about the discontents that were also a necessary condition.

I am old enough to remember the existential dread of the Cold War and Mutual Assured Destruction. I saw the country torn apart by Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and the countercultural movement(s) of what are usually called The Sixties, which actually lasted from about 1963 to 1974.  Then there were all the min-wars and interventions.

Bacevich's key point is that with the fall of the Berlin wall, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. elites  thought they bestrode the narrow world like a colossus.* "We" had won and now the U.S., the sole superpower, was going to lead the world into a new era of globalized  neo-liberal capitalism, and end all dispute. Instead we got one failure and disaster after another. The Clinton impeachment followed by the Supreme Court installing his witless successor. The terror attack in 2001, followed by a "mindless . . . and unsuccessful war launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies." The destruction of New Orleans. (He doesn't mention the poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico.) The crash of 2008. Meanwhile the neo-liberal revolution had made rich people richer, but left everybody else behind. And the cultural revolution that started in the 1960s was threatening and disturbing to many people.

The Obama presidency seemed to hold promise for real change, but hopes were dashed. The wars ground on, wages stayed stagnant, politics became more bitter than ever. The elites of the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton and her associates, were blind to the extent and nature of disaffection. Yes, fake news and conspiracy theories, and failure of the corporate media to talk about public policy certainly hurt her. But she was the exact symbol of everything that fueled discontent: however belatedly she tried to reinvent herself, she was a known to be a champion of free trade and failed wars. And of course the cultural upheavals.

Bacevich thinks Trump is transitional, not transformative. He doesn't have a coherent ideology or program and his rhetoric is empty. It seems very unlikely he will survive re-election - or perhaps even last until then. There isn't really any such thing as Trumpism, he is just a vessel for rejection. If we can survive the next four years the question is what happens next. That we can see only through a glass darkly.

* Allusion is to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Mistakes were made

I believe the full article is off-limits to you common riffraff, but here at least is the abstract of a recent essay in JAMA about the consequences of the mass shuttering of psychiatric hospitals that happened in the 1990s. This happened for good and just reasons: mental hospitals were inhumane totalitarian institutions, it was generally believed that antipsychotic medications would enable people with serious mental illness to function more independently, and that people had a right to an environment that was the least restrictive and most integrated into the community that they could safely live in.

You may recall that this movement coincided more or less with the movement to liberalize the prescribing of opioid analgesics, also on humanitarian grounds, and you know where that got us.

This is not entirely parallel by any means. The problem with the desintitutionalization of the mentally ill is partly that the second half of the concept -- creating community based supportive living arrangements -- didn't happen. The states saved a lot of money by closing their mental hospitals, but they never got around to spending it on an adequate community based mental health system. The result is that seriously mentally ill people now wind up in jail when they aren't on the street.

What Bastiampillai and colleagues also note is that people do sometimes actually need hospitalization for acute psychiatric episodes. Maybe this is more true than it would be if they had adequate support in the community, but given the current situation, the availability of beds in psychiatric hospitals is simply inadequate. They think this may be associated with rising suicide rates. I don't know, I don't think that's been proven. But I will say that the Affordable Care Act mandated mental health parity and of course, extended coverage to a lot of people who really needed it. It's been a boon to the mental health system. It doesn't provide people with housing and other non-medical services that they also need, however.

Obviously rather than repeal the ACA we need to expand services for people with serious and persistent mental illness, including providing co-located and coordinated mental health and medical care. (They tend to have complex physical comorbidities as well.) The group homes that were supposed to follow deinstitutionalization also need to become real. Maybe if Donald Trump were to pay taxes we could afford it.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Fear and trembling

Probably the hardest thing about this historical moment, for me, is its profound uncertainty. We really do not understand what has happened, and have only the dimmest vision of what may happen after January 20.

Hunter extensively chronicles the president-elect's cognitive deficits. He knows nothing about public policy, either can't remember or doesn't care what he said yesterday, and his only coherent ideology is narcissism. We can get a fair idea of what a Trump administration is likely to do based on the people he has nominated to cabinet positions, and it's fair to assume that he'll sign any legislation the Republican congress puts on his desk. But on the other hand his incompetence raises the possibility that some of the worst may be avoided. The congressional Democrats have an agenda that is far more popular, and they won't face a coherent president who can articulate a Republican narrative.

At the same time, his business empire is extremely vulnerable, precariously balanced on a mountain of debt and quite possibly underwater.  We've all heard that he may be in hock up to his ears to Russian oligarchs close to Putin. But as James Wimberly points out, he is definitely in hock to Deutsche Bank, which is critically illiquid and could probably ruin him by calling in their loans. And, Angela Merkel can probably force them to do this. It is also unclear what Putin's actual agenda is re his orange-haired poodle. Having the U.S. president on a leash and his buddy from Exxon as secretary of state might enable him to develop some oil fields but it's not clear how much more Russia, in economic and social decline, can gain.

Trump also has a lot of legal problems including the possibility of a fraud indictment over the Trump Foundation. That would come from the Attorney General of New York so he can't prevent it. There are likely any number of revelations that could emerge at any time that would make it very difficult for the Republicans in congress to allow him to remain in office. Not that president Pence would be much of an improvement, but the spectacle of impeachment would wipe out most of the first year of the administration and leave the party badly weakened.

None of this is grounds for optimism, don't get me wrong. The disaster has already befallen us, we just aren't sure what exact form it will take. But if we can get through the next two years and the people come to their senses . . .

Friday, December 30, 2016

Now they tell us

NBC News has a good, readable summary correcting common misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act.

It isn't just about extending health insurance coverage, it has provisions reforming Medicare (and others the article doesn't mention such as the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute) intended to constrain the cost of health care while making it more effective and better meet people's needs.

It isn't government insurance. It's a mechanism for making private insurance more available and affordable to people who don't get insurance through employment, Medicare, the military or VA. Most people don't get their insurance through the ACA. Whatever is happening to your employer-provided insurance that you don't like, don't blame the ACA. Blame your employer.

It didn't make your premiums go up. (Contrary to a recent commenter.) Health care costs have been increasing forever. If anything the ACA has slowed this process down.

Yes, premiums for many plans on the exchanges will go up this year compared to last. That wasn't caused by the ACA, it happened because insurers underestimated how much new enrollees would cost.  People who have been without health care for a while often have expensive problems such as uncontrolled diabetes. But, government subsidies will take care of most of the increase for most people, and if the ACA were allowed to remain in place, this problem would ease over time.

Here's my complaint. Throughout the campaign, indeed the last seven years, through all the screaming and yelling about how the ACA was socialism with death panels and a government takeover and government coming between you and your doctor, they never bothered to sit down and carefully explain to people that none of that is true. They just channeled whatever lies the politicians were telling. Only after the disastrous election of 2016 do we suddenly start getting these simple, factual stories about public policy.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Since we seem to have different claims about the popularity of the ACA . . .

here is recent polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Highlights:

While health care was not a leading factor in voters’ presidential decisions, President-elect Trump and Republican lawmakers have made it clear that one of their top priorities is the repeal of the 2010 health care law. Americans are divided on what they want to see lawmakers do to the ACA with one-fourth of Americans (26 percent) wanting to see President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress repeal the entire law while an additional 17 percent want them to scale back what the law does. This is compared to 30 percent of the public who want to see the law expanded and 19 percent who want to see lawmakers move forward with implementing the law as it is.

While President-elect Trump and Republican members of Congress work on a replacement to the ACA, this month’s survey finds that many of the law’s major provisions continue to be quite popular, even across party lines. The notable exception is the requirement that nearly all Americans have health insurance or else pay a fine.
The problem is that people do not understand that the only way to make health insurance available and affordable for everyone is to get everyone into the pool. You can't have the popular provisions without the mandate. It is unseverable. That doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, but it's how the world works. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

They don't know why, they just know they're supposed to hate it . . .

That would be Republicans and the Affordable Care Act. This just hit my in-box.

The rate and number of insured Americans reached historic highs in the years following passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a new report, researchers from the Urban Institute — with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — provide a granular perspective on the 19 million people who gained coverage (2010-2015) and where they live.

Coverage rates increased broadly across age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, and state. The Urban researchers found that a large share of the nonelderly adult coverage gains occurred among those without a college degree – 87 percent. Fifty-seven percent of the children and adults gaining coverage were nonwhite or Hispanic.

"In recent years we have seen unprecedented gains in health insurance coverage,” said Kathy Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "What happens next is uncertain, and the ability to maintain these gains will undoubtedly be a central issue for policymakers to consider.”     

The report includes state-by-state breakdowns by key demographics to illustrate who gained coverage under the law. Highlights include: 

·         Among nonelderly adults gaining coverage, 14.1 million did not have a college degree; within this group, 44 percent were non-Hispanic white.

·         In California, 3.8 million people gained coverage and the uninsured rate dropped 53.4 percent after state policymakers expanded Medicaid eligibility.

·         In Florida and Texas, 3.2 million people gained coverage, even though these two Southern states chose not to expand Medicaid.

·         In Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, more than 2.3 million people gained coverage – accounting for a 38 to 49 percent drop in the percentage of people without health insurance across these Midwestern states.
Notice anything about bullets 1, 3 and 4? They're about to get what they voted for. I hope they enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another data point on the Fermi paradox

This summary takes a while to get to the point, but it's an enlightening while. It doesn't quite explain everything it ought to explain, so I'll fill in the blanks for those of you who may need it.

Life on earth is something more than 3 billion years old. To be sure, Republicans don't believe this, but it is true. However, the metazoans -- a fancy name for the animals, that include us -- and plants haven't been around nearly as long, only (hah!) about 800 million years. We know that what made metazoan life possible was the rather abrupt enrichment of the earth's atmosphere with oxygen, which as I'm sure you have noticed animals need. This was brought about by an explosion in the population of photosynthetic organisms called cyanobacteria (often called by the misnomer "blue-green algae"). The cyanobacteria are still around, but they also made plants possible by getting themselves incorporated into plant cells as endosymbionts that today do the photosynthesizing work for your petunias.

The metazoans were made possible not only by the availability of oxygen, but also by another endosymbiotic event in which another line of bacteria became what are today the mitochondria, our cells' power plants. And plants also have those. Both kinds need a lot of phosphorous to thrive. The problem was, it wasn't around for the first 2 billion plus years, according to this new research -- or rather, it was sequestered deep in the ocean, where photosynthesis couldn't happen. Then TaDa! It showed up in substantial quantities in shallow coastal waters, cyanobacteria were in business, and 800 million years later, so were we.

This suggests that if whatever the key event was had not occurred, earth would still be inhabited by nothing but slime. It also suggests that many or most earth-like planets might never have hit the inside straight, which would help explain the Fermi paradox. It's also all the more reason not to do ourselves in. A) The environment that supports our kind of life is fragile and it can be screwed up and B) it may be quite rate in the universe so there' s nobody out there to carry on the cause of wondering about the universe and starting to understand it.  Let's take this historical moment very, very seriously.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Not that I want to bring you down . . .

but while the New York Times was obsessing over Hillary Clinton's e-mails this was happening. (Yes, there are still newspapers in Britain.)

The warming arctic and the disappearance of the arctic sea ice have caused the jet stream to weaken and meander. This has a few consequences including pulling down cold air to the south, and warm air to the north; increasing the intensity of storms; and causing weather patterns to become static over particular regions resulting in prolonged periods of storminess, or droughts.

That one of the two major parties in the U.S. is committed to denying this incontrovertible reality should scare the shit out of you.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Zdravstvuj tovarisch

There is a whole lot that is bizarre about the impending presidency, but surely the most perplexing but at the same time revealing weirdness is the apparent acceptance by the Republican party that our new BFF is Vladimir Putin. Nina Kruscheva, who ought to know, discusses the Russian takeover of the United States. I will put this in bullet points in case your attention span is flagging.

  • Trump responded to reports that the CIA had concluded Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta by deriding the CIA as a tool of Hillary Clinton. Quoth NK, "The idea that a US president-elect would take the word of the Kremlin over that of CIA officials and even the most senior members of his own party is already bizarre and dangerous."
  •  But then there is Secretary of State nominee Tillerson,  for whom "taking Russia’s side against the US is nothing new." 
  • And National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who, "like Tillerson, has also been feasting at the Kremlin trough. After being fired by Obama for his incompetent management of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn immediately began to cultivate Russian business contacts. And Putin seems to have been more than happy to see that commercial doors were opened to Flynn. There is a now-infamous photograph of Flynn seated next to Putin at a banquet for RT (Russia Today), the Kremlin-backed cable news network that was a prime source of the slanted, and even fake, news that inundated the US during the recent election campaign. "
  • "As for Trump, statements made by his sons suggest that, if the American public ever got a look at his tax returns and business loans, they would find that he has also been feathering his nest with Kremlin gold for some time."
  •  And of course there is Paul Manafort
Kruscheva thinks that Trump is likely involved in criminal activity. Although she doesn't specify, violation of sanctions against Russia, tax evasion, or collusion in the hacking are all possible. She doesn't mention the likelihood that Putin has information with which to blackmail Trump. All of this is just fine with the Republicans in the House and Senate. And the news media, which are largely incurious about it. How deeply strange.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thoughts on resistance

Randall Kennedy has some.

I actually think -- and I'm probably naive -- that many of the squishes, including even some Republican politicians, who initially decided to go with the flow and pretend everything was normal and they would try to figure out ways to use the famously unfocused and flighty orange orangutan for their own purposes are now starting to realize that he is even crazier than he seemed and touching him in any way is extremely dangerous.

In other words, it's possible that the Senate won't go along with handing the country over to Vladimir Putin, and once the Republicans contemplate the likely political cost of doing all the stuff they have been promising to do for the past 8 years they may go a bit soft. Where we are definitely screwed is on the environment including the fate of you know, the planet, but we'll still be around after 4 years to change that around. Voter suppression is definitely resistible, as is intimidation of dissent and of the press. Our political culture has a much stronger reserve of democratic norms than Germany or Italy did in 1939. Robert Kuttner checks off the parallels to fascism (see section 2 of this long essay) but noting how Trumpism is like fascism leaves out how the historical time and place is different. He concludes with more or less what I am saying:

An astute observation is ascribed to Mark Twain: It is easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled. True enough, but the contradictions are piling up. Even hardcore Trump voters are starting to experience buyer’s remorse.
We can place our hope in his incompetence. As long as we can avoid a ruinous war.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Philosophy after the Enlightenment

Metaphysics is essentially dead. Speculation about the ultimate nature of reality seems a waste of time when we can actually study the universe and learn about it. Whatever metaphysical speculation you come up with may one day be proved true or false, in which case why not wait for the answer? Alternatively, there may be no means of verifying or falsifying it, in which case why bother even to think about it, when we can spend our resources on questions that might have answers?

So here's Tim Urban discussing the Fermi paradox. Basically, even using the most conservative assumptions, if life develops on earth-like planets, even fairly infrequently; and it technological civilizations subsequently evolve, again even infrequently, there should be something like 100,000 technological civilizations in our galaxy, many of them presumably far more advanced and powerful than little old us.

So where are they? We have detected absolutely nothing that is suggestive of any technological civilization. Urban's discussion is very well organized and fascinating, so do read it. But I will say that the main possibilities include that life is actually exceedingly rare. That would be surprising because cosmologists have adopted the habit of thinking that our planet is nothing special. It would also be surprising because it seem evident from thinking about evolution on earth that if you get any sort of system that self-replicates with occasional mistakes, you are going to get evolution. But does evolution necessarily have to lead to multicellular organisms and nervous systems? Maybe the universe is full of pond scum, and nothing much more than that.

Another possibility is that technological civilizations arise,  but inevitably self-destruct because they can't handle the power they gain for themselves. That's certainly plausible, we almost did it during the Cold War and we might be about to do it now. On the other hand at least some of us are wise enough to avoid that. Why couldn't even 1% of civilized beings be more generally wise?

And there is the possibility that they're out there, but we can't detect them because they aren't emitting any signals that we would perceive as coming from a technological civilization. There is also the nasty possibility that a predatory species rules the galaxy and wipes out any competitors, in which case we may be on the menu.

These speculations are mostly fairly disturbing, but the point is, we may one day -- even soon! -- know the answer. Hegel, however, could never know anything.