The Wizard and the Prophet : Two remarkable scientists and their dueling visions to shape tomorrow's world


Wizards unveil technological fixes, Prophets decry the consequences of our heedlessness (pg 6).

. . . “the clash between Vogtians and Bolaugians is heated because it is less about facts than about values . . . Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet . . . Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available to use; Prophets think to the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed” (pg 8).

“Human-ness is the quality - a mix of creativity, drive, and moral awareness - that transforms humans into persons. It is a special spark or spirit, unique among living creatures, a flame possessed in abundance by our heroes, possessed in small amounts by all” (pg 29).

“Only as humans were reduced to humankind did humans gain their humanity” (pg 30).

“Humans grab ‘about 40% of the present net primary production in terrestrial ecosystems’ - 40 percent of the entire world’s output of land plants and animals” (pg 35).

“Economists talk about the ‘discount rate’ which is their term for the way that humans almost always value the local, concrete, and immediate over the faraway, abstract, and distant in time. We care more about the broken stoplight up the street now than social unrest next year in Chechnya, Cambodia, or the Congo” (pg 36).

The Prophet:

{From the roots of the Prophet} “‘ If the present drift be not changed, we whites are all ultimately doomed,’ {Lothrop Stoddard} wrote in Rising Tide. The disappearance of Caucasians ‘would mean that the race obviously endowed with the greatest creativity ability, the race which had achieved most in the past and which gave the richer promise for the future, had passed away, carrying with it to the grave those potencies upon which the realization of man’s highest hopes depend’” (pg 79") . . . but also, “‘Our forefathers,’ {Vogt} thundered, were ‘one of the most destructive groups of human beings that have ever raped the earth. They moved into one of the richest treasure houses ever opened to man, and in a few decades turned millions of acres of it into shambles’” (pg 87).

“Until something has a name, it can’t be discussed or acted upon with intent” (pg 89).

The Wizard:

“To the question of how to survive, his work said: be smart, make more, share with everyone else” (pg 96).

“Hungry people are lured by promises, but may be won by deeds. Communism makes attractive promises to underfed peoples; democracy must not only promise as much, but must deliver more” (pg 120).

We’ve got to do something. “Much like Vogt, Borlaug was acquiring a sense of mission - a shiver in the spine that would drive him for the rest of his life” . . . yet neither “gave any thought to how the consequences of their ideas would ripple across the world” (pg 131).

Earth: Food

“the health of the soil, plant, and animal were linked to each other, that fertile soil held the key to increased crop yield, and that manure was the key to soil fertility” (pg 177).

Which reminded me of this podcast:

“The slow poisoning of the life of the soil by artificial manures is one of the greatest calamities which has befallen agriculture and mankind” (pg 179).

“One values a kind of liberty; the other, a kind of community. One sees nature instrumentally, as a set of raw materials freely available for use; the other believes each ecosystem has an inner integrity and meaning that should be preserved, eve if it constrains human actions. The choice lead to radically different pictures of how to live. What looks like a dispute over practical matters is an argument of the heart” (pg 250). also read and wrote about this book, comparing it to Avengers: Infinity Wars. He wrote, “Thanos is a prophet and the Avengers are wizards…both are even specifically referred to using those exact words at different points in the movie. More specifically, Thanos is a Malthusian…he wants to cut the population of the galaxy in half to up everyone’s quality of life (via).

You can buy the book here.