Posted by Prometheus
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
As soon as I got to college a couple years back I was confronted by throngs of anarchists. Each in there own way was unsatisfied with society, complaining that it was suffering from centralization and should be torn down to make way for something better. Phrases such as “neo-tribalism” and “primitive culture” were thrown around, and I was in the middle of it, finding myself in the odd position of defending the US government, Western civilization, and technological progress. I have held firm to my belief in the perfectibility of these processes, and this blog is one avenue for me to vent my frustrations with those who are frustrated with humanity.
What is it about primitive culture which is so appealing to us? What is it about “modern” society which leaves us wanting more? I would have to say that it’s everything I’ve talked about in this blog: loss of individuality, identity, and meaning in life. As we’ve grown more specialized in our functions we are forced to perform tasks which have increasingly affected us indirectly. We work in one place to make money to buy food in another place and buy a home somewhere else, and sometimes lose sight of what life is all about, what it is that makes us get up in the morning and get to work. Since the industrial revolution we’ve seen more suicides as meaninglessness encloses upon us.
Our state of affairs, when described in that light, looks pretty grim. Perhaps it would be best to stop all of this meaningless expansion and advancement, because after all it hasn’t made us happier, and likely has made us less happy. These advances have increased the potential for human suffering on this planet, allowing individuals in charge of governments to kill millions instantly, and economic imperialism to suck the energy from the less fortunate. Wasn’t it better when we couldn’t cause so much damage? When our war-proned psychology was checked by our limited power?
I of course concede those points, and yes, the world as a whole may have been happier before industrialization (or agriculture or whatever paradigm shift you want to point to), but that in no way means that we will not be happier again, and really, really doesn’t mean we should try to reverse our progress in some way, or delay our advancement.
First of all, there is logically no way to reverse technological progress. Progress is not a thing you can take apart just as it’s been built, the thoughts that brought us to where we are today still exist in us, and will always exist unless we deliberately take them from our heads. We humans have the knowledge/power to craft nuclear weapons, and we simply can’t go back. We can’t possibly tell everyone to forget how to use nukes, as someone will remember for their own advantage. We are competitive creatures, and we cannot make it in this world without the use of our technology. 10 years ago no one had GPS, now our country and world would be absolutely crippled if GPS ceased to function. We are forced to live with our knowledge, and trying to escape it will only be detrimental.
We could of course revamp our society and form tribal communities where we all work for our food and live a simple life of subsistence. I think that certainly more people should consider farming as a meaningful lifestyle, but I’m not sure what decentralization is supposed to accomplish. I guess you can have people with similar values to your own, but that’s already what countries are. The difference between centralization and decentralization is pretty irrelevant, and all that really matters is inter connectivity, basically the internet. There is absolutely no way to slow down the internet, and no matter what society we form at this point, we will all rapidly come together to form one mind.
Why do you think we left our tribes in the first place? Maybe first I should ask why we chose to live with each other rather than alone in the first place. Alone in the wild, in a supposed pure state of nature, Hobbes describes “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We come together to fix these things, to extend our life and enjoyment. We formed tribes. But tribal life is still brutish and short compared to what we have today, so we formed nation states, sciences, medicine, and so on, so that we could prevent the horror of seeing a loved one die before their time was through. We’ve created many problems by trying to defy death, but these problems are not insurmountable.
It used to be that we lived and died by our work, by our labor to hunt and till the fields. We also lived and died by our cohesion, our ability to defend against the evils of nature. We’ve gained mastery of our defenses and our food so that we don’t have to consciously be working toward the maintenance of our existence, and while this mastery has produced problems it should be seen as good. I hate living in a world where I have a responsibility to write essays for classes I don’t care much about, and where I don’t have the freedom to smoke weed where and when I want to, but these are sacrifices that I must make when entering into a social contract, and I would take this life any day over the life of a hunter-gatherer who could not be sure that he and his loved ones would live to see tomorrow. I dare an anarchist to go to a starving people and tell them that the answer to their problems is less cohesion. There is a necessary underlying privilege to anarchy, one must be unsatisfied with the life of ease they live in order to discard it.
We are in a bit of a rut right now with society, with billions living in poverty and millions starving because some sectors of society have advanced to the detriment of others. This is a sad state of affairs, but as I’ve said before, these problems are not insurmountable. The exponential power of technology inevitably will extend our love to these people. Gandhi remarked on several occasions that he disliked trains because they allow us to travel very quickly and evil spreads much quicker than good. Evil has been spread all over the world now in our Globalized society, and we simply need to wait for good to catch up, and it will. Love, Truth, and order always persevere in an existence characterized by entropy, and the only proof we need of this is our existence. Our intelligence has been converging and growing since the beginning of life on this planet, proof that even in an uncaring universe of chaos, order can and will inevitably increase.
Tell Your Friends! (that's an order, not a request)
About PrometheusI write about the coming technological singularity and its implications for our sense of identity, individuality, meaning, and existence. I argue that the most significant aspect of the singularity is the convergence of our consciousnesses into one superconsciousness, and that we should be very happy about this.
Posted on May 18, 2011, in Consciousness, Technological Singularity, Values and tagged anarchy, developing world, optimism, philosophy, social contract, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.