Re: The enemy within

Date: Sat Jan 15 2000 - 11:11:43 MST

In a message dated 1/11/00 11:42:13 AM Central Standard Time,

> Maybe we should really be thankful for the
> distribution of land masses enabling sufficient cultural and resource
> diversity to allow a globally exponential technological development
> over a long time.
> Maybe the time to start worrying is now, when we are racing towards a
> situation where cultural factors can influence technology globally...

This is an EXTREMELY insightful question and points to the issue of how far
we can push the metaphor of "memes": If we are truly moving to a "memetic
monoculture", we may well face some new dangers that could threaten the pace
of innovation. It is the ultimate irony of classical liberalism: No matter
how right we think we are, we must hope that not everyone agrees!

> > Perhaps we can speed up or slow down progress (or even stop
> > it). How would we do this? If by supression then we imply
> > that technology is an independent force.
> Suppose everybody thinks that it is pointless to develop new
> computers. There might be some tinkerers doing it anyway, but there is
> no market demand so they will not be rewarded. After a while, when
> everybody is using the same old systems, even a radically better new
> system would have a hard time finding good applications because
> everybody is using the same old applications with no need to
> change.

This reminds me of a term once applied (by whom, I can't recall, dammit!) to
China's long, long periods of cultural stability: A "high-level equilibrium
trap". This idea posits that when almost EVERYTHING people do or want in a
society is addressed at least fairly well by some technology or custom or
social relationship, all of which are intricately interwoven, there is a
strong pressure to avoid innovation. Like so many Westerners drawn to study
Chinese history, it was the question of why China avoided innovation for so
long that drew me most strongly to take a degree in the subject when I was
but a pup. Ethnocentric and "chronocentric" faith in the inevitability of
progress on short time scales is one of the great dangers of people familiar
only with modern Euro-American history . . .

> Note that I'm not saying they are perfectly stable - they will
> probably change with time, and even stagnant societies can revive
> quite a bit. But it is not because technology wills it, it is because
> of an interplay of cultural factors (like changes in politics,
> religion, writing, new ideas or inefficiency), outside factors (trade,
> competition, changing neighbors) and hard to predict individual
> factors like lone geniuses, great accidents, nutty emperors or random
> chance.

An excellent summation of the myriad of factors that bore on the end of
China's long cultural stagnation in its "high-level equilibrium trap" from
the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries.

(With such great insight into the humanities from a scientist like Anders, I
fear I shall have to study some more mathematics to be of any value here . .

      Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                                -- Desmond Morris

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