Re: SOC/BIO/POL: International Forum on Globalization conference

Date: Tue Feb 06 2001 - 07:01:12 MST

In a message dated 2/5/01 10:49:33 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> wrote:
> >
> > Take a look at this:
> >
> >
> >
> > and be afraid . . . be VERY afraid.
> Why? Wouldn't a better response be to throw our own events with a quite
> different viewpoint? I don't consider this meeting much or a real
> threat. What am I missing?

   . . . and

In a message dated 2/5/01 11:36:02 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> Greg, rather than being afraid, let's talk about this.
> Jeremy Rifkin can command a strong presence and with the attributes of
> speakers participating in this event, they will gain some mileage. (This
> is where we come in.) They have been banging this drum for a long time and
> have gained a lot of momentum in strumming up their salvo. (This is where
> we counter) I find it a challenge -- the more they squall and moan, the
> more we can debunk the irrationality of their claims if we do something
> about it, such as with our upcoming Extro conference.
> Let's look at the topics of this event and counter them extropically.

First, my comment was intended to be a little humorous, invoking the ad
campaign for an old horror movie (I can't even recall the object of the add .
. .)

Second, I agree with both of you that *a* right response is to work to
organize a counterweight to these voices - and I look forward to seeing all
of you at Extro5 this year :-)

But finally, I think it's important to be aware of and REALLY understand how
it is that the movement in opposition to technological progress is so
effective in organizing and getting its message out. Perhaps it is just a
function of my professional work as an adversarial advocate, but I tend to
focus on this kind of thing, i.e. researching and analyzing "the other side"
as a tool to better advance my own. So, I hope my friends here will indulge
my taste for dissecting the Rifkinites.

As I've written here before, the luddite point of view has some real
advantages in the job of memetic competition. The primary advantages I see
lie in the question of who does the talking and rule-making in our societies.
 Regarding the former, for better or worse, the media IS overwhelmingly
staffed with people who lack technical or scientific education and experience
and whose attitudes are shaped by a culture inimical to values of progress.
As a simple matter of the practicalities of career opportunities and personal
talents, people tend to go into work in journalism from educational
backgrounds in the humanities. And as a fact of history, academic
departments in the humanities in the West have been overwhelmingly staffed
since the 1960s by professors who hold attitudes antithetical to
Enlightenment values of reason and progress and who are deeply ignorant and
suspicious of science, technology and enterprise.

Rule-makers in the West also tend to come from similar educational
backgrounds, and then tend to rise to positions of power through personality
traits and long experience in behavior that has little need for knowledge or
understanding of how science, technology and enterprise work. Any doubt
about this should be dispelled by the recent experience of California's
hare-brained power "deregulation" scheme.

Put these two factors together with the facts of the general population's
deep ignorance of basic knowledge of science, technology and enterprise, and
you have a deck that is stacked decidedly against rational development of
science and technology policy. In fact, viewed through this purely
"cultural" lens, one would wonder how ANYTHING rational ever gets done. The
answer seems to lie in two things. First, contrary to what the
postmodernists would have us believe, the day to day activities of people
engaged in the scientific method tend to work themselves out in practice
largely in a cultural sphere insulated from the influence of "culture" in
general. Most scientific activity takes place in laboratories and journals
that interface very little with the world inhabited by the denizens of
legislatures and the popular media. Only in the realms of public funding and
explicit legislative fiat do the two worlds overlap.

Second, as the history of the last 250 years in the West has proven,
technological business enterprises produce tangible results in an extremely
efficient manner that many people want and will pay for. One can place a lot
of "cultural drag" on this social mechanism and still obtain substantial
fruits from the interaction of capitalism and science.

The problem comes from the fact that this latter mechanism is inherently
short-sighted when it comes to cultural expression. The primary mode of that
expression is advertising of goods and services available TODAY, not rational
exposition of a philosophy that encourages on-going support for scientific
and technological progress. What I call "the cultural horizon of capital"
tends to be limited to the economic realities of profitable returns on
investment. As the dot-commers have recently discovered to their great pain,
that horizon is fairly short - on average it appears to be something on the
order of two years, at most. Interestingly, industries and specific
enterprises that tend to make longer-term capital investments DO engage in
more broad-based advertising. Thus we see large chemical and industrial
companies develop and promulgate advertising campaigns and slogans that point
to longer-term progress (e.g. GE's "we make good things come to light").

There ARE some notable exceptions to these unfortunate trends and factors.
Every once in a while, the realms of science, technology and industry spawn a
capable spokesperson. But a Carl Sagan seems to come along all too rarely.
The confluence of a good grounding in the basics of the scientific method and
the obvious truths of enterprise seldom seem to also meet up with a
personality that has the instincts for showmanship that Dr. Sagan had. Steve
Allen's recent passing made me wonder at how rare such people are - and ask
yourself how little impact Steve Allen had on popular culture. Most people
don't even know that he spent the better part of his life as a vigorous
activist and communicator on behalf of the values that we share here.

The simple facts are that the kinds of people who are drawn into scientific
and technical fields tend to be TERRIBLE communicators in the way needed to
have an impact on the culture at large. While enterprise tends to attract
better communicators, the facts of life in business are such that those
communication skills tend to be focused on narrow and short-term messages.
Even getting the people who could afford to fund the grooming of good
spokespeople to recognize the need seems to be an uphill task.

My intention is not to be pessimistic, but rather to be realistic. We need
to recognize that the deck of cultural communication and influence IS stacked
against us. Only working from that realization can we hope to succeed.

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "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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