Re: SOC: The Challenge of "The Second World"

Date: Sat Mar 24 2001 - 07:25:16 MST

In a message dated 3/14/01 8:29:51 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> Greg Burch wrote:
> >
> > Of course, the higher stress placed on personal relationships in the
> societies
> > in question can ultimately be seen as so fundamental to their character
> > that making this kind of change might be seen as a kind of "cultural
> suicide."
> > If so, it may be a question of choosing the manner that those cultures
> > will be extinguished. But I prefer to think of it as the same kind of
> process
> > of self-improvement that extropians believe should be a part of each
> individual's
> > own growth and development.
> Actually, the concept of "cultural suicide" is a highly chauvinistic one;
> it's the belief that because Euro-American "Western" culture currently has
> high technology and working government, it means that high technology and
> scientific knowledge and working governments are the proprietary property
> of Western culture, rather than the rightful heritage of every individual
> on Earth. I personally feel that knowledge and technology are inherently
> cultureless, and I don't care in the slightest about whether July 4th is
> celebrated a year from now - and yet every now and then I hear the
> accusation that I want to impose Western culture on the world. Raving
> chauvinists, the lot of them.

Technology may be "cultureless", but knowledge definitely isn't, at least the
kinds of knowledge that we're talking about in this thread. Sure, it's true
in Venezuela and Argentina and South Africa and Indonesia that the Earth's
gravity will accelerate an object at 32 feet per second^2, but that just
means that things fall the same speed all over the world. Ohm's Law works
the same all over the world, but that doesn't mean that everyone knows how to
build and operate an electric power market in a way that keeps the lights on
(see California).

Sci/tech folks may not like to admit it, but the kinds of knowledge that make
a social system operate for the maximum benefit of as many of its members as
possible aren't the same kinds of knowledge that allow you to build a car
that works well or a computer network that doesn't crash. One of the key
differences lies in the realm of moral values, which simply aren't "known" in
the same way that scientific facts are known.

Consider that real understanding of the scientific method and the basic
knowledge that makes up a scientific world-view aren't that much more widely
distributed in the First World than they are in the two-thirds of the world
that are struggling to break through to self-reinforcing and
self-perpetuating modernism. The cultural world of the average First Worlder
is just as full of silliness in the form of TV sitcoms and New Age or
traditional religious nonsense as the cultural world of the average Second or
Third Worlder may be full of pre-modern superstition. The significant
difference lies in basic values that are widely held concerning the role of
the individual vis--vis society at large, attitudes toward authority and
largely unconscious assumptions about the terms of the social contract.

> > How do you change the basic habits of mind that
> > are inherent in almost every aspect of people's lives? One thing that
> won't
> > work is simple, "top-down" institutional reform. Instead, what is
> required
> > is a broad-based and deep impetus to honest self-assessment. How this
> > be fostered is the real challenge.
> Good luck, you'll need it. Frankly, I think cultural healing is unlikely
> without a dei-ex-machina technological fix, whether it's ubiquitous
> Internet, Earthweb, or a Sysop Scenario.

Here I'm in agreement, at least as a partial prescription for this set of
problems. The history of the 20th century indicates to me that the rate of
diffusion of values that lead to self-perpetuating progress has reached a
near standstill. The basic balance between the First World and the rest of
the world has been essentially static for a hundred years. Russia, Japan,
Taiwan and South Korea are the only societies that managed to cross over that
divide during the 20th century, representing only a small fraction of the
world's population. And conditions in Russia threaten to tip it back into
Second World status (much of the country never having made the transition at

I think it will take both a breakthrough in technology and some new cultural
and political paradigm to bring the rest of the world forward into the modern
era. As I've written here before, I think that technologies that promise
widespread "cultural disintermediation" are essential to this project.
Making sure that control over those technologies doesn't end up in the hands
of traditional authorities in Second and Third World societies is crucial.
But working to make sure that there is a cultural infrastructure to accept
billions of humans plugging into "Earthweb" is just as important.

       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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