Posts Tagged ‘ human futures

The Bikecast Episode #51: American Exceptionalism

“American Exceptionalism” undergirds nearly every channel of information and every aspect of political discourse in the United States. It is, at its core, the belief that the unbending laws of nature and the consistent historical forces that have affected every institution throughout human history are not and will not be factors in the history and future of the American people.

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One aspect of this delusional concept comes immediately to mind and wouldn’t be disputed by readers of this blog, though it would be by most Americans. American Exceptionalism is used to recast the aggression of our rulers against foreign peoples as wars of liberation, humanitarian interventions, peace keeping, police actions and the like.

Every ruling class in recorded history initiated wars to accrue control over additional resources, territory, slaves, and tax base to themselves. This expansion of power always takes place at the expense of the subjects who produced and had expropriated the materiel for war and who are called on to fill the ranks of the army. Nobody seriously disagrees with this most basic, obvious, and repeatedly demonstrated fact of human history.

The popular narrative, however, exempts the United States from this ironclad historical pattern. Illumination collapses the dichotomy and returns us to the reality in which the aggression of our current rulers and the sacrifices of the workers parallel those of rulers and subjects throughout history.

The domestic facet of American Exceptionalism is even more widespread and is more immediately dangerous to those of us living here. Behold the remarkably clear analysis of one Anne Applebaum:

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.

-Anne Applebaum

As IOZ points out, and let me state again that each and every one of you should read IOZ every day and send him threatening letters on days that he doesn’t post (don’t really do that last part). Anyway, as IOZ points out, “with a few tweeked adjectives,” the above critique fits the United States to a T. He also observes that she, and I will add most Americans, would dismiss such a claim as absurd.

We’ve recently seen European social programs stripped down and eliminated, food and energy prices increasing and the rising up of people against their governments. Many Americans are already facing the challenges of getting by without regular work while prices increase and state assistance becomes increasingly scarce. Somehow, the idea that a confrontation is coming between the state and the people remains popularly inconceivable.

Even when the world is watching the rulers of a country shut down the country’s communication infrastructure, systematically imprison popular leaders, and send para-military “security forces” out to do battle with those demanding very basic institutional reform, the myth of American Exceptionalism keeps most people from seeing the connection to domestic events.

The myth is pervasive and deeply ingrained. Anyone who even suggests that “national security” policies (for example, the internet kill switch, massive increases in security infrastructure/personel/armament, the elimination of habeus corpus and basic legal principles) aren’t intended to protect us from terrorists, but rather to protect the ruling class from future domestic dissent is immediately labelled paranoid, a wingnut, a conspiracy theorist.

We who live on the North American landmass are not immune from any of the historical forces that govern the dynamics of human interaction and have special predictive powers around human systems premised on violence. We are not protected by the rulers. The “defensive” apparati that we are taxed to build are intended to protect the rulers from expressions of our discontent.

The ruling class has disassembled and replaced voluntary social networks with compulsory institutions that they control. They’ve syphoned off so much wealth and warped the economy to such a degree that they can no longer afford to stuff their pockets with gold while maintaining payments to those that have come to depend on them. Thus, the payments will dwindle or cease (what? you thought that they’d stop stuffing their pockets?) and, out of desperation, people will take to the streets, demanding a restructuring of the social order.

They will be met with the tear gas, batons and bullets that they’ve spent their life funding. They’ll be tossed into the prisons they’d imagined were meant for drug dealers. Their communications will be disrupted by technologies sold as protections against terrorism. This is a historical inevitability. This is the ironclad dynamic of societies whose “order” is premised on violent domination of one group by another. America is no exception.

The Bikecast Episode #24: Getting From Here to There, The Arc of History

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In this podcast, I continue with the theme of “From Here to There,” with a look at the big picture, the “arc of the moral universe,” and the accumulation of information that fuels exponential growth of human knowledge and the corresponding shedding of illusions and heightened moral clarity.

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The bending of the arc of history, I propose, coincides with the increased ability to encode information in such a way that it can withstand the rigors of time to serve as a record for the analysis of later generations.

As ideas are encoded, copied, compared, modified and spread, those corresponding to reality and resulting in advancement and flourishing will drive out those that fail by these criteria.

As an example, even a medium as fragile as paper was enough to encode sufficient writings from the classical western world to ignite, or at least propel, the renaissance and the enlightenment [1].

My claim is that, once an idea is captured on a sufficient number of decipherable media, we can guarantee that it will have a chance at future evaluation. Thus, the idea that knowledge comes from favoring evidence from the physical world over the conclusions of of human reasoning survived in the writings of Aristotle. When brought back to the west, the truth value of Aristotle’s proposed manner of understanding the world swept back into widespread acceptance aiding the rediscovery of the scientific method.

Now, the premise that “all humans are equal” has gained evidentiary as well as moral grounding and has been encoded countless times in countless media. Wherever/whenever the ideas of human equality encounter societies in which a sufficiently frustrated majority are held captive to a supposedly superior minority, the traditional forms of social organization will not stand.

The ideas and evidence for the sustainability and societal superiority of equality, freedom, and nonviolence have been established, encoded, and distributed so widely that they will survive any purge or dark age that could possibly occur (may it never be!). This underlies my claim that, after some number of collapses of the dominant violent power structure(s), these ideas and the history of the implementation (and more often and disastrously, their non-implementation) will provide a sufficient basis for non-hierarchical societies to form. Once this process begins, it will be subject to the exponential growth that successful technologies and organizational structures undergo in human society.

Even today, with imperial collapse looming, these notions are rapidly spreading because of their clear practicality and liberating nature. Each additional person who examines these ideas and sees their role in a just and non-violent world becomes a vector for these ideas in their communities.

Hopefully, they will spread widely enough quickly enough. There are always cries for an increase in violence and an increase in the disparity of power between the rulers and the subjects. When the current social structure fails, there must be a critical mass of people calling for an end to dominance based social orders. If this is not the case, a new hierarchical society of some sort will be built on the ashes of the old, and the process will begin again. This next time, however, there will be an expansive, highly redundant and variably scoped set of records, accounts, and ideas for future opponents of hierarchical social orders.

Sounds Like the Arc of History is Really Damn Long

I understand this doesn’t sound hopeful. With the majority of the west believing in God and the necessity of violent hierarchy for social order, the peaceful world that we imagine seems impossibly far away.

It may be so. However, these types of societal changes tend to explode out of kernels of social enlightenment. I talk about this more in the next podcast (I think), but the span of time between the first meeting of abolitionists and the end of slave-states in the western hemisphere is less than 100 years. The time between Martin Luther proposed the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms
and governments with the separation of church and state as a founding principle was less than 200 years.

An additional hopeful factor is the degree of popular buy-in that is required for societal change. It’s very small. There’s no need to convince everyone that, for example, all people are equal and that, therefore, slavery is immoral. All that’s necessary is to get the state to stop subsidizing slavery. The cost of controlling a human being is extraordinary. Without the police, military and legal system providing support at community expense for slavery (i.e. without a slave-state), slavery quickly ends.

The majority of white people in the early 19th century were likely neutral or in favor of the continuation of slavery–after all, if slaves were freed, social upheaval and eventual societyal collapse were inevitable (sound familiar?). Nevertheless a combination of state self-interest and the spread of abolitionist ideas by a small-but-growing group of clear-eyed human beings brought about the end of the western slave-state.

Without a state providing coercion, mandatory religious affiliation is also impossible. It’s prohibitively expensive for the church to compel an entire population to participate in their activities–the cost far outweighs any tithe that could be stolen. For this reason, a society without a state sponsored church doesn’t experience religious homogeneity.

When the idea that the church and state should be disassociated was first put into practice, the majority of people probably would have been in favor of a political mandate that their particular religion be the one true faith in a legally compelling way. Again the small but growing sentiment that governance should be divorced from superstition was able to prevent the state from supporting a particular church, ending compulsory religion.

The arc of history is clarity driving out illusion. It’s the replacing of false beliefs that lead to stagnation and despair with truths that lift up, ennoble and invigorate all of humanity allowing for increasingly complex and beneficial technologies and modes of social organization to be put into practice. This process is rapidly accelerating and cannot be stopped. It’s simply a question of “how long?” No matter what the answer, it’s too long.

  1. [1] I note in the podcast that many of the scrolls that survived burning, theft and entropy are lists of works that no longer exist. For example, there are 123 recorded plays by Sophocles, only 7 of which survive. Only 1/3 of Aristotle’s work survive to the modern day. Oh, and Archimedes was not cataloged there, but his writings were also mostly lost.

I also included the audio from this clip in the podcast. This guy–I have no idea who he is–may be a transhumanist. He’s a little over the top, but I find myself striking the same notes many times.

The Bikecast Episode #7b: Human Futures, Inevitable Ideas

Picking up where episode #7a left off.

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If DNA-human life survives and spreads outward into the wider universe, it will be subsequent to the shedding of superstition, the embracing of the moral equality of all humans, and the end of violence as a means of social organization. I have high hopes that this will be the case. Pessimism about the ability for humankind to evolve into a non-violent social organism is understandable, but short-sighted. The recognition of the value of human life in and of itself and the categorization of “others” outside the tribe as human is literally hundreds of years old on a planet where mammals have existed for hundreds of millions of years and humans for tens or hundreds of thousands. Human consciousness and self-awareness is increasing rapidly and the mechanistic superstitions pushing back against that growth are slowly falling away.

It is entirely possible that the project of a sane, rationally organized global society will take numerous generations and collapses in social complexity to come to fruition. The foundational ideas–reason, evidence, non-violence and it’s corollary, freedom–are thoroughly and increasingly documented. In any context, they provide a striking contrast and unbeatable alternative to superstition, illusion, dominance and hierarchy. While the rear-guard action of reactionaries might last centuries, this is, viewed objectively, a very short period of time.

In the end, the ideas of reason, non-violence, and human equality are the most survivable and, at the rate they are growing, it won’t be long before they are ascendant. I believe this ascendancy and the technological explosions that will follow will out pace entropy–at least in the short term and eventually who knows? I link again a cool related Azimov short story–read it! 😉

Thanks for listening!

The Bikecast Episode #7a: Human Futures, The Race Between Complexity and Chaos

In this bikecast, I anthropomorphize the tendency of matter to increase in complexity when provided an energy source. In the case of earth, I posit a race in which DNA attempts to give rise to an organism complex enough to escape the destruction of the earth and the end of the sun. A specific episode of this race is the rise of humankind–a species entirely capable of spreading off planet and out of the local solar system. If we fail, but the earth and sun remain, DNA will carry on building increasingly complex organisms which will face their own clock in trying to survive and escape.Download this episode of the bikecast
Professor Falken sums up one of two positions with regards to human futures:

The other position is that we manage not to eradicate ourselves, embrace stateless atheism and stay one step ahead of entropy until heat death of the universe–or maybe beyond as in this must-read Azimov short story:

I believe the highest hurdle before DNA-as-human spreading throughout the universe is the rationally trivial but psychologically near-impossible task of accepting the equality of all humans and recognizing as vile and anti-human the use of violence as a means of social organization.