So it’s changing. So what?
So what? I see the world changing, largely due to technologies that few people understand and even fewer feel empowered to control. The world has always been changing, but now the rate of change is proportional to the sum of all changes that have occurred before. That’s what we mean by the term, “exponential,” a term used so often in the media that it is accepted as meaning “large,” without the understanding that it means larger than large. The purpose of these pages is to offer an analytical review of where we’ve come, and where we’re going, and why. The WHY is embedded in the unnoticed rules by which humans affect each other. Understanding the rules by which the individual parts affect each other—that’s the key to understanding and to controlling complex systems, about which these pages will say more.
Yes, population, commerce, interconnectedness, geopolitics, land development, and knowledge are all changing—but these changes are largely the result of expanding technologies: agriculture, machines, transportation, communication. Unfortunately, we have a technologically illiterate society in which the average individual feels alienated or helpless in the face of forces he cannot see, understand, or influence. About half of the people believe early humans lived near the same time as the dinosaurs; most cannot define a molecule; a majority lacks a clear understanding of the scientific process; and many do not distinguish scientific facts on climate change from political opinion. Is it necessary to be an expert in a technology to understand it or to control it? Are we doomed to become a technical heteronomy—a place where existence is subordinate to the exigencies of our tools? We’re getting close.
You don’t need to understand the inner workings of your cel phone. However, if a democracy is to be governed more by facts than by fears, I suggest the average person must understand how technology changes culture, and how a culture, attempting to avoid its own evolution, will in turn attempt to control technology. The U.S. does not now act as one country. It’s a continent with several cultures. An ignorant culture or an alienated individual will use violence to repress the ideas that come with technology. You may understand the switch on your wall well enough to control the room light, but you also need to understand the interconnection of power plants and fuels and environment and people if you want anything better than political polemic to control the electric grid. Or climate change.
Will the rate of change outpace our adaptation?
The human world has always been changing, but now the rate of change is proportional to the sum of all the previous changes. The increasing tempo of the world is like the rate of change of the population of rabbits in a field offering unlimited food without predators. The rate of change of the rabbit population is proportional to how many rabbits exist. In mathematics, that’s called exponential. The exponential growth abruptly stops if the food runs out or coyotes find the clover field. That, too, is a change, albeit an unpleasant one for the rabbits. Can human social development keep up with the evolving technology and the impacts on everything else?
The present is the bridge between future and past, the place we need to understand and appreciate before we apply the next fix to the social symptom that currently pains us the most. I’ll deal with that in the next few blogs on society as a complex system.
Your talk on complexity a couple weeks ago was so stimulating and the Blog 2 and 3 were so helpful that I decided to see if I could catch up and follow you. But I got stuck again with Blog 1 right off. I don’t think the average person feels intimidated or alienated by technology. Everyone I know, kids and adults, male and female, young and old, are loving their cell phones, personal computers, GPSs,hybrid vehicles, etc! What technologies are the ones you’re speaking of? But that aside I hear you saying that if we all had a better understanding of science and knew more facts and figures we’d trust science to get us to the truth on these huge ,complex predicaments like climate change and therefore vote and act rationally and reasonably. Right? Well nothing, absolutely nothing has been more upsetting to me than to discover and read about over the last decade than the fact that humans just aren’t rational. Two short articles to definitely read are here: http://grist.org/climate-skeptics/once-again-with-feeling-more-science-will-not-cure-climate-skepticism/ and maybe better: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney See if they upset you as much as they upset me.
You are right–at least where attitudes and beliefs are concerned, people didnt develop their ideas from a logical basis, and therefore logical arguments won’t cause them to change those ideas.
If I’m right about what you’re telling us here, it would also be beneficial to read “The Political Mind:Why you Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by cognitive scientist George Lakoff. Here he asserts that reason is not conscious, literal,logical, universal, unemotional, disembodied, and does not sere self-interest. Another good article is an interview with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt about his book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” here: http://www.alternet.org/culture/have-you-ever-wondered-what-compels-your-conservative-relatives-vote-way-they-do I have both books and they’re probably at the Mesa Library (Los Alamos, NM-ed). Motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance –you can Google
You’re right. There are so many books that deal with our political methods or non-methods. In these blog posts, I’m trying to follow one thread of analysis–viewing our connected politics, economics, and sociology through the understanding of complex systems. I try to suggest what we might do about the things that upset us in Blogs 14, 16, and 18.