Overcoming fatal flaw in progressivism and evolution
Faith in progress has mostly been a positive force in human society, especially when it led to some exuberance in the 1960s. But only lately have I started to hear about “progressivism” as a kind of secular religion, though at times it becomes a religious religion. The key tenet: Even if we don’t pay to much attention to the details, we can be sure that progress in science and technology will always be the path forward to an ever better state of life. In its most extreme forms – progressivism, like sharia Islam, tries to exclude dialogue which questions its basic premises. I see more promise in a variety of spiritual progressivism, developed by Teilhard de Chardin. De Chardin describes “evolution” as a process which can take us ever onwards and upwards.
Problem number one: the trilobite (or trilobyte?). Never forget the trilobyte. Really serious students of evolutionary biology noticed long ago that evolutionary “progress” often leads to a dead end and extinction. Detailed quantitative studies, decades ago (Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems, by R. May), showed that the natural process of evolution simply is not a reliable path upwards. To the extent that real mainstream science understood the natural process of evolution in the twentieth century – it was less a matter of guaranteed progress and more a process of guaranteed entropy, viewed as a path towards disorder eventually going to a “heat death” (or lifeless rocks in space). Current politics on earth seem much more like that, like the phenomenon of old age.
The politics of technology are very much a key part of this story, because wrong directions (entropy) in the development of technology are central to all three of the clear threats of human extinction in sight today (which I have referred to as “H2S/NUC/AI” for short). Faith that all new technology and all new knowledge get us closer to survival... would be comforting, but it is perhaps even more dangerous to humanity than the mindless faith that there is no such thing as climate change.
Based on life experience, I would agree with Teilhard, Jung and Verdansky that there exists something real and active out there like what they called “noosphere” or “collective mind”. (I can’t get myself to write “unconscious”, since that is misleading. When a young male full of testosterone responds very intensely to a female stimulus which he tries to ignore, it is a bit misleading to describe him as “unconscious” of the stimulus, no matter what he actually says or does about it. Unless he is really crazy.)
In fact: how could there be any hope at all for the human species, given the growing entropy and new risks and lack of the conscious response needed to solve the complex problems?
In my view... the only hope lies in the implications of a theory which most people do not understand but which I find very compelling. (In a way, this is like my post on FTL travel, where hope – i.e., a nonzero probability of success – is totally dependent on the possibility that one of the theories of physics which would allow it might be true.) In this case, the theory is that our noosphere... the noosphere of earth... is not just a product of local entropy, but is a member of a much larger species, constructed from dark matter or something more exotic, which has evolved a certain kind of specific anti-entropic trait analogous to the traits in human bodies which allow them a longer lifetime than most other species. Only by fully expressing those noosphere-level traits do we have a chance of avoiding “old age” very soon. (Some of the scary, aged, creaking zombie brains I see on TV remind me of this every day...). As a crude approximation... I see these three most fundamental... inner imperatives?... to be something like “the spirit of benevolence/love” (ala Yeshua, on the spiritual level, expressed by angels who start with “fear not...”), “the spirit of truth” (no denigration of mathematics or the scientific method, or repression of core realities of free thought and free speech, is tenable under this constraint) and rational impedance matching (RIM). RIM is the hardest for me, and very tricky. It includes sincere efforts, for example, to avoid writing so many details that it hurts people’s brains... something I have found it hard to learn... and it includes real respect for privacy, more than what progressivists like Brin can respect, and it includes not telling wild children how to build bombs which could blow up the entire earth. (It is related to the issues of balancing sparsity and connectivity in neural networks.) It is awkward and problematic, requiring lots and lots of heavy analysis, but without it... the present entropy of low-consciousness policies is ever more worrisome.
But these inner disciplines are not enough... besides a proper formal structure (like the US or German Constitutions of the time I write), there are certain key essential elements of “corporate culture” (as in the book by Ashkenasy et al, which I cite in my article in Bainbridge’s book on Leadership in S&T). The “legal corruption” in the US today is an example of a mid-level problem severe enough to end up in deaths of all humans on earth if it is not corrected. (No exaggeration: studying scenarios for H2S/NUC/AI... it is quite real.)
But then: let me conclude with some humor, as I track the political process in the US (a narrow but serious spiritual duty, in my view).
In the recent” town hall” quasidebate, a CNN reporter asked Clinton: “Do you really believe all that about a vast right-wing conspiracy out to get you?” She replied: “Don’t you. Let’s be real...” Some people thought she may be too paranoid. I sadly worry that she may not be paranoid enough. For example, some folks without a DC background ask: “How could we trust a candidate who is under FBI investigation?” My response: “How can we trust candidates who support folks like Lamar Smith in empowering them to use the FBI as their own personal hit squad to attack rivals, and try to enforce a new rule that folks in Cheney’s obedient network dictate even to the President how to handle sensitive strategic information? How does the judgment of Cheney’s unelected cronies get to override the right of a Secretary of State to make strategic judgments?” The problem with Benghazi was that Clinton gave TOO MUCH ground to those folks. She and Sanders seem to think that the problem of corruption is all about election money and legislation... while seeming blind to the vast corruption and re-management of the actual administrative apparatus. I certainly remember the shock on the face of a new government hire saying: “I still don’t know what to do... they tell us we have to follow a certain reporting chain which is kind of extreme in not being what they told us in the law and in the Constitution. But I can see how they have re-engineered the whistleblowing function too...”
There are lots of amusing ways to try to be in touch with the personal and also the collective unconscious. Jung’s “synchronicity” is certainly part of that.
I was rather struck, consciously, when, after one of those Sanders/Clinton exchanges, a face appeared... “Bernie...
the greatest scam of the twentieth century.” OK, it was a commercial for a movie about Bernie Madoff, but the timing and the feeling of the face and so on... is it an authentic psychological shadow of how many people feel? TBD. And then... I realized that the new big teddy bear commercial really reflects a side or view of Trump... which has more power in the collective unconscious than many would expect. (Beautiful women all over him... big, orangeish, fluffy... leaving a question about depth of understanding...). I then wondered: are there any others like that? The New York State commercial... Clinton and that commercial project real New York values much more than Trump’s events... incredible efficiency and cleanliness and progress compared to those others... yet where are the people? Hopefully not subsumed by a threatening possible disaster like Watson. (I even posted a brief, direct comment on the site of “Watson for President.”) This is related to the people worried about “does she care about people like me?” And finally, there is also a commercial with a guy being shot at on the phone to his mother... “please vote for my baby. He is a bit challenged, but..” Guess which candidate lines up with the commercial for Spectre, trying to take control of the world in a grossly cynical way (promoting a corporate and spiritual culture guaranteed.... to provoke more than you kind folks might ever imagine... like my recent blog post on the 900 pound gorilla, which sanitized the possible future world-line).
Minor detail... one more very small but startling (to me) bit of evidence on the time stuff I talked about before.
Best of luck. We still all very much need it.