Saturday, March 08, 2008

The rules

If we're good science fearing types, we should believe that not only do we descend from apes, we should believe that we descend, directly from some kind of formless ooze. Sooo... not only did we need to build lots of stuff to get to where we are now, we needed to construct the cultural institutions governing morality and behaviour that make it all possible from scratch. It just isn't true that there was a past Eden that we've fallen from and need to figure out how to get back to (thanks a lot Plato, by the way); we're making it all up as we go along.

The way this evolution used to proceed is that stupid tribes would try stupid rules and then get killed or starve or meet some other grizzly fate. And so institutions developed (at least partly) through this brutal form of trial and error. Societies that survived and prospered had cultural norms better suited to surviving and prospered. Stable societies can do some experimenting with these things on their own.

The point is that even though we're more prosperous than ever some people worry that the rules that allow our prosperity are eroding away soon to be followed by the erosion of our material prosperity. But if we had to build and refine these rules in the first place how do we know that they were so great at any particular point in the past (or present for that matter). The odds that the way things were 50 years ago were optimal are very small. In fact you can't separate these rules from the material world at all and the technological advances that are a part of it. With every Big New Thing, people freak out and it can take years before society digests it and stable, modified rules emerge (usually with the death of the older generation).

The moral of the story is that the rules we grew up with are extremely valuable and shouldn't be tampered with lightly, but just like they emerged slowly from earlier rules, they should be modified and improved as well. And that is what those rules in the post below are for, a framework for the development of new rules.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if anything is more annoying than people complaining about technological advancements as though it has absolutely no effect on their lives. Unless you live in a cave in Kentucky it is simply impossible not to be somewhat affected, and positively, by modern advances in society. Then there's the old argument that technology makes us more disconnected from eachother, instead of bringing us closer. I call bull#*^%..(can I say that?) The technology that is created more often than not brings us together, and the rest is so we don't have to associate all the time with people we'd rather not! For example, do we really need the checkout people at the supermarket? I mean, do we actually enjoy when the checker tells us a product we're buying is really good or ask us about our day? I think most people would agree that it's usually akward and wierd and we would prefer them being replaced by a cool looking robot who is much faster and much less personal (robot replacement is also appropriate for any beauracratic official, namely those working in the DMV). The point I'm trying to make is that people who complain about technology are alaready somewhat disconnected from the real world and need to either adapt or get over it. After all, a generation can only last so long. You might as well leave some sort of positive legacy or contribution.

trev said...

There seems to be a recent theme in your blogs about respecting current rules. Challenging them but recognising the value in them.

Presumably we are a very long way from where we would like to be. Crime, hatred, poverty etc. are still intrinsic parts of our everyday life.

I am not convinced that some of the rules we grew up with were valuable enough to just need a little tweak... a number of our beliefs need to be fundamentally shifted.

I agree with the sentiment that things are improving, but things are still pretty sickening.

What often amazes me is seeing clips of people speaking just 50 years ago, in our parents and grandparents lifetimes and the sometimes crazy beliefs they had.

Do you think the pace of civilzation has kept up with the pace of technology?

Stuart said...

hi anonymous! Thanks for stopping by. I agree.

I agree that we are not where we would like to be, I'm gonna write another post.

Stuart said...

I we should be humble about our current beliefs so the same reason.

There is a lag between us and technology. though I don't think its easy to pose the question in a way that people would agree on.