July 22nd, 2005

Apollo 4 on column of fire

Disparate rates of progress in human affairs

human progress graphs


The first graph shows progress in science and technology. We assume, for argument's sake, that the progress is exponential.

In the second graph we see progress in social institutions. We assume this is arithmetic progress -- linear, let's say. In any case it is lower in order than an exponential. One might note, for instance, that, despite the immense progress of technology in the last 6000 years, people still take seriously religion, which is a neolithic relic, and which hardly seems to be advancing exponentially.

But you cannot have hunter-gatherers building computers and jet airplanes. So, sometimes there is a painful 'revolution' in which social institutions catch up. The World Wars, for instance, each resulted in sudden, significant social changes. But exponential curves increase at exponentially increasing rates. Thus the 'revolutions' grow ever more dramatic.

I am afraid of pushing back a 'revolution' too much, and getting ourselves a bigger one. With Bush and Cheney we actually are looking at the prospect of 'tactical' nuclear warfare for its own sake, brought on by our past tolerance of Gingrichian nonsense, traitorous Supreme Court justices, etc. This all is why I tend to say 'Bring it on', because the longer we drag out the arithmetic social progress the worse the future 'revolution' becomes.