Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

The betterment of the human condition in an advanced technological society

The betterment of the human condition in an advanced technological society. This problem is the closest thing I have to a life’s work, and I began working on it in the middle 1990s, provoked by what is best called a crisis of ‘spirit’. I work via eclecticism, of course. :)

In the context of this, my life’s work, I want to discuss briefly a little bit about the disagreements between myself and barking_iguana about the collapse of civic life in the United States. The question we disagree over is whether or not Barack Obama can reverse the collapse, and more specifically we have a disagreement over political rhetoric.

See for more specific background.

I wrote:

It is natural for human beings to reach out and cooperate with each other, if they are not impeded by false doctrines, paralyzing fears, and other hindrances.

barking_iguana wrote in reply:

Observation of humans in 'natural' conditions show that it is natural for us to cooperate with those in our own tribe and to view as deadly enemies those from other tribes.

We live in an environment that the tribal imprint doesn't map to very well, but the imprint is there, anyway, and affects us. It is among the jobs of statespeople to illuminate the ways in which we are all one tribe, and to embolden those of who already know it but have been stifled by the excessive tribalism around us.

This approach cannot work in the long run. Even if we are all to be ‘one tribe’, nevertheless we also belong to our smaller tribes, for instance ‘Minnesotans’, ‘Americans’, ‘Jewry’, etc., and it is quite a task, to say the least, to convince people that their ‘sub-tribal’ differences are unimportant. What’s more, even among those of us who accept that humans are all one ‘tribe’, do we stop reacting to people of other ‘sub-tribes’ as if they might be deadly enemies? Answer that for yourself, honestly. I know I don’t. Not even close.

The method, then, is essentially a ‘conservative’ one not unlike that of Judeo-Christianity, depending on suppression of inborn ‘animal’ tendencies by adherence to a doctrine of ‘one-tribalism’.

My approach to the problem is quite different, and does not involve any direct suppression of the ‘tribal’, ‘animal’ impulses. The main difficulty for my approach is that we have not figured out, so far, how to use it in any but a few fields of human activity. A doctrine of ‘one-tribalism’ doesn’t interfere with it, however, and so ought to be taught while we work on the better solution. (See for instance, a site I support.)

I start by observing that in the sciences and mathematics individuals have long worked cooperatively regardless of ‘tribal’ differences, basically without even dwelling upon the subject of ‘tribe’. Indeed, they readily divide up into ‘tribal’ camps when circumstances such as war intervene, and then go right back to cooperation afterwards. More recently, we are seeing the same phenomenon in computer programming; nearly every program on my computer (not counting fonts or Windows programs run in an emulator) is a product of this type of work. The few exceptions include Adobe Reader, Flash, Opera, and, um, oh, ah, er ... I’ll have to think about it. But they are very few.

Apparently, it seems, if we set up the right conditions, humans tend to cooperate naturally without having to be indoctrinated in ‘one-tribalism’; not only that, but in the process they produce the finest artifacts ever made by humans, including scientific knowledge, mathematical knowledge, and now also the global interpersonal network (the World Wide Web being a product of the free/open-source software movement). Thus I can sketch a long-term solution to the betterment of the human condition in an advanced technological society: Create conditions in which humans tend to cooperate naturally, and remove impediments to those kinds of conditions.

We need to know more about what those conditions are, though they seem to involve worldwide networks of individuals building systems of symbols in a progressive, incremental fashion, where each new generation begins where the last one left off. This trait is evident in mathematics and the natural sciences, and can be contrasted with religion, in which each new generation refers back to the works of generations hundreds and thousands of years ago, and in which division and ‘tribalism’ run rampant. New generations of mathematicians and scientists hardly ever need to refer to very old works, except for persons studying mathematics and natural sciences as modes of human behavior.

The same characteristics seem to apply to software development, which is extremely interesting, since it involves symbolic development of a fairly specific kind that is not, usually, intended to augment the (virtual) shelves of libraries, the way works of mathematics and scientific research are. But free/open-source software development, like mathematics and sciences, involves the creation of systems of symbols, building almost entirely upon the works of those who worked immediately before, and in essence ‘forgetting’ as obsolete the works of very long ago.

My hypothesis (which is not really mine, but I have adopted it for myself) is that the human organism naturally cooperates when involved in the building of systems of symbols, each generation starting with the systems produced by the last, and ‘forgetting’ what would otherwise become ‘scripture’. I would also define this as behavior, for my purposes, as ‘the scientific method’.

Theoretical mathematics, then, is the simplest and most ‘pure’ form of scientific method.

Our number one problem requiring solution, then, is how to revise all fields of human activity—including ‘spirituality’—into the scientific form. (Which helps explain how I got here due to a crisis in ‘spirit’.)

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