Friday, April 19, 2013

Is it "later than we think"?

For those of you reading this in the year 2100 (I think the human race will make it till then), a bit of perspective: this past week's American news was focused almost entirely on the "Boston Marathon Bombing" and the aftermath that left four dead and well over one hundred wounded.  Within 4 days of this terror attack, one of the two suspects (young Muslim males, as it happens) was dead and the other in custody.  This was the story for 4 days, seemingly 24/7 on the cable news channels.

I figure if that was the main story of the week, it was - all things considered - a slow news week.  Bombings of this sort still happen quite frequently around the world in the year 2013, but this was one that hit home, hence the wall-to-wall news coverage.  Boston went into lockdown mode for most of today, but in all seriousness, if this is the main - seemingly exclusive - focus of news coverage for an entire week, just in how bad a state is the world in the year 2013, really?  I have in mind here Steven Pinker's recent work on the decline in violence (percentage-wise) over the course of human history.  Despite the troubles and challenges we all still face at this point in history, we should certainly step back and take the long view of these things.

Some 2,500ish years ago, the human race - in existence pretty much in present form for some hundred thousand years - entered what may well be termed an adolescent phase, a phase of questioning and examining pre-existing beliefs, with philosophers leading the way.  Back then, it is true, a philosopher could be sentenced to death by hemlock, but that wouldn't happen today (not in the West, anyhow).  At most he'd be assessed a fine.  Fast forward some 2,300ish years, and modern republican democracy is established in America, and that ethos spreads to much of the rest of the world over that time.  Slavery is no longer considered acceptable, women enjoy equal social status with men.  (Again, in the West.)  The agricultural revolution of thousands of years ago, along with human intellectual progress since that time, paved the way for the industrial revolution of the modern republican-democratic era.  A system that came to be termed 'capitalism' emerged and, after failed experiments in socialist models of production, it now looks to be here to stay for the foreseeable future, with modifications here and there.  Now, it appears that some new revolution, bringing the human race to the next stage of advancement, is in its infancy.  Within a couple centuries, the population boomed to over 7 billion, and in recent decades the global rate of poverty has been falling more and more towards zero.  Nuclear technology, almost the moment it was developed, was used to end a world war some 7 decades ago, and hasn't been employed in wartime since.  Back during those times, a bomb killing three and injuring scores of others was merely a small subset of a single day's bloody events.

If one were to look at the dystopian science fiction that emerged in the postwar era and lasting until roughly the internet age, one got the impression that by 2013 the world might plausibly be engaged in more world-warring, or nuking one another (how about the future dystopia depicted in the Terminator film of 1984, produced during a period of intense nuclear buildup between the U.S. and the Soviet Union?).  We don't have the flying cars yet, but neither has a world resembling Orwell's 1984 even remotely been realized, despite concerns in recent years about a military-industrial "surveillance state" (concerns that, voiced as they have been, have kept such activities of the state in check).  Note that big cities such as Boston now have security cameras that can used to survey public spaces, which were instrumental to tracking down the two bombing suspects in a relatively very short amount of time; the cultural norm of today is that privacy is naturally expected in one's own home, but there's no expectation of privacy in public spaces.  So we have had advances in technology in combination with evolved legal norms that, other things being equal, have made undetected criminal behavior that much more difficult to carry out.

As has been widely noted, including here on this blog, the democratization of the world means less warring between states.  Dystopian totalitarian scenarios appear to be a thing of the past, arguably in no small part due to the very warnings from observant and conscientious authors such as Orwell (and Rand!), and other public intellectuals.

According to the cheesy dystopian '70s and '80s sci-fi (ever see Logan's Run?  Jenny Agutter was hot, at least), the average human being in the year 2013 might turn on the television and be witness to the surreal - say, like, an inhuman "game show" such as The Running Man.  Well, it turns out that humans these days aren't nearly so eager to see their fellow humans being hunted down in such a fashion.

Yes, a truly bad candidate appeared on the Republican presidential ticket 5 years ago, a sign the country might have been going insane.  But the candidate ended up discredited due to diligent commentary in the blogosphere and other media.  Sure, there's an obesity epidemic in America, but fat-shaming has become a thing as a consequence.  At least the problem isn't the other way, as in a world running out of food.  Yes, global warming appears to be the biggest problem facing humankind in the coming decades, but . . .

Getting back to that thing about what we might see turning on our television sets in the year 2013.  How many have noticed just how beautiful Hi-Def television is?  I'm talking especially in terms of form of presentation; the content can certainly be improved.  But there's got to be some kind of theorizing among those in the field of aesthetics about the nature of Hi-Def television, else they will have failed at doing what they're supposed to be doing.  And let's keep in mind that Hi-Def television was not at all envisioned back in the 1980s, certainly not in the cheesy sci-fi movies.  If it had been envisioned back then, there would be a huge fortune to be made by the envisioner(s).  Or the smartphones and digital pads.  Do human beings these days realize, all things considered, just how good people have it these days?  And let's not forget about the way the internet has exploded and evolved as a medium of information and communication, and can only continue to do so.  Now this thing called 3-D printing appears to be hitting scalability.

Given the course of human history over the past few decades, we may well be in near-Singularity mode (the technological singularity, at least) as it is, because we don't seem to have any really clear idea how the world will look 10 years from now.  If we could, then - again - some huge fortunes can be made based upon some good predictions.  Kurzweil defines the technological singularity as the point when super-intelligent machines are created, which is supposedly some decades down the line.  Supposedly, in principle, they can be created, despite the present barriers we face with regard to reverse-engineering the human brain.  (Biological theories of consciousness seem to be what the philosophers are converging upon.  I think they might have figured that out a lot sooner had they paid more attention to Aristotle . . . but what the F do I know.)  And I don't see what else we could converge toward culture-wise than the whole Aristotelian-Jeffersonian-Randian-perfectivist paradigm.  Kurzweil has made his case in the technological realm; I believe I've amply demonstrated mine (here in this blog) for culture, at least in broad outline.

So where do we go from here?  Whatever it is, it ought to be really effing interesting.

So it looks like tomorrow, 4/20, at 4:20 p.m. (EST?) I go "on strike," which may very well contribute to the interesting-ness of whatever is to come.  I hardly have the faintest idea as to the what, when, where, how, etc.  We're just gonna have to find out, aren't we. ;-)

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