Industrial Society and its Future

SIMPLER SOCIAL PROBLEMS HAVE PROVED INTRACTABLE

136. If anyone still imagines that it would be possible to reform the system in such a way as to protect freedom from technology, let him consider how clumsily and for the most part unsuccessfully our society has dealt with other social problems that are far more simple and straightforward. Among other things, the system has failed to stop environmental degradation, political corruption, drug trafficking or domestic abuse.

✲1 ¶137: human animals, like other animals, are not really interested in any goodness. Human animals obey the prime directives of biology: to eat, to survive, to multiply. Unique to the superior intellect that happens to be the human race, out of it evolved human supremacy, and many other phenomenons such as hunger for power, fame, need for love, fragile mentality, and also the author's “power process”, and other uniquely human psychologies, behaviors, phenomenons. Moralists may attribute human beings being created by some ultimate humanoid, and posses distinction of good and evil and so on, but in fact any concepts of good or goodness in human beings is grafted onto ourselves by ourselves. The problem described in 137, is a illustration that goodness is not the primary, instinctive concern of human animals. Most of the time, they are just tools and tricks to be used by a party to get themselves ahead.

A rational approach to solve the problem human faces is to employ our intellect. By realizing the gravity and self-destruction nature of many of our problems we have today, each of us will thus act in a way not to make our problems worse out of self-interest. This may be achieved with the help of technology. For example, the internet has brought non-trivial changes to the world, arguably indirectly as changing the political situation of nations, in ways unprecedented by any previous communication technologies. Also, for example, the internet has massively popularized porn, effectively broke the centralized control of publishing. This is a very good thing. In my opinion, this by itself indirectly laid the root to many social changes in US today such as sodomy law and gay marriage controversy.

It should be noted here that the vast majority in the computing industry has a “rapture of the nerds” syndrome. That is, deep down they believe that technology will solve everything. This line of thought is not new. Such wishful thinking is a form of ignorance and very dangerous.

137. Take our environmental problems, for example. Here the conflict of values is straightforward: economic expedience now versus saving some of our natural resources for our grandchildren [22] But on this subject we get only a lot of blather and obfuscation from the people who have power, and nothing like a clear, consistent line of action, and we keep on piling up environmental problems that our grandchildren will have to live with. Attempts to resolve the environmental issue consist of struggles and compromises between different factions, some of which are ascendant at one moment, others at another moment. The line of struggle changes with the shifting currents of public opinion. This is not a rational process, or is it one that is likely to lead to a timely and successful solution to the problem. Major social problems, if they get “solved” at all, are rarely or never solved through any rational, comprehensive plan. They just work themselves out through a process in which various competing groups pursing their own usually short-term self-interest [23] arrive (mainly by luck) at some more or less stable modus vivendi. In fact, the principles we formulated in paragraphs 100-106 make it seem doubtful that rational, long-term social planning can EVER be successful.✲1

138. Thus it is clear that the human race has at best a very limited capacity for solving even relatively straightforward social problems. How then is it going to solve the far more difficult and subtle problem of reconciling freedom with technology? Technology presents clear-cut material advantages, whereas freedom is an abstraction that means different things to different people, and its loss is easily obscured by propaganda and fancy talk.

James Q. Wilson (b1931) US American academic political scientist. James Q. Wilson

139. And note this important difference: It is conceivable that our environmental problems (for example) may some day be settled through a rational, comprehensive plan, but if this happens it will be only because it is in the long-term interest of the system to solve these problems. But it is NOT in the interest of the system to preserve freedom or small-group autonomy. [24] On the contrary, it is in the interest of the system to bring human behavior under control to the greatest possible extent. Thus, while practical considerations may eventually force the system to take a rational, prudent approach to environmental problems, equally practical considerations will force the system to regulate human behavior ever more closely (preferably by indirect means that will disguise the encroachment on freedom.) This isn't just our opinion. Eminent social scientists (e.g. James Q. Wilson) have stressed the importance of “socializing” people more effectively.

22. (Paragraph 137) Here we are considering only the conflict of values within the mainstream. For the sake of simplicity we leave out of the picture “outsider” values like the idea that wild nature is more important than human economic welfare.

23. (Paragraph 137) Self-interest is not necessarily MATERIAL self-interest. It can consist in fulfillment of some psychological need, for example, by promoting one's own ideology or religion.

24. (Paragraph 139) A qualification: It is in the interest of the system to permit a certain prescribed degree of freedom in some areas. For example, economic freedom (with suitable limitations and restraints) has proved effective in promoting economic growth. But only planned, circumscribed, limited freedom is in the interest of the system. The individual must always be kept on a leash, even if the leash is sometimes long( see paragraphs 94, 97).

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