The Great Divergence

One of the more interesting elements of our interesting times is the great ongoing divergence between western society and the technological wonders it remains prone to produce. I have seen this remarked upon nowhere, though it seems unlikely to have escaped notice. For as long as my own historical knowledge perceives, society has traced an arc very much in sympathy with the inventions and innovations that issue from it. As our expertise in all disciplines has flowered, our civilization has benefited. Innumerable advances in engineering, agriculture, science, and medicine, have nearly all–radically or incrementally–filtered into the sediment of society. And in their wake, we have come to live healthier, safer, cleaner, and more productive lives abounding in heretofore inconceivable options for distraction.

It always seemed reasonable to assume a Jetsons existence would naturally follow its engineering capability. That we could all lead lives of cheap and easy abundance, with robotic maids, flying cars, and homes insulated from outside peril. A man on the moon today, men in the clouds tomorrow. Continuity of trajectory. One foot follows the other.

I believe this parallel trend has concluded.

Technological advancements will persist. The bell curve’s razor right flank will ensure it. Visionary minds will continue to conjure what seems only as magic today. Perhaps some of their offerings will even be worthwhile. Of course, many will not. Maybe even a few of these brilliant minds will deploy their wealth to advance their posterity’s future. Of course, many will not. Though whether they have the means to actually experience them, our children will see astonishing advances. In science and technology. Health and longevity. Engineering and computing…perhaps even the singularity. Though of course the greatest proliferation will occur in doodads. Microscopic, embeddable computers. Smart everything. Perhaps augmentations of both body and mind. Hologram movies, games; and virtual sex offering simulated physical interaction–almost like we used to do it. If the US can temper its insatiable yearning for mushroom clouds, the future will amaze.

God help us.

For society’s lingering presence in technology’s shadow has come to an end. As we advance deeper into technical knowledge, societal livability and quality–will deteriorate. There will be more crowding, more pollution, more corruption, and far more tribal friction. There will be less social capital, trust, courtesy, and ungated communities. There will be less water, unsoiled environment, unbeaten schoolchildren, and unbribed politicians. There will be more surveillance, more state vs nation, more inflation, and more violent crime. Life will become getting safely to a destination, not a journey.

And these misery metrics will usurp those related to quality in step behind advancing technology. I expect tomorrow’s cities will dazzle in their dichotomy. The rich, connected, and sinecured occupying various tranches of bunker opulence, surrounded by sullen favelas in dirty squalor. The former forced into ever more lucrative welfare bribes and entertainment to keep the latter out of their hand-carved lattice-work. The wealthy will live comfortably in gilded cages…the rest will endure the open air. Those relegated to bean-based communities will suffer predation without support from either community or state.

As we speak of the state, those ensconced within its labyrinths will at least lead lives of protein consumption. Law enforcement will largely retreat into its omniscience nodes, dispatching tactical squads only when government offices or apparatus are imperiled. Citizen security will be their own affair–except in those instances when conflict results in an impermissible who/whom casualty. Of this officials and the media will take keen note.

Necessities will rise in cost as trinkets fall. Food, water, and fossil fuels will become quite expensive relative to incomes. Lives, in contrast, will be much cheaper. Crime will be spontaneous, vicious, and constant. Inter-racial strife will occur wherever boundaries are in dispute. And those disputes will be continual as demographics shift with the surge of the incoming human tide. Public hospitals will be squalid, bloody…and bustling. The image of children happily playing in a safe, homogenous community will be a thing of only memory or wealth. Conscientious mothers will have their cherished offspring within walls, or under roofs.

Our grandchildren will probably be shuttled to destinations in computer-guided cars while interacting with holograms of distant people, real or contrived. Only to emerge into dangerous, dilapidated urban jungles, with stripped skyscrapers standing as silent cenotaphs to a civilization that was.

Technology will continue its inertial arc while sufficient human drivers still remain. The society that undergirds it will not.

You in Europe and Australia still have a choice as to your future. Consider making it.

8 thoughts on “The Great Divergence

  1. There was a time when rich white people such as Henry Ford felt a bond with their race and a sense of shared destiny. Nowadays, the best analogy I can think of is people visiting some tropical Third World country as tourists. They may like the country and its people in a condescending way, but feel they have no stake in its welfare. That’s how how the rich look upon their own countries nowadays. I hope that’ll also be their downfall.

    • The elite changed enough demographically to sever that connection, and now feel no cultural bond with the traditional majority. In the fact, their “otherness” is how they define themselves. All that is going on only happens because the people in Western countries have not been able to recognize this new reality.

  2. Not sure that I agree that technological progress will continue, in the kind of world that you describe. There are plenty of indications that it is already slowing down, decelerating, and has been for about fifty years now. Commentators as diverse as Tyler Cowen (he of the famous beans), Robert Zubrin, Peter Thiel, and Scott Locklin all see a technological slowdown, currently masked by some real progress in communications and miniturization. So, ironically, your above stated vision of the future may actually be a rosy scenario. All the more reason to keep fighting…

  3. TC, you may be right on the slowing of technological growth. Others believe it will actually bend toward vertical, if artificial intelligence becomes sufficiently advanced. The hypothesis being that if the human mind can be fully, accurately modeled (some claim with 10 years), then sheer advances in processing power will generate an “intelligence” beyond our own, some 15-20 years beyond that. And superior intelligence will be unhindered by our own cognitive limitations, producing consequently even greater intelligence in rapid iterations. The result being a rapid rescaling of pace, even if the society outside is returning to spears and loincloth.

    I don’t know if this is remotely feasible, though Stephen Hawking opined that AI may be the greatest event in human history–or possibly the last.

    Though what I wanted to emphasize is that I perceive a historical parallel in technological advances and the general health of societies producing them. The pace of technology may be slowing, but it isn’t static, and certainly not retrogressing. While the comparable trend for society…well we will see.

    I believe those trends have decoupled…and will delight in being proved wrong.

    • You’re certainly right about the decoupling. It may be that society in this case is something of a leading indicator – that is, society has stopped moving forward, while technology is still moving ahead, based on the momentum of previous generations of discoveries, but gradually slowing. It’s interesting that all of the above commentator that I referred to take the mid-sixties as when the technological slowdown started – which is interesting, since a lot of other things were happening about that time as well (the apogee of the Civil Rights Movement, the 1965 Immigration Act, the beginnings of the counterculture). Obviously, this doesn’t prove anything, but as Hercule Poirot used to say, it gives one to think…

      Personally, I’m not sure about the whole AI thing – it’s kind of like fusion power, it’s been touted as being about ten years away for as long as I can remember, but somehow, it never seems to happen. If it does, obviously all bets are off, for good or ill.

  4. Hi to the commenters here and nice blog, Mr. KaKistoKrat. Regarding the emergence of an Artificial Intelligence at the point in our history when computing power breaks a critical threshold, aka the ‘Singularity’, the well known British physicist Roger Penrose has argued against it. Basically he showed that the fundamental nature of consciousness is non-computable. It’s in his books ‘The Shadow of the Mind’ and ‘Emperor’s New Mind’. The Mind pwns Stephen Hawking.

  5. I really do hope that’s true, calculus. I would love to see technological advances that actually enhance our society’s cohesiveness and livability. I would not love to see the emergence of an artificial intelligence, both alien and superior. It’s not unreasonable to expect such a sentient being to have designs quite unlike our own, and the facility to circumvent whatever restrictions we may have erected on its range of motion.

    And then of course our capacity for being duped wholesale into extreme maladaptive behavior has been amply demonstrated. Give an even more profound entity access to the media and I would await with macabre fascination the acts of self-annihilation it might induce. Take a behavior that is fundamental to continued existence and turn it into a morally proscribed “ism.” The victims will subsequently not accept their extirpation…they’ll demand it.

    An artificial intelligence that comprehended human behavior with orders of magnitude greater depth could probably have SWPLs clucking like chickens on rooftops before “flying” back down to Earth–all smugly serene in the knowledge that they–unlike those shit bigots–weren’t ism.

    Flap, flap, splat.

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