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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Is Technology Hiding Political Decay?

Perhaps most or all of you had seen this, but I had not. From Arnold Kling almost a decade ago:
Mencius Moldbug proposes a thought experiment.
Imagine that there had been no scientific or technical progress at all during the 20th century. That the government of 2008 had to function with the technical base of 1908..

[Conversely, imagine] what would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy - tell a different story. I am very confident that Old America would be the world's leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America. 
...if we imagine the 20th century without technical progress, we see an almost pure century of disaster... 
a decaying system of government has been camouflaged and ameliorated by the advance of technology.
That is, today our elderly are affluent, our poor are more likely to be obese than hungry, and so on, in spite of rather than because of changes in the role of government. Obviously, that point of view is debatable. Still, if you had to choose between 21st-century technology alongside 19th-century government institutions vs. 21st-century government institutions alongside 19th-century technology, you would choose the former, no? If nothing else, the delta in technology is more strongly positive than the delta in government institutions, even if you disagree with Moldbug that the delta for the latter is negative.
Moldbug considers himself a reactionary (way farther right than a conservative) so he would certainly consider the non-technological aspects of last century a disaster.

There's no doubt in my mind that if technology hadn't advanced in the last century or so that white males in the United States would have become far, far worse off, so I'm sure than I'm unable to have a unbiased opinion on this. But from my horribly biased perspective, it does look to me like technological advancements have covered up for a net negative for nearly every group in every region of every country. Without those technological advancements, the world would be a really grim place right now for just about everybody.

It also seems that the wealth created by the technological advancement has enabled us to damage the cultural fabrics of the world without suffering the full effects and, as a result, has left the world in an unfortunately fragile state.

20 comments:

erp said...

Bret, you don't speak to the reason for all of the above, i.e., Marx and company. The only reason we're not Venezuela, is those mostly white, but not entirely, males and some females as well who were able to keep technology ahead of the decay and balance the decline.

Bret said...

erp,

I think it may include quite a number of other factors beyond "Marx and company." And even there, I think the steady gains in wealth and those other factors are what led Marx to his great thoughts. In other words, Marx is just part of the package of decline, or, put differently, there had to be something to loot before Marx could direct the proletariat to start looting.

erp said...

Bret, Marx was/is about equality of results, not wealth from one's own efforts, so I don't know where you're coming from here?

Someone, I don't remember who it was, said that if all wealth were redistributed evenly, within a short time the same people would be poor and the same people would be wealthy all other things being equal. It's only when government or some other entity steps that Venezuela happens. I agree with that theory.

Anxious to hear what the other guys think of this.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "...if all wealth were redistributed evenly, within a short time the same people would be poor and the same people would be wealthy..."

I doubt that. It generally takes a long time to build up wealth and sheer luck is definitely part of the mix. If you look at serial entrepreneurs, even the ones that have had successes generally also have failures. And then there's trust-fund babies...

I might accept a much more limited version of that. That there would be some correlation between the previously wealthy and who would be wealthy after redistribution. In other words, I'll agree it's not all luck.

erp wrote: "Marx was/is about equality of results..."

I think that superfluous regulation and changing social mores are a much larger problem than Marx and redistribution. Superfluous regulations include things like requiring folks who wish to braid hair to be licensed and designating sand as a hazardous material. Changing social mores include things like changing the definition of what a male (or female) in society is supposed to be to a point where it become very difficult to fit in.

erp said...

All of that is IMO a deliberate attempt to disrupt and destroy us. The left's unhinged behavior since the election is so far past anything I could have imagined. All I keep hearing is, you can't make up this stuff. Cultural appropriation, the basis for our melting pot, is now a crime?

��

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

It is a provocative thought.

I can't readily agree though, because of population growth. Take the gedanken experiment he proposed as an example:

"Conversely, imagine what would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy - tell a different story. I am very confident that Old America would be the world's leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America."

America had 88 million people in 1908. I don't think they could ever be more productive, as a whole, than present day 323 million America.

IOW, you can easily find more than 88 Million Americans who still keep the work (and maybe social) ethics of 1908 America, and the rest who doesn't will still produce something too (even if a lesser rate), so 1908 American has no chance.


Now, if you want to argue that, in proportion of population, 1908 America had a more tightly packed and productive society/govt, well, that's a different argument...

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "<1908 America had a more tightly packed and productive society/govt, well, that's a different argument..."

I agree his experiment conclusions are too much. How about after a couple of generations, the resulting GDP per capita would be world leading?

Of course, it may be that wealth begets the social and political ills he sees, so maybe still no. Beats me, really. I just know that part of me finds his essays intriguing.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
How about after a couple of generations, the resulting GDP per capita would be world leading?
---
Only if somehow the children and grandchildren of 1908 America would, in this new experiment, to prove themselves more resilient to the changes wealth brings in, as yourself noted.


I usually refrain from criticizing too much America and Americans here. I much admire your country, and I know the deep problems my own country and people have.

So taking the above for context, I will make an exception. If I ever needed to describe Americans in a negative way, by one word only, it would be 'spoiled'.

And mind you, I am not talking about teenagers only. Or progressives only. It is almost everyone.

erp said...

Spoiled by reaping the rewards of our hard work; figuring out how to do things quicker and easier; re-arranging the landscape to our benefit ...

Kids are only spoiled if they aren't expected to work hard, but only spend their progenitor's wealth. So many children of successful wealthy people are druggies and ultimately commit suicide accidentally or deliberately.

That's one thing I find in favor about Trump. His kids don't seem to be dilettantes.

Bret said...

In some sense, isn't that what Moldbug is saying? That in the last hundred years we've become spoiled? Perhaps that's inherent in becoming wealthy?

I personally find it kind of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's wonderful not to ever have to think about creating sustenance, to just have food prepackaged and delivered; to not have to really think much about clothing, shelter, or any thing else, really; to more-or-less live in a fantasy world, merely dwelling on that which I find interesting. Oh, and working too, of course.

But on the other hand, being mired in what would be consider in times past a fantasy world, I'm occasionally reminded and dwell upon the fact that very little is real; that I have no defined place in the real world; that I'm really just drifting through life; that there's no real meaning. It's this part of me that relates to Moldbug's provocations.

I love being spoiled, but unfortunately, that leaves me, well, spoiled.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

To be fair, I guess many people in 1908, or in any other year, had the same existential dilemmas - though few had as much time and resources as you to ponder about it as often.



Harry Eagar said...

To start with, if the gedanken experiment requires me to start out by weeping over the pitiable state of white American men, count me out.

Second, for sure if the technology had not changed and we were still plowing with horses and reaping 25 bu/ac of corn, there would be a lot fewer people to govern. (Thank you, naive leftist Henry A. Wallace.)

Third, I think international organizations, equality before the law (much better now than then) and similar improvements in government put us as far ahead of 1908 in self-governance as 1908 was ahead of 1808.

Hey Skipper said...

This post is so chock-a-block with begged questions I scarcely know where to begin.

Hmmm. Why not with the government of 1908. It certainly had its share of corruption. And was perfectly happy to tolerate brutal repression of blacks, and the much less brutal, but no less thorough, repression of women. It is hard for me to imagine how much superior government then would have to be to offset those two glaring shortcomings.

Then there is the lack of specifics. How, exactly, has our system of government decayed over the interim? Now, if you want to point to Chevron deference as a serious hit on the Constitution, I would agree.

However, that points out the shortcoming in the article. Chevron deference agency rule making came about precisely because a more complex economy and technological change required specific expertise that is beyond the political branches themselves.

Posing a choice between 21st century technology and 19th century government is akin to having one's cake whilst eating it. The proposed choice is as false as dilemma as it is possible to imagine. Look at it a different way.

Consider that you are an average person in 1908: would you rather have the provisions of 19th C government, or 21st C government?

[Bret:] There's no doubt in my mind that if technology hadn't advanced in the last century or so that white males in the United States would have become far, far worse off, so I'm sure than I'm unable to have a unbiased opinion on this.

I am utterly baffled as to how the consequent follows from the premise. And, to the extent I can follow it, there seems to be a lump-of-labor fallacy lurking in the background.

erp said...

Bret, I don't know what you mean about white men being worse off without modern technology. I think it's quite the opposite. White men would have wives home to do domestic chores with help from black and immigrant women and immigrants and blacks working at very low wages to do the heavy chores and work as unskilled labor in factories and as farm laborers and we'd need a lot more of them.

No super markets, no online stuff ... Life was a lot more labor intensive back when ... even in my memory. I was 14 when we got our first telephone. We got our first Bendix front loader then too -- no dryer until at least 10 years later. Before that clothes got washed in the tub and put through a ringer and hung to dry and that was in New York City, not a subsistence farm in Iowa.

Worst of all -- no nuking -- without the nukatorium, things needed to be kept warm in the oven or warmed in the double boiler. It was hellish.

I had to walk or take my bike to friends' houses to talk to them. Oh - the humanity!

:-)

Bret said...

erp, that's what I'm saying. That yes, I'm materially better off than 100 years ago (nukatorium, etc.), but socially I'm much worse off (for example, no way could my wife have divorced me 100 years ago - there's no cause). Without modern technology but with the intrusive government and regulatory state I would be tremendously worse off than 100 years ago.

erp said...

Bret, it's certainly not any of my business about your personal affairs, but would you have preferred that your wife had stayed with you because society frowned on divorce?

I hope you will look around for happiness. Throw yourself into something totally different from your comfort level and help others anonymously. It's the most satisfying thing I've ever done. Also, unlike writing a check for a charity, you actually get feed back that your efforts went for a particular purpose for real people in need.

We are the go-to guys for people in the helping business. Today we got a call that the rehab center/jail where women with babies can be housed was in need of diapers and wipes, so I went to Walmart's and picked dozens of large packages of what they needed - my huge old Chrysler was packed.

At the center, I saw a darling 2 year old who stole my heart and I returned with a little trike for him. His smile was heartbreaking. He didn't know where it came from. I only saw him from the doorway. A great antidote to current events and makes you optimistic about the future.

We are like the old program, "The Millionaire," only we're just hundred-aires.

Our contacts know they can count on us for whatever they need -- no questions asked.

I wish you the best and will add you to my good vibes auspices. Be ready to recognize an unexpected opportunity coming your way.

I am not kidding. :-)

Bret said...

erp asked: "...would you have preferred that your wife had stayed with you because society frowned on divorce?"

Absolutely.

I've already lost her obviously, but if she didn't have a choice I think she could've easily made it work - I'm really not that bad.

It is damaging the family unit and it's clear I'll see less of my daughters in the future.

It has already damaged friend circles because those are often based on couples.

I will be forced to move out of the home and community I've lived in for 30 years.

I am now much poorer and I won't be able to support my daughters nearly as well financially as they build their lives as young (and then somewhat older) adults.

I feel an acute sense of loss everywhere I look. I know I'm being a whiner here since objectively my life will still be better than the vast majority of people on earth, but hey, you asked, and it's hard for me to get excited about a life that's ok but far less good than what I had.

erp wrote: "Throw yourself into something totally different from your comfort level and help others anonymously."

I've thrown myself into a cappella singing and that'll have to do for now. Once we get a little better, we'll probably volunteer to sing at various retirement and nursing homes and hopefully bring a little joy to some of the residents. Not as cool as your trike thing, but it's what I got in me for now.

erp wrote: "Be ready to recognize an unexpected opportunity coming your way."

Did you see that in your crystal ball? :-)

erp said...

Crystal balls are for amateurs. ;-}

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
I know I'm being a whiner here since objectively my life will still be better than the vast majority of people on earth [...]
---
No, you are not being a whiner.

And no, your life is not, right now, objectively better than the vast majority of people on Earth. That void and loss you are feeling, it sure hurts.

My very best wishes for you, I hope you can walk through that desert and find another life on the other side of it.

Bret said...

Thanks, Clovis, you're very kind.