Monday, October 3, 2011

Thank You Communism

...for a giant leap for mankind. So says science fiction writer Neal Stephenson:
"A grizzled NASA veteran once told me that the Apollo moon landings were communism’s greatest achievement."
Stephenson goes on to lament the demise of 'the big stuff' to inspire us and guide us (as a fellow fifty-something 'child of the space age' I lament it too). He attributes the demise to a growing fear of failure - and therefore to the fear of litigation that error provokes in the private and public sectors. But his explanation is too simplistic.

For starters, the demise of the big stuff happened much longer ago than he presumes. Perhaps nearly fifty years ago - in 1975 to be precise, when human capability peaked by some estimates. Long before paranoia about 'health & safety' and 'public liability' turned playgrounds into play-dough.

So if not a legal force for the demise of 'the big stuff' then what else has happened in the past fifty years? The blogger Whiskey's Place provides an answer - in a critique of another science fiction writer's take on our modern malaise - and the answer is the sexual revolution and the demise of marriage:
This is the ugly truth of it. Western Civilization is built upon repression. NOT as feminists say, half-truthfully, on female repression. But upon repression of women's ability to get the sexiest men. Western Civilization requires soaking up all those men who create violence and poverty into marriage. Into making them stakeholders directly into society, by giving them a small family, all their own, which they will mostly (not always but mostly) work themselves to death to keep and improve. 

...Western Civilization is the long slow grind, the constant search for new advantages, requiring massive amounts of nerdy, focused men who search for advantage because they like it, and are good at it, and need to ... feed their families. Thus nerdy obsessions turn to the Green Revolution, not World of Warcraft. Polio Vaccines not Angry Birds. The invention of Television not Magic the Gathering. Real technology to accomplish something of value, creating Western Advantage, not trivial past-times for men outside the mate market.
It is odd how often science fiction writers and futurists miss the social in their obsession with the technological. Robin Hanson made a similar observation recently. The short talk below by Arthur C. Clarke is an example of extraordinary prescience about science, but again the things that have changed the most (we still live in houses and drive cars after all) are the social changes he didn't foresee (ht Kevin Kelly):

So if we can 'thank' Communism for the peak of Western Civilization, should we 'thank' Feminism for its demise?

1 comment:

  1. I remember Clarke predicted how his satellites would bring education to all the impoverished masses of India. Indeed, there was an early programme that did just this with the first satellites. But how long did it take for his great ideals to be usurped by the social phenomenon that is 'commercial mindedness'.

    The way that this 'commercial mindedness' has evolved has contorted our human intelligence, design, skill and purpose. Anything that can uncontort it would be welcome. Even some sanitised strain of communism?


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