When democracy fails

There is this idea that humanity has evolved to its highest possible level of existence; that the structures in our cultures are as good as they can be; that our understanding of how the world works is complete. It does not take much to poke holes in such an idea if you think about it carefully. But sometimes people don’t think about things carefully, they just take things for granted. And then they are very surprised when other people hold different ideas or when things don’t work the way they thought.

Often people say that there are no holy cows; that nothing is above scrutiny. But when you interrogate them, you find that there are concepts and idea that they cling to. Often the current way of thinking about things is a holy cow to such people. It is a contradiction that exists in the current way of thinking held by many people of which they are not even aware. It is like when people say that one should not believe things without scientific evidence and then they cling tenaciously to ideas that they believe without any scientific evidence. Or where they criticize people for not following the scientific method in their convictions and then go ahead and violate the tenements of the scientific method in their own conduct.

Humanity has come a long way and there is much that happened during their long history that one can study and learn from. It does not matter whether it is general history, the history of science, or art, or any other aspect of our cultures. We see that there has been many different ways in which people viewed the world and different ways in which they thought about the world and how it works.

I want to believe that there has been a general progression in this understanding, but I do not believe that our current understanding is the ultimate and that (assuming we survive beyond our current challenges) there is not improvement possible. In fact, I can already think of some improvements that are possible. Moreover, I do not believe that all previously held convictions are necessarily inferior to our current way of thinking.

One thing that can be improved is the way we view previous ways of thinking. There is a general tendency to criticize other world views, especially those from the past. It reveals a general arrogance and also ignorance, because such a tendency is blind to the fact that our currently held way of thinking may not be the ultimate. What universal criteria that are independent of any world view can be used to assess world views?

To expand this idea further, one can ask whether it would have been good if people during the bronze age would have had our current world view. Perhaps you would argue that it would not have been possible, because it would have required some knowledge that we have today, which they did not have then. What about some concepts that did not need the knowledge we have today, like a political system, for example democracy?

Raphael, The School of Athens

It is interesting to consider that democracy is a very old idea, having been introduced in ancient Greece. Still, monarchy remained the dominant political system for most of the time since then. For a while Roman was a republic and then it became an empire. If this idea of democracy, which is tacitly held as a such a holy cow today, is really so wonderful, how do we explain the fact that it only became fairly dominant quite recently?

What it reveals is that the journey by which humanity achieved a certain idea is as important as the idea itself. In other words, if we believe that some political system is great, then it doesn’t help to enforce this idea on a group of people unless they have taken the same journey to reach this idea. There are enough examples in the world today where people that have not gone through the necessary journey are introduced to an idea that work so well in other groups, where it does not work in this group.

So, my suggestion is that we should not only consider the current status quo, but also the arduous process by which the current status quo has been achieved. Thinking that we can save people from the arduous journey by gifting them directly with the “final” result, we may discover that we have gifted them with an abomination that introduces an unnatural situation leading to much strive and anguish. Instead, we should allow people to evolve along the natural path and stop judging this path as if you have some superior vision that supposedly knows better.

The collective

Let’s for the moment imagine that humanity can avoid a fall of civilization. Then one may ponder where humanity is heading to. There are some very strong hints.

Despite laws that prohibit the use of a cell phone while driving a car, I often see people busy typing on their cell phones while they are supposed to be focussing on the road. I’ve also often seen couples or groups of people sitting at tables in restaurants typing on cell phones instead of talking to each other. Why do people behave this way? And what does it have to do with where humanity is heading?

It reveals a very strong urge lying within the human psyche. Humans like to interact with other humans. Social media provide them with this capability on a scale that far exceeds the usual level of interaction. They become so attached to this new thing that they cannot stop interacting via social media to do mundane tasks such as driving cars. They would also rather interact via social media with a large number of “friends” than face-to-face with a few individuals.

Many years ago there was a TV series called Star Trek. One of the antagonists introduced in this series was the Borg. It consisted of a hive of mentally interconnect individuals – a group mind. It was know as the Collective. Its mode of operation was to attack civilizations and then absorb the individuals from those civilizations into itself. It would say “resistance is futile, you shall be assimilated.”

The Brog from Star Trek

So, when I see how attached people become to social media, I get the feeling humanity is becoming a collective. We are turning into the Borg. There is no fighting it. Unless this process is halted by a fall of civilization, humanity will eventually be a single being consisting of mentally interconnected individuals.

Perhaps such a state of existence is not a bad thing. I can think of a few benefits. Most people are generally more happy when they have constant interaction with other people. There are exceptions of course (like me). But there always need to be those that keep the systems running.

Speaking of which, those that develop technology should keep in mind this tendency toward the development of a collective. For one thing, it would help if the need to be connected to the collective does not interfere with mundane tasks. It would be better if cars can drive themselves. However, there are other tasks that cannot be delegated. For that purpose, cell phones need to be replaced by wearable devices. The screen can become a heads-up display in goggles that can be integrated into glasses if necessary. The keyboard needs to become integrated into gloves that sense finger motion. Or the keyboard can be dispensed with if voice-to-text technology matures. Then the microphone needs to be replaced by a ultra-sonic sensor that images the mouth cavity to determine what is being said. This way, people would not need to talk out load. With such technology, you can stay connected to the collective while doing your shopping.

At the end of the cold war, one would have expected that humanity would have pulled out all stops to develop space travel and colonize the moon and the other planets. Instead, technology shifted to the development of communication in the form of cell phones and the internet. That brought us to where we are today. The one recent exception to this trend was Elon Musk who developed space travel into a commercial enterprise. But now he is buying Twitter. Go figure!