Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Alien Invasion



- You know this book by the physicist, A Short - (something) - About Time, said to be the most bought and not read book in human history? Have you read it?
- Didn't buy it but tried to read it in a bookstore.
- The physicist says, maybe someplace else, I'm not sure, that if we want to know how aliens will treat us when they land on our planet we should look at how those of us with high technology treat those with lower technology.
- They'll massacre most and enslave the rest.
- Yes.
- I guess people bought the book thinking that to compete they had to be up to date on technology and then didn't like reading the part about technology dooming the species to massacre each other and finally be massacred by aliens. Did you get far enough yourself to find out if he talked about societies that didn't organize themselves as parts in a machine?
- The first societies* where prestige of doing things well was tied to giving away the products of doing things well. Wealth wasn't accumulated, so wasn't inherited. And the technical knowledge responsible for accumulation, also not inherited, could not become the basis of social class.
- And not lead to massacring and enslaving each other.
- I am among those who couldn't finish the book, but I'm willing to bet it's not there.
- What about another bet? What are the chances alien invaders come from the end of the line of technological evolution rather than the beginning?
- Since the exceptions to technology and slavery appear only at the beginning of our history and in scattered small societies that have been isolated from history, isn't it likely aliens will travel the same path?
- We've had a lot more bad societies than good.
- Yes.
- And the only good societies we've had don't do well when contacted by the bad.
- They don't. The good don't survive.
- Will the bad societies survive?
- They have, so far.
- Suppose though slavery, massacre, inherited hierarchy destine us for destruction. On the other hand, the archaeological record and continuing survival of isolated communities show that good societies are stable and long lasting.
- So if good societies that go bad self-destruct, and good societies that stay good survive, and there is no necessity for good societies to go bad, then our reasoning is wrong: it is infinitely more likely we'll be contacted by people who stayed good, because there are more good societies than bad out there in space.
- As you said: if good societies don't all go bad. And if they get technology.
- What if technology always makes us bad and without technology we'll always be conquered by those with?
- Then aliens will come massacre and enslave us.
- Look on the bright side: every year that we continue to survive and the aliens don't come to get us is an argument that they don't want to. They have better things to do.
- And then like them we'll someday work out how to use technology and stay good.
- Do you know what else is encouraging?
- What?
- No one reads that guy's book.

Further Reading:
Einstein & Intellectual Physics
The Technology Of Good (And Other Stories)
Democracy & Inequality
* See The First Culture


- Hierarchical technological societies destroy the simple sharing societies, and end up destroying themselves. If simple sharing societies got technology, reason taking the place of ritual, they'd be able to protect themselves from the hierarchical, technological societies. Assuming there is no beginning or end to time, and no beginning or end to space - we have already found thousands of planets orbiting other stars - since two types of society are destined for destruction and a third type not necessarily, the aliens that arrive one day to visit us will most like be from the third type, sharing and technological. You said technology may always make us bad. Could you go into that a little more?
- The Situationists* in the 50s and 60s came up with the brilliant idea to extend Marx's theory of alienation with Rousseau and Plato's description of society as imitation, representation, or in the Situationist's word, spectacle. When a worker is paid to make a product it is taken from him, and is no longer part of his own history, his own life story. Products in the world of the market, of employment, buying, and selling, are alien to the individual who made them, but acquire a mysterious social meaning for their buyers, possessing them becomes a symbol of their social role. The Situationists said that each of us in society works to make our social role, and were both alienated from our "self" - the product we've  made of ourselves - and acquire for ourselves a mysterious symbolic value derived from the power and security that comes from having a place in society.
- What about private life?
- Trading for making money is without limit, and being without limit inconsistent with the defined goal-seeking nature of life. This according to Aristotle. He limited profit seeking to activities outside the home and only for the sake of securing the home.
- So he thought everyone in the market, producers, and buyers and sellers too, risked alienation if they didn't have home life. The Situationists said those times are over, because we ourselves are now the product, and we take that product self home with us. Is that right?
- Right. The Situationists wanted to make a revolution and counted on the ever increasing alienation from self and world to find them supporters. The '68 student revolt is tied directly to their agitation.
- So what happened?
- Do you think when we work to make a self in our society of spectacle, invent a role for ourselves, this process is like a worker making a product for an employer who takes it from him to sell?
- We don't have our self, after we make it, taken from us. We play it out.
- Yes. It is true that we intuitively know the difference between the made self and the self without artificial construction that is possible in life at home, but as we participate in the society of spectacle, playing our role, we feel safe and secure.
- Secure and alienated both. Not too promising for finding companions in revolution.
- It may be difficult or impossible for a sharing technological society to develop out of hierarchical ones.
- Should we expect then a lower class of alien invaders?
- Not necessarily. We shouldn't expect hierarchical technological societies to go anywhere but their destruction, in general.
- In general?
- We can't rely on history, development of a society as a whole, we can't say as did Marx and the Situationists that it contains the seeds of its own reform. However some individuals in the society likely do contain those seeds, and nothing in what we've said prevents them from planting them.
- And given an infinite amount of time and place for experiment, some are bound to survive.
*The Society Of Spectacle, Guy Debord