Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Industrial Society and its Future, pt. 2

Continued from this post.

2) Prosperity: Does technology make us more prosperous? Is this prosperity evenly distributed among people, or does it make some of us richer while making others poorer?

First, I think I need to debunk a claim that I hear a lot.  It goes like this; while the standard of living has risen as compared decades & centuries ago, it doesn't matter whether things get better because people adapt to anything no matter how good or bad it is.  Since it's all relative, the progress that technology brings is sort of like running on a treadmill (if not worse, because of the loss of humanity/freedom/purpose etc).  Okay, so why is that bullshit?

The essence of why I dislike this philosophy is that it equates the position of the king to that of the slave, and not just in a metaphorical sense.  That is literally what these people are saying.  Part of the appeal of that argument is that it is counter-intuitive, and that it justifies a lot of Very Bad Things by virtue of the idea that people will simply adjust.  It's idiotic to think that people suffering from a lack of sanitation, or malnutrition, or disease, and people who live in the suburbs, feel similarly about their lives.  I won't deny that there are problems associated with the middle and upper class, but these are problems on the order of "I'm bored" or "What am I doing with my life?" instead of "I just shat out some blood" or "My mother died of AIDS".

So with that out of the way, I think that I can safely say that people today are (per capita) better off today than they were x years ago, where x is an abstract number of years.  Diseases are more easily diagnosed and cured, labor is less intensive, etc.

"But Ben!" you might cry, "We still have vast percentages of the population without access to water!  Two billion people live on two dollars a day! Every year 10 million children die before age five!"  I get it.  "Modern" society sort of left a lot of the world behind.  In fact, things are worse, because our huge companies came in and built huge factories where they pay slave wages, while at the same time our giant combines are harvesting so much food that local farmers can't make a living, forcing them into those same factories.  There's pollution, and the raping of the planet.  I get that.  For that I have two responses; the first is to say that this is more of a social failing than a technological failing; if we really wanted to, we could fix almost all of the big problems.  We really want that though, because there's nothing in it for us, and it would require a lot of sacrifice.  The second is to say that technology will find solutions to all the problems that it creates.  We can scrub the air of carbon, clean up the planet, and perfect robotic assembly to the point where sweatshops will become cost-ineffecient.

The distribution of goods is uneven.  Baring a perfect implementation of communism, it will always be that way.  The problem seems to be that the richest 1% of the world controls x% of everything, where x is some huge number that keeps getting higher.  This deals a little bit with the earlier issue of freedom, but when so few people control so much it makes it harder for someone to ascend, and if the rich control everything then there's no one to stop them from taking away our freedom.  The part of checks and balances is being played by the government, which stumbles through its lines and stammers like this were a high school production.  But again, I would say that the root cause is societal rather than technological.  One could argue that technology has made it harder to overthrow a government, as modern surveillance has made it difficult to plot assassinations, but then we would get into some tangent about what the problem means for revolution are.

No comments: