Les Elkind's site

Slouching Toward The Singularity
On The Election Trail

   It just seems less than thoughtful to me when people who are dissatisfied with the economic or political situation advance the idea that the problem lies with which political ‘philosophy’ is in power. Framing the problem as ‘left vs. right’, ‘capitalism vs. socialism’ or, even worse, ‘believers vs. non-believers’, represents a childish reduction of our complex world approaching the simplicity of a Fox News story.  And it usually turns out that humans doing the dumb or nasty things that humans do is all that’s required to explain why things go wrong, whatever flag is flying.  The latest Gallup Poll on what Americans see as the top priorities for the next President confirms that this is so, and that the majority of people are not necessarily being fooled by all the the flim-flam.  


  As a quick aside, I need to mention that when it comes to politics, I consider the most rational choice of which group to support to be based on the relative level of intolerance and enmity shown by the various political groups toward those unlike themselves; how they treat fellow citizens who think differently from the group. This is based on the theory that you don’t want to be voting for someone who, upon gaining power, is likely to march you off to the detention camp along with the other ‘undesirables’. From what I’ve seen, the social intolerance and willful scientific ignorance of the Republicans scares me quite a lot more than the rhetoric of the other side, but choosing who to vote for on that basis is not a very satisfying exercise. I sense lots of folks are feeling politically uncomfortable these days, at least those who are interested in more than birth certificates and other stupid diversions.


  But, to return to what Gallup found, if anyone wants to go beyond the political rhetoric in searching for the source of our malaise, they will quickly see the true problem is that the great majority have come to feel our representative government no longer represents us citizens, the actual human beings who live here under the impression it is our country. The Gallup poll published today shows that corruption of government is the #2 issue people think must be confronted by the next president, second only to jobs!   It’s become painfully clear that the apparatus of our government now only responds to money and its influence, with corporate ‘persons’ clearly the richest 1,000 pound gorillas in the room. The process of governance has come to have less to do with the welfare of the citizenry than the influence of lobbyists representing those who seek special treatment in return for their financial support.  The Government itself is increasingly comprised of representatives waiting out their government service to become lobbyists, because they know that’s where the real money is.  And in the meantime, how likely are they to change the system in any way that will cut them off from their big payday before they get there?   I think the distinguished Harvard Law professor, Lawrence Lessig, is one of the public figures who has gotten this totally and eloquently right, including his description of how the system resists change and operates the wheels of legislation to perpetuate itself.   Lessig still thinks that something can be done to change the situation, and he’s started a group dedicated to that worthy goal called “Rootstrikers.”


  The fact that most people reading this won’t even bother to see who Lessig is, or find out what he has to say, is an example of why I am much less hopeful about the reforming of government.  I’m putting my money instead on the inevitable destabilizing of the orbit of our civilization that is beginning to result from the phenomenon of accelerating intelligence. As that continues to happen, we will experience, willingly or not, the evolving of a new and not currently visible civilization paradigm.  I do not know how the world will organize itself as it confronts the growing realization that some of civilization’s basic organizing principles are being rendered incompatible with the reality of day to day life.  When 3-D printers are as common as toasters, and the value of making and selling things can no longer be used to drive the economic wheel, our current methods of organizing civilization based on producing and consuming will have to change.  In the same way that the paradigm of relativity physics gave way to quantum mechanics in order to deal with the world that came into view in the post-atomic era, we are re-imagining our civilization as the information age is maturing around and within us. Relativity physics wasn’t wrong, it just turned out there are more complete, more effective ways to understand the physical world.  How will we re-imagine our world as we pass into the next era?  I don’t know.


   It is difficult and scary to contemplate a shifting of the paradigm of civilization.  I’m sure our hunter/gatherer ancestors ten thousand years ago had no glimmer of the way we live today, extracting and distributing materials and energy in a worldwide dance so complex it creates MRI machines, McDonald’s, and the Internet.  But it took us ten thousand years to get from there to here, so they didn’t have to figure it out all at once.  It is likely only ten more years or so until we begin to see the early unfolding of the next stage of our civilization, if there is to be one.   As always, at least since the ‘duck and cover’ days of my childhood, we could easily blow things all the way back to the beginning, and over my lifetime that seems to be something that has steadily gotten easier for us to do. But, assuming we can make it through the next decade, no matter who wins this election I am still betting on accelerating intelligence to profoundly reconfigure our world, and our political reality with it.   In the meantime, though, I plan to heed some advice snarled by the bard almost half a century ago: don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters.



  1. I can!t forget how the republicans would!nt agree on any thing threy don! Know what they want money for themselves

  2. if a significant majority doesn’t follow leaders any more, leaders they will be no longer. On a larger scale – this would also put concepts like ‘countries’, ‘people’, ‘nations’, etc. up for grabs. We are not ready for that – yet…

    • Hans – I’m not sure how you found your way to this piece I wrote, but here is a fact that is important: I wrote that piece before the LAST election, 4 years ago! It is even more true and pertinent now than when I wrote it. Would you satisfy my curiosity and let me know how you came to read this? My email is [email protected]

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