Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,
We have the capacity to learn from previous civilization's errors - rising inequality, hubris, over-reach, decay of production and trade, parasitic elites, and so on - yet we go right ahead and repeat those same errors.
After listening to my explanation of the many cycles human civilizations track first to glory and then to decay, podcast host Tommy Carrigan asked a key question: why don't we stop ourselves from self-destructing? Tommy and I had a free-range conversation on this and related topics (plus a lot of laughs) that you can listen to here: UFOs & Cycles of Humanity (1:36 hrs)
We have the capacity to learn from previous civilization's errors--rising inequality, hubris, over-reach, decay of production and trade, parasitic elites, and so on--yet we go right ahead and repeat those same errors.
What explains our inability to learn from history and take corrective actions by maintaining the dynamics of adaptive advances? (Transparent governance, the sharing of knowledge, incentivizing trade and enterprise, competition, stable money, rule of law / fairness, social mobility and limits on elites' plundering / exploitation.)
Why do we allow the decay, over-reach, greed, hubris, institutional sclerosis and parasitic elites that lead to collapse gain the upper hand time and again? Why do we not act on what can be learned from history?
For those of us steeped in science fiction and the study of AI, this question inevitably leads to discussions of the potential immutability of historic cycles (Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, which posited that cycles could not be annulled but the decay/collapse phase could be reduced in duration), the deus ex machina of contact with extraterrestrial civilizations and the potential of super-intelligent AI to save us from ourselves.
Longtime readers know that I often refer to the Martian Central Bank as one potential savior of our own financial excesses--the credit/speculative cycle of growth and decay / authenticity and artifice that we repeat with sobering regularity (Kondratieff cycle, etc.).
In my treatment, the Martian Central Bank is rather unforgiving of debtors who can't or won't pony up the quatloos due in interest. As Tommy pointed out, we tend to have a very either/or expectation of aliens: either they come to destroy us (the Earthling model of colonization and/or conquest) or as wise saviors.
I couldn't stop laughing once Tommy posited the aliens might come expecting us to save them with our great technology. ("You have fusion energy, right?" "Well, uh, not quite...")
As for super-intelligent AI, we discussed the key speculative questions, many of which boil down to who's watching the watchers?
I remain skeptical of current AI's potential to resolve humanity's cyclical turns of hubris, excess and karma, topics I've discussed in three of my books:
Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power and A.I. in a Traumatized World
A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet
A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All
I see potential for AI to reduce the human biases that generate so much unfairness and inequality, but find the expectation that humanity can look forward to sitting around doing essentially no work as not only unlikely but disconnected from the real world.
In other words, it looks like we're going to have to save ourselves without the aid of wise aliens or super-AI. We're going to have to reverse the decay, corruption, artifice, hubris, over-reach and sclerosis ourselves, if not by reformation then by opting out / let it rot.
There is much more in our discussion UFOs & Cycles of Humanity (1:36 hrs). What I like about our conversation is that it can be taken as two guys having a good time spouting speculative nonsense or as two guys exploring the limits of human knowledge and endeavor.
I've been fortunate to be a guest on numerous podcasts and it's rare that I've been invited to indulge in the sort of speculation that comes naturally to my (generally fevered) mind. Thank you, Tommy, for the no-boundaries conversation and the good humor. Tommy's extensive podcast archives can be found here: Tommy's podcast.
Looks like we're on our own--at least until the enforcers of the Martian Central Bank show up demanding their quatloos--or else...
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