Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Technology Of Good

(long version here)

On the crowded train a young woman soldier sat on the floor with me in the vestibule, other soldiers stood above us. She asked me what I thought of her country.
- I haven't been here very long, but already want to leave.
- Why?
- If I have to choose between bad places to live in I choose the bad place I come from.
- Where are you from?
- Los Angeles.
- How is it bad there?
- Same as here.
- How?
- Money. Worship of money.
- It's human nature.
- It's bad human nature.
- People will never stop being bad.
- Well, we don't know that, do we?
- We know. People will always cheat, steal, destroy.
- Yes, but they will also always want to love, understand, make things.
- Not enough. People will take what they want when they can.
- Yes. Though sometimes people want love more than money.
- A dream.
- You're sure? You're not very old. You haven't read much, seen much. You don't know.
- And you know me well enough to insult me.
- I've seen, read about better people, better places.
- Why don't you go there and live with them?
- Good times don't last, times change, people change.
- That's what I am saying. You can't rely on people to be good.
- But if we don't expect people to be better we can't make our lives better with each other.
- We can't.
- How do you know? It's a story, a myth, that people are more bad than good, that bad will always win out in the end.
- But history is one massacre after another.
- But is history proof?
- Why not?
- To be sure that we humans will always do bad because we are bad, we'd have to set up an experiment to see if we can exclude the exception.
- An experiment with good people? Where are you going to find them? Do you think you are good?
- Not bad. To do a thought experiment we don't need real people. Imagine getting people together who don't believe your myth, who want to try to be good.
- They won't succeed. Communism doesn't work.
- Communism is a myth about the destiny of property relations in history. I mean simply, can we, on the basis of what we know about human nature, exclude the possibility that if people used their inventiveness, their knowledge, if they experimented, they could not arrange things so that people got better rather than worse in each other's company?
- That's your thought experiment?
- Yes.
- Every civilization in human history has failed.
- Because the bad in us eventually dominates us and destroys us?
- Yes.
- How do you know?
- What?
- What would happen in conditions that gave the good in us a chance to establish itself more firmly in social relations.
- History shows it doesn't happen.
- But that is just it. You've a myth, a story that human nature is primarily bad and will always be that way, and our governments and manners express this. What would happen if our governments and manners expressed the opposite?
- It wouldn't work.
- Remember we're doing a thought experiment. It is conceivable, right, that we could learn how to communicate better with each other?
- What good would that do? Propaganda will bring out the bad and the good words won't be heard. People listen to the bad more than the good.
- They do now. Our experiment makes us ask, what if we developed means, techniques, a technology that reminds people of the good and keeps reminding them?
- That's fantasy.
- How do you know? To know, you need to test if there is anything that rules out the possibility. We need to know more about the new techniques.
- Even if they worked they'd be stolen and the advantage would be gone.
- Perhaps it isn't possible for them to be stolen.
- Why not?
- As acting bad makes it harder for us to be good, acting good makes it harder for us to be bad.
- A smoothy functioning army of soldiers who are good to each other is even more destructive.
- Sure. But would the soldiers good to each other want to be destructive?
- They'd have no choice.
- If they have no choice then they are good to each other not by choice, but habit: People really being made good resist being made bad.
- But good always loses.
- Imagine it once gets a good start. When things happen in nature we expect things to go on as they have. But when we are accomplices with nature, attempt to build something, our repeated failure doesn't convince us we won't succeed. If that were true we'd never build anything at all. We see signs that our building is succeeding in parts. History of failed civilizations doesn't show us attempting to conserve and build up on each other our partial technical successes. History doesn't build.
- Technology givies us greater power to destroy.
- What about technology of being good?
- There isn't any.
- Our thought experiment asks do we know there cannot be?
- Do you really think there can?
- Yes.
- A strange idea. As you said, history doesn't build, create anything new in human life.
- What about technology, our era of machines? Physical technology came out of nowhere. Moral technology can too. So our thought experiment concludes.
- But they're not the same.
- Why not?
- People have always used tools. But no one even has an idea what technology of being good is.
- Playing games and making art are technologies, organized ways of entertaining, of our being good for each other. Do you know what I did a few days after arriving in this country?
- No. What?
- I visited the offices of the world's biggest internet company to propose to them (actually to their receptionist) what I'm saying here.
- What did they answer?
- They didn't answer.
- Of course.
- In history there is a natural tendency for bad to organize. Destruction leads to more destruction. Unregulated trade leads to monopoly.
- That's what I have been saying.
- You have been saying human nature is responsible for the destruction and monopoly, not that it so happens that human nature left to itself in social relations leads to destruction.
- What difference does it make?
- We don't have to leave social relations to themselves.
- When we try to improve society it doesn't work. The bad wins. As you said, monopolies and gangs take over.
- Because we didn't apply technology to the good. Imagine if the hundreds of millions of people in the social network run by the internet company I visited here were guided to each other by what the network knows about them, and guided into creative activity. Would that be enough to counteract the destructive effect of gangsters and monopoly, of uninventive social life creating exclusive factions? Large numbers of people getting a taste of working creatively, being entrepreneurs with each other?
- I don't think so.
- But you don't know, do you?