Evolution of culture, evolution of tools

What would have Darwin or Freud said of our current digital revolution? Have they in a way anticipated that the ideas they brought to the world would separate men from its fears and set a chain of events that would bring modernity to a different marriage between men and his tools?

In a way modern thinking started from the premise of there is everything to be discovered, and there is nothing that could be hidden from us anymore. Our might, our intellect, our machines, would be able to provide us the solutions to our problems and be the new religion of our psyche. The concept of evolution brought down a massive wall of myths and beliefs of our role in past, present and future events, the world didn’t circle around us anymore; we were just another adaptation of nature to certain conditions, and just a very recent one indeed. In terms of our psyche, the mechanisms of our mind and a sincere search for understanding how it worked open the boundaries of how thought was produced, and how similar it works in the majority of us. In a way, both concepts allow us to see that the world was at our grasp, and as part of understanding our biology we will also be able to submit our will into the ventures that better express the new belief of control and understanding of nature, as well as, control and understanding of people itself.

Believing you can change things, and creating the tools to do it was the cornerstone of a new era. Like Steve Jobs mentioned in one of his interviews before coming back to Apple “everything around you that you called life was made by people no smarter than you, and you can change it, influence it”. This belief of being able to change things and create something closer to what one wanted, introduced a new mindset of living, a new paradigm of success, measured by how much you have been able to influence change and the scale you have reached instead of keeping things constant and steady according to rules and beliefs hundreds of years old. Was this change brought up naturally like in evolution? Or was it a change of our making and creation? We suddenly realize how much we could mold things, and if they stick and were followed by others, custom will make them good and acceptable. Like Montaigne said when reflecting on our customs and what we considered acceptable or barbaric: “the barbarians are in no wise more of a wonder to us than we are to them, nor with better reason, …, human reason is a dye spread more or less equally through all the opinions and all the manners of us humans, which are infinite in matter and infinite in diversity”; there was not a definitive standard to be followed, and nothing sacred not to be changed. Reason and their effects were right unless proven otherwise, and only then judged and changed if necessary. This gave to many a license of experimentation unprecedented in human history. Whenever somebody could oppose the change or the initiative of creating a new experiment of government, association, tool or technology you can cite the million problems created by our own genius that needed a solution by even better creations. Evolution became a game of our making, where instead of constraints set by nature that we needed to adapt to, we created our own set of issues. An example: In our view, it was fair and right to preserve life, so the issues of overpopulation, cities dwelling and basic food resources needed to be solved in order to be true to that principle. Anything that could help solve those problems was accepted as necessary, there was no turning back into living as much as we could within the limits of nature allowance — we were not limited by that anymore — our technology became a way to demonstrate how much we could tame and be on top of our original dwelling by being able to create one completely of our making. The separation of nature and the management of the problems it created became a thing of great concern. Once we understood there was no possibility of coming back (and no intention on doing so), little by little custom-made things, before forbidden from our minds to believe able to understand, to everyday items pre-packaged for our consumption. Want to know how your mind works? Biology mixed chemistry, medicine, and statistically measured experimentation gives psychiatry, and if you just want to use the statistical part, combined with group observation you can have most of psychology. Want to know you should conduct your life? 9 to 5 in a corporation would keep you entertained enough so you don’t have to think about it, and at night you can watch some TV to tell you what to do for leisure and what to buy to attain happiness. Yes, you can buy it, or at least that’s what the marketing implies. Want to know how to educate your children? Just send them to school; you don’t even have to think or understand what they are going to teach them, and in fact their most important goal is to create another company or job ready man to substitute you, so is all planned already. Seems simple right? The whole of an existence preconceived so the problems are limited and at least known. Making people look the same and predictable, limits issues to a few big ones. Set aside what we know, what about what we don’t know, how are we going to tackle those problems? No idea really, but there is always something that comes to our rescue and magically solved our problems. Do we have to compromise and get even further away from nature in order to get the solution? Yes, but that is something we’ve been doing for quite a while and there is no point to even question it now.

The interesting thing is that we started this experiment thinking it was our right to change things and of being in control of our destiny, to realize down the track how little we know of the consequences and how much our own changes are outside of anybody’s control. Or have we? This game of poking our finger in and seeing something go out, this partial understanding of what is around us that look very absolute until is proven wrong gradually but relentlessly change our perception of what we think we know. Only in a big disaster we realize our fragility and condemn decades of effort to control things to waste. Paraphrasing Nassim Taleb; a Black Swan was unthinkable when all we have seen where white ones. Only when a black was first seen, our vision of the world changed and we started to process a different set of possibilities.

Our culture feeds on what we think we know, and from stability. Hungriness for change is required, to keep problems at bay, but the changes sought are to maintain the current structural order of things intact, not to really question the system. Our technology and technologists, is just another way to preserve the world as we see it now. Like a machine of our making, culture wears out and needs constant repairs, so much that the finished product might not resemble anything of what we started with, the repairs end up changing the machine itself, the purpose, what we wanted to get out of it. Does anybody keep count? Do we forget that easily what we were set out to do? Maybe an example would help. When I read the Benjamin Franklin biography, the thing that stroke the most was not the man (great guy by all means) but were the principles that ended founding the union of states in America. 1) A place where freedom of to think and create was guaranteed and a clean sheet to start anew could be found, 2) No taxation without representation. The whole system of checks and balances theorized by Locked and others was put to the practice in the form of a constitution, all possibilities to fail where present, but in the end France came to the rescue to preserve world power balance — and in the meantime sentenced its monarchy for a few years later. The US experiment ended up becoming the new standard (it could have easily not succeeded), but the principles have not survived intact. In order to protect its citizens (from like terrorism), there is less freedom that ever in America, and many others “developed” countries. In regards to taxation the world has never seen an accumulation of riches into so few hands and the power that goes with it; taxation is effectively in the little chances of escaping a rat race and no say in the common people destiny. So you can see, even in the most important revolution in the last few centuries, with the modern state creation, we have been quite relaxed in keep it flexible to the times rather than to a sacred principle.

If culture has evolved as an about to break machine, what has kept it afloat? Have we found the magic, the philosopher stone, the alchemy, in our technology? Is that what is going to keep saving us? So far the answer is yes, and the advance of technology we can say follow an exponential curve with more and more changes coming faster at problems that we had difficulties with before. However, as technology keeps it rapid pace the multiplication of problems does as well, and the curve is as exponential. Every technology that we found to be useful generate more unknown problems down the track — nothing is completely clean when it doesn’t come from nature — and our application of these partial solutions depends on political, social and even individual change that is hard to execute. Is a case that we have a rapidly advancing technology, for an even more rapidly advancing set of problems, and with a rate of adoption that is not as rapid as it should be. Our tools have evolved dramatically from the cavern days, where most of them came as a small modification of items readily available in nature, from those times we know depend on help that relies on infrastructure, technical personnel, and raw materials that are far away from a ready-made and natural solution. Our tools, as us, became more and more separated from its earthly connection and usually can only live in the modern setting we constructed for them. Some really help our living within the modern men setting, but is this like a version of Plato’s cave? Or in the modern form a Matrix we are living in? Like our own rendition of a created world that we cannot leave; how much are tools freeing us, as opposed as keeping us enslaved to a jail of our making?

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