Preface: This entry encompasses an almost unimaginable scope. Please bear with me and read the whole thing if you can. I don’t make such a request routinely. I’m going to give my own view of what I think is next that changes everything, but it will take me a while to get there. Thanks to Greg Swan and Kyle Bennett who provided input into the final draft (which doesn’t mean they necessarily agree with everything).
Thanks also to all the commenters on the original entry. Very interesting (I invite everyone to read them). To summarize, I was asking what comes next in the list of grand human destinies that changed everything. As you can see if you’ve read the original entry, I’ve made some edits as I’ve considered comments and developed my own thinking.
2. Primitive Civilization.
3. Heliocentrism / Enlightenment / Secularization.
4. Technology / Capitalism / Industrialization.
5. The Internet.
I think agriculture and civilization are important and fundamental enough to merit their own categories. How could I have left out Copernicus? I include him in what is now number 3. Heliocentrism isn’t important enough to merit its own category, but I think it prefigures Enlightenment and Secularization—particularly the latter. And while the computer itself is an extension of industrialization, the Internet is altogether something different. I’m guardedly giving the Internet its own category, for now, without being thoroughly convinced it deserves one. If it does, I think it will really be an aspect of a much broader thing I might call Information Decentralization. In essence, it gives good ideas more of a chance to take hold at times when their originators may have little or no credentials. At the same time, it exposes the ideas from the credentialed and cloistered elite to public scrutiny at the individual level.
Now I’ll briefly outline some of the comments I received.
One person said that world peace comes next, and that it’s a peace not imposed by coercion of the State. Another thinks that a more widespread moral acceptance of capitalism is on line. Someone else believes that a more pervasive democracy is our human destiny. A Greg Swann fan thinks that human savagery first sees its end, and then we attain a certain human splendor (not utopia).
The next commenter comes up with something far more concrete (which, really, is more what I was originally thinking—more obvious cause than effect). Though he doesn’t grasp capitalism as a human destiny, he sees [other world] colonization as the next huge step that changes everything. I don’t see this, unless he means perhaps the Moon and Mars. I think that our desire for space travel to other worlds will ultimately prove inversely proportional to our technological ability to undertake it (if even possible). Look at it this way: if you control nature to the extent that you could travel thousands of light years, why would you want to go to the trouble? You’ve got more than enough to do in your own backyard.
The comments would not have been complete without the religious worldview. But, this commenter actually gets it right. If “God’s plan” for humanity is not being carried out, then it’s because we have free will—which means, we’ll carry out our own plan. That’s not how he says it, but that’s what his comment means, and so, in this sense, there’s no point in differentiating between the believer (him), and the non-believer (me), because it all ends up in the same place anyway. Either we’re ignoring God because we have the free will to do so; or God has forsaken us to our own devices; or there is no such thing as God in the literal sense. In practical terms, we end up at the same place.
Finally, Greg Swann pays a visit and offers the global outbreak of Hellenic culture (individualism) as the next step. I think that’s a process that began way back at the beginning. I too think it’s our destiny, but I think additional concrete (technological) implementations will be necessary before we get there. Greg points out in email prior to my final draft that this (and other things I said later) might mildly smack of Dialectical Materialism, the notion that our tools (technology) condition our ideas, which of course is the foundation of Marxism. Actually, I think what I’m saying is that it’s the other way around. Our ideas are fundamental. Of the fundamental sphere of ideas, individualism is the path most consonant with our nature as human beings. As such, it’s ultimately the most powerful. Consequently, I believe that the tools we embrace (amongst a realm of possibilities) are those most compatible to individualism and which serve us best in advancing individualism (which is where some level of conditioning might be creeping in).
As Kyle Bennett points out, who commented subsequent to Greg Swann, each stage I have proposed relies upon each preceding stage, i.e., you don’t get to Capitalism without first having enlightenment and secularization. Those aren’t applicable without civilization, and agriculture is a prerequisite to large numbers of people staying in one place so that you can develop civilization. But, as Greg has implied, all of this requires some sense of individualism. Though not yet manifest in the full-blown Enlightenment, those seeds were sown sometime long before, and later formalized by the Ancient Greeks. Ideas (individualism) are at the foundation of the whole thing.
Let me offer my perspective on what may be next that changes everything. I’m thinking about something concrete, but so wide in scope, and so bound up in the way people view existence—and how it’s bound up with a believed-in supreme deity—that it changes everything.
Realizing that men already possessed individualist ideas in some primitive form, we begin, technologically, with agriculture, and then the primitive civilization it enabled. This was a concrete, technological advance, but it was also bound up in the way the world worked at the time, which was to gather, hunt, and move on. This changed everything. Though the concept of property existed, it took on new meaning, because before, people really couldn’t own more than they could carry to their next hunting ground. With agriculture, and then civilization, there is suddenly lots of property, which implies the hard individual investments of mental and physical effort that went into creating it. So, just as suddenly, there’s something worth stealing—so it’s no surprise that the city-state developed from this. The first governments were bands of marauders who realized that it was a better long-term strategy to stay and protect a small population from other marauders (because there may be nothing to steal on your next visit), and to “only” siphon off a small percentage for themselves “in exchange.” The first protection rackets were the first governments, and vice versa.
Practical politics developed out of this. H. L. Mencken once said that "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed—and hence clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." But this is really the modus operandi of practical politics. The whole aim of it is to conceal what’s really going on.
In spite of the government theft and the practical politics that conceals it from detection by ordinary people, city-states had their trade-off advantages to individuals, which is why many who could have gone off by themselves, or as small hunter-gatherer groups, didn’t. As societies became more complex, the worldview under which everyone operated (geocentric; authoritarian) proved increasingly inadequate to societal organization. Men like Da Vinci, Copernicus, and Galileo sowed the seeds for a whole new kind of thinker—a heliocentric thinker. The seeds sown in Ancient Greece took root and the Enlightenment and Secularization were born.
These new perspectives produced advanced technologies; and markets in capital, goods, and services flourished. The Industrial Revolution was born. We’re still in that phase, but have perhaps begun a new one: the Internet, or Information Decentralization. It’s probably still too early to judge its long-term status as a cardinal human destiny, so I’ll reserve final judgment. I believe that the spiritual effect of Internet technology will be a gradual wisening up of humanity to Enlightenment ideas, to a point, and then like a switch, everything will be re-ordered on an individualist premise. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but realize that with the Enlightenment, only a miniscule percentage of people were ever aware of and understood these ideas—but they changed the world forever. We often think that there exists more morons today than ever, but it’s not true. The moron you’d have never heard of before is now on the Internet sending emails, creating websites, writing blogs, leaving comments, etc. To state it another way, he’s out there publicly exposing his ignorance and stupidity, which is the first step to a cure (enlightenment). Before the Internet, it was far easier for a moron to live out his entire life in ignorant bliss. It may be true that many or most may never be fully enlightened, but I sense that’s not ultimately true, or, alternatively, that it doesn’t matter. Those who aren’t enlightened tend to accept following those who are. What we must be mindful of are those who understand the Enlightenment ideals, but rather than take them to heart, have instead chosen to manipulate those who don’t understand, and to earn a bogus livelihood in the doing.
Ideas are the spark that ignites the concrete technology that burns a path to the future. This makes sense once that you realize that to have a human mind, you must first have a human brain. But it is the mind (ideas) that harness and make useful the brain (technology). First, the idea (individualism), then comes the technological leap that makes it concrete, such as with agriculture. The idea is foundational, but with the technological advance, the possibilities are now far wider. The idea is thus reinforced. Lives are re-ordered, and this sets the stage for the next technological leap. All new perspectives result, and the cycle continues. All significant technological advances, throughout history, are the result of an individualist premise. To put it another way, the religions of the world only stood to impede technological progress; and everything the commies ever came up with was just a generally bad or inferior copy of what we had already accomplished.
The other major phenomenon is that there’s a shorter and shorter space in time between each major human destiny. At first, the progress is measured in thousands of years, then hundreds, and now…who knows?
This finally brings me to what I think is the next concrete technological leap that could completely re-order society, and would, in turn, reinforce individualism and a view of humanity that is nothing short of Godlike.
6. Substantial and Immediate life-span increase.
The idea of biological immortality has been tossed around for a long time. The problem is, people don’t want to be “immortal,” on earth. It’s not an aspiration to a population who largely (and irrationally) believes they have a chance at Nirvana (choose your own concept for eternal bliss). What are 70 or 80 years to an eternal life with God?
To be more realistic, consider a near-immediate jump from a predicted lifespan of 80 years to 150 years? It re-orders everything—socially, economically, personally. Stop to realize how many of your adult decisions are premised upon how much time you guess you have left. The older you are, the less inclined you are to take risks, or to embark on anything new that requires a substantial investment in preparation and formation. If you apply that risk aversion and reluctance across billions of people, and then suddenly do away with it, it’s revolutionary. Imagine embarking—from ground zero—on a career in medicine at the age of 60 or 80, instead of 20.
The only thing in the world that has even the slimmest chance of overcoming the bogus perspective of the “hereafter” is to create the situaton where people are compelled into betting one against the other. Only when they are faced with giving up the possibility of a huge, long, and joyous life on earth will they overcome their yearning for an imagined eternal life in the ether.
Once, and if, this thing ever gets off the ground, it’s likely to become the focus of humanity. We’re not going to go from 80 years to immortal in a leap. If it happens, we’re going to go from 80 to some estimated number, perhaps 120 or 150. But here’s the key to the whole thing. Assuming there’s a technological possibility of biological immortality, or anything like it, each jump begets the next jump, only quicker. First, those who are engaged in the endeavor are granted a longer time to keep working the problem. Second, the beneficiaries are granted a longer period of time in which to reach the next jump, which comes sooner than the last. At a point, average lifespan is growing faster than you’re aging. At that point, you are virtually immortal—here on earth.
So why would such a thing be so revolutionary, and how would it advance the idea of individualism? It’s the wrong question, really. It is individualism and only individualism that will advance such a cause. Such an ultimate prize is the ultimate legacy of individualism. I believe humanity is destined to do it, eventually. The effect, I believe, to sum it up, will be to grant individuals a perpetual child-like view of existence. Think back to the perspective of open-endedness that you experienced as a child. Everything was possible. The universe was your playground. Get that back, make it perpetual, and everything that ever came before withers away in irrelevance.
I’m the first to admit that this is speculative. But if I read my history, and if I have faith in humanity, it seems the less speculative, for me. Other than yourself, humanity is the only thing in the universe worthy or your faith. As a rationalist, I used to think faith irrational. It’s not, altogether. In humans, faith is perhaps the most wonderful and powerful of forces. The smartest and cleverest among us have realized this for eons. It’s so powerful that they have trained humanity to misplace it—to exercise it in a non-existent proxy, i.e., God. Faith does indeed move mountains, but you’ve got to let the right people know.