DemetriosX wins the Best Response Of The Week award. Several excellent points concerning our recent topic of the Diamond-Shaped Social Structure. The irrefutable fact that America and most of the West has lived a miracle for half a century - in societies wherein the well-off and empowered Middle Class has - for the first time in human history - actually outnumbered the poor.
Of course, critics of the diamond metaphor have attempted to refute its core lesson - that progress and the modernist agenda of human and social improvability work, and indeed work much better than anything else that humanity has ever tried. They try to do this by ignoring the diamond, or calling it doomed, or else by claiming that it is a mirage, resting atop an ongoing pyramid of privilege. As modernists who welcome criticism, we analyzed two of these proposed pyramids last time, finding one of them somewhat plausible and the other easily disproved.
Of course there is some level at which this complaint about the diamond must be true. As DemetriosX aptly points out, the real "pyramid" that our diamond rests upon is a vast number and variety of patient and (mostly) uncomplaining machines that has replaced the servant/peasant/slave classes.
Just go to India, today, and look around. Someone in YOUR class and occupation will have servants, who do many tasks that you assign to your dishwasher, clothes washer and microwave oven. Much is still done by hand. It is wonderful that the Indian economy is rising. But it is a rising pyramid, at least so far.
Moreover, many of our machines consume copious resources, exactly as a human servant would. Hence the multiplier effect of how vastly more resource-hungry an american household is, compared to others around the world. For this reason, we are behooved, obligated, to expend a large portion of our surplus on research to make all servant machines vastly more efficient. Only thus could it ever be possible for everyone on the planet to enter the diamond-pinnacle of citizen-humans, living in relative decency.
Note that the right does not foster such research, choosing instead to undermine it at every opportunity. Why is that?
1. Some believe it interferes in capitalism. Nonsense, of course. One of the chief roles of government is to invest in portions of future horizon space that lie beyond the 3-5 year ROI (return on investment) limit of the typical CEO. (Actually, this is relatively visionary, for CEOs today. Most have an eye only on timing stock peaks to coincide with their options-parachute.) In any event, this stance is utter hypocrisy. The latest energy bill is filled with so called "research" that suits the short term needs of the most influential in-group CEOs, plus many billions of tax breaks for companies that are already highly profitable. (See below)
2. They cannot allow their minds to encompass an ambitious goal of actually eliminating poverty and welcoming ALL of the world inside a rising diamond, even though we face a time limit. When there are ten billions on Earth, many of them far more educated and skilled than happy, do you really think that terror and destruction will not spill across us all?
3. Certain elements of our current ruling Troika actually relish the prospect of a looming doomsday, driven in part by a failure of human problem-solving. (In a month or so I will discuss this, when we start a series about religion.) Indeed, they consider the whole Modernist Agenda to be sacreligious. Arrogating the miracle-working powers of God.
In fact, modernism should impel any reasonable person to pull out the stops on efficiency research, almost above any other priority. It should be the top imperative, a goal driven by sure knowledge that our childrens' lives and comfort will depend on vastly muliplying wealth while reducing resource impact by two orders of magnitude. There should be a dozen "Manhattan Projects" aimed at achiving this sustainability goal - including the resumption of building modern and improved nuclear power plants. (Aha! Brin swerves and delivers a kick to the LEFT!)
Note that all of this is driven by this one metaphor... that of the diamond social structure... our greatest accomplishment. THE greatest human accomplishment, possibly, of all time. It is the very emblem of the Enlightenment and its servant, modernism. And it can only endure if we do everything in our power to nurture it.
DemetriosX is right that the diamond LOOKS unstable. Because it is. Pyramids are reinforced by the utterly predictable and almost-automatic self-serving actions of empowered elites at the top, who do not need sophisticated science to tell them how to stay on top. This is what's natural, as testified by 4,000 years of recorded history.
In contrast, markets - oft mythologized as "natural" are the most unnatural things going. Libertarians will tell you "market laws are laws of nature", what baloney. Markets -- and the other great modernist cornucopian tools -- are magnificent wealth generating machines, built ad-hoc, through trial and error, constantly fine-tuned and refined, tinkered, adjusted. The same way the diamond needs tuning, adjusting, reforms and investment, in order to keep its shape and keep rising. (Remind me some time to resume this line of thought. Meanwhile, have a look at: http://www.davidbrin.com/disputationarticle1.html)
All right, I've psychoanalyzed why the RIGHT despises the diamond. What about the LEFT?
What's interesting about the left is that they DO call for many diamond-tending processes and reforms. (After all, civil and gender rights were overwhelmingly important to altering the old pyramid.) And, despite their own kind of anti-science antimodernism, the left does support efficiency research.
But they hate the image of the diamond because it implicitly admits that there's been progress. In their sanctimonious contempt for the masses, they believe that ANY admission of progress will remove the guilt-driven pressure to do more. A dismal obsession that actually undercuts their credibility and effectiveness. Refusing ever to use praise, only guilt, they wind up driving people away, and turning "liberal" into a curse word on the lips of citizens whose votes they desperately need.
But let's probe just a little deeper, into the implications of the Diamond Metaphor.
First a challenge. I defy anyone to go back more than two hundred years and find anyone urging practical programs and social measures to eliminate poverty entirely from society. I doubt very much that you'll succees. Yes! There were countless sages and saints who urged good people to give alms, and even the shirt off their back, to the poor. But this was always myopically aimed at easing nearby suffering and elevating the karmic state of the giver. No one ever spoke of eliminating poverty altogether. Instead "the poor will always be with us" more numberous than grains of sand.
The reason is obvious. When society is pyramidal, the broad bottom is the poor! Hen poverty is a vast sea, surrounding a steep island of privilege, the mind is limited in its imagined range of ambition. How can you empty the sea?
But this changes when progress finally creates a diamond shaped structure. Now, the poor are fewer than the well off! Suddenly, poverty is a bitter lake, surrounded by affluence. And it is possble to imagine draining a lake. Indeed, suddenly poverty itself becomes a scandal. If we can imagine ending it, then why hasn't it happened yet? It must be somebody's fault.
It began with the American Revolution, when European observers reported the first true diamond. And the blame casting commenced in the French Revolution, with Marxism and the New Deal and Johnson's War on Poverty. Some moves were delusional, others crude-though ambitious. Nu? You expected competence, when humanity started taking on a previously unimaginable task?
I will officially end here, having talked (again) much too long for a blog. But stay tuned for some supporting material (below)
Till next time....
ADDENDA: Here's what the only hardhitting and unafraid journalist in America - Jon Stewart - has to say about the recent "energy bill": "Oh, Oil!! Giver of power, corrupter of governments, non-sticker of surfaces... Must you taunt us with your slick, non-renewable goodness?
"Yes, energy is clearly an important topic with Americans. That's why, before going on recess, Congress broke a 4 year impasse by approving a massive energy bill. And while it did nothing to address our dependence on foreign oil, or fuel efficiency, or in any way simplify the strategic nature of our relationship with the Middle East, it does give oil and gas industries 500 million dollars for research and 2.7 billion dollars in tax breaks, even though a company like Exxon-Mobil made 7.6 billion dollars in pure profit just this last quarter..."
Or, as expressed by Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas: "This bill is based on the premise that we believe in private, free-market capitalism to develop the resources of this land in a cost-efficient manner."
Um.... And as deficits skyrocket, impoverishing our children in favor of the "Great Raid" of pork -- the biggest charge of outright theft from our treasury in all our lifetimes, here is a trip down memory lane for a quotable goodie from George W. Bush's 2005 State of the Union address: "America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government. I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline."
You can see what we are up against, oh modernist boys and girls....
==See: Class War and the Lessons of History