First off, please drop in at my final "Ostrich Papers" Also posted on my website. Yes, it is vastly too long (4000 words!) for the scatterbrained...um... multiprocessing generation. Still, I felt that SOMEWHERE there needed to be a "guidebook" for ostrich hunters.
I want to refer you to the latest paper -"On the Promise of Noopolitik" - by two of the most brilliant social thinkers around, today, David Ronfedlt and John Arquilla, of the Rand Corporation. Unlike many utopian or extropian wish fantasies, they are talking about a simple extrapolation of today's positive trends, via what I have called the :"Age of Amateurs" toward a near era when leveraged individual and "smart mob" and coalescing critical skills will make our sum intelligence something truly and fantastically greater than the parts.
See how they relate all this to the ruminations in 1925 of Teilhard de Chardin. One might also have hearkened to J.D. Bernal's THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL: An enquiry into the future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul, from the same period. (Available online).
A great paper. It is, of course, a topic that we can start talking about, over beers, one day after work... and wake up amid a sea of bottle, wondering what day it is, without even having touched half of the ramifications. Still let me touch on a few very lightly.
1) Of course, what they discuss is something that I described, pretty thoroughly, in the last dozen or so chapters of EARTH. Wherein I am VERY critical of the typical "Childhood's End" notion of how humanity might become part of some future macro intelligence. Whether it is clanking assimilation - as in the Borg - or floating above tatami mats while birds hover - as in Asimov's "Gaia" - or clone based telepathy a la Joe Haldeman - it is still almost always depicted as an either-or dichotomy... a surrender of individuality, in order to gain the benefits of mass intelligence..
In EARTH I portray this coalescence and elevation as something quite different. As a reification, a fulfillment, a celebration of human individuality,
2) This makes sense when you ponder that the noosphere will have to partake in the most successful aspects of its immediate predecessor... the Western Enlightenment.
Indeed, the very success of the Enlightenment is what has brought us to the verge of this new birth. And a very dangerous birthing process it will be. (Look back at the last time this was tried - prematurely, precociously, disastrously - in the great experiment of Pericles.)
Crucial to remember is that none of these possibilities - this condition that is p[regnant with a new kind of humanity - arose out of the mothodologies used by standard,or traditional, hierarchical societies. Priests, preaching rigid rules of good thinking. Nobles punishing any deviations from right-behavior. We reflexively turn to these twin methods, and have for countless millennia. Heck, George Lucas is still preaching them, today! But they have a PERFECT track record of never, ever working.
In stark contrast, the Enlightenment trick - invented by Locke and Smith - is to use rule-based arenas of FAIR COMPETITION (science, markets, democracy) to elicit the plus-side benefits of joyful creativity out of people, while preventing the brutally repressive, secretive, cheating side of human nature from spoiling competition. Locke and Smith, innovating out of instinct and a sense of pragmatic "fairness", could not have known that they were emulating the very same fecund synergies that we see in evolution, in nature! But the effect is exact and fantastically productive.
In complexity theory, experts call this sort of thing an "emergent property." What is COMPETITIVE at one level becomes visibly and powerfully COOPERATIVE, when viewed at the next higher level. Take healthy ecosystems, for example. "The circle of life." Ecosystems - like markets - will tend to stay balanced until someone gets a huge edge, enough to "cheat." In which case, watch out....are you listening, humanity? (Well, we're the smart ones, trying to TELL OURSELVES to stop cheating. Quite a demand, for folks recently out of the caves.)
3) Since Enlightenment systems rely utterly on RECIPROCAL ACCOUNTABILITY... and thus (viz Hayek) upon open information flows...this means that the Enlightenment - and its offspring the Noosphere -- are fundamentally in conflict with basic drives of human nature. Above all, two human traits: self-delusion and a longing for feudalism. (We inherit the latter because we all are descended from the harems of countless kings.)
4) Hence my key point. The transformation that John and David describe is obvious to society's smartest men and women. Those with vision can see it coming. But their reactions differ greatly.
Some respond to the approaching birth with excitement, by funding research to help it along. Elon Musk, for example. Others look with dread on the pain and potential dangers of the birthing process -- take Bill Joy. In this matter, Arthur Clarke may have had it right.
Finally, there are many, many amid the elites who desperately do not want this new era to happen! They realize that the noosphere is an inevitable outcome of the Enlightenment Experiment, if current trends of citizen uplift and citizen-empowerment continue. And even if the newborn is healthy, they see themselves as losers, because their privileged positions will no longer be assured. Better to reign over a grinding, insipid pyramid than to tumble into mere citizenship in a fecund, spectacular "emergent property."
There is a lot of momentum toward this birth. Thus, the opposition's counter-push cannot merely be obstructionist. It must be actively and radically reactionary. The clock must not simply be frozen. It must be wound backwards. To earlier modes of hierarchical control.
5) The Ronfeldt &Arquilla paper shows awareness of this resistance, but a certain naivete about exactly what's happening. It is not nationalism, per se, that is blocking progress toward a massively synergistic reification of worldwide human discourse. Indeed, some nation states - if left alone - have been friendly midwives to the process. The best example - after state-supported universities - was when the United States of America simply LET GO OF THE INTERNET and gave it to the world. Proof of midwifery. Period. (Libertarianism is both right and horrifically simplistic.)
No, it is NOT nationalism, per se, that is driving the frantic resistance that we are currently witnessing vs. mass-human empowerment and reification. Rather, I see the Enlightenment nation state being hijacked at two levels:
(1) by those alienated against the future on emotional-romantic terms and
(2) by clades of very smart men who see their very last chance to re-institute traditional human social hierarchies, before it is too late.
Ponder, if this is the agenda, then elites in all parts of the world - purportedly divided by language, nationality, religion and official dogma - might see common cause against the thing that frightens them most. The birth of multi-layered, "metazoan" humanity. In that case, they might USE their apparent national and ideological differences to pit citizens against each other and raise fear levels. The surest way to prevent confident embrace of a new way of thinking.
Have I just made myself a target of this lurid-seeming cabal of super-smart but super troglodytic elites?
Fortunately, I have too little influence in this world to be considered a threat.
In fact, I keep waiting for them to offer me a buyout! But then, I may be too small even for that.
Wish me a good trip and keep using comments to keep the community alive.
Finally, I may be putting this journal; on hiatus for a few weeks. If you see nothing from me till early September, never fear. I will leave the comments section, below, as a general forum. There is even a chance that I might ask Stefan to post a "comment-relayed-from-Brin"... from time to time! (He has one of the choicest email addresses ever.)