Philip Slater, whom I consider a brilliant thinker, points out the evolution of civilization, and leaves us with two basic choices: Community, or the mechanical psychopathology on which we seem bent. While I am a big fan of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Slater offers some interesting points worth examining, which may also explain ancient truths as well.
“…we need to recognize the degree to which objectivity is a symptom of our cultural disease, and consistency the mechanism of its metastasis.”
Ayn Rand offers reason as the standard by which freedom is attained, and many disagree. However, Rand stated the first axiom of objectivity: “I am” or ‘I exist”, and the ability to state one’s self existence is important as a beginning to any civilizational prescription.
However, in describing the stages of civilizational evolution, Slater writes:
“In the simple community, objectivity as we understand it scarcely exists. Almost all acts, decisions, and rewards are based on particular relationships and positions within the community. There is inequality, there is inequity, even a modest degree of exploitation….No one dies unnoticed or un-mourned”.
Slater goes on to explore relationships that move from bottrom to top and back down, with everyone having some contact, from town drunk to town banker or minister.
Slater goes to the next stage:
“When, with increasing size, this form breaks down and authoritarianism takes its place, we begin to encounter brutality and exploitation on a scale and a form familiar to us. Here for the first time rewards and decisions tend to be based on a kind of crude principle: the closer to the center of power, the more rewards.”
Slater then goes on to point a kind of crude “algebra” that allows people to predict the distribution of rewards while ignoring the relationships and “checks’ that existed in the community. This leads us to a “geometry” of relationships that can avoid the lack of objectivity in community life.
As you can see the increase of sociopaths and psychopaths can increase in such an environment because the rewards become subject to a kind of “pure geometry”, devoid of the necessary relations springing from community.
McLuhan offers an explanation of how consciousness is shaped by our process of communication that elevates linearity and principle above the random affairs that occur in communities, but I’ll hold off for now.
Slater then goes into the next stage:
“…with further increases in size and complexity, authoritarianism itself breaks down. The personal limitation of despots give rise to demands for objective, mechanical systems for distributing rewards. People begin to feel that personal relationships should play no part in arriving at political or economic relationships.”
At this point I would point to the cultural influence of Judaism and the bible in this regard. The beginning of Jewish history is as slaves. Being slaves, and being of a particular race, they sought ways of self identification or self reference apart from their social milieu. As you will see, this is the beginning of a reward system that became more predictable as people rose closer to the seat of power. The more perfectly the legal system could define the process of reward by distribution, the less randomness threatened the system. Two things were needed for the Jews to establish their freedom from surrounding systems:
1.An all powerful God to enforce their laws
2. A system of laws that defined the distribution of rewards according to strictly Jewish principles wherever they found themselves.
This was the second stage “infection” of community systems by that process that defined a reward system more directly and ignored the complex interplay of community relationships. However, it is also the process by which individuals begin separating themselves totally from the social milieu and claim connections to that “higher power” that brings rewards to all those most directly related to “Him”.
This means that there will be a demand for consistency on the part of all adherents. “God”, or “Jesus” or any religious power becomes the unity of all perfection and we seek to be like Him/It. But to achieve that, we tend to seek the set of abstract mechanized systems that are independent of human flawed thinking.
Community, in which every person has a part, is abandoned in favor of a system of abstract rules to which everyone is said to agree to constant striving for consistency wih those principles.
Slater points out:
“The demand for consistency treats the disease by seeking to extend it to the entire organism.”
With the advent of the computer, and those mechanical processes contained within a machine in a kind of self referential system, people such as Ray Kurzweil write of “uploading” your mind into a computer, since it is held that the mind is subject to laws of physics, and can therefore be uploaded as a kind of “miniature model” of the universe. This is the full realization of the last stage described by Slater, with all physical processes, including the human being, discarded in favor of nothing more than a set of instructions, rules, and algorithms.
It also parallels the evolution of religion, with the emphasis on a “soul” apart from our fleshy self, that is more important than the salvation of the fleshy body. But what is the soul? It is seen as the interconnection of all “spiritual” things, that is, those things that can all be reduced to concepts, rules, laws, and algorithms. Until now, the church was the “upload” that we had to seek. In the future, we can simply upload the mechanical rules of the “soul” into the mechanized model known as the computer, or Artificial Intelligence.
At this point we seem to be hovering philosophically between the concept of the “immortal soul”, which is nothing more than the mechanical conceptualization of a complex interplay of laws of physics, and community, the interplay of human relations at all levels. Church and state combined in the machine. With the rise of epigenetics, I see the rise of community taking a central place.