Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A World With More Of Less (more...)

The titles of the previous and the present blog are, of course, adapted from Captain Jack Sparrow's reply to Barbossa comment that the world was getting smaller (Pirates of The Caribbean 3).

The correct quote is:

Barbossa: The world used to be a bigger place.
Jack Sparrow: The world's still the same. There's just less in it.

Indeed. Less of more, as I have mentioned previously. It's a topic I've also touched upon in my novels and will continue to do so, if for no other reason but that I think it's important.

The cause of there being less of more is, of course, communication. This is directly relevant to what I said in my last blog about culture demise as a result of culture contact.

'Communication', usually hailed as a blessing that can solve all problems of the world, comes in two different versions, but when you look at it closely, you'll soon realize that they are just different aspects of the same thing.

  1. Information exchange—as that found in speech, books, images and, of course, the internet.
  2. Transportation—of people and goods from one place to another.

The most important parameters associated with these are—in terms of their significance for human societies:

  1. Availability and degree of ubiquity.
  2. Reach.
  3. Speed.
One might want to add 'cost', but in effect that is folded into 'availability and degree of ubiquity'. The internet for example really only took off majorly once it got cost-effective on a large scale.

The basic truth about the influence of communication on human society/culture, small- and large-scale, is this:

'Communication' reduces the total amount of available social and cultural diversity and degree of diversity.

As with everything in life this has its positive and negative aspects. Feel free to think about them for a while. But whatever you may think or decide cannot alter the basic facts, which are as stated. And everything we do, if we are to act 'rationally', should proceed from accepting this basic 'fact'; or else it's all nuncupatory and nonsense-mongering.

Let us for a moment go back to that ancient Chinese book, the I Ching, which is more than just a bunch of oracles; indeed it is a profound and sometimes bottomless-appearing wellspring of social wisdom. If you look at the many translations available—from Legge's to Wilhelm's Blofeld's and Huan's, to name but a few of the better known ones—you realize just what a problem 'translation' really is; which in itself, by the way, is an indicator of the cultural 'diversity' expressed in human natural language, spoken and written.

But that's not the point I'm trying to get to. One of the translation discrepancies brought to my attention by Huan's version is that 'oracle' #38, which is usually translated as 'opposition', may also be interpreted as meaning 'diversity'. Huang's comment is that diversity and opposition are, in more ways than one, parts of the same thing—for diversity will invariably create opposing points of view. Opposition leads directly to conflict—which, let's face it, is just opposition taken to whatever extremes it's being taken to. And—a topic much discussed these days, with the usual remedy suggested being more of the panacea called 'communication' leading to what one would hope is more 'understanding'—the less we talk, i.e. communicate, the more likely we are to maintain the state of opposition; and diversity, of course. For once we start communicating and understanding we must perforce decrease the degree of diversity between us and those we are communicating with. Ideological and religious fervents know this only too well; as, I'm almost certain, did, albeit possibly not at a conscious level, Gagudju Bill. And, yes, I doubt very much that most of the above-mentioned religioids or ideologues do either. How could they—and yet remain who they are and do what they do?

The point here—that opposition and diversity are faces of the same coin and that you can't have one without the other—reminds us yet again that everything has its price. For we need cultural diversity just as much for our social survival as we need biodiversity for the survival of the Earth's ecosystem. Yet we destroy both—mainly, if not exclusively, from ignorance, which forms a lethal synergy with greed and various other aspects of the human motivational systems. Said ignorance reaches into the highest levels of human thinkerdom, and thus one may wonder what could our chances possibly be to beat this.

Communication rules. A lot of people make a lot of money of it, and so it's going to grow. So, we're going to get more of less diversity.

I can hear someone argue that the internet encourages diversity and that I really haven't got a clue about what I'm talking about. But said hypothetical 'someone' is not thinking phenomenologically. The internet merely encourages and promotes the expression and communication of what previously had not been expressed and/or communicated; and certainly not on the scale the internet provides. The net result of that is not an increase in diversity, but merely in signal-to-noise ratio. And it is here that I think Gagudju Bill implicitly knew something we tend to overlook: that we are creatures which have evolved to learn that which we need to know to survive. And maybe some more, but not a huge amount. The total knowledge in Bill's head was probably as extensive as that of any highly-educated civilized 'man'. Bill just knew different things—but just as much. He knew what he needed to know for his niche in existence. If he hadn't, he would not have survived—or those who depended on him and his knowledge.

The fact that something is being expressed and that we find out about weird—or, let's face it, utterly boring and/or unbelievably irrelevant (dare I say 'The News'?)—things we didn't know about before says nothing whatsoever about 'diversity' per se. And what it obscures is that, with the improvements in communications we're flattening, if you will, the degrees of diversity everywhere those communications reach—and the ultimate 'flattening' happens when we're dealing with the effective extinction of certain elements of 'diversity' that once existed.

Drowning in an near-bottomless ocean of information is probably the most common cause of brain-death extant today—next to that caused by other organismic failures. Thing is, this wouldn't happen if only we'd learned to swim in this ocean. And, yes, that's a learnable skill. But I've seen intelligent, perceptive men become near-dysfunctional; frozen in ricti of indecision just because they thought they didn't have 'enough information' and must therefore suspend their own decision-making processes. To paraphrase Aristotle: The man of education has learned how to judge when he knows sufficient to make decisions.

'More information' isn't necessarily 'more useful information'. Indeed, it very probably isn't, and so we end up with 'more of less' again.

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