Sunday, August 15, 2010

Those not busy being born ...

... are busy dying, as B. Zimmerman said.

I wanted to expand on a quick remark in a previous post, where I said "... without growth, this is not a civilization that will simply stagnate (much less settle into some bucolic steady-state) -- it will tear itself apart in a zero-sum war of all against all." Why is that?

Primarily because people have aspirations, material aspirations -- for themselves, obviously, but perhaps even more strongly for their children. As long as the economic game in which they're engaged is positive sum -- i.e. as long as the economy, over the long haul, grows, the pie expands -- there is at least the potential for those aspirations to be realized for everyone, and this is widely understood. But once long-term growth comes to a halt, the only way any one player can realize his/her aspirations is to deprive another of theirs -- the zero-sum Hobbesian hell mentioned above.

It's true that historically some civilizations have existed in a more or less steady-state for relatively long periods (e.g., Egypt, China), but of course this culture is not like those. What makes this culture distinct is precisely the inverse of what allowed those and other pre-modern cultures to persist so long with so little structural change: the absence of a systemic, politically enforced hierarchy. Steady-state cultures, in other words, must rely on some notion of "place" and must make an ideology out of keeping to one's "place" in this world, putting off hope of satisfying one's aspirations to the next (see also The Theme). Little wonder that modern thoughts of a steady-state society are always so associated with the political left and its project of a state-enforced egalitarianism, since, in the absence of that obsolete ideology of "place", they have to hope that they can at least minimize evidence that anyone could ever do better.

Unfortunately -- not just for them but for all of us, if we can't find a way to sustain growth -- even such a leftist totalitarianism will not obliterate human aspiration.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You can use some HTML tags, such as <b>, <i>, <a>