Friday, December 24, 2004

Transhumanist Ethics/Part 2 - Specialization

Historically, societies have become more successful when citizens were able to specialize in specific domains like farming, insurance, art, technology and transportation. Our brains can only handle so much complexity, but if we divide problems up into smaller fields of expertise, we can continue to develop new social and technological innovations. In turn, these innovations lead to prosperity because they make us more productive with less effort.

Let's consider the example of a man who is an expert in valve-timing in four-stroke engines. His expertise will improve fuel efficiency and air quality, improving life for us all. However, there's an unfortunate side-effect of specialization: narrow perspective. Our expert may have no detailed knowledge about how fuel he needs for his engine gets to the gas station. Without that knowledge, our expert may not see how alternative fuels will benefit our health, our environment, our economy or our quality of life. In our expert's little world, well-tuned four-stroke engines are of paramount concern because they allow our cars to take us many places before we return to the gas station to refuel. Experts tend to become provincial, unable to see the big picture.

Of course, some people try to become experts on the big picture. Economists are the experts who try to figure out the relation between the price we pay to pump oil out of the ground and the price of orange juice. Again, the problem is that when an economist figures this out (or thinks he has), his findings will be published in a journal that only expert economists will read.

Will we further specialize our social roles, and if so, will we improve or degrade social stability?

My impression is that, as long as science and technology improve, there's an ever increasing benefit from specialization. The problem is that we are creating a system that is organic, incoherent, and unstable in the long term.

This is a serious problem. The world looks like its out of control because we can't comprehend the increasingly intricate connections between events.

Capitalism is one of the few control mechanisms that can communicate who needs what resource and how badly it is needed. Unfortunately, capitalism is flawed. Capitalism is naturally blind to human needs because it focuses on corporate needs. The natural stability points for capitalist systems aren't human friendly. For example, in any given market, a monopoly is the most stable solution, even though the lack of competition harms everyone except the monopoly's management. For capitalism to be effective, there must be government regulation to limit business practices that damage the social fabric.

Though I don't believe it has happened yet, it may one day become too difficult for government to regulate our complex economic systems effectively. We have already reached the point where the electorate is too poorly informed to function democratically. A specialized social democracy requires trusted, expert sources of factual information from which electoral decisions can be made. Yet today, the prevailing idea in the United States is that the average Joe can make reasonable political decisions from the gut without consulting expert sources (let alone multiple competing ones). This strikes me as absurd anti-intellectualism. It's also another imperative for developing enhanced mental capacities. Without greater cognitive ability, we will lose sight of the big picture and run this train right off the tracks.

Ethical Principle #5:
Don't rely on your intuition, local knowledge or preconceived ideas to understand the world. Establish multiple competing organizations that can provide you with the big picture through data gathering and analysis. Verify your trust in these organizations with your own research.

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