Today, a person living in the same spot in China works 6.5 days per week doing the same task all day in an electronics factory, lives in a dorm with other workers and away from family, has no privacy, suffers from massive industrial pollution and noise.
Humans are adapted for the hunter gatherer life and this is likely the environment wherein human flourishing can be expected.
Each revolution (agricultural, industrial, information) has chipped away at that life more and more until it does not exist.
When Jared Diamond said in the 1990s that the agricultural revolution was the worst thing to happen to humans, there was outrage and he was forced to apologize. Now, that thinking is becoming accepted.
> Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
Also if you believed the Chinese were hunter-gatherers 1000 years ago then you might want to read up on Song dynasty (960–1279AD) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_dynasty
- Industrial Society and its future, by Dr. Theodore John Kaczynski
Also fall of civilizations podcast is awesome!
Here’s a timeline of dynasties.
There was plenty of pollution in the middle ages. People were burning wood to heat up their non-isolated homes. Not to mention that, at least in Europe, 1000 years ago homes were heated up in central open fire (chimneys were not invented yet) and so basically the whole house was a chimney. People sometimes literally couldn't see the other end of the room they were in, due to smoke. Welcome to primitive technologies...
Not many people can be supported that way. He has 35 miles of traplines.
In what other era could I instantaneously, from the comfort of my home, despite a raging pandemic, inform you of your ignorance?
Technology is as essential to utopia as milk is to milkshake. Your cynicism has destroyed your sense of LIFE!
The internet is educating you! Wake up! You live in the future!
I wouldn't consider the modern system of wage-slavery to be a life of leisure, convenience, and certainly not enjoyable for the thrill of a fast paced modern-life. As the above commenter observed, the lifestyle of the modern worker is anything but leisurely and thrilling, rather, more reminiscent of the life of a caged bird. While this may not be true for the privileged, for millions of factory workers this is an everyday reality.
> Technology is as essential to utopia as milk is to milkshake. Your cynicism has destroyed your sense of LIFE!
My take on this is more similar to what the author of culture.io's manifesto wrote:
"To blindly reject technology is to reject an aspect of our humanity. To blindly embrace technology is similarly misguided. We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being."
Technology aids the development of the utopia, but to simply accept all forms of technological development as beneficial for humanity is short-sighted. Indeed, in the words of the author, "The point is simply that we should always treat individuals as ends, never as means." If the utopia is not individual-centric, then it is no utopia at all. Therefore, if technological innovation comes at the cost of the livelihood and well-being of individuals, then we must reject it.
This, I think, was what the above commenter was communicating and what I agree with.
Being a farmer in the middle ages wasn't no picnic either. That's just the nature of work, I'm afraid, to the degree that it was even put into the story of Adam and Eve's banishment ("In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread").
Some people enjoy getting kicked in the balls for the sexual thrill. Is that supposed to mean that we should all be getting kicked in the balls?
Funny because that was one of Rousseaus core ideas from the 1700s.
Humans have been conquered, for lack of a better word.
I think its an outrageous statement because having an abundant supply of food is unquestionably good. It's allows us to not worry about food supply and focus on other problems in our society.
We can have full-time scientists, doctors, police etc.
I think its outrageous to say everybody should be gathering food all day because they can't find anything more useful to do.
There is so much around us that needs doing!
It's not unquestionably good. It allows a small number of people to have really great lives but blows up the population of people with terrible lives. Most people in all of human history had short and miserable lives where they slaved away all day to make bread and die from war or disease. They would have been better off as hunter gatherers. Is that worth it? I don't really know
But that's not the world we live in, and that's not what we are.
The implicit goal of life, as resulting from the nature of its embodiment as a self-replicating catalytic system, is the replication of genes, organisms, ideas, societies, and possibly eventually biospheres. Life makes life to make life.
The runaway industrial/technological system has been driven by the implicit drive of various living systems to replicate. There are more humans today than ever before, and more ideas in human brains than ever before. The fact that this has been achieved at the expense of other living things is an artifact of the limited size of our biosphere, but run this system long enough and it's possible that it will lead to the full-scale replication of entire biospheres:
Over a long enough time span, life as a whole may come out ahead.
When life gets to other biospheres what will it do? Replicate, diversify, evolve, and replicate more. Remember "grey goo" from 90s nanotechnology speculation? It already exists. It's you. Life is grey goo, and if nothing stops it it will eventually convert as much matter and energy in the universe into life as physically possible before heat death.
Pleasure is an effect, not a cause. The things that please you do so because they've been wired that way to get you to survive and reproduce. Since humans are complex and social, our pleasures and motives are similarly complex. We experience pleasure from eating protein, fat, and sugar because it nourishes us. Socializing is pleasurable because we are semi-colonial organisms that depend on socializing for survival. Sex feels good because it leads to reproduction and in humans (and many other complex creatures) cements critical social bonds.
Change some neurological wiring and you'd derive immense pleasure from sitting in front of a screen solving problems for 40 hours a week. There are a few non-neurotypical people who do.
I am not necessarily arguing that this is all there is to existence or consciousness. We don't really know what consciousness is, and it may be a broader phenomenon somehow than biological life. But as far as biological embodied life is concerned, this is how it works.
I'm also not arguing that no improvement to our condition is possible. Being intelligent and self-aware we have some ability to drive this thing. Yet nature to be commanded must be obeyed. Anything we do to improve things probably has to work with the overall thermodynamic direction of life, not against it. This is probably why all utopian ideologies that revolve around constraint and reaction eventually fail or are washed away by a tide of less conservative social phenomena.
For example, I'm sitting in my warm house sipping coffee typing this, lit with electric light, with the stereo playing softly in the background. I'm trying not to go eat that box of donuts in the kitchen. Maybe I'll watch a movie later.
I'm not shivering in a cave drinking water, sitting in the dark, and wondering if I'll get lucky and catch a squirrel to eat tomorrow. That is, if I can walk on my broken ankle.
It is true that we are supremely comfortable. It is true that we have an abundance of information. It is true that more people have more access to more wealth than ever if by "wealth" you mean how many things that were luxuries in previous generations have become commodities we can consume now, even if it's on credit and rent instead of ownership and entitlements.
But not everyone would value such things, nor the incentives and affordances new technologies provide. There are many poor aspects of our civilization such as greater neuroticism and strong pressures against our physical health flooding our environment since birth. Are these better problems to have than subsistence hunting? Maybe, but regardless they're still widespread and glaring and demonstrate that our utopia is based on tradeoffs.
Things that make human beings truly happy, like opportunities for compassionate service, large tight-knit families, natural environments to be physically active in, living space sufficient for privacy if necessary, moments of quiet for centering and concentration, easy access to healthy foods of moderate caloric density without having to fight temptation, consistently good sleep - all of these have become more difficult to attain relative to the attitudes and commitments required to maintain our current manner of civilization.
It is also an absurdum to use cavemen as a point of comparison. It would make the Dark Ages as much of a golden age as the Renaissance.
Comfort is something which should accompany a well lived life, at the end of the day, when it's time to rest. Comfort as the de facto circumstance of your life makes people unable to act in the interest of their own wellbeing - they are sabotaged by it.
As an allegory: There are millions of people who are addicted to various drugs, which they desperately wish they could stop using because their lives are being wasted/destroyed. It's the same thing with comfort, there's a level of addiction to it which is extremely difficult to overcome.
Obviously, comfort (addiction) alone isn't the problem, but when you add to it the constant abuses of our society, people fall apart and can't get off the couch. When people are isolated, denigrated, and treated like cattle they get weak. Give a traumatized person a comfy prison cell and they'll never leave it.
Talk of Utopia is dangerous though, whenever people start talking like this some atrocity seems to be just around the corner.
For one, you don't seem to have any concept of our evolutionary biology. Humans have evolved to be goal-oriented, and we receive happiness for participating in activities that are beneficial to our long-term survival.
Second, you don't seem to understand the predatory nature of our economic system and social media. Modern "comforts" (consumerism) and tech are hijacking those endorphin pathways to make us "happy" while we rot. At the back of our minds we know this, and we try to stop it, but few are meaningfully able to and most spiral into depression and anxiety.
That sounds like something good to you? Naive visions of heaven where you spend eternity doing nothing are actually closer to hell than anything else - even a sloth would go insane after a few months. I can understand our ancestors trying to come up with an end-game that they knew would be unattainable, but you think they actually properly thought it through?
I don't think you've properly thought it through. Navel-gazing is a game for prisoners, not people living their lives.
2) I understand very well how misguided many people are about "our economic system", because I lived in ~3 different ones. Our economic system is amazing. Consumerism is great (I say it as a frugal person). The social media is not conceptually different from television, just "better" at the good as well as the bad aspects of the latter.
3) The "naive" vision that is "closer to hell" for you was apparently used to entice masses of people for millennia as the vision of heaven. Nobody seemed to be asking much about striving in heaven until the enlightenment philosophers, comfortable middle-class guys. Why do you think that is?
I actually thought this thru very well. It is natural and fine to want some meaning and goals, but the only reason you pine for "striving" is because you already have comfort.
I've heard people close to me say things like, "I don't regret not having hobbies or social life [during that entire decade of my youth]; in fact, I don't recall thinking about that, or the meaning of life, or the future, I was too busy and tired putting food on the table.". Tell someone like about the value of striving. And that is most people, throughout most of the history. I'll take being locked in the TV room over being a "striving" peasant any day.
There's never been more opportunity for starting a business and rapidly moving up. Just look at the never-ending stream of new billion dollar companies.
> It is also an absurdum to use cavemen as a point of comparison
Not at all. It's technology that got us out of caves.
Besides, we live a life unimaginable even 100 years ago. I mean that literally, having read scifi of the time.
You are right to point out that there are people who are going to be miserable despite modern advantages; this was in fact my point. The things that actually make people happy have to do with good health, social integration, exposure to nature, love and compassion, and having a sense of mastery over one's life outcomes.
The issue is that our civilization, through the technologies it's chosen to accentuate, makes it harder than it has to be achieve all of the things that actually give happiness. And using more technology to solve problems caused by technology, rather than moderating the enthusiasm of adding and layering technology because technology is just good, exacerbates these issues further. It's a problem because it's unacknowledged irony.
For instance, industrial agriculture keeps more people calorically satiated, but has lead to an epidemic of diabetes; hyperspecialization required to maintain complex technologies, means people have smaller families later, and move far apart from one another. Nature is a victim of technology, since industrialization and urbanization require a lot of space, and produce waste which disrupts ecosystems and eventually our own bodies.
(Mastery is more difficult and subjective, but it's affected partially by feeling like you own the outcomes of your own labour, and addictions to comfort end up displacing the pursuit of mastery, and there are ways in which e.g. market volatility and income inequality (things modernity has exacerbated) can put people in a position where they don't have control of their life at all.)
Some technological solutions to these technological problems work. Before COVID we could fly to meet our families, negating geographical distance. Some just add complexity for no good reason. Fitness apps and calorie counting are there to make up for the difficulties produced by mass industrial agriculture that is not in anyone's control, because addictions are profitable.
Sadly, there are millions of people who live in conditions not to dissimilar from this. Technology might not always help.
It gives us chance to take care of our kids. As opposed to having 6-10 kids per couple hoping that two will survive.
We all need education, stable political climate etc.
I think this highlights another angle to "progress." It may be getting better in aggregate over time but there will never be a utopia.
People 200 years from now might describe our best conditions as a struggle.
Even with the problems it introduces we have a utopian society compared to so many throughout recorded history.
Tech "empowers" people, but its what we choose to do with that power that makes our lives better (or worse)
The reason people invent technology is because it makes our lives better.
I didn't actually read the link, I'm only responding to the original title which was "There is nothing inherently utopian about technological progress", and while I agree that technical progress is a vital part of achieving utopia, I don't agree that new technology will lead us to utopia without other forces "steering the ship" towards that utopia
After all, people invented knives not to display them on the mantel, but because it would make their lives better.
Uh...the agricultural revolution did happen in the Stone Age.
Read it again.
BTW, stone age cultures had agriculture. Stone age means no metals, not no agriculture.
Technology != Civilization.
Watcha gonna slice off that buffalo steak with? You don't have knives.
Watcha gonna cook that steak with? You don't have fire.
Watcha gonna carry that water into your cave with? You don't have pottery.
You don't have technology.
Don't think those things are simple, either. Go out into the local woods and try building yourself a fire without matches. Try making an arrowhead. Try making yourself a stone knife. Try making a clay pot.
Technology is "empowering" there is no doubt. But you can choose to build civilization with that power, or you can tear it down.
I should add that I didn't read the link, I'm only responding to the original title which was "There is nothing inherently utopian about technological progress", and while I agree that technical progress is a vital part of achieving utopia, I don't agree that new technology will lead us to utopia without other forces "steering the ship" towards that utopia
You *would not* want to be a chimp.
Because all of this happened before, and it will happen again.
And obviously they could preserve it somehow because they didn’t die.
Remember: no technology means no fire, no spears, no arrow, no knives, no pottery, no weaving, no making glue, etc. If you believe those aren't technology, just try doing it yourself with nothing but your hands and nature.
You can even watch some youtube videos on making fire from scratch. Then try it yourself. You'll fail. Even the one guy on "Alone" who didn't take along flint&steel used advanced technology to make a bow drill (using modern cord and a knife). He was an experienced outdoorsman and still had a lot of trouble with it.
If you, I, or anyone else on HN were dropped naked into the wilderness, we'd be dead within a week. Likely within a day from exposure.
Some tech can be directionally utopian and some not. Various technologies lead us in various paths along the gradient of utility. Some tech is actively dystopian, when put in the context of social psychology. Tech is inherently meaningless - its usage in the real world by real societies defines its effect.
Tech's overall effect on utopia is based on our collective ability to predict and responsibly use it. That ability may not scale.
To blindly reject technology is to reject an aspect of our humanity. To blindly embrace technology is similarly misguided. We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being.
As another commenter pointed out, nowhere does the author make the claim that technology isn't utopian. Rather, the author asks us to critically evaluate whether a technology is beneficial:
"We should approach technology in the same way we approach any other human system: by evaluating how it supports or undermines individual well-being."
Moreover, the author supports the point you are trying to make in your anecdote. The author makes it very clear that certain technologies, like medicine and hospitals, are examples of technologies which are inherently utopian:
"There are profoundly anti-human technologies (nuclear weapons) and pro-human technologies (vaccines)."
"Our struggle with death, especially untimely death, is a utopian struggle. Hospitals are perhaps the most utopian institutions we’ve built."
The author's central claim is that a utopia must be humanist. In the words of the author, "The point is simply that we should always treat individuals as ends, never as means." In the context of technology, if utopia must be a humanist one, the author argues that if technological innovation trades off the humanity of individuals for growth, it must be rejected.
We’ve had inequality throughout history it’s not unique to 2021.
I'm not "trying hard to be woke" and I'm not missing the point. I've been through this whole techno-utopia, all the way to the end, and without fail technology has its blind adherents whose overconfident pronouncements mean the rest of us have to eat the dust of this never-ending rollercoaster ride. I've been around long enough to tell you exactly what is in store for you. Future shock. Long years of struggling as every skill you have is rendered utterly obsolete by change; every fond memory of places and people you knew is chewed up and spit out by change, and the world, the physical world--how it works, how you go about life, will keep changing and changing and changing, and you'll end up old, surrounded by kids who literally have no memory of the past, who cannot understand your pining for a walk in the forests obliterated to put in a subdivision, for empty fields overrun by this--this technology. And yeah, it's technology. It's all technology. It's a machine eating all of us up.
Technology is not just some nicer drugs and cancer treatments. Technology is our entire society revolutionizing itself because we have made change itself our only value. Technology is a helpless 80 year old person who can't do damn thing because their dead-simple phone has been replaced with some new-fangled machine that they simply cannot comprehend, and shouldn't have to.
And yeah, that's great technology has improved so many billions of lives. But the number of people on this Earth has doubled in my lifetime. It's crowded. And I don't know most of these people. But their waste products are all over this planet, not just in the air. You'll find out. Have fun until those kids grow up and revolutionize the world you like to be some dumb
Inequality is essential to the idea of social progress so if it's exacerbated in degree, it challenges the idea that we have progressed whatsoever.
In the case of the 20th century there was a brief period where we developed a large middle class, and then post-1971 ended losing much of our gains in equity-per-capita along with stagnant wages. https://wtfhappenedin1971.com/
Many luxuries have become cheaper, which raises the overall standard of living for those people integrated into the global economy (a large number to be sure, still dwarfed by the number of people that need to be lifted out of poverty).
But as seen on that first chart in the link above, the ability to capture the wealth of the economy on a whole has diminished for the individual (without resorting to measures that exacerbate inequality further, like inheritances or usury). In the long-run this reverses many of the gains made in having a middle class.
If humans produce more than they consume over their life, then reducing the birthrate would increase poverty. Your suggestion implies that additional humans are worth less than nothing, but that doesn't seem to be true, at least not in the many countries that have both growing populations and economies. Is there some country that's getting both bigger and poorer because its people can't support themselves?
This is pretty reductive if not ignorant.
However, I'm sitting at a desk, two windows into all human knowledge in front of me.
You can buy computing hardware at tens of dollars per petaflop per second.
Aging is starting to be considered a preventable disease.
Humanity is on a path–a tumultuous one, albeit–towards utopia.
In fact, aging is the worst moral disaster in the entirety of human existence. It would be immoral not to stop it given the opportunity.
Why? Every single one of your ancestors got old and died. It is simply natural. Nature has a way of recycling and death is part of that as much as birth is. It would be a disaster of civilization if we start messing with immortality.
I have to admit that I'm not fond of aging and gently pushing the boundaries of what we can do about it doesn't bother me in the least. Even curbing the process of aging but still have a hard limited lifespan would work. But immortality is the most narcissistic idea one can have.
Being alive is glorious.
If my body has failed to the point where I can no longer do the things I enjoy, and there was no hope of improvement, I'd probably rather check out.
In the meantime, I intend to work until they carry me out in a box. I have no interest in puttering about in the garden :-/ and playing bingo. Ugh.
Many people depend on modern medicine to be alive. Maybe even you or someone you love. Who should get decide when they've gotten enough? Do you want to tell a 100 year old that you're sorry but their time is up because not wanting to die is apparently narcissistic?
god help you if youre poor
happy to disagree fucking completely with you now and forever
pinkers work on that is and has been a joke completely lacking nuance and is an exhausting and boring mess to litigate with privileged tech employees on the internet
not everything is about getting seasonal fruits year round. there is a lot more to life.
and you have not lived in the shoes of the poor in america, so maybe when it concerns issues of poverty you should listen more than talk.
I didn't say or imply that. Please stick with what I wrote.
> maybe when it concerns issues of poverty
Maybe you'd prefer statistics. Modern poor people today are much taller than medieval kings (I've seen Henry 8's armor). Height is a strong indicator of having been well fed with good nutrition throughout childhood.
American poor children grow tall and strong. They don't work. They get 12 years of free education. They have good clothes (not rags). There are plenty of government programs to give them free medical care, housing, indoor plumbing, and electricity. They can visit a free library with vast resources available for the asking. They likely have a phone in their pocket with instant access to anyone in the world and a pretty large chunk of all the world's information. They don't suffer from smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, polio, typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhus, rickets, scurvy or cholera.
They live longer than medieval kings did, too.
or just keep talking. wealthy boomer has opinions. world keeps spinning.
the point has entirely evaded you and i don't expect that to change. may your void screaming bring you joy in your retirement.
have a good weekend, bud. i'm glad you never had to experience real modern poverty.
you clearly have no fucking idea what it's like to live it, and that's great. read some more pinker.
Still, the other guy is absolutely right. The penny-pinching food we ate was luxurious compared to the vast majority of people throughout most of history.
Moreover, most American poor live the life of royalty. The only unique real problem (a subset of) the American poor has is housing insecurity; if you don't have that (or frankly if you have that in an expensive city and don't move out), the rest of the complaints I hear are, from my "lived experience", a joke.
I would hope that you, having access to both a brain and the internet, would realize that viruses are respirated in water droplets large enough to be blocked by filters and–to a lesser extent–cloth.
Refreshing to read these days when culture wars are mostly waged by collectivists.
> Utopia is not a destination we should ever expect to reach—it is a point on a compass.
Compared to what came a couple of generations before, all those "bad" things are either imaginary or not very serious. It's ridiculous that people are wringing their hands over them. Of course we're going to find something to worry about if there are no actual problems. That sounds like a pretty good state to be in compared to having a world war (killed 10s of millions) or HIV (killed 10s of millions) or the Spanish Flu (killed 10s of millions), or actual communist dictatorships (killed 10's of millions).
I'd say technology enabled all that good and we're living in a technological utopia which is still getting better and better. There's just some strange social effect causing people to blind themselves to the greatest achievement in the history of the Earth.
Be careful of articles that identify something as the biggest category. It's usually a trick to mislead people. Which category is biggest depends on how you choose your categories. If a person is malnourished, and that causes them to suffer worse from the flu so they die, was their death due to malnourishment or disease or a virus or the flu or the 2020 flu? Or what if there were two types of malnourishment classified separately (say lack of protein and lack of vitamins)? Suddenly neither of them would likely be number 1 because they'd both be smaller categories. The article doesn't explain any of that so it's safe to assume that it's misinformation even if technically correct in some way.
As for being tricked by poverty, malnutrition, etc. statistics, check out these from the UN group FAO. One in nine people go to be hungry every night. That doesn't just make me think 'this isn't perfect' that makes me sick to my stomach. Can you imagine one in nine people in your group of friends and family going to bed without enough to eat? I don't find that acceptable, and while I surely owe my life to modern medical science, I find it truly galling to compare our current state of affairs to a utopia.
Or we could extrapolate from this UN report about child mortality:  'At least one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen because of preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections.' That boggles my mind. Assuming that trend was accurate for an entire year, more than 50 thousand children would have died of preventable causes, just in Yemen, just in 2016. That is not utopian.
I don't understand how you can be surprised by any of those statistics you quoted. Go back 10 years, 20 years, any number of years and it was worse. Malnourishment is in decline. Have you never looked up any poverty stats before? My mother was happy to get an Orange for Christmas, and this was in a developed country. That would never happen today.
Consider what it would mean if hardly anyone died from preventable causes. What would the causes of death be instead? Heart disease? Preventable already using artificial machines if you really really didn't want to die from heart disease. What if a new super-expensive treatment was discovered. Suddenly, overnight, most of the world would be plunged into tragedy for dying from a now-preventable disease. Maybe you utopia requires no lifesaving medical advances because they will all, at least initially, be possible but restricted to only a few people.
Perhaps more people dying from preventable causes is actually a good sign because it means more causes of death are now preventable!
America's biggest health problems come from overeating.
Here's the problem according to me