Kotkin ends Section V of his book by asking the “great question”, quoting the title of a 1990 book: What Are People For? Two recent articles tackle the topic. The first is from Steven Pinker, in his part of the latest book from www.edge.org – Possible Minds 25 Ways of Looking at A.I. (2019).
The touchstone of the Pinker piece is Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings (1950). His point is that ideas (and people) matter! Popular books and movies evidence humanity’s fear of computer technology and artificial intelligence. Pinker writes that we should NOT be afraid of technology because of the causal power of ideas – our beliefs, values, norms, laws and customs. Technology does not determine social structure and cultural values – we do!
Deterministic views of human history are wrong because they ignore the causal power of ideas. In a healthy society, ideas flow free. A dysfunctional society (like ours right now) uses dogma and authority to coercively control people and ideas from the top down. Runaway artificial intelligence is not a threat. The real threat today is “oppressive political correctness, which has choked the range of publicly expressible hypotheses, terrified many intelligent people against entering the intellectual arena, and triggered a reactionary backlash”.
Ideas matter – but whose ideas prevail, which ideas are better? In order to see them clearly we have to acknowledge cognitive bias. The second article of interest is from an Australian lawyer who has some important observations on bias:
George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism (1945) explored the limits of reason, cognitive bias and the critical importance of “moral effort”. Modern discourse has become so infected with ideology that it is impossible to approach rationally. One must have preferences and recognize that some ideas are objectively better than others. In the battle against the bad, immoral ideas of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, socialism (collectivism in all its forms) it’s important to remember that our ideational enemies are so threatened by reason that defeating us takes precedence over truth, consistency and common sense. They must contend with “inadmissible facts”, which are true and generally accepted but cannot be admitted by the adherents of certain ideologies; or, if admitted, are explained away or dismissed as unimportant.
That’s why the idea of Marxism is so dangerous. Its proponents cannot and will not listen to reason. Here’s a scary article:
Finally, this short piece humorously points out the logical inconsistencies and the Left’s obsession with power over all else:
OK, tangent done – back to Kotkin’s book and on to section VI Tuesday.