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Fragility of modern civilization – personal observation 精选

已有 6636 次阅读 2009-3-30 00:47 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:生活其它


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It occurs to me the other day that our modern civilization is rather fragile in the following senses.

First, the world is very connected. Perturbations in one place propagate everywhere as the current financial situation of the world demonstrates.  Different ideology and system of government do not make a country immune. Because of this tight connectedness, the whole network may rise and fall on the weakest link. Furthermore, terrorist and others are quick to exploit such weak links.
Second, knowledge and education play increasingly important role in people’s standard of living. But education is very hard and requires long term effort to get results. While I don’t have statistics to back me up, I am willing to bet that probably half of the populations of the world are not educated to the level that makes them gainfully employed in meaningful work of the modern world. Let me give an example. I traveled in Egypt last year. It is a developing country. However, on its modern highways and many other public places, you need to pay a user fee at an automated toll gate for entrance. In the US, you just drop some coins, bills, or a credit card to gain entrance. The same is true in Egypt. However, in order to provide employment for the less educated, a person is hired to stand next to the toll gate all day whose sole function is to take your coins, bills or credit card and insert them into the machine for you. I commend the government for inventing such a job which is not that different from welfare. Put it another way, if you believe that the intelligence of human beings are “normal or Gaussian distributed” and there are strong statistical evidence to this effect, then at any time there are 16% of the population (depending on your assumptions on the variability of intelligence) whose IQ will be less than 80. These 16% of the population will have difficulty to survive and to find employment in a modern world without help. Of course, you can, like Hitler, say “let us exterminate this segment of the population and our problems will be over”. But I really don’t think this is possible nowadays regardless of ideology, system of government, or how closed is your society with respect to the rest of the world.
Third, for the less educated, however, there often exists a tempting alternative to find work and make a satisfactory living, i.e., engage in criminal activity or revolution. A prime example is the drug trafficking that exists on the Mexico-US border. You don’t need a high level of education but only the willingness to kill and engage in violence to smuggle drugs, guns, and to defy law enforcement. The payoff is very good. In other words, live by the laws of the jungle – eat or be eaten. Periodic changes of regime and dynasty throughout history also testify to the revolt alternative when people are desperate for survival.
 
Fourth, economists and sociologists have long recognized the so-called “tragedy of the common”. Human beings are quick to take advantage of what a society provides for free but are slow or reluctant to pay for it out of enlightened self interest. We accept “there is no free lunch” as an abstract principle but also practice the “not in my back yard “ the so-called “NIMBY” mentality. As a result, it is difficult to persuade the populace to take the long view. Rational public policy is often voted down in a democracy. But entrust your future to a benevolent dictator is also a chancy proposition. You know –power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
 
When you put these four things together, you began to realize how fragile is our current civilization. No wonder pessimists feel humankind have a bleak future.
 
On the other hand, optimists feel human beings can educate ourselves and rise above these difficulties as we have throughout history. The only difference this time is the first item I mentioned above. Have we entered into an age where technology are advancing so fast that we are unable to catch up and adapt, the so-called “future shock”(note 1) ? That is the question!
 
(note 1. Within one life time I have seen music being played back via vinyl records, which were replaced by cassette tapes which in turn were displaced by CD and then DVD and iTunes/MP3 on the Internet and who knows what is next. )



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