New rules for a new game... but rules are not first designed and then applied: they stem from the reality of the game itself. Necessity imposes the rules to which we must adapt and, to begin with, the fact that rules and rulers are needed. It is within the general framework imposed by necessity that we bear and grunt and fix up, to cope with particular circumstances, the specific sets of rules which we like best and, to begin with, those that allow us more freedom: people do not really like to take orders.
"Rules of the game" are the expression of an effective majority of the group's agreement on some goals and means, a complex system of "checks and balances" that enshrines the rights and duties of all and clarifies who is who in the pecking order. Goals must reflect what at least an effective majority of the people consider their priorities. If these goals are to be attained, a distinct effective majority - that may consist at times of very different people! - must also agree on the means and on the methods of reinforcement that will be used, these being more or less stringent depending on how broad the base for power and how general the agreement on the goals.
Circumstances, with time, will change. New threats will appear, old needs will be satisfied, priorities will be modified and majorities will disintegrate to make room for others. As situations evolve, the rules must be revised so they will obey necessity and reflect the balance of power as it is. If they do not, Man the Rebellious Animal is sure to take advantage of the situation to challenge the faltering structure of power and topple it.
Political events play a part in this evolution but, most of all, it is technology that changes circumstances. Each new tool placed in our hand irresistibly imposes a new way of doing things, a "technological imperative" that modifies the relative importance we grant to each of our daily tasks and changes our corresponding expectations. Therefore, significant technological breakthroughs tend to focus collective attention on some new priorities and to give the impression that the whole structure of power in place is obsolete.
It may appear to be obsolete because it does not address the right problems, nor wave the proper flags anymore, but the truth is that the power structure has become obsolete, to the ingrate people, precisely because the problem that it was this particular type of top-dogs' mission to solve has been solved effectively. Ingratitude notwithstanding, each new tool brings a small change in the existing pecking order and major new technological imperatives may call for complete new social contracts to be designed and applied.
When this happens, effective majorities crack, chains of command lose their credibility, the old reinforcement techniques prove ineffective and the profiles of top-dogs in place do not fit anymore. A new effective majority's image begins to shape of the leadership imposed by the new priorities. The social structure appears inadequate and, one day, a final technological "straw" breaks the balance of power and this particular camel's back. We may safely guess that fire, metals, horses, the wheel... all brought turmoil and shook existing social structures.
Peanuts, however, were all these changes compared to the impact of machines! Since getting material commodities had always been the greatest pack-hunt of them all and the prime reason for leadership, so much so that even warfare, to a point, had been accessory to it, nothing could ever have been so disruptive for social order as the advent of machines that put affluence within reach.
When affluence arrived, it was inevitable that greater efforts than ever would be necessary if Pandemonium were not to break loose. It is to smooth this impact of machines and avoid turmoil that we have fought, four-decades long, to "keep manpower at work and wealth productive". It has been done, until now, with remarkable success, but the time has come to gaze once again into the crystal ball.
What are the new "circumstances", the new priorities? How will they reflect on the profile of top-dogs and on the behavior of underdogs? On the criteria for membership in the effective majority, on the chain of command, the common reinforcement techniques and our institutions? What does the situation impose now? What kind of social contract will we get?
When the winds of change are felt and the structure begins to topple, Utopias are designed by the scores... and usually miss the point. The greatest flaw, in all Utopias, is not ignorance of the facts, nor logical inconsistencies, but wishful thinking about human nature. Civilization is the end result of ages of efforts to move away from whips and clubs and towards subtler means of enforcing the will of the strong upon the weak. It is naive to believe that the rules of any hand played at the "Society" game will overrule this basic impulse of the strong to prevail: this is a rule of the "Life" game itself.
Social progress, therefore, is something good that happens quite inadvertently, while top-dogs look for better means to transform their victims into consenting, and therefore less troublesome suckers. With positive reinforcement, the ruling process is internalized; it becomes all smiles and constant supervision becomes unnecessary. It is not intrinsically nicer though, to keep people continuously dissatisfied and running after reward... than doing the best you can for them all of the time and punching them occasionally when they misbehave; it simply makes the process more efficient.
Although, history has proven that ethics and morality are weak assumptions - because they tend to shatter when confronted with selfishness - and that all crimes and abominations will be committed when men see no other way to achieve their purpose, Utopians still seem to feel better inside when they take ethics as the cause rather than as one of the consequences of circumstances; as a result, they usually end up with pious wishes rather than an accurate vision of things to come.
Let's try to do it another way... We will assume that Human Nature's first reaction, in all circumstances, is to pull the rug.. and that fairness will seldom occur, in social affairs, unless it happens to be in the path of converging - and powerful enough - self-interests. This approach will make soothsaying more comfortable, both for armchair and "practising" Utopians the latter, try as they may, having sometimes to bear the responsibility of their decisions.
For armchair Utopians, it will be safer to rely on the intrinsic logic of circumstances and to guess that everything egoistic will be tried, before altruism is imposed by necessity and people realize, with mixed feelings, that they are condemned by some imperative to the right approach which happens to be fair, good and even beautiful.
For practising Utopians, it will be less heartbreaking and more efficient to identify and encourage the trends that will make virtue convenient and, if possible, inescapable, spending their best efforts to prepare deals that will fit within the supporting framework of the rules of necessity.
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