05 April 2017

Development, Social Evolution, and a Post-Economic Community

Apparently it is bad form to talk about communities being at different stages of development. It is supposedly demeaning of "less developed" communities. To me, though, this stage of history is so transitory that the differences between poor and rich countries is almost incidental.

One of the more important people in the Pharaoh's Court:
The Royal Manicurist
If you had a smattering of parents talking about their young children, the conversation would gravitate towards the perils of potty training, sleepless nights, tantrums, and speculation about whether toddlers are natural tyrants. No one would think it demeaning to suggest that it'd be a good idea for your two year old to learn how to control her bladder before heading to university. And no one would think for a moment that the fact that all the toddlers were going through nearly identical stages of development suggested that they were - or would grow up to be - nearly identical people.  Or that the child who is three years younger is going to be perpetually less developed than the older children. We all go through similar, necessary stages of development but we will end up with very different lives.

Communities that give their people fewer options about how to live a life - whether in the form of letting women stay single or providing young people with enough income to afford a place of their own - are less developed. Development involves an overlapping series of steps like accumulating and creating capital, educating children to become knowledge workers and popularizing entrepreneurship. (Something even our most advanced communities haven't quite done. Yet.) There is reason to believe that the roughly 7 or 8 centuries from about 1300 to 2100, a period in which we transition from abject poverty to something like widespread abundance, will take us from a starting point of a community based on shared superstitions through the creation of communities focused on overcoming economic scarcity into a post-economic community in which the questions of economic scarcity give way to larger, more interesting questions about how to live and what sorts of communities to create.

Social evolution has been playing out for thousands of years, since well before Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Jews, and Greeks brought humanity into history with writing, giving us a continuity beyond the scope of our own lives. Our own lives play out within a tiny little window of this evolution that is likely to continue for thousands - possibly hundreds of thousands - more years.

Our society doesn't represent  the culmination of evolution. We are not the product of evolution: we are just part of a process that has and will play out for a longer time than we could ever imagine.

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