Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In The Beginning

Politics Technology Truth and Falsehood... an Introduction

Perhaps one of the oldest stories passed down from oral tradition comes from Africa. Its original name was "Water, Fire, Truth, and Falsehood." I have not heard this story since grade school. Yet despite the fading of memory, the story goes something like this....

Long ago, Fire, Water, Truth, and Falsehood lived together in one large house. Although all were polite toward each other, they kept their distance. Truth and Falsehood sat on opposite sides of the room. Fire constantly leapt out of Water’s path.
One day they went hunting together. They found a large number of cattle and began driving them home to their village. “Let us share these cattle equally,” said Truth as they traveled across the grasslands. “This is the fair way to divide our captives.”
No one disagreed with Truth except Falsehood. Falsehood wanted more than an equal share but kept quiet about it for the moment. As the four hunters traveled back to the village, Falsehood went secretly to Water and whispered,”You are more powerful than Fire. Destroy Fire and then there will be more cattle for each of us!”
Water flowed over Fire, bubbling and steaming until Fire was gone. Water meandered along, cheerfully thinking about more cattle for itself.
Falsehood, meanwhile, whispered to Truth. “look! See for yourself! Water has killed Fire! Let us leave Water,m who has cruelly destroyed our warmhearted friend. We must take the cattle high in the mountains to graze.”
As Truth and Falsehood traveled up the mountain, Water tried to follow. But the mountain was too steep, and Water could not flow upwards. Water washed down upon itself, splashing and swirling around rocks as it tumbled down the slope. Look and see! Water is still tumbling down the mountainside to this day.
Truth and Falsehood arrived at the mountaintop. Falsehood turned to Truth and said in a loud voice, “I am more powerful than you! You will be my servant. I am your master. All the cattle belong to me!”
Truth rose up and spoke out, “I will not be your servant!”
They battled and battled. Finally they brought the argument to Wind to decide who was master.
Wind didn’t know. Wind blew all over the world to ask people whether Truth or Falsehood was more powerful. Some people said, “A single word of Falsehood can completely destroy Truth.” Others insisted, “Like a small candle in the dark, Truth can change every situation.”
Wind finally returned to the mountain and said, “I have seen that Falsehood is very powerful. But it can rule only where Truth has stopped struggling to be heard.”
And it has been that way ever since.

Excerpted from
Heather Forest’s Wisdom Tales from Around the World (World Storytelling), August House, 1996.

I thought it only fitting that a blog about technology and politics would use as its founding story a fable out of Africa. You see, modern humans originated from Africa and migrated everywhere else. Every other part of the globe was colonized from that claw rift of Tanzania. From there, we took our Palaeolithic habits of thought with us. Despite many technological revolutions and extraordinary genetic drift, despite the extraordinary distances that humanity traveled and extraordinary tools that we've created, the human mind is still a Stone Age design. Expecting human beings to become perfectly moral, now that we have better technology and better education, is both utopian and naïve.

Let's lay down some limitations that plague the Stone Age brain, in this Information Age. Human brains have difficulty coping with a number of things they have to learn in modern times, in order to become successful. Genetic change is very slow. While human beings are extraordinary, the "hardware" (brain cells) that our "software" (consciousness) is based on, is struggling with novel 21st century demands .

Before talking about technology or politics, it's really useful to talk about the human brain and its splendors living alongside its embarrassing limitations. Always remember that human software is unbelievably adaptive, but is limited by the hardware that it runs on. That hardware is our bodies. Predicting future trends or headline making events, tends to require a non-politically correct view of how human beings, actually think. In subsequent articles I will go through the limitations of the human brain, as reference material for all the things I comment on later. I will intersperse these articles with current events in politics.

Writing out the less glamorous aspects of human thought, will give us the earliest tools we need to craft institutions, which save us from our own worst instincts.

*****For those of you who read my old blog (before it's hosts disappeared)... You will find many of the articles about the human brain are repeats, for the benefit of new readers.****

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