What's the plot?March 01, 2021
People often implicitly assume a central plot to our times, something which guides their thinking in all sorts of areas.
These stories are often contrarian. They will sometimes take a piece of the world that is on some trend, and run it into the future. Another way of putting this: they see a piece of the world which seems unstable, and imagine what it moving to a stable state would look like. These views are often very blinkered, and do not take account of other changes in the world over time. I find it interesting to briefly inhabit a view and see what the world looks like from inside it.
Following will be a number of stories about the world, many mutually exclusive. I have read at least one person claiming each one to be the central plot. I wouldn’t take any of them completely seriously.
- We are on the cusp of a singularity, about to invent machines far more powerful and intelligent than us which will take the reins of our civilization.
- AI assisted content generation will soon lead to a collapse in collective attachment to reality.
- We are one of the last generations not to be genetically selected or engineered. Our descendants may be slightly smarter than us, or almost incomprehensible.
- We may be one of the last generations to die of old age.
- There is a good chance that everyone who dies could be preserved and resurrected later. People in the future will ask why we did not do this.
- Our global economy is too interconnected and too fragile. Any number of events could precipitate it, but collapse will be swift and brutal when it comes.
- Most productivity growth in rich countries is used to bid up the price of positional or status orientated goods, barely improving human wellbeing.
- Wealth/Income/Consumption inequality within and between countries is extremely high, and will cause (or is causing) massive social tensions.
- Most humans won’t need to work soon, probably they won’t be able to compete with machines. It’s unclear how we’ll deal with this.
- Societies (particularly rich ones) tend towards risk-aversion and complacency. We should expect to become more sclerotic and slow as time goes by.
- Drugs, virtual worlds and other superstimuli will sap most of our motivation to act in the real world if we let ourselves use them.
- Something (or many things!) about the modern world is deeply poisonous for us (back pain, mental illness, falling sperm counts, rising obesity - even in rats!
- The western education model is causing people to spend almost a quarter of their life working full time on boring tasks with little societal benefit.
- The environment is being ruined by human actions. We are in the middle of a mass extinction event. Our species may be one of them.
- We are not alone in the universe. Aliens are watching us, and will intervene in our affairs at some point.
- The world and all it’s creatures are experiencing awful suffering. Fortunately we will have the tools to usher in a pain-free utopia soon.
- Fertility is very low in rich countries right now. It will increase drastically over time, whether by biological, cultural or technological evolution.
- This is the dreamtime, a weird time in history where we are swimming in per capita wealth, and can afford not to focus strongly on survival. This will not last, and the gods of the copybook headings will return.
- Intensive animal farming is a monstrous crime and our descendants will not look kindly on it.