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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Off the tracks

Peggy Noonan, who I often greatly admire has written an op-ed that I think is accurate in some ways, but fundamentally wrong. Her basic argument can be summed up by these two paragraphs:

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with 'right track' and 'wrong track' but missing the number of people who think the answer to 'How are things going in America?' is 'Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination.' ... This is. Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
Read the whole thing to get the details of what she is talking about. It is obvious that our society and our technological capabilities are both evolving at an incredibly fast rate. The future has perhaps never been more uncertain and it is becoming increasing difficult to predict what society will be like. It is obvious that this future has its perils, and there will doubtless be perils that we cannot even imagine in the not too distant future. Peggy seems to understand the scope of this change, but not the fundamental nature of it. What we are experiencing I think is a dramatic empowerment of the individual, and a corresponding decline in the ability of the 'elites' to control events. Glenn Reynolds writes on this phenomenom frequently (it is the focus of his new book) and blogging is one aspect of it. We can easily imagine that liklihoods of the not too distant future, molecular manufacturing, biological redesign, and human-machine integration will accellerate that trend to an amazing degree. Indeed, that is the subject of another book that is making waves, The Singularity Is Near. The wheels are coming off, we are leaving the tracks. I submit though that this is because we are taking flight, not because we are crashing. I for one would rather soar through the air, then chug forward on the comfortable tracks laid down by our increasingly less important 'elites.' The challenges we will face that result from this extraordinary increase in individual power and autonomy will also be solved by this individual power. On 9/11, their was one success against the terrorists. It wasn't from the 'elites.' It was from a few brave individuals who acted and ended for all time the tactic of seizing a plane flying it into a building. A certain degree of caution about the changes in our future is wise. As I said, many problems will arise. Extreme pessimism about that is unwarranted though, the same factors that will allow these various problems will also allow us ever greater ability to solve them. We will not be entering utopia, but we are, I am certain, entering a better world. There may be no place for the 'elites' however.


Anonymous tsykoduk said...

I think that there is going to be one of two outcomes; we fly or we crash.

Ambivalence is going to make us crash - fortress building is going to make us crash.

I think that the gist of the article was that we need more people who want to fly, and less fortress builders. If we know the outcome, we can work to change it.

By spreading a message informing others that we are on this path, perhaps we will energize those others to work towards a better outcome.

10/28/2005 09:44:00 PM  

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