Human Advancement

"...and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." - Genesis 11:6
"Where are the flying cars?" - IBM television commercial ca. 2000
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  • Life
  • Intelligence
  • Technology
  • Freedom

Blogs I Like

Making yourself valuable. MST / PDT ------------------------------------
Human Advancmment is meant to refer to the advancement of individual humans. That means you, and it means me. I have another blog, called "Adventures in Programming", very rarely updated, that is my take on the business and technology of software engineering. The twist is that most articles take the form of a conversation with myself, the myself of maybe 20 years ago. I've learned a lot since then, and I wish I could go back in time to tell myself about all those things so I could learn them sooner than I did.

But it serves another purpose, which is to help me - the here and now me - to sort out some of those lessons. Doing so is fundamentally about human advancement - learning from the lessons of the past, both the mistakes and the successes, and building on that knowledge to advance myself.

There are many obstacles and traps to overcome on the way to advancement. One of the biggest obstacles to freedom - freedom in its widest context, which includes political freedom, but also the personal freedom to control your own life - is debt and a dead-end job. In this extremely long post I examine one of the ways to start overcoming this trap. The intended audience is those entering the IT profession, or even those who have been in it for some time, but it also contains lessons more broadly applicable to any kind of job, even to life in general.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Sunday, 4/24/05 12:20 pm | comments to kyle at | PERMALINK

Two Quickies MST / PDT ------------------------------------
I'm having a fascinating conversation with Richard at Uncommon Sense. It's not really the level I'm aiming at for this blog, but very interesting, nonetheless. I may even learn something.


Lileks is always worth a read, even though I can't find the time to read him every day. He's more like an occasional treat instead of a daily snack. An ice cream sundae with hot fudge and nuts, not the Snickers bar in the car after work every day.

At least my greatest fear didn’t happen: they’d choose a Pope from Africa, and, unaware with the nomenclature of American marketing, he would call himself "Urban".
If you like The Bleat, then explore the rest of his site a bit. The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a side-splitter.
Posted By Kyle Bennett | Wednesday, 4/20/05 9:50 pm, | comments to kyle at | PERMALINK

The Changeless Core MST/PDT ------------------------------------
This post is both a warning to libertarians and a promise to everyone else. If my experience is any indication, most of you, the "everyone else", are vaguely aware that there's a bunch of people out there who call themselves libertarians. Your experience with them has most likely been around election time, when they seem to come out of the woodwork with their wacky plans to change everything, and their implied belief that the only reason that you find them wacky is that you aren't moral enough, or smart enough, or consistent enough, or give enough of a damn about what that ragtag bunch who fought off the most powerful nation on earth 200 years ago sacrificed for.

All of that may be true - it is certainly true for some people. But here's the promise, and the warning:

People can't live with change if there's not a changless core inside them. The key to the ability to live with change is a sense of knowing who you are, what you are about, and what you value. -- Steven Covey
This blog is all about change - profound, drastic change in many areas of life. But the one thing I won't talk about changing is your core.

The libertarians know their core, they pride themselves on it. They call themselves the "Party of Principle". That's to be applauded, but they make one key mistake because of it. They want you to change your core.

Libertarians want you to vote how they vote, to believe what they believe. But they spend zero time appealing to your values, and all their time telling you that their values are superior. They tell you that you don't know who you are, what you are about, what you value. Or worse, they tell you that you may know them, but they aren't good enough.

Whether they are right or wrong doesn't matter. You think your core is right, that it is consistent, it is moral, and it is intelligent. That's good enough for me - it has to be because even if I disagree, I'll never change your mind on that.

My guess is that most people want a few basic things: security for their family and friends; enough money to be comfortable, healthy and safe; enough freedom to pursue their own happiness; and enough order in society that they can keep reasonable expectations and plan for the future. In my experience, that's the core of the average American.

And that's good enough for me.

Most of you aren't going to read long political or philosophical tracts, and you aren't going to spend the time it takes to learn enough background to evaluate them thoroughly even if you did. You've got enough to do feeding your family and keeping a roof over their heads, or, if you don't have a family, then building your career or pursuing your dreams. In many cases, all of the above.

That's fine by me.

Most of you value reason, and honesty, and fair play. Most of you value hard work, self-sufficiency, and minding your own business, so long as other people mind theirs.

Works for me.

Most of you don't want to see others suffering, but don't want to have your family taxed into poverty to prevent it. Most of you value the benefits technology brings, but don't worship it. Most of you want a better environment, but don't want to go back to living in mud huts to get it. Most of you want less war and strife in the world, but don't want to see any more 9/11's. Most of you want to see criminals caught and punished, but don't want to be treated like a criminal yourself to make it happen.

Me too.

Most of you think that libertarians have a few good ideas, but doubt they will work in the real world, or think they conflict with your core values.

You might be mistaken on that one.

Maybe you just don't trust them to do what they say they will do, or think they will never be able to. You might have something there.

I don't want you to change your values. I hope to show you that the things I will be talking about here serve your values. I'm not going to ask you to vote a certain way. I believe that we need to move beyond politics, that politics undermines your values, that politics sets your values in opposition to what you want out of life, that politics creates more problems than it solves - even if libertarians are the ones in charge.

I think there's a better way, a way that you can pursue your values without having to sacrifice them in order to get the things you need and want. A way to acheive all of your values, and not have to choose which ones you'll give up for the sake of the others. I don't know completely what that way is yet, but I think I have some solid leads. You can watch me figure it out as this blog evolves. But I won't ever tell you that "here's the way it is, now go do it." This blog is for me. For me to figure it out for myself. If you like what you see, then go do it for yourself as well. If you don't, then don't. Pick and choose, or ignore it altogether, it's up to you.

Make it fit your core, if you can, if you want to. Don't change your core to fit it. Either way, I'll accept it. I promise.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Monday, 4/18/05, 11:45 pm | comments to kyle at | PERMALINK

Here's What I'm Talking About MST/PDT ------------------------------------
Billy Beck writes a warm little story about an uncle helping his neice in these days of instant messaging and email. It's just a nice little thing no different than what happens thousands or maybe millions of times every day in this world. Pretty mundane stuff, no news here, right? Well, Billy hits the point in his next-to last paragraph, where he notes the profound significance of what just happened:
Ten years ago, it would have been a very different thing to have her questions addressed so casually. It probably wouldn't have happened. And she has never known that world.
Think about that. For those of us older than our thirties, this is revolutionary. No matter how much we take it for granted now, we can remember a time when it was unheard of. Communication with distant family or friends took an expensive phone call or a long wait for the mail. That's just the way it was; we never missed instant, free, casual communication because it never even entered our conciousness as a possibility.

What worlds will those being born today, or in the next decades never know? What is it we can't even imagine now that the little rugrats of the class of '35 will never know having done without? What will we do to make it happen?

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Monday, 4/18/05, 7:25 pm | comments to kyle at | PERMALINK

Human Advancement MST/PDT ------------------------------------

This blog represents the coming together of two convergent lines of thought that I've carried with me through most of my life. These lines have become increasingly clearly defined - not smoothly, but in fits and starts - as I've advanced in years. I've only now begun to really see their convergence, and that they were really the same idea all along.

It's become clear to me partly as a result of two recent forays into the amazing world of online discussions. Not amazing in the sense of new or novel - I've been involved to a varying extent with them for going on 10 years now - but amazing in the fact that people thousands of miles apart can come together over even the most obscure interests and form a community of sorts. This internet thing - and I really do think it will catch on, just watch - will itself be the subject of many of my thoughts in the still very hypothetical future of this blog. But the reason I mention it now is that it has provided me with an incomparable tool for exercising my own budding theories, and for learning so much that I can not even begin to catalog what it's done for me.

The first direct inspiration for this blog - for a whole new way of thinking for me - was an article called "Human Destinies" by Richard Nikoley on his "Uncommon Sense" blog. Richard was asking about the future of civilization. What his article really did for me was to get me to think directly on a subject that I've been thinking around the edges of for a long time: What is the future of human civilization? I'm a huge fan of Science fiction. I've read about distopias, utopias, a-topias, and every other kind of "topia" imaginable. I've absorbed incredible amounts of "knowledge" about the physics of subterranean travel, space travel, time travel, and "beam me up" travel. I've learned all about theocracy, technocracy, autocracy, and dysfunctional democracy. So this was the kind of discussion I'm always ready to jump into and make a fool of myself in.

But Richard's phrasing of the question took it beyond the mere technological, beyond the mere political. He identified the three core developments that he believes have marked turning points in human civilization: agriculture, secularization, and industrialization. Then he asked: What is the state of humanity that "we must either achieve ... or it means we've destroyed ourselves". With a setup like that, he was obviously not looking for answers pertaining to really fast computers or flying cars.

I jumped into this with both feet, making what will seem to many like a grandiose prediction. To sum it up briefly, and in keeping with the "ation" form from the last paragraph, my answer was individuation, then universal habitation. And that's it. Someday, individualism will be the reigning political and social order. I consider this an advance on par with the other three, and what's more, I believe it is a prerequisite for the final stage of human advancement, the ability for individuals to live anywhere and anywhen they choose.

More on that in a bit.

The second direct inspiration was a conversation I had in the comments to two posts about the future of libertarian politics at the QandO blog. (You'll have to scroll down a bit on those links to see my comments, which are themselves numerous and scattered, because this was a long and heated debate, and I came in late.) The gist of my argument was that politics, libertarian or otherwise, is most definitely not the future. Politics is a system that has utterly failed to solve any real problems. Politics has only fostered human advancement to the extent that it has bent over backwards to get out of the way, as it tried to one bright day in 1776.

I had a very hard time getting anyone to even understand the point I was really making. To be fair, I went a bit outside the context of the question at hand, so it's no surprise that I didn't succeed. But it really got me thinking. I've though a lot about politics since discovering it as an interest during the Daddy Bush administration. What struck me during this conversation is that, while I've always thought of politics as a means to an end and not an end in itself, I've never focused on those ends as the primary motivation for what I've been doing.

The discussion at Richard's blog brought those ends into sharp focus for me, and the discussion at QandO, coming right on its heels, brought a bit of an epiphany. I discovered that what I really want to talk about, what I really want to get the world talking about - if I can be so bold as to assume I have any power to do so - is where we are going. It's nice to talk about how we'll get there, but it's meaningless without the why that informs the how.

The scattered and chaotic state of the libertarian movement makes more sense to me now. It is a result of the idea, implicit in everything it does, that the main purpose of the libertarian movement is to advance the libertarian movement. Libertarianism is an inherently negative movement - its against this or that - but what is it for? They will be adamant that they are for freedom, but all that really means is that they are against oppression. But why? I don't think that I'll ever again be able to take seriously discussions about the latest outrage in the war on drugs, or the fact that a Libertarian Party candidate for a minor office managed to get 11% in a three-way race. Yes, there are outrages, yes there are promising electoral results. But, no, these are not the things I live for.

So what does a rationally self-interested post-libertarian who still wants to see the world turn out the right way live and work for, if not politics? The idea of universal individualism and the ability to live anywhere and anywhen is a compelling idea, but lets be serious. It's not something that will be a consideration in my lifetime. My answer to Richard was, I believe, right on the money. But in addressing the broadest possible context it necessarily leaves out a few minor details.

In the context of my life (the only context that means anything - you may not agree, and I won't respect you in the morning if you do) the here-and-now and the tomorrow matter a lot more than a thousand-year speculation, however enticing that speculation is. The faster computers and the flying cars are important. Important because they are steps in human advancement considered in the largest possible context, but also because they are things that can be real and concrete in the here-and-now and in the tomorrows that I and others alive today can actually experience.

There are four threads that I think encompass all, or at least most, of the touchstones of Human Advancement.

Life is the necessary prerequisite for everything that matters and the standard by which we judge everything's value. Life is humans being. Life is the fact that we keep breathing, but also the fact that we keep thinking and keep doing. Life is about medical advances that keep us alive longer and better, it is about how technology can make us live not only better but also differently and in different environments than the one that nurtured us to where we are now.

Intelligence is the defining characteristic of human nature. The predecessor to this blog was called think!freedom. It was going to be a political blog, but that odd exclamation point in the middle was intended to be significant. It was supposed to symbolize the idea that freedom starts in your head. It starts by thinking, it advances by thinking, and thinking is it's breath and blood. Intelligence, is not only the ideas of one individual, it is also the sharing of those ideas with others. It is about not only what we think, but how we communicate those thoughts. It is the fountainhead of all that is to come and the understanding of all that has been. It is the future and the past, and the link between them.

Technology is the application of intelligence to concrete needs. It is faster computers and flying cars. It is the means by which our intelligence creates the conditions for its own advancement - for Human Advancement. It is intelligence made concrete - wrought in steel and plastic and electronics. It is what will bring us from cave dwellers to masters of the universe.

Freedom is the external context necessary for our intelligence to do its job. It is the individualism that I spoke about in Human Destinies. Nothing more can be achieved without it. The demands the future will place on our intelligence and the cooperative efforts required to realize our destiny are too great to be achieved in a world of "We" instead of "I". Politics is obsolete, it has been for decades if not centuries. It can be argued that it served a purpose at one time, but even so, its purpose is done. It is now only an obstacle to be overcome, or better, to be pushed aside.

Together, these are the purpose of this blog. To examine those next steps that will lead us from today to that distant tomorrow I talked about in Human Destinies. It's roots and inspiration are in politics, but its purpose now is to discuss the steps that politics will have to make - including stepping out of the picture altogether - only as part of the full range of things that get us closer to our destiny.

Posted By Kyle Bennett | Sunday, 4/17/05, 2:15 am | comments to kyle at | PERMALINK