Tuesday, May 31, 2011

For Humans, Paradise Would Be Hell.

This post turns out to be an extended commentary on the last post, which discussed why I find a transhumanist future for humanity unrealistic even if it does become technically possible to accomplish, namely due to profound difficulties within human nature itself. As such, it's best to treat this as a continuation of the current theme, though I won't comment on transhumanism itself in any capacity. Instead, I'll concentrate on evidence supporting the notion that humans in their present form simply are not psychologically equipped to handle perfection.

In the last post, I referenced a comment to the effect that humans are not equipped to handle a perfect world, no doubt because we humans are designed to deal with imperfections in this world. In fact, the author of the paper I referenced claimed that we cannot deal with a perfect world precisely because we’d be so bored by it.

At this point, an interesting notion occurred to me: What implications does this have for human day-to-day interactions in particular and for world peace in general?

Basically, I think most of us tend to be troublemakers by nature. How else do you explain Internet usernames like ”Bandit” “Outlaw” or names of certain other antisocial behaviors being considered a “cool” username, even if people who name themselves as such aren't egregious lawbreakers? Now before you say I’m being ridiculous about this, ask yourself how most people you know would consider catchy, attractive or intriguing usernames like “GoodCitizen” “BoyScout” “NiceGuy” “PlaysByTheRules” or similar such super-civilized usernames. Not many! In fact, most people would eye-roll at such usernames.

So far, we only a description of a fact: people think antisocial self-descriptors "cool" or exciting while considering civilized-sounding usernames boring or otherwise undesirable. Now we have to ask Why do we have such attitudes toward such usernames in the first place despite our purported love of peace and civility (which I hastily admit we do love it to a great extent).

(AGAIN, before you say I’m being ridiculous, I completely understand the contexts and general situations surrounding people's choice of usernames. I just as strongly agree that it would be ridiculously paranoid to assume anything about anyone’s character from such usernames. It's just that I’m looking below the surface to get at the meanings and motivations behind our reactions toward such usernames. With that said, I'll continue)

Were this merely a matter of username choices, then this would indeed be a pointless blog entry. However, other examples of what I speak exist in everyday life. For example, a little kid jokingly saying “Here comes trouble!” sounds exciting and fun to the child, presumably because “trouble” has a certain kind of fun about it - as long as you keep it in proper limits. Even granting this condition, it’s still highly revealing that little kids saying “Here comes civility!”, “Here comes niceness!” and so forth does not have nearly the entertainment value that “Here comes trouble!” does.

Both the username choices and the childish fun found in “trouble”, even if nowhere near the truly menacing sort, tell me that we humans actually enjoy breaking the rules, often for no reason at all. There’s something “fun” about it. This goes even for not only the most truly law-abiding citizen types but also even for those who have practically zero chance of experiencing famine, violent crime, poverty, war, or any other situation that more or less invites societal breakdown. We’ve all heard about idle rich Manhattan socialites gossiping about this and that, making big dramas out of trivial matters, and such. Why is this so, when there is no apparent threat to their lives or livelihoods? From a strictly logical point of view, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Yet another example is the oft-spoken female sexual desire (at least on the “raw animal level”) for guys with a “bad boy” image (yes, it’s very much debatable to what extent or degree girls like “bad boys”, but real life experience and reading many forums seems to at least partially confirm this). Adding weight to this is the fact that “nice guys”, even those who are not weak, indecisive, “unmanly”, etc. often get passed over in favor of guys who have at least jerk-like tendencies, if not bonafide through-and-through jerks. Frequently given reasons why girls like them is that “Semi-jerks are exciting and nice guys are boring”, even if the two guys are equal in all other respects.

Yet a fourth exhibit meshing well with this is a personal anecdote. Years ago, I heard a preacher say that if you die unsaved, then Heaven will likely be a kind of Hell for you – for you’d get bored to tears glorifying God when you clearly had no passionate interest in Him while you walked this earth. This also meshes well with my interpretation of human nature, for how can you truly love something or someone if they are not in the forefront of your mind at least a huge portion of the time? It’s like asking a stereotypical American football or rugby player to attend a seminar about the latest findings of the soil composition of Mars’ Hellas Basin, then listening to speculations about what types of chemistry and geologic processes created that soil. Same thing with people who aren’t interested in God’s Will being in His Holy Presence forever and ever, Amen.

Taking all four examples together, this seems to support what I discussed in the last blog entry - humans are simply not psychologically equipped to handle Utopia.

Given that at least some proportion of our behaviors, mentalities, and sexual turn-ons are genetic, then it seems that our default position is to be at least somewhat troublesome because we really do get bored with peace easily. Never mind that most people truly appreciate a lack of war or serious civil disruption. We simply need at least some rulebreaking in our lives in order to keep life interesting to us. You even find this in the music of peaceful periods versus times of turmoil. The popular music of the early 1960s, the late 70s, and practically most of the 1980s is not nearly as memorable or groundbreaking as was the music of the late 60s and early 70s. Of course there is good music from those relatively peaceful time periods but it was not as groundbreaking as the protest music at Woodstock or other anti-establishment tunes.

All this suggests that deep down we humans have a secret but strong love of troublesome behavior toward each other. In fact, without stimulation of some sort, we become positively bored if those around us are polite and civil ALL the time; or maybe it’s just that it’s easier (i.e. takes up less brain power) to just start trouble somehow than it is to take full advantage of what the peaceful periods offer to us – namely the time and energy afforded us to use our brains in truly creative ways, ways that further improve society. Regardless of where the truth lies, the fact remains that many of us have a strong love of at least moderate breaking of even time-honored traditional rules.

Given that we aren't truly equipped to handle Utopia for the reasons given above, it could well be that human nature is best off with only moderate improvements at best - meaning purging ourselves of only the worst of our behavioral and attitudinal traits, especially those with strong genetic components.* Beyond this, asking for a Utopia in which not even minor bad things can happen to anyone is far too much to ask for, even if we could eliminate all bad things. The result would not be living happily ever after, it'd be just our eternal search for our version of paradise - an imperfect world that cannot hurt us in any way (a contradiction in terms, particularly in terms of human-induced trouble and misery). Therefore, I'll close this by wishing all of you a moderately annoying and troublesome day.

ADDED: What does all this mean for not only world peace, but rooting out the ultimate causes of world disorder? Personally, I'd say "Not much hope, with the possible exception of eliminating the worst threats to our civilization (nuclear, biological, chemical weapons, the most egregious violations of human rights, property rights, and civil liberties). Beyond that, we might find corruption, sex scandals, fallen heroes, and other inefficiencies in even our strongest democracies a source of entertainment - and may secretly regret their demise. If not in the political arena, then certainly we'd find it sad to be without office gossip or social circle scandals. For this reason, I think that even if a truly sustainable world peace and justice is theoretically possible (i.e. have all the institutional mechanisms in place to establish and maintain it), we won't really want it. And as history shows, societies usually get what they deserve in the long run, especially if they have no strong external enemies to fight.

*I'm particularly thinking any genetic inclination to Narcissism and other "Cluster B" Personality Disorders, which are not only among the most resistant to treat but also among the most socially disruptive).