Is civilization lost? One definition to be found in the dictionary is that civilization is social development at its most advanced. If social development is going backwards, then civilization is eroding. That’s certainly how it feels.
The advance of civilization depends on the outstanding, brave, pioneering individual. Mark Shupe has written about individuals shaping the great institutions of civilization and defining the great scientific frameworks that give us understanding of our universe and pave the way for modern technologies. He also described how the bureaucracy of the status quo has defaced our institutions and pushed fake science that is confusing our understanding rather than advancing it.
Therein lies the problem. Today, there is opposition to civilization. There is precious little room for the independent, curious, barrier breaking, outside-the-box thinker to investigate the frontiers of knowledge. The major opponents civilization faces include:
Government hates both advancement and innovation, which could undermine its position. Government wants only control, and control is anti-civilizational. Control is the very thing that free-thinking individuals stand against. As government expands into controlling more areas of individual life, as it produces more legislation and administrative rules, as it spends more money and accumulates more debts that will never be paid, and as it militarizes and surveils more and more, and as it designates more of its internal affairs and conversations ‘SECRET”, so it extends its dead hand of suppression over more and more civilizational possibilities, until they are all gone.
The Inflation Of The Money Supply.
Government money and the institutions that produce it merit special attention because it is the production of counterfeit money in unlimited quantities – what the economists refer to as inflation – that makes all government activities possible.
It was not inevitable that we gave the monopoly over the production of money to government, but we have done so and the world reaps the consequences. Without a role for private property, the production of money is perverted into an instrument of exploitation.
According to Jorg Guido Hulsmann in The Ethics Of Money Production:
Legal monopolies, legal-tender laws, and the legalized suspension of payments have unwittingly become instruments of social injustice. They breed inflation, irresponsibility, and an illicit distribution of income, usually from the poor to the rich. These legal institutions cannot be justified and should be abolished at once.
Among the detrimental effects of government money, Hulsmann includes hyper-centralized government suppressing both local government and individual freedoms; war, paid for with money from government printing presses; tyranny – the pursuit by government of goals that do not have the support of the citizens; the elimination of true entrepreneurship, since enterprises sustained by excessive debt are puppets of banks, unlike those sustained by owner equity; economic booms and busts, since unlimited supply of inflationary money encourages risky undertakings that otherwise would never be financed; the sterility of maintaining the status quo, since the debt that is injected into sustaining existing businesses requires defense against innovation and disruption if those indebted businesses are to survive competition; the financial dependency of individuals, which weakens self-reliance and replaces independent judgment with submissiveness; and the expansion of the welfare state which actively undermines the family, which is the ultimate source of morality and education.
Max Weber was the sociologist of bureaucracy. He defined bureaucratic administration as domination through knowledge of processes and rules that non-bureaucrats could not know and were powerless to fight. He predicted, as a result of increasing bureaucratization, a “polar night of icy darkness”, in which increasing rationalization of human life traps individuals in a soulless “iron cage” of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.
Ludwig von Mises devoted an entire book to the subject of bureaucracy. He feared “that the strait jacket of bureaucratic organization paralyzes the individual’s initiative” resulting in “stagnation and preservation of inveterate methods” rather than the progress and improvement that stems from entrepreneurship. Robert K Merton warned us of a “trained incapacity” of the population resulting from “over conformity” to bureaucratic rule.
While bureaucracy has been around for a long time, it approaches closer and closer to its own perverted perfection. It started in government, but has migrated to big business, largely as a device to integrate the governance of the largest firms with the governance of the state for mutual benefit. Innovation becomes repressed. For example, bureaucracy has transformed Google’s original vision to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” into its current mission of becoming a leading member of the surveillance state and a purveyor of predatory advertising.
Perversion Of Technology.
Technology is a great tool for civilizational progress. It is fundamental to the release of humans from the drudgework of merely sustaining life to the mind work of imagination and invention. But government, government money and bureaucracy all pervert the civilizational role of technology.
In “What Happened To The Future”, Bruce Gibney of Founder’s Fund tracked the shift of venture capital from supporting technological development in the 1960’s – 1990’s, to “cynical, incremental investments”, like Pets.com rather than Intel, in the present era. He wonders if we have “reached the end of the line, a sort of technological end of history?” Since technology is the fundamental driver of growth in the world, and hence the engine of advancing civilization, the prospect Gibney raises is chilling.
Along the way, Venture Capital has ceased to be the funder of the future, and instead has become a funder of features, widgets, irrelevances.
The best founders want to radically change the world for the better. To many investors, visionary entrepreneurs come off as naïve or worse – isn’t it safer/easier/more profitable to create a(nother) social network for cat fanciers than to try to cure cancer, defeat terrorism, or organize the world’s information?
His point is that we are losing the desire, the hunger, the sense of exploration and risk to make the world a better place. The energy comes from individual entrepreneurs, innovators, founders and researchers. The more we suppress such individualism, the more the decivilization process accelerates.
Economics Provides Us With Hope.
The size of government versus private enterprise, money production, the role of bureaucracy and managerialism versus entrepreneurship, and the pursuit of real technological progress are all economic questions, best managed by free societies and free markets. And when they are, life is enhanced by the introduction of visual arts, architecture, music, and the aesthetics and morality of civilization. The alternative is fresh in our memories – Soviet construction and Socialist Realism.