In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 15 Oct 98

Survival Issues of the Twenty-first Century

CW:   ... Why do you think Clinton is so publicly against cloning? I wonder if it isn't a psychological thing. I can't think of an ethical reason why one means of reproduction is "wrong". In any case it would be like saying the virgin birth was "unethical" (no sperm involved as far as I know - either that or Joseph was very, very gullible).

CML:   Ordinary reproduction can be accomplished free of charge. Cloning is a technological miracle whose availability, at least in a society like ours, would be limited to the rich and/or powerful. That's a new form of elitism, as opposed to an old form of elitism that people are already used to. Remember, in vitro fertilization was also once condemned by those who felt that reproduction should be left to the Will of God (Clinton's a Baptist). There are other factors as well ... e.g., greedy sports executives who'd like to clone a dozen or so Michael Jordans for their own financial benefit. Personally, I think that cloning should be a social privilege reserved only for those meeting the highest standards of intelligence, creativity, and fitness (Bill Clinton wouldn't qualify). Why replicate anything less in a world already largely depleted of its beauty and resources?

CW:   You would think that it would be the other way around... We aren't randomly permitted to take life why should we randomly create it? Except that that is the way it has always been done. (In a sense creating another human is murder in that they, involuntarily, are sentenced to death just by being born!) There is a need for randomness and diversity to maintain genetic fitness - this is a problem now for many food crops which follow such a narrow genetic pattern that when a pest learns how to attack one plant all plants are vulnerable.

Nevertheless, I don't see any of these technologies making a significant dent in the human genome in the near future given our current explosive evolutionary "success". The more pressing ethical problem seems to be getting people to voluntarily stop before they have three or more kids.

CML:   You make a good point. However, up until a relatively short time ago, the law of natural selection ensured that human genetic variation was not entirely "random". Instead, it had to be expressed within certain boundaries of fitness beyond which genetic variation merely conduces to the survival of the unfit. Since mankind has recently attained an illusory short-term exemption from that law, genetic "randomness" and "diversity" no longer have quite the same implications for the human species as for species in the wild, and offer less of an objection to human cloning.

It kind of makes you wonder: what kind of "evolutionary success" creates a situation in which those with intellect and conscience refrain from breeding, while those with neither breed unchecked (and in fact, under government subsidy)? For reasons devolving to personal and social responsibility, I've never had a child. Yet, little Jamal, by dint of always having drugs and looking cute in his gangsta duds, procreates in double digits between drivebys. Multiply that by many thousands, and you have the makings of a vast and intractable social crisis boding immense evil for our collective future. But hey, what difference does that make when political correctness is at stake?

CW:   What people forget about cloning is that it doesn't make it any easier to reproduce. The only advantage is in amplifying the set of traits in the cloned offspring. This also could be a severe disadvantage as well. The idea that you could breed humans like potatoes is very far fetched. You don't have to educate a potato. An advantage of someone who is physically exactly like you is that you already know what is effectively wrong with them and can then take steps to minimize the impact of these limitations. Cloning humans would be invaluable for psychological and medical research (not that it is likely that it will happen). I don't mean psychological or medical _experiments_ but rather just seeing what happens to the same physical type over a given life span in all different situations. It would be an almost unprecedented situation - a population of the same children all being brought up by different parents.

CML:   Quite so. Having been raised in a violent and impoverished environment by American standards, I've often wondered whether I'd have turned out differently had I been nourished, encouraged and advantaged like the average pampered child. Better...or worse?

CW:   ...taking what you were saying generally (about CTMU) and applying it to what you were saying about evolutionary "success" ... Whether you suffer or not invariably you learn.

CML:   That's fine. But if humanity "screws everything up" as it has the potential to do, it will destroy itself. That would seem to preclude any meaningful kind of "learning", at least on humanity's own part. So humanity can't really justify self-destruction as a "learning experience".

JCC:   May all further collective screw-ups by our species continue to be less than total in scope! Fifty-two years since the nuclear genie was unleashed, and we're still a going concern... can any human heart not swell with pride?

CW:   We can't preclude the possibility of continuity of mind. You might continue long after "you" is no longer physically present.

CML:   You're going rather far out on a limb to hold onto a questionable point that can be used to justify any sort of evil or wrongdoing. E.g., "maybe it was a good thing that Ted Bundy killed all those girls, because hey, it was a post mortem 'learning experience' for one and all...". It took aeons to create the universe we now inhabit. If mankind blows its big chance and wipes itself out, it may never again have the opportunity to put its "learning" into practice.

CW:   I wasn't. I was suggesting, in this case speculating, that you could view learning as an invariant in some sense. But it is only meaningful if there is some form of continuity of experience.

DPG:   As a new member to the group, Julia suggested me to present a topic for discussion. I have one on which I have been asked to give a presentation: Challenges for the next century. I would be pleased to hear your opinions as to what you see as the key factors a person should have to survive in the next century.

I believe that one of the key factors will be related to intelligence ...

Intelligence to be able to live in a global economy where the value of products will be directly related to the knowledge of a person. I believe knowledge will become a product associated with the person and following the same lifecycle rules as physical products. It will have a specific life cycle. This could mean that a person will be forced to develop a portfolio of knowledge and make sure that once a certain knowledge is a the end of its cycle he has the capacity to replace it by a new type of knowledge which is again in demand. Two ways are possible to achieve this. Or the person goes back to study after he has used his knowledge to acquire a new set of capabilities or during the time his knowledge is usable he already develops a new one.

The issue of course is to have the capabilities to play this game when one becomes older and secondly one must be enough informed to invest in knowledge which will be needed once it is acquired.

PTW:   So true. I started college with a hand-cranked mechanical calculator (1970) and with the notion that Integral Calculus was a career choice. Now my copy of Mathematica costs less than an month's pay, needs no health care or perks, and instantly does every integral as well as any professional.

I've used a keypunch and punch cards, memorized octal assembler codes for computers that are dust, and so on.

If the market is only for ideas, we will all be poor. Secrets are hard to keep.

Suppose I learn that the stock price for some supply company predicts the stock price of some major Wall Street firm. (Plausible, anyhow: cutbacks in the supply chain prepare for layoffs; new orders for expansion.)

OK, I can use that fact to double my (meager) portfolio. By the fifth time I do that, some player will notice me, and soon match my plays. By the tenth time, there will be no secret left to keep.

Of course, I could sell my secret to a stockbroker house. If they double their portfolio, they may reward me. But they can also cut me out: how could I prove they stole my idea? They might listen once, say "yep, we already knew that," and close the door.

It seems to me that the life cycle for ideas can be very short.

Creative inspiration (such as ideas for major films or song music and lyrics) sometimes is argued in court. These cases are hard to prove. Kantner, Slick, Balin and Blackman wrote the "Starship" lyrics, "We gotta get out of now, back into the future, beyond our own time again..." (from "Blows against the Empire," 1970) Does the "Back to the Future" film trilogy owe them a royalty? Or not? (REAL LYRIC, REAL TITLE, MADE-UP CASE)

The minute you open your mouth, your ideas start to leak. Silence saves, but can't sell. A tough problem, it seems.

My father invented a nifty gadget for finding oil. He traded all patent rights for a research leader's salary and a free lab. His choice, but the company got far more than he did. They could have fired him and gone on earning, except that they hoped he'd do it again. (He did.)

EM:   The main thing to remember about secrets is that there are no secrets. I think our president might verify that comment by unhappy personal experience. I most sincerely hope you do not wind up on the forlorn side of the tracks, or part of town. I think that pleasant and quiet little enclaves should be provided for bright, reflective, non-competitive people who just want to read, converse, and generally lead peaceable lives.

In the great American rat-race, I went off the track on the first turn, and never found my way back to the contest. Curiously enough, my few periods of affluence in life have never seemed to have much to do with my intentions or desire to be affluent at particular times. Rather more like the few times I've had the flu, they came unbidden and departed in the same manner.

Since others have addressed Derrick's topic, I will now unburden myself of a few hasty opinions. The first is that I think only a small part of the population is or will be concerned with the sort of technical cleverness that will yield good results by continued retraining. Perhaps 20% in the developing nations, far less in the third world. My own guess is that a steady investment program in stocks and real estate, begun as close to college graduation as possible, would give far more financial security, and personal options of career mobility, than any amount of formal education.

A pitifully large number of people being born into the world at present are coming into subsistence economies; survival is the primary issue with them, training or retraining is not, and will not, be a large issue in their lives.

What do I think will become of these millions? They will probably be used up in confusing and pointless wars of one kind or another, of but passing interest to the well educated and affluent elite. To the extent that they represent a market to the multi-nationals, they will be of some slight interest. Almost any nation, however impoverished, represents a market for small arms, and the trade remains very brisk.

DPG:   The more socially-related question is that of polarization. How many people will be able to play in this game and what about the people who have not the ability to do it?

This is only one of the key factors I see in the future, but as a start I believe it can already give some inputs for a discussion.

PTW:   Marx foresaw industrial efficiency displacing labor. Same problem, I think, except that far more of us will join the permanent army of the unemployed.

However, violence is no answer: Chairman Mao ordered, "Everybody, make steel!" ... with dismal results. To take over Intel or Microsoft in the name of the people is to destroy their whole value. The choices are rich vs. poor, or poor vs. poor.

In my view of economics, those who don't work are part of the reason for efficiency, and should earn some of the profits. Few agree.

Academic Mathematics, for one, is downsizing. I can't expect a Ph.D. degree will pay back its cost. The math teachers, that colleges want, need (training, not credentials) only what I knew in high school.

I'm 45, so learn more slowly. I don't know how many cycles of retraining I can take. I expect to join the slum on the wrong side of the tracks.

Is this why Economics is the dismal science?

JWP:   I read {Derrick's} comments on the importance of intelligence in the 21st century with interest. Have you read the book titled The Bell Curve? The authors take things a bit further and predict that not only will intelligence become ever more important, but that society will eventually polarize, with a kind of Intelligentsia / Aristocracy living in relative luxury (maybe surrounded by fences and guards) at one end of town, and the low-IQ people living much more modestly at the other end of town. And there won't be much of a "middle-class" between. Which end of town you end up living in will be determined entirely by your intelligence as measured by standardized tests.

I think they call this social system a meritocracy and if intelligence is primarily inherited, as the authors and many other psychologists claim, it will have a lot in common with the old aristocracy-by-birth system. Of course, if someone can show that intelligence can be substantially improved by the right kind of environment, it might change this predicted future considerably. From what I've read, however, IQ (assuming you agree that this measures the g factor and that g is the main component of intelligence) tends to be pretty much constant throughout life after the age of six or so, declining slightly with age after 30 or so.

Experiments that I've read about to improve the IQ of children have been disappointing or inconclusive at best, with the IQ falling back to about its original level after the special environment is removed. (But maybe someone in the group knows of some more recent experiments that have been more successful?) So, the prescription for success in the next century seems to be: make sure you are born to smart parents. What do you think?

JCC:   I agree that intelligence covers a lot of territory, particularly to the extent that it equates to adaptability. If anything, the pace of change is increasing as technological advances (and also poorly-conceived implementations) filter into day-to-day work routines. It's of value to be able to work successfully with the changes as they come down, even when not to one's personal liking.

In many respects the traditional middle class is being marginalized by the dynamics of the marketplace, tending to polarize society into three tracks of techno-elite, computer-assisted-flunkies, and unemployed. There is a more serious bottom-line than the one on balance sheets, one that will shape the politics of the 21st century and beyond.

I only hope that perspectives may be widened in such a way that benefits of technology may be distributed more evenly with a proactive view. I confess that I don't know how this might be done, but perhaps there will be a greater role for the sociologist and social psychologist in all areas to create answers that preserve a measure of stability so that change itself does not crash civilization as we know it.

CW:   Given that 80% of people now are living at subsistence level just being able to get food will be the most important skill. Personally, I think they should (the UN) have a program where you get paid $50 to get a vasectomy and $100 to get a hysterectomy. I think it will more than pay for itself in terms of fewer emergency programs (which usually end up being permanent).

AL:   I agree with the notion of providing people living at subsistence level with the option of sterilization, though tubal ligation seems to me a more humane alternative to a hysterectomy, which entails major surgery and a real risk of post-op infection. There are also 5-year subcutaneous contraceptive 'capsules' (for women) available which would allow for reversibility should -- that is, if -- economic conditions change. This raises the loaded question of whether the elite have the right to impose infertility on the poor and powerless. I'll sound meek here, but I'm divided on the issue. Emotions vs. mind and all that ... ;)

EM:   Cal's suggestion of an award to those at the subsistence level to forego parenthood strikes me as having much merit. I not only agree with the idea, I would opt for doubling the amounts noted. In nations having millions with a fifty or hundred dollar a year per capita annual income, it could be of real attraction.

Andrea states, "This raises the loaded question of whether the elite have the right to impose infertility on the poor and powerless." The elite have the right to do anything they please, and they always have had, and always will, it is inherent in the human condition of social organization. If the elite did not have the power to do what they wish, they would not be elite, in that power is one of the main motivators and purposes of social stratification.

A right is a benefit or privilege granted by one segment of society to another. It is not like sunshine, rain, and gravity, experienced by all members of any particular social organization. It is within my living memory that a person of the Jewish religion did not have the right to exist in Germany, or any nation controlled at the time by Germany.

Cal's suggestion is not an imposition by force, or fiat with sanctions for noncompliance, it is offered as an inducement. Whether it be vasectomy, hysterectomy, or tubal ligation could be options offered. At least one alternative to this idea we can see in various African and Asian nations right now, with hordes of semi-literate, or illiterate, unemployed teenage males running around in pickup trucks, each of them armed with AK-47's. We see in Afghanistan the women of a society reduced to a level below that of livestock, which must be reasonably well cared-for to retain market value.

Derrick's idea of training and retraining for an advancing technological society does not have much application to the large subsistence level population of the world, valid as it may be to that small part of the world population to which it will apply. The United States, with approximately one twenty-fifth of the world's population, consumes an amazingly disproportionate amount of the world's resources. Will this circumstance continue unchanged into the foreseeable future?

JRG:   I am also new to the group and I was thinking on presenting a topic related with gifted children in a few days; but meanwhile,  having read your message, I've decided to send my first message as a comment on intelligence in the 21st century.

I think that we can see right now in our society a higher valuation for information (we can hear about Information Technologies, etc.) We have a great amount of disposable information through many ways (TV, Internet,...). But I am a little pessimistic about the nature of this information; many times it is unstructured, and there is a need of an information infrastructure in the individual that receives it in order to get the best from it.

And I think that the knowledge package needed to get or to keep a job, that has en expiry date and has to be replaced by a new package, needs to be placed in a person that also has a knowledge infrastructure; and here is where I agree with you in the sense that intelligence is what provides a person with this infrastructure, and becomes a key factor.

If there is an ability to filter and put order in the incoming information, and to place it in the right context, I think that age should not be a limit to play the knowledge cycle game; and if this is (or I think it should be) a dynamic process. The need for one or another kind of material can be detected soon.

However, I ask me if our society values intelligence (true intelligence) as much as it seems to value information; because many times it looks like if the expected thing to do is to consume and not to question why; alternatives seem to be discarded from the beginning; there seems to be only {one} RIGHT way to do the things (economy, politics, etc.). Should this keep on being as it is?

By the way, could someone give me more information about the book titled The Bell Curve; author, publishing, etc. ?

EM:   The Bell Curve is by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. It was published by The Free Press, New York, 1994. Hardcover, 845 pages, $29.95. The full title is The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Herrnstein holds a doctorate in psychology from Harvard, Murray has a doctorate in Political Science from MIT. One of them has died since the publication of the book, I'm not sure, but will guess it was Murray.

The book has been immensely controversial, no surprise to anyone, in that the American public dislikes intellectuals and standardized tests, even more does it detest any sort of social stratification based on such criteria.

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