Choosing Traditions, Guiding Culture, Competing For The Future

Whether you wish it or not, whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, you and your family and community are in a competition for survival of your values.

Don’t believe* me?  There are about 2.5M feather-Indians in the US, but 2.6 dot-Indians, dot-Indians have many more members than their population would warrant in academia, the professions, starting and running business, politics and the media.  Old Order Amish double their populations every 22 years because 90+% of their children stay in the faith, while Mormons flee their faith in large numbers, church attendance for all faiths is stagnant or falling everywhere.  We can all agree that stable families are enormously important for our children’s success in life, but more than 1/3rd of births in the US are out of wedlock, and divorce rates are falling only because so many fewer people are getting married.

This isn’t a failure of traditions, we have largely failed to transmit our values.  Among my family and our family’s friends, almost all have at least one parent who is an engineer, scientist or works in business, most 2.  Of all of our children, one has become technical support for business software, one is in medical tech, another is in business, and our son is an engineering/manufacturing/business apprentice.  The rest have majored in some liberal arts discipline and adopted genteel professions, office work or music or art or teaching.

Not to slight liberal arts majors, but the difference between them and any scientific or applied science disciplines such as engineering, farming, business, manufacturing or medicine in values, mind sets, points of view, connections to reality are very real and very large.  We did not become a modern world based on better public policies, arts, sermons, literary criticisms or sociological studies (although all the propaganda-related studies had a lot to do with it).  Those are secondary in the rise of a civilization, an expression of success, primary is business + technology/science and the ever-better understandings of the world they enable.

We have failed to pass the importance of our reality-based views in building this civilization on to our children.   Most of our children’s minds have been captured by the values of the liberal intelligentsia.

If our world is about to get hard, as many of us expect, community will be important for survival of you and your family, and values have always had a lot to do with that.  Time to pay attention to the characteristics that lead to community resilience.

Failure Analysis of Cultures

Just as we can do a failure analysis of government, we can do a failure analysis of our culture.  There is a prob

Good thought here : no C&E, so have to approach it from constraints coming from humans : have to fit humans, they have to live within them and the social forms and institutions must be workable by humans.  Lots of perfect systems, just not for people.

With the same intent, adopting better values and forms.  We can guide that process to a better future for us all.

Depending on your measure, our USofA in 2015 is either an amazing success or a huge failure.  On the success side, we have very many clever people in engineering, law, academia, the arts, the sciences, medicine.  Progress in those were very rapid for the first 2/3rds of the 20th century.  For the last 45 years, progress has been rapid in some areas of science, computers and software, medicine, engineering, even some areas of business, e.g. the US leads the world in starting technological companies.

And, OTOH, reading the headlines on for a week will convince you that economic progress has slowed, and the current Status Quo of education, finance, military and politics is not sustainable.  Also, big changes are close.

The failure of our culture is revealed in the failure of our solutions and the values they represent:

  • Multiplying laws endlessly does not produce order nor justice.
  • Multiplying social programs does not produce a balanced society with social mobility.
  • Multiplying the number and gradations of credentials does not enhance a meritocracy.
  • More police and more professional police do not mean less crime.
  • More people in jail does not mean less crime.
  • Political divisions based on the standard dimensions of left-right, D vs R, social conservative vs liberal, rich vs poor and native vs immigrant do not produce a government that leads the country in positive directions.
  • More professional teachers and more school administrators does not mean more educated students.
  • Multiplying educational edicts does not make a knowledgeable and wise population.
  • More process does not produce honesty or justice.
  • More oversight does not guide institutions or people in better paths.
  • More spending on security has produced endless war.

I could document the exactly opposite outcome from all of the good intentions fostered by power that have justified our current Status Quo.

The virtues of individual humans, acting within institutions, necessary to maintain civilization have been lost : honesty, integrity, able to reason, valuing knowledge and wisdom, trustworthy in all things**.    Where are the Snowdons, government insiders protesting massive violations of the nation’s fundamental law?  Where are the military officers whose honor compels them to sacrifice their lives following orders, yet will not resign when given assignments they know will cost their country far more than it can pay?  Where are the politicians who illuminate the trends and wish to lead us to solutions?  The philosophers and theologians who explain the intellectual and ethical flaws that allowed all of this to happen?

Our political failure is because the culture’s values failed to support it : Our Constitution was designed for a particular society, and this is no longer that society.  Thus, the Constitution does not work, and no Constitution could work with our current cultural values, the real working values, not the 4th of July facade.

Our economic failure is a result of the political failure.  This pattern can be interpreted as a standard progression in history***, and often is.

This is a failure to scale the size of institutions via laws, rules, regulations, policy manuals.  Why is not knowable with enough certainty, all we can do is start over from community and experiment : large working systems begin with small working systems.

Solutions will not arise in our Status Quo, they are the problem, the people whose social status, livelihoods and wealth depend upon many of those policies and cultural values, none of which have produced the result intended and claimed, indeed have produced the reverse and perverse.

Engineering the Evolution of Your Values and Social Forms

Engineering is specifying your requirements and designing to those requirements, testing everything.  That assumes you know your goal, as that controls requirements to be specified.  What are possible goals for a society?

We do not have the choice of stasis.  Cultural change is a constant, driven by forces at every level, the same factors that we must use to progress toward our goals.

We cannot go back to some ideal state : none ever existed.  We also cannot return to some prior working culture : you could not get there from here and we wouldn’t want to, it would not fit.  We are a different people in a different culture in entirely different circumstances, under entirely different constraints.

With or without intent and intelligent design, we begin with us in the here and now and proceed forward.

So we can’t go back and can’t stay here, the exhaustive list of possible solutions is  designing a new culture and imposing it on ourselves and enough of our neighbors to make it long-term viable, or evolving a culture that fits our current circumstances and changes with them.

The only choice, beginning whenever convenient, we families have to change our culture, check that it works for us, do it again.  We have to move to a culture superior to all current cultures in fostering our genes and culture and values.  Our adherents must be able to identify each other, and quickly proceed to trust so as to cooperate at the highest levels.  We will obsolete current cultural values, norms and institutions by moving our culture out from under their control.

We know they will not be able to compete with us because superior cultures have an advantage in attracting the best people and maximizing their development and effectiveness.  Our culture is increasingly energized by our successes, theirs increasingly demoralized by the continuing cascade of failures and the inability of their society to handle them.

We are leaving their inferior culture in good conscience, we tried to tell everyone, had no effect in the tsunami of cultural values they rolled over us.

Engineering is specifications and design.  Evolution in this case is selective breeding experiments, mixing our culture’s memes with memes from outside it.

It is perfectly possible to design a culture, or at least a set of values of a culture and impose them from the top.  Those were strongly coercive systems, which are strongly negative-sum.  More voluntary forms can last, the US and other countries have had various communal organizations form in every era of history.  Some last past their founder’s generation, e.g. religious groups, most do not.  Some are wonderful places to live, people are reluctant to leave.  But most are boring after a while, they don’t get to a scale that supports a social life of enough variety.

But we don’t need to make wholesale changes, we can decide to spend Christmas Day in Chinatown as a tradition, or any other particular thing that might improve our lives. Social history has many social forms and roles that may be adapted to pesent requirements.  Those once worked, people haven’t changed, we can explain them using modern science, and in our very tolerant society, we have freedom to experiment.  That freedom and the modern ability to communicate peer-to-peer about our experimental results will produce very fast evolution.

Our current cultural norms and forms and institutions are largely accident in origin, weakly selected for in the competition of norms, forms and institutions.  Everything happened because someone chose to do something different, to deal with a problem, to make life a little easier for someone, just as I propose above.  People constantly think over the recent past and notice things that could be made easier.  Change and evaluate is a normal part of life.

The hubris of this proposal is that we pay attention to making that origin and selection of how we live and think work more effectively in the only ways possible : many and continuous changes at local levels, careful testing, information sharing, slow adoption by others.  That is the only possible way to desirable futures in a world of open, evolving, complex systems.

The Goal of a Specification For Our Culture

The specification I arrive at is “maximal sustainable growth rate of civilization”.  That requires a culture that plays positive-sum games with maximal effectiveness and excludes those who play negative-sum games.

Selective Breeding of Values and Traditions

Selecting what social tasks need attended to and how to do that in wending our way through life in community is is what happens continuously in everybody’s life.  Everyone has to make decisions about whose birthday party to go to, or which events can be skipped because you are on vacation, …

It is not different when mixing cultures.  Cultures come together in many ways, people adjust and both cultures change, eventually largely fuse.  Those are always compromises, and are path-dependent.

Standard advice for all times and places : A series of local optimizations, compromises, does not produce the optimum result. So every few years, stop and look at all of the things you are doing, rethink the optimum.

Is school working?  Is your family living the best values?  Are you all very honest with each other, and have the necessary loving acceptance of human flaw to make that work?  You choose the values and the issues and the changes.

Doing this consciously is managing your selective breeding of your culture.  Doing it unconsciously is being human.

*As an honestly honest member of the Honest Party, I have to tell you that any Googler can find a writer to support any point they want to make.  The ones I select, of course, are extremely wise men, which you know because they agree with me.  As I have neglected to begin every post with this context, you should doubt my judgement about wisdom.

**Right, nobody ever achieved that ideal. but also no culture that didn’t value those things and measure leaders by them ever got anywhere.

***Every historical event has many details, values in a multidimensional space with a very large number of dimensions.  So every such matches all others in may dimensions, and differs in many others.  Another aspect of systems providing data that allows correlation, never cause and effect.  Correlation is not useless, but, given multiple causes of everything, is a hint, not a firm probability, no matter what your data are.


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