Introduction to Dowlphin in 1,800 words
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”
A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859, referencing the French Revolution seventy years previously and warning Britain of the darkness that was about to engulf Victorian society. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, daring to suggest that Adam and Eve might be mythical rather than real, was published in the same year. In the heat of the European uprisings of 1848, Marx’s Communist Manifesto proclaimed that “A spectre is haunting Europe…” and nineteen years later, Marx published the first of three volumes of Das Kapital. They were interesting times – they were cursed times.
The age of windmills and oxen, farms and estates, coaches and canals, commons and town squares, lords and serfs, rents and gratuities, ladies and gentlemen was giving way to an age of iron and steel, factories and cities, production and finance, bosses and workers, wages and profits, men and women, and you and me, modern people. It was a much smaller world. Australia had not yet been “discovered”, America was not yet a land of “destiny”, China was a mystery and Africa was a blank space on the maps.
Dickens described the turmoil and contradictions of his society through the personal lives of his characters. Darwin described how one form of life becomes another through mutation-adaptation-selection; and Marx described how one epoch turns into another through contradiction and crisis. These thinkers all saw how change came out of contradiction and evolution. Their ideas resonated and still resonate. Dickens the writer, the reformer, the superstar; Marx the philosopher, the revolutionary, the nuisance; and Darwin the remote meticulous reluctant scientist.
Between storms there is calm, between wars there is peace, between zero and infinity there are finite numbers. Between the nothingness of pre-birth and the nothingness of after-death there is life. Beneath the calm, the tranquillity, the finiteness and life there are tectonic plates that are destined to meet, moving slowly and imperceptibly with a latent power that eventually splits the earth, explodes a mountain, overwhelms the seas and bring anarchy to an apparently stable and changeless world.
In contrast to the perfect form that Plato argued was “out there”, where an elephant is, was and will always be an elephant and where elephants on Earth are mere imperfect replicas of this perfection, we now have a Darwinian perspective in which the elephants we see before our eyes are the descendants of non-elephants and the forebears of different non-elephants; where what was a seabed is now a vertical cliff in the middle of the Australian desert; and where white-skinned Europeans are the descendants of dark-skinned Africans.
Furthermore, thanks to Einstein and Hubble, sitting on the shoulders of Galileo and Newton, we now know not only that Earth is not the centre of the universe, but we also know – with near certainty since nothing scientific is permitted to be certain – that Earth rotates at 1,670 Km/hr as its orbits at 111,600 Km/hr around Sun which in turn orbits around its galactic central point 25,000 light years away every 220-250 million years while the universe expands at a speed of 1,260 Km/hr. This is enough to make the head spin and for an 80Kg object on the spinning Earth to be tossed off into the seeming infinity of space… but it doesn’t – we can almost sit still.
The torrid times of Dickens, Darwin and Marx were followed by violent uprisings, revolutions, civil wars and interstate wars but they were also followed by the longer, more wide-ranging, more secure and less pained lives that you dear reader, may take for granted and which many of your neighbours might even even entitled to – even though our lifestyles are far from universal across the globe and only a recent historical phenomenon.
Whether and how the positive development of the past 250 years can be universalised are for Dowlphin, the big questions that face humanity. And whether the negative upheavals were necessary preconditions to the development of institutions which enabled progress is for Dowlphin, one of the big questions of History. These are the questions that frame this blog site.
Dowlphin’s is predisposed to believe that a peaceful universalising of progress is desirable and possible, but whether it will come to fruition is an open question. It is THE QUESTION which motivates Dowlphin to search for insight and to disseminate it through this blog. The only certainties are that progress will seem long relative to the demand for instant gratification, it will involve false starts, misleading promises and pain along the journey, and it will be filled with irony and paradox appealing to dream and forgetting past nightmares. It will involve uncertainties begging for new forms of political, economic and financial organisation and new ways of thinking history, nature, ethics, psychology, education and creativity.
As things stand now in mid-2016, with Trump and Brexit, with low investment despite historical low interest rates, and low economic productivity growth despite a Moore’s Law doubling of technological capacity every two years, all is in flux as the era arguably evolves from our current way of life into either a future dominated by robotics, the internet-of-all-things, artificial intelligence and the like OR into a Hobbesian world of all-against-all collapse.
It is easy to claim that “it has always been thus” or that “there is nothing new under the Sun”, but to deny that the last 250 years have not been special, or that period 1950-2000 were not extra-special defies the evidence of the long history that starts from the Big Bang and homo arising from the sea and the tree millions of years ago rather than the mere 6,000-year Genesis story in which some benevolent omniscient FatherBeing creates us in its own image.
All this is by way of introducing you, dear reader, to the frame with which Dowlphin views Economics, Politics, History and Philosophy. It is the frame with which Dowlphin filters the podcast selections on this blog site. It is a frame that shows how appearance differs from reality, how one thing becomes another, how the short-term relates to the long-term and how the measurement of an object may change the nature of the object itself. It is a frame which stands in stark contrast to the way Economic policy is reported, discussed and thought about in the media, around dinner tables, after a round of golf and at political party meetings and conferences. It is a thought-structure that might be viewed as eccentric, wild and mad. Be that as it may, it is the frame that results from the neuronal electro-magnetic signals that rush around inside Dowlphin’s mind after reading, experiencing, talking and watching. Welcome!
It is a frame that views humans as creatively special relative to the known universe and the past but potentially unexceptional relative to the unknown universe and potentially destructive and self-destructive relative to the future it dreams of. It is a frame that sees contemporary institutions such as democracy, nationalism, individualism and global capitalism as coming out of a poorly remembered past and going into a difficult-to-predict future.
It is a frame which delights in how unintended consequences pile on top of unintended consequences, in how the road to both heaven and hell are paved with good intentions, and how (unknown unknown) ignorance dwarfs (unknown known) belief + (known known) fact + (known unknown) speculation i.e.
The road to heaven and hell are paved with good intentions because the unknown unknown is greater than belief, fact and superstition
i.e. where U = unknown and K = known: UU > UK (belief) + KK (fact) + KU (speculation)
The purpose of this essay is to introduce the filters that Dowlphin uses to choose the podcasts, links and commentary that will populate this site. The essay in 6-parts introduces you to the delightful equation above, applied to the issues that obsess Dowlphin’s mind. Thus:
- The initial offering in Part 1 is a brief history of the 20th century – in 1500 words. This is to show Dowlphin’s mind-frame to a topic that you, dear reader, are probably familiar with.
- This is followed in Part 2 by brushstrokes that explain why national economic policy management is lost in rough unknown waters with defective steering mechanisms.
- Part 3 examines anthropogenic global warming – arguably the most difficult challenge of the current generation. It is a challenge which threatens the very existence of life on Earth as we know it. Climate change is one of the “four horsemen” of the Apocalypse that historically have led to local civilizational collapses.
- Part 4 discusses the challenges and opportunities offered to Homo Sapiens by artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnological innovation via Moore’s Law. Together, these technologies are likely to change human bodies, the meaning of work and leisure, and the human relationships. As humans are different from hunter gatherers, so our descendants will be different from us – possibly by the end of this century! It can be a magnificent future.
- Part 5 looks at global power in the context of the ascendancy of China, the relative decline of USA, the confusion of Europe and the catching up of the Rest – what it might mean for war, peace, the Enlightenment and personal freedoms for Humans everywhere.
- Part 6 is a personal reflection on racism, nationalism, theism and individualism as both blights and blessings – albeit from the perspective of a “privileged over-educated wealthy white male” with a “progressive” outlook and a “conservative” disposition.
Dowlphin does not mean to either predict or prescribe, but inevitably, both will subconsciously enter and be evident to you, dear reader. Dowlphin means to show rather than to tell, but telling will be inevitable. The reader should view this essay more as at best an attempt at Picasso-style cubism or at worst an attempt at Jackson Pollack abstract expressionism rather than classical realist portraiture or an article for an academic journal.
We know that everything is dynamic and nothing lasts forever, yet we yearn for stability, cherish what we know and tremble before the unknown. In this yearning, there is a temptation to ignore science and history. In this yearning we focus on the only lives we have and are aware of in any moment. In this, we risk ignoring the who, what, where and how of ourselves and where we are going. We risk ignoring the followers of Dickens, Darwin and Marx who walk, talk and write amongst us today – Kahneman, Morris, Pinker, Picketty, Sen, Dawkins, Stiglitz, Morris, on the non-fiction side and Coetzee, Atwood, Morrison, Rushdie, Eugenides, Adiche and Roi. To this end
- History of the Twentieth Century in 1800 words
- Contemporary Capitalism in 3550 words
- Global Warming (to be released September 2016)
- Geopolitics (to be released October 2016)
- Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Employment (to be released November 2016)
- Nationalism, Racism and other Identity Otherisms (to be released in December 2016)