Friday, September 15, 2023

What we seek to save when we seek to save the world

Yet anoather fascinating set of ideas from Venkatesh Rao that I want to save for myself by doing a MindBlog post of some clips from the piece.
...threats that provoke savior responses are generally more legible than the worlds that the saviors seek to save, or the mechanisms of destruction...I made up a 2x2 to classify the notions of worlds-to-save that people seem to have. The two axes are biological scope and temporal scope...Biolocial scope is the 'we' - the range of livings beings included as subjects in the definition of 'world'...Temporal scope is the range of time over which any act of world-saving seeks to preserve a historical consciousness associated with the biological scope. Worlds exist in time more than they do in space.
Constructing a 2x2 out of the biological and temporal scope dimensions we get the following view of worlds-to-save (blue), with representative savior types (green) who strive to save them.
Deep temporal scope combined with a narrow biological scope gives us civilizations for worlds, ethnocentrists as saviors. ..The End of the World is imagined in collapse-of-civilization terms.
Shallow temporal scope combined with a broad biological scope gives us technological modernity for a world, and cosmopolitans for saviors. A shallow temporal scope does not imply lack of historical imagination or curiosity. It merely means less of history being marked for saving...The End of the World is imagined in terms of rapid loss of scientific knowledge and technological capabilities.
Shallow temporal scope combined with narrow biological scope gives us a world defined by a stable landscape of modern nations...The End of the World is imagined in terms of descent to stateless anarchy. Failure is imagined as a Hobbesian condition of endemic (but not necessarily primitive or ignorant) warfare.
...the most fragile kind of world you can imagine trying to save: one with both a broad biological scope, and a deep temporal scope. This is the world as wildernesses...The End of the World is imagined in terms of ecological devastation and reduction of the planet to conditions incapable of sustaining most life. Failure is imagined in terms of forced extreme adaptation behaviors for the remnants of life. A rather unique version of this kind of world-saving impulse is one that contemplates species-suicide: viewing humans as the threat the world must be saved from. Saving the world in this vision requires eliminating humanity so the world can heal and recover.
I find myself primarily rooting for those in the technological modernity quadrant, and secondarily for those in the wildernesses quadrant. I find myself resisting the entire left half, but I’ve made my peace with their presence on the world-saving stage. I’m a cosmopolitan with Gaian tendencies.
I think, for a candidate world-to-save to be actually worth saving, its history must harbor inexhaustible mysteries. A world whose past is not mysterious has a future that is not interesting. If a world is exhausted of its historical mysteries, biological and/or temporal scope must be expanded to remystify and re-enchant it. This is one reason cosmopolitanism and the world-as-technological-modernity appeal to me. Its history is fundamentally mysterious in a way civilizational or national histories are not. And this is because the historical consciousness of technological modernity is, in my opinion, pre-civilizational in a way that is much closer to natural history than civilization ever gets.
For a cosmopolitan with Gaian tendencies, to save the modern world is to rewild and grow the global web of already slightly wild technological capabilities. Along with all the knowledge and resources — globally distributed in ways that cannot be cleanly factored across nations, civilizations, and other collective narcissisms — that is required to drive that web sustainably. And in the process, perhaps letting notions of civilization — including wishful notions of regulating and governing technology in ‘human centric’ ways — fall by the wayside if they lack the vitality and imagination to accommodate technological modernity

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