Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's That Time Again

the psychological and sociological derivations of jargon use from
We laugh at bizarre excesses, such as "kinetic wellness" to mean "gym class" (true example!) but jargon has a darker implication: buzzwords can be well-chosen to mask a truth that the uninitiated may find distasteful. ......Somewhere in this is an answer to Peter Richerson's questions about a society's maximization of complexity. Peter said, if I understood him correctly, that societies increase their intricacy at a rate which far exceeds what one would expect if one were looking at things from the point of view of economy. Societies seem to do far more than maximize utility. And so they do. In fact, they too obey the rule of conspicuous consumption. The more useless excess they can flaunt, the higher they move on the hierarchy of social groups. The entire hierarchical system is geared not to saving but to showing how much one can afford to throw away. However today's useless frippery often turns into tomorrow's commodity. In 1950, only massive government agencies could afford the luxury of a computer. Today almost everyone's got one. And most folks of moderate means have a dozen or so-six or seven hidden in the workings of their car, a few in the microwave, the television set, the stereo, the telephone, and even an extra called a Palm Pilot. The evolutionary game is not rigged to reward those who reduce, it showers its rewards on those who can produce. It favors those most able to turn the unusable into treasure and the inanimate into biomass.
True, one can radically up one's surplus by increasing productivity-which DOES mean saving energy. But one saves it only to be able to expend even more than one ever could produce, consume, and toss away before. The basic imperative of a complex adaptive system is the following-"To he who hath it shall be given. From he who hath not, even what he hath shall be taken away." This operates even at the basic level of planetary formation. The gob of gathering gook which grows the largest manages to become a planet. The sliver which stays slim gets even slimmer and becomes a mere moon, meteorite, or mite of cosmic dust. Even the force of gravity rewards the greedy and makes the self-denying slim their way into oblivion.
Is this why the rules of economics which have been applied to evolutionary analysis for the last hundred years or so simply don't pan out? Few creatures on this earth opt for sheer utility. Most are driven by the need for luxury. And the more they luxuriate, the more they exfoliate. The evolutionary imperative is to make, not just to save. Evolution works us overtime not to slim things down but to elaborate. Hence we do not have a universe slouching toward the miserliness of entropy. We have one climbing to the heights of more complexity.

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