My counsel to anyone starting out in life is to move away from where you grew up as soon as you can.
It’s the rare person who can rise much above where he started out in life.
The conservative person, according to famed political theorist Russell Kirk, might disagree with me on that point.
To the conservative mind, customs, traditions, and continuity are what make life have meaning. Said another way, life is meaningless without the memories and ceremonies of local culture.
Kirk continues on by indicating that what works comes out of the history of one’s community. The laws which guide the life of modern society grew out of the give and take of decades if not centuries of ancient practices.
To Kirk and another famous conservative thinker, Edmund Burke, be careful what you wish for. It may not be as good as what you already have. It’s better to deal with the devil you know, than the one you don’t.
The other side of the argument
It’s hard enough to shake your past without having a philosophy that glorifies keeping things the way they’ve always been.
In my view, for as good as the stability of local communities is, it very easily can retard as much as it preserves. The longer a local culture maintains its past, the more old families and organizations work to keep things the way they want them to be. The drive for power and control are never far from the surface of the actions and decisions of the self interests of any established elite.
This is the way bad habits and practices get started and perpetuate themselves generation after generation. Keeping practices just because we’ve always done it that way often leads to behavior that discriminates against minorities and those who are too weak or new to organize for change.
Challenged as never before
I’m a believer that change happens because people need it. And the faster the change the more they need it.
If something is detrimental to human survival, humans reject it quickly, for the human mind is geared to perpetuate its own survival.
To my mind humans crave change more than they crave continuity.
If there is anything that is materially different from how preceding generations have acted, it is the speed at which humans have chosen to introduce change into their lives. For as good as continuity and community may be, life is ultimately based on each individual shaping his or her life as she or he chooses to do so.
At this point one of the issues we will be most engaged in over the next century will be our health. This is where you will see the greatest tension between those who want change and those who resist change.
By 2060, we will be given a physical by placing a suave of saliva on a microchip the size of this letter and within minutes have a genetic code printed out complete with every disease and sickness we will be susceptible to. (Scientific American, December, 2012).
Along with this there will be remedies to overcome each. This will virtually eradicate disease as we know it. Health care cost will plummet. (Ibid). The ability to extend life will double.
About the same time this is taking place, gene therapy, aided by the awesome power of digital information will be able to offer genetic enhancements to yet inborn infants. We will be able to enhance an unborn infant’s intelligence, appearance, height, coloring, etc.
The population will most likely be split in two over this issue. There will be the “Naturals” and the “Enhanced”.
The Naturals will resist the change, claiming it creates a new species and is going against God’s blueprint. The Enhanced will be those who are inclined to embrace change and understand the importance of continually improving human capacity for survival and advancement. (ibid).
The tension between these two groups will be great, even as it is now over issues surrounding stem cell research. Tension could lead to violence as the Naturals find cause to kill the unnatural Enhanced. (Ibid).
This could not happen without the breakthrough in digital information. It is the digitization of information that allows us to count how many genes there are in our body, to increase magnification to see which genes do what, and which ones are mutating. It allows us to aggregate staggering amounts of information to determine what problems exist at a genetic level, and what particular cure will solve the problem.
The digitization of information is a profound development in human history. It challenges the conservative notion of the importance of continuity, and of maintaining traditions that keep us in our place. What, in the mind of the conservative, do we have in the end if not the memories and traditions of the past? I agree.
Nevertheless, digital information materially challenges the amounts of change we will embrace going forward. Much of that alters the trajectory of change. Clearly there will be more change than there will be continuity.
There is no doubt that conservative minds will have less to be conservative about. But to the extent they do, they will press ever more aggressively. That’s fine, but through it all, the force of change will grow ever stronger when weighed against the desire for continuity, traditions, and customs. It will have to, because what we are approaching is the creation of something very much different than anything we have faced before – the material advancement of the human species. And digital information will play a key role in bringing that about.