Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solarians or the Machine Stops

Neal Stephenson has recently published a piece over at the World Policy Institute titled Innovation Starvation.  A thankful hat trick has to go out to Russell over at Reflexiones Finales.

My oh my, did it ever strike a chord.   Now I will freely grant that I have read every book and major work by Stephenson.  Some I have read several times (I am fascinated by the period following the Thirty Years War to 1725).  I would posit that I would be a acolyte should he ever start a religion.

But the article in question really set my thoughts reeling down a long hallway was the idea that took me to  conclusions that others will find distasteful.  While I agree with Mr Stephenson central premise that the ability to innovate is being ruthlessly stomped out, I come to a completely different reason for the lack.

It all started with this quote for Mister Stephenson:

  ....and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.
At first, the statement seemed innocuous.  Just breezed over it, mind fluff.  But when I started reading through the article, I began to realize that the conditions that he so aptly described flowed from the "Burgeoning middle class" that this supposed innovation was to serve.

Hear me out now.  Because I realize that in American politics, picking on the middle class is a sure way to get yourself lynched, or at least digitally tarred and feathered.  But go through the article and pick out the real meat of Mr. Stephenson's hypotheses concerning the failure to innovate;  The desire of this society to reduce risk to absolute minimums.  This abhorrence of risk is deeply rooted in the middle class.

The reason that we do not truly innovate is that we are too comfortable and bourgeois a society to do so.

I'm going to say that again.

The reason that we do not truly innovate is that we are too comfortable and bourgeois a society to do so.

We have too many "educated" middle people who are just smart enough to know what side their bread is buttered on.  They will resist any significant change to the gravy train.  The poor are just the poor.  They don't have enough money to buy an election, so they get tossed hither and yon.  The rich don't see any reason to upset the apple cart that is making regular deliveries to their wallets.

The big ticket innovation that Mr. Stephenson wistfully remembers is the product of a specific time and mindset.  It is, in a sense, the gravestone of a generation, built in advance.  It is the desperation of the great depression, tempered by the crucible of the second world war, and made giddy with the wealth of being the last man standing in industrial might.

We are the children and grandchildren of these people.  We are more concerned about maintaining our relative status and outward displays of wealth than carving a rocket powered stonehenge.

1 comment:

russell1200 said...

I completely agree with your assessment.

I was going to put something in my post about how everyone in the middle class now feels themselves to be part of the elite class, and that they are entitled to the same concessions and perks that once belonged to only a very small slice of overall population.

But I had already rambled on too long.