Thursday, October 22, 2015

Delayed Gratification and Immediate Satisfaction

An alien civilization that continues to master increasing levels of technological achievement, and implements them in an efficient manner might be called successful. If the alien civilization has made the decision, earlier in its history, that star travel is a desirable goal for it, then the success it achieves should lead to attempts at star traveling. But is there a minefield here?

Success is tantamount to meeting the desires of the citizens that constitute the society, and also in determining how to do so sustainably. The sustainability clause means that they have found a large store of energy, such as deuterium for fusion, and can build the infrastructure needed to capture this energy and bring it to the cities where the citizens will use it. The clause also means that they have discovered sufficient sources of different resources, and have furthermore instituted a strict regime of recycling, so that the resource base they discovered can be used to provide a good standard of living for a long time.

Just exactly what is included in the phrase ‘meeting the desires of the citizens’? Desires obviously include needs, and there are a wide variety of needs that individual citizens have. These are met by the alien civilization, and then it goes on to meet the less tangible needs the citizens have, such as social interaction, opportunities for contributing to the civilization, competition, cooperation, artistic expression and a whole host of others. To the degree that constraints can be met, these are to be met as well, although obviously, demands for some things can drive the total cost of meeting them too high, so there has to be some regulation as the type and amount of desires on the upper end of the scale that can be met. The citizens need to have their desires met sufficiently so that they remain content with the civilization.

As the alien civilization grows more efficient, and has more energy and resources per alien capita at its disposal, it would be able to meet a larger range of desires from this upper range. But there is another dimension to the ability of the civilization to meet the needs of the citizens. It is time, or more particularly, response time. If the society is extremely efficient, as it might be after a long time of stable conditions, in which improvements can be made in all aspects of the process of meeting desires, then goods and services might be available to the citizens in minutes to hours following their requests.

This type of responsiveness is going to have an effect. When new citizens are gestated, their training and education starts, and it is reasonable that this training and education continues to improve like every other aspect of a long-term, stable civilization. When young alien citizens finish their education, they should have, not just the factual knowledge and mental and physical skills that the society wants them to have, they should also have an understanding of what is good behavior and reasonable expectations. Good behavior and reasonable expectations would include the concept of delayed gratification, which are really code words for working and waiting for those things you desire. It is a key element of building a society, and without it the alien civilization would never have gotten started with its long line of accomplishments, back in the days before technology was so powerful and proficient. Thus, when young citizens come out of their preparatory period, they would understand the benefits of delaying gratification, so that there would be time to do whatever is necessary to earn the benefits.

After technology rolls out, work is performed by automation, by robotics, by intellos, or some other mechanism, unless alien citizens deliberately desire to become part of some work process. This is a clash with the training, if it is based on the historical needs of the society. The alien civilization through its formative years, had a strong need for citizens to produce things, physical objects and knowledge, and to perform the functions of the society in maintaining itself and satisfying its citizens. Thus, young alien citizens will be immersed in a civilization that has perfected the ability to satisfy citizen demands, quite in contrast with how demands were met in the early days of the society, and coincidentally, when the curriculum for training young citizens was being set up.

The training relating to delayed gratification will be vestigial. After some years within the alien society, young citizens would begin to forget the lessons of the early days of the civilization, and become very accustomed to simply requesting goods and services and receiving them very promptly. After more time, the training in this regard would be forgotten, or written off as irrelevant. The civilization, in going through the grand transitions, has some re-thinking to do.

There is one thing left in the society that requires an inordinate degree of appreciation for delayed gratification. That is star travel. Seriously preparing for it would start after the grand transitions were over, and the civilization had transitioned to its long-term stable state. There is an immense amount of work necessary to prepare for a interstellar probe, ranging from the astronomical observations needed to choose a destination, to designing the ship, to building it, and figuring out how to stretch reliability capability to the long periods of the mission. There are many details to the design, and not just of the ship, but also of the whole mission itself. All of these hark back to the old way of working with no immediate reward. Perhaps all the construction work would be done robotically, but since this is a task of importance to the citizens, as encapsulated in the fundamental memes of their civilization, they would likely be involved. Tradeoffs between maximum speed and flight time have to be made.

The point to be extracted here is that if the alien civilization allows one of its main goals, satisfaction of citizens’ desires, to be organized in a way which gradually reduces the ability and interest of the citizens in working on or being involved with star travel, except as entertainment, it will be undermining the ability to accomplish the task. It may even undermine the support for it, meme or no meme. There is a distinction between a civilization which puts meeting citizen desires as its top priority, and a civilization which understands the effects of meeting citizen desires in certain ways on the mass psychology of the citizen population, and therefore tempers the methods by which desires are satisfied. In simple terms, citizens who get used to a daily diet of needs being satisfied without delay and without anything more than a request would not likely care about a star travel venture. This may seem like a fine line, but in looking for Great Filters that occur in the final phases of an alien civilizations pre-star travel period, it is necessary to try and understand the psychology of the average citizen. They are the ones who will support or abandon the goals of the star travel meme.

This problem of the psychology of the average citizen is related to and analogous to the Happy Life Great Filter, but they are not one and the same. In this situation, the citizens do not become totally absorbed in their own enjoyable lives, as in the Happy Life scenario, but instead, they are shaped by the procedures of their own society to not want to do anything that has a long period of delay in it. Either way, no star travel and no aliens visiting Earth capitals.

No comments:

Post a Comment