Friday, December 4, 2015

Revolution in Alien Civilizations

Revolution was discussed in an earlier post in connection with intellos, which are intelligent servant creatures created after the genetic grand transition. The deliberation resulted in a conclusion that, although it would make a great movie script, intellos would not revolt. They are not a species and are designed to be docile although clever. They do not have a sense of identity, which is a necessary precursor for revolution. Revolution happens because one faction sees their current social condition as unjust or untenable, and they depart from social norms to use force to accomplish a change to something they see as better. Intellos are generated by industrial means, designed to perform certain tasks. They are not natively intelligent creatures, with a sense of identity and a sense of group, who are compelled to do tasks they would prefer not to do. Intellos are designed to want to do what they are designed to do.

This does not mean that alien civilizations would be immune to revolution, far from it. But the characteristics of it would be different for different phases of the civilization, depending on which grand transitions were already passed, or which one they were in. Revolution is some sort of convulsive change of status of a faction of an alien civilization. Change in status happens continually, as technological determinism shows that with changes in technology, there are changes in the hierarchical structure of the civilization, as well as in many other aspects of it. When the rate of change is abrupt, such as over the course of a small part of a generation, or even a tiny fraction of it, then this can be called a revolution. Violence in a physical way is not necessary, but might be more common than not.

Change happens abruptly because slower change is prevented by some social mechanisms that a faction is able to put in place. In only makes sense that such a faction would have to have some levers to control how the society changes, and these might be via the memes in a civilization living before the genetic grand transition, where intelligence becomes universally available, or it might be through force, if one faction had a near-monopoly on it, or it might be through access to economic factors, again if one faction had a near-monopoly on it. Such successful stubbornness against following the gradual changes in society dictated by technology provides a situation where there is a strong motivation for change, but a lack of options to effect it. So some revolution has to happen.

Other revolutions can occur solely because of weakening of this stubbornness, due not to technological change, but to its evolution under the positive feedback loops that are engendered by factionalism. Ruling classes often want more, and the exactions destabilize the civilization.

A revolution occurring before the industrial grand transition, the industrial revolution, means that civilizations are toppled and may cease to exist. An Earth example is the revolution in Copán, a Mayan city, which was one of the most advanced ones in Central America. Copán lasted as a major capital in the Mayan civilization for four centuries, ending around 822, when the population refused to continue to serve the theological rulers of the city, despite the continued promulgation of the theology. The city ceased to be populated, and the population, of all classes, returned to subsistence farming. The theology was used to justify the refusal to change, and when it became subject to contradictions, the city emptied very quickly. Nobles were not attacked, simply ostracized. The four centuries of civilization simply came to an end, never to be resuscitated.

Revolutions occurring after the industrial grand transition have the problem of maintaining the sustenance of the population. This occurs because it is no longer feasible for the large population made possible by the technological change to return to subsistence farming. So the character of the revolution must be different. A replacement of the ruling faction with others capable of maintaining the sustenance levels is the only path for revolution that does not lead to chaos and dispersal of people seeking to survive. The Russian revolution of 1918 was an Earth example of this. Farms, factories and other facilities were not abandoned, but taken over by committees comprised of former members of the lower and middle classes. The accompanying civil war did wreak havoc, but not because of an abandonment of technological progress.

A revolution during the genetic grand transition would be different yet. There are obviously no Earth examples to cite. With the diffusion of higher intelligence, the justifications for a factional hierarchy cease to exist, if they ever were true. The allocation of social resources to individuals in a hierarchy is not based on their contributions, no matter what justification is generated and promulgated. Individuals do not have such a wide range of capabilities. Any justification based on some unique knowledge or unique procedures for management would become transparently false when knowledge of all kinds becomes simply available to anyone wanting it, for use or for examination. Without such justifications, the factionalism becomes untenable, and the lower orders of the hierarchy would not continue to contribute to it.

Furthermore, with increased intelligence spreading through the population, there would be an inevitable questioning of the regulations society had erected to maintain the hierarchical structures. During pre-genetic grand transition times, these regulations can serve as some sort of justification for the hierarchy, but this justification would melt away as more and more individuals can scrutinize them and verify that they exist without any robust reason, and were simply put in place to serve as a pseudo-theology justifying the existence of the hierarchy.

At this point in an alien civilization’s progress toward asymptotic technology, productivity is more and more done by robotics and some early intellos, if the society chooses to generate them. Control of them is done automatically. This means benefits from this structure of the civilization are not the result of any individual’s actions, and a lop-sided allocation of these benefits will become more and more unconscionable to members of the society. Unless some sort of force is used to keep them in place, a leveling must happen. And if force is available to maintain the hierarchy, this would simply act as more of the stubbornness noted above, and make the final sudden change more upsetting. It would become more difficult to maintain the civilization at the same level of overall productivity during the revolution if it is delayed.

So there are at least three varieties of revolution that can beset an alien civilization. All three act to delay progress to asymptotic civilization, but not to derail it, except under some extreme circumstances. Revolution is therefore not likely to be a Great Filter, resulting in planets becoming plateau planets and never having the option of building starships to come and see us.

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