Thursday, May 26, 2016

Types of Governance in Alien Civilizations

Governance can be by whom or how. Why would this be important? Because those who govern, at the right time, get to set the policy for the alien civilization, and if they do it right, the policy will last for generations. In particular, with some pretty good luck, these policies might endure in force all the way up to the time when space travel becomes possible, and then, if the policy for star travel promoted it, it could be done. With people governing at this key but early time who disdain star travel, and if they possess an understanding of how to set memes for their civilization that will last for very long periods, there will be none. So, if we are trying to figure out which alien civilizations may set forth on the long, long voyages to other star systems, we might first try to figure out who's likely to be in charge and then what their preferences might be.

Why isn't this direction of inquiry just a speculative nightmare? Wouldn't it be better just to stick to drawing impressive models of star ships? Questions like what kind of engine to use and where to put the radiation shielding seem to be more amenable to analysis.

There is one problem with just drawing models of star ships. Who's going to pay for the large cost of building them? Why wouldn't they spend their money on other things, like habitats on planets in their own solar system, or some more gigantic observatories or improvements in the cities the aliens live in? This kind of decision is part and parcel of any civilization, and without a widespread decision on making this investment, it wouldn't be done. No matter how pretty some alien engineer draws his models of star ships, and even how realistic they might be, if the governing authority of the civilization thinks it's just a stupid idea to go to other stars, or if there is some basic meme that all young aliens learn stating that star travel is not their game, there is going to be nobody interstellar visiting Earth, or leaving behind evidence of their visit, or even giving off signatures of star ships passing nearby.

So, while it might be ever so entertaining to look at someone's visualization of an alien star ship, or even to watch an animation of it, this really isn't the nub of the problem. The only reason someone should look at star ship designs is to see if there are any physical impossibilities that prohibit it. This would override any alien civilization's fervent meme to go star traveling. They would find out, soon enough on they pathway to asymptotic technology, that you just can't do that. Barring that outcome of design, coming up with interesting ways to configure the conn or the power units doesn't have much value toward figuring out if anybody is going to show up here on Earth.

Before actually trying to deduce anything about alien governance in the meme-writing period, perhaps it would be a good idea to come up with some basis for the deductions. Intuition, as we all know, is completely faulty, but a good defense against it is to try and figure out some principles, get those laid out, and then use them to derive something more detailed. So, given we know for certain absolutely nothing about any alien civilization, what could possible be some principles that could be defended?

We do actually know something about alien civilizations in general, so the best way forward might be to try and come up with something generic that might occur most of the time. We understand about how technology determines the structure of a civilization, and there is actually a name for this principle: Technological Determinism. Not too original but it does capture the concept. We understand about the stages that technology might proceed through, as one determines the basis for the next. Alien civilizations which have the potential to reach the peak of technology have to move from their original evolved state through a hunter grand transition, then an agricultural grand transition, then an industrial grand transition which includes both mechanical and electronic/optical portions, then a genetics grand transition closely coupled with a neurological grand transition. Along the way they figure out how to run a civilization, with subjects like economics and sociology, but not anything like what we use these terms for. We understand many of the likely details of these slow, gradual revolutions, and many of the implications of them.

We understand what might be called the most exciting time of their existence, which is the middle part of the genetics grand transition. It is exciting because people are using genetics to become more and more intelligent, and this social upgrading of intelligence on a wide scale puts an end to many of the problems that beset civilizations, such as war and population control, resource usage and behavioral codes. We also expect that policies will be put in place at this time, and the neurological grand transition will provide the technology, the knowledge so to speak, about how to make these policies universally accepted. Yes, it could be screwed up and fail, leaving everyone to figure out their own opinions on policy; with high levels of intelligence, most alien citizens should come up with the same results, with some exceptions.

One exception is the meme for star travel. There is nothing in physics or astronomy or chemistry or communications or neurology or genetics or anywhere else that dictates to an alien civilization what it will do about star travel. This is predicated on the assumption that it is physically and practically possible. So, if there is any widespread agreement on it, it must come via the memes set up by whoever is in charge of such a task.

Here's another principle that might be useful. Some aliens would be altruistic in this exciting time, but most should be still interested in their own welfare and prosperity, or that of certain circles, perhaps small or perhaps large. So, the implication from this is that if we want to understand the choice for star travel in a typical alien civilization, we need to understand who is in charge, and what their personal benefits might amount to. Sounds pretty simple. We understand from technological determinism how an alien society might be divided up into castes, for lack of a better term, and we know their functions in the alien society, so we might get a clue as to what choices they might make for star travel.

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