Sunday, August 18, 2013

Humanity's problems in the generation, management and distribution of knowledge

Humanity's problems can be best explained with some imagery. Humanity is like a child whose limb called technology has grown a lot, but whose other limbs and body parts have not kept pace. So its ability to correctly use the grown limb without hurting itself (using other parts to balance/control it) is poor.

The feudal estates called schools of thought in various disciplines tend to miss the wood for the trees. Folks from one school believing in unbridled markets gained control over the world and failed to see the impact their decisions driven by their approaches were having. Despite Steve Keen's book and other work showing some of the fallacies, the reform efforts do not seem to be gathering pace. The old foggies in control of the thought streams don't want to let go of their control over their feudal estates, despite the problems in their approaches becoming evident. If their efforts in reforming their approaches were evident, one would understand and respect them. The selfish interests of a few old foggies are preventing the changes needed to reconsider the positions our institutions have been taking and adjust them to put the right bridles on capitalism.

The excessive favouring of on one school of thought from one discipline (represented by the number of academic, research positions and sponsorships) against a balanced funding of teaching, research positions and sponsorships for multiple schools of thoughts from multiple disciplines relevant to the future of humanity has brought us here. This kind of market driven decision making (because the said school of thought propelled itself through its proponents) has caused a bias in our students, professions, academia to focus on subjects and projects which generate returns here and now, irrespective of their impact far and later. As humanity, what have we done to constantly adapt to the growing progress in technology? Why should we even be surprised to find ourselves where we find ourselves? Our economics does not work, our social and political sciences have not kept us ready to manage the social and political impact of technology. Yet we trundle on irresponsibly...those in charge don't even know what deeper forces are unleashing themselves over their fields of responsibility. The spate of governments and rebel forces using chemical weapons, the spectre of technology enabled terrorism, failures in nuclear plants, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters and man-made disasters are yet to change the beliefs and practices of humanity. Absolutely every significant study of the future points to severe challenges, but the urgency does not reflect in the pronouncements and actions of our thought and action leaders.

I posit that humanity needs to manage the process of generation, management and distribution of knowledge better starting with funding  the right people to carry out the right activities which are best for the future of humanity. It cannot happen in the lackadaisical market-driven method common till now. The negative current/future outcomes due to selfish decision-making by all cannot be prevented until we find a way of funding the research required to figure out the multi-disciplinary institutional mechanisms to learn to survive efficiently and effectively with ever evolving technology.

Funding for social sciences needs to improve and standard for them need to keep pace with those for the natural sciences and technologies. We need to learn to plan and manage large scale social and political changes needed to leverage the benefits of technologies, without incurring the problems there-of. And while doing this, we need to figure out ways (policies/actions) of preventing empire-builders to put the rest of us at risk, which pursuing competitive advantage through technologies.

A lot needs to be done...


Pratap Tambay
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