Social Advances through technology using Bible as Example

[size=75]Edit: Changed the Topics Subject to be more to the point.
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I know I use the world bible, but this has more to do with general philosophy then religion so I have posted it here.

The Bible is considered by many to be the inspired word of God given to humanity to guide them in the struggle of Good Vs Evil. While to more cynical eyes it just appears to be another one of many books of dogmas handed down from generation to generation to enforce customs, be they good or bad (from a secular perspective). Recently I finished a book called ‘Non-zero’ by the author Robert Wright. In this book he finished off on an interesting point about social development and uses the Bible as evidence for this.

Before I get to this point I need to explain the general theme of the book, which is how technology brings people together in cooperation to achieve greater goals then would be possible individually. Take the following example: If you want to buy a pair of shoes how many different people are involved in this process? It’s like the tip of the iceberg, only 10% is visible or at least obvious to us. But to make a pair of shoes all the raw materials must be first gathered together. This process could involve multiple sources, requiring cargo ships to transport each of these materials hundredths or thousands of miles to the manufacturing plant were the shoes would be assembled. How many different people has this involved? It’s almost impossible to calculate. Starting at the source there are people to harvest the raw materials, then transport it to the dock for loading onto the ship. Then the captain of the ship sets sail, off towards the manufacturing plant. When it arrives its unload and brought into the workshops. But lets pauses there, as there are still many hidden requirements for it even to get this far. The people who harvested this raw material needed to have tools for fit for this purpose and food to keep them strong. Then there’s the fuel needed for trucks and the people involved in the manufacturing of the trucks and fuel, the same is true for the cargo ships. This would have required thousands of people. The captain also must have been educated, plus the maps used would require mapmakers and printers or more common these days GPS Satellite dishes requiring scientist to invent and all the many laws of physics to be first understood. Okay I think I’ve laboured this point enough to make it clear. Our social structures are so interlinked its almost impossible to see where one begins and another finishes. But how does this relate to the Bible? I’m coming to that.

This interlinking of societies has been a gradual evolution from simple tribes into chiefdoms onto towns and city-states, growing further into regions and then countries. This growth has also been reflected in these groups’ attitudes to foreigners. Self-reliance has also been eroded at the same time and was the cause of many the expansions of tribes becoming chiefdoms and chiefdoms going on to develop into the next stages of growth. If you look at Bible God starts out only loving one couple Adam and Eve. This love expands for a time and then because of “a great evil” there is a set back and only Noah is spared. Again there is growth again only one is selected for love, Abraham. But from this point the story takes a new turn, as there are no more real setbacks, now God has grown to love at a tribe level. While there are many more hiccups along the way, were God wants other local tribes destroyed in his name, he eventually appeases his rage towards these gentiles, sending Jonah to save the city Nineveh. But Jonah didn’t want to save these gentiles but God demands it of him. But what isn’t described in these stories, is how running in parallel to all this, the common people were coming together in relative peace to conduct commerce and tribal / chiefdom bounders were being eroded by the growth of cities that catered for many ethnicities. Part of Gods backlash was to this was in go to war, to try and stem the tide but this was impossible so God had to change. He evolved with his people, as he was just the social conscience of the people. Once his love was only for his own, but through social gatherings, technology and the ever-expanding need of people relying on other people for day-to-day existence, tolerance of one another grew as they learned that working together can benefit everybody. This was also reflected in the new views God had and were put forward in the New Testament. Now God became the God of all, so that all could become one in effect under his love. Morality had evolved from protecting its own, to, well, protecting its own. The difference being its own had now expanded to included many others because of the ever-expanding social union driven by inter-reliance for survival. Even today we can see this in our current societies, Europe once a hotbed of nationalism is now changing into conjoined states.

Wright puts forward the idea that the Bible is a reflection of the tolerance of the time. The moral bias of the stories in the Bible reflect at each point now dependent they were on other local tribes. In the begin the tribes are self-reliant but they gradually grew outwards to depend on others, so their laws and morality started to reflect this by no longer seeing outsiders as evil. They grew towards tolerance out of necessity. Wright believes that this directionality of Morality will ultimately lead to world peace, as we’ll become so reliant on each other that it will become impossible to go to war with another nation, as the social fall to all nations would be catastrophic. He also believes that Morality isn’t so much God given as Humanities way of creating stability and trust, a mere technology like any other. This leaves the Bible little more then a historical document of our journey and development of morality in reaction to the need for more and more people to get along, to create peace through technological progress.

He also raises the question of purpose. Does this directionality of social unity indicate a plan or greater purpose? The second law of thermodynamics states, ‘All systems increase in entropy over time.’ On examining the evidence of Morality, Social Cohesion and Technological Reliance this would seem to be contra to this law, while maybe not to the letter of the law, but definitely it’s spirit. Could this seemly impossibility, growth of order, be our best indication of a universe with a designed purpose?

What’s your take?

Why the bible? Why not say the Quran or the I Ching or the Bhagavad Gita etc? Why is the bible the book that predict or anticipate the “evolution” of morality and tolerance for world peace? So is this the point in Wright’s book, that the bible is somehow “special” as it contains within it a blueprint of sorts to attain heaven on earth, and thus it is God’s word.

Well I think that is reading too much into the bible, creating a modern myth. I had rather there are no such ‘magical’ qualities about the bible, but simply men’s testimonies of his knowledge of God, albeit inspired, so that we too may know God. It is because we want to avoid facing or confronting God directly, that we instead prefer to worship an artefact call the bible. It is then no different from the supposedly primitive and barbaric people of old who believed that some stones are magical and worship them as his god.

Now as an aside, a thought relating to the ordering and making of a shoe today in the highly interconnected world of global commerce. Such coordination and cooperation are only possible when we can understand or comprehend each other and can communicate with one another. The Internet and the prevalent use of English is one major factor in attaining such integration on a global scale.

So if there is a ‘directionality’ in the world, one of this must certainly be the Return to Babel. With Babel man lost their ability to work together as an entire humankind, but now humankind are coming together again in projects such as the International Space Station, the European Union, WTO, standardisation of Internet protocols, and perhaps an international consortium to put man on Mars, etc etc. Babel merely slowed or delayed the time when man will return to complete the tower he is building towards heaven. And then what?

I don’t know exactly why Robert Wright chose the Bible for his example, but I presume it has to do with the fact its one of the older books in existence. But not only that, it’s also not just a single book written once and then left, it developed over many millennia to become what it is today. It has a rich history, though not always historically actuate it does flow with the general course of time. While other books are written once and go no further the Bible only really became fixed in and around 330 AD when Roman wanted to solidify its base, until then there where many books to choose from, and still are in the Gnostic Gospels. Hence why what in another book would be called Chapters are called Books, because that’s what they really are. It just so happens all these books are bound together and given the collective title ‘The Bible’. That’s why this book is a little more unique then you give it credit, it has evolved with the people who wrote it. Unlike the dogma of Catholic cannon law which is fixed an unalterable. Robert talks about the history of human sociability using the Bible as a medium to examine this, as its content would be very familiar to his targeted audience (Europe and America). He didn’t talk about this book predicting morality, but recording morality as it develop with the people over time, as they grew together in technological reliance, and how that reshaped tribal morality. While the Bible does talk about prophecy the opinions were of their day and as such reflect some of the peoples’ moral outlook on life.

It’s not about modern myths, but historical development. He’s not on a bible-basing rampage to convert the world to Jesus. But uses the course of the book to highlight the evolution of God with his loves and hates of the world, to becoming only love. This is more about human triumph over nature and animal instance in becoming a civilised society capable of enormous feats of cooperation. God is just the guise of our Ethics, the bible just one course of its evolution.

ha! the spirit of a certain poster lives on!

the question is defineitly intersting and the ‘evolution’ of God in the bible is particularily insightful. i would have liked a stronger emphasis placed on the society’s conception of God reflected in the stories presented, as now it seems almost in reverse.

the interconnection of the world is highly highly far off. to even make such conceptions, at this point of time, is to take way to much for granted. to me, it’ll be akin to saying that in the year 3569, there will be flying cars. i suppose it’s possible that this can occur, but it’s also possible it won’t.

similarily, too quick of a judgement is made about the current state of globalization. first, i would like to stress that economic transactions do not necessarily create ‘social connections’. while many people might be invovled in making my shoes, i haven’t foreged a deep relationship with all (in fact, any) of them). simply using the expenditures of other’s labour only seems to prove 2 things: 1. the performance of labour is a necessary part of life and 2. using the labour is a necessary part of life. so, simply because the rate of trade between nations is at the highest level it’s ever been, it doesn’t follow that stronger connections exist.

in fact, many argue that increased connections actually make many nations go to greater lengths to be protective and socially isolated. japan, for instance, comes to mind, as a nation that benifits largely from international trade but remains protective about foriegn influence.

the failings of such connections is glaring, especially in times of crisis. the rwandan genocide was able to occur, even with ample warning to the UN, b/c no country was interested in being involved. rwanda is/was not a major trading partner, but it was a virtual cash cow for aid, so many countries were heavily invested in the country’s success.

it’s interesting b/c i just finished a course on the political dynamics of genocide, and the overwhelming ‘cause’ involves this lack of humanitarian urgency in foriegn policy. instead, most countries are concerned only with economic profits. this focus, however, is at the will of the people. polls indicate that americans are upset that bush went to iraq for what appears to be only humanitarian reasons, and not so much b/c of a security threat. wright’s analysis is at a macrolevel, not focused domestically, but i think that a similar pattern would be find in most of the world.

alas, i think i’m loosing my point. it’s this: simply because connections are increasing, it doesn’t mean that a social unity is being formed. rather, if the connections are made out of economic interest only, then humanitarian focus is outright ignored, leaving no unity even at times when this is needed.

The thing about the bible is that there are so many ways of reading it. It is like a piece of fine poetry or a fine painting: it can be read by all ages, understood on so many levels, interpreted in so many ways.

It is a profound work of art. But whether there is any final statement that can be made about it, as history book, as moral enchiridion, as poetry, as song, as metaphor, as whatever, I mean whether there is a single way it can be understood or made sense of that does indeed make more sense or explain things so that we have the idea of everything at last falling into place, as in, ‘ah, that’s what it was all about, now I see,’ who can tell?

Over the years I have come across many insightful interpretations but no final analysis. That’s what’s so great about such works: they defy all attempts at categorisation and remain open ended and mysterious.

Perhaps ancient Greek writers like Homer, or the author(s) of Gilgamesh, etc also thought what they wrote was history.

Can you see where the Internet will bring us in ten years times? or even in five or three? And the Internet really started only in 1995/6 with the introduction of the Mosaic browser. And that is hardly a decade ago and now we here trading, constructing, reconstructiong, demolishing, reinterpreting abstract ideas in foreign faraway minds, speaking various tongues, all around the globe 24 hours a day.

And the point is not whether ‘flying cars’ will happen, it is about ‘directionality’. It is about movement and not destination. And ‘flying cars’ is certainly a direction in cars. In fact it already exists.

very true on both accounts: 1. internet’s increasing connections and 2. directionality.

i see the internet as not shifting from humanitarian or social unity focus, but to a further economic enterprises. i watched a documentary that is a couple of years old now (2001) but it chronicled the rise of the internet. the biggest industry on the net, is also the industry that makes most money – it’s porn. and if you think about, now the other popular activity seems to be buying and selling, as demonstrated with ebay and the rise of online selling. other than that, as this site illustrates, i think the internet caters to highly speacilized interests. this would be great if these interests were largely a pursuit of establishing social ties, but i think it’s leaning more towards chronicaling star trek episodes among fans the world over. further, any connections made are questionable because the bonds are a ‘virtual’ one…lack of direct contact and understanding produces an easy way to still feel discounted when the time is right. the point, however, is that social connections are enduring – not something that you can just pick up or drop off when the time comes.

as for the direction. arguably, we’re also heading in the direction of flying cars. i mean, we have planes and we have cars. only a matter of time before they collide, my friend. while it’s possible, and in a similar fashion it’s possible that we can have social connections because we have economic connections and we have social enviornments, i don’t think it equals a definite outcome of social unity in the future. further, i think the prevaliance of economic interests demonstrates that this will always trump anything, thereby making the establishment of such social unity very difficult.

I’m fleshing out my original post a little more to try and reinforce its points.

It’s sad that it’s impossible to talk about the bible without people thinking you’re talking about religion! This couldn’t be further from what I’m trying to discuss. If I were to examine the social conditions that lead to the ‘Communist Manifest’ would I be a communist or would I just be trying to critique what influenced Marx’s work? Or George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ is this piece of literature just a simple child’s tale? An amusing story about some animals that turned the tables on their cruel masters? Why then is it that when one tries to find more in the bible then just tribal mysticism people think it must be a religious motive or even a spiritual one for that matter?

The evolution of humanity has gone almost completely undocumented until recent times. Recent it terms of evolutionary scales, 5000 or so years is just a drop in the ocean. What I was hoping to discuss was how the social influences on Hebrews and other surrounding tribes lead to what at first was conflict and in Game Theory called a Zero-sum game, Tribe Vs Tribe. But then with the advances in technology, be they simple things like water or wind mills or collective farms and market places, how these technologies required more social cooperation in the form of advancing views in ethics or morality (whichever you prefer to call it) so Non-Zero-sum games could enter the equation and how once enemies came together, rewriting laws or other social customs to accommodate the required unity that was needed so all could benefit. This can be seen in two ways in some of the stories in the bible. A “prophet” says to the people they have left God. “God” in this sense is just a metaphysical construct that could also be called The Tribe! There are also other stories where prophets go out to join their once enemies. These stories are reflecting the opinions of the writers where people had and joined together to form new communities that were bigger then any single Tribe and were more like a small city gathered together from all ethnicities.

Disguised by this mask of religious mumbo-jumbo are facts that with the increasing number of people who had to live in close-quarters, the original tribal identity was becoming blurred as the children from two different tribes grow up together side-by-side and associated more with their town then tribe. This is what a lot of the original books of the bible are trying to combat, loss of this tribal identity. Again this had nothing to do with God, if I were to talk about how the Irish, English or any other European Country are starting to loss their sovereignty, and their identity is moving away from nationality towards being Europeans first and local nation second. People are migrating from one country to the next in search of economical well being, losing their original national identity, like the 40 million Irish Americans. While they call themselves this, they’re mostly 3 generation and if it weren’t for their parents telling them “you’re Irish” they would just be generic Americans. Though in actuality they are just Americans, but Americans who haven’t forgotten their ancestral origins lay in the Emerald Isle.

This is the point I’m trying to discuss, the relationship and hostility to social interaction forced upon us by technological advances in an ever-shrinking world. Be it tribal or national identity. The bible is one of the few remaining records of a tribe that has struggled with identity as all around them technology, expanding towns and cities were destroying their ancestral origin. It shows up in the bigotry and racist outlooks that lead to recorded genocide incited by the hatred of God, to other local tribes. Of course “God” in this sense is just the ruling class’s guise to lead their people. But in the bible you see, no matter what “God” said the people still ignored him and went on “sinning” with those not of their blood. Till the story has progressed to the point were a prophet shows up and says everybody should love everybody even their enemies. This ideal has gone on for most people and they use it to try and get over their petty bigotry and racism, to form meaningful ties and this fruitful labour will hopefully led to an ever expanding peace.

(Okay, I know in the Jewish case there are still problems, but hay lots have been solved to get to this point. It’s this directionality that seems to be pointing towards unity through necessity. Society seems to be resistant to the spirit of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, i.e. all systems increase in entropy or chaos)