Why nothing matters.

Updated on April 13, 2021 in General Stuff
2 on April 10, 2021

Senescence is the fancy term for aging. I only learned it a few years ago when I began my journey down the evolutionary biology rabbit hole.

Why do organisms age? It’s complicated, but the short hand version is that there is only so much space in the genome, and lots of stuff get’s packed in there. One result is that certain genes express themselves in ways that are enormously beneficial to a younger organism, but those same genes also express themselves in ways that are actively harmful to the older version of that organism. 

Which doesn’t cost that much, in evolutionary terms anyway, since a) many fewer of the organisms will live long enough to experience the detrimental genetic expression and b) they’ve already reproduced by then anyway.

Short term gain – long term cost. That’s the key.

Now, ramp that up to the social context. What happens if you think of society as an organism? Is there a such thing as “social/cultural senescence”?

I think there is. And I think the implications are both fatal and unavoidable.

Which is to say, it is only a matter of time before some new phenomenon (could be technological, could be social, could be anything) that delivers what appears to be overwhelming immediate benefits. So much so that those who develop that phenomenon will become enormously wealthy and influential. 

But then the butcher’s bill comes due, and we learn that the very phenomenon that delivered overwhelming benefits in the short term also delivers overwhelming costs in the long term. And eventually some such phenomenon will come along who’s long term costs prove to be “full social collapse”.

What could that be? No telling. Maybe the radical environmentalists are right, and it’s fossil fuels. Or maybe it’s digital technology. Or the smart phone. Or social media. Could be anything. The whole point is it is absolutely impossible to know, in advance, what is going to be the source of our destruction.


So far, we can say something like “We know that all new technologies come with unpleasant externalities. But they also bring wealth and general improvements in wellbeing. So far, we’ve been able to leverage that wealth and wellbeing such that we can overcome the negative effects, with a dramatic net-positive effect”.

Which is true. 

But it also seems self-evident to me that, eventually, we’ll screw it up, and let loose something that (years later) presents with negative externalities we can not overcome.


Just noodling….

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0 on April 12, 2021

That’s an interesting thought that I’ve been pondering all weekend, but I just can’t get on board with the inherent doom and gloom involved. I know it’s only half thought out and not very articulate, but I see inherent diversity in time and space as the ultimate savior of humanity. Essentially the same thing that keeps me away from despairing over the current US political situation. Yes, it looks like we’re teetering on the edge of totalitarianism, but this country is so unique that it’s a confederation of 50 pretty big entities that don’t all seem to move the same way.

So yes, there will be something new and potentially fatal down the road, but there’s probably a half century between invention and significant adoption- enough to destroy humanity anyways. For every Bezos inspired tech innovation that sucks many in, there’s more folks in Montana that couldn’t give a shit because it means nothing to them at that time.

Again, not well articulated or well thought out, but it’s what keeps me moving forward.

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0 on April 13, 2021
I just can’t get on board with the inherent doom and gloom involved.From Piecesofmalarkey

I get that. Ultimately, this thesis is self-refuting.

Essentially, it is a restatement of the “Precautionary Principle”. But the question is always something like “If we don’t know what will be the source of our ruination, how do we know that our ruination won’t be caused by some action not taken?”

I share your view that the real “vaccine” against this sort of risk is found in highly distributed systems and highly diffused power. More than anything else, that is probably the root of all of my social/political views. Voluntary interactions, freely entered and freely not-entered, are the root of a moral society.

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