Wither The Industrial Revolution?

The Numbers, hundreds, thousands of Numbers in light blue unifs (probably a derivative of the ancient uniform) with golden badges on the chest – the State number of each one, male or female – the Numbers were walking slowly, four abreast, exaltedly keeping step. (more)

Over the last year I’ve reviewed several ~1900 era future dystopias, such as Metropolis, We, and Pictures of the Socialistic Future. I wanted to see fears of the industrial revolution, from an era when that revolution was still young enough for people could see things from a farmer era point of view, and yet old enough that people had some idea of where the revolution was going.

A wide mix of concerns are expressed, from aversion to change to fear of weakened connections to nature. But the strongest concerns were about the new scales of social organization, arguably the central distinguishing feature of the industrial era. People saw the rapid increase in the scale of factories and firms, and projected that trend forward to imagine a rapid change to coordinating in this way on even larger scales, and over more areas of our lives. People imagined entire cities and nations being organized as were factories and firms, with commands sent down from above, and little room for local discretion. They also imagined such commands telling people not only what job to do when, but also what to read and eat, who to marry, where to live, etc.

Many of the concerns were about who would control these new organizations. But there were also concerns about there being such organizations, no matter who controlled them, and how they would change humanity.

Today, it seems that such fears were overblown. Yes, the size of cities, firms, and nations has increased, but this increase has been far slower than feared. The scope of activities run by these large organizations increased for a while, but that trend mostly stopped and arguably reversed. For example, cafeteria scale organization of meals increased for a while, but today most folks avoid such structure.

These fears of regimentation were most realized by folks, such as communists, who seemed to take trend projections as destiny, and purposely tried to create the large scale and scope command style organizations they thought inevitable soon. Which shows how dangerous can be overconfidence on future trend projections.

But it is also too soon to claim that these fears will not be realized. The scale of cities, firms, and nations continues to climb. More jobs become more regimented, regulated, and structured, leaving fewer dimensions of discretion. More jobs focus on dealing with other parts of organizations, instead of dealing directly with customers or the physical world.

The non-increase in the scope of regimentation in our lives seems to be mainly due to our increasing wealth. We choose to spend our increased wealth keeping our leisure lives small scale and easily changed. But if per capita wealth were to greatly decrease in the future, this trend could easily reverse. Future very poor descendants, for example, might find it hard to resist the cost savings of cafeteria style food service, or dorm style sleeping arrangements.

The industrial revolution continues, and we have not seen its end. We’ve heard one shoe drop – another may be on its way.

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  • gwern0

    I have to say 1900 seems a bit late for Industrial Revolution. I mean, _Metropolis_ alone is 1927, on the edge of the Great Depression.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I’m eager to hear of good earlier dystopians expressing concerns about where the industrial revolution would go.

      • Oligopsony

        Have you read Thompson’s “Making of the English Working Class?” Nonfiction, but an excellent look at the moral universe of early factory workers and the concerns that motivated e.g. the Luddites.

      • Alesatz

        I haven’t read it, but Jules Verne’s “Paris in the Twentieth Century” seems to fit your bill. It was written (but left unpublished) in 1863; as usual, Verne was ahead of the curve.

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        I’ve read that; don’t recall it expressing much fear.

      • Nojustnoperson

        Dystopian fiction started commonly appearing around 1887, 30+ years after the industrial revolution ended. Here are a few semi-earlier dystopias:

        The Republic of the Future

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Republic_of_the_Future

        Caesar’s Collumn

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesar%27s_Column

        2 earlier quasi-dystopias:

        A Sojourn in the City of Amalgation, in the Year of Our Lorn 19–

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sojourn_in_the_City_of_Amalgamation,_in_the_Year_of_Our_Lord,_19–

        Erewhon

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erewhon

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        Thanks for the pointers.

      • http://www.givinggladly.com/ juliawise

        Morlocks in “The Time Machine”, 1895?

    • V V

       And also keep in mind that Soviet Union was established in 1917, with Stalin becoming Secretary in 1922, the Fascists took power in Italy in the same year, and in Germany the NSDAP was founded in 1925, with Hitler becoming Chancellor in 1933.

      It seems to me that dystopian works of fiction of that era are more a reaction to these totalitarian ideologies rather to industrialization.

  • Dremora

    “Future very poor descendants, for example, might find it hard to resist the cost savings of cafeteria style food service, or dorm style sleeping arrangements.”

    Neither should they. Assuming more lives are a good thing, our lifestyles are very wasteful. Virtualization might be a key innovation in subjective welfare improvement.

    We can decouple actual space and energy use from the subjective experience of abundance, just like we invented contraception and pornography to decouple reproduction from sexual experience. There is no fundamental reason why you can’t live in a Matrix and be happy, individualistic, and free.

    • John

       Normal people who, you know, value reality, cannot be. Nozick already gave a good enough argument why this is idiocy.

      I am, however, eager to hear more transhumanists disclose their Matrix- style fantasies, so that regular people finally understand where all of this is going and take measures to prevent it.

      • Dremora

        “Normal people who, you know, value reality, cannot be.”

        You’re making the assumption that people who spend most of their time in virtualized environments will lose their grip on reality. While this is a remote possibility, it is generally unlikely. It is more probable that people will place very high value on an accurate understanding of reality, to cope with potential threats. But at the same time, they will enjoy virtual stimuli and new communication modes. This is precisely what the internet does. Of course this will continue.

        “Nozick already gave a good enough argument why this is idiocy.”

        No, he didn’t. I find his counterarguments generally unconvincing. Furthermore, Nozick’s experience machine is presented as a one-way trip into social and physical isolation, which is neither a prerequisite nor a probable prediction for actual VR concepts. For one, we are already communicating on virtual digital devices like the one you are using right now. More importantly, a Matrix doesn’t have to imprison its inhabitants. Neither does it have to meddle with their memories or epistemic world models.

        “I am, however, eager to hear more transhumanists disclose their Matrix- style fantasies, so that regular people finally understand where all of this is going and take measures to prevent it.”

        Yes, let’s outlaw World of Warcraft, and hey, let’s outlaw websites too, because they are too similar to what those evil transhumanists want to achieve, you know, to inflict pleasure and free communication on everyone. While we’re at it, let’s ban TV shows and fiction novels too. Surely no one will mind…

      • John

         “While this is a remote possibility, it is generally unlikely. It is more
        probable that people will place very high value on an accurate
        understanding of reality, to cope with potential threats.”

        You are, of course, assuming that people are rational. There are, of course, not, therefore this is obviously false.

        “But at the same time, they will enjoy virtual stimuli and new
        communication modes. This is precisely what the internet does. Of course
        this will continue.”

        It will continue only until people start dying because somebody is using said technology to mess with their metabolism or something similar. Then it will quickly be stopped if stopping it is possible (and it likely be).

        “Furthermore, Nozick’s experience machine is presented as a one-way trip
        into social and physical isolation, which is neither a prerequisite nor a
        probable prediction for actual VR concepts”

        It does nothing of the sort. The experiment in itself implies the ability to actually go back and experience the real world. It implies knowledge of the real world and the ability to conceptually (not sensually) make a distinction between real and virtual. I bet you have not even read Nozick at all.

        “Yes, let’s outlaw World of Warcraft, and hey, let’s outlaw websites too,
        because they are too similar to what those evil transhumanists want to
        achieve, you know, to inflict pleasure and free communication on
        everyone. While we’re at it, let’s ban TV shows and fiction novels too.
        Surely no one will mind…”

        I like strawmen when I smell them. There is difference between current internet technologies and what you ultimately want – for starters, current technologies are only mediators (imperfect at that) for already existing forms of communication. They do not create truly novel quasi – physical experiences, nor is there a technology that is indistinguishable from reality yet. The difference is categorical, not just one of degree. One may use and find Facebook useful and still think transhumanism should be banned.

        Also, stop arguing as if utilitarianism is some kind of established default moral paradigm outside of your tiny circle of looneys. Most people (you know, actual people, not your fantasies) are not utilitarians and will never be. Utilitarianism, just like transhumanism, is nothing but an anti-human ideology.

      • Dremora

        John, I just wanted to inform you that I accidentally clicked the “Like” button, when I wanted to click the “Reply” button in your post. Just to avoid misunderstandings. ;)

        “You are, of course, assuming that people are rational. There are, of course, not, therefore this is obviously false.”

        No, it’s not. You are assuming that people are irrational to the point of ignoring physical reality itself. This is a huge assumption that is not only not obvious, it is also improbable given the priors of privacy scandals and the strong human impulse to avoid or at least detect power concentration. There is the possibility that this may change if the human mind is altered, and I generally agree that the public needs to keep its eye on such tendencies and their possible consequences.

        “It will continue only until people start dying because somebody is using said technology to mess with their metabolism or something similar. Then it will quickly be stopped if stopping it is possible (and it likely be).”

        No, it won’t. It’s very naive to assume that it will. Compare this analogy: “Synthesized chemicals with medicinal power will only be used until there is one scandal where people are dieing. Then it will quickly be stopped, and no one will ever use any meds ever again.” Of course, that’s not what happened. What really happened was that there are stricter requirements for testing before meds are approved for general use. People have already died from MMO marathons, and no one in their right mind demands that they be banned for all eternity. If there is a human need, it will be filled. Your coercive luddism won’t change that.

        “It does nothing of the sort. The experiment in itself implies the ability to actually go back and experience the real world.”

        Yes, it seems I have misrepresented one variation as the original thought experiment. I withdraw that objection.

        “There is difference between current internet technologies and what you ultimately want – for starters, current technologies are only mediators (imperfect at that) for already existing forms of communication. They do not create truly novel quasi – physical experiences, nor is there a technology that is indistinguishable from reality yet.”

        Of course, 3D games simulate physical laws, there are actually specialized pieces of hardware to simulate realistic physics. And of course, future communication of Matrix-style inhabitants will be mediators of already existing forms of communication, too. And enhancers.

        “One may use and find Facebook useful and still think transhumanism should be banned.”

        Transhumanism isn’t just one thing. Cheap VR is not the same thing as all of transhumanism. Transhumanism is an umbrella term. The question is, why would anyone want to outlaw cheap VR? Prejudice and luddism. What else? Let’s not forget that I didn’t claim VR should be mandatory, just that it is a cheap path to need fulfillment with high population numbers. If you have a better solution, let’s hear it. Oh yes, and “cull the population” doesn’t count.

        “Also, stop arguing as if utilitarianism is some kind of established default moral paradigm outside of your tiny circle of looneys.”

        Show me the part where I even started arguing that.

        “Utilitarianism, just like transhumanism, is nothing but an anti-human ideology.”

        No, it’s not. But some forms of it, including those I care about, are not specifically pro-human. I care nothing for your speciesism. It does not logically follow that I hate humans, which I don’t.

        As a final remark, I perceive your communication style to be disrespectful and obnoxiously arrogant. I suggest fixing that.

      • John

        “No, it’s not. You are assuming that people are irrational to the point of ignoring physical reality itself.”

        No, I am assuming that people are irrational to the point that they will prefer simulacra over reality despite the fact that this tradeoff is ultimately bad for them. Just as they have prefered fast food over healthy food despite all the drawbacks.

        “Synthesized chemicals with medicinal power will only be used until
        there is one scandal where people are dieing. Then it will quickly be
        stopped, and no one will ever use any meds ever again.”

        This is a spurious analogy. A better analogy would be “it will quickly be stopped when it turns out the drugs not only can kill you, but can influence others to change their behaviour so that they can be extremely socially harmful “. This is essentially the reason why hard drugs are banned (and the only reason the ban is not working is because in it we are engaging in cost-benefit analysis about permissible harm).

        “And of course, future communication of Matrix-style inhabitants will be
        mediators of already existing forms of communication, too. And enhancers”

        Yeah, just throw in casually “and enhancers”, that would do the trick of making an argument. Again, this is categorical difference, not just difference in degree, just like there is, you know, a difference between a jelly baby and a human fetus.

        “The question is, why would anyone want to outlaw cheap VR? Prejudice and luddism. What else?”

        How about social impact, for starters?

        Incidentally, if I thought that the social cost would not be too high and if I wasn’t certain that VR would bring about SAI (which basically means doom for humanity), I wouldn’t object to it. But, then, I think so, so I do.

        “with high population numbers. If you have a better solution, let’s hear it.”

        The population issue is taking care of itself. If you haven’t noticed, bar sub-saharan africa, fertility has dramatically been reduced. If you transhumanists do not start creating artificial life (which I hope will never happen), we are pretty much safe on this front (and, no, professed radical life extension will not matter if it is not EM-like – again certain doom – because they are limits to human body life length that will never be overcome).

        “Show me the part where I even started arguing that.”

        How about “Assuming more lives are a good thing”, which is straight utilitarianism and, incidentally, the whole basis for your argument?

        “I care nothing for your speciesism.”

        And I really wish you make that known to as much people as possible so they understand the transhumanists agenda and react accordingly. Accidentally, though, I still think that you non-specieists still have survival instincts left. How very biological of you!

        “As a final remark, I perceive your communication style to be disrespectful and obnoxiously arrogant. I suggest fixing that.”

        Yeah, I care about your opinion so much I am gonna fix that right away. Have I reached Yudkowsky-like levels of arrogance or am I not there yet?

      • Dremora

        “No, I am assuming that people are irrational to the point that they will prefer simulacra over reality despite the fact that this tradeoff is ultimately bad for them. Just as they have prefered fast food over healthy food despite all the drawbacks.”

        But that’s fine, up to a point. I eat unhealthy food all the time, knowing fully well that I will die earlier than most people. It’s a trade-off. Think of it this way: Would you rather not exist, or would you rather live in a world of virtual superstimuli at minimal resource use, subjectively superior to what the medieval kings experienced? I think most people would rather exist and experience those superstimuli. There is nothing wrong with that, in my view.

        “This is essentially the reason why hard drugs are banned (and the only reason the ban is not working is because in it we are engaging in cost-benefit analysis about permissible harm).”

        Yes. I agree that behavior-altering technologies that end up socially detrimental will receive legal and social pressure. I predict that people will reject personality alteration technologies and memory manipulation technologies, but they will fully endorse the best VR possible, as well as new communication tech (e.g. voluntary digital telepathy). Again, mostly socially beneficial imo.

        “Yeah, just throw in casually “and enhancers”, that would do the trick of making an argument. Again, this is categorical difference, not just difference in degree, just like there is, you know, a difference between a jelly baby and a human fetus.”

        I don’t know what a jelly baby is. But you could see even text messaging as a form of communication enhancement, and of course people are okay with it. Digital telepathy will be a reality at some point. It will be an enhancement, and it will be embraced like text messaging now. Again, I see this as beneficial rather than problematic.

        “Incidentally, if I thought that the social cost would not be too high and if I wasn’t certain that VR would bring about SAI (which basically means doom for humanity), I wouldn’t object to it. But, then, I think so, so I do.”

        I don’t know what the acronym means. You mean strong AI or superhuman AI? This is independent from VR, it seems to me. But I agree it may come at some point, one way or another. I agree it has repercussions that have to be taken seriously, but rejecting technology is obviously not going to be a feasible answer.

        “If you haven’t noticed, bar sub-saharan africa, fertility has dramatically been reduced. If you transhumanists do not start creating artificial life, we are pretty much safe on this front”

        Probably not forever, due to selection effects. Ironically, VR satisfaction of all associated needs may be the key to keep population growth at bay. Then again, there are people who think we have too little, rather than too much fertility. As a utilitarian, I do value sustainable population growth, under the condition that the created lives are subjectively fulfilling, which may be more feasible at low resource per capita due to cheap VR and certain types of mind enhancement. Not without risk, but it’s worth trying, imo.

        “How about “Assuming more lives are a good thing”, which is straight utilitarianism and, incidentally, the whole basis for your argument?”

        That was a conditional statement. I never implied everyone shares utilitarian values, even though I would prefer if they did.

        “And I really wish you make that known to as much people as possible so they understand the transhumanists agenda and react accordingly. Accidentally, though, I still think that you non-specieists still have survival instincts left.”

        There is no secret transhumanist agenda. Transhumanism is an umbrella term, and all relevant points have been discussed in public. Furthermore, while I may have a survival instinct, it is not very strong. I’m ready to die for the greater good, even though I’m skeptical about the potential downsides of a technologically enhanced future as well, mostly if they cause more suffering than pleasure in the universe. The fact that I don’t value my own life may be seen as a statement about myself rather than utilitarianism or transhumanism, but it is a fact. Survival instincts that switch off reason are worthless for an intelligent species.

        “Have I reached Yudkowsky-like levels of arrogance or am I not there yet?”

        Sorry to say, but as pompoulsy as Yudkowsky writes sometimes, you haven’t given me even a fraction of the insights his posts have given me.

    • kurt9

       Assuming more lives are a good thing.

      Why would more population be a good thing if it does not result in increased material standard of living, or worse, a decreased standard of living?

      • Dremora

        What counts is not the material standard of living, but the subjective standard of living. You can be abundantly rich and feel miserable. You can, hypothetically at least, be materially poor in absolute numbers (e.g. energy input, net worth in $), while all your needs are fulfilled efficiently and you are subjectively happy.

        I am not claiming that above replacement fertility is a good idea under current circumstances.

  • http://eradica.wordpress.com/ Firepower

    Those living during the Real Industrial Revolution had valid fears of giant, dangerous, hand-eating machines belching coal dust smoke.

    Today’s folk have fears their DVR misses an episode of Jersey Housewives.

    • http://www.facebook.com/CronoDAS Douglas Scheinberg

       Unless they live in China. In which case they still have to worry about the coal dust smoke.

  • http://www.weighanything.com/ Andy Phil

    Very good allocation. Really i was looking forward to read about it. Lovwe this entry. Thanks for this allocation. :lol:

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jorge-Emilio-Emrys-Landivar/37403083 Jorge Emilio Emrys Landivar

    “People imagined entire cities and nations being organized as were factories and firms, with commands sent down from above, and little room for local discretion. They also imagined such commands telling people not only what job to do when, but also what to read and eat, who to marry, where to live, etc.”

    How were these fears overblown? This distopias actually existed.  I mean the entire idea behind industrial communism was such.  The fact that they failed doesn’t mean that the fear-ers were incorrect.

  • lightasmorethanidea

    Nice pun in the title of this post …   
    I would guess most educated Westerners from 1850 to about 1950,  if suddenly gifted with the ability and desire to write a readable and mature dystopian novel, would have made the greatest fear to be that of the
    wrath of the Deity avenging the millions of victims of factory dangers and
    drudgery, see e.g. HARD TIMES (Dickens, born 1820s,  guilty and ultimately avenged party a Malthusian factory owner type), The Scouring of the Shire (Tolkien, born 1890s, guilty and ultimately avenged party a technically accomplished tree-hating orc-hiring wizard),,,, or changing focus to dystopian science fiction romantic stories, the greatest fear spelled out by those pre-1950 westerners would be a progressive and very much unwanted disassociation of beauty and empathy – as described in the Book of Proverbs, a much-read book back then  (see. e.g. Hoffman and more famously Delibes, Coppelia = lovely lifelike mechanical doll-woman ruins prospects of inventor), or the equally unwanted dissipation of friendship under the drip drip drip of distractions fostered by almost stochastic commercial impulses clearly strengthened by the industrial revolution (to include distractions stemming from the impulse (on the part of multitudinous unnamed offstage actors) to profit from  military, clothing, travel, and other commercial distractions) =  see, e.g. last half of Ulysses, several extended episodes in Proust.. Our strongest current fears (bad robots, worldwide spinning out of control of home-grown biological and mechanical and genetic disasters) seem to come into focus only later on (two exceptions I am aware of are C.S Lewis, forecaster of genetic disaster, born 1890s, and Thomas Carlyle, forecaster of political and conformist disaster, born old in England a long time ago…)

  • Lcargill99

    People do accept dorm-style sleeping arrangements plus cafeteria food , today. If there’s a Hometown Suites, Value Place or the like near you, that’s exactly what it is. You buy prepared frozen meals at WalMart and unfreeze them in your microwave. It’s something like a monk’s cell plus amenities ( cable, HVAC and electricity )  for $200 a week plus food.

  • Erik

    “Wither the Industrial Revolution?” ? A play on words (wither/ whither) or just a typo?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Bahner/100001061961585 Mark Bahner

    “Future very poor descendants, for example, might find it hard to resist the cost savings of cafeteria style food service, or dorm style sleeping arrangements.”
     
    Unless there is a: 1) global thermonuclear war, 2) global biological war that causes brain diseases, or 3) takeover by terminators, it’s unlikely future descendants will be very poor.

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