"I hear you say 'Why?' Always 'Why?' You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'" -- George Bernard Shaw, "Back to Methuselah" [emphasis mine, because I've earned the right, not bought it]
Context and Value
Context forms the value of policy decisions, labor, goods, services, resources -- all the things of which we can say have value. Directly or indirectly, these entities acquire value as a result of the limits of the context and the scarcity or abundance of these things within that context. Our dynamic context is such that many of these entities under our consideration are subject to an involuted process of valuation. As we control and produce more of our environment, the things that we produce have a greater and greater influence on these values, influencing the value of things that have existed prior, and even those things that have yet to come into existence, with or without our efforts. There are no new territories to conquer, only old territories; there are always new questions to ask, but they are asked in a context which we already largely control, and with which we are already too familiar.
There is plenty of room at the bottom, as Richard Feynman has pointed out quite nicely, but our attempts to capitalize on this have been rather weak so far, in light of the perceived impracticality of applications; a result, of course, of that very same lack of progress! We might be tempted to explore and colonize space, but this too is subject to limits we find ourselves unwilling to either face or overcome, despite clear indications in some obscure efforts (*ahem*) that these limitations are not truly insurmountable. We could explore the realms of the human mind in a vastly more functional and intuitive way, but simply cannot force ourselves to meld the data available to us into a science, much less a technology. We might ask after a politics or an economics which actually provides us the best that can be had under the circumstances, but we dismiss any such effort as being overly idealistic, or even a Utopian fantasy.
What we face is a context awash in petty desires and a crawlingly slow pace of change, except in one area, and that is information and communications technology. Through this process, our context will become ever more involuted, until the Social Narrative and the Social Dialogue resemble Descartes' brain-in-a-jar. The loss of an independent and unyielding context is much like sensory deprivation: fascinating at first, intriguing, challenging, but ultimately frightening, disturbing, and unhealthy.
A soft context, decided entirely by our own whims and thoughts, can only result in a growing loss of direction, will, and yes, even sanity.
Some with great wealth may attempt to escape in fantasy, pleasure, or any number of other pursuits, which the rest of us may find wasteful and inequitable; threats may indeed arise from our environment changing dangerously around us; but the problem of involution remains whenever we let our attention wander to the real context of our existence. How do we overcome this problem, when the problem -- is us? Can we evolve beyond this dilemma of controlling too much on the one hand, and not enough on the other? Will we be waiting until the very end, as Authority and the momentum of wealth and history forbid us any efforts of our own, to preserve even our own sanity, lives, and existence?
When and under what conditions will involution lead us to insight?
Madmen and madness feature prominently in the history of the last 100 years, and there is no reason to believe that these crippling influences will end any time soon. We have survived World Wars, Cold Wars, and a variety of other threats, but these threats were often simple to unravel, given sufficient will and force. Now, we face a threat in which force is of no help, and will is what is diminishing in supply. Who dares to imagine the context as it might be, firm and yet expansive?
Who dares to be strong?