Is humanity's future a near guaranteed dystopian oligarchy? [ed. title]

Dystopian oligarchy sounds like a cool band name.

Either way. There are various forms of ‘capital’. Financial capital, political capital, social capital, etc which can be used for acquisition, protection and influence. And people tend to want to accumulate and keep whatever capital they have. Rich people like staying rich, powerful people like staying powerful, influential people like staying influential.

Naturally, capital tends to accumulate among a small sector, who try to find ways to keep that capital to themselves (plutocracy, oligarchy, etc). So wealthy corporations try to get wealthier. Politicians try to stop competition from other politicians (in democracies via elections, in autocracies via human rights abuses). Brands find ways to identify with base emotions (the way Linux and/or Macs uses the innate drive for human freedom as a tool to sell software and computers). The point is individuals with power and influence want to keep that power and influence, stop competition and build more power and influence.

Fields like psychology and neuroscience are growing exponentially. We are learning more and more about what makes humans click all the time. And it seems that the oligarchy (the political leaders all over the world, the wealthy individuals, powerful corporations, powerful individuals) who want to maintain their capital can tap into these exponential trends in how the mind works to keep the masses subjugated and placated.

As an obvious example, consider the estate tax. Wealthy individuals don’t like paying it so they hired Frank Luntz to use psychology tactics to figure out how to make people who will never be rich enough to pay an estate tax dislike it too. He eventually found after working on the subject renaming it the ‘death tax’ made people who had nothing to personally gain or lose by an issue end up siding with the wealthy and powerful.

That is a very basic (and not extremely effective) method. But this is just the beginning because it is a very basic example of how the wealthy and powerful can tap into psychology to control the masses and make them willing ‘slaves’. What happens after another 50 years of exponential growth in neuroscience and psychology combined with a world with an ever growing Gini coefficient? The Luntz example is clumsy and imperfect, and modern advertising is imperfect, but what will 2050 look like?

Are we looking at a future where in 50 years most people will not only be subjugated and exploited by a small oligarchy, but happy (or at the very least, terrified of the alternative) to be subjugated?

Military dictators used to just use fear and force to control people. But doing so causes other emotions to fester and boil (vengeance, the desire for freedom). However if you can use advances in neuroscience and psychology to make people enjoy their slavery and fear freedom, then you can exploit and control them.

Oxytocin or vasopressin (chemicals found in the human body) can build trust if taken nasally as examples. What is to stop dictators in the future from using advanced biotechnology combined with advanced psychology to make the masses love and trust the leader? Even now, you can argue we have the technology to do this. Put a bunch of people in a theater, dump airborne oxytocin through the ventilation system and show a movie about ‘dear leader’.

Then come back the next day and find ways to use biotechnology to manipulate the neurobiology of hatred and disgust while showing a film about political opponents of ‘dear leader’.

These aren’t perfect examples, but they are real examples of what could probably be done with 2010 technology. And the technology of social control will keep getting better.

It has been found that various nutritional deficiences can lead to aggression. Lack of omega 3s, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, etc.

What is to stop Kim Jong Il from mandating diets high in these nutrients while also dumping low doses of chemicals into the water supply to manipulate people’s hormones (testosterone, estrogen, etc) to make them more passive? The end result is a nation of people who are less aggressive and by proxy easier to control.

On the subject of people rebelling against dictatorship, you can argue they do it due to innate desires for freedom and fairness. Humans are hard wired to respond negatively to unfairness. So ‘altruistic punishment’ is a powerful motive in bringing down powerful dictatorships.

However the dorsal striatum seems to play a role in altruistic punishment. What is to stop a dictator in 2055 from somehow disabling this part of people’s brains w/o them knowing? Then they won’t give a damn if their fellow citizens are being tortured and beaten in the streets. Right now abuses of their fellow citizens are partly what are motivating Iranians to march in the street. What happens when neuroscience is advanced enough that wealthy, powerful people can shut that part of people’s brains off?

The neuroscience and psychology tools necessary to make people enjoy (or at the very least passively support) exploitation, or fear the alternative to exploitation more than the exploitation itself are arguably growing all the time.

The incentive system is there (individuals and organizations that have capital want to maintain and build that capital), and the tools are growing all the time for humanity to have a very dystopian future as willing slaves to powerful oligarchs.

Our will our basically decent nature (I tend to think humans are generally decent most of the time) somehow cushion and protect us?

The reality is that since capital tends to accumulate, you’d assume that a resistance movement may not be realistic since an insurgency will never have the organizational tools, influence or capital of oligarchs. Then again, advances in technology do undergo rapid depreciation. As an example, TV used to be a means of social control, but advances have made the internet an insurgency tool of sorts.

Advances in military hardware have decentralized military might. now insurgents connected with cell phones and $20 bombs can hold off the US or USSR military in Afghanistan.
So are we headed to a dystopian future, will human nature save us, or will technology naturally lead to decentralization which will empower individuals rather than disempower them?

Dystopian is a value judgment on it. That’s a matter of opinion.

But otherwise yes, we are destined for an oligarchy of sorts. Though, I think that we over-estimate the power of capital and the power of capitalists. To a large degree capitalists are visionless hacks, that is if you make separate categories for capitalists and industrialists. Recently the people who have had the most power over the money supply have been hedge fund traders and their ilk. These guys live their lives ruled by the analytics. They aren’t using their vision to rule people. That is what makes George Soros so Creepy/Cool is because he is using the financial markets to guide humanity’s progress. Other people are sheer bottom line types, it’s only about how to increase the amount of their capital. That isn’t really oligarchical power in a meaningful sense. On the other hand you have industrialists, who are very much into ruling the people, from Rupert Murdoch to Steve Jobs.

I’d hesitate to say the ‘future’ is ruled by oligarchs. I don’t think one needs to peak into the future. We’re already there. Hamdi vs Rumsfeld has basically made the possibility of an unperson plausible in our society. If you read the Vanity Fair interview with Erik Prince he speaks with uncharacteristic candor about assassination missions in Germany without the knowledge of the CIA handlers, or the German government. Everyone loves to diss on Blackwater, but Prince makes a very good point, that Blackwater is visible, they are not the men in black that other security firms are with their faceless boards of directors. Xe, now will be one of those firms when Erik Prince steps down. There are contractors such as these that are available to corporate clients as well as Governments.

Echelon is the NSA Signals Intelligence operation. Monitoring worldwide electronic communications and using analytics not unlike Google, it can put together a picture on the communications of any person its focus is put upon. Obviously these sorts of things are learning all the time.

You’re wrong about insurgents holding off the US and USSR military with cell phones. What turned the tide against the Russians was the Stinger missile. The mujahideen were getting slaughtered by the armored Hinds when they were introduced into that theater. And in Afghanistan today, they are not holding off US troops. That’s a misnomer. US troops have limitations on their ability to project force, so they are playing Whack a Mole in the Hindu Kush. That’s hardly the same thing as being held off by insurgents. There isn’t a line that the US cannot break and the Taliban can hold. But the potential is there. One could make an explosive UAV out of an RC Helicopter if they had a western style education. That’s one of the best ways to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is to kill those who we find have a western education. Brain drain hurts them a lot, whereas they do not have the ability to reciprocate on our educated military for two reasons. The really smart planners and thinkers are generally in safe locations, and our average soldier is far more educated than their average soldier. These things make a huge difference. If there were American insurgents you’d see a lot more IEDs being transported in off the shelf RC electronics.

Overall I think your thrust is correct. Technology is getting sufficiently advanced to threaten our bodies and minds. MKUltra was the first salvo, and the drug war in general has been a fight for the bodies and minds of the populace. Though I would argue that such neurological conditioning is nothing new. Ancient priesthoods used conditioning mechanisms to control a pliant populace. Whether it was guarding education jealously, or forcing them into religious situations where they would be conditioned to obey certain edicts, it has always been thus. Your mind has been grown in this environment. Your perception of yourself as a free-thinker is erroneous, you too are built by mental conditioning, and believe certain things implicitly merely as a fact of your birth into your geographical culture.

Basically, I’d argue that the elites are not a unified bloc and they war and compete with one another. And the people are already formed into giant power blocs that they follow mindlessly. Look how evenly people split into Liberal and Conservative.

Meh. The more that “fields like psychology and neuroscience are grow”, the less anybody actually knows about what human beings think, feel, and do. Overall, I’d say that the experts know a great deal less about those things, on a whole, than they did a century ago. The main story in neuroscience research over the past few generations is not that we’ve developed an ability to control human behavior, but rather that we’ve utterly failed to develop such an ability.

This is simply factually incorrect.

I think that it is a fallacy to think in last century terms of “dictators” and “captains of industry”. Our world is becomming increasingly interconnected and networked. People aren’t slaves to some government oligarchy or corporate oligopolies. They are slaves to the complex and distributed information and infrastructure systems that we have created to meet the economic needs and wants of six billion people.

A good example of this is in the movie The International with Clive Ownen and Niaomi Watts:

Owen and Watts are investigating the shady dealings of a multinational investment bank. In the final anti-climatic confrontation, basically the resolution is that the “Bad Guy” isn’t some evil mastermind. He’s just some guy who is just another cog in their corporate machine. If he is killed, some other banker just takes over and things just continue on as if nothing happened. And sure enough it does.

In fact, a constant theme throught the film is that the offices of the bank are portrayed as cold and impersonal with lots of glass and concrete and attractive but cool, buttoned-up receptionists and whatnot.

Basically, the point is that if a hundred million people want cheap food, cheap clothing, drugs or simply the ability to kill each other, in makes for a considerable economic incentive. It doesn’t matter who fills that need. Someone will. And they will likely do so regardless of the consequences because for the most part, it’s not some guy in a boardroom making those decisions. Its thousands of people all with small, disconnected roles all trying to pay the mortgage who are more or less separated from the ultimate consequences of the end results.

Hell, I think we’re there now. The evisceration of health care reform is a pretty clear indication of just how thoroughly Congress has been corrupted by big business. And the success of the propaganda trotted out against reform shows just how easy it is to blind voters to their own interests.

Eh, I’ll believe that scientists possess chemical means to fine-tune people’s behavior when I see it happen. The articles that Wesley Clark linked to in his OP are not publicly available so I can’t look at the details, but generally speaking I’ve found most such articles to be unconvincing. Often they rely on correlations and significances so low as to be meaningless. Other times they just define terms down until they barely mean anything. Often they test 25 college freshman and simply assume that the result extends to the entire human race. Take that article about how “oxycotin increases trust”. How are they defining trust? It doesn’t say in the abstract, but if they followed the general pattern for pseudoscience in this field, they defined trust as the being a rating of how people behaved in some game or test, which is, of course, totally different from what trust actually is. Hence, even if the experiment was conducted correctly and the subjects actually represent humanity at large and the results were significant (all of which I doubt) the experiment still wouldn’t mean anything.

For a broader demonstration of my point, just consider that the chemicals which we most commonly use to modify people’s brains are the SSRI’s, which are supposed to treat depression and a host of other mental illnesses, but which actually perform barely better than placebos in studies.

Human beings have free will, and even if somebody puts oxycotin in our drinking water, spikes our food with extra zinc, or whacks our dorsal striatums, we will still have free will.

Hasn’t all of human history been a long, slow move away from dystopian oligarchy? What has happened that we’ll reverse direction?

Hmmm…I’m more worried about a global breakdown of systems instead…an utter loss of both control, and order, for both good & ill.

Civilization doesn’t keep working with effort & maintainence, & nobody’s been fixin the roof…

Pass the hash pipe this way!

puff puff

Yeah man…the future is guaranteed to be a dystopian oligarchy…fer sure.

puff puff

What was I saying again…?
<this flash back to my college days was brought to you by Indian Charis…>


Why would you think that?

Yes it has. However my fear is that the more we learn about how to manipulate people’s emotions, thinking, opinions, etc via advances in neuroscience and psychology, the more powerful people (who are the only ones with the influence and resources to do this en masse) will do so.

Subjugation in military dictatorships tends to be fairly clumsy. As a result people end up rebelling and being filled with despondency, anger, frustration, rage, etc. But as we understand more about how/why people think they way they do, the easier it’ll be for those billionaires who run those countries to implement measures designed to subtly control people’s behavior. Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung created successful totalitarian regimes that were able to not only oppress and exploit people, but make those people love their exploiters. Advances in psychology have not only studied the successes of Stalin & Il Sung, but they are uncovering endless info on studies about domestic violence, the milgram experiences, stockholm syndrome, etc. that a truly malevolent dictator could use to keep his population not only subjugated and exploited, but in love with the people exploiting him/her while doing it.

Advertising is becoming more and more sophisticated, but the end result is that a small group becomes wealthier and wealthier and pushes everyone else out.

The point is capital seems to accumulate since those with capital have the tools to obtain more capital. And those with the most capital have the most to gain by exploiting and controlling people to cut competition and cement their power.

In politics it is happening on a basic level. Right now wealthy individuals, families & corporations on the right wing (Coors, Walton, Koch, etc) fund think tanks designed to promote ideologies to make working class people support policies designed to benefit the wealthy by using psychology to make the working class think it is in their best interest too.

However on the left wing groups like the Democracy Alliance are doing the same thing. They are made up of left wing millionaires and billionaires trying to use their funds to support organizations designed to manipulate people’s opinions to support left wing agendas. Supposedly the Democracy Alliance had a big role in the democratic takeover of Colorado which was once solidly republican but now has 2 democratic senators and went for Obama in 2008. They used Colorado as a test model and found that after it worked there (they took over the state and federal executive by winning the governorship and turning CO blue in 2008, and they won the state & federal house and senate) they want to export the model to other states.

I’m a left winger, but at the end of the day right wing and left wing oligarchs are using a fraction of their capital to buy and sell the minds of the rest of the country, which is unsettling.

Its clumsy right now, but what happens after another 50 years of research into how people form decisions, the neurobiology of decision making, how emotions work, why some slaves are happy to be slaves, what separates a happy slave from an angry slave, etc? The tools of social control are getting more and more advanced. But will those tools undergo rapid decentralization and price depreciation the same way information technology has? Computers used to cost millions, now most people in the western world have laptops. Will the tools to manipulate human opinions become decentralized? Psychology and neuroscience filters down to the general public (aka us) via self help, therapy, medications, supplements, etc. If there is a matrix type situation, will there also be decentralization enough that we can still make and distribute ‘red pills’?

At the same time, people do not want to be exploited generally. So will human nature somehow come to the rescue? We know tons about the brain and behavior, but we learn them generally to improve our quality of life.

As an example, in Milgram’s experiments on obedience he found he could dramatically increase or decrease obedience by controlling the experiment. If there were 2 authority figures and they disagreed with each other, obedience went down. If there were peers who disagreed, obedience went down. However if you make people obey indirectly (one person holds a card, the other pulls a switch), obedience goes up dramatically. It didn’t matter what the test subject wanted, but how Milgram conducted the experiment determined obedience levels.

Combine that with advances in cognitive dissonance and rationalization, and an evil person could not only make people obedient, but find ways to make them rationalize it in their own minds (the victim deserves it, etc).

On one hand oligarchs could use this info to create social structures that discourage obedience, but couldn’t people from the ground up use it to build structures that encourage disobedience too? I really don’t know. If the oligarchs are organized and have capital while everyone else does not, I really don’t know if it is possible.

Quite so, and that was a great movie. However, it doesn’t change the fact that there is the ability to manipulate people’s minds. Advertising is already highly scientific and meant to appeal to subconscious emotion rather than conscious thought.

Political ideology seeks to control people’s minds and they use modern ad models. Pretty much the entirety of capitalism is about dominating brainspace in order to control the flow of capital.

Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it too. :wink:

Wesley Clark And Democrats and Republicans are both in collusion to get you to think that you have binary options in the political sphere, but not only that, that this condition is desirable.

Nah. There will be an increasingly entrenched upper class, but that will be because of assortative mating of the intelligent and their concentration in the upper echelons of society. However they will continue to deny that such entrenchment, or such a concept as IQ, actually exists.

Heh, just wait until the wealthy get tricked out cybernetics and can afford all the latest in organ replacement modules, making themselves effectively immortal. You haven’t seen an entrenched overclass until the same people have been in power for a thousand years. :wink:

Just imagine is Fidel Castro had the wherewithall to live forever?

And what will happen when that technology is available to basically everyone? Or do you think that ‘they’ will somehow keep it secret? Or do ‘they’ not like to make money?



It’s ok, they’ll already be the oldest and wealthiest by that point.

Just ask Chribba.