Original article was published on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
Liberal Democracy survived 1984. Will it survive 2084?
[Some elements of this article are based on George Orwell’s 1984 and Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, but most of this is NOT plagiarised]
George Orwell is considered as the de-facto godfather of Dystopian Literature due to the terrifyingly realistic book 1984 which takes place in a Socialist World where there is no thing as Individual Liberty and Freedom in the real sense and the state had their overarching eyes over the lives of the citizenry.
The book was released in 1949 and was meant as a warning against what could Communist-Socialism possibly bring us to and unlike today, there were some who worried that Orwell’s 1984 might very well turn out to be very close to 1984 of our times considering the fact that nobody was really great at astrology and Behavioral Economics.
But in the mid-1980s of our timeline, the President of US was Ronald Reagan who proudly proclaimed that “The Government is the problem, not the solution” and the PM of Margaret Thatcher considered “The Constitution of Liberty” by F.A Hayek(which was an anti-thesis to State Planning) as the guiding document of her Government, and in the USSR, the cradle of Communism, Mikhail Gorbachev was starting to open up the economy and also started promoting free speech. So suffice to say, Liberal Democracy survived this battle, but it hasn’t won it, yet and we will see why later.
Communism and Marxism started as a means to establish a Stateless, Classless and Cashless society and that ended as a pipedream after Lenin died in 1924 and Stalin came into power who cared more about extending the Soviet Rule than about advancing the goals of Communism.
Communism tried to re-define not only the Economy but also the society interacted and also more importantly here, how a person is supposed to behave
Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.
-Leon Trotsky, 1924
The aim of Soviet Communism here was to create a new Soviet man, the sort of man who not only fends for himself but also for the collective well being of his society and also, more importantly, will also adhere to the ideal “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
The New Soviet Man
The New Soviet Woman
The Soviet man was to be selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist revolution . Adherence to Marxism-Leninism, and individual behavior consistent with that philosophy’s prescriptions, were among the crucial traits expected of the New Soviet man, which required intellectualism and hard discipline. He was not driven by crude impulses of nature but by conscious self-mastery, a belief that required the rejection of both innate personality and the unconscious
-A description of the Communist Man
Suffice to say, this was by far the most ambitious and largest experiment on changing human behaviour in history and unsurprisingly, Science was too un-advanced to make anything close to that possible. Elements of this project are formed as a part of the plot of 1984, but at least O’Brien was a little more realistic when he said: “We are the boot who is stamping on the face of humanity”.
Due to this little technical glitch. The strategy of Stalin changed from creating the Communism Man to coercing the population to act like Communist Men and Women through any means ranging from Russian Nationalism and KGB and he fared far better at this than at fundamentally changing human behaviour as it worked to survive until 1991.
Liberal Democracy was born as an offshoot of Liberalism. The X-Factor of Liberalism was that it valued the individual as the final say in everything, ie, an Individual knows what is best for them and every individual will act to advance their own interests and if we allow everyone to do their thing, everything will turn out great and this forms the basis of Economic Liberalism and Democracy.
While Communism tried to take a U-Turn against that hypothesis arguing that humans are too selfish to do any good and equality is a better ideal than liberty and it is better to consider communities as a whole while taking decisions rather than individual humans.
On the surface, it makes perfect sense, selfishness is not a good thing and it is a far better choice to distribute resources according to what people need and to extract work from people as much as possible instead of letting people do what they want to do. “Working-Class” Dictatorships and Planned Economies came as a result.
But here lies the problem with this ideal. In the end, a homo sapien has to make the final decision whether it is to decide what to produce or who to send to dreaded gulags and that human is still as infallible and gullible as an average human who is being affected by this decision and that brings us to the original problem, Humans will advance themselves over others and since the Communist Man ended as a pipedream, most Communist Nations gradually turned into a mine for the rulers to eat upon.
If an average person takes a poor Financial Decision, he will end up in poverty at the worst case. But if a dictator takes a poor Financial Decision, the whole nation is going to end up as poor.The defining characteristic of a dictatorship is that the ruler can in theory, ascent the society or descent it to hell. But by pure probability, a ruler is far more likely to be stupid than be wise and after all, Power Corrupts.
But in a Liberal Democracy, you have a freedom, it can either lead you to poverty or prosperity and there are elections. In most cases, People really don’t know what is best for them, but they definitely know far better than a dictator or an economic planner what is better for then and this is the reason why Liberal Democracies simply outlived Communism.
But this “victory” is built on a very strong and supposedly infallible assumption that Individuals know what is best for them, or in practical terms, humans know what is better for them on aggregates. But what if some super-entity somehow knows what is better for me than i would know? That’s where technology comes in.
Facebook has a much better idea of how I have changed as a person over the last decade than I would know, WhatsApp has a clear idea about my sleep cycle even before I give a thought and Google probably knows my thought processes better than me.
Machines with Algorithms can handle, process and analyze exponentially more data than an individual, now combine with the fact that machines don’t have the countless biases we have also makes them really powerful. While it can be argued that they aren’t conscious, but consciousnese is in essence a byproduct of some biochemical algorithm and machines are damn good at deciphering algorithms.
China is probably the most efficient Authoritarian State in Human History and it is no accident that they ended up as such. They used Economies of Scale to pulls Billions out of Poverty and keep them happy but there are severe limitations on how far authoritarian growth can go before there is a conflict of interest between the state and citizens and every authoritarian state is bound to face it someday, and at that point, they either has to democratise or simply perish. China for their luck, survived one by steamrolling over students at Tianamen Square and is yet to see another conflict coming in the near future.
This can possibly describe the “battle” between Humans and Machines in the future
But Chinese Communist Party is not the group you would expect to back out in fear of Conventional Economic Laws and after all, no one in the 1980s thought that a Communist State can adopt a Market System and what China is trying to do is to make sure that the vast majority of their citizens stay happy, after all, why should you have democracy and free speech if you are happy?
For the last 40 years, Economic Growth did the job of making the people happy but all signs are pointing to a Middle Income Trap and it will probably break the Social Contract between the CCP and the Chinese People, and the CCP knows it well, very well.
Internet started as a force of free speech but CCP managed to turn it around to create what is the biggest censorship platform on the world and also the biggest surveillance state in the world with constant monitoring of the social media activities and is touted to release a Social Credit system based on Electronic Surveillance in the near future.
State Communism at it’s absolute terrifying worst
China is going the winner of the game of Global Surveillance not only because most tech firms are state-owned, but also because Privacy and Intellectual Property is a non-existent concept while a Western Corporation has to deal with the government and the strong privacy laws, and then there are auxillary issues like Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks and General Elections
The aim of the Chinese Project seems to be eliminating a future conflict between them and the citizens through a mixture of coercion and manipulation and they are good at the former and is making progress on the latter, but we don’t know if they are progressing fast enough to avert the next crisis yet and if China wins this race, it will be the biggest challenge to Liberal Democracy and this time, survival means being able to tame the machines which could possibly know better than us