The four corners are great, but what can it tell us about where OUR society is headed?
One way to try and answer this is by first understanding how movement along the two axes even occurs. I.e., we know that societies are moving away from the bottom-left corner, but what is driving that change?
While all the reasons might be beyond the scope of this article, two major reasons stand out to me — one for each axis:
Movement along Y-axis (Original sin morality): Since this axis is so closely tied to the desire to survive, our first hypothesis starts there as well. It seems obvious that the easier it becomes to survive the more relaxed humans can get about being morally opposed to any phenomenon.
So how does it become easier to survive (for society as a whole). A strong case can be made for the creation of abundance from scarcity for the average citizen.
For example, I expect a non-stable country Afghanistan to have strong tribal & moral norms which are enforced. This is opposed to a stable and secure country like Norway where morality can be a little relaxed on the back of government support and education for the average citizen.
Creating abundance from scarcity can happen either through redistribution of existing assets (as in the case of Norway) or through technical innovation — with the latter being more fundamental in some way. Redistribution can only go so far, for true abundance, technological and scientific innovations seem to be surer bets.
Movement along X-axis (Inclusive Morality): Movement along the in-tribe identification axis seems to have a little less to do with scarcity & abundance (although these still play a role). Rather, it seems to be about having experiences that connect you to something outside of yourself — the driving factors of how such experiences occur could be myriad but there is usually an element of luck & serendipity involved.
For example, it has never been easier to go to Machu Picchu due to technological advances in fields such as aviation, globalization, financial services etc. But one still needs serendipity to get a chance to feel connected to a family from the Peruvian highlands.
A personal anecdote comes to mind. My own 60+ yo parents were forced to confront their previous opinions on homosexuality due to a mismanaged Airbnb booking which saw them living with a gay couple in London for a week. While they never viewed homosexuality as immoral, they often made statements along the lines of “it’s fad for a new generation obsessed with getting attention”.
After a week of staying with the London couple & becoming friends with them, they started to feel different. I even heard them talk about legalizing gay marriage because “it’s just not fair that two consenting adults can’t get married”.
The nature of boundary is partly determined by same forces that determine a sense of self-worth (including the time one invests with people or ideas). Therefore, often exposure to others that could be different to us is enough to help us increase our boundaries.
To recap in non-sophisticated language:
- Movement along y-axis : brain & technology become the driving factors
- Movement along x-axis: heart & empathy become the driving factors
I think the above non-sophisticated language is an interesting way to predict the future path of societies. We can make the statement that the trajectory of every society depends on the different speeds in which intellectual evolution and empathetic evolution of that society happen.
For example, the eventual progress of a society which evolves at an equal pace in matters of the heart and the head would look something like this
If the line above seems a bit too theoretical, it’s because it is. Reality is seldom this straightforward.
In fact, in the evolution of most large societies, technological evolution seems to have played a bigger role in the eventual path versus emotional evolution. Solely because there seems to always be more world-changing events happening in the domain of technology versus empathy. Empathy seems to work via one human at a time, technology on the other hand scales to millions very quickly.
Technology’s impact on y-axis is obvious. As argued elsewhere, one of the major reasons any technology finds mainstream acceptance is that it focusses on creating abundance where scarcity existed. The scarcity may be of resources, time or anything that seems important for survival. This by itself helps us move up the axis of original sin mortality
Furthermore, while technology’s impact on x-axis is subtler, it’s still there. When technology solves for convenience (creating an abundance of time & energy where previously a scarcity existed), it also makes it easier for newer experiences to take shape — and often these newer experiences lead to a greater chances of interaction between non-tribal members. Thus further increasing scope for empathy.
This difference in first-order vs second-order impact of technology is why it seems that technology usually leads to a faster acceleration along the y-axis vs the x-axis
I suspect that this trend is likely to continue, unless there comes an easy to use technology (hello psychedelics) or a very compelling reason for people to become more empathetic.
With the result that most moral paths of technological evolving societies look something like this:
Although the graph can simply stop there (remember there’s no right answer as such). I do hope that the graph doesn’t stop there
Instead, I hope that we can get to a stage where movement along the x-axis accelerates too. One of the fundamental things wrong with the world is that everyone feels entitled to empathy and yet no one wants to give it.
Moving to the right should make a dent on that front & the trajectory could end up looking like:
And if it were to happen, the world might start to feel like an actual family — maybe even a happy family.
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” said Leo Tolstoy, almost romanticizing tragedy. But it’s important to remember that being in a happy family is usually much more life affirming than being in an unhappy one.