Twitter is a strong candidate.
December 21, 2015 10:16 AM   Subscribe

At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen and commenters are answering the question, "If you had the power to make civilization unlearn one technology or theory in use today, what would it be?" Leading candidates include nuclear weapons, cigarettes, the AK-47, and Twitter.
posted by Cash4Lead (209 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dzhaughn December 20, 2015 at 12:55 am
The mechanism that lets humanity to unlearn something is my first priority for unlearning.


ACTUALLY I WOULD JUST ASK THE GENIE FOR MORE WISHES
posted by Greg Nog at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2015 [40 favorites]


In my opinion 'unlearning' anything will just mean that something else will fill that niche. And it will be as bad or worse than the unlearned thing. Human beings are very creative.
posted by Splunge at 10:20 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Easy. Time travel.

Oh...

Oh dear...
posted by Naberius at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm tempted to say "monotheism" but it's hard to know what would have replaced it as a group motivator..
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we all forget to hit the ground when falling then we would be able to fly, according to a reputable source.

I'm sure disappointed in the level of unchallenged Islamophobia in that thread, though.
posted by cubby at 10:25 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Obviously, fire.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:25 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Despite this being largely a link to the comments, the traditional advice still applies.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


From the article: I’m not ready to say nuclear weapons, which so far have been a major net force for peace, at least until the next one goes off.

"And as I fell past the 20th floor, I said 'so far so good!'"

But anyway. my suggestion is agriculture.

I mean I feel like a tool saying that, but, well, you look at how people lived before agriculture and then look at how they lived after agriculture — look at how old they were when they died, look at how big and healthy they grew, look at their teeth, look at patterns of wear on their bones — and it strongly suggests agriculture really was a wretched idea. Agriculture brings class division, slavery, long work days, patriarchy — women forced to waste their lives and health grinding grain and grinding grain and grinding grain until death — and generalized suffering. It was a terrible idea that we can't ever get rid of now that we've got it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [39 favorites]


Or the Bravo network.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Obviously, fire.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things


That's kind of eponysterical, isn't it?
posted by Naberius at 10:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Everything I say is eponysterical.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:27 AM on December 21, 2015 [48 favorites]


As always, don't read the comm...

...uh

well this is awkward
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


the AK-47

What, DI is the one true master?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:29 AM on December 21, 2015


For the health and well-being of people, smokeable tobacco and lead in gasoline would be very, very high on the list; for the health of cities and societies, the internal combustion engine is up there...
posted by entropone at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Black-Scholes? (Unlearning might have prevented the last recession... or the next.)

I do kind of think that the AK-47 is has been a net loss. Less dependable rifles would have a shorter half-life, and that might have prevented the African World War that most people in the global North never think about.

Or how about this? Hannah Arendt argued that totalitarianism was a unique governmental system that was additive of imperialism, racism, and a certain kind of historical determinism that works through a combination of bureaucracy and propaganda. She warned that once it had happened once it spelled a new possibility for human affairs forevermore, which is why we saw the same patterns from both Hitler and Stalin. So call it a social-political technology: surely we'd be better off if the world unlearned it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Agriculture brings class division, slavery, long work days, patriarchy — women wasting their lives and health forced to grind grain and grind grain and grind grain until death — and generalized suffering.

Agriculture also brought civilization, literacy, mathematics, and all sorts of wonderful things that come from that.

It's kind of hard to separate the rest of culture in general from agriculture.
posted by explosion at 10:32 AM on December 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


For the health and well-being of people, smokeable tobacco and lead in gasoline would be very, very high on the list; for the health of cities and societies, the internal combustion engine is up there...

Like I said - fire. Almost everything that endangers us the most relies on some form of combustion.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:32 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


One wonders what technologies we had previously unlearned.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:34 AM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


From Twitter:

CAR ALARMS.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 AM on December 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


I can't believe how many people are missing the big one -- badness. without badness we'd just have good stuff or neutral stuff. take out badness, and the whole world gets way better
posted by Greg Nog at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2015 [57 favorites]


"Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:35 AM on December 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


"Ooh, you multicellular organisms think you're so fancy!"
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Caillou.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [23 favorites]


Now imagining Greg Nog as Lilo assessing our badness level. Bwahaha.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know how to phrase this in the context of the question, but basically it would be charge everyone $5 to use the internet, no exceptions. None of this "information wants to be free" bullshit. Put up or shut up.
posted by sidereal at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Leading candidates include nuclear weapons,

This is weird since nuclear weapons have been one of the biggest forces for peace over the past half a decade.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2015


what if we unlearned this question
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


i nominate pants.
posted by The Whelk at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


what question?
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


well I for one really wish we hadn't invented that machine to eternally torture digital copies of all the people who didn't help it achieve power. that thing sucks.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:41 AM on December 21, 2015 [30 favorites]


If we eliminate hierarchy, then suddenly no one can consider themselves better or more important than anyone else.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:43 AM on December 21, 2015


And lol at the marginal revolution commenters:

few things I would consider putting on the list: the ICBM (i.e., which implies first strike capability), income tax withholding ...

Gotta love this one:
Global Warmmongering.

And this!

The Pill. I mean cheap, easily accessible Pill. It has destroyed traditional morality and weakened family.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:44 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Selfishness.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> The Pill. I mean cheap, easily accessible Pill. It has destroyed traditional morality and weakened family.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:44 AM on December 21 [+] [!]


as if those are bad effects. sheesh. two four six eight, smash the family, church and state, y'all.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:47 AM on December 21, 2015 [17 favorites]


Communism.
posted by gyc at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2015


Huh, no one in the comment section of F.A. Hayek Fellow and Director of the Mercatus Center Tyler Cowen's blog mentions unlearning private ownership of land or means of production
posted by RogerB at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2015 [27 favorites]


Some fun stuff to think about unlearning is where its removal has multiplier effects. If we had never made leaded gasoline, for instance, we wouldn't have had a near-century of lead pollution and all the downsides from that, like giving pretty much everyone some level of brain damage from exposure.

I wonder if a couple generations of the world's population of human beings, rich and poor, would have had the chance to be just a bit smarter about all kinds of stuff over that time period. Could our species have seen through scams like climate change denialism a little sooner, maybe acting a bit faster and saving ourselves from extinction, etc.?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


> Huh, no one in the comment section of F.A. Hayek Fellow and Director of the Mercatus Center Tyler Cowen's blog mentions unlearning private ownership of land or means of production.

yeah at first I wanted to be like "capitalism let's unlearn capitalism!" but I'm sufficiently Menshevik to agree with Marx on capitalism being an incredibly productive system that must be gotten rid of, rather than something we should retroactively remove from the timeline.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:49 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Supply side economics.
posted by Gelatin at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Haircuts
posted by shakespeherian at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2015


oh idk how about unlearning white male supremacy, that would be a super rad start

second would be the total destruction of people who microwave fish in the office kitchen
posted by poffin boffin at 10:51 AM on December 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


The color yellow
posted by shakespeherian at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


ACTUALLY I WOULD JUST ASK THE GENIE FOR MORE WISHES

Or maybe "how to stuff itself back in the bottle."
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2015


Marketing.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


tim why are you fruitist against bananas
posted by poffin boffin at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The AK-47 is evil not because of its design but rather because it was manufactured in absurd quantities by a particular governmental system. That evil system than slowly collapsed into chaos and the giant pile of weapons was sold off around the world, often to rather nasty people.
If you have ever handled one, you might share my opinion that they are ugly, clunky, un-ergonomic pieces of shit.
So, I nominate Stalinism for uninvention instead.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The color yellow

Coldplay.
posted by Lyme Drop at 10:55 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would settle for unlearning everything to do with the Kardashians.
posted by briank at 10:55 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]




Theories are tricky, because even horrible ones can have positive effects that develop in opposition to them. However, as far as technology goes, I am 100% certain that Keurig Single-Cup Coffee Machines are an abomination and should be destroyed beyond the power of memory to recall their existence.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2015 [24 favorites]


For-Profit Corporations.

If people were personally liable for their business dealings, the world would have a lot fewer problems.

Yeah, I know, I know, it introduces all sorts of other problems, but we can try it as a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT anyway. They've only been around since 1600, we wouldn't even have to rework that much of history!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


The 2nd amendment?
posted by el io at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


If we eliminate hierarchy, then suddenly no one can consider themselves better or more important than anyone else.

Nope, we'd still have religion.
posted by maryr at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I think we need to unlearn Greek fire.
posted by maryr at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Public relations and marketing.
posted by creade at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Agriculture brings class division, slavery, long work days, patriarchy

I was surprised to find that Sex At Dawn, nominally a book on sexuality, could easily have been re-titled "How Agriculture Was The Shittest Idea Ever, Also Some Sex-Anthropology". A good read, though.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I mean, think of the dent in COLONIALISM ALONE that retroactively banning for-profit corporations would make! And lots of things like tobacco, combustion engines, etc., that have been mentioned up-thread would not have been nearly so lucrative without a corporate structure to promote and sell them, and to protect their makers from liability.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I put my vote for the incorporation of business with the hope that giant businesses are at least a little more ethical if they are trying to grow by providing a better product/service than trying to improve profits for shareholders.
posted by Tevin at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


something we should retroactively remove from the timeline

Yes, that's the spirit I think in which the question was given. Lots of things have good and bad effects, but the interesting thing to do is to identify things that have nothing really going for them other than path dependence. Tetraethyl lead is (or was) a good one: Even at the time, I want to say it was not a clearly superior solution to the problem of engine knocking--leaving aside the terrible effect it would have on the environment, public health, and (possibly) crime rates. So eliminating it from the timeline spares us much ill, but doesn't necessarily rob us of anything good.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:01 AM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


I see what you're doing, you're just trying to make some money trading the lead in.
posted by maryr at 11:03 AM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Goetic magic, surely.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:03 AM on December 21, 2015


It's hard to unpack the question in the realistic way (but I guess that's not the point). Are nuclear weapons an advance in theoretical physics or is it the engineering solution to build the bomb? Wiping out the former probably leads to more unintended consequences than we realize, while wiping out the latter just makes everybody a nascent nuclear power (the "breakout" problem).
posted by AndrewInDC at 11:03 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


> The color yellow
posted by shakespeherian at 10:53 AM on December 21 [+] [!]


yeah sure right let's just get rid of our only means of defense against the Green Lantern Corps. That sounds like a great idea.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


I don't know how to phrase this in the context of the question, but basically it would be charge everyone $5 to use the internet, no exceptions. None of this "information wants to be free" bullshit. Put up or shut up.

posted by sidereal


Another way of phrasing this is free internet or cost-hidden internet.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Probably religion. Or more likely just the idea of god(s), since there are religions that don't really go for them. The idea that there's someone(s) intangible in charge, though, and we know what he wants and you aren't doing it so we want to kill/convert/oppress/scorn you, that'd be nice to get rid of.
posted by tavella at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Almost everything that endangers us the most relies on some form of combustion."

Starvation, dying from the elements, dying from disease or medical injuries, that's what endangers us the most. Without fire we are a lot more vulnerable.
posted by I-baLL at 11:06 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Humans.

Let the insects rule, it'll be a better scene for the planet overall.
posted by dbiedny at 11:06 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The color yellow has been one of the biggest forces for peace over the past half a decade
posted by shakespeherian at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The concept of limited liability.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:07 AM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is a great question for efficiently dividing a group into "lulzy" and "po-faced" camps.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:08 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Our yellow sun leaves us awfully vulnerable to Kryptonians and Coldplay.
posted by maryr at 11:09 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


The real unlearning was the friendships we made along the way
posted by shakespeherian at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


The guy recommending the AK-47 is thinking small. Just yoink gunpowder, altogether.
posted by jpolchlopek at 11:10 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The wheel, or at least its use in transportation. Without it, we wouldn't have all these big wide roads cluttering up the landscape, and by now everyone would be getting around by maglev trains and/or (VTOL) flying cars. Or maybe landspeeders. I'd miss bicycles, tractors, and race cars, but it'd be worth it.
posted by sfenders at 11:11 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Goetic magic, surely.

Spoken like someone whose never learned of poisonous plants and the auguries by Prince Stolas, typical.
posted by The Whelk at 11:11 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is a great question for efficiently dividing a group into "lulzy" and "po-faced" camps.

Wait, you mean some of these are meant to be serious answers?
posted by sfenders at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I unlearned you.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


This is a great question for efficiently dividing a group into "lulzy" and "po-faced" camps.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:08 AM on December 21 [2 favorites +] You already made this a favorite. [!]


I reject your dichotomy! we're vast, we contain multitudes, we can swerve wildly from lulzy to po-faced and back to lulzy again, sometimes in a single comment!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:14 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


the internal combustion engine is up there...

Before internal combustion engines came along cities (and roads in general) were literally paved in horse...apples? And lined with horse carcasses. So the internal combustion engine made cities smell better (especially now that we have solved (almost all of) the pollution issue with catalytic converters and fuel injection). As well as all the food those horses ate and the really inhumane treatment they received.

The guy recommending the AK-47 is thinking small. Just yoink gunpowder, altogether.

Yes, because no one ever killed anyone with a weapon that wasn't powered by gunpowder. I am pretty sure wars predated gunpowder. Pretty sure interpersonal violence predated ALL our tools. Plus if you great rid of gunpowder you get rid of explosives and all the wonderful things they make possible (mostly large scale public works projects like bridges, tunnels, dams and so on). Just getting rid of weapons will not cease the wars, and a good argument can be made that the world is a BETTER place because of guns-since the invention of guns (and especially repeating, metallic cartridge firearms) the overall level of violence in the world has gone down.

I do have to agree with the tetraethyl lead thing though. The ONLY benefit to engines is that the lead lubricated some internal parts allowing them to use cheaper, easier to make parts that would last longer (specifically valve seats and guides), and some benefit to predetination. Both of which can be solved through purely mechanical measures that require NO additives. For a $0.05 savings per engine we poisoned multiple generations of humanity in our most advanced productive societies, and then exported that "solution" to everyone who aspired to it.... So yeah maybe the real point is somehow eliminating the idea that profits are the most important measure of performance for a corporation would be the real winning idea.
posted by bartonlong at 11:21 AM on December 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


Tyler Cowen's forthcoming alternative history novel will be pretty nutty.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The printing press. We would be in the Late, Late, Really Late, Middling Gothic right now, although we wouldn't know it...
posted by jim in austin at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Before internal combustion engines came along cities (and roads in general) were literally paved in horse...apples? And lined with horse carcasses. So the internal combustion engine made cities smell better (especially now that we have solved (almost all of) the pollution issue with catalytic converters and fuel injection). As well as all the food those horses ate and the really inhumane treatment they received.

Nah, I don't buy it. As I see it, at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century we invented two really revolutionary, positive transportation technologies: safe-to-ride bicycles, and then electric-engine cars. And then we did a stupid and spent a century focusing on internal combustion engines instead.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:24 AM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Don't we charge most people a great deal more than $5 monthly to use the internet? Perhaps you mean to charge $5 per comment.
posted by atoxyl at 11:27 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


it should be like standing in parliamentary elections. you put down a deposit for each comment you make, but if it receives enough favorites you get your deposit back.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:28 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Caillou.

SHOPKINS.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:30 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]



You Can't Tip a Buick: But anyway. my suggestion is agriculture.

I mean I feel like a tool saying that, but, well, you look at how people lived before agriculture and then look at how they lived after agriculture — look at how old they were when they died, look at how big and healthy they grew, look at their teeth, look at patterns of wear on their bones — and it strongly suggests agriculture really was a wretched idea. Agriculture brings class division, slavery, long work days, patriarchy — women forced to waste their lives and health grinding grain and grinding grain and grinding grain until death — and generalized suffering. It was a terrible idea that we can't ever get rid of now that we've got it.


They may be on to something.
posted by a person of few words at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2015


Sarcasm and hyperbole. Two. Worst. Things. Evar.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 11:33 AM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm tempted to say "monotheism" but it's hard to know what would have replaced it as a group motivator..

The Greeks weren't monotheists. They were still jerks to a lot of people.

I would say "How to use petroleum." Though if I had this magic power, I would just wish that there were no accessible petroleum deposits at all, and so humanity had to come up with better ideas.

Though I would be completely unsurprised if we found something that was as bad or worse. I mean, I can't imagine what that would be, but hey, humanity; there's nothing we can't fuck up.

Unlearning eating meat would probably help us a lot also. And I say that as a carnivore. But it would be nice if we in turn developed ruminant stomachs so we could eat more kinds of vegetation.
posted by emjaybee at 11:34 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The guy recommending the AK-47 is thinking small. Just yoink gunpowder, altogether.

Right, but then you'd be responsible for all that blade-on-blade violence, and the National Swordowners Association would be all "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a rapier is a good guy with a rapier." And that'd be on you.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Air Blowers, Harleys, Boom Boxes, Car Alarms, anything that allows assholes to legally assault everyone around them with dangerously loud noise.
posted by Beholder at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would say "How to use petroleum."

The easiest replacement is, unfortunately, coal. As much as I want coal-fired dirigibles buzzing overhead I'm not sure it's a net gain.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


The AK-47 ended any hope of continued European imperialism, so if you wish it away you need to be comfortable with the British and French and their American successors still running more of the world rather than the indigenous people.

Alcohol has pretty bad effects in terms of health, violence at a very personal level. Lots of looters and wife-beaters.

The motor car is a terrible blight on society. Deaths, pollution, increased journey times, destruction of neighbourhoods and communities.

Television, though I love it dearly, is a passive form of empty entertainment that damages us psychologically and socially.

JavaScript and the IMG element.
posted by alasdair at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ottokawrecked.

CFCs? I'd say drift nets, landmines, automatic weapons or nukes, but they'd get reinvented easily enough without digging out a huge amount of theory useful for other tech.

Constant permutations of unconstitutional laws passed to restrict civil rights.

One wonders what technologies we had previously unlearned.

The Roman hypocaust was lost to all but Korea for a long time.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2015


1. Prejudice.
2. Greed.

Without #1 we'd be more open to peace.
Without #2 we'd be more connected to the planet & each other.
posted by yoga at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2015


Twitter is a great one. Because the underlying technical limit if 140 characters is largely unimportant in our post SMS world.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:38 AM on December 21, 2015




The easiest replacement is, unfortunately, coal. As much as I want coal-fired dirigibles buzzing overhead I'm not sure it's a net gain.

Oh sorry, I should have said "carbon fuels." Yes, coal would not be better.
posted by emjaybee at 11:39 AM on December 21, 2015


Favorites
posted by leotrotsky at 11:40 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Peanut shells

Just think how much easier peanuts would be to eat if we hadn't invented the shells
posted by shakespeherian at 11:43 AM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Actually you know I'm going to say the voting mechanism of reddit, and I say that as someone who has had positive interactions with the site and uses it.

Crappy comments with crappy ideas can be pushed to the top of threads that are seen by millions of people and you get a cascade of idiots trumpeting on in agreement for a comment that's blatantly false or harmful. There's a case to be made that voting good comments to the top is a way of crowd sourcing moderation duties but in my experience it just intensifies the qualities of an echo chamber.
posted by Tevin at 11:44 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Television. One of my favorite annoying smug bon mots (bons mot? I'll have to check with William Safire) is that all TV is educational. All of it is teaching you something.
posted by kurumi at 11:45 AM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Crappy comments with crappy ideas can be pushed to the top of threads that are seen by millions of people and you get a cascade of idiots trumpeting on in agreement for a comment that's blatantly false or harmful. There's a case to be made that voting good comments to the top is a way of crowd sourcing moderation duties but in my experience it just intensifies the qualities of an echo chamber.

The battle for the future will be fought between Show Top Stories and Show Most Recent. Let us hope and pray that Show Most Recent wins.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:46 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually you know I'm going to say the voting mechanism of reddit, and I say that as someone who has had positive interactions with the site and uses it.

Have an upvote.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:49 AM on December 21, 2015


Damascus Steel.

Thank you, genie!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:55 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


down with upvotes up with upbrds

(note: I couldn't find any actual upbrds, so this is just a cute drawing of brd)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:55 AM on December 21, 2015


Monosodium glutamate, goddamnit.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:57 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


entropone: " for the health of cities and societies, the internal combustion engine is up there..."
External combustion endignes instead wouldn't have changed things much.

This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: "
Like I said - fire. Almost everything that endangers us the most relies on some form of combustion.
"

This is basically asking to roll back humanity to living like Chimps.

sfenders: "The wheel, or at least its use in transportation. Without it, we wouldn't have all these big wide roads cluttering up the landscape, and by now everyone would be getting around by maglev trains and/or (VTOL) flying cars. Or maybe landspeeders. I'd miss bicycles, tractors, and race cars, but it'd be worth it."

Teams still made use of big wide roads; they'd just be covered in manure.

BungaDunga: "The easiest replacement is, unfortunately, coal. As much as I want coal-fired dirigibles buzzing overhead I'm not sure it's a net gain."

The pre-petroleum world was pretty hard on whales. In fact we probably wouldn't have any whales at all now if we hadn't discovered petroleum.

emjaybee: "
Oh sorry, I should have said "carbon fuels." Yes, coal would not be better.
"

Wood is a carbon fuel; this is the same as the suggestion of forgetting how to harness fire.
posted by Mitheral at 12:00 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Alcohol has pretty bad effects in terms of health, violence at a very personal level. Lots of looters and wife-beaters.

Odds are we would all be erased from the timeline without alcohol since for much of human history it was the only reliably safe beverage.
posted by srboisvert at 12:00 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also subscription television/cable/cable boxes whatever specific technology that is.

We'd miss out on a lot of great television, yes, but we also wouldn't have 24-hour news. I'd give up Mad Men if it also meant it got rid of Fox News.
posted by Tevin at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2015


Don't worry you guys, our overlords are doing thier earnest best to make sure things like labor laws and the 9 hour workday are unlearned!
posted by The Whelk at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why do you hate chimps, Mitheral?
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." #ButlerianJihad
posted by graymouser at 12:04 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


The afterlife.

Think of how much emotional labor and bullshit goes into making sure that you get into the "good" afterlife. Think of how many people sacrifice unnecessarily to ensure they get into the "good" one.

Now imagine if we put all that effort and work into making this world and this life better for everyone.

Poor people would be less inclined to accept the status quo, rich people would be less able to wrap themselves in the cloak of righteous justification, and as a whole, we might be more able to focus on being nice to each other now rather than waiting around for heaven.
posted by teleri025 at 12:05 PM on December 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Alcohol has pretty bad effects in terms of health, violence at a very personal level. Lots of looters and wife-beaters.

Odds are we would all be erased from the timeline without alcohol since for much of human history it was the only reliably safe beverage.


Also human beings can be described as "intoxicant seeking" across the board. You remove alcohol from the timeline and you come back and everyone carries personal hypnotic secreting toads
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


You remove alcohol from the timeline and you come back and everyone carries personal hypnotic secreting toads

ALL HAIL THE HYPNOTOAD
posted by Existential Dread at 12:07 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nationalism. Failing that, meninism.
posted by maxsparber at 12:07 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


for much of human history [alcohol] was the only reliably safe beverage

I'm not sure how true that is. I mean, I've heard that said about specific times and places in history, and heard it was untrue of those specific times and places, so, shrug?
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:08 PM on December 21, 2015


Monosodium glutamate, goddamnit.
This is actually one I wish had been discovered/isolated *earlier*, since that way it wouldn't be saddled with an "ooo scary scientific-sounding" name and it'd just be "savory" or something like that.

+1 for leaded gasoline as my vote though. It's an interesting question to take seriously, since there is the above note of path-dependency and the like.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:09 PM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


The number of comments suggesting birth control is disheartening.
posted by Sternmeyer at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Private property or Critical Theory, can't decide.

Tetra ethyl lead, if held to the wall though. Our near Roman moment of history.
posted by bonehead at 12:16 PM on December 21, 2015



The number of comments suggesting birth control is disheartening


Birth.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:21 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Racism. Whoonga. Mustard gas. All the technologies of torture. Coal-fired anything. Fascism. Cluster bombs. Circumcision. Mince pie.
posted by sfenders at 12:21 PM on December 21, 2015


Ideology.
posted by dazed_one at 12:24 PM on December 21, 2015


If you are going to go with tetra ethyl lead, you probably should put lead paint on your list as well. And domestic uses of asbestos.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:24 PM on December 21, 2015


The idea that we can ignore science.
posted by ecco at 12:25 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Streaming music services, who have single-handely hauled Johnny Mathis back over the event horizon and into my ears again: ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:25 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


So in summary, we are for birth control, and against birth and control.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:32 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Paul McCartney's Christmastime song.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:41 PM on December 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Dubstep
posted by Thorzdad at 12:44 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Old people
posted by shakespeherian at 12:47 PM on December 21, 2015


despite whatever differences we may have, I'm sure we can all agree on the need to retroactively remove Morrissey from all timelines.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Derivative financial instruments. Maybe time value of money.
posted by klarck at 12:57 PM on December 21, 2015


Old people

Nice try, Sandman. No Carousel for me, thanks.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:58 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned Morrissey can stay in the post-apocalytic timelines.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Corporate personhood ( or limited liability as above).
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wood is a carbon fuel; this is the same as the suggestion of forgetting how to harness fire.

Not necessarily. If there were no coal or oil available, we'd have had to think of something when wood was no longer sufficient (not because we'd run out but also because it doesn't burn hot enough).

Humans are pretty ingenious. I'd like to think we could achieve things like spaceflight without roasting our planet in the process. But maybe not. Maybe we can only be advanced and burning ourselves up, or breathe clean air but live primitively.

Kind of depressing.
posted by emjaybee at 1:07 PM on December 21, 2015


> As far as I'm concerned Morrissey can stay in the post-apocalytic timelines.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 PM on December 21 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Splitter!!

>> Old people
> Nice try, Sandman. No Carousel for me, thanks.


Fish, plankton, sea greens... protein from the sea!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everything everyone's named would lead to monkey paw's style consequences. Therefore, I choose to unlearn monkey paws!
posted by FJT at 1:15 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


maybe we could solve this by retroactively adding technologies. Specifically, I think our society today would be much smarter and happier and healthier if, sometime before we hit on the agriculture idea, we had somehow figured out how to directly convert solar energy to chemical energy by performing photosynthesis in our own bodies instead of recruiting plants to photosynthesize for us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:16 PM on December 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


there are no negative consequences to removing Morrissey. none at all.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:17 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


What if we went back and added Genie technology
posted by shakespeherian at 1:18 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


only if the genies are guaranteed to be whimsical wisecrackers with a talent for ad-libbing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:22 PM on December 21, 2015


that thing that turns eggs into an eggcock
posted by billiebee at 1:22 PM on December 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Blast processing! Truly, it was our undoing. We were not meant to fly so close to the sun.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:22 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Everything everyone's named would lead to monkey paw's style consequences. Therefore, I choose to unlearn monkey paws!

Oh great, now we got a bunch of handless monkeys running around and what are we going to do with those.
posted by arcolz at 1:24 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


only if the genies are guaranteed to be whimsical wisecrackers with a talent for ad-libbing.

TOO SOON
posted by shakespeherian at 1:24 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Streaming music services, who have single-handely hauled Johnny Mathis back over the event horizon and into my ears again: ugh.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:25 PM on December 21


This thread hasn't made me want to go to church, or drive around burning fossil fuels, or go eat some agricultural products (I mean I did that, but not because of this thread), but you did just make me fire up Spotify to listen to "Wonderful! Wonderful!"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The parts of the bible where it says that women are inferior.
posted by davidstandaford at 1:37 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Davidstandaford, better make that all holy books. And all misogynistic writings.
posted by agregoli at 1:41 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


better make that all holy books.

My biological mother would have taken issue with this.
posted by maxsparber at 1:43 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


look at how old they were when they died, look at how big and healthy they grew, look at their teeth, look at patterns of wear on their bones — and it strongly suggests agriculture really was a wretched idea. Agriculture brings class division, slavery, long work days, patriarchy — women forced to waste their lives and health grinding grain and grinding grain and grinding grain until death — and generalized suffering.

Yes, but agriculture hit it big because it liberated everyone, not just oppressed classes, from hunting and gathering. Of course the rulers benefited disproportionately from that, but then, they always do.

Every technology, without exception, has its drawbacks, and depending on the socioeconomic facts of the moment those drawbacks can be significant. The only way out of it is to improve humanity as a whole, which is something that is happening, although slowly and largely unseen. Remember when pretty much the whole country woke up, almost at once, and decided maybe same-sex marriage isn't such a bad thing after all? Or that marijuana isn't really all that horrible as far as drugs go?

The fact that this kind of social improvement is unseen, indeed, is a good thing, because it helps to keeep hidebound powerful folks from fighting against it.
posted by JHarris at 1:48 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean we're basically just woolgathering here — working on the plan to remove Morrissey from all timelines may be a more reasonable use of time than theorizing about whether or not agriculture was a good idea — but if the stuff I've read about how the modal hunter-gatherer typically spent about 15 hours a week hunting and/or gathering is right, saying that agriculture "liberated" people from hunting and gathering doesn't make much sense. "You are free from the 15 hours a week you have to spend doing something that's fun! Now you get to spend 70 hours a week grinding grain for the priestly and warrior castes instead! You're welcome!"

I'd also question whether the idea of "oppressed classes" as we understand it is meaningful in pre-agriculture societies, but actually working toward answering that question probably requires actual anthropologists rather than overeducated keyboard theorists like me. also I don't want to run the risk of falling into "noble savage" crap, so, yeah.

In closing, Morrissey delenda est.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:58 PM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Slood. It's slightly easier to discover than fire, harder to discover than water, and what would our civilization be without it?
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:58 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's an awful lot of assuming you can magically make people better by getting rid of some contentious and/or fundamental theory or another in this thread. I have to admit, I think people are people, for good or for ill, and tossing religion or the afterlife or hierarchy or monotheism or tribalism etc would alter us so much that it would change what it means to be human in some pretty profound ways.

That said, what do I know, my immediate thought was "CAPITALISM, GET RID OF IT." I get the feeling we'd only replace it with something equally or more awful though. So instead I will go with libertarianism.
posted by yasaman at 1:58 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: "Sarcasm and hyperbole. Two. Worst. Things. Evar."

That's the greatest idea in a million years!
posted by Splunge at 2:04 PM on December 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


CAPITALISM, GET RID OF ITcapitalism, get rid of it

okay
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 2:04 PM on December 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


There are plenty of opportunities to influence the order in which society learns new technologies, which influences the distribution of power in the future, so worry about those.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


So instead I will go with libertarianism.

After that they'd just split 1/3rd anarchist and 2/3rds Randian.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:27 PM on December 21, 2015


There are plenty of opportunities to influence the order in which society learns new technologies, which influences the distribution of power in the future, so worry about those.

Yeah, I think next time we should go fishing->the wheel->pottery->writing and then skip to a couple of future techs (animal photosynthesis, maybe?), rather than doing the agriculture -> mining -> bronze working -> slavery build we tried this time around.

also we should discover Futurama heads-in-jar tech ASAP so that Leonard Nimoy can read the tech discovery quotes again.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:36 PM on December 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


I tend to think (unfortunately) a lot of people will tend to end up somewhere with "learning how to breathe air" kind of results.

I just hope when I, or anyone else, gets the power to make civilization unlearn one technology or theory in use today, everyone else will have the technology to keep us from using that power.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:45 PM on December 21, 2015


Yeah, I think next time we should go fishing->the wheel->pottery->writing and then skip to a couple of future techs

I've been experimenting with ravager drops in my build order but I can't decide if I need to do a 15-gas or a 17-gas.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:58 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


RAVAGER DROPS. okay everyone thread's over we have discovered the tech to unlearn.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:59 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The concept of race.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:02 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read a sci fi novel once where an artificial intelligence prevented people from conceiving of the wheel via woo telepathy or something. They had other technologies far more modern, even computers, but no wheels. The idea being that wheels allow you to transport much more much easier, which allows you to support much larger armies, which leads to much larger and more destructive wars etc… The author was Orson Scott Card, so I guess what I would erase is homophobia. Or bigotry in general? Maybe indoctrination, thats a technology, surely.
posted by rodlymight at 3:06 PM on December 21, 2015


But anyway. my suggestion is agriculture...

I'd agree with your argument, but our collective and, more importantly, scaled up/widespread level of consciousness is a byproduct of fundamental technologies such as that. Bought more time to do less work and more thinking about existence.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:07 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean it's been 6000 years or whatever of unrelenting shit so far, but I do really think maybe we're on the threshold of making something good out of this agriculture idea. but in practical terms, so far it hasn't freed up time for people to think so much as redistributed free time so that most people have no time to think at all, while a thin parasitical layer of priests and lords and grad students get all the time to think that they want.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:10 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Handguns, anti-drug laws, christmas carols, Ayn Rand, carob, misogyny, karaoke, people who give you toothbrushes for trickortreat
posted by rifflesby at 3:18 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean it's been 6000 years of the earth's existence
posted by shakespeherian at 3:18 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


the people who think earth is 6000 years old are wrong, because they didn't account for the fact that all time between the Roman Empire and now is fraudulent time introduced by the agents of the Black Iron Prison to stop VALIS's incursion into our world. like duh, it's all right there in the information-rich pink laser beams from space that VALIS blasted directly into Philip K. Dick's mind in the year that we commonly refer to as 1974.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:20 PM on December 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Adobe portable document format.
posted by pjmoy at 3:21 PM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


that thing that turns eggs into an eggcock

technically it was a moist extruded egg tube
posted by poffin boffin at 3:28 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


We probably shouldn't have invented kitties. They will destroy us all.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 3:30 PM on December 21, 2015


Spam.

Interpretation up to the reader.
posted by XtinaS at 3:32 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


If only the genie had dealt with Thomas Midgley, Jr. earlier in the timeline.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:48 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Handguns, anti-drug laws, christmas carols, Ayn Rand, carob, misogyny, karaoke, people who give you toothbrushes for trickortreat

... FIIIIVE GOLDEN RINGS!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:02 PM on December 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Digital rights management software. Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Planned obsolescence. Disposable razors.
posted by sfenders at 4:07 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cars that automatically download firmware updates over the Internet. In the future, people will need to allow a bit of extra time getting to work on "patch Tuesday."
posted by sfenders at 4:25 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


wait wait no "five golden rings" isn't the right reference. replace with:

Handguns, anti-drug laws, christmas carols, Ayn Rand, carob, misogyny, karaoke, people who give you toothbrushes for trickortreat, Digital rights management software. Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Planned obsolescence. Disposable razors... We didn't start the fire! it's been burning since the world's been turning! We didn't start the fire...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:27 PM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Tollbooths. License plate readers. Surveillance cameras. Facial recognition software. The Facebook algorithm. Slot machines.
posted by sfenders at 4:30 PM on December 21, 2015


Quicktime, flash, MS Exchange.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:34 PM on December 21, 2015


... FIIIIVE GOLDEN RINGS!

5-year plans. 4K monitors. 3D films. 2-minute commercial breaks. And ... a parrot in a palm tree?
posted by sfenders at 4:39 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Gotta second the mention of the internal combustion engine. So much bad stuff stems from it, it's kind of astounding.
posted by Automocar at 4:53 PM on December 21, 2015


That giant golden wish-granting sphere at the bottom of the ocean.

Was... was I not supposed to mention the giant golden wish-granting sphere at the bottom of the ocean?
posted by um at 5:25 PM on December 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nicholas Nassim Taleb and everyone who comments on Tyler Cowens blog, which maybe equates to libertarianism?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:55 PM on December 21, 2015


Oh wait, alternative phrasing: "they hate me because I'm right" or "they laughed at Einstein". I would like to remove everyone who has used either of those sentences (or equivalents) and meant them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:56 PM on December 21, 2015


Definitely going to agree with Marxism ... 100 million dead in the 20th century would probably agree also (if they weren't already dead, of course).
posted by theorique at 8:04 PM on December 21, 2015


Objectivism (in other words, seconding 'Ayn Rand').

Constitutional Originalism (in other words, 'Antonin Scalia')

The Southern Strategy in American politics

Rape culture and its apologists

I'm on the fence, but possibly SMS. Not email, just SMS.

Similarly, cameraphones.

Autotune.

I'm going to stop there because I just thought of like 60 more things
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:07 PM on December 21, 2015


ACTUALLY I WOULD JUST ASK THE GENIE FOR MORE WISHES

The blink tag.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:45 PM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is weird since nuclear weapons have been one of the biggest forces for peace over the past half a decade.

Except the three or four times we nearly accidentally destroyed civilization. Hard to prove a negative.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:19 PM on December 21, 2015


Easy. Time travel.

This raises the question of what's the top technology or concept we've already forgotten, either in this real timeline or in the alt-history one?

Pocket planet-killing black holes? That non-modular solution to Fermat's Last Theorem? Sequels to the Matrix? That Sir Sean Connery is an admitted and unrepentant woman-beater"? Roman Numeral Multiplication? Democracy? L'eggs Eggs? The Location of Atlantis? How to make strongly interacting "sock" "anti-sock" pairs that, if they get too far apart, generate a whole separate pair of socks from the energy used to pull them apart? How to make pyramids and stonehenges and stuff? Writing in cursive? Cursing in writive? How to get back to our own non-Nazi Donald Trump timeline?
posted by xigxag at 10:22 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


leaf blowers
posted by philip-random at 11:37 PM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Gandhi. I would fight Gandhi.
posted by indubitable at 5:32 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Agriculture also brought civilization, literacy, mathematics, and all sorts of wonderful things that come from that.

And cilantro. Fuck that noise.
posted by peeedro at 5:39 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would like to remove everyone who

I hope we can soon unlearn this technique of going from hating ideas to wishing for the annihilation of the people who hold those ideas.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:05 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Where do you think hateful ideas come from? They come from hateful people. If we are wishing away hateful ideas there is really only one way to do it, and that's to shut down the hateful idea machines. That's the money's paw dilemma. We wish the hateful ideas away, the hateful people either get lobotomized or disappear altogether.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 9:25 AM on December 22, 2015


That's the money's paw dilemma.

"Money's paw" is a pretty great typo.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 9:39 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Agriculture also brought civilization, literacy, mathematics, and all sorts of wonderful things that come from that.

And now that we're at the bottom of the thread I feel free to get proper crazy.

I love the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. I watch Totoro, Spirited Away, and Kiki at least once a year. I cry every time. they're fantastic movies (as are his other ones, but those three are my favorite).

His most recent movie (and I guess probably his last, though he's un-retired before) is about whether art and excellence are worth pursuing. It's one long elaborate analogy wherein he compares himself to the guy who designed the Zero fighter plane, which was by all accounts one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering the world has ever seen.

The movie is for great swathes of the running time largely apolitical — it's not about the war that's about to rip apart the world, it's about a dreamy, sweet young man with a deep romantic love of aviation, who learns how to make his great ideas real through working together with other brilliant engineers and technicians and managers. Miyazaki himself obviously loves everything about flight — I'm pretty sure we can think of the kid in Kiki's Delivery Service who's working on a bicycle-powered plane as a Marty Stu for Miyazaki himself — and you can tell that if Miyazaki's talents had run toward engineering rather than animation, he would have loved to design planes. But he's an animator, not an engineer, so what he did was assemble a team of brilliant animators and technicians and managers to help him realize his visions on film.

Near the end of the movie about the Zero designer, there's a dream sequence where the Zero guy is talking about art and genius with the Italian plane designer who he himself had idolized as a child.

And they start talking about the pyramids — how beautiful they are, how daring they are as pieces of engineering, what a monument they are to the power of human minds and human muscles. And the Italian plane designer (whose name I cannot remember for the life of me) notes the misery and the suffering that went into building them, the tortured slave gangs laboriously moving giant stones under the ugly threat of the lash, the fact that they are in the end just tombs. And he asks if it's worth it — if the excellence and daring and beauty of doing impossible things like building perfectly triangular mountains and fast and beautiful planes (and, by implication, massive spectacular genius works of animation) is ultimately worth all the suffering and pain and hierarchical control needed to make them. I think Miyazaki's answer is pretty clearly "no," since while this imaginary conversation about pyramids is going on, fleets of fast beautiful deadly fighter planes and bombers fly overhead, darkening the sky, showing how the beautiful dream of flying faster and higher and farther is about to turn into the disgusting nightmare of total war.

I would trade away every movie Miyazaki ever made, every brilliant mathematical theorem, every city (and I fucking love cities), every train, every plane, every car, every bicycle, every Platonic dialogue, everything Kant and Hegel and Marx and Russell and Proclus and Plotinus and the Pseudo-Dionysius ever wrote, every excellent thing that humans have ever made, for a retrospective end to slavery and torture and patriarchy and exploitation. Seeking excellence is a game for ignorant children. Let's seek deceny instead. Under this frame, no amount of math and literature and philosophy can justify the wrenching pain humans inflict on other humans.

I think maybe my philosophy is the philosophy of Nietzsche's "Last Man," the gray mediocre nothing that he presents as the opposite of his brilliant excellent world-striding aristocratic blond beast Uberman. But I don't care. Fuck the Uberman. Nothing worthwhile or beautiful that that guy has ever done or will ever do will ever be worth the pain he inflicts while doing it.

So there you go. Get rid of agriculture or don't get rid of agriculture. Either way, though, fuck the Uberman.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I've read about how the modal hunter-gatherer typically spent about 15 hours a week hunting and/or gathering is right, saying that agriculture "liberated" people from hunting and gathering doesn't make much sense.

You say "hunter gatherers", I say jerks on horseback that pillaged and killed the defenseless until they got together build stuff like walls and metal weapons to drive those guys away, partly thanks to agriculture. Fight Club was a fun book and movie, but neo-primitivism always left a weird taste in my mouth.
posted by FJT at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


horseback riding tech comes well after agriculture in most build orders — often I skip it until I need to research it for knights or cavalry.

and word re: neo-primitivism (which my phone corrected to "bro-primitivism," which also works). If agriculture was a bad idea, we can't pretend we — living in a complex intensely interconnected society with billions and billions of people — can or should just magic our way out of the world it built by moving out into the desert and building geodesic domes out of rusty old car hoods.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:27 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm afraid if I say "free will" we're going to tunnel straight into the theodicy thread.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:56 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


memo to self: stay away from theodicy threads, no matter how much you'd like to join in.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:21 PM on December 22, 2015


(car horns car horns car horns car horns)
posted by XtinaS at 3:08 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seeking excellence is a game for ignorant children. Let's seek deceny instead. Under this frame, no amount of math and literature and philosophy can justify the wrenching pain humans inflict on other humans.

A search for excellence has given us many things that have added millions of high-quality years (perhaps billions) to peoples lives.

Things like modern medical practice (antibiotics, anesthesia, medical imaging, testing, vaccinations, sterilization, and so forth). Things like public sanitation and water purification that prevented outbreaks of disease.

There was a lot more unnecessary pain in the world before doctors and engineers and other creative people let their search for excellence guide them to make such discoveries and reforms.
posted by theorique at 5:49 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, agriculture maybe finally started paying off for the common person by the time we got to the mid 20th century.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:23 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


You say "hunter gatherers", I say jerks on horseback that pillaged and killed the defenseless until they got together build stuff like walls and metal weapons to drive those guys away

Agriculture means tying people to a plot of land, making them immobile. Farmers are far more susceptible to predation/taxation (really just different names for the same thing for most of history) than hunter/gatherers who can just pick up and melt into the landscape. Metal weapons and walls and so forth become necessary because they have to defend land.
posted by indubitable at 6:42 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Monosodium glutamate, goddamnit.

Blasphemy! Nothing that goes into pho should be unlearned.
posted by numaner at 6:54 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seeking excellence is a game for ignorant children. Let's seek deceny instead.

I see what you did there.
posted by numaner at 7:11 PM on December 22, 2015


yeah, so did I... about two minutes after the edit window closed...

also I said "retrospective end" when I meant "retroactive end" but really should have said "retconning out."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:14 PM on December 22, 2015


Imperfect List
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:00 AM on December 27, 2015


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