More People Means More Voices Means Better Ideas

A rainbow of lightbulbs. Stop laughing.

Most people feel that it is their moral obligation to help those who can’t help themselves; we help others to have healthy, happy, productive lives out of a duty to our fellow human beings. I agree, but forget morals — helping our peers survive and thrive even makes cold, logical sense.

Evolutionary biology and Darwinian theory might have you believe otherwise: the fit succeed and survive, the weak fail and perish, and by interfering with this process, we hold back the advancement of humanity. But the true evolution with which we need to be concerned is our new stage of evolution: ideological.

Our culture, knowledge, and understanding of the world evolves much like how our meaty, fleshy, biological brains evolved: the swapping of information. When breeding biological organisms have sex, their genes — components of biological information — combine to form a new, sometimes superior, whole. When two ideas love each other very much, their basic components also combine to form something new.

Take these words that you’re reading now, for instance. These words were typed on a computer keyboard — a descendent of the typewriter and the integrated circuit. The typewriter was borne of the written word and pressable button mechanisms. And the website on which these words are being displayed to you was borne of HTML, the TCP/IP protocol, and a whole slew of other ideas. I could go on ad nauseam, but I’d hate for the ideas of monotony and the back button to combine.

In order for ideas to have wild, depraved orgies of knowledge and make little baby ideas, two things are necessary. The first is alcohol freedom of information; ideas need to be able to flow back and forth and be built upon without absurd and pointless roadblocks. The second is one that’s oft neglected: freedom of people to form ideas and communicate them.

Billions of people lack the ability to live up to their potential to form ideas and contribute them to humanity. Lack of food, water, and healthcare means people are too distracted by their basic survival to analyze the world. Lack of education makes it difficult to come to valuable conclusions. And sometimes, even when these resources are available, they require hundreds of hours of mindless, meaningless work to pay for — drudgery and stress which snuffs out the most brilliant of minds.

And that, right there, is the key: every day, hunger, sickness, poverty, and oppression holds back brilliance. The pool of ideas from which we have to choose from is limited, severely, by social problems. We only have the perspectives and worldviews of those who have the means to contribute and speak up. Entire swaths of the world, in parts of wealthy and impoverished nations alike, could be the incubators for world-changing ideas. Instead, they are silent, or they speak in voices unintelligible and unheard.

In biology, homogeneous populations are vulnerable to one disease, one environmental change, one crisis, because the entire population shares the same weakness. It’s the same with ideas: if we don’t constantly bring in new and unique viewpoints to challenge our commonly-held beliefs, culture, and knowledge, we run the risk of veering off in a dangerous direction as a species, not noticing a fundamental flaw in our ideas, and doing stupid, stupid things as a result.

I believe that we don’t need a reason to help other people live healthy, happy, and productive lives — it’s just the right thing to do. But there is a reason. Even from an objective, amoral, rational, logical, cold, mechanical, detached, inhuman perspective, it is in our best interest to keep our fellow human beings alive and well, so that they can contribute to our global conversation and further the evolution of our ideas.

Discussion

  1. […] Continue reading at Falkvinge on Infopolicy /* […]

  2. Bengt

    Well, the more the better I guess – as long as there’s someone that is willing to actually develop the idea.

    Ideas by theirself, are pretty worthless. I’m pretty certain (Not fully) that ideas by themselfs are worthless without actions.

    1. Peter Andersson

      That’s like saying that undiscovered planets are worthless to the future balance of the solar system, or that America was a useless and worthless continent before Columbus got there. 😉

    2. Scary Devil Monastery

      The great part about the internet is that it’s enough for any idea with a potential application to be mentioned and there will be a thousand programmers sitting down to make that potential application a reality. Most of the open source sector works this way.

      There is always an enthusiast somewhere willing to spend spare time programming what s/he considers interesting. When it comes to software you don’t really need the profit motive at all for any application meant to make things easier for the rest.

      Which is why millions of home computers run Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox. Which is why the preferred server OS is apache.
      Which is why MacOS is basically an open source version of BSD with a proprietary GUI (sheer genius by Steve Jobs there).
      Which is why Android is currently the second most used mobile OS.
      Which is why Google can “give” away and run open source applications and turn a basement-run two-man company into a multibillion industry in a few years.

      If there is an idea out there, someone will always be willing to develop it. Patents and IP in general when it comes to software is just a severe and crippling limitation of progress.

  3. Felix Pleșoianu

    Heh. Glad to see I’m not the only one who helps his fellow humans out of self-interest. Also, this dove-tails nicely with something I wrote recently. Shameless plug: http://my.opera.com/claudeb/blog/2011/07/09/the-coming-social-singularity

  4. Trezker

    Like I say sometimes. The problem isn’t that people are selfish, it’s that they aren’t smart enough to realize what it means to be truly selfish.

    If you want to have the most enjoyable life possible, helping others is the best path. Unselfishness == Selfishness

  5. Charles

    I am not entirely sure this is what you are implying, and I realise it’s somewhat beside the point you are making, but I’ll go for it anyway just in case.

    Claiming that Evolutionary biology or “Darwinian theory” promotes letting the weak fail and perish is an awful misrepresentation. While it is true that there exists some ideologies that are based off of the ideas of Darwin that would perhaps make such claims (e.g. Social Darwinism), these ideologies should not in any way be conflated with the theory of evolution or what Darwin originally proposed.

    The phrase “Survival of the fittest” is also quite misrepresented in that the false opposite ‘weak’ is used to the term ‘fit’. This implies that ‘fit’ would be synonymous with strong, which just isn’t true. The most fit individual might indeed be very weak if the environment makes it favourable to allocate the individual’s resources for something else.

  6. Fili

    Lack of food, makes people to build up ideas to get food. Lack of water make them to the same…. think… so on…
    Great Ideas were build by needs,
    As we genetically evolved by needs… ideas evolve by needs. I agree the most people share the same needs the better idea will come up.

  7. […] “make it” is a tragedy, not a desirable component of a healthy society. As I’ve touched on previously, distracting people by forcing them to worry about meeting their basic needs holds back human […]

  8. […] “make it” is a tragedy, not a desirable component of a healthy society. As I’ve touched on previously, distracting people by forcing them to worry about meeting their basic needs holds back human […]

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