Innovation-Diffusion Theory Of History
This is a pre-write experiment because I’m beginning to read Thomas Kuhn, and wanted to see how my thinking on a particular idea of mine evolves over the course of reading this book.
Our sense of relativistic time dilation compresses time the farther away from us it is. This week just seems to go on forever. This month took a long time, but this year goes relatively quicker, we’re already in August. The last decade passed much faster, and the 2 decades before that took less time than these 7 months of 2020. This accelerating rate of compression continues until we can take all of 10,000 years of pre-history and lump it into a single block of progress where some funky shit happened, stone triangles were built, and we decided it would be a good idea to write letters to our crushes rather than speak words in person on the spot and embarrass ourselves. If there is WW3 coming up, our entire lifetime will go down in history as a little footnote, an Interwar period that cherry-picked 4–5 points across the world over 5 decades to show how it set the stage for WW3, an ‘inevitability’ given how WW2 ended. Maybe our gloriously elegant Kuhnian model of scientific revolutions as paradigm shifts reveals about the philosophy of science and history something correct, but not true. I don’t mean the obvious criticism that these things happen gradually over time and not overnight the way a paradigm shift seems to suggest. I mean the fact that it doesn’t happen everywhere in space at the same time.
There’s a little (-) button sitting next to these interregnum paradigm shifts that promptly gets pressed the minute the next paradigm shift happens. The (-) button hasn’t been pressed on our age just yet, so we’re seeing it in all its rich detail. In an Information Revolution Age where the internet has connected the world, we can see the intricate detail in 3rd world areas where there isn’t food and water. In an almost post-industrial age where Industrialization is a basic fact of life, much of the world hasn’t even begun the path to industrialization.
Without the (-) button we see the bumps and features. We can therefore see enough to speak about a principle of diffusion of innovation, where there are innovators, early adopters, majority adopters and laggards, with each segment having a high risk-reward profile and associated density of population. Most innovators fail, we can see that now because we see the innovators. Once the (-) button is pressed, we only see the successful innovations, and there the innovators are all fabulously rewarded. The early adopters similarly have a huge edge over the rest of the population. The laggards keep falling behind, until their rate of catch up is slower than the rate of continuous innovation, in which case it becomes impossible for them to ever stop being a laggard. When the Industrial Revolution, Information Revolution and Cognitive Revolution of our recent history will be recorded in the history books of 5 centuries hence, it will just be a paradigm shift in the evolution of mankind. A singular scientific revolution that forever set humanity on a totally different path, losing out the granular trivialities that it set the innovators and early adopters of humanity on a totally different path, giving them a huge edge over everybody else.
This is how we study the great paradigm shifts of the past. Writing suddenly shows up in the fertile crescent. Agriculture likewise, changing everything forever. Religions. States. Animal husbandry. The (-) button is pressed on all of these, so we don’t see how these revolutionary new technologies diffused through society. If we thought Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos wield spectacularly disproportionate power as radical innovators today, imagine how much more spectacularly disproportionate the power wielded by innovators of agriculture or writing, as step-changes go they’re at least a little larger than having an underpaid worker deliver stuff to my house while I sit on my ass making customer complaint phone calls about how late my stuff is. Someone worked alone or with a group of like-minded focused individuals and churned out a system of writing that only they knew, understood, and wielded. Someone, or a group of people, was the first to figure out a scientific method of cultivation, birthing agriculture where previously there was only horticulture, a scientific method only they knew, understood, and wielded.
I pick these 2 because our logophilic culture would like to equate writing with all of scientific advance and I see no reason to go against the grain. As the inventor of my new symbolic language for ideas, communication and thought, in a society that rewards competence and confers status upon individuals who most help the group advance, I see no reason why I don’t instantly become the most important person alive. Here the Indian caste system is a fascinatingly convenient data point. The caste hierarchies in the Vedic Age of 1000BC era are really weird. Across human history, a universal feature of cultures is the lone head of state, the king, the ruling class where political power is concentrated. Why then, in the Vedic Age, are the Kshatriya ruler caste one step below in the hierarchy, to the Brahmins? In every other civilization during this era from Egypt to Sumer/Assyria/Babylon, the ruling class quickly associates itself with divinity, the human incarnation of Horus, Marduk, and Ahuramazda. In ancient India though, they just hand this divinity and connection with the god to the Brahmins? I don’t buy it. It’s painted as a symbiotic relationship, like between a good ruler and his teacher/advisor, a clan chief and his shaman, but in all of these the undisputed superior is the political leader not the intellectual one, so what explains the unique nature of symbiosis here?
I’m a hunter-gatherer society. There are biologically determined dominance drives and resultant social hierarchies based on hunting skills, strength, wisdom, and accumulated (protected) knowledge. When a natural tendency towards communal division of labor occurs, the fastest and strongest hunt, these individuals have an obvious primacy in the dominance hierarchy. They bring home the meat. The best among them is the chief. In a pre-city society, is there a logical difference between hunter and warrior? Surely these are the same set of skills, and therefore the same people? The hunter-class is also the warrior-class, and in a kraterocracy, also the ruling political class. Brahmarishi Bezos, at this time just Householder Bezos, begins his years of intense meditation. After 100 years, he attains the rank of Rajarishi, and a minor god offers him the gift of knowing which fruits and berries to eat. He smiles politely, thanks the god, makes the appropriate small-talk before it’s no longer rude to say ok bye, and then restarts his intense meditation. After 100 years, he attains the rank of Maharishi, and a major god offers him the gift of knowing how to tend his own garden of fruits and berries. He smiles politely, asks the god an interesting riddle to keep her busy, and then restarts his intense meditation. After 100 years, he attains the rank of Brahmarishi, and Brahma himself shows up to give him the gift of cultivation.
But it’s now been 300 years of intense meditation, Bezos is an enlightened man and no longer cares about using this gift to enhance his status lol keep dreaming no he takes that gift of cultivation and shoves it in the face of his Kshatriya chieftain. Eat this. No really, you can eat this, it’s wheat, I put some marinated cottage cheese gravy on it, because I’m Brahmarishi Bezos, I can do this sort of thing now. But look at me.. I am the captain now. The first caste.
Maybe that’s why in the Vedas, the Kshatriyas, the warrior-ruling class are all meat-eaters, and the Brahmins are all vegetarians. Not because it’s cruel to kill animals, we’ll still kill them for our rituals, but because vegetarianism is our Amazon, the behemoth technology with which we can bend the world to our Wille und Vorstellung.
What Brahmarishi Bezos wields isn’t infrastructure or wealth or strength or land, it’s knowledge, but knowledge of a very specific kind, a procedural knowledge.
- Plough land.
- Plant seed.
- Water plant.
- Remove weeds.
- Erect scarecrow
- Take down scarecrow, start dream journal to cope with nightmares
- Harvest plant
- Profit. No blood involved
- Kill an animal to propitiate the bloodthirsty god of agriculture, ensuring next year’s harvest success
Ritual. Sacred ritual. Sacred procedural ritual. We call these the Rig Vedas. They’re coded into allegorical verse. Protected fiercely by an insular board of directors. Sacred knowledge passed down orally to keep the corporate spies and SEC out. You have no power here, Kshatriya the Red. Around this brutally practical procedural ritual knowledge of agriculture is built outwards the scripture, philosophy and sciences of the Vedas, fortifying a total monopoly on the most valuable commodity in human history, agriculture, that led to the dominant Brahminical culture taking over South Asia. Hunter-gatherer laggards get crowded out as the cultivator innovators settle down into cities and rape the land for cultivation while preventing the hunter-gatherer from encroaching on said land, enforced by the superior might stemming from much larger populations.
Time to jump into Thomas Kuhn and figure out why the diffusion model of innovation makes technological revolutions today such an unequal playing ground with massive winners and massive losers, but wouldn’t be relevant for the biggest revolutions from the past, or have any power to explain deep rooted systemic inequalities in society that persist today.