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Acceleration in tool use, and consequences for social inequality

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," Jared Diamond examines the history of empowering technologies and their impact on how groups of people become dominant or oppressed. There are several theses explored in the book, but for now I will focus on these: 1) tool use accelerates over time, as tools enable further tools, and 2) those in possession of superior tools are positioned to overwhelm others in contests for resources.  The results have included horrible abuses such as genocide, slavery, and suppression of legitimate urges toward life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I see some other factors at work.

First, human beings assign value to various living conditions, and will work to achieve the conditions that they prefer.  Survival requires being biased in this way.  

Second, competition among actors, ideas, and practices represents an indelibly important part of the process of organizing resources and developing the means to fulfill values.  Such competition is not limited to biological evolution, but forms the bedrock of choice-based political and economic systems like democracies and market economies.

Third, cooperation among actors, ideas, and practices represents an equally important factor in 'getting what we want'.  Put simply, thinking in terms of dominating winners and subjugated losers may be necessary in the worst of times, but is otherwise destructive.  A healthy socioeconomic system depends upon diversification of roles, division of labor, equitable trade, fair practices, and aggressive development of human resources and potentials.

I would assert that 'value' is not a zero-sum commodity, and is certainly not a winner-take-all phenomenon.  If we understand that the empowerment of tools can compound and concentrate over time, potentially leading to abuses, we must also be aware that a 'push' model of opportunity and empowerment can create a far greater net benefit for all concerned.

The author's affiliation with The MITRE Corporation is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply MITRE's concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions or viewpoints expressed by the author.

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