Friday, January 27, 2006

Seeking the sweet spot -- Part 2

First, let me say I understand that I am part of the force that drives this lovely island into its uncertain future, and I have no desire to see it preserved in amber for my sake. The island will inevitably evolve. The question is: What will it become?

There are ominous signs. Things like restricted access by Exumians to their own beaches as foreigners (like me) buy up waterfront property the locals can't afford. I watch rich Americans grubbing up mature palm trees from along public roads and common land to move to their gated communities. Traditional Bahamian music celebrates sun, sand, sea and (joyous) sex, but what we now hear booming from automobile sound systems is American rap, and the kids in the schools (where my wife and I have long volunteered our help) are becoming ruder and cruder. And so on.

There are positive signs too. There is growing local interest in environmentalism and the arts. Plans are afoot for a museum of local culture. There is talk of using government land to make a golf course-sports complex for Exumians. More local educational programs are available. Young islanders who used to have to migrate to Nassau or Florida for work can now find jobs at home. Etc.

Am I pessimistic? On some days, yes. But I'm a firm believer that the greater mass of humanity is better off today than at any time in the past. All complex organic systems evolve toward a "sweet spot" of adaptability. If human cultural evolution is to mimic organic evolution, we must seek to maximize feedback, distributed processing, and democratic choice, all things aided, by the way, by the internet, itself an evolving system remarkably free of corporate of government control.

This island -- like global culture -- can have modernity and stay sweet. But it will mean adopting a new metaphor for progress, not the corporation, not the machine, but organic evolution. The gated-community, million-dollar homes going up on the island, with their Milky Way-obliterating outdoor lighting and energy-gulping air conditioning (in a place delightfully air conditioned by nature) are artifacts of paradigms that have outlived their usefulness.

Still more tomorrow.

These thoughts are partly inspired by a book I am currently reviewing for Orion, Robert Frenay's Pulse: The Coming Age of Systems and Machines Inspired By Living Things. I will have things to say explicitly about the book after the review (and the book) appears.