A Thought Experiment on Progress

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dc2322
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A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:00 pm UTC

Hello,

This is my first post on here so I apologize if it has already been discussed. I thought this topic might make an interesting timeline comic which is why I'm posting on here rather than somewhere else.

I'm someone with very few strong beliefs but one which I hold to adamantly is that we (on a whole) are making social progress. Not many people seem to believe it these days, but it is REALLY obvious. If you start thinking about those who say "Oh, this society is devolving into chaos" or "Remember the good ol' days when people..." they never really mention a specific time period in the past to which they are referring as "better". Here is why:

This line of thought started with a Louis CK bit about white privilege. His point was that if you are black, it's a bad idea to time travel prior to the 80's. I find that pretty convincing: further back in time, fewer rights, more subjugation, etc. Now we can generalize this bit (by using something similar to the Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance) to make social progress obvious:

Imagine a [deity,genie, etc] offered you the option to be reborn in the time period of your choosing. You could choose any point in time you desired but you cannot pick any demographics (sex, location, social class, race, etc.). Which time period would you choose?

I would argue that picking any time before the time which you were born is really stupid. Here I'll only go over two aspects of society. There are undoubtedly others I could use to make this point but these will suffice.
MEDICINE: I don't know anyone that would argue against medical progress but if you chose any time in the past to be born into you would be choosing a time when the levels of medical understanding is much lower. Thus increasing your chances of dying from something which is now A)curable B)maintainable) or C) has died out. Before the 90's? AIDS is a big issue. Further back? Polio, the Flu. Generally, your life expectancy plummets the further you go back. Doesn't sound like a "more enjoyable" lifetime to me.
MORAL: The further back in time you go the higher the possibility that you are born into a subjugated portion of the population. There is roughly a 50/50 chance of being born a woman. If you chose any time before the 70's your civil rights and autonomy drop significantly. Born Black? same deal. The point is, as you go back in time, a smaller and smaller portion of the population experiences freedom, respect, etc. What about ethics? "People these days are becoming less and less concerned with ethics/morality." I've heard something like this said quite often but to say so ignores the civil rights/autonomy issue I just discussed. That has been a huge ethical leap forward for us. Chances are your grandparents really and truly believed that black people were an inferior type of humanity. How can you say their "days" were the normative "good ol' days"? Your grandfather [probably] truly thought that women should be subservient to men. How does he have any sort of ethical high ground over the "sin and debauchery" of today's youth? That generation also [generally] thought that the mentally challenged should be ostracized, anyone of a different religion should be badgered out of town, homosexuality was a lynch-able offense, etc. And it only gets worse the further you go back.

So, you can see my point. We might make some mistakes. We might have some setbacks. However, the general trend is moral/medical/social progress. To say otherwise is to ignore how bad the past was. It is to blindly romanticize. Its a good time we live in now. It isn't perfect, but it is better than any point in the past.

Therefore, progress.

I think it would be interesting to make a timeline marking points before which you would not have "right X" or "medical breakthrough Y" to drive this point home.

Thanks,

-- D

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Indy » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:19 pm UTC

Who's the 'we' in 'we are making social progress'? is my first question.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:23 pm UTC

I think you're blinded by an america centric view of history. You're also arguing for a very select enlightenment, egalitarian blank slatistmodel of ethics and identity. The idea that you can in some metaphysical sense still be "you" if you are of a different sex and race seems really... Odd to me.

I for one would definitely rather take my chances in your thought experiment in a time before ours. Some point before the turn of the 20th century probably, say the 1880s. Sure there are places you wouldn't want to end up at the time (Congo for instance) but the same holds today (Iraq, Syria). I value the greater possibility of living a virtuous life over access to a heart bypass.

Youre also cherry picking your indicators of moral progress. What about someone who values stable families, patriotism, religiosity? The would be just as valid in saying that we are decaying morally - since morality is subjective. You're judging the past by the presents subjective ethical standards and declaring it backward, but give a washerwoman in 14th century Spain a time machine and she'll probably not want to move too far from her own time -especially not to the 21st century where noone respects the sanctity of marriage, the church has gone full heretic, the king is powerless and the Turks have taken Constantinople!

You're being intellectually dishonest by conflating moral and technical progress too. There's nothing contingent about the existence of antibiotics that necessitates the existence of progressivism. IPads are possible absent egalitarianism. Hell, look at my sig. You shouldn't be asking whether people think the past was preferable in itself, you should be asking whether *holding technology constant*, previous moral and social mores were preferable.

Which segues into my last point - there are empirical measures on which past societies outperform ours. Traditional tribal societies have almost nonexistent rates of depression. Crime was far lower at the turn of the century.http://www.moreright.net/on-rising-crime/

By mandating workplace egalitarianism we've moved to a model where families require two wage earners. We've devalued domesticity, people end up working twice as much for no extra gain. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/28/bo ... come-trap/
Kids spend less time with a parent as a result, home cooked meals are a thing of the past in many families, and we have an obesity epidemic. Divorce rates are higher, but self reported happiness is lower, than before the 1950s.

Modern culture is so dysfunctional that one in five Americans are on psych meds for heavens sakes!

Keep your flipping progress.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:54 pm UTC

I'd ask the genie to send me to the future. While today is by far the best time to be alive insofar as having the highest probability of 'being born somewhere with even basic access to water, medicine, education, and lack of pillaging', I'm betting that it only gets better.

Anyone who tells you that the problems we have today (of which there most certainly are problems!) are some how worse than the way it was at any other point in human history is fooling themselves. I'll take my antibiotics and my running water any day.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby azule » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:12 am UTC

Ormurinn wrote:Modern culture is so dysfunctional that one in five Americans are on psych meds for heavens sakes!
I skimmed all of this. So forgive me.

When there is more information there are more "problems". They were always there, just not reported. Do you think date rape is new? You really think depression is? Pick up a history book, or read an ancient tale. You will see all of the things we have now have always existed. Think cancer is a trendy disease? Yep, very ancient.

Getting treatment doesn't make this a bad society, it makes it a good one.

I agree with OP, this society. It's still pretty bad, but it's possible to get better, therefore can't be too bad.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:47 am UTC

Ormurinn wrote:By mandating workplace egalitarianism we've moved to a model where families require two wage earners. We've devalued domesticity, people end up working twice as much for no extra gain. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/28/bo ... come-trap/
Kids spend less time with a parent as a result, home cooked meals are a thing of the past in many families, and we have an obesity epidemic. Divorce rates are higher, but self reported happiness is lower, than before the 1950s.

Modern culture is so dysfunctional that one in five Americans are on psych meds for heavens sakes!

Keep your flipping progress.

That's just about the whiniest "whoa is me" that could ever be spoken. Yup, the 1950's were *great* for middle class white men in "first world democracies". Not so much for everyone else.

But even in those bastions of Leave it to Beaver bliss, somewhere around 12% of women went to college. Want to lament the loss of single-wage families? Go ahead, no one on arguing for progressiveness is going to complain unless you're also ensconcing silly things like massive gender inequality in your nostalgia. But back to it, black Americans couldn't vote. Sort of a big deal. And sure, divorce rate was lower than it is now (although it has been dropping over the last two or three decades), but you can attribute that to divorce being either a huge social taboo or outright unobtainable without "cause". Outside TV Land, East Germany was .. well, just as Stalinist as the rest of the USSR. Mao was just winding up to be the most deadly dictator yet. The British had been busy for decades parceling out the Middle East according to the political whims of a disciple of Lawrence of Arabia, only to fuck the region entirely for the next 100 years. Oh, right, just wait till we talk about what the US had in store for Latin and South America.

Want to go earlier? Guess what the East India company was up to?

Shit ain't pretty right now, but anyone playing the "1950's were better!" card is seriously lacking perspective. Or, you know, a middle class white dude.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby azule » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:41 am UTC

Azrael wrote:Mao was just winding up to be the most deadly dictator yet.
This is a sort of a good point for going with today. While the Chinese are under a bad, controlling dictatorship, they're much more aligned with Consumerism and Capitalism than they were when they first took control. I read an article that chocolate is going to run out soon thanks to those bon-bon popping Chinese.

While they're doing okay/bad, it's not really too different for us Americans, with these bad laws that seek to restrict our freedoms. I can't even get a plastic grocery bag when I go to town. *cries the tears of a privileged white male* (Oh, wait, I'm not white...)
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Indy » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:03 am UTC

The OP is a massively vague oversimplification.

dc2322 wrote:The further back in time you go the higher the possibility that you are born into a subjugated portion of the population.


You do know that history is ... quite long, right? And that there has been a large number of civilisations with widely varying cultural norms? Do you really suppose that every society, every culture, has been slowly but steadily dragging itself up from the mire of ignorance and violence so that we can now look down from the giddy heights of the 21st century and congratulate ourselves on how far we've come? We're better than those savages, who can't defend their values system to us anyway because they're all dead? This is just chronological snobbery, and it's not unique to our generation. But saying that we are morally better than our ancestors is really just saying that we like our moral code better than we like theirs. And of course we do, since we are the products of the society we live in. Suppose you went back 2000 years and became a subject of the Kushan Empire. You would no longer be 'you.' You'd have a different set of values that reflected the culture of that civilisation. Your yardstick would change.

Technology and medicine are great, sure, don't get me wrong, I love having a flushing toilet and not living in fear of the black plague. But advances in technology and medicine don't necessarily make for 'social progress'. How do, for example, murder rates per capita in the last 20 years compare with those of 800 years ago? Is information of this kind even available? Never mind something so ethereal as 'are people happier?'. To posit that right now is the best time in history without a comprehensive knowledge of the rest of history is an exercise in smugness.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zamfir » Thu Dec 04, 2014 9:50 am UTC

How do, for example, murder rates per capita in the last 20 years compare with those of 800 years ago? Is information of this kind even available?

Yep, that's an active field of study. It has its problems, such as determining whether killings would count as murder by todays standards, and the higher lethality of wounds in the past. But there are quite some sources when it comes to violent deaths, at least for some regions, and they paint a coherent picture.

This is a somewhat old article, but it still describes the consensus I think: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/23/us/hi ... perts.html

Basically, murder rates in mediaeval Europe were far higher than today.

Another one more recent, with a nice graph

http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_ ... der_r.html

Of course, that leaves a moral interpretation. Quite possibly, mediaeval people would consider us honorless weaklings who submit themselves to a police state because we won't stand up for our own rights and protection. An ethos of 'Those who give up a little liberty to secure a little security deserve neither'. Perhaps. But the numbers at least say that murder was far more common in the middle ages.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:01 am UTC

Azrael wrote:
But even in those bastions of Leave it to Beaver bliss, somewhere around 12% of women went to college. Want to lament the loss of single-wage families? Go ahead, no one on arguing for progressiveness is going to complain unless you're also ensconcing silly things like massive gender inequality in your nostalgia. .


What makes you think I'm opposed to women going to college? That's hardly a "gotcha".

The issue is that progressives 1. Will take less women than men working as de facto evidence of "gender inequality" even if it's freely chosen, 2. Actively denigrate women who become housewives. The american progressive-in-chief himself has said that staying home to raise children is "not a choice we want Americans to make.” No wonder, since the combination of working mother and childminder pays income taxes twice rather than not at all. We have similar statements coming out of the UK government too.

At the moment we're stuck in this crazy equilibrium where three quarters of mothers want to raise their children full time but aren't able to because they can't afford to. They can't afford to because the price of positional goods - houses in good communities, access to decent schools et cetera, has doubled to take into account the new two-income family norm.

Assuming we're talking about real human beings, given the choice more women are going to want to be the stay at home parent than men - so any attempt to shift the equilibrium back to what most people actually want will be met with cries of sexism.

Azrael wrote: And sure, divorce rate was lower than it is now (although it has been dropping over the last two or three decades), but you can attribute that to divorce being either a huge social taboo or outright unobtainable without "cause". .


Are there any other contracts you're allowed to break on a whim? It's actually impossible to sign yourself up to a credible marriage contract anymore. In economic terms, divorce is actually incentivized today, in the benefits system and family court.

"for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till I don't feel like it anymore"


Doesn't have the same ring to it does it? Maybe, just maybe, the cultural and legal measures that developed to make marriages more stable in almost every culture around the world were actually there for a reason.

Azrael wrote:Outside TV Land, East Germany was .. well, just as Stalinist as the rest of the USSR. Mao was just winding up to be the most deadly dictator yet. The British had been busy for decades parceling out the Middle East according to the political whims of a disciple of Lawrence of Arabia, only to fuck the region entirely for the next 100 years. Oh, right, just wait till we talk about what the US had in store for Latin and South America.

Want to go earlier? Guess what the East India company was up to?


Yes, that's right, Stalinism, Maoism, and conflict in the middle east were caused by two-parent, single-earner households.

Azrael wrote:Shit ain't pretty right now, but anyone playing the "1950's were better!" card is seriously lacking perspective. Or, you know, a middle class white dude.


I can't, on a graduate professional's wage, provide my future children with the same quality of life my grandfather provided his as a day labourer. I think that's a problem. No amount of Ipads makes up for the loss of a coherent national culture, absent parents and higher crime.

Zamfir wrote:
How do, for example, murder rates per capita in the last 20 years compare with those of 800 years ago? Is information of this kind even available?

Yep, that's an active field of study. It has its problems, such as determining whether killings would count as murder by todays standards, and the higher lethality of wounds in the past. But there are quite some sources when it comes to violent deaths, at least for some regions, and they paint a coherent picture.

This is a somewhat old article, but it still describes the consensus I think: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/23/us/hi ... perts.html

Basically, murder rates in mediaeval Europe were far higher than today.

Another one more recent, with a nice graph

http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_ ... der_r.html

Of course, that leaves a moral interpretation. Quite possibly, mediaeval people would consider us honorless weaklings who submit themselves to a police state because we won't stand up for our own rights and protection. An ethos of 'Those who give up a little liberty to secure a little security deserve neither'. Perhaps. But the numbers at least say that murder was far more common in the middle ages.


Crime rates were far lower in the more recent past though.http://www.moreright.net/on-rising-crime/

In the U.S, aggravated assault is up 750% since 1931. As detailed in the link, accounting for the influence of modern medicine, the murder rate would be around 30 times higher than in 1900.

Hell, in the 1850's, there was a "garroting panic" in London. This occurred because two people were mugged in the space of a month. This was terrifying, because mugging wasn't a crime that they'd seen in generations.

Oh for a London with two muggings a month.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zamfir » Thu Dec 04, 2014 10:38 am UTC

the loss of a coherent national culture

That depends a lot on where you live. For example, the Netherlands in the 1950s were 'columnized', with many aspects of people's life separated by their column. Typically their religion, with socialism acting almost as a religious column of its own. My wife's parents were the first reformed-catholic marriage in their families, with quite some frowns from the old timers on both sides. In that respect, the country has gotten a lot more coherent.

Regional differences used to be much sharper as well. When my grandparents were young, they and their village spoke a local dialect that would be hard to understand for outsiders from distant parts of the country, and the same was true for many people. Few people would love far from their village, and outsiders were not very welcome either. During the war, my grandmother was evacuated to the north of the country where people were amazed to discover that the filthy (catholic!) southerners were likable people. Still doomed to go to hell for their evil ways of course, but remarkably OK people for heathens. And some of the northern villagers would later on venture south to visit, which was seen as a real Event.

Things have changed a lot even since those days, very much creating a more coherent national culture. TV and faster transportation playing a big role in that process. I can't speak for the UK, but surely you had similar trends? Smaller barriers between religions, less regional differences.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Derek » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:06 am UTC

Indy wrote:You do know that history is ... quite long, right? And that there has been a large number of civilisations with widely varying cultural norms? Do you really suppose that every society, every culture, has been slowly but steadily dragging itself up from the mire of ignorance and violence so that we can now look down from the giddy heights of the 21st century and congratulate ourselves on how far we've come? We're better than those savages, who can't defend their values system to us anyway because they're all dead?

Yes? Is this really such a radical belief? And I'm sure we'll be even better in the future. I won't say that progress is monotonic, but it definitely trends upwards, and it's been awhile since there was a significant dip (the rise of totalitarianism in the 30's perhaps?). This is attributable to advances in science, philosophy, and ethics, and the greater interconnectedness of the modern world, which has brought people around the globe closer together than ever before. I mean, it wasn't even until the 19th century that any significant fraction of the world thought that it might be morally wrong to own another person as property. It was around the same time that people began to think that maybe constant warfare with intermittent peace shouldn't be the normal state of being for political states. In the 20th century we "discovered" that women weren't inherently irrational and child-like beings, and that white people weren't God's custodians of the world. That's some significant progress right there.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:41 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:
the loss of a coherent national culture

That depends a lot on where you live. For example, the Netherlands in the 1950s were 'columnized', with many aspects of people's life separated by their column. Typically their religion, with socialism acting almost as a religious column of its own. My wife's parents were the first reformed-catholic marriage in their families, with quite some frowns from the old timers on both sides. In that respect, the country has gotten a lot more coherent.

Regional differences used to be much sharper as well. When my grandparents were young, they and their village spoke a local dialect that would be hard to understand for outsiders from distant parts of the country, and the same was true for many people. Few people would love far from their village, and outsiders were not very welcome either. During the war, my grandmother was evacuated to the north of the country where people were amazed to discover that the filthy (catholic!) southerners were likable people. Still doomed to go to hell for their evil ways of course, but remarkably OK people for heathens. And some of the northern villagers would later on venture south to visit, which was seen as a real Event.

Things have changed a lot even since those days, very much creating a more coherent national culture. TV and faster transportation playing a big role in that process. I can't speak for the UK, but surely you had similar trends? Smaller barriers between religions, less regional differences.


You're absolutely correct of course, the same thing has been occurring in the U.K. In particular broadcast media has flattened dialect differences - there were previously dialects of English that were very close to Norwegian (Tyneside, East Midlands) and Dutch (East Anglia).

But people *belonged*. They were bound to their communities, and cultural messaging generally affirmed that they were part of something good. Vastly different social groups still shared a common moral root - the bible, a national culture that was passed down in schooling and popular culture. Their symbols - the flag, the monarchy, were treated with deference and respect.

Some personal background here - I can only barely remember a time when the majority language of my ward was not Gujurati. There are huge areas of my hometown which were regular stomping grounds for my parents and grandparents where it's not possible for my generation to even get by. That's what I mean by a loss of a national culture, of a national identity. I don't have anything against the Gujuratis - they don't directly harm the native people, but theres no commonality of culture or language, few shared attitudes, different life sensibilities. If we still had a strong and assertive national identity in Britain then there'd be more incentive for them to integrate, but there isn't, so they don't.

Our current national identity is so weak and flaccid that the education secretary and prime minister can't come up with a summary of british values that isn't lifted from the UN declaration of human rights. Far from the bold and strident patriotism that would be familiar to say, the Victorians, we get mealy-mouthed appeals to diversity. Our core value today is being an amorphous nothing that never clashes with the "vibrancy" of our multiculturalism.

Theres also the fad for deconstruction in education tearing down the traditional strictures that allow people to be members of a community and a culture rather than atomistic individuals. Reading old books it's shocking how many of the references I miss because in common with the rest of my generation I wasn't acculturated properly. Look at Azraels post earlier - "Woah is me." "Woe is me/Woe unto me" is from the bible, Job I think, but no-one understands the reference anymore. We're mouthing empty echoes of our old culture, but it's already been destroyed.

Dampier is a lot more eloquent than me on this subject; https://henrydampier.wordpress.com/2014 ... nt-page-1/
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Chen » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:42 pm UTC

Somehow moving towards a more globalized culture rather than being insular and xenophobic (or worse imperialistic), seems like a good thing not a bad thing. Not that we've eliminated imperialism or anything. The first world is still pretty bad at that. Moving away from it IS a good thing though.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:14 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote: And sure, divorce rate was lower than it is now (although it has been dropping over the last two or three decades), but you can attribute that to divorce being either a huge social taboo or outright unobtainable without "cause". .

Are there any other contracts you're allowed to break on a whim? It's actually impossible to sign yourself up to a credible marriage contract anymore. In economic terms, divorce is actually incentivized today, in the benefits system and family court.

Marriage isn't actually a contract. Ever notice how it's a Marriage License that you sign, not an actual contract? It wasn't like there was a contract in 1950 either. And yes, there are all sorts of legal partnerships that you can dissolve, especially if both parties agree. Leases. Business ventures. Who my cell provider is.

Complaining that we have a divorce rate was a great source of people whinging about how society was falling apart in the 1980's. But you're decades late to the party, as current divorce rates are a whopping 1 more divorce per 1000 than it was in 1950, and it's still trending down. Damn, what a tragedy.

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Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote:Outside TV Land, East Germany was .. well, just as Stalinist as the rest of the USSR. Mao was just winding up to be the most deadly dictator yet. The British had been busy for decades parceling out the Middle East according to the political whims of a disciple of Lawrence of Arabia, only to fuck the region entirely for the next 100 years. Oh, right, just wait till we talk about what the US had in store for Latin and South America.

Want to go earlier? Guess what the East India company was up to?

Yes, that's right, Stalinism, Maoism, and conflict in the middle east were caused by two-parent, single-earner households.

... what a well crafted retort to completely avoid acknowledging a rather broad set of reasons why the 1950's weren't the awesome fun time you claim them to be. Again, the world isn't made up of middle class white men in westernized democracies, no matter how much you whine about how "bad" we have it.

Azrael wrote:I can't, on a graduate professional's wage, provide my future children with the same quality of life my grandfather provided his as a day labourer. I think that's a problem. No amount of Ipads makes up for the loss of a coherent national culture, absent parents and higher crime.


Infant mortality rate ~15% of what it was in 1950. Who know what makes for a quality of life? It's not the size house you can buy or whether your wife doesn't have to work. It's having your children be alive.

Ormurinn wrote:Look at Azraels post earlier - "Woah is me." "Woe is me/Woe unto me" is from the bible, Job I think, but no-one understands the reference anymore...

Oh for fuck's sake, yes we understand the reference. That I made a typo is another matter. Also, you're doing it again.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:35 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:Complaining that we have a divorce rate was a great source of people whinging about how society was falling apart in the 1980's. But you're decades late to the party, as current divorce rates are a whopping 1 more divorce per 1000 than it was in 1950, and it's still trending down. Damn, what a tragedy..


Yeah, we made marriage meaningless, so people don't bother in the borderline cases where by keeping parents together marriage can have a huge effect on quality of life.

Great achievement.

Azrael wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:I can't, on a graduate professional's wage, provide my future children with the same quality of life my grandfather provided his as a day labourer. I think that's a problem. No amount of Ipads makes up for the loss of a coherent national culture, absent parents and higher crime.

Bullshit. No, really. Bullshit.

Infant mortality rate ~15% of what it was in 1950. Who know what makes for a quality of life? It's not the size house you can buy or whether you can leave your wife doesn't have to work. It's having your children be alive.


I am not an American. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/ ... e/INF_MORT

In any case, I'll restate - Technological progress is not coupled to progressive social mores. I'm quite happy to admit that modern medicine is better than its ever been. It doesn't logically follow that I should be happy about dissolving cultural boundaries, or that it's not a problem that there are a great deal of ways in which I cannot provide my family with as good a life as my forefathers provided theirs.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:37 pm UTC

http://lesswrong.com/lw/s9/whither_moral_progress/

Maybe I am simply mistaken about the nature of changes in morality that have previously occurred—like looking at a time chart of "differences between past and present", noting that the difference has been steadily decreasing


Put another way, if you're part of the current dominant majority you look at the past and you see popular morals gradually getting closer to your own so it will almost always look like a progression towards your current positions.

Looking to the future however it's very very likely that it will look like a steady progression away from your own sensible morals into weirdness or things which seem obviously wrong.

This may be easier for those who like unusual scifi but try to imagine a future with weird morals. perhaps Charles Strosses universe where murder is a purely economic trivial matter but attempting to intentionally spread complex parasitic memes (like religions ) is a very very banned practice because death just means getting restored from backup while memes have progressed to the point of being able to hack your mind directly. Or the world of "baby eating aliens" where first contact involves an impassioned plea from the aliens that we should eat our own young for the sake of goodness and in human society rape isn't a thing that there's laws about because there's no such thing as trauma since people can just edit out memories they don't like.

Perhaps at age 90 you'll find yourself watching a show about how the evil people of the year 2014 mercilessly slaughtered "Sea Kittens"
http://features.peta.org/PETASeaKittens/

Image

Perhaps the definition of human/person will change and infants bellow 6 months won't qualify or society will decide that it's only moral to eat creatures which want to be eaten and are capable of expressing that desire.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1nxaQhsaaw

Is that progress? To a teenager or 20-something who grew up with the idea that Sea Kittens shouldn't be eaten it will seem like obvious progress, to me it would likely just seem weird. Go far enough into the future and their morals may very well seem terrifyingly evil to you.
Last edited by HungryHobo on Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:46 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:40 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote:Infant mortality rate ~15% of what it was in 1950.

I am not an American. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/ ... e/INF_MORT

... which shows a rate going from ~30 to ~5 per thousand. Or ~15% of what it was. I mean, 17% if you'd like, but we'd be splitting hairs. You know it's almost like I looked up numbers for both the US and the UK or something (they're pretty similar). Because no shit, we know you're English.

Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote:Complaining that we have a divorce rate was a great source of people whinging about how society was falling apart in the 1980's. But you're decades late to the party, as current divorce rates are a whopping 1 more divorce per 1000 than it was in 1950, and it's still trending down. Damn, what a tragedy..

Yeah, we made marriage meaningless, so people don't bother in the borderline cases where by keeping parents together marriage can have a huge effect on quality of life.

Great achievement.

1 more divorce per 1000 population than in 1950. One. That's not making marriage meaningless. Again, you're 30 years out of date with your whinge. If you really want to hit the "families need two parents" trope up, don't focus on divorce, you'll just keep looking foolish. Focus on single parent households. Y'know, the statistics that represent what you actually claim to be the issue?

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby PeteP » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:47 pm UTC

3% to 0.5%, though the proportional change remains the same of course.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 1:47 pm UTC

Yeah, sorry. 30/1000 to 5/1000.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:03 pm UTC

Yeah, that's my bad, I misread the x axis scale. I'm surprised there's so much difference.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:12 pm UTC

Phew..

Okay, I read most of your responses. I'll acknowledge the points I can remember...

DIVORCE: Yes divorce rates have gone up. I don't see this as a obviously bad thing. Before, if you were in an unhappy, if not abusive, marriage. you. were. stuck. No way out of that situation without upending your life and breaking social mores, ending up with what could be a much worse life. Yes, these days people may be less driven to "try to make it work" and prematurely give up. Marriage might be relatively meaningless today. BUT, that does in no way mean that society on the whole is regressing. At the most, its a specific bump in the road. However, its probably not even that. The social acceptance of divorce means that we are becoming more tolerant of mistakes. "I chose a mate poorly my first time around". Well lucky you! You live in a time where you aren't stuck with that choice for the rest of your life. The idea of marriage itself is antiq...... OK, This is too tangential. Either way, the state of our mating rituals aren't clear enough a case nor weighty enough a case for Social Regression. I still wouldn't pick the 50's. Too large a chance of ending up on the wrong end of those "perfect" marriages you are nostalgiabating about.

MORAL RELATIVISM: To say that our sense of morality isn't better than someone's from the 1800's is not a ridiculous thing to say. Yes, in some strict philosophical definition of "knowing", all truth is relative. Whatever. I'm willing to place my bets. Our ancestors were WAY more wrong than we are. Slavery was not ever a good idea.Women were never inferior beings. Sex should never have been a horrible taboo where "everyone act like we don't have urges" was the norm. Little girls should have never been married off to men x3 their age without any say. Children should never have been working in coal mines. Etc. Etc. Moral relativism is not a helpful philosophy. It stagnates the discussion.

SELF: Yes if you were plopped into a life in the 1800's you wouldn't be "you" and you would have a different sense of morality. I am not talking about how you would feel once you were "there". I'm asking what you would decide as you now! Would you honestly say "Maybe, once I'm there I wouldn't mind ending up a child working in a cotton mill 16 hours a day, because I wouldn't know any "better"? Or would you choose I time when that was less likely to be the result, since you *do* know better now? I would argue that you would choose the second and that time would be closer to the present.

Technological Progress, Medical Progress and Moral Progress are different categories of Social Progress-- at least that's the way I was using the terms.

--D

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Angua » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:14 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
Our current national identity is so weak and flaccid that the education secretary and prime minister can't come up with a summary of british values that isn't lifted from the UN declaration of human rights. Far from the bold and strident patriotism that would be familiar to say, the Victorians, we get mealy-mouthed appeals to diversity. Our core value today is being an amorphous nothing that never clashes with the "vibrancy" of our multiculturalism.

I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that the British Empire and its values were spread to quite a lot of the world, as well as the US doing a lot to spread their values which are pretty similar to the British ones as well...

It's kind of ridiculous to spread your culture everywhere, and then complain when you don't feel like you're that distinctive any more.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:30 pm UTC

Angua wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:Far from the bold and strident patriotism that would be familiar to say, the Victorians...

It's kind of ridiculous to spread your culture everywhere, and then complain when you don't feel like you're that distinctive any more.

But back then all the English were English and knew what their national purpose was! They didn't have to question if bending the rest of the world to their cultural norms was ethical, because of course everyone should be like us! Let's go rule India!

Not put to fine a point on it but Soviet Russia, Maoist China and Third Reich Germany all also had clear national identity, strident patriotism and unified culture. So too did the US during WWII or the Cold War's nuclear arms race. Funny how often massive conflict lies at the heart of unifying national identities. Such a shame that the UK doesn't have one kicking around, eh?

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 2:41 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote:Our ancestors were WAY more wrong than we are.


your decendents will say the same thing: And eating sea kittens or a creature which doesn't want to be eaten or isn't capable of clearly expressing that desire is also obviously wrong.

it's dangerous to assume that people will just agree with your current morals harder in the future.

the point isn't to say that there is no such thing as morals, just to recognise that they're not something set in stone. Society will change in ways that scare and horrify you if you live long enough.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:06 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Angua wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:Far from the bold and strident patriotism that would be familiar to say, the Victorians...

It's kind of ridiculous to spread your culture everywhere, and then complain when you don't feel like you're that distinctive any more.

But back then all the English were English and knew what their national purpose was! They didn't have to question if bending the rest of the world to their cultural norms was ethical, because of course everyone should be like us! Let's go rule India!

Not put to fine a point on it but Soviet Russia, Maoist China and Third Reich Germany all also had clear national identity, strident patriotism and unified culture. So too did the US during WWII or the Cold War's nuclear arms race. Funny how often massive conflict lies at the heart of unifying national identities. Such a shame that the UK doesn't have one kicking around, eh?


Strong national identities are what sustained Finns in the Winter War and Eastern Europe under communist occupation. They're what motivated the French Resistance and sustained Britain through the Blitz.

National (and religious - including communism) identities and ideas make people stronger, let them devote themselves to something higher than the individual. That power can be used for good or ill.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:11 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:
dc2322 wrote:Our ancestors were WAY more wrong than we are.


your decendents will say the same thing: And eating sea kittens or a creature which doesn't want to be eaten or isn't capable of clearly expressing that desire is also obviously wrong.

it's dangerous to assume that people will just agree with your current morals harder in the future.

the point isn't to say that there is no such thing as morals, just to recognise that they're not something set in stone. Society will change in ways that scare and horrify you if you live long enough.


My phrasing was "way more wrong" and not "way less right" for this reason. I'm not saying our present morals are perfect. In the future, they might find a lot of what we do now to be obviously wrong. Sure, but I won't be horrified. Our grandparents are because they are (generally) xenophobic and conservative. Your comment highlights something I see as an important aspect of our moral progress: we accept that we might be/probably are wrong about a lot of things.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby dc2322 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:25 pm UTC

I did not phrase any of that very well... I blame it on the morning.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:25 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote:
HungryHobo wrote:
dc2322 wrote:Our ancestors were WAY more wrong than we are.


your decendents will say the same thing: And eating sea kittens or a creature which doesn't want to be eaten or isn't capable of clearly expressing that desire is also obviously wrong.

it's dangerous to assume that people will just agree with your current morals harder in the future.

the point isn't to say that there is no such thing as morals, just to recognise that they're not something set in stone. Society will change in ways that scare and horrify you if you live long enough.


My phrasing was "way less wrong" and not "way less right" for this reason. I'm not saying our present morals are perfect. In the future, they might find a lot of what we do now to be obviously wrong. Sure, but I won't be horrified. Our grandparents are because they are (generally) xenophobic and conservative. Your comment highlights something I see as an important aspect of our moral progress: we accept that we might be/probably are wrong about a lot of things.


See, here you're literally baking in "conservative" as something negative. A majority of americans describe themselves as conservative!

You seem to be advocating really strong Moral Realism, and saying we're definitely closer to the one true morality than we used to be. How can you know?
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:28 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:Strong national identities are what sustained Finns in the Winter War and Eastern Europe under communist occupation. They're what motivated the French Resistance and sustained Britain through the Blitz.

Just look the utter lack of conflict required to forge those strong national identities.

If strong national identities only, or even mostly, form during intense conflicts, you're actually lamenting the lack of such a conflict. That's a pretty shitty form of nostalgia that utterly belies the "but it was better back then" line of reasoning.

So again, what a shame that the UK is lacking such a conflict. If only they had that violent adversity to spur their citizens to ... act like however it is you picture your grandparent's social structure.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Zamfir » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:48 pm UTC

Not put to fine a point on it but Soviet Russia, Maoist China and Third Reich Germany all also had clear national identity, strident patriotism and unified culture.


I wouldn't include maoist China in a list of unified countries sharing a purpose... It was a deeply divided country at the end of the civil war. Not just along the line KMT-CCP, but also because its various parts hadn't really been a single country for decades. It's not like those differences just went away, they were suppressed. And then the party build a new society, and raised new generations while the parents were shut up. More unified, patriotic, etc. It's obviously hard to tell how much suppression is still involved in that unity nowadays.

But when Mao was alive, the country sure as hell wasn't unified or sharing a purpose. The cultural revolution was utter chaos, a new civil war with the new generation fighting over new fault lines. Which were then suppressed again, and society was yet again redesigned from the ground up, and new generations, etc.

It's an extreme version of a more common theme: countries with a lot of rhetoric about unity and patriots, often do so to paper over deep internal divides.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Puppyclaws » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:18 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote:MORAL RELATIVISM: To say that our sense of morality isn't better than someone's from the 1800's is not a ridiculous thing to say. Yes, in some strict philosophical definition of "knowing", all truth is relative. Whatever. I'm willing to place my bets. Our ancestors were WAY more wrong than we are. Slavery was not ever a good idea.Women were never inferior beings. Sex should never have been a horrible taboo where "everyone act like we don't have urges" was the norm. Little girls should have never been married off to men x3 their age without any say. Children should never have been working in coal mines. Etc. Etc. Moral relativism is not a helpful philosophy. It stagnates the discussion.


It "stagnates discussion" by making a point you don't want to hear, i.e. not all things are black and white.

Anyway, history is not a march of progress. There has been a mix of gains and losses. I often wish I lived in a society that mixed some of the freedoms of the past with the relative equality of today, but that is a very short-lived vision; there are points in the past in which "equality" as we understand it is barely even relevant to the discussion because their perspectives and approaches were so different from ours.

I often think I might like to be back in San Francisco or New York in the gay scene prior to AIDS.

I bet a lot of non-white people would rather be in the past in another country rather than in Western nations today.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:34 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:So again, what a shame that the UK is lacking such a conflict. If only they had that violent adversity to spur their citizens to ... act like however it is you picture your grandparent's social structure.


Ah give us our due the british culture (or at least the romantic conservative one) is really one of the of the complete global supremacy and peace from end the of the napleonic war to WW1, rather than the raw nationalism of jingoism (I think I'm the last generation of the UK that was flooded from childhood with images of WW2 - which is both good and sad).

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby HungryHobo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:37 pm UTC

dc2322 wrote: In the future, they might find a lot of what we do now to be obviously wrong. Sure, but I won't be horrified.


Imagine harder.

Think of some things you really hold dear.
Think of some things you genuinely consider sacred and important.
Think of some things you genuinely consider evil or wrong, not just things which give you a gut reaction but things you can justify clearly and easily.

If you just assume that your grandchildren will be hugging foreigners more it's easy to say that it won't bother you because it wouldn't bother you now.
But try harder, think of something that you really care about, something you think is totally correctly illegal and socailly shunned.

Some day you may watch your great grandchild violating those beliefs while your grandchild scolds you for being such a fuddy duddy getting worked up about it.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:47 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:Strong national identities are what sustained Finns in the Winter War and Eastern Europe under communist occupation. They're what motivated the French Resistance and sustained Britain through the Blitz.

Just look the utter lack of conflict required to forge those strong national identities.

If strong national identities only, or even mostly, form during intense conflicts, you're actually lamenting the lack of such a conflict. That's a pretty shitty form of nostalgia that utterly belies the "but it was better back then" line of reasoning.

So again, what a shame that the UK is lacking such a conflict. If only they had that violent adversity to spur their citizens to ... act like however it is you picture your grandparent's social structure.


Holy leap of logic Batman!

If having a national/cultural/religious identity helps a group get through hard times, it hardly implies that hard times are what cause that identity to form. Romantic nationalism started to take root during the Concert of Europe, which is notable for just how peaceful it was and how few people died in war at the time.
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby leady » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:50 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:Imagine harder.


Certainly some of the concepts touched on in the first episode of Caprica (everyone watched that right?) I think are probably greater than 50-50.

For those that missed it, basically people used VR to do things that would put lots of people in the Sarkessian camp :)

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:03 pm UTC

leady wrote:
HungryHobo wrote:Imagine harder.


Certainly some of the concepts touched on in the first episode of Caprica (everyone watched that right?) I think are probably greater than 50-50.

For those that missed it, basically people used VR to do things that would put lots of people in the Sarkessian camp :)


There was a concerted campaign by progressives in the 70's and 80's to legalise paedophillia. specifically, sex with "consenting" children of 10 or older. Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt and Jack Dromey got into some hot water for it recently, though they didn't actually get punished at all. Only Hewitt even apologized.

If they'd been successful I'm sure we'd have people today expressing thanks that they're not as backward as their grandparents, who thought sex with 11 year-olds was wrong. Those dammned sexually repressive conservatives!

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyy ... to-resign/
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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Chen » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:20 pm UTC

HungryHobo wrote:Imagine harder.

Think of some things you really hold dear.
Think of some things you genuinely consider sacred and important.
Think of some things you genuinely consider evil or wrong, not just things which give you a gut reaction but things you can justify clearly and easily.

If you just assume that your grandchildren will be hugging foreigners more it's easy to say that it won't bother you because it wouldn't bother you now.
But try harder, think of something that you really care about, something you think is totally correctly illegal and socailly shunned.

Some day you may watch your great grandchild violating those beliefs while your grandchild scolds you for being such a fuddy duddy getting worked up about it.


Barring something that stops us from dying of old age, what kind of examples of this do you foresee in our lifetimes? Something that paradigm shifting that I would be utterly horrified by it, seems difficult to think of right now for me at least.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Azrael » Thu Dec 04, 2014 5:44 pm UTC

Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote:If strong national identities only, or even mostly, form during intense conflicts...
If having a national/cultural/religious identity helps a group get through hard times, it hardly implies that hard times are what cause that identity to form.

If strong national/cultural/religious identities form during hard times, then sure as shit it implies that the hard times are what caused it to form.

There's a difference between "form" and "help". All the examples thus far? Forming.

leady wrote:Ah give us our due the british culture (or at least the romantic conservative one) is really one of the of the complete global supremacy and peace from end the of the napleonic war to WW1...

Peace in Europe. You might have a hard time suggesting India or Africa were peaceful during those 100 years. But hey, that just goes to further illuminate that nostalgic rumination about how awesome white men had it isn't ever going to get you a realistic picture of history.

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Re: A Thought Experiment on Progress

Postby Ormurinn » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:00 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:
Ormurinn wrote:
Azrael wrote:If strong national identities only, or even mostly, form during intense conflicts...
If having a national/cultural/religious identity helps a group get through hard times, it hardly implies that hard times are what cause that identity to form.

If strong national/cultural/religious identities form during hard times, then sure as shit it implies that the hard times are what caused it to form.

There's a difference between "form" and "help". All the examples thus far? Forming..


Are you seriously suggesting that French people didn't feel French, and Finnish people didn't feel Finnish, until the second world war?

Again, most of the national/patriotic identities we have in Europe today formed during the Concert of Europe, an era of unprecedented peace!

Azrael wrote:[
leady wrote:Ah give us our due the british culture (or at least the romantic conservative one) is really one of the of the complete global supremacy and peace from end the of the napleonic war to WW1...

Peace in Europe. You might have a hard time suggesting India or Africa were peaceful during those 100 years. But hey, that just goes to further illuminate that nostalgic rumination about how awesome white men had it isn't ever going to get you a realistic picture of history.


The correct comparison isn't Imperial rule - Peace, It's Imperial Rule - pre-Imperial rule.

Doesn't seem to be much difference

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wa ... .931858.29
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