Kinkajou: What is social engineering?
Erasmus :The concept of social engineering refers to how the social milieu in which we live and work affects the decisions we make. Often the most important decisions we could make are not made by ourselves or by others. They are made for us by the circumstances of our environment, and we are usually powerless insightless in changing them.
Kinkajou : Sounds Interesting. It’s the sort of thing the government is responsible for. Way beyond my pay scale.
Erasmus : Often people politics and power structures get in the way of making changes.
I will give you an example. One of my friends was a teacher at a Tech College. Her students as part of their course designed and built a nativity scene just before Christmas.
My friend decided it would be a good idea to display all the hard work for the benefit of the community rather than just to throw it all away. She decided she would go to the local children’s hospital and ask them if they would mind if she put nativity scene on display in casualty (accident and emergency).
She rang the medical superintendent. He liked the idea, but said it was not within his authority to give her permission to do this. She rang the nursing superintendent. She liked the idea as well, but said it was not within her authority to give permission to do this. She rang security who replied she should seek permission from the hospital management.
My friend was now facing a dilemma in that no one could give her permission to install the nativity scene. So she decided she would just go ahead and do it anyway. She turned up at casualty with a couple of helpers. Security dropped by quickly and asked about the display. Security let them put it up.
In February my friend decided it would be a good idea to take the nativity scene down. Christmas was long gone and the display would probably be getting a little bit tired with all the kids playing with it.
So she rang the medical superintendent to ask permission to remove it. Medical superintendent said it was not his role or within his authority to give her permission to do this. She rang the nursing superintendent. The nursing superintendent said there was not within her role or authority to give permission to do this.
So my friend just turned up with a few helpers and began to dismantle the display in casualty. Security dropped by quickly. The situation was explained. The security staff said they could not give her permission to remove it. They then proceeded to walk away and leave my friend and her helpers to finish taking down the display.
I think this is a good example of authority within an organisation. Many people are in charge of many things, but they recognise that the area of responsibility is only a segment of responsibility within the organisation in which they work. The government in many ways has the same problem.
No one thinks about what they should be doing as it is not their area of responsibility. The people who have been delegated to think about what should be being done, do not have the capacity to assign resources or a budget to tasks chosen. All too often government organisations do not have a budget for special items. Often political will is deficient. Life goes on.
Kinkajou : But I think most people always have a choice.
Erasmus : I’ll give another example. Australia was once wrestling with a low birth rate of 1.8 to 1.9 per family. This means Australia has effectively been at zero population growth. Once this was regarded as the Western disease. Once countries became westernised and the citizens became rich and successful, they would choose to have fewer children and the birth rate would drop.
Now several years ago in Australia, one government substantially increased social welfare and gave people baby bonuses. The situation of ZPG rapidly converted to a situation whereby the Australian population had a natural rate of increase of approximately 150,000 extra people per year.
The final conclusion is that the main factor making families choose to delay having children, to have fewer children or not to have children at all, is the taxation system. When couples decide they will become a family, there are a number of critical tasks that must be done.
There is a need for housing. There is a need to purchase a substantial amount of material goods. Wives often worked. It becomes hard to have children due to financial burdens.
So, begins to look like the main factor causing ZPG (zero population growth) in Western society is a taxation system that makes it difficult to get established and which incentivises both partners to continue working.
Kinkajou : So you are saying the incentives for building families are wrong.
Erasmus : Yes. The government is very fond of stick and carrot approaches. Taxation is the stick, and baby bonuses are the carrot.
Kinkajou : But we live in a vibrant dynamic growing society, when you things happen every day. These social engineering issues can’t be that important.
Erasmus :Another interesting example is the case of research at universities. There are very few long-term jobs available for people to do fundamental research such as may occur as people complete their studies at University. Most university graduates involved in research receive very small monetary grants, usually very poor pay and for very limited times (e.g. contracts).
Universities even 100 years ago were substantially involved in research and in helping us to understand the universe we live in. Technology unfortunately means the questions for which we need answers are more complex and need more work and finance to find solutions.
Add to this the demands we place upon our university researchers. Researchers need to teach students. Researchers need to write and submit papers for publication. Researchers need to do research. Publish or perish.
What this means is that is very difficult to devote much time for research. Even were you so inclined and prepared to work for a pittance, poor remuneration means you need to find money for food, clothing and housing somewhere else.
If you do manage to develop something, universities often have very little expertise or funds to commercialize these proposals. Patent applications are complex, time-consuming and costly. The government and governments of the world have made them like this. Their interest is self-interest, namely how to extract as much money as possible in the process (tax) for themselves. (Government).
Where the government does undertake to support research, there are still problems. In Australia the government set up the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and i Industrial Research Organisation). Unfortunately funding is always tight and pay is poor. The government has difficulty with long-term commitments. Poor pay and poor conditions usually inspire people to work somewhere else for better pay and better conditions. We certainly do not encourage our best and brightest to push back the frontiers.
Kinkajou : This is giving me a headache just thinking about this stuff. Maybe I should take a paracetamol tablet?
Erasmus : The drug industry is another example where government greed is changing how the world works. Every country especially Australia, seeks to obtain its pharmaceuticals at the lowest price possible.
However, there is a complex lengthy and difficult regulatory environment to obtain approval for pharmaceuticals. This can mean a drug which has cost $1 billion to develop has only a limited time to recoup capital investment for the company which developed the drug. Companies can take out 25 year patents. However it can take 10 to 15 years to bring a pharmaceutical drug to market.
There is then a process of requesting government approval for subsidy to make this drug available to the general public. The government has often deliberately dragged these negotiations out. If you don’t buy it for a couple of years, you save yourself a couple of years of expenses in buying it.
So what is the result? Pharmaceutical investment in new drugs is decreasing. It is difficult to find new big drugs with good prospects for financial return which justify the capital investment. Smaller companies get swallowed by bigger companies.
The dozens of pharmaceutical companies supplying products in the early 1900s collapse into half a dozen big international players. And even these pharmaceutical companies are having tough times. One in the US has diversified into health care delivery by investing in models of care and health insurance.
Kinkajou : So you are saying there is no money for big Pharma to make big drugs.
Erasmus : Fewer companies exist, eating each other, and getting bigger.
Kinkajou : I can see some other aspects of the research situation which typify social engineering.
Erasmus : Such as?
Kinkajou : Well back in good old preindustrial England, much research was done by gentlemen with time and some money on their hands. The idle rich. Nowadays, there is so much more to do, so much less spare time and economics pairing earnings to the bone. There are fewer resources in terms of money or time for people to do research. And in a complicated world, to successfully undertake research implies having the time and skill to obtain the technical expertise required.
Old Time Gentry
Erasmus : The modern world substantially reduces the number of hours that most people need to work to earn a living. So to that extent people today have more spare time. However the modern world is replete with entertainments and things to do. And to this extent people have less spare time, as they choose to entertain themselves not to ponder the nature of their world.
Goo: Bill Gates donated money to research aimed at inserting vitamins in banana crops. So we still have our idle rich philanthropists. Unfortunately not everyone is so inclined.
Kinkajou : Being serious the need to earn a profit is a form of social engineering pressure, is it not?
Erasmus : Yes, I can see that. Much research today is done by companies looking to exploit their own specific circumstances. However, for a company the imperative is to be profitable. No one in business would argue that if you are not engaged in a profitable activity, you probably shouldn’t be doing what you are doing.
Companies have a much shorter time expectation for their return on investment. They generally shy away from fundamental research where the payday may be decades away. This imperative to be profitable is an incredible social engineering pressure on how the world is run.
One of the big success stories of the last three decades, is a development of computerisation. What allowed computerisation to develop so well, were the incremental (but substantial) advances made and sold for profit.
One day you buy a computer running a 12 MHz CPU chip. Within a year, computers were available with 20 MHz CPU clock speeds. And within a year of that, CPU chips were hitting 33 to 40 MHz.
eople would buy a computer. New and better software would be written for these computers. Faster computers could best take advantage of more complex software and so it goes. This upgrade cycle for faster software and faster hardware pulled in a river of money, driving investment.
Imagine the alternate scenario. After 30 years, the clock speed of the newest CPU chip was now hitting 15 MHz. Would it be worthwhile spending thousands of dollars to buy a new computer? Perhaps not. Your old computer would probably perform much the same tasks as the new one, though slightly slower. It would not be worth spending the money for the advantages.
Kinkajou : So what is the next frontier in science (like the computer)?
Erasmus : I think the new frontier is biology and molecular science. However it is not as obvious or as easy to generate returns as has been seen in the computer marketplace. Most people probably would not be willing to spend any money on the latest biological upgrades (unlike for computers). So the growth of the age of advanced biology will be much slower than the growth of the computer age.
Kinkajou : But what about schizophrenia? If biological research discovers something about this illness, surely everyone affected will want a piece of it.
Dr Xxxxx: There is no evidence that schizophrenia is due to a genetic defect. While genes do play a role in developing the illness and in the progression of the illness, no gene known today causes this disease.
Erasmus : I think the other problem I can see is that not everyone has schizophrenia. Everyone wanted a computer. And all these people have at least some money to engage in discretionary spending to purchase a computer for their own enjoyment.
People with schizophrenia usually are ill and unable to work. They do not have much discretionary spending. What little they do have they usually spend on cigarettes and even other drugs like marijuana. So biological breakthroughs in the field of schizophrenia are unlikely to fuel the growth of biological research in the next few decades.
There is a social engineering aspect to schizophrenia as well. As a society we have become quite accustomed to people saying and doing strange things, obviously not consistent with our perception of reality. We call these people crazy.
So imagine if one day you are sitting at home, and someone runs in excitedly to your front door, get s your attention and tells you that they have shaken hands with some aliens from outer space a few streets away. I think you would have almost no chance of believing them.
We are so immured to dealing with people who do not function within reality, that this is a far more likely explanation for what they are saying, than it is likely for the event to have really occurred.
As soon as anybody makes a claim that is out of the ordinary, perhaps by using a new paradigm, we start assessing their mental sanity first, and their claim second if at all.
Kinkajou : I can see it makes for an interesting situation where so many people in unusual situations cannot even tell their own friends what has happened to them, because they are afraid of what their friends may think of them and what society and other people may say about them. Most people undergoing such an encounter with aliens, would probably shut up about it and tell no one.
People are not likely to believe you anyway. If you keep insisting, you are likely to find yourself in psychiatric detention. If you have obtained proof such as photos or videos, people are more likely to believe you have faked then for the real event to have occurred.
Erasmus : I think the Internet has changed how we deal with this type of event in our society. Information can be posted anonymously. People with similar stories can find other people with similar experiences, literally anywhere on the planet.
Stories do not have to be vetted by a publishing service or newspaper. People with video footage can often observe the event fully for themselves.
Kinkajou : I think aliens are interesting example of our ingrained bias against odd stories. The aliens have never formally revealed themselves or announced their presence. So, effectively they do not exist. People are loath to talk about their experiences and are unlikely to spend any time looking into “sightings”.
UFO TV Series
The contrast the situation to one where everyone believes in aliens and Human nutters don’t exist. So we can normally rely on people telling stories to tell the truth. So, if there is a sighting, and it is reported, people will start wondering what they (the aliens) are doing. Investigations are likely to be extensive and thorough.
Erasmus : Like may be looking for a plane load of people who just disappeared thousands of miles out of their way in the ocean. Obviously kidnapped for purposes of experimentation.
Dr Xxxxx :It bothers me why the aliens would anally probe a plane load of people. They’re just sick.
Goo : Perhaps that is really not their purpose.