I decided this week to focus story #4 of a total of 6 stories in the “The Decline of Europe” setting to social debt (see the brief of “The decline” here). That story is called “To sing my song”.
This is the first discovery round on that concept.
In programming there is something called “technical debt“. In short: unsolved issues are “debt”. You did not pay (time and attention) to solve them now and so they continue to exist as “unpaid bills” or “debt”. And all problems in code that you do not solve now will create even bigger problems in the future.
Social debt is a similar issue as technical debt, but in societies. It is the debt the population at large pays for neglect of specific issues. In my story world it includes long term issues flowing from:
- Decline in quality / absence of education – I believe education and proper education is one of the most important elements in a society. Reduce the quality and you will build a social debt that involves the economic position of a country in a global market. (Knowledge economy.)
- Cultivation of ignorance– The cultivation of ignorance helps to keep people “stupid” and gullible. “Truth is what television shows us” and that kind of stuff. It exists of at least these parts:
- Systems of superstition – Short: the cultivated belief in things that are not there.
- Contamination of data – Where facts are no longer facts.
- Censorship/exclusion of information – Where specific opinions and specific views of the world are no longer available and accessible or simply declined (for publishing) or ridiculed.
- Promotion of flawed thinking models – Learning “how to think” defines for a part how people will deal with problems in their lives and the challenges around them
- Cultivated discrimination – Cultivated discrimination is touched in this post. Short: we all discriminate. Cultivated discrimination starts when we start cultivating specific (stereotyped) ideas of discrimination towards specific groups of people or objects.
- People – Usually “the others”. Specifically: creating a stereotype image of these people or groups.
- Concepts – Usually ideas you do not like or that threaten specific beliefs you hold yourself.
- Objects – Usually the marked and products. Apple is really good at this.
- Exclusion– Including:
- “Race” – Where your “race” defines your position in society
- Place of birth – Which can be the street, the city, the country and the continent you were born
- Belief – Which can be either the presence or absence of a “subscription” to specific belief systems. Can be religious but is much more than that.
- Class/family – Usually based on your family background, the place your family takes in the class-system and your place of birth.
- Sexual preference – Where your sexual preference defines if you are welcome or not
- Looks – Are you pretty? Are you ugly?
- Sexism – Because you have a uterus or penis you are more or less than someone who does not.
- Poverty – Poverty can be the result of many things. One thing it is not: stimulating.
Six points the social debt can manifest in:
- Increase in social tension – “Is my neighborhood still safe?” “Can we really trust specific group XYZ?” “Can we really trust our police/government/politicians/administration?” “Am I still a free person?”
- Increase in decline – Neighborhoods becoming more and more shabby. Less and less jobs.
- Increase in economical problems – Can I still pay my bills? Are my rights as an individual protected? Do I have something to fall back on when I have no money at all?
- Increase in under-educated people – When there is no money for proper schooling/cost of schooling rises too high, less and less people will be inclined to do and finish a study.
- Loss of relevance – Is a neighborhood, city, province, country still relevant for the rest of the world? Are people still willing to invest in it? Visit it? Do business with?
- Loss of freedom – Countries that sink down into economical decline and poverty usually also see an increase in police activity. “To maintain safety” restrictions are created
Why is this concept important to my story world?
I think this quote (I created for the story “Dreams” and used in an earlier post) is giving a good head-start:
In a healthy society, nobody is left behind. The price of neglect is an increasing debt with high interest: that can be brushed off for a long time but will have to be paid by someone someday.
A healthy society does not make distinctions between different types of people. It works together. It strives for inclusion and equality. Equal rights, equal opportunities. It strives for the best forms of education possible, for the best development of individuals possible.
A healthy society understands that it is the total of the collective. That each individual is a part of the whole. That it functions best when all parts are healthy. That decline can be ignored but will eventually lead to damage and loss.
I write about a society in decline. I need to know what is wrong with it. I want to tackle one single concept: how things like bullying and discrimination and abuse are just as damaging as economical fraud and mismanagement by stupidity. How all these things build up into a society that gets from bad to worse. But also how you can create something opposite while respecting the individuality. As one of my fictional characters is quoted:
Social Engineering should – by default – have a limited scope. Concepts like: ‘Enlightenment for All’, ‘Utopia’, ‘World Peace’ which seems to be more and more feasible as we learn more about what makes people tick, are all dangerous pipe dreams because they try to include everyone and everything.
What else is “free will” but the room to discover things on your own, make up your mind, change your mind, make mistakes, take actions and also be completely wrong and completely diluted about many things as you go?
You cannot impose your view of the world on others, regardless of how good your intentions are. It makes you just another Big Brother, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin.
Whose problem is it?
“Social debt” touches another point. Social debt is not an issue of the current government. It is a problem created by the population at large.
- The people choose – Governments are chosen by the people. What governments do is allowed by the people. In short: if nobody protests, anyone can do anything.
- It touches us all – Social debt is not something that touches only a few people. It touches us all. When a city declines into a shithole people will lose jobs. Houses will lose value. Companies and shops will be forced to move out or close.
Is it new?
Probably not. Economics no doubt has similar concepts under a different term.
Social debt in general
Most Dutch cities understand the issue of ghetto-forming: where specific groups of people create islands of specific types, including areas of poverty and areas where only specific groups of people are represented.
The social (and economical) debt of ghetto’s are many. Poverty is one potential outcome. Poverty leads to a lot of other possible consequences, including a rise in crime, a rise in maintenance cost (due to willing destruction of property and the decline of a neighborhood). It will sink the value of the city at large as a city with ghetto’s, poor areas and high crime levels is less appealing to investors (business, trade).
Another possible result of social debt (see the list above) is a lack of skilled people for specific jobs. Both in areas of specialism (engineering, science) and general areas (construction, cleaning, maintenance, management). On local scales this can lead to things becoming more and more dirty and things (operations, services, machines) breaking down. On global scale this can lead to a loss in revenue. If and when you produce nothing of any value (due to the lack of people to invent, build and sell it) your role in a global market slides down to insignificance.
Short term solutions in the Netherlands have (always?) been import of people from outside the country, creating new and even increasing social debts. In the 1960 these were Italian metal workers. In the 1970’s it were Turkish and Moroccan “guest workers” mostly to deal with the kind of work Dutch people no longer solicited for as the general levels of education rose in that period, or simply were too expensive. In the 2000 nds there has been a rise of Polish workers, many in construction and agri-cultural work. Taking care of these social debts is either by completely integrating these new people, or making sure it is a temporary solution by finding some other solution for the long term.
Racism has several forms. I will not be able now to put a complete list here, but present only two forms:
- Reflection of ignorance– The first version is a reflection of ignorance. This has three aspects:
- Projection/result of your own ignorance – This can be stupidity, lack of knowledge, lack of ability to step out of your own point of view and your own limited view on the world at large.
- Projection of self-hate/self fear – A second aspect is the projection of self-hate. The things you hate or fear or avoid most about yourself are projected on others. “What you have to say about others reflects your inner world the most”
- Cultivated discrimination – When one idea is repeated long enough it becomes a “truth”. That includes specific ideas about specific “groups” of people.
- Blaming others for your own increasing social debt – While you created the situation yourself, you involved others to help you solve it. As things do not improve, you do not take into account the extra consequences of this new development and you are not really solving anything on a structural basis, the others are suddenly to blame for many other things that go wrong as a consequence as well.
Social debt in my story world
In the story world of “The decline of Europe”, several things are done with this concept.
- Saudi Arabia – Successfully erases most of its social debt by a program that uplifts the population. It is done by a mix of social engineering and the release of government funded wearable computers that allow people to access all kind of data, work together, build complex simulations like “Sim City” based on real world data, see big scale and long term consequences of specific actions. The Saudi people in (the untold part) of my story world start building and improving things from the bottom up.
- The decline of Europe – Europe — in my story — follows a path in which higher education has become syndicated, where knowledge is filtered and — as one of the consequences — history is no longer objective. Where copyright cripples any new developments outside syndicated environments. Where music and art is about recycling everything that happened before 2020. Where discrimination and poverty are “normal”. Where R&D is done via syndicated “startups” and “startup programs” and the risk of failure is moved to the individuals doing that R&D. Due to the social debt Europe has become a 3rd world country.
More to follow
I am editing “Dreams” which is one of six stories in this setting. I have