Drivers/enablers of technology from a broad historical perspective

Rhinocrates

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Archaeology tracks the diffusion of culture, and technologies and isotopic analysis and genetics has revealed some astonishing things about the movement of goods and people around the ancient world (you can learn a lot about where someone grew up from Strontium in their tooth enamel). This article caught my eye, looking at the diffusion of military technologies.

Abstract
What have been the causes and consequences of technological evolution in world history? In particular, what propels innovation and diffusion of military technologies, details of which are comparatively well preserved and which are often seen as drivers of broad socio-cultural processes? Here we analyze the evolution of key military technologies in a sample of pre-industrial societies world-wide covering almost 10,000 years of history using
Seshat: Global History Databank. We empirically test previously speculative theories that proposed world population size, connectivity between geographical areas of innovation and adoption, and critical enabling technological advances, such as iron metallurgy and horse riding, as central drivers of military technological evolution. We find that all of these factors are strong predictors of change in military technology, whereas state-level factors such as polity population, territorial size, or governance sophistication play no major role. We discuss how our approach can be extended to explore technological change more generally, and how our results carry important ramifications for understanding major drivers of evolution of social complexity.


I wonder what will be the drivers, enablers and implications of emerging technologies? I'm curious about the really broad and long-term sweep - archaeology has suffered many hijackings by those with nationalistic and ethnocentric agendas but that nonsense is not the point. Instead, what is the equivalent of ironworking or cavalry that may emerge or be emerging already?

Air power is an obvious key emergence, so is the twentieth century innovation of the concept of total war (as an economic system in the modern nation-state). WMDs and the doctrine of deterrence is probably the most significant - and strange. In many ways, it's a return to ancient modes of limited warfare except on a fully global scale. That is, elaborate and prohibitively expensive weapons available only to a few are deployed with the intention that they not be used. In ethnographic circles, it's called 'potlatch' - extravagant competitive expenditure (and in many cases, ceremonial destruction of massive stockpiles of goods and weapons in front of rivals) sublimates actual 'kinetic' aggression. Will future 'hybrid war' be more overtly theatrical rather than covert? What technologies would such a trend favour?
 

dan_inbox

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the twentieth century innovation of the concept of total war
How would it be a modern innovation? Completely destroying an enemy and his infrastructure is nothing new.

To take just one example, Rome's treatment of Carthago in BC 146 seems rather total to me: slaughtered most of its population, and completely burnt and demolished the city.

The Papacy's treatment of the Cathars in southern France was no better (and they were fellow Christians, too).

To your question about whether future wars will be limited to theatrical potlatch or require total extermination of the opponent, personally I don't see how Al Qaeda and the other godcrazies will leave us a choice, but this is surely not a topic to debate here.
 
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Rhinocrates

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the twentieth century innovation of the concept of total war
How would it be a modern innovation? Completely destroying an enemy and his infrastructure is nothing new.

I mean the conversion of a nation-state's economy to a war footing, not just scorched earth offence. Annihilation of the enemy is certainly nothing new, but the 'nation-state' itself is fairly new - only a few centuries old (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nation_state). The essential thing is that it is a centralised economically and logistically integrated unit with borders. War then becomes the project of that state with all resources that the central state is able to control in some way serving that project. Total war is essentially an internal status.

The superstates of Orwell's 1984 epitomise this, and in real life, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin at least and Maoist China (and now under Xi Jinping). Albert Speer's appointment as Minister of War Production and Armaments is something that can only happen in the context of a nation-state engaged in total war.

Empires are practically much looser and despite having a nominal centre, be it Pi-Ramesse, Rome, or London, and the Pharaoh or Emperor has to pragmatically manage the subject kingdoms, so despite their scale, empires do not necessarily engage in total war when they attack or even destroy another power. That would be like siccing a herd of cats on your enemy. A third would go back to sleep, a third would fuck off and the rest would decide that the enemy have warmer laps.

I don't think it's peculiar to totalitarian states either. The democracies structured their economies in ways that were radically different from peacetime practices too during WWII. It's nothing unusual to have women in manual or administrative jobs now, but 'Rosie the Riveter' was definitely a new and specifically war-oriented construction at the time.

I hope that explains what I mean?

To your question about whether future wars will be limited to theatrical potlatch or require total extermination of the opponent, personally I don't see how Al Qaeda and the other godcrazies will leave us a choice, but this is surely not a topic to debate here.
Ah yes, damn good point! Terrorism is in my opinion 'theatrical', as is the policy or terror overall - again referring back to Lenin (I don't mean to belittle the victims of terrorism or various incarnations of the Thought Police by suggesting that their fates were 'only' theatre - indeed the obscenity of both terrorism and total war is that they deliberately target civilians as part of their strategy to undermine the moral of a state or class).

Anyway, as I've suggested, these things may require particular technologies in favour of others, so I guess I'm thinking in terms of the implications of scenarios. As Frederik Pohl once said, science fiction's job is not to predict the car but the traffic jam. Likewise futurology.
 
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