20100405

Europe 1859 and now?

On Liberty/Chapter 3 - Wikisource: "The modern regime of public opinion is, in an unorganized form, what the Chinese educational and political systems are in an organized; and unless individuality shall be able successfully to assert itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China."

John Stuart Mill writes this in 1859 in his book On Liberty, still in print today, and the book of office of the Liberal Democrats in the UK. It bothered Mill that Europe seemed bent to become ruled by the tyranny of mediocrity, the masses.

Today we have acknowledged that the masses did not turn out to become tyrannical but understanding as to the need of innovation. Even the Chinese speak of it but does not agree on how it should be fostered. Furthermore the masses are not considered mediocre since politicians, even if they are not eccentric or exceptionally high IQ, have a political intelligence important for resonance with the masses. We speak also about the wisdom of the masses.

What is interesting though is the almost spastic talk about innovation today in the "modern regime for public opinion". My question would be if it is possible to increase innovation in the West? We can perhaps increase the per capita education but do we at the same time increase the per capita innovation? If I am right we would be able to increase our ability to capitalize on innovations but not increase their numbers in a given population. People are nervous these days because China and India are bringing in more people from poverty and are thus increasing their innovation per capita.

What can we do then to stay competitive? Well, if Europe will become another China, as Mill feared, he meant static for centuries, we will start treating people non-individualistically. We would start locking people up in collectives. We would prevent free discussion, something Mill also warned against. We would prevent freedom of thought and like the Catholic church rely totally on dogmatic tradition.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a contemporary of John Stuart Mill and he famously said "gather from far every ray of various genius to our hospitable halls". This is why America today is more competitive. They import talent to increase their per capita innovation. Just increasing the amount of money you spend on innovation is not going to do the trick. Europe must become hospitable to foreigners and empower the individual.