War, Peace and Foundation

Ever read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy?  It was later expanded to more books, but the first three, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation, are the core.  The premise is that it becomes possible through statistical to predict large turns in sociological and economic states similar to the way we predict weather now.  In essence a recession like the one in 2008 would have been predictable.

Like weather some changes are unstoppable.  The statisticians predict the end of the current galactic empire.  This is all setup for the series.  The key is that at certain points in history if a lever is applied at the right moments some changes can be modified.  So the Foundation is created to bring about a Second Empire after 30,000 years.

Another key point – especially of the second book, Foundation and Empire, is that the actions of individuals cannot be predicted.  An addendum to that is that actions of individuals cannot be predicted or conversely have a dramatic effect on history.  Only groups of individuals can do that.  (Although the Foundation itself is a relatively small group.)

It is an interesting counterpoint to a lot of modern culture which elevates the accomplishments of the individual above those of the group.  In politics, we have political parties, but focus on the leader.  In sports, we have teams, but choose MVPs or elevate the QB.  In collaborative art like movies and comics, individuals are singled out for special recognition through awards.  I’m torn about adding work to this category since it is a team effort to produce.

I’m not saying that the focus on individuals is new though.  One of the themes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace was that Napoleon (and to a lesser extent Emperor Alexander) are over-rated as to their impact in the War of 1812 and the events leading up to it.  The impetus to the war was a socio-economic event as inevitable as those in the Asimov series.  And that no general can be a genius in modern warfare (of the age) due to the scale of the battle, battle fog and the lack of instantaneous communications.  Most was due to luck and the will of the groups of combatants.  Whole chapters were spent on basically saying, “Napoleon wasn’t all that.”

I read Tolstoy pretty skeptically (at least compared to the reverence with which I hold Asimov).  Using moderation in everything as my motto, I figured the truth is somewhere in between.  Individuals may not be at the root of everything, but there is room for individual accomplishment to have a significant impact.

Ironically although we seem to elevate the individual, it often seems that our own impact on the world is negligible.  Tolstoy and maybe even Asimov might agree.  While we might acknowledge to feats of our greatest athletes and actors, it is the little items we do everything that ultimately have an impact on those around them.  In that way an individual is like a group.  One action by one person does little, but lots of actions by one person might have as much of an impact as one action by lots of people.

Plus you should read the Foundation series.  It is pretty cool.


2 thoughts on “War, Peace and Foundation

  1. Slyck says:

    “President Josiah Bartlet: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why?
    Will Bailey: Because it’s the only thing that ever has. ”

    -West Wing

  2. craig says:

    Hmm I read the trilogy when I was 11 so I should revisit it. I will say that Paul Krugman (possibly the only economist that is a panelist at ComicCon)wanted to be a psychohistorian

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