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A thought inspired by Wednesday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 36

A thought inspired by Wednesday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 36

Terror in face of change.

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

Change is difficult and frightening. When values themselves change, the challenges are even greater. What was once considered wrong may now be seen as good and what was once accepted and normal may today be morally repugnant.

Basic values may change because society changes the way it is structured and those changes in turn are often caused by technological advancements.

With the advent of advanced forms of communication and writing, powerful empires could emerge. Small tribes could not withstand the power of these empires and most were absorbed into the new structures. However, small tribes are often far more egalitarian and founded on values of shared responsibility whereas empires involve extreme concentrations of power and require vast armies of soldiers, workers and slaves to implement their monumental projects.

Farmers working their fields in the same way for centuries rarely involve significant investment projects, and loans can be just a way of helping your neighbor through a tough patch. However, more advanced societies depend on complex financial systems where loans are critical for enabling significant investment required for progress and growth.

During the agricultural revolution from the 17th to the 20th century, changes occurred in food production that resulted in a decrease in the proportion of the population required to participate in it, from over 90% to less than 5%. Consequently, cities grew to massive proportions, and currently, the majority of the world’s population lives in concentrated urban forms that would have been unimaginable in ancient times. The growth of such cities has enabled anonymity and once-off interactions, at levels which were unknown during the development of many ethical systems.

Although the structural changes came first, the changes in values were just as radical. However, there was a significant delay in the adoption of these value changes.

As values change, two camps emerge. One group, the Traditionalists, are shocked by the erosion of values they grew up with, and the other group, the Reformers, are frustrated that the pace of change is not fast enough. The Reformers point to the fact that the structural changes have already happened and that traditional values make no sense in the current context.

Consider a complex organic molecule as a metaphor. Such a molecule is made up of many atoms like Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. The different atoms in the molecule exert various forces on each other. As a result, some atoms try to get as close as possible to each other, while others prefer to move away. The shape of the molecule, the way it folds, depends on these forces. Some shapes may be unstable, constantly changing to attain a different shape. Eventually, the molecule adopts a 3D shape that is stable and relatively unchanging – a stable configuration.

However, when the same molecule enters a new environment, such as a different neighborhood of other molecules, the forces between the atoms within the molecule alter. The previous shape becomes destabilized and the molecule commences shifting and changing once more. For some time, it will be unable to find a new stable way of folding itself, but eventually, it will adopt a new stable shape, which may be superior or inferior to the previous one.

You can think of human society like this molecule. As new factors such as technology are introduced, the forces within society change. Changes are made which necessitate other changes. These changes take the form of new ways of organizing ourselves and new values, norms, rules and laws emerge.

While changes are taking place, there is no guarantee that the new values and systems in place at the moment are workable or stable. Many more conflicts arise between different forces as new configurations are tried. These changing and unstable states can be terrifying and dangerous to many people involved, as their old values are destroyed, and sometimes the factors protecting them from bodily harm are undermined. While some people are convinced that the current changes are necessary and good, it is possible they are mistaken. We are mostly incapable of calculating all of the complex outcomes and ramifications of current decisions.

As we undergo technological change at a speed and scale that we have never experienced before, we cannot imagine the values that will emerge and what our descendants will consider important and ethically obvious.

On the one hand, there is no going back to the way things were before. On the other hand, we must realize at all times that whatever we propose is untested and probably a partial solution, at best.

submitted by /u/eliyah23rd
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Source: Reditt

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