Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Colonialism

Dear Sylvio,

Thanks for speaking your truth to the PA. I resonated with much of what you said. Remember that time you stopped at our place, walking back to the PA from the train station, after some trip you took, when I told you I thought the folks at the PA were spoiled and living in a country club for the rich, pretending like they were largely independent of the Empire? You seemed offended, probably thinking "but we work so hard at bread labor". Perhaps now you understand that most working class people do not have the luxury to work towards any vision other than their and their family's survival. That unlike the PA settlers, they don't follow their bliss (they follow the demands of the boss) in their jobs, that any momentary bliss is drug- or sex- or dumbing-phone-induced. Or else they suffer the shame of unemployment, not being able to use their gifts to contribute to their family's well being, being treated as a burden to society by the welfare system. And yet most of them would not want to live at the PA, even if they knew about it, for the reasons you gave about the PPC (being treated like second class citizens), and maybe others (forgotten skills, less autonomy?) And yet, if that privilege could be used to create opportunities for even people without money and give them autonomy, With privilege comes responsibility, not just for helping wealthy white people...

Another historical tidbit: Remember the story of how the Dutch "bought" Manhattan from the natives for about $24 "worth" of beads and other trinkets? I wonder what was going on in the minds of the Canarsie tribe. Did they understand transfer of property? Probably not. They probably wanted to share that land and were in the gift economy (not the kind you rightfully critique, where wealth comes through Empire to settlers who then without much toil, pass on that wealth to other wealthy people). Yet your (and your black mesa compatriots') language of "give back the land and go back to Europe" makes me think that you want to keep playing that game, only reversing the roles of oppressor and oppressed. Go back to Europe? Are you fucking insane? Most of the people who came here from Europe (not Columbus though) did not come in order to oppress anyone. Most of them, at least in the beginning, came because they were being burned at the stake, hung, imprisoned, were driven off the land, had their houses demolished and their crops burned, not much different than the slaves who came here from Africa (sometimes white people came here as indentured servants). Same with some of my jewish people, who came to Palestine seeking a safe space from two millenia of oppression, the latest of which was the holocaust and state-communist dictatorship, not seeking to oppress or colonize anyone. But they had already been infected with the "ownership of the earth" disease (after not being allowed to own land for most of those two thousand years by the god damned so-called-christians) and the inability to share with people that were different than themselves. Not that most of the Palestinians were that willing to share either. You can perhaps blame it on the British and the time-tested colonizer strategy of divide and conquer, but I think most tribes left in recent history do not want to share the earth with other tribes that have oppressed them, are considered inferior (tribal supremacy, not just white supremacy, as in "we're better than the fucking settlers"), and/or have some resources that are coveted. As Andy Schmookler pointed out in his book "The Parable of the Tribes", the warlike tribes that do not want to share tend to take over, without some external intervention like what Hobbes called Leviathan (an healthy example being The Iroquois Confederacy, a not-very-healthy example being our legal system), and perhaps other factors like trade and ability to effectively defend.

In game theoretic terms, love and a willingness to share are not by themselves evolutionarily stable strategies. Tribes possessing those strategies, without the ones mentioned above, can be invaded and colonized by tribes who covet their "resources", are warlike and/or have a supremacy ideology.

I like to think of this in game theoretic terms because it is obvious to me (as it was to Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK), despite the children's story (enacted in Western movies of cowboys and "indians") of good guys and bad guys, that hating and trying to destroy the other group is not going to change anything except switch oppressor and oppressed. Same with feeling guilty about being part of the group that has historically oppressed other groups, or even a group, some of whose members continue to be assholes and oppress others. Most conservatives still believe in that children's story of good and evil. Most liberals and leftists have slightly embellished that story, adding another role of the rescuer (usually themselves).

No, the world is not that way. Anybody, regardless of what group they are part of, is capable of being seduced by power and thinking of the earth as resources to be acquired, and that other tribes are inferior and deserve to have resources taken from them, and only their own tribe's needs matter. Even native americans can do this, even people from hispanic descent, even people who go to "defend the sacred" at Standing Rock or other places, even the jewish people who must have won the "oppression olympics" before Israel. We need a different game, where the strategy of creating friends (as opposed to enemies) and seeing everyone's humanity is appealing, and reinforced by Leviathan and trade.

I am now going to say something that will probably get me accused of cultural appropriation or being an entitled white male who wants to be the center of attention, but I have to say it anyway, in hopes that your heart is still open, and your mind is not totally clouded, and I want to say it before I die in hopes that the lesson is not forgotten. I know what it's like to have a gift that was meant to be shared (such as ancestral land and home) taken away to satisfy someone's selfish need or greed and desecrated, to be cast out, shunned and forgotten, powerless to change anything except to continue to appeal to cold hearts in the hopes that there is still a warm ember in the center of the ice. Ironically, the people who took this gift and desecrated it are anarchist LGBT people, some black, some white, some hispanic. They are not evil monsters (is anyone except our jungian shadows, before being touched by the light of consciousness?), just humans who wanted a safe space and some autonomy, but did not care what the previous people who were there wanted. They thought they were superior to the previous people, who were mostly cis, het, white and black men. They did not want to share the gift or steward it, but to use it for their own needs, treating it as a resource. I have documented some of the details of the story from my own limited perspective, and if I'm still alive by the time you get this I can send them to you. The details may not matter. You might scoff at this comparison, since there is only one white male who wanted to share a gift, who gave up power over, whose heart was broken, who has been silenced and shunned (and a few other white and black people who converted to a mainstream mentality after this experience), not a whole village, or a genocide of a whole tribe. Yet all the elements necessary for genocide are in place in the mindset/game that these people and most people on both ends of the political spectrum are holding/playing. The conservatives have told me to use our punitive, adversarial and wealth favoring judicial system to punish my LGBT grandchildren whom I love at the Homostead. The liberals have either ignored me, or told me to use the courts or to let it go and do inner work, which lands in me the same way those words would probably land in any native whose culture has been largely destroyed and who yearns for justice and connection. Restorative justice liberals don't want to get involved unless I pay them alot of money and even then they don't want to because they don't want to violate my grandchildren's boundaries who are not willing to talk. Maybe they think it is better to violate an expendable cis, white, het man than the boundaries of LGBT people. Ethan understands the need for conversation and a restorative justice circle, but says he has other priorities (I'm guessing like figuring out how to keep his family together, and also not have the gift he was given be desecrated the way the gift that flowed through me was).

I am tired with a weariness of many generations of playing a losing game. Since I have left the mainstream world, I have not been able to accumulate any substantial wealth to share through any of my own efforts, though I have produced some food and have kept Sashi and I warm. I have accepted welfare from my parents, which has been humiliating though I have tried to save it in order to try again, despite all the evidence, to share wealth in a way that doesn't get taken over by the old game. I have tried in vain to interest people in developing that game, even as a computer game, but most people do not seem interested in a new game and I have not found the ones who are.

A few more things: You urge us to follow and serve native people if we don't go back to our native habitat (where am I supposed to go?). But I will not follow anyone, native or otherwise, who professes intolerance, supremacy and hatred (unless that hatred is used as a cathartic tool, not as an ideology).  I would like to follow peaceful native leaders, if they are also loving, tolerant and encouraging of conversation and critical thinking and can think about the bigger picture, helping white people, not just natives. Do you know any? Perhaps Pat McCabe? Or her daughter, Lyla June Johnston? But both have refused to help me. I would want to help them if I could trust them.

I pass a dying ember to you, Brother Sylvio. Perhaps it will live.












Saturday, November 11, 2017

incentivizing interdependence


Paradoxically, since interdependence gets traded off with autonomy, and since autonomy is highly valued in our culture and has a selective advantage, it is important to compensate for any loss of autonomy in one sphere, with more autonomy in other spheres. 
1. So, give people a home sphere, where they are largely autonomous, or interdependent on one or a few people they are intimate with. This contrasts with some intentional communities (even ecovillages), where people give up autonomy in their home sphere.
2. Create a company where people work to produce an interdependent village, which is economically autonomous of the larger economy. At work, give people autonomy within their sphere of expertise, but expect them to answer to a boss or committee. Successful companies already do this. So do reproductively successful communities like the Amish.

Without the feedback of competition, evolution cannot happen.
3. Expect a product from each individual and evaluate them based on milestones towards that product. Apply selective pressures based on evaluation. This is an instance of individuals effectively competing with themselves. In the case of the village, the product has to be something that people in the village want and that will contribute to greater independence from the global economy. The product needs to be evaluated also based on what inputs it needs to be produced, as far as whether those input can be produced by someone from the village, maybe in the future. Or whether the inputs to those inputs can be produced in the village.
4. Expect a product from the community (in this case a self-contained village as the final product, but intermediate products could be produced that would be able to compete in the global economy) and evaluate the whole village based on milestones towards that product. Apply selective pressures based on evaluation. This is an example of the community effectively competing with itself.
5. Allow for redundancy of individuals (or subgroups) on certain products, which allows for competition between those individuals. If the rest of the community favors one of the individuals, the other individual has the opportunity to adapt and maintain autonomy, collaborate with the other individual and lose some autonomy, or leave. This is an example of competition among individuals.
6. The evaluation and selection is not just selection for individuals and products, but of the group product (a self-sustaining village). At first the selection happens with the foresight and wisdom of a hierarchy which always selects at the lower levels. At some point, the group can open itself up to selection by the greater external social and ecological forces, at which point the hierarchy is no longer necessary.
7. Promote a culture of collaborative debate (as opposed to individuals competing), friendly critique, and relishing of different ideas and strategies, as long as people share the same long term vision.

Selection is always external, by an entity's environment. That environment can be controlled so that an internal environment is more conducive to some parts' thriving than the external one. If the parts are highly dependent on each other for survival, the selection becomes for parts that serve not just themselves, but the whole the group.

Who makes decisions? Those entities that select for the whole group, or parts of the group external to them. If the people (parts) need each other because they can get their needs met from each other, then decisions will be made for the good of the group, because the good of the group is equivalent to the good of the parts. The converse is also true: if the parts do not need each other because their needs can be met from the global economy (the case with most intentional communities), then decisions will be made for the good of the global economy, not for the good of the group unless the group (and the individuals in it) aligns with the global economy.

The important question is not so much who makes the decisions and whether a hierarchy exists or not, but are cooperation, care for the earth and happiness selected for? If we produce a group where people depend on each other in a direct and transparent way for their survival, cooperation should follow. If we produce a group that depends on the earth in a direct and transparent way for their survival, then care of the earth should follow. And both of these (cooperation/care for each other and care for the earth) would synergise with autonomy and the ability to pursue one's gifts without too many constraints (at least in the home sphere) to produce happiness. I hypothesize that in such an environment, despotic hierarchy won't flourish, though some form of hierarchy could.

More details: Until everything is produced in the village, people could buy from the global economy stuff that is not yet made in the village. But as soon as someone makes something they need, they commit to buying it from them, and the producer commits to negotiating price and taking feedback on the quality of service or good.


Monday, August 21, 2017

privilege as a Jungian shadow

The following thoughts are not intended to be mean spirited, or condemning of anyone. If you, dear reader, find yourself offended, please know that is not my intention. I see through my filters something I feel compelled to point out. If it doesn't resonate with you, then you could tell me why and we could come to a clearer picture of our common reality together.

Also, I'm not trying to MAKE someone feel guilty, as are many SJWs. My guess is that we all feel guilty at a subconscious level, not for things in the past that our ancestors may have done, but for things that are happening in the present, that we are complicit with, despite trying to do "good works". The question to ask is are these works going to make it possible for anybody who wishes to participate in our privilege, or do they just make us feel better and offer bandaids to some people?

The greatest privilege is not wealth, or being able to get certain high pay or high status jobs. It is being in charge of one's own time and having the resources to do something uplifting with it--not having to work a soul-draining job, or a back-breaking job, or having to answer to a boss. Being able to work on what one loves, as the spirit moves one. Or to just be and not do. It is the 1% who have this privilege, usually white, though asians might have higher average incomes.

Given our social nature and the fact that we evolved in small forager bands, we also have an innate sense of justice, or trying to distribute wealth to everyone in the band and not tolerate gross inequality in that distribution (though some inequality based on who produced or obtained the wealth, or experience can be tolerated). So if we ourselves are privileged in some ways that others are not, this privilege could be a shadow, only barely visible to our conscious minds. It might threaten us to know it is there and we might take all sorts of tactics to bury it deeper. Or we could confront it, shed light on it and integrate it into our psyche, possibly by creating the socio-economic-psychological conditions that remove the gross inequality from our social body.

What is a person who has this privilege to do? We could just enjoy the benefits and ignore it, but then we would be no better than all the privileged people throughout history who got murdered after the revolution for not caring about the 99%. Oftentimes a social shadow that is repressed comes out in violent ways.

We could try to justify our privilege by giving money to charities, in effect saying that we're helping others, but we are only helping them not starve, we are not helping them have the same privilege. There is an irony in that many of the people or earth served by charities are hurt by the ways the money which comes to the privileged is made. The shadow is not really brought to consciousness this way, but further repressed.


We could try giving up the privilege by working hard at a job in the system supporting our families, but that doesn't help anyone else, including ourselves, enjoy the privilege, with rare exceptions. We could try to justify it by saying that we are doing God's work trying to live more simply and sustainably, or providing hospitality. We could even deprive ourselves of many of the modern luxuries, consume much less than the average and experience some redemptive suffering. But that does not change the fact of our privilege and that most people don't have it and can't live like us either because they would lose their little measure of autonomy or because our pork barrel is not big enough to support too many others. We could change that by producing much more so that new people could live for a while on the fruits of our production and produce more themselves in a feed forward way. But most of us don't. We focus on how little we consume, while most people on the planet can't afford to consume so little. Those who are the customers of our hospitality are themselves mostly privileged. If not, they can only stay for a while and then go back to the real world. The shadow is still repressed.

We could share our privilege by sharing our land and houses in a way that does not give us control, but we know that doing so would just prove the republicans' claim that most non-privileged folks nowadays have feelings of entitlement, and given the opportunity, would take those resources for themselves and their families (or identity group) without wanting to pay it forward or participate in a productive economy rather than a pork barrel economy built on slaves (the rural "deplorables", the illegal immigrants and the factory workers out of sight out of mind) and non renewable resources. The attempted sharing might result in losing one's own wealth and privilege.

We could contort ourselves in all sorts of philosophical ways to justify a gross inequality and injustice (that we have time to live as we please, to teach yoga and permaculture, to take workshops, to take the time to bike to town, to not depend on a soul draining job away from home etc, while the 99% don't) by projecting the privilege shadow onto others. Some have earned that privilege by working within an unjust system that promotes inequality. Some have been born into it, and are passive recipients of wealth. Here are the philosophical contortions: we'll feed the homeless and the hungry, we'll visit the prisoners, but we won't work towards creating the conditions where the homeless and prisoners can feed themselves through their own efforts and contribute towards not only their own welfare, but the welfare of their communities. We'll confess to being privileged and oppressors, like those catholics who think the goal of confession is to feel better and look better to others around us rather than changing our behavior.  We say in effect: it's not us that's the problem because we confessed, or we are materially poor, or we feed the hungry and offer hospitality to the homeless. It's those white supremacists or those wealthy people or those republicans who are the real problem. Please oh christian masses, don't kill us with those oyster shells like you did with Hypatia. We are good--we live simply and sustainably. We show symbolic solidarity to the illegal immigrant meat packing factory workers who mysteriously prefer to work under inhumane conditions than join us on our homesteads, even if we truly wanted to share our homesteads (which we don't), even if we had enough money from our wealthy donor network to support all of them as well (which we don't). Maybe they WOULD join us if they could retain a measure of autonomy and wouldn't have to be our apprentices and depend on us financially, or if we created the conditions where we and they would not need money because we are all producing for each other what we previously had to buy from the system?

We have guilt buried in our subconscious which is coming out in putrid ways and causing us much suffering. We do not believe, as the Republicans and libertarians claim, in equal outcomes, we know people have different gifts. But we have a deep sense of justice and we know at some level (whether conscious or not) that the current system will never be able to provide justice, or even the holy grail of the Replibs: equal opportunity. Opportunity for what? Opportunity to rape the earth, waste our non-renewable resources, work at soul-numbing jobs (you think everyone can be an engineer, scientist, home-maker, yoga instructor, therapist, stay at home mom or dad or artist for sugar cubes?) We know that we are not working hard enough or at all to create an alternative, but are smug and comfortable in our eco-homes. We know that there is not enough concentrated, low entropy energy to support industrial civilization and to share our privilege within it with more than a small percentage of the population. And if we have kids, any energy that might have been used to create an alternative system is now being used to keep the kids happy, to keep us sane. Or we develop physical or mental illnesses that keep us in survival mode, with barely enough energy for ourselves. Now we are suffering as much as anyone, and we don't have to feel guilty anymore.We might support BLM or even Antifa to bury that guilt further.


But we also know that there has got to be a way to share the privilege of using our gifts to edify ourselves and our community, to have some autonomy and time to be and wonder and celebrate.

The only ethical thing I can think of is to work along the 99% in a way that brings the privilege to everyone who wants it. Not in the offices and factories and stores because doing so does not help create an alternative and bring the privilege of managing one's own time to others. But sharing one's privilege in a way that new people retain a measure of autonomy, and having enough resources to support them in a scalable way. There are several ways to accomplish this latter goal. One way is to have industries that employ people in worker-owned/managed coops, or facilitate (e.g. through gifts or loans) their own cottage industry. The industries would have to be such as to progress towards a world in which power and the means of production are decentralized and personalized, otherwise we end up with the gross inequalities we have now, but they would leverage the current wealth of the system.

Another way is to find some eccentric wealthy persons to heavily fund a research and development project for localizing technology and economy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Clintons and the legacy of Carrol Quigley

What is a civilization? This was part of what historian and political scientist Carrol Quigley was interested in answering in his book The Evolution of Civilizations, first published in the 1961. If a civilization is but a large group of people then what distinguishes one civilization from another? And why do civilizations rise and fall?
Quigley's first attempted definition of a civilization was a culture with a written language and cities. A culture is already something different than a group. It is a group that mostly interacts with itself. A civilization is a collection of cultures that can share geographic space without annihilating each other. Other things can be shared, such as social institutions: military, governing, religious, productive, financial, or distributive institutions.

Quigley made an interesting observation that helped him understand how civilizations rise and fall: social institutions have a built-in self-destruct mechanism. They start out as attempts to satisfy social needs (defense, coordination of activities, self-transcendence, productivity, the need to save energy and invest it in the future, and the need to trade goods and services), at which point Quigley calls them instruments. Then they inevitably seem to evolve into self-serving institutions, in which the original aims are forgotten, vested interests take over, and inertia and inability to adapt ensue.

The particular instrument that redefines and explains the rise and fall of civilizations is what Q called an instrument of expansion. A civilization is thus a culture with an instrument of expansion. It has 3 parts, according to Q:
1. Incentive for innovation
2. instrument to generate surplus
3. Ability to invest the surplus in innovation

The instrument invariably decays into a dysfunctional institution that no longer is able to provide expansion and if it can't be reformed or circumvented, conflict arises, which weakens the civilization, eventually enough to be successfully invaded by peripheral peoples or other civilizations. Out of the ashes a hybrid sometimes arises of the old civilization and the invaders, and if it can develop an instrument of expansion, the birth of a new civilization has occurred.

Now Q was not a devotee of the religion of Progress, which sees all history as going towards improvement in all areas. He understood tradeoffs, or the idea that progress in one area often leads to regress in another area. Q was part of the cyclical school of historians, which includes Vico, Spengler and Toynbee, who saw history and civilizations in terms of cycles. Q critiqued the previous cyclical historians for not finding causes for the observed cycles, which he claims to have done with the theory of the instrument of expansion.

But why must a civilization be able to expand in order to merit its name? Why isn't it sufficient, as many cultures have been able to do, to be sustainable? This is no small achievement, requiring many virtues of observation, communication, patience, delayed gratification, acceptance of outsiders and peacefulness. Isn't Q equating civilization with empire? He refers to non-civilized cultures (according to his definition of lacking an instrument of expansion), as parasitic, which he contrasts with productive. But here he betrays his own western cultural bias. To take from the land while not giving back in fertility, to reap benefits while externalizing costs, to use people in a one-sided way (for their petroleum, for their medicine, for their labor), to rob future generations of non-renewable resources, this is much closer to parasitism than cultures who can live sustainably. So in this Q would be admonished by Gandhi who said Civilization would be a great idea. But western civilization, and the empire civilizations that preceded it are not civilized in having the virtues above. They are rapacious empires which depend on expansion for survival.

What human need does expansion serve? Since there are plenty of cultures which are not empires and do not need or want to expand, there must be some other human need that expansion is a proxy for. Quigley suggests that there is a basic need for expansion and that the coincidental appearance of the 3 factors (see above and below) enables a culture to satisfy that need or not. This is hard to test because cultures that say they have no need to expand could be saying it because it is true, or because the 3 factors have not appeared and so they only think they don't have a need to expand. If it isn't expansion in itself, what is it that leads some cultures to expand while others have no such need? At this point it is useful to break down this so-called need into the constituent parts that Q found in order to understand it in more detail.
1. Incentive to innovate: this seems to be related to the human (and some animal) need for change. Too much routine leads to boredom. But too quick or too much change leads to insecurity and instability. These needs must be balanced. Note that though all humans need change, not all cultures provide an incentive for innovation. The need for change can be satisfied in other ways (e.g. travel or being in tune with the cycles of nature) other than innovations in economic organization or technological innovation.
2. The ability to generate surplus: for Q this entailed necessary wealth inequality, where some people have surplus at the expense of those who have to spend all their time surviving. Those with surplus can then use it to invest in innovation.
3. An ability to invest the surplus in more innovation.

Let's examine 2 and 3. The ability to generate surplus can happen from
A. technological means (e.g all the technology involved in domestication of animals and plants, grain, storeage of grain, meat preservation, etc.), from
B. economic organization (e.g. slaves, who generate surplus for their masters, or workers who generate surplus for capital owners, or specialization, or free trade, or distributist production), or from
C. working in harmony with nature, the supreme generator of surplus, but which we often waste or degrade with unwise ecological practices.

Note that Q only considers B. Moreover there is no necessity in investing surplus solely in innovation, except in capitalism where surplus gives rise to falling prices (abundance in capitalism causes scarcity for producers in a never ending cycle). It can also be invested in distributing the wealth equitably (not necessarily equally), in proportion to each person's contribution or costs, instead of the zero sum game that Q saw as the only choice. There can be such a thing as too much innovation, leading to insecurity and instability. Also, there can be a tradeoff between innovation and social wealth equity, dependent on how much of the surplus is invested in innovation and how much in wealth equity. In not seeing these tradeoffs Q has fallen prey to a Religion of Progress meme of neglecting tradeoffs.

On the other hand, in creating a new culture, there is a need to grow infrastructure and hence a need to generate surplus. This is ignored by people who see all growth as an abomination. Growth and the surplus necessary to sustain it are necessary in certain stages of organismal and cultural history. The problem is not growth per se, but perpetual growth, or unlimited growth on a finite planet. At some point growth must cease (but change must continue in other ways because it is a human need), but not before the new culture matures and builds its infrastructure.

Q saw 7 stages of every civilization, arising rom the mechanism of the institutionalization of the instrument of expansion:
1. Mixture
2. Gestation
3. Expansion
4. Conflict
5. Empire
6. Decay
7. Invasion.

We will not talk about these in detail but refer to 5-6 below.

These ideas are not just abstract, but have influenced Bill Clinton, who considered Q his most influential professors. Hillary Clinton is probably influenced by Bill Clinton's worldview and many neo-liberal thinkers are probably too. So it's a safe bet that the next president of the US, HRC is going to make all the same mistakes inherent in Q's distorted and erroneous worldview:
1. She will encourage more growth at the expense of wealth equity and environmental sustainability
2. She will encourage more high tech innovation, even if the innovation makes things worse.
3. She will not shy away from global conflict, believing that this will ease domestic conflict because it addresses the "need" for expansion, and also because the stage of Universal Empire is predicted by Q to follow the stage of conflict and to provide a peaceful (though temporary) resolution to the stage of conflict.
4. She will try to reform institutions of expansion so that they become better able to achieve their goals (in Q's terms, she will try to transform them back into instruments). These are banking, military and industrial institutions.
5. She will try to consolidate the American Empire against competitors such as Russia and China.
6. She will try to defend against the peripheral "barbarian", (fill-in-the blank) invaders, who signal the 7th, terminal stage of a civilization, and keep ours in the 5th (Universal Empire), or 6th (decay) stages. I wonder if the stage of decay gives her a historical stamp of approval for such maneuvers as election rigging.

In the next post I will examine how to understand certain of Qs insights from the point of view of evolutionary theory and fitness landscapes.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

comparison of cultures and breeds

There are a few differences, but the differences are not as important as the similarities  for understanding many things about cultures and breeds. Viruses are used as controls, to show bigger differences that matter for anything related to some of the topics of this blog. Interestingly, isolation if still important with viruses, but for different reasons.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

memetic isolation with culture genesis


Check out my article with Chris Congleton and Gil Ben-Moshe, based on our experience with intentional communities:

cultural isolation

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Progress or progress?

I feel like a renegade monk who has left his order or even his religion because of what he perceived as spiritual deficiencies, but who still has emotional ties and sympathies with that order, or at least the original spirit in which it was founded. The order I am talking about is the Religion of Progress, one of the most prevalent secular religions of our day, and yet one of which many of its adherents are not even conscious.

Besides searching my soul for alternative ways of looking at the world, I would like to have some rapprochement with the ROP, and in so doing create something akin to a reformation. I still resonate with the original intention of making life better for people. Unlike Luther who had 95 theses questioning the practices of the catholic church, I only have 4 theses, which I will summarize below and then go into more detail later:
1. The non-teleological nature of evolution
2. The recognition and study of tradeoffs
3. Measurement as a useful tool of limited validity
4. The long view of history

The non-teleological nature of evolution

Evolutionary biologists have realized already that biological evolution does not have any other goal besides reproduction. Sometimes certain traits produce better reproduction, but other times not. Certain traits work better for some species than for others. Sometimes and for some species such as our own, more complexity and higher levels of organization are better. Other times and for some species such as bacteria, less complexity and lower levels of organization are better. There is no goal of complexity in evolution.

The situation in social evolution is not as clear to most ROP devotees. Why the confusion in thinking that social evolution has a goal (e.g. more diversity, tolerance, equality, compassion, freedom, spiritual enlightenment, happiness, cars or what have you)? I think there is a confusion here between our values and evolution. The idea that something has a goal comes from us trying to optimize certain values and sometimes succeeding. But there is nothing inevitable about it or external to us and what we want, and nature or any transcendent aspect of it (e.g. God or Progress), is not obligated to give it to us.

That doesn't mean that our values are not important to us, as inspirations and heuristic strategies. It doesn't mean we don't try to optimize them and progress towards their realization. But it does mean we drop the capital P from Progress and think instead of how to progress towards our values.

It also means we don't confuse the local fitness optimum that history and we have chosen in our culture with a global optimum, or say that our fitness optimum is better than another culture, past or present. That is like saying that nematodes are better than bacteria, just because nematodes came later in evolution. We can't say nematodes are better because they are multi-cellular or have nuclei in their cells, because bacteria do quite well with single cells and no nuclei. We can't say we are better because we have internet and those poor "savages" only had face to face communication. We can't even say that more fitness is better, unless we agree that Might makes Right, that invasive species are good, and that invasive cultures like mainstream Islam or Evangelical Christianity are better than less invasive cultures like Judaism or Sufism, or monastic Christian orders that keep to themselves.

The recognition and study of tradeoffs

Second, we must recognize that nothing in nature shows perpetual growth. Things might grow for a while, but then either reach a steady state or decay, diminish, shrink or die. This includes organisms, species, civilizations, religions, technology, and ideologies. Why do quantifiable things not increase (or decrease) forever? There are 2 mathematical reasons:
1. The independent variable is a non-linear function of the dependent variable(s) and the second derivative goes negative. There is a point of diminishing returns, where more is not as better as it was before. Here is a cartoon of happiness as a non-linear function of hours spent at work.

2. Sometimes the previous case can be explained as follows: dependent variable is a weighted sum of other dependent variables, all of which depend on an independent variable. Whereas some of the dependent variables increase with the independent variable, some of them decrease. Here is a cartoon (the exact numbers are not meaningful, only the trend might be) of a model in which individual happiness is a sum of feelings of community and freedom. Feelings of community increase with increasing group rules (for a while, though we don't show their diminishing returns in this example), whereas feelings of individual freedom decrease with increasing group rules.


Here is the same idea applied to medical technology which gets better with more resources, and pollution/other environmental problems which get worse with more resources applied to technology.



And here it is again, this time applied to automation's effect on production efficiency, but at the expense of meaningful work, and ultimately happiness.

 
The following cartoon has a model of happiness that is the negative sum of socio-economic violence and direct physical violence. If we only look at direct physical violence, as Pinker did in his latest book (The Better Angels of Our Nature), we might think that things are improving for our species.


All of the preceding examples are calls for empirical research, to make the cartoons into actual graphs, to find the functional dependence of the various dependent attributes. The real world will be more complicated than these cartoons suggest, not just in the functional dependence of the attributes, but in their number, and in the number of independent variables. Surveys and other means of extracting data are needed. Numerical data analysis techniques are needed.

Even if Pinker is right in identifying the causes of decreasing physical violence (I don't know if he is, I will look at his data and decide), it would be wrong to conclude that we should pursue those causes, because those same causes could be increasing other forms of violence, or decreasing things we value like a connection with nature and each other.

Here are some more dependent attributes (in the form of questions) that need to be considered before rushing off in any direction where Progress blindly leads us:
Are we more empowered to make political decision? Are we feeling more connected to each other?  Are we able to share resources (what is happening to commons?) How many native cultures are getting destroyed?Is diversity decreasing?Is  topsoil lost?, Is pollution increasing? Ugliness, decreased health, flooding?, are we feeling more or less connected to nature?
Do we have a way to express our gifts in the world more or less? Are we more compassionate, intelligent, or just more literate? Are we more well-rounded?

You might have noticed in these cartoons that there is no single best way to add up the two conflicting attributes. In the examples above they were added with equal weights (both negative in the last example), but what or who determines those weights? They vary from individual to individual and society to society. Sometimes they are hardwired, and sometimes subject to individual, or societal choice. If they are hardwired then empirical research is needed to determine these coefficients. But if not, another approach is needed. Which brings us to the next point.

Measurement as a useful tool of limited validity

Not everything can be decided based on measurement. Some things are decided based on gut feelings, values, experience or non-numerical thinking.  Once we decide on relative values of various quantities, we can measure them in order to understand them better, and also try to optimize their weighted combined utility.
These might be called the descriptive and prescriptive functions of the empirical method.  In either of these cases measurement is useful as an input to optimization or satisficing (and satisficing can be shown to be a special case of optimizing a utility function so we won't refer to it further). But let's not forget that different people and different cultures will choose  (either consciously or not) different coefficients in their utility function. And sometimes we might reconsider our coefficients especially if we feel there is something wrong with our well-being, or the future well being of our descendants, or other cultures or species. Which brings us to our next point.

Taking the Long View

As we saw previously, the empirical method has a descriptive and a prescriptive function and we can easily mess up both of them. We can mess up the descriptive aspect if we only look at a small sample, for example in a time series. Here are some examples: If we only look at the 20th century, we would conclude that infinite growth in energy extraction is possible. We would need to look a bit further into the present, or use our foresight to extrapolate into the future, as some petroleum engineers have done to see that this is false, both empirically and logically (the latter because we only have a finite amount of petroleum or coal and there are diminishing returns in ease of extraction, and because solar is a much less concentrated form of energy, requiring more material resources than are available for continuing the trend of energy extraction based on petroleum and coal).





Same goes for economic growth, or the use and prevalence of reason and foresight. If we look more carefully into the present we will find diminishing returns for all these.




















And if we expand our view into the past, as the cartoon to the right shows, we might see something like cycles that have to do with the rise and fall of civilizations, which we missed due to our unfounded belief in constant growth (of what we think we like) or decline (of whatever we think we dislike).

We can mess up the prescriptive function of the empirical method, if we are wrong in our assessment of the coefficients going into a utility function, either because we made certain unwarranted and unconscious assumptions (like economic growth, technological growth and tolerance have the only non-zero coefficients), or because we do not understand our nature very well, then we will progress towards non optimal values of the utility function. In the case of happiness this means increasing misery. Here is a cartoon depiction of this for when one considers the only non-zero coefficient to be the one for production efficiency, vs. equal coefficients for production efficiency and meaningful work. In the first case one continues to increase automation (presumably until one feels miserable enough to stop), in the second case one stops increasing production efficiency at the sweet spot.
 
A special case of messing up on the prescriptive function of the empirical method is due to our nature to discount the future relative to the present, also known as addiction. Benefits in the present get a coefficient much greater than costs in the future.

We also tend to discount things that worked well in the past because we haven't experienced them and because they might be associated with other things that didn't work very well. But there is no logical connection between the medieval apprentice system and the medieval sanitation system. We can have the first without the second. This is maybe the converse of not seeing tradeoffs. Is it possible that we could adopt some of the things that worked better in the past, but still keep some of the things that work better now, assigning coefficients to each?

Here are attributes that I give higher coefficients than
1. high tech healthcare:
Will settle for midwives washing hands during childbirth, hygiene, family doctors, village craft-produced anti-biotics, early 20th century medicine, and eastern medicine. Lifespan should not be affected, and might actually increase, since most of the increase in lifespan is due to poor hygiene affecting early childhood and birth deaths, and environmental toxins and stress might decrease.
2. Internet and phone communication:
These are about satisfying the need for community, but this can be satisfied better if there is a physical community nearby.
3. Internal combustion engine transport:
Bicycles and horses. Possibly steam engines run by solar thermal.
4. Appliances that provide touch-button comfort:
I'd rather cut and split firewood than press a button to stay warm. Bake bread in a wood fired oven than a breadman. Plant trees for shade and have a pond nearby to dip in when it gets hot, rather than air conditioning.