Monday, April 16, 2012

Luddite Manhattan Project, first stage

Here is an appeal to a programmer at Dancing Rabbit ecovillage regarding an initial step in the implementation of this bigger project full proposal. There are 3 motivations for this project:
1. A better relationship between people and their natural environment (ecology)
2. A better relationship between people (community/sociology)
3. A better relationship between people and their gifts (economics).

The basic ideas go back to Gandhi and  Peter Maurin, but here I propose to tackle the technological part of the problem, which I believe will enable the ecological, sociological and economic goals above, perhaps with some other ingredients which are not part of the project. The project has a Luddite bias towards technology, or in other words it assumes that industrial technology is not serving the goals above and that other ways of producing goods and services that have worked in the past might work again, perhaps with appropriate modifications.The project is for using whatever technological means, including the fruits of industrial production to figure out better ways.

What I have in mind is a sort of “SimVillage” that might eventually
evolve into a network of villages. It is a game, but also a serious
attempt to figure out how to do things sanely and sustainably “in
silico” and hopefully followed by real life attempts. The way DR is
doing it is one possibility on the road to sanity and sustainability.
It may take a long time (and we may not have a long time), and this
project might be a way to speed it up, to do some of the evolutionary
process in silico instead of in real life. Another difference I
envision between this simulation and DR is that there will be a
constraint of locality: until the village is sustainable, no exchange
is allowed with the rest of the economic world,(though there are
initial tools and materials allowed). The reason for this is
threefold: first, once you allow commerce with the global economy, you
have to simulate the global economy (if you want to ensure
sustainability), which is too hard. Second, it makes it honest, as
there is no way to hide unsustainable practices in externalities.
Third, there are evolutionary reasons to believe that new
species/cultures such as homo sustainabilis need some degree of
reproductive (or memetic in case of cultures) isolation in order not
to be swamped by genes or memes from the mainstream species or culture
from which they arise: memetic boundaries. I supposed it is possible that only very large
villages are sustainable, like the whole earth. But this would be an
output, not an assumption.

Here are some more details: There will be different possible
locations, each with their natural resources. Junkyards are allowed to
be part of a village. There will be players comprising the village, or
just one master player who can choose how to populate the village with
different characters/producer-consumers and make other decisions.
There will be three areas that are kept track of as far as needs that
have to be satisfied to win the game (there are global needs-that are
not specific to any one individual, and local needs-that are specific
to individuals):

1. Ecological--Is the soil replenished of nutrients, is the land, air
and water kept clean, is diversity maintained? How much soil is being

2. Technological--All materials, energy and tools have to be
maintained and manufactured on-site (with the initial conditions
exception mentioned above). A network of local needs, both satisfied
and not yet satisfied are constructed by the players. For example the
blacksmith needs iron or steel (and coal and other materials) to
satisfy the tool needs of the farmers and other players. The cooks
need cooking tools and stoves, etc. Each player satisfies some local
and/or global needs, has some local and is part of global needs.

3. Physical Human--Nutritional needs (calories, vitamins, minerals,
protein), shelter, clothes, clean water, sanitation/”waste” recycling,
short-distance transportation, medicine. These can be assumed to be
global needs at first, for simplicity. Each time a new player joins,
the program has to increase the global needs. How many people are

Two more areas could be added in an advanced version:

4. Psychological Human--a diversity of cultural activities such as
song, dance, music, learning, communion with other beings contribute
to global psychological health. Stability and opportunity for change
can be quantified. Meaningful work can be quantified.

5. Economic--how are goods and services flowing. There could be
several standard scenarios such as a gift economy, free trade, or
socialism. But other scenarios could be devised by the players
themselves. Each player could choose how much he wants to work and how
he wants to exchange goods and services with the rest of the players.
There aren’t any economic needs (unless the need to trade is a real
need, which could be simulated), but the way the economy works
interacts with all the other areas.

These 5 areas interact, as already mentioned above. As in some
technology contributes more to mental health than other technology
(e.g. a complex craft is better than being a cog in a factory).  Using
coal to produce electricity pollutes more than using sunlight
(assuming either the solar panels and infrastructure can be maintained
indefinitely or produced on-site with little pollution).

So the outputs would be:

1. A network diagram showing the flow of goods and services

2. The number of people needed

3. The land area needed.

4. The initial inputs needed to win.


  1. Interesting, I'd like to play your game.

    Important things to consider are:

    real life villages and city-states, be they primitive, ultra-modern, or inbetween (as well as small countries like Monaco or Taiwan).

    Video games vaguely similar to what you propose, such as tropico, and the sim games (sim-earth, sim-city, the sims). Alpha Centauri is an excellent game which discusses these issues albeit not on earth.

    Excluding trade and avoiding technology will be impractical IMO, but not impossible. I often point to the Amish and the San Bushmen as examples of successful, sustainable cultures. Monaco and Taiwan, Switzerland and Hong Kong also deserve a great deal of attention.

  2. Jack, thanks for bringing these video games to my attention. I will research them. I also was going to look into contacting the MineCraft programmers. I have heard of the "sim" games and in fact have tried to contact their creator, Will Wright, but he never got back to me (I'm sure he's swamped with people trying to reach him). I need programmers of his caliber, but I don't have enough money to pay them.

    Excluding external trade is only a first step, to keep things simple and be able to account for inputs and outputs more easily (but internal trade has to be accounted for). However, I don't know why you got the idea that I want to avoid technology. No, the idea is to LOCALIZE technology, not avoid it. Most of the work involves networking, since pre-industrial technology was mostly local, but now all the crafts go through the global economy. There will be some missing technological links which will need to be invented and there will be some more modern technologies.

    I am not aware of any current real life villages or city states which are local in their technology, including the amish. The amish I know are completely dependent on the global economy, and its abuses, though they are out of sight, out of mind, as with all of us (not even that, actually, the sleaziness is getting more and more in their face). Also, I hope that we can do better than the amish as far as being able to have the time and resources for monastic contemplation, sports, art, music, games, defense, literature and scholarship. The amish only have some of these in their youth.

    Do you know any game programmers who could help with this? Do you have any idea how to raise money to pay them and the players?