Or, Heuristics for History. You know the drill; italics are my own editorial comments or summaries. Everything else is Vinay Gupta’s, and he wishes me to say that he likes being contradicted and argued with.
From the last couple of talks in this series: we understand the system and its limitations. Now, what can we do?
The formation of a political identity in a post-democratic age.
It’s blatantly obvious that democracy has failed, because there are serious problems that aren’t being solved. We have threats on two scales – civilisational and ontological.
About half of the people in the room grew up in the shadow of global nuclear war, the age of false rationality, game theory, death cults and MAD. And those death cults never went away. This is the forbidden history of Western Civilisation.
But there’s rational hope! We can fix the world in the small gap—20 years at the outside—between nuclear death and open-source bioweapons.
The military think of this as “increasing small group lethality” – how many people can two dozen competent, dedicated, well equipped people kill? The answer is in the billions.
The population of Israel is 5.5 million.
“We are within sight of the end of the causes of human conflict”. That is, the (socio)technology for fixing the big problems mostly exists; it needs to be properly tested and scaled up.
What we need is a combined socio-technical system WITH psychological transformation (“not a New Age but a New Us”), ie. a combination of government + engineers. Bad civil engineering is killing the world. We build what we want to, so the trick will be to want something else.
[We do, in fact, have everything we need to bribe the bad actors into not being bad actors—good food, good music, art, comfort, happy people around them. We just have to teach them to want it.]
The four causes of conflict: too little, too much, philosophical beliefs, and psychological traumas, eg. feuding. Poverty can be alleviated; resources can be rationally shared (violence inhibits rational sharing & polarizes people); and the harmful cultural associations that go along with religion can be unpicked from the religion itself. In fact, religions have been doing that a lot already. [I am not convinced about that part. That might be my Quaker background showing, though.]
“Star Trek is like Thelema for everyone.”
PTSD and cultural analogues are substantially curable by therapy, drugs (MDMA), and critical theory. (The Israeli military is dosing their troops up on Ecstasy to make sure they don’t get PTSD from everything they see & do. Israel also has a very thriving rave scene.)
Is the plan of eliminating the causes of conflict impossible, or just unreasonable? Islands of progress are very real.
The energy problem is looking much more solvable than it was 20 years ago. Nanosolar, Konarka, algal turf scrubbers. Renewable energy costs are going down by 7% a year, and by 2019 they’ll be cheaper than coal. [Not convinced all the externalities are included in that price estimate. The energy sector is the worst non-black entity there is for fudging prices and distorting markets.]
The Technological Abyss: that which saves, destroys. There’s almost no global technological regulation. Can we get out of it? – yes!
Recap: inequitable resource distribution, ineffective governance. So, it’s not worth engaging in democracy any longer except as a maintenance activity – 15 minutes every 4 years and that’s it.
Fixing organisations: use a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) model. Let a thousand flowers bloom, prune where needed, compost the dead. The classic capital-investment/directed-labour model of building assets is manifestly inadequate, because there is no possible way that any amount of money could ever have been turned into Wikipedia.
These organisations use non-scarce resources; they’re organic, evolutionary, and bottom-up. They’re labour-intensive, using many minds, with layers of open-source oversight, and inherently resistant to screwups.
How do we apply the FOSS/WP model to governance? – it’ll probably only work for non-scarce resources.
Can we fix scarcity problems with non-scarce resources? History says yes, because there are a lot of occasions where it’s been done—eg. the horse collar, the plough.
Ingenuity is not scarce. (However, the ability to manage it is.)
Imagine a global policy wiki – a global intellectual commons in which smart people work for free, collecting and showcasing best practice in legislation and policymaking for everyone’s use. When lazy policymakers, or their assistants, want a solution to a problem? – check the wiki, cut and paste. Make it easy and obvious and it will get used.
A coordinated sustainable development commons: a roadmap for lifting people out of poverty, governance strategies for very big planetary assets.
The world is full of working solutions and best practices. Most of them aren’t documented. [Known problem: people who Do Stuff generally hate documenting Stuff, and are not very good at it. Also, the kind of things that get documented on the internet are the kind of things that the people who document stuff on the internet like.]
Doing what Governments can’t.
– Pathological incentives exist at every level.
– Every funding stream is contaminated.
– There is no state which is charged with solving global problems. The total UN budget is one-third of what Indians send home to India.
Commons-based peer production.
“If you want to save the world, be prepared to work for free” – because there is no entity whose job it is to pay you to do it.
Complexity control: the people who are good at this are generally engineers. Sciences, arts, and that’s it.
“Richard Stallman is the old white man in a beard that makes the world work.” GNU/Linux is more than free.
Governments are not malicious—they are incompetent. It’s at least a scale problem – there are a number of different pathologies involved. And most people within governments know this, and will grab at any branch they’re offered.
Superempowerment, or, How to become an Actor in History.
1. Focus on the problem.
2. Do not expect to get paid.
3. Work until it is solved. [And we all know what the reward for a job well done is…]
Also: don’t fart around solving local problems. We need you at the global level. [Hm. Not sure about this one. Some people are better suited to local problems… but then a lot of local solutions are scalable and/or generalisable. Think globally, prototype locally?]
– Our power and agency are inalienable, despite having historically delegated them to governments.
– Our current forms of collective social organisation are inadequate to the challenges of now.
– Diabolical new technology requires new forms of management.
Radical new identity:
– build a platform on top of the state. Rebuild collectives as individuals.
Fighting the thing that caused the problem—or the thing that is failing to solve the problem—is not the same as solving the problem.
Wikiocracy. A governance model which clearly gets decision-making right will outperform lawmakers.
The social relationship online favours (and makes easy) collaboration: it’s a positively biased medium. “Nobody’s ever died in a flame war.” [Wrong. The internet has directly enabled many deaths, eg. from cyber-bullying, and a great deal of dangerous harassment. See “highly gendered internet” debate, passim.]
Cooperate with your enemies. Take individual responsibility. Guide the lost. Preserve and protect (eg. from enclosure – CC or GFDL, &c.) Wait for rollover, and keep working. (Rollover: something dramatic is going to happen to the concept & constitution of the state within the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.)
– We’re going to solve the problem, rather than make other people solve the problem.
– Who cares about people who are wrong? Stop arguing with them.
– Embrace and extend old mediums.
– Only individuals can reconstitute.
Practical things: correct language (define every we, so we know who is talking); correct thought (stop waiting for the government to fix things); correct action (work out who can solve the problem, and help them).
If the answer to the last question is “nobody”: then it’s your turn.
Learn to unsee the State and the Organisations.
A few interesting & miscellaneous things that came up in conversation afterwards:
- NESTA: Alliance for Useful Evidence
- Liberate Wednesday / World Design Wednesday (we should have a hashtag for that Edit: the hashtag is #freeweds])
- Writings on open source Druidry, poetic inspiration and other forms of Awen, and related concepts.