A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No One’s Slave

What is left out of the discussion of private property and the commons, and is vital to it, is what I call Contribution to the Infrastructure of Good Order.  Those who can only see taxation or other community based appropriation or redistribution as having to be returned to them “dollar for dollar” will have trouble with this idea, but it is ‘bigger than the both of us.’  Such taxation and redistribution is better seen not as giving “what’s mine” to someone else, but as compensating for the infrastructure of good order without which we could not live.

Much of the basis of our positions need to come not from the “logic of economics”, but from a personal ability to empathize with others; this is not some ‘soft headed’ value to be spurned by realists. It is a natural human process that lets us ‘see’ relationships that are not so obvious when we narrow our view to self-interest only.  Those who do not or cannot see the needs and suffering of others as having anything to do with themselves, again, will have trouble with this argument.

It is easy, and is standard economics, to see the world in our present zeitgeist as money based and politically directed.  It is difficult and foreign to typical thought to see the world and its humans as part of an ecosystem with all the forces, exchanges, compensations and activities, all biophysical, completely integrated into one motion.  In this view, capitalism, socialism, communism are but methods of organizing resource distribution and not religions. (I refer here to real commune-ism, not Soviet Communism which had more in common with the authoritarian distortions of American ideological “conservatism” than Marxism)

What will happen to us as a species is really out of our hands (as it has always been for all other species) so long as we do not regard our relationship with the earth as primary. We must use our consciousness tool with wisdom to integrate our capacities, not solely as a weapon in battle with the earth.  All the rest is detail; in this case the Devil is in the overall.

We are at the point of needing to decide if human life has any general value (other than as a tool in political trouble making).  This question underlies many of the differences that I see among different political and economic ideologies.  If human life does matter, then we will have to redistribute the incredible concentrations of wealth currently held in “private hands” (with our best people and best efforts figuring out how to do that) realizing that it is natural for unregulated systems to concentrate….

Living systems are regulated systems and have as part of their essential design, processes for distributing concentrations of all manner of materials.  Living and cultural infrastructure is supported by compensating, a process of redistribution, all that are a part of it. 

If the consequence of our actions is that human life does not matter, then be prepared, if you are young, to be part of a great ‘readjustment,’ both economic and biologic, of unprecedented intensity.  The great struggles will be ultimately among those who have concentrated the greatest amounts of wealth.  The earth’s billions of humans will create concerns not about how to educate or feed or care for them, but about how to dispose of so many bodies.

The decision is not one to be made by kings, legislatures, presidents, CEOs or priests.  If we do not value ourselves enough to demand that the decision is our own, then the decision is already made.  If we will not fight for our inalienable  species’ biological givens, and first and most assiduously fight against our own accumulated distortions of idea, value and belief, then the decision is already made.  

Our progenitors entered every day with the joy and agony of taking on the struggles of the day.  Every moment was an opportunity to apply a skill, to learn a new one, to express directly some special species capacity as a tool for survival.  I ‘vote’ with them for 4 billion years of biological lineage on the only planet in the whole universe that is certain to house the living state.  We must see that the detail of human economics is finally a lie and a distraction when it denies the living basis of our existence.  

We are at one of those moments when monumental consequences mature from simple acts.  Decide to be your own master and no one’s slave.  And express that decision by fully discovering the meaning of it.  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

T-Rex in the Living Room

There is an elephant, no a T-Rex, in the living room where we are talking about the current financial crisis.  It seems as though there are two basic, and incompatible, goals being pursued: the economic elite is trying to wrap up their business of unprotecting middle class wealth and sucking it into their own coffers using the tax system – even as the financial system is going into a tailspin – and the rest of the active players are desperately trying to find the buttons to push that will return to the growth economics that we have been absolutely devoted to as the only possible way to proceed.  The T-Rex in the room?  Economic growth is a failed model that is nearing its end.  There must be a new ecologically sustainable model for economic order.  

The present events are ultimately not about interest rates, credit liquidity, money supplies, reserve currencies, upside down mortgages, and all the other accouterments of collapse.  We are hitting a wall.  Our efforts are devoted to resuscitating a failed economics and continuing to act in self-defeating and destructive ways.

The end of growth is staring back at us from the foggy future.  This economic failure is the direct result of there being fewer and fewer ways to continue to grow economies, so the economy's parts are beginning to eat each other.  Capitalism exacerbates this process, but it would happen in any economic system.  Capital (in any system) looks for places to go so as to either gain in value or to, at least, rest and not lose value.  There are no more empty continents.  We will not be able to use Mars or the Moon as new centers of growth. 

The world is full of people.  There are no places left to increase into.  Every spreading of the human foot print now is a destruction of the planet’s potential.  For thousands of years the ‘equal and opposite reaction’ was small and generally, if not locally, benign. No more.  Small actions now multiple into major consequences.  The earth felt it not at all when a million people ‘jumped in unison,’ but when a billion jump, when 6 billion jump, we all, from bacteria to elephants, feel the shaking. 

This is an economic reality.  Ignoring it, as do economists, is like doctors ignoring germ theory 200 years ago.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

“Entrepreneurs! We Don’ Need No Stinkin’ Entrepreneurs”

(reprised from 2004 web site)

Follow along with me for a moment.  An entrepreneur is understood to be a person who looks at a social/economic situation and finds untapped opportunity -- some different way of doing something, creates a "product" that either meets a need or creates its own need, or refashions some existing product or service provocatively.  Not only does this person "create" the opportunity, but also, by force of will, puts the changes into practice.  This is done largely for two reasons: for gain and for some species of personal need for action and "success."  (Society’s standards guide, but do not control these sorts of people, they tend, because a significant part of their need is personal and "success" is so narrowly defined in our society, often to be pushing the elements of legal and acceptable behavior -- some are even criminals.)

In pragmatic terms entrepreneurs can be thought of as those people who drive the changes in society, who ‘up the ante,’ add products, increase material and energy use, increase demand, etc.  There is no place for their style and needs in a stable system; the system for them must be in flux, it must not have inhibitions to change that stand in their way -- even if the inhibitions are the source of social stability, general well-being and personal happiness of the many.

I propose that humans as a species are essentially entrepreneurial, that is, humans are always seeking to find a ‘new way’ and that part of the personal need of the present-day entrepreneur is a native human need to action -- a sort of fidgety quality (for that reason, I seriously propose to rename our species: Homo sapiens changed to Homo animos: we are more bold and arrogant than wise).

Much of our cultural design over our relatively brief history has been devoted to slowing and directing the powerful human tendency and capacity to change things.  Cultural stabilizing devices, limitations on energy sources available and the time that had to be devoted to maintaining the necessities of life using only a small toolkit all created change rates slower than human generations.

Today is different: our present cultural and economic artifice is organized around beliefs arising from an essentially unguided history of energy source and technological growth.  We have constantly been torn between getting everything we wanted and keeping the world around us the same.  In fact, the driving force for change has always been the total effort to stay the same (this is a very biological or evolutionary idea) -- until Homo animos.  The active pursuit of change creates a very different dynamic.  As we have experienced increasing rates of change, increasingly there are those who have counseled for caution; today especially, they have been marginalized as lunatic. 

The power of change creates a ripple throughout the relevant systems, leaving perturbations that can be focal points of new changes which ripple throughout the relevant systems.  In the calculus of advantage, an animal like Homo animos recognizes, with his relatively blunt consciousness instrument, a narrow and immediate personal or group gain in an action.  Obtaining that gain begins a new cascade of effects:

The sharpened stone rippled across the earth with adaptations and extinctions; creating human lice, removing cave bears and setting humans on the path of geometric population explosion -- among millions of other consequences great and small.  Then came the plow, the wheel, water power, steam power, electric power, nuclear power: all from the sharpened stone, and each driving the ripple of change further and faster; each moment, each movement mediated by that little, often hardly significant, recognizable advantage peaking out of a universe of unrecognized consequences: such has been "forever" the argument of those who counseled caution, an argument drowned out in the clamor of Homo animos looking for the lever and the fulcrum for the next tiny advantage in what is now a raging sea of ripples, denying even the most perceptive and studious a glimpse of untroubled waters.

We don't need more entrepreneurs; we need the counselors of caution to be resurgent by a force of will, driven from a desire to survive, driven to rise up from the backwaters, from the insane asylums, from the dusty library stacks and in an increasingly harmonious voice singing out, "enough is enough" -- the classic tautology of unacceptable surplus -- singing out with the narcotic voice of the Sirens, "We are changing ourselves to death; we are growing the world to death; we cannot kill off the world and remain ourselves."  Ultimately the little gains echo back as major losses; it is the law of the universe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Conspiracy vs Patterns of Interest

A controlling agency establishes a condition, passes a law or sets principle in design (new inventions, taxes changed, some new bureaucratic procedure).  Patterns of interest develop in the affected population that can appear to be a consequence of a communicated plan.

We watch all gas stations change prices from day to day by exactly the same amounts.  It looks to us outside of this pattern of interest like an email is going out or phone calls are being made.  But gas retailers have learned that people will not change their buying habits and locations for a few pennies difference, so that it does them no good to lower their price by a few cents: they sell the same amount of gas and only make less money.  By simply responding to their suppliers price and matching price of a couple other stations all stations will have the same price within an hour or two of any change. 

The result is that the highest price the sellers think they can get away with gets uniformly applied in the market without any conspiracy.  If consumers responded to a few pennies difference at a sufficient level, a new pattern of interest would develop.

The world is filled with patterns of interest that, to those observing, seem to be conspiracies.  This can be seen from the behavior of lions looked at from the point of view of zebras: the lions have evolved instincts that support behaviors and learnings that organize group behavior.  From the zebras’ view the lions are approaching them with a plan.  It is, of course, true, but a plan arrived at by the forces of interest mediated by the living system of order, not a conspiracy.

There are, of course, conspiracies.  In 1970, as a young faculty member, I was part of closing down a college after the Kent State and Jackson State killings, and creating a 3 week “teach-in” that looked at the current state of politics in the country.  To accomplish this required a conspiracy in fact, but was only allowed by a much larger “conspiracy” of interest. 

And, I believe we are witnessing a definite political conspiracy, a hidden agenda maintained and motivated by a few powerful individuals spread through government and the business community, to position themselves and their associates to extract wealth that has been protected by regulation and “normal” business practice.  In this process a much larger pattern of interest has formed to raid all the wealth that the new forms of practice allows.  This would be completely expected by those in the administration who understood what they are doing; expected and approved of both as cover for their own thievery and as part of the ideological agenda of weakening the support of government for the people – to make government an instrument for the control and subjugation of the people, not a tool of the people for the pursuit of their benefit.

Conspiracy has been and is common in human action: A few people get together, form a plan and implement it.  Patterns of interest are just as common: A general condition is recognized by many people who respond to it in similar ways.  It may be politically and socially useful for, especially, real conspiracies to muddy the waters by claiming that those who see and point out slimy behavior are foolish and crazy.  Therefore, it is up to as many of us as possible to understand these distinctions and keep them in the public discussion.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Universe and Us

There are only two reasonable explanations: either there are infinite universes or some designer with essentially infinite processing capacity ordered up this one.  Neither “explanation” deals with the infinite regression to first causes, but the former is fundamentally the more parsimonious and agrees with at least the behavior of this universe as we presently understand it.

Further, time must either not exist outside of a construction like our universe or what we recognize as time has very different properties outside of our universe.

Aside from some rather odd assertions, it is pretty clear that we and something that we comprehend as the universe exist.  The implication of this is that we are somewhere.  In human logical terms that would mean that there is a somewhere else.  This ‘here and there’ idea is clearly not so simple, but still has powerful appeal. 

We are limited in language to existing words, or at least conceptions that can be generated by those words in combination.  And so, when using space and time I can only be referring to the way such things manifest in my very local experience.  All the suggestions of cosmology are that our human personal perceptions are woefully inadequate.  It is the most likely case that time and space are peculiar to the universe that spawned us.  There is apparently no reason to assume that another universe would have any qualities similar to this one.  All of our old standbys, atomic structure and matter, fundamental forces, duration, distance, mechanics none of them would have to be or be of a similar form in another universe.

We will most likely never be able to empirically demonstrate these conjectures.  The energies that we can generate may get some speck of matter (whatever that is) to conditions resembling the first instants of this universe (whatever that means), but it is exceedingly unlikely that we will command energies that can take us out of this one into another.  But we can guess that it would be the ultimate in foreign travel, and, of course, another universe would most likely be totally disruptive of any organization not its own.  Perhaps we might think of such an intrusion to be a little (a tiny tiny little) like sprinkling water onto a red hot fry pan.

I am thankful for these little exercises in escape from thinking about how our species is driven by its own adaptations to the destruction of the thin film of living space on our little out-of-the-way planet.  I continue to hope that in these flights of fancy something will come to mind (the very human mind) from the fine print of our deal with the universe that might help lead the way to a return to ecological balance.  Nothing serious to report yet.

Capitalism Without Rules

What would capitalism without rules look like?  What “invisible hand” guides capitalism’s actions and to what result? 

There is an invisible hand guiding the physical world to all the forms and processes of our “world.”  It is in the laws that control the rates, that set the proportional relations of various forces.  But this fundamental reality is only metaphor for other “invisible hands” in evolution, social relations or economics.  Appeal to invisible hands in these situations are no more than the failure to illuminate the designs of process. 

The appeal of capitalism exists largely in its making acceptable the concentration of wealth and in its religion-like faith in a common, generally negative human attribute as a positive guiding principle: human greed.  Capitalism is a social and economic design that gives great freedom to the most greedy.  Greed and wealth concentration are intellectually supported under the argument that the invisible hand of greed will design the best possible distribution of wealth based on the most efficient use of resources.  And it denies that humans have the power, or should have the power, to control wealth and resources.  

This ‘leave it to the market’ argument overtly suggests that we should not trust other people to control the process of wealth distribution while hiding the fact that the very most acquisitive and ruthless of us are doing exactly that under the cover of ‘the market.’  Trillions of dollars of wealth have been taken by the tax and credit system over the last 8 years (and for many years before) and “redistributed” to the economic elite, a polite term for the greedy sociopaths at the core of these economic actions.  This is being done primarily with war, the healthcare (sic) system and the credit system.  

The “bailout” of Wall Street is not a bailout at all.  Embezzling is slow. To get big bucks in a hurry requires a robbery and a robbery requires the hold-up note.  All the planning can be done in secret, but with a robbery there comes the moment when intentions must be made clear: “Fill this bag. I have a gun in my pocket.”  We have just been through such a moment, with the note written in all capitalism, so most people missed its true meaning. 

“Fill this bag. If you don’t your lives will be ruined and children’s lives will be ruined”  In capitalism the note reads: “The Market has been damaged by excessive attempts of foolish people to regulate it and so trillions of dollars must be given to the managers who are guided by the True Invisible Hand to save us from a great depression, social unrest and civil war.”

What this boils down to is that capitalism, as an economic process, seeks to remove the rules that guide economic behavior, and as economic capitalism melds into political capitalism, what ever form of governance was in place is replaced with fascism.  This has been the major movement of historical process in competition with democratization.  Global corporations have championed democracy as a way to gain deep power in government, to take control of taxation, reduce political restraints from popular autocrats and manipulate political process.

Capitalism restrained by democratic socialism, capitalism used as resource distributing economic device and not as a religion is a functional design.  But it is a little like having a gorilla guarding your house; he might at any moment realize his power to take over the whole place. 

This is what has happened and, I fear, that we will see the full effect of capitalism without rules for the next many years.  It will look a lot like other times in history when the powerful separate from and dominate the great middle by reducing them to servitude.  Only this time we are facing an ecological end of track.  How the elite will handle this reality as it manifests more and more clearly will, I suspect, not be pretty.