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 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.

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