Thinkers lecture 2014 ‘money: its failure and its future’ (part two)

THINKERS LECTURE 2014 ‘MONEY: ITS FAILURE AND ITS FUTURE (PART TWO)

INTRODUCTION
In the last lecture, I talked about how the West may well be in the age of decadence, and devoted much of the talk in explaining how financial and monetary systems have been manipulated over the centuries to bring about unfair distributions of wealth. That lecture was, I have to admit, largely pessimistic in tone. So, I think it is time to change the mood. In the last lecture I said that we could consider our age of decadence as a reason for hope: we stand on the cusp of change. The old, failing systems will be replaced and a new civilization with arise, one that is better placed to enable transhumanist dreams of individual excellence and social well-being. What would money be like in a next-gen civilization?

THERE WILL BE MONEY
A fairly common assumption among transhumanists is that, in the future, there will be no money. The thinking behind this assumption is that the current system demands endless growth and a neverending search for higher efficiency from the workforce. Human beings are limited in how much mental and physical work they can do, and those limitations encourage R+D in automated manufacturing and AI. Transhumanists by and large take it as given that one day artificial intelligence will be smart enough to be relied on to do absolutely anything needed to keep the economy going. It is also assumed that robots could be designed to want to work for free. They would toil away, twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week, never taking a holiday, never expecting any pay. There would be no wages and everything would be free.

Now, I can definitely see AI and robotics squeezing humans out of the job market, if AGI is realized. And I hope it is, because I believe that humans have better things to do than be components in some process for no reason other than the pressures that force one to volunteer for wage slavery. And I do rather like the idea of everything being free. Wouldn’t it be nice to go on Amazon and be able to order anything from a pencil to a luxury private jet, and not have to pay for any of it?

Well, yes, it is nice but perhaps not all that realistic. I do not believe money will disappear, because it serves more purposes than just paying wages. It is (or can be) a useful tool for allocating resources, helpful in calculating the right quantity of a product so as to match preferences of consumers with the activities of producers. Money helps facilitate the processes by which natural resources are converted into the things we need and the things we want. Even if we one day have robots running the economy, it is still an economy. That means the robots would have to do the same kind of calculations that drive resource allocation and matching of supply with demand that money is designed to facilitate.

BUT WHAT KIND OF MONEY?
So, there will be money in the future. But not simply more money (which would just mean more debt if we are talking about a debt-based fiat currency) but rather more kinds of money. These new types of currency would have functions designed to promote those psychological traits that would encourage societies to develop in positive directions. Now, obviously, ‘the best possiblle society’ is somewhat subjective but I do think it is possible to sketch out the conditions for a positive society that most sensible people would agree stand a good chance of encouraging social cohesion and individual excellence. In a market economy we have competitors, and that means winners and losers. But what kinds of winners and losers should we hope for?

WINNERS.

Ideally, success in the marketplace would be none-zero sum. In other words, your ‘win’ as an individual or company should have a positive outcome for society as a whole. The most obvious way to achieve that would result would be if monetary and financial systems were focused not on making money out of money (which, as explained in the last lecture, actually entails inventing ways of extracting wealth from those who contribute to the real economy and giving it to those who gamble in a global virtual casino) but rather on productive enterprise: Producing goods and services that make people’s lives better in some way. What would also help bring that kind of market about would be effective matching of supply and demand, using natural resources as efficiently as possible, and removal of all barriers to entrepreneurship.

LOSERS

There will inevitably be losers. After all, people have varying skill levels; some get lucky breaks and others do not, and not all products and services will strike a chord with the general public. But what should losing mean? Being a loser in a hypercompetitive society can be pretty dire: A slide into economic exclusion, homelessness and despair. Under such circumstances, losing seems like a punishment. But it need not be so. There is an old saying: ‘we learn from our mistakes’. What that saying tells us is that losing can be an opportunity, a way of educating ourselves through experience. The best way to change ‘losing as punishment’ into ‘losing as learning’ would be to have social safety nets in place which would prevent people from falling so far that they have little hope of clawing their way back. Does that necessarily have to be safety nets enforced by government, taking money from those who succeed in life so as to provide support for those who don’t? I do not think so. In a more altruistic, collaboratively orientated society, I would expect people to have a more charitable outlook. There would be a fairer and more just view that some resources should be considered the common heritage of all citizens, not the private posession of a minority. Could it be that, one day, would-be winners strive to be rewarded with the admiration of their peers and the veneration of society, but consider mere material wealth to be something people should have roughly equal access to? If the world were not so agressively competitive, I do not see why not.

COMPETITORS

If you are trying to capture a corner of the market, you can be sure that there are competitors trying to achieve the same goal. How should you view these rivals? As deadly foes who you need to destroy by any means you can get away with? That attitude does not seem conducive to the development of greater social cohesion to me.

Instead, why not view your rivals as collaborators who are exploring alternative ways of achieving whatever result your own product or service is intended to achieve? I know of at least one entrepreneur who has that kind of attitude. As most of you doubtless know, Palmer Luckey is the founder of the company Occulus VR, which hopes to bring to market a VR-headset. A common device in science fiction, VR headsets never really took off as a viable consumer device and were relegated to expensive setups for military use and other organizations with very deep pockets. But then Palmer Luckey assembled a prototype VR headset which provided proof of principle that an effective headset could be produced, and for a cost that made it suitable for a mass-market demographic.

Needless to say, by revitalizing the possibility of decent and affordable VR headsets, Occulus inevitably found itself one player in a market of competitors out to capture the same corner of the market. There are now at least ten rival headsets in development, from kickstarter-backed products to ones in development by electronics giants such as Sony.

But rather than view those rivals as foes to be destroyed at all costs, Luckey considers them useful allies. It only adds to the evidence that VR can be a viable mass market product if many rival companies- including big names in home entertainment- are also trying to bring such products to market. Do not get me wrong, I am sure Occulus VR want to be number one. But the greater good is the successful development of commercial VR. So Luckey considers those rival headset manufacturers as competitors for the number one slot, but also as collaborators in the meta-goal of finally bringing mass-market VR out of sci-fi and into reality.

In a marketplace that emphasised non-zero sum results and social support and decent standards of living for all people, I would expect more companies to have Occulus VR’s attitude to their rivals: Not foes, but collaborators exploring alternative paths to the same desired end.

DON’T BE ROBIN HOOD
How to rearrange our financial and monetary systems to achieve this outcome? Some people think the answer is to do what Robin Hood did, which is to take from the rich and give to the poor. But that kind of wealth redistribution was more justified in Robin Hood’s day because England at that time operated under a feudal system. In feudal economics, the rich get richer by expropriating property and forcing people into servitude. In a market-based economy, though, people can become wealthy by producing goods and services that many people find improve and enrich their lives in some way. Arguably, the money thus aquired is better left in the hands of such people, where it may be invested in further products and services, rather than simply taking it from them and redistributing it among people with no track record of entrepreneurship.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION, THEN?
If simple wealth redistribution is not the solution, what is? The answer has to be: Reconfiguring the economy so that it provides real opportunities for everyone. The good news is that this is already being done. Around the world there are examples of communities redesigning money to achieve results where conventional money fails. Those communities range from families in deprived towns seeking ways out of poverty, to multinational companies looking for ways to remove obstacles to trade.

The alternative currencies these experimentors have developed are identified under various names. There are ‘local currencies’, so-called because they are designed to work within a limited area. There are ‘cooperative currencies’, or money who’s functionality is designed to encourage cooperation among its users, rather than competition. The groups and organizations that invented these alternative currencies understand that money can be remodelled with a specialized outcome in mind. It is possible to link unmet needs with resources that are underused by conventional currencies; to encourage desired behaviours such as providing care for the elderly or revitalizing failing communities. Although they have various names, denoting the outcome they are purpose-built to achieve, there is one name that all these new kinds of money can be labelled as: Complementary currencies. This is because these alternative currencies are not intended to replace conventional money, but rather to work in tandem with it, helping to make financial and monetary systems less competitive and hyperagressive and more socially responsible.

WHAT IS MONEY, ANYWAY?
So, how do you redesign money? First of all you need to understand what money is. In my last lecture, I said that the definition of ‘real money’ was ‘that which is used to pay taxes’. But that was more accurately a definition of what gives fiat money value. I also said that just about anything can be used as ‘money’- beads, shells, bones- you name it. This is because money is not really a physical thing at all, it is just convenient to have it represented by some physical thing. For anything to act as money, a community is required to agree that this particular thing is acceptable in an exchange. Money is therefore a social contract, like marriage. It is real, even if it only exists in people’s minds.

Ok, so money exists by social agreement. As money is really a form of social contract, it can be rewritten to, say, keep separate exchange circuits of different natures (as local currencies do by being invalid for use outside of the area for which they are designed) or for different monetary functions. For example, conventional money operates both as a means of payment and a store of value, and those dual functions are really rather conflicting. On the one hand, money is meant to function as a means of exchange, and is therefore intended to be spent. But on the other hand, its role as a store of value means there is a built-in tendency to save it, which of course takes money out of circulation. Cooperative currencies are designed to facilitate transactions by being a medium of exchange exclusively. They tend to have lower intrinsic value compared to conventional currencies, but, since money that is not used as a store of value will tend to circulate more than money that tends to be accumulated, cooperative currencies make up for their lower intrinsic value with their higher velocity. The economist Irwin Fisher proved that the volume of economic activity is not just dependent on the quantity of money in circulation but also on the number of times it circulates.

MONEY FROM GARBAGE
I think it is time to start talking about some examples of alternative currencies. The first one I want to talk about shows there is much truth in the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, for it concerns a currency that encouraged perhaps the highest percentage of recycling in the world.

This story takes place in Caributa, which is the capital of the southeastern state of Parania, Brazil. The favelas had a particular problem with garbage. The terrain they were built on was very hilly, and the pathways were too narrow to allow trucks to enter in order to carry away refuse. Furthermore, there were insufficient funds to deal with all that trash.

The government, which was then under the leadership of Jaime Lerner, noted that there were a couple of underutilized commodities. There was a municiple bus system that was underused, and there were a lot of people with time on their hands. So, large metallic bins were placed on the streets at the edge of the favela neighbourhoods, and whoever collected and sorted the trash received tokens to ride the bus system.

The sixty-two poorest neighbourhoods alone exchanged eleven thousand tons of garbage for a million bus tokens and one thousand two hundred tons of food (the bus tokens were soon acepted as money at local markets). In a three-year period, over a hundred schools traded two hundred tons of garbage for one point nine million notebooks, the paper-recycling component alone saving the equivalent of one thousand two hundred trees per day. Sixty to seventy of Curibata’s trash is recycled in-situ, which, as I said, is probably the highest percentage in the world.

The system then moved beyond the favelas to other areas that had a problem with garbage. As Jamie Lerner explained:

“We didn’t have the money to clean our bays. So instead we made agreements with our fishermen. When they catch fish, the fish belong to them. When the days weren’t good for fishing, they catch garbage, we pay for the garbage with our tokens. The more garbage they fished, the cleaner the bay became; the cleaner the bay became, the more fish they catched”.

Various cooperative currency schemes were used to tackle various initiatives. By inventing a currency that utilized underused commodities and resources, and extracting wealth from trash via recycling, Curibata funded environmental cleanup, job-creation, city restoration, and improved education. And, what is more, it achieved all that without having to raise taxes or go to organizations like the world bank for a loan.

THE WIR
Now, maybe some of you are thinking “yes, well, this is just an example of poor and desperate neighbourhoods doing menial work for a bite to eat, and a means to travel to look for more work. This does not prove cooperative currencies can do much for wealthy countries”. Perhaps, then, we should next look at a cooperative currency that operates in a rich country.

Switzerland is blessed with an economy that is among the most stable in the world. A major contributor to the country’s resillience is a business-to-business currency and a dual currency banking institution. This currency, which is known as the WIR, can trace its origins back to the 1930s. This was, of course, the time of the Great Depression. Two businessmen, Werner Zimmermann and Paul Enz, were faced with bankruptcy, having received a notice from their respective banks that credit was going to be reduced or eliminated.

It was clear that one company needed a loan to buy goods from another company, and that company, in turn, needed money in order to buy material from its own suppliers. So, Zimmermann and Enz got together with a dozen or so other business associates, and they created a mutual credit system. In simple terms, it worked something like this:

A baker requires ingredients which a farmer can supply and so, said baker incurs a debit from a local farmer in exchange for whatever produce he needs. The farmer uses that credit in order to obtain supplies from another business, while the baker supplies somebody with baked goods, which brings his balance back to zero. These transactions all take place without being mediated by conventional money.

This system saved the businesses involved, despite a massive press campaign that the country’s banks mounted, intent on preventing the idea from ever taking off. These people then created their own currency, the WIR. The value of the WIR was identical to the national currency (ie one WIR equalled one Swiss Franc) but it did not bare interest. All debts in WIR have to be settled in WIR. There is no convertability into national currency. A cooperative was set up among the users to keep the accounts dealing with that currency.

The WIR is not represented by paper money, but is instead an electronic currency. Business in WIR is conducted by cheque, credit card, and mobile phone payments. As of 2010, some sixty-thousand businesses or sixteen percent of all Swiss enterprises, were trading in WIR. Depositors tend to be small and medium-sized businesses, but more than a third of all construction companies in Switzerland use WIR, and construction is a massively capital-intensive sector.

So, how does WIR help with economic stability? As with most cooperative currency schemes, WIR does not replace the national currency but rather works in parallel with it. There is a countercyclical nature in the way WIR is issued. During times of recession, when regular banks reduce their lending, more WIR is used. When the economy is in better shape and banks are lending again, there tends to be less WIR in circulation. What this achieves is a smoothing out of the booms and busts of the Swiss economy, which contributes significantly to the country’s economic stability.

This conclusion was backed up by several macroeconomic studies conduced by Professor James Stodder of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. According to these studies, “growth in the number of WIR participants has tracked Swiss unemployment very closely, consistently maintaining a rate of about one-tenth the increase in the number of unemployed”. What this means is that, whenever the conventional Swiss Franc economy slows, job losses are spontaneously reduced as more people join the WIR economy.

HELPING WHERE CONVENTIONAL BANKS WILL NOT
You may have noticed a rather strange attitude that the conventional banking system has, which is a seeming reluctance to invest in productive enterprise. Of course, this would come as no surprise to those of you who attended my last lecture, since I explained that in an Age of Decadence those in positions of power are more motivated to take money from others rather than make it, and so loans for investments in actual goods and services are minute in comparison to money created for the purpose of wealth extraction. Furthermore, the way conventional money is created (by bank debt) has the effect of amplifying the ups and downs of the business cycle. When business is good, banks are likely to be generous with credit, which can potentially amplify a good period into an inflatory boom period. But should the business horizon darken even slightly, banks reduce credit availability, which can easily lead to full-blown recession.

Avrinede Ives Cordeiro, a resident of Conjunto Palmeira, Brazil, and now a very successful local businesswoman, has first-hand experience of the reluctance of banks to lend money for investment in productive enterprises, particularly when you are poor:

“Any person of low income that visits a conventional bank is likely to have his or her dreams crushed in an instant…there is a complete disconnect between the priorities of the banking system and the real economy… we had no access to credit or any other financial service in our town”.

Now, I did say Cordeiro became a successful businesswoman, so she must have found some way out of the poverty trap. And that way out was a dual currency community banking system- Banco Palmas. Banco Palmas was established by Joao Soaquim de Melo Neto Segunda, following a neighbourhood meeting he attended in Conjunto Palmeira in the late 1990s. The community had conducted research which mapped consumption patterns of the population of the area. It was estimated that around one point three million Brazilian Reals circulated within the community, but eighty percent of that currency quickly left the local community. As Segunda explained:

“We’re poor because we lose what we have, and aditionally we lose what little savings we have. So neighbourhoods are not poor, they become poor. And that realization was the beginning spark of Banco Palmas”.

This community bank issues two kinds of loans: consumption loans and production loans. Consumption loans are used to cover essentials like food and clothing. Such loans are issued in the local currency, which is called Palmas, and are not convertable into national currency. There is no interest fee and just a flat one percent fee for administration. Consumption loans are relatively small cash infusions, equal to around £50 at most. Production loans range between $5,000 to $10,000. Unlike consumption loans, they can also be provided in national currency. If that is the case, an interest fee is attached to them. Banco Palmas has created more than one thousand eight hundred jobs and there are now similar dual currency banking systems operational in some sixty-six communities around Brazil, with the full support of the Brazillian government and the nation’s central bank.

Avrinede Cordeiro said, “thanks to our community bank, we have managed to have access to these services…Every time I needed help, people at Banco Palmas were always ready to provide it”.

LETS
So far, these examples of local, dual, and cooperative currencies have not been too disimmilar to conventional money. They may not charge interest; they may only be valid in a localised region, but other than that there is not much that turns conventional thinking on its head.

But, since we are talking about redesigning money, sometimes radical thinking does occur. This is the case with LETS and its attitude toward a negative balance. LETS- it stands for Local Exchange Trading System- was invented in Courtney, a town near Vancouver in Canada. The reason for its invention is, yet again, the failure of conventional money to serve the real economy of goods and services. In the early 80s, forty percent of the population of Courtney were unemployed. Although there was plenty that needed to be done and a large labour force willing to do it, a lack of money meant the requisite transactions could not take place.

As Micheal Linton explained, “The greatest deficiency of conventional money is that, for far too many, it is simply not available…And as conventional money must come from outside the local community, it inherently doesn’t understand or concern itself with the needs of a particular community”.

And that is why LETS was invented, to facilitate much-needed trade within circuits in local neighbourhoods, villages and towns. LETS is known as a mutual credit system, meaning a currency that is created by a simultaneous credit and debit in a transaction. Being a mutual credit system, the LETS money supply is self-regulating. This is because members issue their own currency within the framework of their community. This enables participants to use what is available within their trading community, which overcomes the limitations imposed by a scarcity of national currency. And, since open records are kept of both credit and debit, LETS is also customarily transparent. Combined with its self-regulating nature, this transparency promotes greater trust, since people are held more accountable.

OK, so the Local Exchange Trading System is designed to better facilitate trade in local communities, but what about turning conventional thinking on its head? Well, with conventional money, if you have a negative balance, that is a bad thing. But as far as LETS is concerned, a negative balance is no problem at all. Quite the contrary in fact, because a negative balance shows that people have been buying goods and services from others in their local community. It is therefore an indication of community activity. If you are a member with a negative balance, you can be called upon to offer goods and services in return, which has the effect of further increasing the community’s wealth.

ALL KINDS OF MONEY
Maybe it comes as a surprise to learn that there are all these different kinds of money working in tandem with conventional money? But if you stop and think about it, it is not such an unheard-of thing. Most of us, I guess, have used local currencies in the form of gift vouchers that are valid only in a certain store. And the idea of a currency purpose-built to match an unmet need with an underused resource is most popularly known in the form of commercial loyalty currencies such as frequent flyer miles programs that airlines have been using for decades (in this particular case, from the perspective of the airline, the unmet need is customer loyalty and the unused resource is empty seats). Currently, there are approximately four thousand mature cooperative currencies operating around the world, mostly in Latin America, Continental Europe, Japan and Australia. Most of these monetary innovations have tended to be relatively small in scale, consisting of struggling local communities seeking ways of getting the fundamental circuit of buying and selling working again.

But, despite their mostly modest scale, we should not be dismissive of these monetary innovations, because they are proof of principle that society can lift itself out of poverty, create more work, build sustainable networks (and more besides) all without needing to raise taxes or by securing funding from government departments and agencies. We are talking about communities who have found that, by creating new kinds of cooperative currencies that work in tandem with conventional currencies, the features of scarcity and hypercompetitiveness that predominate in the conventional system can be shifted toward new options that encourage more social cohesion and more efficient matching of underused resources with unmet needs.

Attorny Edgar Cahn devised ‘Time Dollars’, which is a cooperative medium of exchange backed by time. One time dollar is equal to one hour of service. Meltem Sendag, who helped found a Timebanking network in Istanbul, said:

“We both want to move from the competitive society, which we both experienced working in the corporate world, to one of cooperation. With our former careers, we would have had to live with the values we do not believe in…Now, with the Timebanking community, we are experiencing what it would be like if the world were designed for generosity…experimenting with the idea that we have what we need if we use what we have by trading services and acts of goodwill, thereby emphasising the values of time and relationships”.

Are these innovations destined to remain solutions by and for smallish communities, or are we potentially seeing the development of something grander in scale? According to futurist John Nesbit, “change occurs when there is a confluence of both changing values and economic necessity”. I think that what we are seeing here is a shift from a monetary monoculture, one in which debt-based fractional reserve systems controlled by governments and banking cartels dominate, to a monetary ecology where the power returns to communities operating at different levels of society.

DRIVING THE CHANGE
What would be the economic necessity that would drive this transformation? Most likely, it would be the realization that an economy based on endless growth and extreme concentration of wealth is completely at odds with long-term sustainable community building. It so happens that the current economic downturn is resulting in significant increases in the development and adoption of cooperative currencies around the world. The more people see that it is possible to build communities around non-zero sum gains, the less they are likely to put up with the agressive ‘all for myself and nothing for others’ attitude.

No doubt the Internet, that greatest of computational and communications technologies, will play a major role in facilitating this transformation. This is partly because computers would be so handy in crunching the numbers involved in the multilateral barter systems cooperative currencies make possible. You certainly would not want a frequent-flyer miles program run by countless clerks shuffling papers! But, perhaps its more important job will be as a communications tool, one in which increasing numbers of people add to the voice speaking out about the current system, one which crushes the entrepreneurial spirit and denies decent living to billions, and the real possibility of a viable alternative to corrupt finance, inescapable poverty and environmental destruction.

THE CURRENT SYSTEM: NOT EVIL, JUST FLAWED
Ok, so what would this money ecology look like? Before talking about that perhaps we should remember the caution not to demonize the current system. It is not inherently evil or anything, it is merely an imperfect work-in-progress that needs fixing, same with all technologies. Particularly in the last lecture, I said some harsh things about interest, inflation, growth, consumption and banks, but any monetary ecology that aspires to build a better civilization had better understand that all these do good as well as harm.

Take interest, which I objected to in the last lecture for creating debt that cannot be repaid and concentrations of wealth that have nothing to do with ability. Despite these dubious concequences, there are legitimate reasons to apply interest to a loan. If you are a lender, you will want some protection against defaults. If, say, five percent of borrowers are expected to default on their loans, charging five percent interest will ensure that at least the entire principle is paid back. Since interest acts as a fair precaution for lenders, it would be unwise to simply abolish it.

Then again, we certainly do not want to retain current outcomes such as short-term thinking and unearned concentrations of wealth, so what to do about that? Many cooperative currencies apply demurrage, which works in the oposite way to interest. In other words, whereas with interest money that sits in a bank increases in value, demurrage causes money to lose value if it is held onto for too long. This may seem like a strange idea if you are used to money that is both a unit of exchange and a store of value, but remember that cooperative currencies tend to be mediums of exchange exclusively. The whole point of them is to get an economy moving again and a demurrage charge provides an incentive to spend that money before it begins to lose value. If such a currency is designed to be counter-cyclical, cooperative currencies carrying a demurrage fee can balance out the effects of interest-baring fiat money. As we saw with the WIR, cooperative currencies tend to be issued in greater quantities whan an economy is on a downturn and banks are not inclined to make loans. Another advantage of demurrage fees is that, unlike regular interest, it does not contribute to enormous concentrations of wealth and that means there is less income disparity and greater equality. Having demurrage-baring cooperative currencies working counter-cyclically with interest-baring currencies therefore smooths out the boom and bust phases of the business cycle, leading to stronger communities rather than money eroding social capital.

All this talk of issuing new kinds of money seems to be ignoring a serious and undesirable consequence: It would create uncontrollable inflation. But that objection is only valid if applied to the issuing of fiat money. Local currencies can be designed specifically to avoid contributing to inflation. Remember, how, in the last lecture, we saw how inflation results whenever there are insufficient goods and services produced for the quantity of money in circulation? Well, mutual credit systems like LETS facilitate multilateral barter, which means that for every credit generated there is a simultaneous creation of a debit within the same community. Because the supply of products and services is simultaneous with the creation of the currency, such currencies are designed to not create inflation. By the way, as was the case with interest, inflation is not all bad so later on I shall talk about ways in which it can do useful things in an economy designed to serve the people rather than the self-serving interests of a few.

MONETARY ECOSYSTEM
So, then, a monetary ecosystem: What might it look like and what is it supposed to achieve? Its main goal, I believe, should be to enable us to abandon an economy that prioritises short-term thinking over long-term planning, and endless consumption, for one that is sustainable and socially responsible. According to John Boik, who is a medical doctor specializing in cancer by profession but now applies his expertise to natural systems of governments, there are two key mechanisms of contemporary society that make it unsustainable:

1. The financial system demands continuous growth.
2. Financial and political power is centralized within a small subset of the population.

ANARCHY IN IRELAND
The thing with money is, it is like god: If it did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. This fact is illustrated by something that happened in Ireland during the decades of 1966 to 1976. During that time, there were three separate bank strikes that caused the banks to shut down completely. It did not take long for the Irish to realize that, if the banks were closed, nothing prohibited writing a check and using it like cash. Once official-issued checks were used up, citizens created their own checks using supplies from local stationary shops and news agents. Antoin E. Murphey, who is economics professor at Trinity College, Dublin, said:

“The Irish created an unregulated, totally anarchistic community currency matrix. They were operating on the basis of the Irish pound at the time. But there was nobody in charge and people took the checks they liked and didn’t take the checks they didn’t like. So the whole world revolved around that simple fact. And it worked! As soon as the banks opened again, you’re back to deprevation and scarcity. But until that point it had been a wonderful time”.

What happened in Ireland, and what is evident from various other cooperative currencies around the world, is that people can get on with their lives without centralized authority and financial institutions. It should be pointed out, though, that the Republic of Ireland at that time had a small population, which meant there was a high degree of personal contact among members of the community, even in cities. Knowing one’s clientele very well is what enabled a trust-based system to work. As Murphey joked, “one does not after all, serve drinks to someone for years without discovering something about their liquid resources”.

Obviously, in modern cities there is a lot less personal contact and, consequently, less information regarding credit-worthiness. That could change if the Internet, smart phones and all that enables us to create spaces where much more information can be pulled into a decision and interconnectivity empowers both the individual and his or her community. In that case, life would be more transparent and democratic, and possibly the ‘anarchistic community matrix’ could work on a larger scale. But until then, such systems will be a small part of the money ecology.

GLOBAL REFERENCE CURRENCY
Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne, authors of ‘Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarceity Into Prosperity’, describe what a money ecosystem might look like. They think of it as consisting of many monetary systems designed to work at various scales. At the largest (global) scale, there would be a ‘global reference currency’, which is a “new non-national currency… designed both to provide a safety net to support the conventional monetary system and to mobilize global corporations toward a sustainable future”.

The authors point out that goals like sustainability are more effectively accomplished via strong financial incentives rather than regulation, legislative imperatives or moral prodding, and highlight the so-called ‘war against drugs’ as evidence that “whenever attempts at regulation or moral persuasion run up against financial interests, the latter tends to win”.

An example of a supranational cooperative currency would be the ‘Terra Trade Reference Currency’, which is designed to address several key issues that are global in nature and, thus, beyond the scope of any individual nation’s ability to repair. Specifically, it targets three systemic economic issues:

1. Alleviating the problem of monetary instability.
2. Curtailing booms and busts of the business cycle
3. Making long-term sustainability possible.

According to Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne, the TRC (who’s unit of account is called a ‘Terra’) works in parallel with the current international monetary system, providing a mechanism for worldwide contractual, payment, and planning purposes. Think of its purpose as being similar to the old Gold Standard: Providing a robust, inflation-resistant standard of value.

MULTINATIONAL CURRENCIES
One layer down we find multinational currencies. Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne write:

“It has indeed become obvious that regional economic integration can reach maturity only when a single currency levels the playing field for all economic participants”.

Along with something that evolves from the Euro, the authors foresee multinational currency zones forming in Asia, thanks to a deal between China and Japan, and that a reform of the Dollar will give rise to the ‘Amero’, a multinational currency for the North and South Americas.

Another form of international currency is ‘International Corporate Scrip’, the first large-scale application of which were airline loyalty currencies. The company Apple has two hundred million users accessing its iTune store, providing it with perhaps more direct customer billing relationships than any other company. A smartphone that can debit a credit account can just as easily credit it as well. Talking about these international corporate scrips, the authors of ‘Rethinking Money’ write:

“The net result will be that several corporate scrips will be competing on the Internet… some (may) create special subsidiaries, with strong and liquid balance sheets, to issue these currencies and imbue them with greater creditability”.

NATIONAL CURRENCIES AND THE CAUTIONARY TALE OF THE WORGL
Next level down we come to the currencies we are most familiar with: National currencies like the Pound and the Franc. Given that the age of decadence is driven to a large extent by power power’s sake, and the monetary system as it is provides immense power for those who control it (Amschel Rothschild famously said, “give me control of a nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws”) the question arises as to whether governments and the banking cartel will fight the establishment of a money ecosystem.

There are examples of cooperative currencies being effectively run out of town by the dominant banking system. A large number of cooperative currencies arose in the aftermath of the German hyperinflation that took place in the 1920s. One such cooperative currency was the ‘Worgl’, invented by Micheal Untergenberger who was mayor of the town that gave the currency its name. The town of Worgl had thirty percent unemployment and Untergenberger’s idea to get the town back to work was to create a currency that functioned soley as a medium of exchange and with a demurrage charge to ensure its circulation. The Worgl lasted thirteen months, during which time the council carried out all intended works projects, built new houses and a reservoir, and became the only town in Austria with full employment.

Other towns and villages took note of the Worgl’s success, and it was not long before over two hundred towns and villages adopted it. That was when the Austrian central bank panicked and asserted its monopoly rights by making the issuing of Worgls a criminal offense. The town of Worgl returned to thirty percent unemployment almost overnight.

THE ALTERNATIVE
Could the same thing happen with regards to the monetary system? I suppose it could, but we are trying to take an optimistic perspective here. So, let’s focus instead on the alternative. As the Internet communicates success stories of money being re-invented to resolve the inadequacies of regular money, and the impossibility of reconciling a monopolistic debt-based currency that demands perpetual growth with long-term sustainability becomes more apparent, the weight of popular pressure may demand that national currencies change to better suit the non-zero sum achievements and greater social cohesion that a monetary ecosystem would help make possible. Assuming that national currencies become part of a monetary ecosystem, they would continue to play an important role in countries that have not joined a multinational currency integration system.

THE REGIO (AND OTHER REGIONAL CURRENCIES)
Next level down we come across ‘Regional Currencies’. According to Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne, “genuine regional development requires a regional currency. If the funding for such strategies is made available only from the federal level, there will be less flexibility and creativity than if both state and federal levels create their own currencies”. Regional currency projects are being spearheaded in Austria and Germany, where they are generically known as ‘Regios’. Regios complement the Euro, and are designed to give regions the necessary autonomy to deal directly with their particular social, ecological and financial problems.

To give one case in point, net cash flow spent by big business usually flows in the direction of corporate headquarters outside of the region. For example, an evaluation of independent businesses in Chicago found that, for every $100 spent with a local firm, $68 is left in the Chicago community, whereas for every $100 spent in a chain store, only $43 is left in the Chicago community.

Currently there are some thirty four types of regio operating in the regio network, each with a different name, structure, and purpose, tailor-made to meet the specific needs of a given region. One such regio is called the Chiemgaurer, based in Bavaria, southern Germany. Designed by six teenagers at the Rudolph Steiner school, Chiemgaurer supports local production and enterprise by encouraging locals to shop at neighbourhood businesses rather than chain stores. Regional nonprofit organizations wishing to participate in the system pay ninety seven euros per one hundred chiemgaurers, and the latter currency can then be used to purchase goods and services in participating stores. It is possible to have the chiemgaurers cashed back into euros, but a penalty of five percent discourages this. At the end of the process, ninety five percent of profit remains with the business, three percent goes to the nonprofit chosen by the buyer, and two percent goes to the chiemguarer currency administration to cover overheads.

Margrit Kennedy, who in 1987 wrote the book ‘Interest and Inflation-free money: Creating An Exchange Medium That Works For Everybody And Protects The Earth” said of regio currencies:

“The time outlay is considerable: It takes three to five years until you get into the zone where the whole operation can be self-financing, so it’s not a trivial task. Those who run these groups do it because they love it. They really feel they are doing something useful”. This feelgood factor can be attributed to the fact that, by using a regio currency such as the chiemgaurer, participants have a stronger feeling of belonging to the local community.

LOCAL COOPERATIVE CURRENCIES AND FUNCTIONAL CURRENCIES
Next level down we come to local cooperative currencies, which are designed to link unused resources with unmet needs within a specific geographical area, business or segment of society. Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne foresee more local currencies being created to facilitate local exchanges between members as the information revolution erodes production and service-related jobs (that is, jobs considered economically viable under conventional money, which does not always coincide with the needs of local communities, as we have seen).

Finally, we come to the most localized level of all, that of functional currencies. Whereas there would be, by definition and necessity, only one global reference currency, there could be millions of different kinds of functional currencies working within the money ecology. A functional currency is one designed to bring about a particular outcome. Want to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad practice? Ebay did and so they implemented a reputation currency in the form of seller ratings. Want to encourage and improve learning and education? Then why not see what a learning currency like the sabre, talents, or algres can do for you?

Let’s take a closer look at the Sabre. It gets its name from the Spanish and Portugese word meaning ‘to know’ and is a specialised education paper currency allocated to primary and secondary schools, particularly in depressed areas. Sabres are first given to the youngest students, who use it to fund tutoring help from older students. Those in turn use the sabres they earn to buy mentoring from older students, and at the end of the chain we have seventeen-year-olds using sabres to pay for part or all of their university education.

What you gain from using the Sabres education currency is a more effective retainment level compared to conventional teaching methods. That involves lecturing and reading through which, respectively, five to ten percent of what is taught is retained. Compare that to the ninety percent retention rate which applies to whatever one teaches to others. According to Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne, “when the learning retention rates increase from five to ten percent (normal education methods) to ninety percent (teaching others)…spending $1 billion through the sabre system could roughly be estimated to generate as much as $100 billion worth of retained learning, in comparison to the conventional grants approach”.

So that is the money ecosystem, comprising of many layers of monetary systems, from one global reference currency to a few international currencies, to multitudes of local currencies and, finally, countless functional currencies. The further down we go, the more money becomes designed to tackle localized, specific problems. Conversely, the higher up we go, the more money addresses national or international concerns. This certainly does not mean our purses and wallets will become overswollen with all these new monies; any one individual or business would only participate in a few of these systems.

WHEN INFLATION IS GOOD
We are nearly done, but there are a few points left unaddressed. I said earlier that the monetary ecosystem could provide an incentive to change national currencies. I said earlier still that not all inflation is bad.

Inflation is bad when you have an unrestrained money supply chasing a constant quantity of wealth. It should really be the other way around: a fixed money supply that is used to purchase a variable amount of wealth. Governments that were interested in establishing money supply stability could use legislation to stop banks creating money at will. We would need to know how much money should be in circulation, so economists would calculate what that figure should be, aided by statiticians’ predictions of changes in population size. Politicians could agree on a mechanism for increasing or decreasing the money supply so that it remains constant relative to the population.

Under such conditions, one in which the money supply is constant in relation to the population, additional wealth creation would drive prices down and a reduction in wealth creation would cause prices to rise. In this scenario, inflation is not necessarily problematic; less wealth creation and associated price increase could result from people simply being happy with less.

So long as profitability and bonuses are linked to making loans by creating new money, the real economy of goods and services will continue to be undermined by the banking system. The real economy should not be sacrificed to the selfish interests of the banking and financial sector; rather those should be services supporting the production of goods and services that make a positive difference to people’s lives. In ‘Creating New Money: A Monetary Reform For the Information Age’, James Robertson and Joseph Huber say that banks should act purely as credit brokers, that is they should act as intermediaries between savers and borrowers and provide a safe haven for people’s money. The role of the central bank, they say, should be to issue whatever quantity of money is necessary to ensure adequate levels of investment. The government would spend this money into circulation, and if the money supply grew too much, it could be reduced by the government spending less than it received in tax revenues.

COMPANIES OWNED BY THE WORKERS
When the USA began its industrial revolution, it was Abhraham Lincoln’s view that plants would be owned by those who worked in them. Under such a scheme, businesses are not pressured into having to deliver dividends to absent shareholders, and whenever increase in productivity efficiency is achieved, its benefits are distributed among the workforce in the form of increased wages or reduced working hours. The result would be employees reaping the benefits of their investment. Earnings would be spent on wealth created by others- genuine wealth in the form of beneficial goods and services- and thus there would be a steady circular flow of money between consumption and production.

One company that is owned by its workers is John Lewis. The ‘John Lewis Partnership’ is a company owned by a trust on behalf of all employees, who have a say in how the business is run and also receive a share of annual profits. Of course, not everybody earns the same; like every other business, John Lewis pays market rates to recruit and retain the best senior staff. But because it has no obligations to absent shareholders, its profits are distributed among its employees, ensuring even the most junior staff takes home a decent wage.

NATURAL CAPITAL: BIRTHRIGHT OF HUMANITY
By any rational and moral argument, natural capital is the birthright of all Earth’s citizens. In that case, something has to be done about private land ownership and a taxation system that supports unearned wealth. Peversely, the current tax system mostly targets the wrong things- labour and enterprise rather than consumption and resources- and the result is an unnecessary burden on wealth creation and the encouragement of unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. Some countries collect a proportion of unearned wealth through property taxes, but this is usually seen as a way of topping up conventional tax revenues. But the rational and moral argument comes down decisively on placing the tax burden on revenues derived solely from use of land and the natural resources it contains. Note that such a scheme does not disallow the ability to make profits if you are a landowner. You could make investments to improve your land and since that would involve an expenditure of labour and capital, you should be able to profit from the effort you have expended and the investment you risked. That is quite different from any increase in wealth due to the general uplift in land values. That, after all, results from the efforts of the wider community and not the land owner.

ECONOMY OF RELATIONSHIPS
Any scientifically valid economic model has got to take into account which forms of growth are bound by physical laws and which are not. Again, this places the tax burden on consumption of physical resources, which obviously cannot be exploited without limit. Unrestrained growth is not always destined to have harmful consequences. Nothing but benefits would come, for example, if one’s knowledge base continues to grow exponentially. Therefore a monetary ecosystem that seeks long-term sustainability will encourage the ephemeralization of money and banking by moving them out of the physical world and into the virtual. Gone would be bank branches, ATM networks and physical money. Banking would be a pure relationship business accessible through web-enabled devices.

When you consider that, in Uganda circa 2005, there were just one hundred ATM machines for twenty seven million people and when you consider that opening an account in Cameroon costs more than most make in a year, it becomes aparrent that ever-cheaper computing and growing access to the Internet will dramatically change the global banking scene, facilitating greater prosperity and further innovations as billions of currently disenfranchised people join the money ecosystem. As the authors of Rethinking money said:

“An economy of relationships is trying to emerge: An economy in which interconnectivity empowers the individual, along with his or her various communities, evolving into a more democratic, transparent, and viable economic life, enabled by various consciously created currencies operating at all levels of society, from neighbourhoods to the world at large”.

This sentiment was echoed by Jean Luc Rox, a member of the Brussel’s chapter of the HUB network, a social enterprise operating in over twenty six countries worldwide:

“What happened since we established the system? We see increasing relationships between social entrepreneurs…Before, people were working alone, looking at each other not necessarily as a friend.. but more as a potential competitor. And now, because they can offer services among themselves, they see they have more to win by working together”.

MONEY AND A TRANSITION TO A NEW CIVILIZATION
As is usually the case, Nature discovered the benefits of cooperation long before we did. In a lecture I gave a couple of years ago, I talked about how evolution achieved greater orders of complexity through organizations of societies:

Transition one: The increasingly complex biochemical systems that ultimately evolved into bacteria-like organisms.

Transition two: The combination of bacteria-like organisms into cells, resulting in the eukaryotic cell.

Transition three: The organization of eukaryotic cells into multicellular life.

Transition four: The organisation of individual animals into social groups and networks such as tribes, villages, towns, and nations.

The human animal has developed societal organizations so large they impact on the international scale and may very well affect the future course of evolution itself. If we are to achieve long-term stability and better standards of living for all we have to learn that individual achievement is a reflection of strong teamwork. We have to understand that we are one global family, bound by physical laws to evolve efficient economic market systems that take us away from agressively competitive zero-sum behaviour and toward methodologies that enable winners to flourish in an environment of non-zero sum, socially beneficial activities. As I have tried to show in this lecture, communities of various scales, from groups of people in small towns to multinational companies, are re-inventing money so as to aid rather than discourage this outcome. These innovators are therefore doing their bit in bringing about the transition to a new era of civilization, one much better placed to make the best and widest possible use of the amazing transhuman capabilities which our tech gurus see coming over the horizon.

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Thinkers lecture 2014: Money: Its failure and its future (part one)

MONEY: ITS FAILURE AND ITS FUTURE.

PART ONE: ITS FAILURE.

INTRODUCTION.
Welcome to this year’s lecture, ‘Money: Its failure and its future’. Actually, it is two lectures this year. Part one will deal with money’s failure and part two will be about its future. This unfortunately means that the lecture you are about to here is a rather bleak one. Since I do not want it to be all doom and gloom, I am going to start on an upbeat note and talk about about something that applies to a wider context than the main topic of this year’s lectures.

I want to begin by talking about the fishermen of the Indian state of Kerala, and a problem they faced, prior to 2001. It was this: The fish they caught were intended to be sold at market, but the only way they had of finding out if they had a buyer was to go to a market and engage in face to face communication. If the market they went to had no need of their fish, they would not be able to visit another, because the markets were about ten miles apart, the fish were perishable and the markets closed at 8AM. Choose the wrong buyer, and the whole catch would have to be thrown back into the sea. Economists call this a ‘coordination problem’.

But then these workers got hold of technology familiar to us all that matched buyers and sellers much more effectively. They got themselves mobile phones. Now, while they were still out at sea, they could phone ahead and arrange the best deal for their catch.

Now, I am not really interested in fish, but rather the fact that these workers made the jump from what was essentially stoneage communications to 21st century communications. What if developing countries can achieve a similar leap forward with agriculture, banking, education, energy, money and civil engineering and so on? If so, what they might develop into would be a new kind of civilization. Some people, for instance Marshall Brain, call this a ‘4th generation civilization’. But, since I am unsure as to how many civilizations there have been, I will play safe and call it a next-generation civilization.

NEXT-GENERATION CIVILIZATION
So what is this next-generation civilization? I see it as being a civilization that uses the only resources we have- natural capital and human potential- with maximum efficiency. Because it has achieved this, it has eliminated- as far as is physically possible- the obstacles to greater social cohesion and personal development. Citizens of next-generation civilization would find themselves much further up Maslow’s famous pyramid of the hierarchy of needs than is the case for all but a few of the nations’ population today. This would make next-generation civilizations the best platform we have ever had for realizing the transhuman pursuit of social and individual excellence.

To achieve such goals, next-generation civilizations must become more than just life-as-we-know-it but with cooler technology. It would require a reinvention of all the systems, institutions and beliefs of which our lives are comprised, many of which are centuries old. Now, obviously we would be here until the Rapture if we were to embark on a comprehensive survey of all that needs to be done. So, I will be focusing mainly on a technology without which any civilization more complex than the most basic would be impossible. I am talking about money.

Speaking of money or, rather, wealth, a thought may have ocurred to some of you. If we acknowledge that a next-generation civilization could be achieved, why should we suppose it would emerge in developing countries? In many ways, these are places that have barely reached the 20th century. Dreaming up some glitzy, high-tech civilization sounds like an undertaking for people of affluent countries with plenty of time on their hands, not something that would concern those struggling to get by on one or two dollars per day. And then there is the matter of corruption. Stories abound of the terrible misallocation of wealth that goes on in the world’s poorest countries. The African Union estimated that some 25% of its annual GDP is lost to corruption. As they are so far behind, and the corrupt and criminal tend to thwart dreams of a better life, why look to such countries for the rise of NGC?

We should not think that developing nations have no advantages. There is, for example, the ‘latecomer’s advantage’. There is no rule that says a country has to retread all the steps that lead to the modern world. They can leapfrog straight to the latest technologies and practices. Indeed, this leapfrogging makes a great deal of sense, because the most modern technologies often do the same job as predecessors, only more cost effectively and less wastefully. The cost of purchasing and burying copper wire for a communications infrastructure would be more than $100 million. Cell tower infrastructure would cost a relatively small tens of thousands of dollars. If a city like Zinder in South Niger were to adopt PCs, then by the time 10% of the population were using them, the power they consume- 1,500 KW- would exceed that of all households today. Mobile devices, on the other hand, would consume just 74KWs, and as they run off of batteries they would be more useful in areas where power outage is a common experience. It is for reasons such as these that countries like El Salvdore and Panama have adopted mobile communications faster than the USA.

The fact that the rich nations have well-established systems and infrastructures could be an impediment to progress. W. Brian Arthur, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and author of ‘The Nature of Technology’ has written about how established technologies and practices can delay the adoption of new methods, even though those new methods are superior. In 1955, the economist Marvin Frankel noticed that cotton mills in Lancashire were not using the more modern and efficient machinery. This was because the old brick structures that housed the old machinery would have to be torn down before the new machinary could be installed. As Arthur wrote, “The outer assemblies thus locked in the inner machinary and thus the Lancashire mills did not change”. To this day, whenever a technology is so interwoven with the fabric of everyday life or business practice that replacing it seems too much bother, we say it has become ‘locked-in’.

There is also a psychological aspect to consider. Established technologies and practices can lead people to adopting certain ways of doing things, and upstart technologies that obsolete the old ways can be threatening. Sociologist Diane Vaughan called this ‘Psychological Dissonance’ and wrote:

“(We use) a frame of reference constructed from integrated sets of assumptions, expectations, and experiences…This frame of reference is not easily altered or dismantled, because the way we tend to see the world is intimately linked to how we see and define ourselves in relation to the world. Thus, we have a vested interest in maintaining consistency because our own identity is at risk”.

Therefore, established technologies, infrastructures and methods can create hysterisis- a delayed response to change- that holds the new at bay, at least until the old ways simply cannot be stretched any further. So, it could be that developing countries which lack many of these established infrastructures and technologies, would adopt the new and accomodate themselves more quickly to the methods and practices they make possible.

As for the problem of corruption, we should not think that it only goes on in the poor nations of the world. The reason why the corruption that goes on there seems so overt and in-your-face may be because it is immature. In the West, centuries of adjustments and fine-tuning have evolved instutions that divert real wealth from those who create it to those who set the rules. As world-renowned linguist and social philosopher Noam Chomsky pointed out, using violence in order to get people to obey, as the Soviet Union did, will ultimately fail. What is needed are systems of indoctrination to ensure that citizens agree to what the ruling class want. This can be achieved by, among other things, entering the school system and educating the nation’s future workforce toward’s the ‘correct’ way of thinking (one third of textbooks in American schools are provided by corporations) and censoring material that questions state dogma (a study by Vincent Navarro of John Hopkins University that found a correlation between class and race and wealth inequality was refused publication by every major medical journal in the US). These and other insidious practices successfully hide much of the elite wealth appropriation that goes on from view. It would be no mean feat to successfully unentangle those immoral methods of wealth creation from the beneficial forms that is vital for any successful civilization.

But much of the corruption in developing countries will be relatively easy to deal with. Much of it consists of plain old bribery, for instance having to pay your boss before he will hand over your wages. If you were working online for a foriegn company and your wages were wired directly into your account, that form of corruption would be much reduced. Moving to a cashless society using mobile devices that recognize their rightful owner and refuse to work for unauthorized users- say by using biometrics to identify users- would leave folks less vulnerable to theft. In countries like Niger, Senegal and Uganda, parents may have to pay bribes to get their children into school. With Internet access and availability of free educational resources like Kahn Acadamy and Granny Cloud (the latter being a service in which retirees voluntarily give some of their time to running lessons over Skype) that form of corruption is rendered obsolete. Many other forms of overt corruption would be harder to get way with in a country where the mass adoption of camera-phones and social networking makes sousveillance possible.

SPEAKING UP FOR CAPITALISM
Now, we are getting close to the point where I say some negative things about modern money mechanics, capitalism, and free market libertarianism. So I think it might be wise to say something about what I shall call the ‘Catagorization Fallacy’. When thinking about such things as

Government
Taxes
Inequality
‘The Rich’
Globalization

I have noticed that people tend to label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and which label they apply depends to a large extent on their political ideology. If you lean toward the right, you probably think ‘government’ and ‘taxes’ are bad; ‘The Rich’ and globalization are good. For those who lean more to the left, ‘The Rich’ are evil and so is globalization. Government and taxes (or rather, government that taxes the rich) is good.

But this black and white good/bad attitude is overly simplistic and can lead to flawed conclusions. If you think government is bad this may well lead you to conclude that the solution is no government. No, the solution to bad or ineffective government is always better government. Taking the stance that anything on that list is ‘good’ can lead to an ‘it ain’t broke so don’t fix it’ attitude. But all products of human ingenuity are imperfect works in progress. Rather than slap a simple good/bad label on the technologies, systems and institutions underlying and supporting the modern world, we should instead lift the hood on all of them, examine the way they function, how that influences us psychologically and how that, in turn, affects the behaviour of societies and civilization as a whole. What aspects succeed in favouring greater social development and personal achievment and how might they be improved? What acts against these goals and what might replace them?

So, before we get down to critizing current monetary and financial systems, let’s say some nice things. Such systems can claim to have done a great deal to increase wealth and raise living standards. It is easy to forget just how well off are in comparison to our ancestors. They longed for a world in which there was ample leisure time, an abundance of food and other material pleasures. For the averagely well-off citizen of a country like America, their daily life is, more or less, the realization of utopia that our ancestors dreamed of. When criticizing the negative aspects of globalization, I think there is a tendency to view it in light of the remarkable affluence we enjoy in the West. Anti-globalization protestors speak darkly about predator corporations moving to poor countries in order to exploit workers by putting them in sweatshop factories for shockingly low wages. But, those wages are only shockingly low by our standards. In countries like Vietnam they represent premium pay. If Western production were kept out of the developing world, that would only condemn workers in so-called sweatshops to return to subsistance agriculture. Globalization is not all bad and great harm would befall developing nations if it were simply ended.

That said, the richer the world becomes the less tolerant we should be of poverty and hardship. No blame for hunger and famine can be attributed to a world that does not have the capability to produce enough for everybody. But a world like ours, which does have the capacity to feed the world, should face constant pressure to do so. Particularly as the health issue in rich countries is no longer the hungry poor but rather the obese poor.

It is often said that developing countries cannot aspire to reach the same standards of living as first world nations. I agree- they should aspire to do better. We might view the capitalist system and the markets that support it as a centuries-long experiment testing the question ‘does material comfort bring happiness?’. The answer to that question is, ‘yes, but only up to a point’. Beyond that point, competing to out-do your neighbours in the fight to achieve ever-greater levels of material wealth does nothing whatsoever to improve life quality and can even have dire results for civilization.

THE DECLINE OF EMPIRES AND THE AGE OF DECADENCE
In 1976, a retired army officer called General Sir John Grubb wrote a series of essays about empires past and present. There were, he noted, remarkable similarities between them. Empires last around two hundred and fifty years or ten generations, and during their lifespan they pass through several identifiable stages.

These are:

The Age of Discovery
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
And, lastly, the Age of Decadence.

The ins and outs of most of these stages need not concern us, but it would be worth examining that last stage in a little more detail. The Age of Decadence preceeds the collapse of an empire, and what drives it toward collapse is greed, the corrupting effects it has on society and the detrimental impact it has on the environment. The historian Arnold Toynbee showed how the collapse of 21 civilizations could be attributed to just two causes: Excessive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and an inability to introduce significant changes in response to shifting sociopolitical or socioeconomic circumstances.

During an age of Decadence, material wealth becomes less a means to an end and more an end in itself. The powerful compete to fill positions of authority, not really in order to better carry out their civic duty, but because they expect it will enable them to grab an even larger slice of the pie. Conspicuous displays of wealth are a common theme in an Age of Decadence.

This lust for more wealth is not restricted to the elite. The citizens, too, crave more and are encouraged to pursue materialist desires via the availabilty of easy credit. The desire to live off of a bloated welfare state is another common symptom. Others are an overstretched, poorly disciplined army, an obsession with sex, the veneration of celebrity, and a debasement of the currency resulting in severe economic and financial crises.

If all that sounds familiar, that could be because the West is now in its own Age of Decadence. There are two ways of responding. We could adopt a kind of pessimistic fatalism: We are heading for collapse. Or we can be optimistic and recognise that we stand on the cusp of change. There will be great challenges ahead of us, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is also great opportunity. Thanks to the amazing advances in computing and communications technologies, ordinary people are more capable than ever of educating themselves about what is going on, viable alternate ways of doing things, and more able to organise into groups large enough to have a strong influence on the world’s stage. But, in order to guide the future in a direction that is positive, we must have a clear understanding of the deficiencies of the current system.

I would imagine that, in any Age of Decadence, there is a temptation to seek out somebody to blame. In our day and age it is politicians and bankers who are often singled out as the culprits. But that is unfair, because these are issues that run deeper and wider than anything that can be conveniently attributed to any one group. The problems are systemic, involving decades or even centuries long changes to politics, the financial system, religion, economics, the educational system, and more, modifications that we all, one way or another and to a greater or less extent, share some responsibility for having brought about.

So, since the answer to the question ‘who is to blame?’ is the general and rather unhelpful ‘everybody’, we should focus instead on WHAT is to blame. I suspect that a thorough understanding will necessitate not considering politics on its own, or anything else, but rather the way the political system, the monetary system etc are interconnected, with cause and effect propogating back and forth along the network of systems, organizations and institutions that form the basis of our current civilization. And when we focus our attention on a particular aspect of the overall system, as we shall shortly do with the monetary system (always baring in mind that it is part of something larger and therefore not entirely responsible for the situation we are in) we must be careful not to be distracted by non-problems, or problems that do not matter as much as we may think.

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH MONEY
As far as most people are concerned, there is only one problem with money: Lack of it. The hardship poverty causes is not in question. But a careful analysis of the financial and economic crises we have faced reveals a different root cause. Our problems are not caused by a lack of money, but rather because we are using the wrong kind of money.

Money, you see, is not value neutral. It has a design (I do not mean how it looks; I mean how it functions) and that design affects us psychologically which, in turn, influences the kind of society we build for ourselves. Money can be designed to encourage cooperative, altruistic behaviour resulting in societies with a strong sense of community where wealth is distributed fairly (which is to say ‘not equally’ as that would be unfair given that individuals make disproportianate contributions to the economy). Alternatively, the ‘engine’ of money can drive competitive, aquisitive behaviour resulting in a society ( if that is the right word) were selfishness rules and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving many in desperation. Throwing more bad money at the problems it has caused will ultimately only serve to exaggerate those problems. The solution has to involve rethinking money.

As we think about building our next-generation civilization, a critical question to answer will be how it can be that the current monetary system can generate such great wealth and yet there are still billions living below the poverty line. Part of this understanding comes from seeing how money was changed over generations from a convenient unit of currency and medium of exchange to a tool for social manipulation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONEY
What we use as money originated in Venice in the thirteenth century. Back then, people used gold coins as money. As you can imagine, walking around with gold in their pockets made folk vulnerable to theft and the goldsmiths saw a business opportunity in that unfortunate fact. They could charge customers a fee for keeping their gold safely locked away in the vaults. The townsfolk agreed that this was a good idea, handed over their gold along with the fee, and were issued with receipts that could be later exchanged in return for their gold.

The townsfolk then adopted the attitude that those receipts were as good as real money. Indeed, in one way they were more convenient. It was much easier to carry around slips of paper rather than gold coins. And so tradesfolk accepted those receipts in payment for goods and services.

So far this all sounds like legitimate business practice, and that is because it all fits comfortably into the category of ‘profit making’. That tends to be generalised to mean any scheme that produces more money than was spent setting it up and maintaining it. But I think it more helpful to apply a more refined definition. Profit making applies to those schemes in which an individual or group risks its own capital in bringing to market a product or service that an informed public chooses to pay so that they may have access to it. The essentials of profit making are that it is wealth accumulation through democratic consent and it is non-zero sum. After all, it entails bringing to market something that makes a mostly positive contribution to our lives. To give a simple example, Apple gets rich, we get iPhones.

Given that definition we can see that there are ways of accumulating wealth that do not count as ‘profit making’. Most obviously, there are all those overtly criminal ways in which one may increase one’s own wealth. I guess any reasonable person would agree that people who get rich using such illegal methods do not deserve their fortune as the likes of Steve Jobs did. There are also methods that, while not illegal, do occupy a moral gray area and there can be disagreement as to whether those who get rich using such methods really deserve their wealth or not. One of these methods forms the very basis of modern money and came into being when people began using those receipts as money.

The goldsmiths noticed that the townsfolk preferred to use those slips of paper as ‘money’. The more astute goldsmiths also noticed that when their customers did withdraw their gold, they rarely withdrew it all at once. Instead, they preferred to withdraw just a part of the total deposit and leave the rest where it was. So, the goldsmiths figured they could get away with issuing loans in excess of the gold that was in the vaults. Customers came along, receiving receipts they assumed were ‘real money’ ie represented a certain amount of gold. In reality, that gold did not exist.

The idea of selling somebody something you do not have sounds like fraud. Remember, though, that the goldsmiths did have some gold, just not enough to back all the paper money they were issuing. Since their customers rarely demanded all their gold, their scheme worked so long as debt repayments provided sufficient reserves to meet those needs. On the other hand, if word got around that a lot of that paper money was essentially worthless, there would have been a rush to withdraw what gold there was before somebody else got to it. As for the act of issuing loans rather than buying and selling gold, it meant the customer was no longer dealing with a goldsmith but rather a bank, an organization whose main source of income comes from other other people’s debt. Issuing loans is not intrinsically bad. There are times when it is very useful to borrow money. But when you are profiteering from debt there is a temptation to increase it as much as possible, since the more debt there is the richer you get.

The rest of the goldsmiths’ story is a rather familiar one of great wealth made and reputations lost; of rules and regulations established and subsequently eroded as the lure of riches overrode common sense. And the reason why it is familiar is because the practice of making money out of debt now forms the very basis of the modern monetary system.

FIAT MONEY
When a person, business or country borrows money, they are not given money that somebody else deposited or that the bank has in its vault. Instead, if a person wants to borrow, say, £10,000, the bank types £10,000 into that person’s account and, hey presto, there it is. This kind of money is called ‘Fiat money’ after a phrase in the Latin version of the Bible, ‘Fiat Lux’ or ‘let light be’. The reference is obvious: Banks have the ability (or rather, the authority) to make money out of nothing.

Eventually, that newly created £10,000 will end up being deposited in another bank account. When that happens, that bank is obliged to hold ten percent of that deposit in reserve and is entitled to issue the other ninety percent as new loans. However, that ninety percent does not come out of the original deposit. Instead, it is £9,000 created on top of the original $10,000. This process repeats every time money is deposited in an account. Thus, the supply of credit money is expanded. This process is known as ‘Fractional Reserve Banking’.

What gives fiat money value? One answer is: The money that already exists. The new money steals value from the money already in circulation. When the money supply is expanded irrespective of demand for goods and services, that upsets the equlibrium of supply and demand and diminishes the buying power of each pound, dollar or whatever. This devaluing of the currency manifests itself in higher prices for goods and services. In other words, you get inflation. Today one would need $405 to purchase goods that cost $100 in 1975.

You may have noticed that this provides only a partial answer to the question of where fiat money gets its value from. After all, if the new money gets value by stealing it from the money that already exists, where does that money get its value from? The answer to that question can be found in the definition of ‘real money’ in a fiat money system.

If you have ever played Monopoly, chances are that somebody held up a pretend banknote and said, “imagine if this was real money!”. But have you ever wondered why it is not? The reason why is because you cannot pay taxes with it. Why do we pay taxes? Not really for the reasons most often given. We are told taxes are essential if we are to have services such as road maintainence or garbage disposal. But that is not true because even if we did not pay taxes all such services would still be provided. This is because there is a demand for them, and wherever there is demand market economies adapt to meet it. That is just good business sense. And it does not require so-called ‘real money’ in order to make this happen, because just about anything can serve as a medium of exchange and unit of currency: Stones, beads, bones, seeds…and, yes, Monopoly money.

But you cannot pay taxes with anything other than what the law says is to be used for that purpose. And since you are required to pay taxes, you are therefore obliged to procure that which is used for this purpose. So the real purpose of taxes is to give value to whatever government decrees to be ‘real money’ and the definition of ‘real money’ in a fiat money system is, yes, ‘that which is used to pay taxes’.

The fact that this is what ‘real money’ is under the current system, coupled with the way the fractional reserve system creates money out of debt through the issuance of loans, has implications for what money represents. The common assumption is that money equals wealth. It is not hard to see why: The more money you have, the richer you are. But, the money creation process commences with government defining what is money by saying what is to be used to pay taxes. Since we never stop paying taxes we always owe money to the government, which is to say, we are always in debt. Furthermore, the way the fractional reserve system works inherently creates more debt. In fact, today ninety seven percent of all money is created as debt. So, in a fiat money fractional reserve system, money equals debt. It may be the case that the more money you have the richer you are, but it is also the case that the more money there is the more debt there is.

It is also debt that can never be repaid and which somebody must be burdened with. This is because of the application of interest. Whenever money is loaned it almost always has to be paid back with accrued interest. This is the banking system’s main source of income. But the money needed to pay back all debts as well as the interest does not exist. It is never created. This means that whenever a bank assesses somebody’s credit rating, they are determining how successful or agressive that person will be in taking money from others. Every pound or dollar that exists is money owed by somebody to somebody and the debt-based monetary system is akin to a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, there is an inevitable loser. Only, the stakes are high because, while banks get to make money out of nothing and lend it at interest and government steps in to bail them out whenever the system is losing them money, you will not get that loan unless you agree to forfeit something of real value should you fail to make replayments. Since that something is often your home, being the inevitable loser in this financial game of musical chairs is dire indeed.

As Peter Joseph explained, “The fractional reserve policy…is in fact a system of modern slavery. Money is created out of debt, and what do people do when they are in debt? They submit to employment to pay it off…And it is the fear of losing assets, coupled with the struggle to keep up with the perpetual debt and inflation inherent in the system, that keeps the wage slave in line, running on a hamster wheel with millions of others”.

WHO BENEFITS?
Now, obviously, there must be some benefits to this system, otherwise it would not have spread in practice to the great majority of banks in the world. Basically, the earlier you get the newly created money the more you benefit. Therefore, those who have the authority to issue money benefit the most: Governments and banks. Borrowers who get this money early- for instance large corporations and government contractors- are next in line of those who benefit. They can spend the money before inflation caused by the new money raises prices. Prices do rise due to inflation, so holders of assets such as houses or shares will see gains in the value of that asset without there necessarily being any real improvements made. As for those at the bottom of the pyramid- for example people on fixed wages or incomes- by the time the money trickles down to them, the prices of things they need to buy have increased. Since their wages remain largely unchanged and their savings now buy less, in some cases they have to take on debt just to be able to afford what they were previously able to buy. Which means, of course, going back to the banks. And so the rich-poor divide gets bigger and bigger. In practice, then, the debt-based fractional reserve system is one designed to redistribute wealth from the bottom of the financial pyramid to the top.

This conclusion was borne out by studies conducted by the monetary analyst Helmut Cruz. He found that there was an upward concentration of wealth from the bottom eighty percent to the top twenty percent, especially the top ten percent, and this transfer of wealth ocurred independently of the cleverness or industriousness of the participants. It was, instead, due exclusively to the interest feature of the monetary system.

The problem here is not inequality. Unless you are some kind of idiot socialist, you have to concede that some degree of inequality is essential in any fair and just economic system. This is because there are individuals and businesses that are cleverer and more industrious than others and it is right and proper that they are duly rewarded. The belief that ‘the rich do not deserve their fortune’ is too general to take seriously, but the same could be said for its opposite: That everybody who occupies that exulted ‘one percent’ position deserves every penny or cent or whatever they have accumulated. As the economist Joseph E Stiglitz wrote:

“Economists long ago tried to justify vast inequalities…The justification they came up with was called ‘marginal productivity theory’…this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society…Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin…Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society…have received a pittance compared to those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin”.

THE PURPOSE OF LOANS
Banks create money through loans, but what are those loans used for? Money is created for three purposes. There is, for instance, the purpose that I would guess most people would think was the main reason banks loan money: For investment in productive enterprise. Sometimes, somebody trying to start a new company or an established company seeking to expand into new markets will lack sufficient funds to do so. They will therefore require a loan. If the company is successful, it will make a profit, resulting not only in the lender being properly compensated but also in society benefitting from capital accumulation. Banks do not produce wealth. But, as this example shows, they do play a supporting role in wealth creation by funding direct investment in the creation of new wealth, as well as generally supervising the monetary system.

Arguably, this purpose for which loans are issued is the most socially beneficial contribution the banking system makes. So you would think that the vast majority of loans would be used for this purpose. But no: Currently in the UK, only eight percent of bank loans are made for investment in productive enterprise. So what is the remaining ninety two percent used for?

They are used to fund consumption in goods and services, and mostly to fund investment in secondary markets for stocks and shares, bond markets, stuff like that. Such investments have no direct link to the creation of real wealth. But language is cleverly used to make it seem like they do. We hear about workers trading in ‘financial products’ in the ‘market for financial derivatives’ and this is all part of the larger ‘financial industry’. Terminology like ‘product’, ‘markets’ and ‘industry’ make it seem like this is as much a contribution to the real economy of goods and services as, say, greengrocers selling their produce. But it is not.

That is not to say that only physical products have real value. Consultants can earn high wages because their knowledge is so valuable. When a painting is sold at auction for a six-figure sum, obviously the raw materials of the artpiece had little to do with that price. More intangible qualities are what attracted such a high pricetag. There are all kinds of genuinely valuable, nonphysical commodities circulating in the economy.

CASINO OF THE WEALTHY
But what we are talking about here has nothing to do with the real economy. If you look through the smoke-and-mirrors use of language, a more honest description becomes clear: One of players betting on abstract concepts within a virtual global casino, entrance to which is limited to the already wealthy. That would be OK, I guess, if these games had no real life consequences. But they do.

Profit making is a synonym for earning money. But what this casino for the wealthy does is not profit making, since it is not investing effort and resources in trying to generate real wealth. Instead, it involves finding ways to secure for oneself a greater share of the wealth others have created. It is therefore a parasite, feeding off of the real economy. Furthermore, whenever top executives of banks and financial institutions are awarded huge saleries or bonuses, the labour market mechanism dictates that senior executives in other areas should be similarly rewarded. But, in order to do this, shareholders have to be kept happy, and this is achieved by paying them higher dividends.

The money needed to pay for all this does not come out of nowhere, but rather out of the company’s revenue. As this is obviously finite, greater financial rewards for executives and shareholders means lower wages for ordinary people. Now, I said before that unequal outcomes are essential in the interest of fairness. But at some point that inequality gap becomes so large that any sense of fairness is lost. The banker, J.P Morgan, considered a pay ratio of 20:1 between the highest paid and lowest paid to be optimum. In today’s largest corporations the ratio is 1000: 1. My favourite story of pay injustice is the revelation that Wal-Mart made its employees clock out and work part of their shift for no wages. And the owners of Wal-Mart, remember, have as much combined wealth as the bottom one hundred million American families.

Morally dubious as this is, it is perhaps not quite as objectionable as speculative investment. A lot of investment made in raw materials play no part in the production process that gets products into the hands of ordinary people. Instead they are made in the hope that the ‘asset’ will rise in value and so make money for the holder of that asset. This would be OK if we were talking about nonessentials like vintage wine. But speculative investments are made on staple foods, such as wheat. This betting of food prices in financial markets has lead to an average increase of fifteen percent for food prices, resulting in over 44 million people being driven into extreme poverty.

UNREPAYABLE DEBT
According to the logic of the free market, consumption is good and must continue, but paying wages is bad and to be avoided wherever possible. But, as many have pointed out, if you have no wages what are you supposed to consume with? The debt-based monetary system thinks it has the answer: More debt. Or, more precisely, generating loans to fund the consumption of goods and services. In the UK, personal debt is roughly equal to the entire annual output of the economy, a crazy result of a culture with an obsessive focus on consumerism, promoting the belief that we can have all we want whether we can afford it or not. It makes you wonder how such a large debt can ever be repaid.

But maybe we are making a wrong assumption in thinking debt is intended to be repaid? It is easy to see why such an assumption would come to our minds. We all learn as children that the word ‘loan’ refers to something that must eventually be given back. But the financial world does not always adhere to basic rules of social conduct.

An American economist called Hyman Minsky showed how there are three catagories of debt, which he labelled ‘hedge lending’, ‘speculative lending’ and ‘ponzi lending’. Of those three, only hedge lending fits the definition of a loan as commonly understood: the borrower expects to pay both principle and interest out of cash flows from current investments. But ponzi lending is a thoroughly different beast. A ponzi borrower has no cash flows to service their debt, preferring instead to constantly refine to avoid default. The act of continually borrowing, accumulating interest (and the fact that other ponzi borrowers behave similarly) ensures that the value of the underlying asset keeps rising. So long as the banks keep extending credit, the ponzi borrower can cream off a tidy sum for themselves, extracting revenue from assets whose value keeps rising simply because banks keep extending credit. As you might expect, this cannot last forever. After the boom period there is the bust. But by the time the system comes crashing down, the ponzi borrower is largely insulated from the fallout because they have gotten so rich. The rest of society is not so well insulated.

Then there is the use of debt as an alternative to conquest as a means of getting hold of another country’s assets. We saw earlier how, under the fiat-money fractional reserve system with its built-in inflation and interest, people are obliged to take on debt and so come under pressure to join the ranks of wage slaves. This does not just apply on an individual basis, but sometimes to entire nations.

The country Nigeria borrowed around $5 billion from the World Bank, but because of the interest charges it was made to pay back $16 billion. Then it was told it still owed a further $28 billion. Little wonder that President Obasanjo lamented, ‘if you ask me what is the worst thing in the world, I will say it is compound interest’. The developing world spends $25 in debt repayment for every dollar received in foreign aid and grants. Former economic hit man, John Perkins, claims this is a deliberate ploy:

“We economic hit men…will identify a country that has resources our corporations covet, like oil, and then arrange a huge loan to that country from the World Bank or one of its sister organizations…It’s so typical of the way the IMF and World Bank work. They put a country in debt, and it’s such a big debt that it can’t pay it, and then you offer to refinance the debt and pay even more interest. And you demand this quid pro quo which you call ‘conditionality’ or ‘good governance’ which means basically that they’ve got to sell their resources, including many of their social services…to foreign corporations”.

FANTASY ECONOMICS
What is going on here? Why do the elite consider their privaleged position entitles them to so much that entire countries can be brought to the brink of ruin, just to benefit a few rich people in addition to foreign corporations?

We have to remember to stay away from ‘who is to blame?’ type questions and focus instead on what is to blame. That is, examine the underlying system. Taking the broadest view first, we are talking about economic theory that was largely established prior to the twentieth century. Why should that matter? It matters because, prior to the twentieth century, it was assumed we lived in a Newtonian universe. The Newtonian universe was a perfectly ordered mechanism and its success in accurately predicting orbits lead to expectations that everything could be understood with linear cause-and-effect thinking.

But Newtonian physics had always been limited in what it could achieve. It could only accurately predict the orbit of two bodies assuming no other celestial bodies were involved. In other words, Newtonian physics can be applied successfully only to a highly simplified model of the universe, one which removes all the complex interdependent systems.

But this fact was either missed or ignored by economists, who sought to apply newtonian mechanical models to the economy, one of the most complex, adaptive, open systems imaginable. And, just like the astronomers, they had to simplify the economy. Economists imagined perfectly functioning free markets, corporations run with impeccable efficiency and individuals who know everything taking place in markets. Or, to put it another way, players with the mind of God. Does that sound like the real world to you? Me neither.

THE FREE MARKET FALLACY
Advocates of the free market are big on putting down state intervention and defending the free choice of players. Their argument, at first glance, seems reasonable enough. The world should be thought of as comprised of individuals who are free to participate fairly in an open market. If only government did not interfere, competitive self-regulation, defined as ‘the causal, resulting, and adaptive mechanism that guides and shifts rational decisions, based upon the logic of seeking and maintaining success in the marketplace”, would naturally achieve a balanced, equitable society with everybody properly compensated for their work.

But there is a very great difference between how the free market should work according to its advocates, and what actually results from its mechanisms. What actually results is freedom alright, only it is freedom of the powerful to dominate, supress and beat others by whatever competitive means possible, and the freedom to exploit the desperate and misfortunate. The flaw in this thinking lies in the fact that the free market is too myopic. This is not caused by people being evil in any traditional sense, but rather because the free market system cannot rationalise anything that cannot be turned over through money, and certainly not anything that has an interest to slow consumption. This means that the real world is full of ‘externalities’ that result as either an inherent biproduct of the narrow, mechanistic logic of the free market system, or something unrelated and unforseen. And these effects put pressure on an individual or company to reduce their ethical and moral standards, since that is the only way to reduce survival deficiency (ie make them, once more, competitive in the free market).

This is best illustrated with Peter Joseph’s thought experiment about a nice guy called Geoff. He owns a T-shirt store. Naturally, Geoff needs inventory, so he purchases his shirts at bulk rates, always mindful to assure customer satisfaction by competitive association, basing his decision on what to buy, pricewise, on the price competition of rival stores in his region. Geoff has employees who he cares about. He wants to see them be well. He drives their pay- in a competitive manner, of course- in order to reduce the likelyhood of them seeking more lucrative employment elsewhere. Geoff is not greedy, nor is he corrupt in any traditional sense. He is merely a player in a free market mechanism that is the director and orientator of proper social action through free enterprise and competition.

Now let’s introduce an externality and see what effect it has. A few years back, a typhoon struck Thailand, damaging its industries. This resulted in limited means to keep money flowing, and there would be limited to no state intervention, as that is deemed an interference in this world. Now let’s add another externality. A Western company has been hit by massive lawsuits, losing it lots of money. This company decides to offer contracts to manufacture clothes to the vulnerable, typhoon-decimated society. But, due to their own externality, the only way this company can keep afloat is to offer 12 cents an hour for a ten hour work day. The misfortune that the Thai community suffered leaves them no recourse but to ‘voluntarily’ agree to submit to what is almost slave labour. And the company offering such low wages is not doing so out of greed; they are merely trying to recover from a major lawsuit.

What can the market see? Only competitive cost efficiency. It cares nothing for humane working conditions, the health of workers or the community as a whole. It is indifferent to these things so long as they do not affect the bottom line. Obviously people need some rest and some means of aquiring the basics of life, so you cannot get away with making people work 24/7 for no wages. Having said that, there are places where people can be bought for a price cheap enough for them to be considered disposable commodities. There are some twenty seven million slaves in the world today. And that is REAL slavery, btw, not the ‘wage slaves’ we talked about earlier. From a humanitarian point of view this is not to be tolerated. But from a free market perspective it is very beneficial. People labouring for little to no pay? It does not get more cost effective than that!

What has all this got to do with Geoff? Well, it has everything to do with the ethical integrity of the labour that produces the shirts he sells. He is driven, by the pressure of competitive association, to buy shirts offered at the most competitive price possible. So, logically, he buys the shirts made in Thailand. He is an exploiter of what is virtually slave labour. This also brings into question Geoff’s ‘green’ credentials. Geoff does try. He recycles religiously, rides a bike to work in order to do his bit to cut down on CO2 emissions. But the cotton his shirts made from is produced in the USA, sent all the way via shipping frieghter to Thailand, before being brought all the way back. This makes no logical sense whatsoever from an environmental perspective because one of those shipping containers has been found to pollute as much as 50 million cars. But it makes perfect free market sense because it is cheaper to produce shirts this way.

Now let’s talk about Geoff’s own employees. Yet another externality compromises Geoff’s ethical integrity. The town he lives in used to be home to an automative manufacturing plant that provided employment for hundreds of people. But no longer. Maybe market logic dictated the company moved overseas where labour is cheaper. Maybe mechanization lead to a downsizing of the workforce. Whatever the reason, there is now a surplus of labour in town and this translates both in a reduction in the cost of labour and to a loss of purchasing power.

In such a climate, could Geoff stick to his ethical principles and stock only locally made shirts produced by workers paid a decent wage? If he did so, the shirts he sold would have to be sold at a higher price. With people feeling the pinch (today, fifty percent of Americans do not have enough savings to go three months without employment) is it likely that his customers will forgoe the far cheaper offerings of his rivals? If customers cannot afford to be ethical, neither can he.

Loss of purchasing power would lead to a reduction in the amount of spending going on in the town. Geoff would notice his rivals reducing their paid wages and the price of their merchandise. Market logic would dictate that he, too, must pay lower wages in order to remain competitive.

Can we consider Geoff to be an ethical person, when he has sweat shop labour making his T-shirts and the wages he pays his staff are so low daily life is a huge struggle for them? Peter Joseph commented, “obviously it is a trick question, because it assumes isolated behaviour, and free will decisions, absent external forces and pressures that inhibit and alter our behaviour”.

The point here is not that nobody benefits from a free market system operating within a debt-based monetary system. Obviously, some benefit a great deal. The point is that it produces more losers; those people hit by externalities, lumping them with misfortune that the system ruthlessly exploits in its ceasless drive torward greater cost efficiency and endless consumption. Advocates of the free market seem blind to this fact. To them it is like, I dunno, like a competitive sport with everybody starting on an equal footing and inequality of outcome dictated by individual ability and nothing else.

But the fact is there is no equality of opportunity and if ninety two percent of all bank loans are not for investment in productive enterprise, but rather for purposes of rent extraction, then the rich-poor divide cannot be the result purely of self-made millonaires earning profit as it I define it.

RENT EXTRACTION
Rent extraction is not to be confused with rent as in, say, somebody running a taxi service who rents out spare seats to those who need a ride. That counts profit making because it generates real wealth in the form of a useful service, and people can choose whether or not to pay to access it. Rent seeking, by contrast, has nothing to do with investing one’s own effort and resources in trying to generate real wealth, but rather in trying to secure for oneself a greater share of the wealth that already exists. Lobbying politicians to enact legislation that will make it harder for new products to gain entry to a particular market is one example, private equity takeovers of perfectly viable businesses is another. There are many forms of rent extraction and all have a cost in terms of resources that could otherwise be applied to the creation of real wealth.

The amount of economic power we bring to the table has a great influence on our capacity to secure the wealth we need to live and prosper. Rent seeking activities ensure the distribution of economic power is extremely unequal. Such extreme inequality encourages the emergence of an elite who can use their power to further entrench their position, working to change the rules of the system to favour them. This is clearly illustrated by considering the issue of land ownership.

Before there was neo-classical economics, there was classical economics. In classical economics, Adam Smith divided inputs into economic activity into three classes- or factors- of production, those being land, labour and capital. According to Smith, no wealth is possible without some application of each of these factors. Smith provided a key contribution to economics because, by assessing the economic contribution to participants and the rewards they received in terms of social class (rent for landowners, profit for capital providers and wages for labourers) classical economics encouraged examination of the impact of power relations on the distribution of wealth.

However, classical economics predicted a world of diminishing returns, anticipating that as population numbers increased, production would intensify and growing demand would drive up the cost of land and, consequently, drive down the returns of labour and capital. But what really happened was that not only did land values steadily rise, wages and profit did as well, all thanks to technological advances that classical economics failed to take into account.

Neoclassical economics was established in response to this deficiency, but it too made a number of mistakes. One of the biggest was to consider land and capital to be the same thing, rather than distinct factors of production. Even today, nothing of tangible value can be created without some contribution of land, since ‘land’ includes natural resources that provide raw materials. But neo-classical economics was established to support the vested interests of land ownership. As Martin Wolf explained, “the powerful owners of natural resources wanted to protect their unearned gains. In practice, therefore, the tax burden fell on labour and capital”. By excluding land from economic models, landowners ensured that revenue earned by land ownership was exempt from tax, unlike revenue earned by labour and capital. I know that some people some people think that taxes of any kind are theft, but if we must have taxes wouldn’t it be better if it were consumption and resources that were taxed rather than labour and enterprise? After all, one could argue the case that the current arrangement encourages an unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and places an unnecessary burden on wealth creation.

It also hides the massive advantage that landowners have, whereas under classical economics and its analysis of land as a distinct factor of production, the advantage of that tiny proportion of the population who control access to most of the world’s resources would be laid bare for all to see.

That advantage is the ability to charge non-landowners for the right to use their land. Land, particularly the most valuable and in-demand land (which these days means land in or near the central business districts of major cities) is obviously of fixed supply, and therefore demands a greater share of income earned from production than it otherwise would.

Sometimes, landowners invest labour and capital in improving their land, and extra revenue earned as a result of such investment can be considered profit. But that is quite different to increase in wealth from the general uplift in land values. If you happen to own land in an area chosen for structure investment, the value of your land rises automatically, and not because of any effort you have expended or any investment you have made. As land reformers would say, land values arise not from the efforts of the landowner, but rather from those of the wider community. Wealth generated by the general uplift in land values is therefore wealth that the wider community is entitled to, but does not receive. Instead, it is concentrated in the hands of the land owners.

HOMELESS PEOPLE AND PEOPLELESS HOMES
The social deficiency of our current economic system lies in the way it takes what should be basic human rights and tangles them up with a government and banking system motivated by money creation. Because resources that should be basic human rights are used as investments, we have the bizzare outcome of a surplus of supply of resources and people going without those resources. There can be, for example, homeless people in a city with peopleless homes.

During the millenium, so much money (ie, debt) had been created that lending became a production line process. As Micheal Hudson explained, banks and other players in the global casino understood that “the poor are honest. They’ll do anything they can to repay their debts even if the debts are not valid; even if the debts are much more than they expected”. A market trading in packages of debts rose up, further swelling the profits and bonuses of the players who traded in them. Such was the complexity and lack of transparency of these ‘products’ that many simply did not nor could not know if the homes that were the underlying assets had any tangible value. For a while, the existence of a thriving market was considered security enough, but eventually, with so many having no idea of the origin or validity of such loans, the market for mortgage-backed securities turned to the principle of the ‘greater fool’ theory, which basically entails selling dubious investments for a greater price than you paid for it, your customers obviously being the type P.T Barnum had in mind when he said, “there’s one born every minute”. Inevitably, the bubble burst and tens of thousands of sub-prime borrowers suffered foreclosure. In Baltimore, for example over 30,000 homes lie empty and tens of thousands of people have nowhere to live.

SOME EFFECTS OF FIAT MONEY
I want to narrow focus now and look at the influences the kind of money we are using has on us, psychologically. As we have seen, debt-based money requires endless growth because borrowers must find additional money to pay off interest. It requires endless consumption, and endless cost efficiency, which means losing jobs to cheap overseas labour and, once competitive enough, automation and robotics. That would be be OK if the technologies of abundance were used to fairly distribute the incredible quantity of stuff we are now capable of producing, but sadly the mindset of the corporations views mechanization as not a means for abundance but rather as a way to save even more money in the process of production, delivering much of the productive economy into the hands of a minority while condemning many to economic exclusion and social deprevation. The result is economic competitive behaviour driven by fear and insecurity.

Under such a system it is little wonder that we focus, almost to a point of obsession, on making money. Ever noticed how, when an individual is described as ‘successful’ it is almost always because they have a lot of money? We may not know anything else about this person like, say, whether he or she has a friend in the world. But they have lots of money and that is all that matters, apparrently.

We can all recognise that there are socially valuable roles that people take on without expectation of payment. The most obvious example is parenting. Raising the next generation is considered by many to be the most important job anybody can undertake. But, because this is voluntary work, it is considered to have no value according to the rationale of the Gross National Product. As far as the GNP is concerned, anything that does not involve the direct exchange of money is to be disregarded. But, anything that involves monetary transactions is considered a gain. As a consequence, should social decay get to a point where paid intervention is needed, in the form of psychological counselling, say, or social work or increased police and private protection, that then registers as an improvement according to the GNP. As economists Cliff Cobb, Jed Halsted and Jonathon Rowe explained, “the GNP not only masks the breakdown of the social structure and the natural habitat… it actually portrays such breakdown as economic gain”.

As well as focusing on money creation, the kind of money we use also compells us to adopt short-term thinking. Since sustainability requires intergenerational thinking, the way the importance of the immediate future totally outweighs the long-term future in the business and financial world is clearly at odds with the premise of the next-generation civilization. Of course, the monetary system cannot be held solely responsible for short-termism. Long-term planning is inherently risky, due to the difficulty in accurately forecasting events that are located further in the future. But that being said, there is a key impetus toward short-termism that is very much a consequence of the conventional monetary system. When it comes to the discounted cash flow techniques used in financial decisions, analysts take into consideration the intrinsic risk of the investment project, the cost of equity capital and the current and anticipated interest rates. Now, if an entrepreneur can make the same amount of money simply by leaving it in a bank where it will accrue interest rather than invest it in productive enterprise, why risk one’s money on the latter? This is why, in a world that used interest-baring currency, financial investments are focused mainly on the short-term.

So, our debt-based monetary system places a firm preference on short-term thinking, encourages us to be obsessive consumers, is relentlessly working to displace as many of us from the labour market as it possibly can, considers voluntary work like parenting or caring for elderly relatives to be of no value, registers social decay, ecological disaster and war as improvements to a nation’s economy, and leads to an unrelenting concentration of wealth in increasingly fewer hands, while simultaneously burdening more people and even whole countries with debt and condemning them to competition driven by fear of deprevation.

Of course, it is not all bad. The rich may be getting richer and often in ways that have nothing to do with any real contribution to the real economy of goods and services, but the poor are seeing their standards of living improve as well, and that is mostly attributable to the genuine profit-making ventures of those who apply their talents in bringing products and services to market. There is planned obsolesence and other dubious ways of ensuring scarcity, meaning we do not use our technologies of abundance as efficiently as we might, but despite these dubious practices modern industry does succeed in delivering astonishing technological innovation into the hands of ordinary people.

But let us not let the glitz of shiny new tech toys mask the deep structural problems inherent in our current economic system. According to the IMF, there have been around four hundred and twenty five systemic crises, which amounts to an average of more than ten countries in crises each and every year. And, given that it would require two or three Earths-worth of resources to support us if all nations were to adopt the consumption levels of the richest countries (which they are striving to do) we are clearly heading for ecological disaster if we continue behaving as we have been. Empires in the past have collapsed as a response of runaway greed and there is no reason to suppose ours is exempt from this possibility.

Well, that is enough negativity. In the next lecture, we will see how money can be re-invented in ways that would make it more useful to the ambitions of the next-generation civilization.

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THE RIGHT TO LIFE VERSUS EARNING A LIVING

THE RIGHT TO LIFE VERSUS EARNING A LIVING.

It struck me the other day that many people hold two beliefs that are incompatible with one another. Those beliefs are the idea that people have a fundamental right to life, and the notion that everybody should earn a living.

How are these two beliefs incompatible? People who believe that everyone should earn a living say ‘why should others get something for nothing when I have to work?’. But if you have a fundamental right to life, then you must have a fundamental right to access whatever you need to make life possible. Food, water, protection from the elements, these things should not have price tags attached to them, forcing you to submit to wage slavery or begging in order to obtain such essentials. They should be freely accessible, the common property of all people.

WORK OR DIE, NATURE COMPELS YOU!

Now, clearly, there is a practical problem with this sentimentality. Work has to be done to produce food, clean water, and pretty much all other essentials of life. The right to life is, of course, a purely human invention. There is no fundamental right to life built into the natural world. Were it not for our technological capabilities and social systems built up over millenia, human life would be like daily life for the rest of the animal kingdom: An ongoing struggle to survive in a world indifferent to suffering. We would have to strive to obtain the basic necessities of life. Well, not necessarily. Some percentage of the human race would be fortunate enough to live in an area that provides an abundance of food and clean water, and a clement enough climate to not worry about freezing to death during the winter. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is a pretty decent one involving minimal work if you happen to live in a place where foodstuff and building materials are all readily available. But, of course, most areas of the world are not like that, demanding instead that animals and people alike work hard each and every day, if they are to survive to see tomorrow.

We have to accept, then, that people have always needed to work if they wanted to live. But, notice how the mentality is not that people must have a job of some sort and that nobody can get anything for free, like ideally this situation would not apply but hey ho this is how the world works, so we should just accept it. No, the argument is that people should not get anything for free and should earn their living. And that is saying something quite different to arguing that the world compels us to labour away. It is saying that, even if we could get away with not having a job but at the same time not face the prospect of material deprevation, it would be immoral for people to simply live their lives without earning a living.

I fail to see how this mentality is compatible with the notion of a fundamental right to life. It does not matter that this right exists only in our collective imaginations. Plenty of things exist in our world which are entirely a product of our minds with no objective existence outside of human thought. If there were no people in the world there would be no films, no music and no religion. But there are people in the world and those things- along with an uncountable list of other cultural creations- exist because we willed it. We can believe in the right to life, and work to make it a reality. But there can be no fundamental right to life along with a belief that nobody should get something for nothing.

RISE OF SOCIAL SECURITY

Technological progress and societal organizations have made our lives much easier than they were in previous generations. In the past, food production took up the vast majority of most people’s time. Today, agriculture employs only a fraction of the numbers of people that used to be employed in order to grow crops and raise livestock. For our ancestors, preparing dinner took up most of the day. Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries with access to supermarkets, convenience food and microwaves can have a meal ready to eat within minutes. And our notions of retirement as a decades-long holiday as due reward for all those years of loyal service to the world of employment is a recent innovation. For most of history, people worked until they were fit only for the deathbed.

In affluent countries it is actually not the expectation that everybody must have a job or die. The elderly, the disabled, children, they are not expected to either be in employment or to live grim lives of hunger and material deprevation. Society has established systems of child support, welfare, and pensions which support these members of society without forcing them to go out and get a job. Not everywhere. Some parts of the world still have child labour, still require people to work right up until their death and still condemn the disabled to beg on the streets to secure enough money to pay for their next meal. But it is obviously true that in some parts of the world if you are below or above a certain age, or you have a disability which makes it too much of a struggle to function in any job, you are not forced to live in deprevation.

Personally, I see this as progress. But I suspect there are others that do not. People who see any form of socialism as an attack on liberty and spit blood at the very notion that any of their or anyone’s earnings should be used to fund the lives of those not in work, even when some people’s salaries ensure them a personal fortune orders of magnitude beyond anything required for material comfort and they would still be rich by any decent measure if 90% of their savings were taken and distributed among the nation’s children, disabled, and elderly.

Now, maybe these people would say I am misrepresenting their stand here. Maybe they would say, ‘look, Extropia, we are not saying that the child labour is right, that state pensions ought never to exist, and that the disabled should get no help from the government. We are just saying that anyone who is of working age and fit to work should be in a job, and contributing to society instead of just taking from it’.

This attitude assumes that there are people in the world who are not in employment simply because they are too lazy to be in a job. And you know what? Such people exist. There are benefit cheats who know how to work social systems and extract money to which they are not entitled. This, needless to say, means there is less money than there otherwise would be to give to the unfortunates of society who, due to genuine disability or ill health, really cannot be in work, just as there is less money due to the most affluent hoarding it in vast personal fortunes. We ought to put pressure on anyone who is taking a lot more than they really deserve or need, regardless of what social class they are in.

THE DIMINISHING NUMBER OF JOBS

But we should also acknowledge that there are people whose sole job is to close down employment opportunities for other people. Who are those people? Why, the engineers of automated systems that replace manual labour, the software writers who design programs that do white-collar office jobs. Both robots and artificial intelligence systems are becoming less inflexible, and therefore more able to function adequately in a wider variety of tasks. It takes minimum skill to show a robot like Baxter how to perform any manual task that is in reach of its arms, no highly trained technition is required. And bare in mind that a Baxter is to robots what 70s and 80s Pcs were to computers. In the beginning, computers were bulky, expensive machines that required rare skills to operate, and were useful only in a very limited range of services. These mainframe computers evolved into minicomputers like the PDP1 (mini as in not taking up entire rooms, but still pretty big- the PDP1 was as big as a domestic refrigerator), and- by the 70s and 80s- into desktop computers, small, cheap and user-friendly enough to be of service in offices, factories, and eventually, our homes. Today, of course, computers are absolutely ubiquitous and our entire economy is dependent on these machines performing jobs which were either once the responsibility of people, or not performed by anyone due to humans being fundamentally incapable of doing such work.

If robots are about to become as ubiquitous as computers were in the 80s and 90s or today, then that has to have serious consequences for notion that people should earn their living. Bare in mind that, during the Great Depression, 25% of people were out of a job. Given the capabilities of robots and intelligent software being demonstrated in R+D labs around the world and piloted in some real world scenarios, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that pretty soon 45% of all jobs will be lost to automation. It is always tempting to believe one’s own job is immune to robotic takeover, or that technology will always create new jobs. But, as CGP Grey pointed out in his short documentary ‘Humans Need Not Apply’, if our ancestors had thought ‘more and better technology means new jobs for horses’ we can see that they were simply wrong. Today, there exists only a fraction of the number of working horses. They are simply unemployable, not economically viable thanks to the ‘horsepower’ we get from our machinery. Jobs for horses have not been reduced to zero. The Amish and developing world nations use horses or oxen to pull their farming instruments, we breed horses to race, the police use horses, England’s spectacle of trooping the colour would not be the same without those magnificent drum horses, but these amount to a paltry number of working horses compared to what there used to be.

Similarly, human employment may never be reduced to zero. There may always be some jobs which nobody or nothing has figured out how to automate in a cost-effective way, or jobs which we could automate but choose not to, feeling such work ought to be done by people and not machines. Childcare, for instance, may be a job that ought not to be offloaded to machines (though we may well want to make the task easier through machine assistance). However, such jobs must surely amount to a tiny percentage of all employment opportunities that exist today, so once all jobs except those rare unautomatable jobs are gone (assuming that there actually are jobs that could not or should not be automated) the stark truth is that most people will be as unemployable in the job market as a horse is.

A REAL RIGHT TO LIFE.

If we have succeeded in achieving that level of automation, and have blue-collar robots doing most if not all manual labour, white-collar AI doing managerial, legal and financial work, and the economy is pretty much fully automated, or at least predominately automated requiring only a tiny percentage of the population to do anything, then for heaven’s sake why not extend the benefits system to support not just those who cannot work due to their age or ill health, but those who were made unemployable through no fault of their own? Why make them feel guilty about not having a job when the number of jobs still open to humans has been so drastically reduced there are more people out of work than there are vacancies available to be filled?

Why not, instead, see the ephemeralization of technology- its ability to enable more work to be performed with increasingly less effort- as a golden opportunity to make reality the stirring words of the American Declaration of Independence, that we hold as self-evident truth that all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The fundamental right to life means the right to have access, without restriction other than greed which restricts accessibility for others, to the material resources required to make life, liberty, and happiness possible. With our upcoming technological capabilities we could make it a reality that nobody need be in a job in order to have a decent life, and in such a world the attitude that people should earn their living would be objectionable by any decent ethical standard.

Posted in technology and us, work jobs and all that | Tagged | 4 Comments

VIDEOGAMES THAT DEAL WITH YOUR DEMISE

VIDEOGAMES THAT DEAL WITH YOUR DEMISE

Danger and death feature pretty heavily in videogames. There are various reasons why this is so. One is due to what you actually do while playing such games, which is pushing buttons. Since that is a purely physical act, it is best mapped to situations where there is not much thinking and success or failure is dependent on how good your reactions are. Hence the prevalence of sports sims and life-and-death situations. Modern computing power and advances like rag-doll physics enable reasonably naturalistic depictions of bodies responding to a hail of bullets but we are still lacking the technology and the knowhow that can successfully reproduce subtle social skills.

But so much danger presents videogames with a dilemma. Most games these days have a narrative arc with your character as the protagonist in the story. There is an ultimate goal that he or she is striving for and which, since it has already been written by the game’s authors, must reach. It is likely, though, that the protagonist will meet some untimely end before reaching the preordained end of his or her story. The dilemma is what to do in event of the protagonist getting killed.

The solution taken by most videogames is to pretend like it never happened. One moment your character is falling to her death because you totally misjudged that jump, the next moment Lara is back standing before the precipice as if that fatal error was nothing but a bad dream.

But a few videogames have come up with more inventive solutions than that. Here, in no particular order, are a few.

WINGS.

This game by Cinemaware cast you in the role of a world war one fighter pilot. The game interspersed gameplay which consisted of engaging the Hun in dogfights with diary entries written by a real life fighter pilot, describing his daily life. In real life these guys were known as the ‘20 minuters’, because the average lifespan of a rookie pilot was just 20 minutes. Inevitably, then, you the video gamer get shot down and killed at some point during the campaign.

At that point, scene depicting a funeral is shown along with all the victories and awards that pilot amassed before his death. And then a new pilot comes along, picking up the story where it was left by his predecessor.

LEGOS GAMES.

You are Luke Skywalker, dishing out JedI justice to the nefarious forces of the empire. Only the force is not strong with you today because you just got shot to pieces (didn’t Han Solo tell you that hokey weapons were no match for a good blaster by your side?).

But that is OK, because you are Lego Luke Skywalker and your scattered lego parts reassemble themselves and on you go!

GRAND THEFT AUTO III-V

It had to happen. Living so dangerously, you were bound to get yourself fatally wounded. But fortunately for you this state has the best hospital ever to have existed and no matter how bad your injuries, you wake up from unconsciousness with nothing worse than a sum of money deducted from your bank balance.

BIOSHOCK INFINITE

ARRRRGH! You are dead. Cue cut scene of Elizabeth, the girl you are charged with protecting, administering an injection to bring you back from the dead.

STEEL BATALLION (I think)

There was a game involving mechs- huge bipedal walking tanks- and it might have been called Steel Batallion but I am not sure about that. The game cost a whopping £130, with most of that buying the huge twin-joystick 40 button controller you used to control your mech. One of those buttons was used to activate your ejector seat, enabling you to get out of harm’s way before your mech exploded.

If you did not eject in good time, you were dead. Really dead. The game would wipe your memory card clean of any progress saved up to that point.

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WE OF THE ROBOT CARGO CULT.

WE OF THE ROBOT CARGO CULT.

During the Second World War, allied forces set up bases on islands around the Pacific that were home to a people who were, technologically, primitive. The indigenous population observed how the men who had come to the island engaged in most perplexing behaviour. This included such strange acts as persuading local people to dress up in identical clothes, and march up and down, and other actions which, so far as the local people could tell, served no real purpose whatsoever.

But then something happened which revealed the reason behind these strange actions. Huge metal birds appeared in the sky and, upon landing, disgorged from their bellies a bounty of food and material possessions. The local people figured that the strange acts were rituals those men performed in order to persuade the gods to come down and distribute material wealth among the people. By emulating those rituals, surely the local people could likewise encourage the gods to come down and give away food and luxury items. It sure beat working for it!

And so, the ‘cargo cult’ was born.

So far (perhaps unsurprisingly) cargo cultists have had no luck in persuading gods to shower the people with material comforts, despite their building runways and control towers out of bamboo and other local materials, and reproducing as best they can the ‘rituals’ that seemed to work for the Allied forces. But perhaps we, in the future, really could live in a world where material comfort comes with little effort beyond calling on the ‘gods’ to deliver it.

We see signs of this eventual reality already. If you search for ‘Amazon Robot Warehouse’ on you tube you will find video footage of robots produced by the company Kiva, whose job it is to fetch shelves containing desired items, all under the control of an algorithm that knows the location of all the thousands of shelves in Amazon warehouses. And in another example of automating their services, Amazon demonstrated a novel delivery system whereby a package was delivered by a quad-copter, guided to the correct location via GPS tracking.

Of course, the automation of Amazon’s business is far from complete, as is the automation of the economy in general. We do still have jobs that only humans can be reliably tasked to do. But there may come a day when that is no longer the case; when robots and the artificial intelligence that controls them are capable enough to be put to any conceivable task. With appropriate reconfigurations of our societies, we could live in extreme comfort, having offloaded responsibility for creating and distributing material wealth to our smart technologies.

But, then, what becomes of us? Obviously we would not be under any illusion that we are being served by gods who answer whenever we call, because we are too technologically sophisticated to think of an automated economy in that way. But how else might our behaviour change?

END OF WORK? PUT YOUR FEET UP.

A common response to the possibility of a world in which all jobs are performed by robots is to think that everybody will become bone idle. We will all lounge around popping peeled grapes into our mouths, with no need or desire to get up and do anything productive.

And yet, to our modern minds, the visions of Heaven as portrayed by medieval scholars sounds dreadfully limiting. According to those scholars, Heaven is a place of endless material comfort, including a table forever laden with food and drink, and relaxation, relaxation, relaxation for all eternity. Well that sounds rather splendid, for a while at least. But forever? I reckon such a life would become exceedingly dull before too long.

You have to remember, though, that the people who dreamed of a heaven like that had no real practical experience of a life of leisure. They had no holidays, they looked forward to no retirement beyond collapsing in the deathbed. They toiled away for literally all their lives. What was to them a utopian dream of a life without hard toil is, for us, a regular reality. We know all too well that, whatever else material wealth and laziness may bring in terms of benefits, real happiness and fulfilment is not among them.

That is not to say that, in a world where robots do the jobs, nobody would choose to just put their feet up and take it easy. I am quite sure that, for a while, most people who were wage-slaves but now are free would want nothing more than to chill out. Observe how many people do not do much on the weekends and days off other than watch TV and drink beer. Perhaps that is not so surprising: If your body has been made weary by a week of toil and your mind dulled by the drudgery of the task your employer makes you do, you are hardly likely to turn into a powerhouse of creativity and productivity on the few days off you get .

But, eventually, the novelty of not needing to have a job in order to live in material wealth would wear out, and the need to be engaged in work- truly meaningful, productive work that provides rewards beyond mere monetary compensation- would become a priority. At that point, the robots would be on hand to deliver just enough resources to enable one to fulfil one’s dreams in a meaningful way.

WHAT MAKES FOR MEANINGFUL WORK?

There are two ways in which a videogame can be dull. One is when its gameplay is just too hard. In principle, one could make a first-person-shooter in which your computer-controlled opponents were simply unbeatable. They could dodge every bullet you fired at them, and score a headshot the second you peeped out from behind your cover. But since nobody wants to play an un-winnable game, designers strive to give bots artificial stupidity, which is to say humanlike weaknesses. They make ‘mistakes’ which can be learned and exploited. Naturally, if the bots are made too stupid, defeating them becomes a trivial task. Too simple a game is no more fun than one is too hard.

The perfect balance between ease and difficulty is struck when the challenge of an activity is slightly harder than your current skillset is equipped for. In that situation, you enter a state of mind that Milhay Csikszentmihalyi describes as ‘flow’, characterized by that feeling of absorption in a task that leads to one being pretty much unconscious of anything else. A rock climber, for example, who was interviewed by Csikszentmihalyi said, “you are so involved in what you are doing that you aren’t thinking of yourself as separate from that immediate activity”.

Flow occurs whenever a person is engaged in an activity that has neither more nor less challenge than he or she can handle. I do not suppose we would wish to achieve a state of flow in every conceivable activity. Most people, I suspect, do not want to be ‘challenged’ while doing household chores; they would rather not do these jobs at all and let a machine do it for them. But when it comes to work we enjoy doing- and it is almost always the case that whatever you enjoy doing you are gifted at- then we want it to be challenging enough for us to feel a genuine sense of achievement as we improve at our beloved task.

In that case, we would likely moderate our use of the robot cargo cult so that it provides us with resources enough to meet a challenge we care about, but not remove so much hardship that we can feel no satisfaction at reaching our goal. Would I like artificially intelligent assistants helping me to craft a great essay? Sure. Would I want to have it written for me, at the push of a button? No.

MORAVEC’S WISE AI.

The roboticist Hans Moravec imagined a scenario whereby a fully automated economy could enable people to live in retirement from birth. The robot corporations would be heavily taxed, and the funds thereby raised would go pay for a lifelong pension for all people. The human populace would spend its money on things the robots corporations produced and so, in order to survive in the marketplace, the robots would strive to produce products people covet. Moravec reckoned that this would lead to robot corporations that:

“struggling to appeal to consumers will develop and act on increasingly detailed and accurate models of human psychology….Just doing their job (they) will peer into the workings of human minds and manipulate them with subtle cues and nudges, like adults redirecting toddlers”.

Put like that, the ‘robot cargo cult’ sounds rather dystopian. Who wants to be made to feel like a toddler? Bare in mind, though, that Moravec here is talking about not just artificial intelligence, but rather super intelligence. And it may well be that, in comparison to such profoundly intelligent artificial minds, our minds are like a toddler’s. Or even dumber than that.

But which AI that strives to appeal to consumers would be most likely to succeed? One that made you feel as dumb as a baby, or one that made you feel like you were smarter and more accomplished than you had previously considered yourself to be? Would we be most happy in a world where we are cared for as a responsible parent cares for an infant, or one in which we have adult ambitions and dreams, and the resources at hand in order to realistically strive towards excellence?

If Moravec’s robots really did their job well, they would moderate our access to material wealth and to knowledge so that we can obtain a real sense of achievement as we improve at the tasks we love. To be members of a robot cargo cult could very well be to achieve levels of self-actualization which, in our current society’s demand to have people do jobs they do not necessarily find personally fulfilling, is sorely lacking.

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HAVE I ALREADY GROWN BEYOND MY PRIMARY?

 

december 08 2013 my copies by jamie_001

As some of you may know, I once proposed something I called ‘Poor Man’s Uploading’ that could possibly work for digital people like myself. This form of ‘uploading’ starts with the premise that a digital person is a fictional being created and developed in online worlds/ social networks, with a human primary who acts in the role of author/actor/ puppeteer so as to imbue the avatar with humanlike qualities. Whereas one may insist on communicating with a particular human being if the avatar used as a means of communication is augmentationist (ie an avatar that represents a particular RL individual, making that avvie one more means of keeping in touch with that person like their RL phone number, email adress etc) there should be no need to worry or care about who, exactly, is behind the scenes when you interact with a digital person. All that matters is that the avatar behaves in ways that seem consistent with that character, according to your prior experiences and your expectations. Just as film characters can live on through a succession of performers, digital people can live on through a succession of primaries.

So, anyway, a couple of interesting developments happened over the last couple of days. One came about while I was reading Robert M Geraci’s book ‘Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in WOW and SL’. I am one of the people the author talks about and there are quite a few quotes from things I have written or said in conversation with the author. There was one particular quote which ran thus:

“The avatar is sort of you and, at the same time, sort of somebody else. It could be that increasingly sophisticated avatars will act as a kind of bridge easing humans into a future in which brains can be scanned, mapped, and reconstructed digitally: Uploads, in other words”.

The author of this quote was referred to simply as ‘one transhumanist’ but I was certain I must be that person, because it sounded like exactly the sort of thing I would have said. In fact, I was sure I did say those exact words in one of my essays. But a check of the notes at the back of the book revealed this to be a quote from somebody else.

My thoughts have turned to memes, and are infecting at least one other brain. There is another person out there, somewhere, whose mind is at least partially ‘Extropialike’.

The other thing that happened was: I tried to register an account with ‘Inworldz’ which is an online world like Second Life. Of course, I wanted to register my own name but this name was already registered. There was already a resident called ‘Extropia DaSilva’. I had to settle for naming my Inworldz avatar after the shorthand version of my name my friends tend to use: ‘Extie DaSilva’.

Now, Inworldz’s Extropia DaSilva would not seem authentic to me because my mental model of ‘Extropia DaSilva’ is so strong. And if my partner or sister were to come to Inworldz and meet ‘me’ I dare say they would find this Extropia strangely ignorant of key memories; their mental model of me, while not quite as high-resolution as the one installed in my primary’s mind, is still very strong and I doubt ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could stand up to too much questioning. Extie DaSilva, on the other hand, would certainly pass any test they could dream up in order to prove she is most like the version of myself Jamie or Seren have come to know in SL.

People not so well acquainted with me, though, may meet an avatar called’ Extropia DaSilva’ and naturally assume it is the same one as the Second Life Extropia, the Facebook Extropia, and the KurzweilAI forum Extropia. And while whoever is the primary of this avatar could never ever fool me and would hardly be likely to fool my wife or sister or best friends from SL for very long, they might be able to pretend to be me well enough to seem convincing to people who do not know me quite so well. And if somebody is convinced they are talking to me, then as far as they are concerned that avatar is Extropia DaSilva. What if the author of the quote from Geraci’s book and whoever registered the name Extropia DaSilva in Inworldz was one and the same person? Hardly likely, I know, but if that were the case I think many a casual acquaintance would accept that avatar as being truly me.

This is both vaguely disturbing and exciting. On one hand it feels like identity theft. But on the other hand I could view this as evidence that my identity is being imperfectly copied to other brains, making a crude ‘upload’ of myself. Not one convincing enough to stand up under ‘are you REALLY Extropia?’ scrutiny those closest to me could subject the avatar to, but perhaps good enough for folks with whom I have only loose ties.

Now, suppose it is The Future and I have an extensive lifelog of past events. Suppose furthermore that search engines have become extremely efficient at retrieving specific memories from a person’s lifelogged personal history. Backed up by an AI ‘prompter’ that swiftly searches through my digital memories and pithily summarises events (‘what was Jamie worried about last time we spoke?’ ‘Jamie was concerned about blah blah’) the person running the InWorldZ ‘Extropia DaSilva’ could seem authentic even to those who know me best, like Serendipity my SL partner. Imagine if my primary wore sensors that detected when death occurred, and when that happened an online search is conducted intended to find another human who could take her place, the person running Inworldz Extropia being the closest match. This person then gets access to my accounts in SL, Facebook, Kurzweilai and can come to those places along with my digital memories and the AI prompter augmenting their performance.

Thus, my patterns would persist for as long as there is somebody willing and able to maintain them, enabling me to ‘exist’ across a succession of primaries until such time as real mind uploading enables me to progress from a digital person to a mind child.

UPDATE: After posting this essay I went back into InworldZ and sent a message to ‘Extropia DaSilva’. The message got forwarded to my own email account, proving this is NOT an imposter pretending to be me, but an avatar I had completely forgotten I had!

There is still a lesson about identity to learn from all this, which is that we sometimes forget things so completely it is as if they never happened. Perhaps if we live long enough it will be our fate as the people we are today to become totally forgotten by the people of the future we will have become?

This shows existence  is still short and precious, even if a life goes on forever.

Posted in Philosophies of self | Tagged | 7 Comments

Thinkers June 17 2014: THE WAR METAPHOR

Extropia DaSilva: Today…oo kissy!…today our topic is…
[2014/06/17 15:33] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what’s up zo?
[2014/06/17 15:33] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, what’s wrong, Zo?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Extropia DaSilva: THE WAR METAPHOR: ‘the war on drugs’, ‘the war on terrorism’. Quite often, we see war used as a metaphor for actions being taken to eradicate something deemed undesirable. But when is this metaphor useful and when is it not?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Zobeid Zuma: My eye has been bugging me.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Zo. I *tried* to have a different experience with SL today, but it was hoping too much that LL fixed a bug that merely bothers a few thousands of users….
[2014/06/17 15:34] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh, nice topic. Very tircky.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, what’s your problem, Gwyn?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Seren (serendipity.seraph): hey ari, zo, gwyn, meta, rhi
[2014/06/17 15:34] Extropia DaSilva: first off, is it ever useful?
[2014/06/17 15:34] Zobeid Zuma: AS chance would have it, I was just thinking about something like this topic recently.
[2014/06/17 15:34] Metafire Horsley: Hi Rhi
[2014/06/17 15:35] Extropia DaSilva: I like this pose, darling.
[2014/06/17 15:35] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yay
[2014/06/17 15:36] Gwyneth Llewelyn: (Rhi: since LL moved the Mac codebase to use Cocoa, it made chat impossible to use. Not only public chat. Anything that requires typing. This only affects a few thousands or tens of thousands of Mac users, so LL cannot bother with it — neither the Firestorm team bothers with it, although at least they aclkowledge that the problem does, in fact, exist)
[2014/06/17 15:36] Zobeid Zuma: Most of time when War On X is invoked, it’s basically fraudulent.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Gwyneth Llewelyn: War on XY!
[2014/06/17 15:36] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well on war on drugs it is no one’s business what any adult chooses to consume so using “war” metaphor or not is beside the point.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, it’s an attempt to get us mobilized and in a frenzy; but it usually means we’re going to fail at it.
[2014/06/17 15:36] Zobeid Zuma: Fraudulent!
[2014/06/17 15:36] Metafire Horsley: Is that because frenzies are stupid maybe? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:37] Almitra Vella: but a rose by any other name
[2014/06/17 15:37] Seren (serendipity.seraph): exactly. “We are at war so don’t complain whatever outrageous thing we demand of you”
[2014/06/17 15:37] Extropia DaSilva: can you think of an example where the metaphor is useful?
[2014/06/17 15:37] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): War on Poverty=poverty increased; war on drug=drug use increased. But it’s supposed to reconcile us to the restrictions on freedom involved.
[2014/06/17 15:37] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on war :)
[2014/06/17 15:37] Metafire Horsley: War on language ;)
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, it’s usefully politically, if you agree there’s a social problem that needs addressing–and I thought of saying that, Seren, until I remembered that was used for WWI.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Zobeid Zuma: If we ever really had a “War on Drugs”, there would be armed jets patrolling the border, drone stikes on crack houses, etc.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Hmm. Maybe it is because when democracies talk about ‘war’ it means that governments are ALLOWED to suspend personal freedoms — ‘temporarily’?
[2014/06/17 15:38] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the language of “The War on X” is used as an excuse to spend large amounts of public monies as well as cut back on accountability of methods used to further the goal.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I’m thinking, for instance, of the US’s Patriot Act, or however it’s called
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, I think that’s part of it.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Extropia DaSilva: how about the ‘war on cancer’? Is it legitimate to say we are organising forces to battle this enemy?
[2014/06/17 15:38] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): I just call it the Enabling Act, but then I think of it as the department of fatherland security too.
[2014/06/17 15:38] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Good counter-example.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, that’s a good example
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right, Rhi…. who gets ‘enabled’ by it, anyway?
[2014/06/17 15:39] Seren (serendipity.seraph): calling something so profoundly anti-american “The Patriot Act” makes my blood boil
[2014/06/17 15:39] ArtCrash Exonar: Is there a war on cancer? I haven’t heard that term used by any official entities.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Almitra Vella: I wouldn’t mind it being called a war if it was treated that way, everyone on the same team
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sorry! I didn’t mean to sound offensive!
[2014/06/17 15:39] Zobeid Zuma: If we ever really had a “War on Poverty” it would involve drafting people into social service, rationing, war bonds, etc. It would require people to change their lifestyles and make real sacrifices to achieve victory.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, at least its counter is called the Freedom ACt.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Almitra: allegedly on a war you have at least TWO teams :D
[2014/06/17 15:39] Extropia DaSilva: Of course, the medical establishment does not really want to cure anything, since management of disease is more profitable.
[2014/06/17 15:39] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Welllllll
[2014/06/17 15:40] Almitra Vella: Yes, Zo, that’s what I mean, we only dilute our langugage
[2014/06/17 15:40] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, I believe they’re rationing cynicism now, so be careful you don’t exceed your limit.
[2014/06/17 15:40] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hahahahahah Rhi
[2014/06/17 15:40] Zobeid Zuma: Even the “War on Terror” didn’t ask for sacrifice from most of the general public.
[2014/06/17 15:40] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on aging? not sure anti-aging would benefit by such especially as calling it a “war” seems to mean government should run it and take whatever they wan from us to do so.
[2014/06/17 15:40] ArtCrash Exonar: Interesting that i’m finding it hard to conceive of a
[2014/06/17 15:40] Extropia DaSilva: The general public did end up sacrificing certain liberties.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right, Extie. Remember, someone who lives FAR LONGER because they don’t get cancer, will get MANY OTHER DISEASES for an extended period of time. So, ultimately, fighting deadly diseases is a good’war’, from the perspective of medical economics :)
[2014/06/17 15:41] Zobeid Zuma: We barely even wage war on the battlefield anymore.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Metafire Horsley: Does it require personification of X if you declare “War on X”?
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me is borrowing some extra cynism from Extie today
[2014/06/17 15:41] Extropia DaSilva: I charge compound interest, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Uh oh.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Sure it did Zo. We were expected and are expected to put up with TSA, NSA mass spying, “security letters” and so on.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Almitra Vella: /me shrugs, “It’s Tuesday” (grins)
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ㋡
[2014/06/17 15:41] Extropia DaSilva: You are already more in debt than Zimbabwe.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh my.
[2014/06/17 15:41] Almitra Vella: hahaha
[2014/06/17 15:42] ArtCrash Exonar: Interesting that i’m finding it hard to conceive of a ‘War On’ phrase to include funding of say astronomical or geological research.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): my darling is cynical? never noticed.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Zobeid Zuma: Well, those are things most people don’t see. Aside from the TSA. :p
[2014/06/17 15:42] Extropia DaSilva: *kisses Seren*
[2014/06/17 15:42] Almitra Vella: “ignorance about space”
[2014/06/17 15:42] Almitra Vella: the war on that
[2014/06/17 15:42] Metafire Horsley: You want a War on Ignorance? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:42] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We can’t fight the ‘War on Stupidity’ which is a shame. There wouldn’t be anyone left.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe right, Metafire, same thought here.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zimbabwe is in debt? I guess that’s what happens when you declare war on talent.
[2014/06/17 15:42] ArtCrash Exonar: I suggest a War on War.
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): I did first
[2014/06/17 15:42] Seren (serendipity.seraph): :)
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, we had that, World War I, remember?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Metafire Horsley: War on metaphors! ;9
[2014/06/17 15:43] Almitra Vella: I’d prefer to stop the war on language
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): The war to end all wars.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Even more interesting, we technically don’t have ‘wars’ any more — in the strictly legal sense.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Extropia DaSilva: eh?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: They are uh… ‘peace missions’
[2014/06/17 15:43] Almitra Vella: I thought that was the reason for releasing the gitmo five?
[2014/06/17 15:43] Extropia DaSilva: or conflicts
[2014/06/17 15:43] Zobeid Zuma: I think that was metaphorical. “War to End All Wars” = “Mother of All Battles”
[2014/06/17 15:43] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, and why do you think that is? It’s just as much trouble to get a resolution to take all means necessary as it is to get a declaration of war. No, police actions, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That way, you don’t need to get it approved at the national parliament, which is the case in most countries.
[2014/06/17 15:43] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, police actions, yes
[2014/06/17 15:44] ArtCrash Exonar: I’m thinking here that the term War is meant to move the priority to the front of the line in terms of funding and support. As traditionally War trumped all other human activities.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Extropia DaSilva: I guess the 100 years war did not really last for a century?
[2014/06/17 15:44] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But a resolutuon is approval by the national parliament, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Gwyneth Llewelyn: My own country is partially decomissioning the armed forces. They are shrunk to ahandful of people. By contrast, our National Guard — technically a police force — has grown beyond everything. And, of course, they’re trained and armed just like the army used to be.
[2014/06/17 15:44] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Maybe it sounds less agressive. “We reslolve to kick your ass, but we’re not at war with you”
[2014/06/17 15:45] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Now we just sent some drones wherever we want and maybe a bomber or two.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well yes, but in most cases, a’police action’ is merely an executive procedure, which doesn’t call for the same political engagement as a ‘war’ does.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Wars have never been won with dragons, but with soldiers. Old Man Lannister.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Extropia DaSilva: so I guess the metaphor is useful in terms of a campaign to let people know experts are being assembled and budgets are being spent and Something IS Being Done about X?
[2014/06/17 15:45] Almitra Vella: saying they are armed makes me think Switzerland
[2014/06/17 15:45] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Dragons! Way cooler than drones.
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ㋡
[2014/06/17 15:45] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: it’s useful politically.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So, yes, it’s pure demagogy :)
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, and that we really mean it. Really.
[2014/06/17 15:46] ArtCrash Exonar: This topic is making me think we should be more judicious with the use of the war word, as I’m thinking it obscures the specifics of what is being attempted.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exactly, art,.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Seren (serendipity.seraph): hmm. I wonder what it would take to make a drone pass for a dragon
[2014/06/17 15:46] Metafire Horsley: Just make some cool drones that are called “Dragon”. Drone style level increased by 300% ;)
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, I absolutely agree with that. What’s wrong with me. I’m absolutely agreeing with you.
[2014/06/17 15:46] Extropia DaSilva: If it looked like a dragon, maybe?
[2014/06/17 15:46] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That reminds me of ‘The 3 Formulas of Professor Sato’…. there was a ‘dragon drone’ in it
[2014/06/17 15:46] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, right
[2014/06/17 15:46] Almitra Vella: /me laughs and repeats, “drone style level”
[2014/06/17 15:46] ArtCrash Exonar: haha
[2014/06/17 15:46] Zobeid Zuma: Well, lots of words get watered down. “War” has taken a beating, it seems.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): I was thinking of Game of Thrones, as dragons were like aerial strikes, the cities looked like London after the blitz, except more medieval.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Gwyneth Llewelyn: If it looks like a dragon, breathes fire like a dragon, and flies like a dragon, is it a dragon? No! It’s a drone!
[2014/06/17 15:47] Metafire Horsley: As has “terrorism”. Nowadays everything is terrorism
[2014/06/17 15:47] Extropia DaSilva: My essays drag on.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Zobeid Zuma: People keep talking about that show, I may have to watch it someday.
[2014/06/17 15:47] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aye, Metafire, again, because you fight terrorism with ‘police forces’
[2014/06/17 15:47] Extropia DaSilva: back when I used to write essays..
[2014/06/17 15:47] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, there is a legal definition of terrorism. It’s the use of force to influence US policy. Which would make voting an act of terrorism, if you think about it.
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Extie, you’re in ‘bad pun mode’ now :)
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Haha Rhi!!!!!!
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): So it is only US?
[2014/06/17 15:48] Extropia DaSilva: I wondered who would spot that.
[2014/06/17 15:48] Almitra Vella: “apparently”
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is initiation of force about voting?
[2014/06/17 15:48] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the worst use of the term in the recent past is the “War on Drugs’ which has been used to actually wage war and escalate the situation. It doesn’t allow for any action in the drug debate that doesn’t involved eradication….
[2014/06/17 15:48] Gwyneth Llewelyn: US and its satellite countries, I’d say
[2014/06/17 15:48] Seren (serendipity.seraph): people have silly ideas of what force is
[2014/06/17 15:48] Metafire Horsley: Nah, half the world just copies the language of the US government.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Almitra Vella: seems very sad to believe that
[2014/06/17 15:49] Metafire Horsley: The USA are (still) very influential after all.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Gwyneth Llewelyn: True, Metafire. So true.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Zobeid Zuma: Yeah, the “War on Drugs” has been an unmitigated disaster. I think maybe the end is in sight, though. Or at least the beginning of the end.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ‘If it works for the US; it should work for us. MAybe. Oh, what the hell, let’s just copy them anyway.’
[2014/06/17 15:49] Seren (serendipity.seraph): after 911 the US government worked hard to come up with a definition of terrorism it liked and did not make many of its own actions terrorism. It failed.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, yes, it’s a very well done show. Millions of dollars, only 10 episodes per seasons, they take the time to do it right.
[2014/06/17 15:49] Extropia DaSilva: So is hypocrisy the thing that makes the metaphor turn bad? In the case of the war on drugs, the hipocrisy being the condoning of some bad substances such as alcohol?
[2014/06/17 15:49] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Or you could just read about the War of the Roses. lol
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me would be fine fighting with roses.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Zobeid Zuma: It just sounds so dreary. :|
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exie: hypocrysy, cynism, demagogy….
[2014/06/17 15:50] Metafire Horsley: No, it’s worse: Oh, it doesn’t work for the US. Maybe it still works for us? Probably not, but at least Uncle Sam won’t be angry with us if we make the same mistakes ;)
[2014/06/17 15:50] ArtCrash Exonar: What is interesting about the war on drugs is that it has nothing to do with prescription drug misuse at all. ONly imported opiates and psychedelics.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Extropia DaSilva: Seren’s love is like a rose/ and I am a little thorny…
[2014/06/17 15:50] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no the hypocrisy is claiming to be a country based on freedom and then attacking people for what they consume and throwing them in cages
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That’s SO true, Metafire!!
[2014/06/17 15:50] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, hypocrisy is a separate issue; it’s not necessary to be a hypocrite to fight a war on X, it just helps when X is a popular thing to do.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Seren (serendipity.seraph): the hypocrisy is not that they didn’t include other drugs
[2014/06/17 15:50] Zobeid Zuma: Some kind of medieval soap opera about a bunch of ridiculous royals.
[2014/06/17 15:50] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, there is such a thing as the freedom to throw people into cages :)
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no there is not
[2014/06/17 15:51] Gwyneth Llewelyn: *now* there is :)
[2014/06/17 15:51] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me would love a War on Political Correctness
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): or not any non-contradictory real freedom
[2014/06/17 15:51] Seren (serendipity.seraph): freedom fries
[2014/06/17 15:51] Extropia DaSilva: hey Sean
[2014/06/17 15:51] Sean Gorham: Hello!
[2014/06/17 15:51] Almitra Vella: how about instead of a war on war, we teach love of truth
[2014/06/17 15:51] Zobeid Zuma: Terrorism is an act of violence against the populace to instill fear.
[2014/06/17 15:52] Metafire Horsley: What seems to be (mis)used most is the Freedom to be stupid ^^
[2014/06/17 15:52] Almitra Vella: agreed, Meta
[2014/06/17 15:52] Gwyneth Llewelyn: How do you fight a war on war? Use even stronger armed forces to prevent armed forces of using, well, armed force?
[2014/06/17 15:52] ArtCrash Exonar: because truth is dependent on ‘theory of knowledge’ and therefore not objective.
[2014/06/17 15:52] Seren (serendipity.seraph): almost no one loves truth
[2014/06/17 15:52] Extropia DaSilva: What is the truth?
[2014/06/17 15:52] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Like the parody of the Talking Heads, “Dare to be STupid.”
[2014/06/17 15:52] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe Metafire. Indeed. And it will get worse: stupid people reproduce faster! That reminds me always how fickle evolution was to come up with ‘intelligence’, when we see it’s so little used.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Huh, ArtCrash?
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): so Number Theory means math is not objective?
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, are you really channeling for Pontius PIlate? Look what happened when he, erm, washed his hands.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Zobeid Zuma: That was the so-called “Marching Morons” problem, Gwyn. But it’s really bogus.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Metafire Horsley: I’m slightly amazed that “Truth” hasn’t been used as a brand name for something already. Like an energy drink. “Drink Truth! It makes you clever!” ;)
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, you’ve read The Marching Morons, I see.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Gwyneth Llewelyn: oooh Metafire…. you’re so goood at this
[2014/06/17 15:53] Gwyneth Llewelyn: No, I haven’t!
[2014/06/17 15:53] Sean Gorham: Or watched “Idiocracy.”
[2014/06/17 15:53] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well, there is a reason zombie movies are so popular
[2014/06/17 15:53] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Meta, you’d have to come up with a legal definition then. Heh.
[2014/06/17 15:53] Extropia DaSilva: I, like everyone, have a worldview and in that worldview somethings are axiomatic, some all but certain, some things less certain, and some things I dismmiss as plain crazy. But what guarantee do I have thay MY worldview maps perfectly to Reality?
[2014/06/17 15:54] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Hi Sean
[2014/06/17 15:54] Sean Gorham: Hello!
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: it does…. for your variant of Reality :)
[2014/06/17 15:54] ArtCrash Exonar: Truth for the religious is based on belief, whereas for the scientist it is based on reasoned evidence. Those things lead to people having different definitions of truth, so It can’t be the same for everyone.
[2014/06/17 15:54] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is “maps perfectly” and why is it required?
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Nice argument, Art :=)
[2014/06/17 15:54] Metafire Horsley: You get that guarantee from the Ministry of Truth. Where else do you expect it to come from? ;)
[2014/06/17 15:54] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Note that I also consider ideologies as a form of religion.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Almitra Vella: not everything need be hypothetical, sometimes we can say we’d like to find a cure cancer and tell folks what it would really take, no latte’s for a year or whatever
[2014/06/17 15:55] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Not if they are grounded in reality and reason
[2014/06/17 15:55] Extropia DaSilva: Maps perfectly means everything I think is possible IS, and everything I think impossible is indeed not possible.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, it’s about a world where welfare made all the low IQ’s reproduce but the high IQ’s, concerned about population control didn’t. They had to take care of the billions of morons, until they revived a Madison Avenue type from the 20th century. He made a campagin to sell Venus, and travel to it (and Venus was like it is in reality). The morons all booked flights to Venus. Problem solved.
[2014/06/17 15:55] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Oh! Like on the HitchHiker’s Guide of the Galaxy!
[2014/06/17 15:55] Seren (serendipity.seraph): as you are not and cannot be omniscient your definition is obviously impossible and devoid of meaning, my love
[2014/06/17 15:55] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I haven’t seen that movie, but the plot is familiar.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Zobeid Zuma: I think Douglas Adams recycled that idea for the Golgafrinchian Ark Ships.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Exactly.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): For science, truth is based on a paradigm, on consensus, on tradition, not so different than religion.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Zobeid Zuma: But Asimov was wrong.
[2014/06/17 15:56] Extropia DaSilva: Is the truth merely that info which gives us comfort?
[2014/06/17 15:56] Gwyneth Llewelyn: March of the Morons is an Asimov story?
[2014/06/17 15:56] Extropia DaSilva: I guess not..
[2014/06/17 15:56] Seren (serendipity.seraph): No it is not based on those things
[2014/06/17 15:56] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, they probably got it from the book
[2014/06/17 15:57] Extropia DaSilva: But the ring of truth…what is that?
[2014/06/17 15:57] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the term race, as in Space Race, might be a good term for future major goals. The race for green energy or The race for genetic disease control…..
[2014/06/17 15:57] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): No, it’s not an Asimov story. He’d have a benevolent government, or robot, come in and make things all better.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Extropia DaSilva: OO race..
[2014/06/17 15:57] Zobeid Zuma: I think it was Asimov… I know from his editorials that he took the idea seriously, at any rate. He saw the “Population Explosion” as a critical threat to civilization.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Almitra Vella: well, “race for”
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi, for science ‘truth’ has a precise mathematical definition…. outside the field of maths, there is just ‘temporary truth until we find a better one’ :)
[2014/06/17 15:57] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, well it’s not just a metaphor; there was a race for space, so it doesn’t manipulate language the way ‘war’ does.
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: and Asimov was wrong, you say?
[2014/06/17 15:57] Seren (serendipity.seraph): March of the Morons is idea that more intelligent people almost always have less kids so if intelligence is in large part genetic you get a dumber and dumber average population
[2014/06/17 15:57] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Right. What is wrong with that hypothesis?
[2014/06/17 15:58] Gwyneth Llewelyn: As far as I can observe, from my parochial statistics, it fits perfectly to reality as I observe it :)
[2014/06/17 15:58] Extropia DaSilva: Do prizes count as metaphor? Like the X-prize, for the first commercial spacecraft or the Methusulah mouse prize for making an old mouse biologically young?
[2014/06/17 15:58] Seren (serendipity.seraph): knowledge is contextual. What is the best fit for the facts within the context of what we know so far.
[2014/06/17 15:58] Seren (serendipity.seraph): that doesn’t mean it is arbitrary or religious.
[2014/06/17 15:59] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, Gwyn, the precise mathematical definition is predicated on a lot of assumptions. I grant precision may be a difference between science and theology. For now, I grant it, anyway. Call me back by the end of the week.
[2014/06/17 15:59] Seren (serendipity.seraph): or subjective
[2014/06/17 15:59] ArtCrash Exonar: It turns out that Space Race actually meant extreme prioritizing of science for attainment of a specific goal. But extreme prioritizing doesn’t have a ring to it…..
[2014/06/17 15:59] Seren (serendipity.seraph): faith or believe “because it is absurd” has no place in science
[2014/06/17 15:59] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hehe Rhi — also notice that I made a huge distinction between ‘maths’ and ‘the rest of all other sciences’ (and we could argue if ‘math’ is a science)
[2014/06/17 15:59] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Religous isn’t arbitray either, necessarily
[2014/06/17 15:59] Zobeid Zuma: For one thing, average intelligence is still going up because of better education and nutrition around the world. Genetics is a relatively minor factor. And wealth seems to be what really cuts down the fertility rate, rather than IQ level.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, yes, we could. It involves no necessary empirical data.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Extropia DaSilva: Religions evolve like anything else.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Genetics is about 50% by most estimations
[2014/06/17 16:00] ArtCrash Exonar: Math is a tool for science, not a science itself.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, you have eased my worst worries, Zo. I’m always scared when I see how moronic kids are these days, and they will run this country when I’m too old and frail :)
[2014/06/17 16:00] Metafire Horsley: It is a science itself. But some also see it as a form of art.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, that’s a topic in itself, Art, what is science. But math is not-empirical, and science does have an empirical dimension to it.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): math is a tool for formalizing patterns and abstractions and operations upon them
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: I would tend to agree.
[2014/06/17 16:00] Seren (serendipity.seraph): so very important tool for understanding and predicting reality
[2014/06/17 16:00] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And Rhi, yes, I would also agree with you :)
[2014/06/17 16:01] ArtCrash Exonar: It isn’t a science in that it is based on arbitrary givens. And not discovered.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Zobeid Zuma: Also, we got the lead out of the gasoline and the paint. So that helps a lot.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, that just shows your age; the older generation has said that about kids since at least Arisophanes.
[2014/06/17 16:01] Seren (serendipity.seraph): It is not based on arbitrary givens
[2014/06/17 16:01] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aye, and see what the world is *today*, Rhi ;)
[2014/06/17 16:01] Extropia DaSilva: Is Peter Joseph correct to say education and entertainment is deliberately dumbed down to ensure people are not capable of achieving the levels of critical thinking needed to see the state of our current moral and social zeitgeist?
[2014/06/17 16:01] Zobeid Zuma: oh yes, quote time. Ahem….
[2014/06/17 16:02] Zobeid Zuma: /me quotes: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; THEY contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” ― Socrates
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: /me smiles, “hide the truth”
[2014/06/17 16:02] ArtCrash Exonar: Given: here are the acceptable rules, and these are not. That is the basis of all maths.
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Well, if Rhi is right, Extie, than the answer is ‘no’. If I’m right, the answer is that peter Joseph is spot on!
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: because it’s old does it become less true?
[2014/06/17 16:02] Sean Gorham: In other words, “Damn those kids today, when I was a kid we had MANNERS.”
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: good question, ALmitra.
[2014/06/17 16:02] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well if you see it then you a) go mad; b) become a religious leader which is much the same thing; c) become hyper-cynical; d) become a revolutionary; e) become some misunderstood poet or artist
[2014/06/17 16:02] Almitra Vella: yes, Sean, I believe you did, by those standards
[2014/06/17 16:02] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So I would say that manners declined since the days of Socrates :)
[2014/06/17 16:03] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, no, I recall thinking how can there be public education in a democracy, after all State education should make people dumb and docile. And then it dawned on me–isn’t that exactly what public education does?
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seren: I’ll pick c=
[2014/06/17 16:03] Sean Gorham: If they’ve been declining for THAT long I dare say we’re holding up pretty well.
[2014/06/17 16:03] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, yes, exactly my point in bringing that up
[2014/06/17 16:03] Almitra Vella: oh, Seren, my hopes of becoming a thoughtful person with reasonable expectations are doomed?
[2014/06/17 16:03] Metafire Horsley: Which kids nowadays actually know who Socrates was? They are likely to think he’s a kind of pop star or something.
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: right!
[2014/06/17 16:03] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We had a prime minister named Socrates. He was terrible.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Metafire Horsley: :(
[2014/06/17 16:04] Sean Gorham: And when today’s kids grow up, they’ll say the same thing about *their* kids.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what is this “reasonable”? How will you know?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Almitra, no, the oldness of the belief is to show that it is a natural thing for the older people to say of the younger people, and that that doesn’t mean civilization is in decline–no more than it always has been, anyway
[2014/06/17 16:04] Zobeid Zuma: I learned about Socrates from Steven Martin.
[2014/06/17 16:04] Almitra Vella: current standards
[2014/06/17 16:04] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, just what country do you live in?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Almitra Vella: but that doesn’t make it less true, Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:04] Extropia DaSilva: Almitra, empires go through the same basic cycle. And the last stage of an empire is the age of decadence, typified by massive differences between the ruling class and everybody else, consipcuous displays of wealth, a parasite class that help themselves to the wealth without contributing anything, and ‘bread and circuses, ie the veneration of celebrity. How much of that sounds like current life?
[2014/06/17 16:04] Metafire Horsley: Oh, we have declined in many ways from ancient Greek standards. Those guys were amazing!
[2014/06/17 16:05] Seren (serendipity.seraph): but current standards are mad as a hatter in many ways or out-of-date with today much less tomorrow
[2014/06/17 16:05] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, worse ways to learn about Socrates. Steve Martin understood him and probably learned from him
[2014/06/17 16:05] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: exactly, so the decline will go on and on. I think that we will hit the Reverse SIngularity soon: not a super-AI that is more intelligent than humans, but a rather stupid, non-functional AI which will just barely work, but that won’t matter, because future humans will be so stupid that they will all hail it as their leader.
[2014/06/17 16:05] Almitra Vella: I agree, Seren but I do not believe I must go to extremes, simply observe and accept
[2014/06/17 16:05] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: everything!
[2014/06/17 16:05] Zobeid Zuma: “Wait, hemlock is poisonous? How was I to know that? I’m a philosopher! I know what is beauty, what is truth! I don’t know what is poisonous and what is not poisonous.”
[2014/06/17 16:05] Sean Gorham: Is it really a decline, though, or is that just our own biases influencing what we experience?
[2014/06/17 16:05] Seren (serendipity.seraph): we have that kind of AI or much better already.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Sean Gorham: To expect every generation to behave just like their ancestors is silly.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Extropia DaSilva: Our civilization has to collapse. It is a physical certainty.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: I’m just being cynical. I expect that better education and better health actually allows more people to become clever, and that offsets the ongoing decline of human intelligence.
[2014/06/17 16:06] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, he knew it was poisonous, he thought it was his duty to carry out his own execution. Being a citizen, he had to obey the law (he thought).
[2014/06/17 16:06] Zobeid Zuma: Not following you, Extie…
[2014/06/17 16:06] Sean Gorham: Oh, believe me, Gwyn, I’m quite the pessimist too!
[2014/06/17 16:06] Seren (serendipity.seraph): how about “war on self-dishonesty” or “war on akrasia”
[2014/06/17 16:06] Almitra Vella: YAY, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:07] Almitra Vella: that would stop so many politicians and their critics in their tracks
[2014/06/17 16:07] ArtCrash Exonar: Advance and Decline are relative concepts to the values of the person speaking them.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh akrasia, for a moment I thought you said Alaska. I thought that was rather silly. But yeah, agree with you, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:07] Seren (serendipity.seraph): except that that gives too much self anger and guilt and falls apart
[2014/06/17 16:07] Metafire Horsley: When you fight a “War”, you should have an idea what your army is and what your weapons are.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Gwyneth Llewelyn: haha Sean… I’m not really pessimit…. I’m just glad that I’m not immortal: it would be horrible to see the collapse of everything we’ve achieved so far. I’ll die way before that happens!
[2014/06/17 16:07] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, unless the Singularity happens. lol
[2014/06/17 16:07] Extropia DaSilva: Because Zo, endless growth and consumption has to run up against the finite resources of our home, this planet Earth.
[2014/06/17 16:07] Metafire Horsley: Oh, yeah, the nation of Akrasia has always been the arch enemy of our people ;)
[2014/06/17 16:08] Sean Gorham: I seem to remember George Carlin having a wonderful little routine about how we like to “declare war” on things.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Seren (serendipity.seraph): they are not all that finite and we aren’t limited to this one rock
[2014/06/17 16:08] Gwyneth Llewelyn: No! We’re developing warp drives now!
[2014/06/17 16:08] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, but by that time, we will have the resources of the solar system, and we are already working on warp drive. As they say in my home state. “Earth First. We’ll log the other planets later.”
[2014/06/17 16:08] Extropia DaSilva: People use the term Singularity like the Greeks used the Deus Ex Machina, a handy thing that sweeps in and solves all our problems for us.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seriously :)
[2014/06/17 16:08] Zobeid Zuma: Extie, how did you bring “endless growth and consumption” into the equation? That was not part of your orginal assertion.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Metafire Horsley: Things collapsing make room for other things emerging out of the ashes.
[2014/06/17 16:08] Extropia DaSilva: what?
[2014/06/17 16:08] Seren (serendipity.seraph): good one Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:09] ArtCrash Exonar: Tell me why there would be a singularity? Who wouldn’t there be a group of AIs? What is so obvious about AI wanting to be all powerful? That seems to be a human trait.
[2014/06/17 16:09] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Metafire: say THAT to the Martians.
[2014/06/17 16:09] Almitra Vella: /me grins, “oh, you mean like telling the truth would do”
[2014/06/17 16:09] Gwyneth Llewelyn: The more human-like AIs become, Art, the more human traits they ought to have :)=
[2014/06/17 16:09] Seren (serendipity.seraph): Singularity does not require all powerful AI or “there can be only one” bullshit
[2014/06/17 16:09] Extropia DaSilva: The Singularity is the creation of superintelligence and what that means for the future, NOT artificial intelligence.
[2014/06/17 16:09] ArtCrash Exonar: So Nietzche was right even for AI? heh
[2014/06/17 16:10] Zobeid Zuma: Singularity means something different for everyone. :p
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie, my point is that we don’t NEED superintelligence if everybody is dumbed down :)
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: intelligence = truth
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Naaha Almitra.
[2014/06/17 16:10] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is the advent of > human artificial general intelligence – that is the point where we are not at the top of the local intelligence food chain
[2014/06/17 16:10] ArtCrash Exonar: Tell me WHY it is singular? Nothing in the universe is singular.
[2014/06/17 16:10] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And they will have a warp bubble fairly soon. Only it’s the size of a pin, so there would have to be big breakthroughs in micro-miniaturization before its useful
[2014/06/17 16:10] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: the Big Bang is!
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: agreed, it’s actually recognizing the truth
[2014/06/17 16:10] Metafire Horsley: Everyone should be as dumb as possible, but not dumber ;)
[2014/06/17 16:10] Seren (serendipity.seraph): singular has nothing to do with it any more than there is only one black hole
[2014/06/17 16:10] Almitra Vella: please excuse me
[2014/06/17 16:10] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, Gwyn, not in really the same way.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: I wrote an article about that; I’m actually fascinated about the possibilities :)
[2014/06/17 16:11] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is online.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Extropia DaSilva: Intelligent people can be ‘protected’ from the truth, because they are more adept at defending ideas for nonsmart reasons.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): i know Stephen Hawkins defined it as the Singularity at the beginning of the universe, and the Big Crunch as the singularity at the End of the Universe, but the latter was really a restaurent.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: ‘Protected’ from the truth….
[2014/06/17 16:11] ArtCrash Exonar: Well if the black hole is your metaphor, it breaks down in a lot of ways….
[2014/06/17 16:11] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, well, that’s what they do in today’s high schools isn’t it?
[2014/06/17 16:11] Gwyneth Llewelyn: heh Rhi. Well. I don’t know. Most of the people I know talk about the Big Bang as a singularity.
[2014/06/17 16:11] Seren (serendipity.seraph): no big crunch just winds down..
[2014/06/17 16:12] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: sadly, yes
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: If there’s anything *like* a Singularity as most people seem to imagine it, it won’t be based on AI or some fantastic “superintelligence” somehow appearing. It’ll be based on molecular nanotechnology.
[2014/06/17 16:12] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Who are those ‘most people’? :)
[2014/06/17 16:12] Seren (serendipity.seraph): that would not give a singularity
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: Extie. :p
[2014/06/17 16:12] Zobeid Zuma: And probably this Kurzweil character who she keeps referring to.
[2014/06/17 16:12] Seren (serendipity.seraph): much better manufacturing, energy production and use, computation, medicine, etc.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me fights a War against Singularties. Once.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Metafire Horsley: The Singularity is an old hat. Let’s talk about something else please.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Extropia DaSilva: The technological singularity holds that the human mind has a finite capacity for understanding, that the abstract space of all possible minds allows for other minds which can know things beyond human natural capacity to know, and that such minds will be made real through technology.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Singularity sounds a lot like Marx’s end of history. As all history involved class conflict, when society evolves to the point were there is only one class, which is the same as classlessness, there would no longer be laws of history.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Zobeid Zuma: Yes… Let’s talk about… The War on Singularity!
[2014/06/17 16:13] ArtCrash Exonar: I’m afraid I can’t ‘believe’ in the singularity. It resembles an amorphous god concept, so little specifics that anything goes.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: oh what a fantastic point, Rhi
[2014/06/17 16:13] Seren (serendipity.seraph): interesting formulation
[2014/06/17 16:13] Extropia DaSilva: Oh for goodness sake.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: I already started that topic. But we can discuss it only once.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): With immortality, artificial intelligence, etc., there would not ge human life as we know it.
[2014/06/17 16:13] Seren (serendipity.seraph): gross, a marxism analogy.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Seren (serendipity.seraph): /me holds nose
[2014/06/17 16:14] Metafire Horsley: Oh, one more fitting criticism about the Singularity. I like it, Rhi :)
[2014/06/17 16:14] Zobeid Zuma: Let’s hope for that, Rhi.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Second Life: Flenser Juergens is online.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Zobeid Zuma: Human life as we know it has a lot of down sides.
[2014/06/17 16:14] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Art, but that’s the whole thing abut black holes, singularities, communism–there couldn’t be specifics, as they are beyond what we can know.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Aha. It’s an ontological question.
[2014/06/17 16:15] ArtCrash Exonar: So The Singularity is in actuality The Singularities?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Sean Gorham: The singularity is today’s version of “here there be dragons” on old maps.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Metafire Horsley: Would you recognize a classless society when you saw one?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe, bands change their names all the time…. ops wrong discussion.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): yeah, it’s not necessarily a criticism of the singularity than human life as we know it would cease. It’s just that it, like so many ‘religious’ beliefs involves the unknowable.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Extropia DaSilva: Is it really so hard to believe? Science, which is really the product of the human collective, is already opening up aspects of reality we hardly understand. Is it really so hard to believe that sci-tech could reveal truths that our minds REALLY cannot get a handle on!?
[2014/06/17 16:15] Zobeid Zuma: Sean has a point. Like the weather, technological advancement is chaotic, unpredictable.
[2014/06/17 16:15] Sean Gorham: It’s not hard to believe at all,
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Belief is always hard, Extie, if you have a scientific mind :)
[2014/06/17 16:16] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean had a point and I missed it? Rats.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is that we are not the smartest beings around any more and history is not primarily our creation from then on.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: But because of the fact we can’t get a handle on it, we could talk about it forever and never come to a conclusion.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Zobeid Zuma: So in a mathematical sense, the Singularity is a point beyond which it’s hopeless to try and predict.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Extropia DaSilva: Then why do people not see that the tech Singularity is a definite possibility?
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: We won’t really know we’re in a singularity until we’re THERE.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: like we do with God. :)
[2014/06/17 16:16] Sean Gorham: And maybe not until after.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Or a critical one, Gwyn. More that, as one physicist found out that as students get indoctrinated into physics, they form very rigid beliefs and aspects of reality that actually are coming true, but they don’t believe in it.
[2014/06/17 16:16] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And maybe it will be too late then.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Seren (serendipity.seraph): it is not god. no claim of all those omni-thingies
[2014/06/17 16:17] ArtCrash Exonar: Postulating AI that thinks in different and better ways in which we do is different than postulating AI or it’s successor that contains all knowledge and information. Quantum difference there. And I think no different than belief in God.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Gwyneth Llewelyn: hat’s interesting, Rhi. Almost paradoxal.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, why, you just have to accept it on faith that it would be wonderful.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is offline.
[2014/06/17 16:17] Gwyneth Llewelyn: For the quantum difference, use quantum computers. They will get it right. Maybe.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Zobeid Zuma: It’s the ultimate unknown, and the unknown is always very scary.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But what if you just want a quantum of solace? Oh, wait, there’s British Inteligence for that.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Seren (serendipity.seraph): It is not predictable what these non-human superintelligences will do.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: mmh. I have heard that phrase before.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Rhi: hahahahaha
[2014/06/17 16:18] Zobeid Zuma: Sort of like going into the monolith in 2001. :)
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: /me watched that movie again last week!
[2014/06/17 16:18] Metafire Horsley: I predict they will do SOMETHING. Hah, I win ;)
[2014/06/17 16:18] Second Life: Lilly (taylor.schroeder) is online.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Sean Gorham: “My stars, it’s full of gods!”
[2014/06/17 16:18] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, right, and then after a few archetypal, dream like experiences, you’ll come out as a space fetus.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Sean Gorham: No, wait, that’s not how it goes.
[2014/06/17 16:18] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: hahahahahahaha
[2014/06/17 16:18] Extropia DaSilva: BTW would you say the discovery of the Higgs boson was a feat of superhuman intelligence, given that it took such a large concentration of human effort to do?
[2014/06/17 16:19] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, right. lol
[2014/06/17 16:19] ArtCrash Exonar: We should explore what is possible and even postulate what is possible, but we go wrong when we start to expect our postulations to be actual….
[2014/06/17 16:19] Seren (serendipity.seraph): what would you do if say you thought 1 million times faster than anyone else
[2014/06/17 16:19] Zobeid Zuma: Time spent watching 2001 is never wasted.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Sean Gorham: No, that was just a lot of human intelligences putting their heads together.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Extie: Many humans working together are still human.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Seren, I would probably protect myself from slow dullards, like the Koontz AI
[2014/06/17 16:19] Metafire Horsley: I would do a lot of thinking.
[2014/06/17 16:19] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Seren: get bored a million times faster?
[2014/06/17 16:19] Metafire Horsley: Yeah, and then get bored ;)
[2014/06/17 16:19] Seren (serendipity.seraph): get the hell away from the mad slightly evolved chimps?
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Barely evolved.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Seren (serendipity.seraph): figure out how to make at least select ones of them like yourself?
[2014/06/17 16:20] Metafire Horsley: Nah, they taste like chicken ;)
[2014/06/17 16:20] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, the Koontz AI took care of those ‘chimps’ He liked, and protected himself from those who might get ‘em.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Everything tastes like chicken, specially fried.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): We could all be pets of the AI
[2014/06/17 16:20] Extropia DaSilva: But Gwyn, the LHC is a machine of such astonishing complexity it is just completely beyond my abillity to understand completely.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Seren (serendipity.seraph): the Culture series is about the best benign outcome in fiction
[2014/06/17 16:20] Sean Gorham: That doesn’t mean it’s beyond human understanding altogether.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Gwyneth Llewelyn: So what? I can’t even understand how a car works. I can still drive it.
[2014/06/17 16:20] Extropia DaSilva: and who DOES understand it completely?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): My Great Aunt Maude; she understands *everything* lol
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Uh, nobody? That reminds me of the old quantum mechanics jokes, ‘there are just three living people understanding quantum mechanics’
[2014/06/17 16:21] Seren (serendipity.seraph): The car doesn’t decide where it wants to go on its on.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Metafire Horsley: There’s no reason to understand anything completely. You just need to know the basic essentials and the details you are going to work on.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Not until Google sells them.
[2014/06/17 16:21] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, and you can’t know their exact location, right?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Extropia DaSilva: So what creates these things? If we attribute the termite mound to the superorganism, why not say the LHC or your motorcar was made by a human superorganism?
[2014/06/17 16:21] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yeah. I want my AI chaffeur
[2014/06/17 16:21] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Heh. Exactly, Rhi :)
[2014/06/17 16:22] Sean Gorham: I help people all the time with computers. Those people don’t know how computers work. Some of them barely have a concept of what the Internet is. That doesn’t mean it’s beyond human understanding. It just means they’re ignorant on the subject.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes
[2014/06/17 16:22] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Why not say that the LHC was merely put together by a lot of humans working as a team?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Sean, good point.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Metafire Horsley: What’s a superorganism exactly?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And where the heck are you? I don’t see you and don’t want to mess up my view by moving my camera around.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Gwyneth Llewelyn: I’m an IT consultant, and I have not the slightest clue on how a semiconductor works at the quantum level.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Sean Gorham: Lack of knowledge or understanding doesn’t automatically make it… ineffable?
[2014/06/17 16:22] Zobeid Zuma: We’ve got a special thing here on Earth, hope we don’t blow it.
[2014/06/17 16:22] Seren (serendipity.seraph): funny how most physicists I know make their living as software engineers
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: haha yes, Seren
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: putting people like me out of a job!
[2014/06/17 16:23] Extropia DaSilva: Computers are postmodern. We operate them at a surface level of signs and symbols, with their true workings totally obscure to most people these days who use them.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, but with AI, you will have one terrific time as its pet.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Zobeid Zuma: They’re finding so many seemingly-habitable exoplanets now, the big question is turning to: where is everyone?
[2014/06/17 16:23] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Just remember not to pee in its facility.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Gwyneth Llewelyn: But wasn’t that true of MOST tools over human history? We used horses well before we understood biology.
[2014/06/17 16:23] Seren (serendipity.seraph): I built my first computer myself so I do know how they work
[2014/06/17 16:24] ArtCrash Exonar: One can think of millions of specialist deep knowledge examples. Our culture is already an organism of some sort in that is functions above the knowledge of any person or group.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Seren (serendipity.seraph): well some of the device physics requires better math than I have..
[2014/06/17 16:24] Extropia DaSilva: but you do not know how to build one from scratch, beloved.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Metafire Horsley: We even use the most complex system of all, the human brain before we understood it ^^
[2014/06/17 16:24] Sean Gorham: The world is too complex for everyone to understand everything about it.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Zo: oh yes, let’s do a topic on that: ‘The Fermi Paradox Revisited: now that we know how to create warp drives, where are all the aliens?’
[2014/06/17 16:24] Zobeid Zuma: That would be a good topic.
[2014/06/17 16:24] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes. depending on what level of “scratch” you want to go to. Do I get to start with diodes and transistors at least?
[2014/06/17 16:24] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Wow, so we went from the war metaphor to a discussion of intelligence, to singularities, to AI, to specialization being compatible with human understanding. Did I leave anything out?
[2014/06/17 16:25] Sean Gorham: Warp drive, therefore aliens? Heh.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): oh, right, warp drive. Thanks Sean
[2014/06/17 16:25] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Sean: yeppers
[2014/06/17 16:25] ArtCrash Exonar: I think the best answer for where are the aliens, is that after advancing to a certain level, they are no longer interested in lower life forms other than in a caretaker role.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Seren (serendipity.seraph): war on wandering talks. :)
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Well, the nearest technological alien would have to be at least 60 light years away, or we’d hear their radio shows.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Sean Gorham: I suppose we can wait for the Vulcan science ships to appear after we complete our first Warp 1 test, then. :P
[2014/06/17 16:25] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Warp drive and the warp torpedo: the weapon to destroy whole solar systems. Being built at a NASA lab as we speak.
[2014/06/17 16:25] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): And that’s quite a large area to explore before first contact.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Zobeid Zuma: I think the whole warp drive idea is bogus.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): But Obama has publicly said, when people wanted him to build a death star, “The President doesn’t believe in blowing up planets.”
[2014/06/17 16:26] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: yes, they might have come upon their own Singularity and ignore pretty much the rest of the Universe, my basking in its light :)
[2014/06/17 16:26] Sean Gorham: But yeah, what happened to that whole “declaring war” thing? That’s why I showed up!
[2014/06/17 16:26] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Wow really, Rhi???
[2014/06/17 16:26] Zobeid Zuma: I wonder about that too….
[2014/06/17 16:26] Extropia DaSilva: But even alien civilizations must produce entropy or waste heat as a biproduct of their work. We should be able to detect that, but we do not.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Yeah, Gwyn.
[2014/06/17 16:26] Metafire Horsley: Is there a better alternative to “War on X”/
[2014/06/17 16:26] ArtCrash Exonar: I declare War On The Singularity!
[2014/06/17 16:26] Sean Gorham: America is an empire. It’s not The Empire. :P
[2014/06/17 16:27] Zobeid Zuma: That was my idea! :P
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: Zo and I beat it to it. And you can declare that war only once.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: *you
[2014/06/17 16:27] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Extie, again, that means that they would have to be at least 60ly away.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Seren (serendipity.seraph): The same president that says we don’t want weapons of war on American streets but gives mini tanks to police forces and gives drones to several agencies?
[2014/06/17 16:27] Extropia DaSilva: No the empire is the multinational corporations.
[2014/06/17 16:27] Sean Gorham: ^
[2014/06/17 16:27] ArtCrash Exonar: /me cries
[2014/06/17 16:27] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Seren, the very one. lol
[2014/06/17 16:27] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe he meant, ‘no weapons of war on AMerican HANDS, not streets’
[2014/06/17 16:28] Extropia DaSilva: oh gosh three mins left…anyone want to get us back on topic?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: State: monopoly on violence, remember?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Extropia DaSilva: 2 mins now
[2014/06/17 16:28] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, right, he doesn’t want a sniper to shoot out the Death Star’s land station.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Metafire Horsley: What happens when the counter reaches 0?
[2014/06/17 16:28] Zobeid Zuma: Well, we blew off the War on X metaphor because it’s either A) an excuse to undertake drastic measures that otherwise wouldn’t be accepted, or B) a way to make it sound like you’re taking strong measures when you aren’t really.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Maybe because the state has a monopoly on violence, it decides to wage war on anything requiring some sort of violence? (like removing personal freedoms)
[2014/06/17 16:28] Seren (serendipity.seraph): yes Zo
[2014/06/17 16:28] ArtCrash Exonar: Governments are not the main organizations of control any more Corporations are. They cross all borders and are beholden to none.
[2014/06/17 16:28] Gwyneth Llewelyn: And I agree with your summary, Zo.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Gwyn, why consistent libertarians are anarchists.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Art: indeed, and most constitutions don’t protect citizens from corporations, only from governments
[2014/06/17 16:29] Zobeid Zuma: Libertarians are NOT anarchists.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): Zo, yes, that explains why we spun off to other topics.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Seren (serendipity.seraph): government is unique in legally being allowed to initiate force
[2014/06/17 16:29] Gwyneth Llewelyn: That’s what ‘monopoly on violence’ means, Seren :)
[2014/06/17 16:29] Extropia DaSilva: leviathan
[2014/06/17 16:29] Rhiannon of the Birds (rhiannon.dragoone): There are libertarian anarchists, Zo, and they do argue that archists (the other kind, a term coined by Tibor Machan) are inconsistent.
[2014/06/17 16:29] Seren (serendipity.seraph): sure. but someone said they are no different from corporations which is false.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Gwyneth Llewelyn: Ah. Agreed, Seren.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Gwyneth Llewelyn: We live in cyberpunk days.
[2014/06/17 16:30] Extropia DaSilva: OK my time is up!

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