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Too good to stay true?
Posted by Tony on 21st November 2011 at 16:12:17
I find myself increasingly complaining that we* have never had it so good.

Emergence/systems/complexity theory explains how that surplus of comfort leads to an explosion of reprocessing systems which consume slivers of that good for their own ends, producing denials of that very good itself as a seemingly inescapable byproduct. More simply, they live off promoting mostly groundless and at least vastly disproportionate fears, aided enormously by the same lack of earlier selection pressure to statistical judgement which keeps gambling industries booming wherever they are allowed.

Yet at another level it is hard not to feel that the whole edifice might be increasingly fragile: Taleb's black swans and Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns. But that isn't the kind of fear the parasitic industry complexes want you to think about. They fuel narrower fears so you will be willing to fund their growth at the expense of your own. Churches were just the beginning.

The big potentially saving difference to Easter Island is that we now have a vast fast network of monitors and communicators with an unprecedented capacity to respond that may only get better if the financial sector has to be jettisoned. While it was able to keep its tendency to excess in some kind of check, the financial sector may have had its uses taking some of the steam out of the rest of us, but we already know the mythical market forces cannot sustain any hint of balance. Their every data point is evidence of chaos. Yet their recollapse might still not be even the second best candidate for initiating real change. (The best candidate is actually a meta candidate: something currently unthinkable.) I'm not ready to give up on the idea that society could adjust to the financial sector going away, although the thought of so many unemployed suits might be even more frightening than a similar number of unemployed security. The suits might too quickly realise that they always were con men.

The ecological cluster are clearly a serious candidate, especially while most concerned and resourced players remain besotted with ppm and °C and gloss over systemic interactions because they are too hard to explain to a lay audience. My bias as a diver keeps the oceans at the top of my list with that other consequence of rising CO2, acidification, compounding industrial-scale harvesting, indiscriminate bycatch, bottom trawling and jellies. Others worry similarly about things on land where they can at least watch them a lot more easily and which, while it is only 30% of the planetary surface, does carry 99% of the humans and a related disproportion of their direct impact.

Pinker is more than right about the decline of human-human fatalities as a multilevel abandonment of Us v Them takes us further from the primary focus of Darwinian selection on competition within one's own kind, thus avoiding the prospect of murder on every second St Kilda Road tram. But the 1% may yet be stretching that beyond breaking point, especially as the lower middle is nowhere near as comfortable as it is in Melbourne.

My singulatarian friends are having much the same debates as the Occupiers, seeing problems with pleasing clarity but still far from seeing solutions. Few are yet able to frame their thinking in terms of What Technology Wants because they keep wanting to retain primacy for verbal human agency. Of the popular exit strategies, it is fun to speculate how the 99% might react if the 1% divert enough resources to:

  • rejuvenate indefinitely
  • rely increasingly on service robots
  • download their linguistic essence into cyberspace
  • abandon the planet for space habitats
any of which would have been grounds for open rebellion in other times and places, but maybe not in Melbourne.

*That does not particularly mean me personally, although I really have nothing I can legitimately complain about and any resource limitations are through my own choice to value my time more than some of the commonly assumed prerogatives of affluent society.

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Too good to stay true? - Tony 16:12:17 21-Nov-11
Occupy The Future - Tony 18:02:47 25-Feb-12
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