Sunday, June 17, 2007


Several centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes, one of the first political scientists, posited that governments, that is, monarchies and other arrangements, are necessary because humans would otherwise live a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life in their "battle of each against all". We are bloodthirsty demons that seek to conquer and dominate. Only a strong, stable government like the kind a ruthless tyrant brings allows peace to exist, at least for a short time. With this reasoning, monarchies and other autocratic governments were championed.

For some strange reason, a whole lot of people really feel this is the case, often without actually being aware of Hobbes. One could say that's because it is how we are, but I am of the mind that the meme has so permeated our society, the excuse used so often, that it becomes a "given", of the type not to be questioned.

Humans are not all one way or all another. There is a great capacity in us to do great things for ourselves and others, and an (almost) equal capacity to do just the opposite. We are the products of our environment. Raise a child to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (well, maybe you can't raise it to be short), prepare it for the "battle of each against all" and you'll end up with an adult that lives a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life of fiercely battling each and all.

There is something very wrong with this premise, and it is necessary to dismantle it before another point can be made. Humans evolved in groups. There was not a time when humanity was so scattered and diverse that meeting another human came about by chance or always ended in violence. Villages did not form as a result of the loss of arable land or for protection from marauding solitary savages. We evolved to live and interact and yes, cooperate in groups, and have been in groups since we evolved our way out of the jungles of Africa.

Cooperation is necessary for our survival. Ayn Rand missed this part of it, and had humans (d)evolved to be like what she would have wanted us to be, we would each have scales, claws and a three-chambered heart. Because we evolved to work together, we would have needed some sort of structure to maintain cohesion and perform functions as a large body. Anthropological studies have shown that humans grow their societies around certain biologically-determined size limits, around 150 members. This is also about the same number of people you can get to know and remember. Also around the number of people direct democracy works to any great extent. As I have suggested before, I believe humans are inherently democratic creatures that value the success of themselves and of the group mutually.

As to the structure of this kind of society, government, if it could be called that, was based on input from the group. Sure, there was probably the wise-man or the shaman, and maybe even an executive chieftain of some sort, but I doubt it would have made sense for some brutal tyrant to subjugate 149 people and force them to do things against their will. Common attitudes and concerns would keep the group members focused on pertinent matters. Such a hypothetical setting would allow us to use the term anarchy - without rulers - to describe it.

Notice there is no inclusion of the need for bloodshed, violence, or destruction. The word does not suggest these things, but the actions of previous anarchists do. (I will not address the topic of violence in anarchy in this post because it will take too long.) If we refine that definition: without rulers, to mean: without illegitimate authority and unnecessary (and artificial) hierarchies, we now have a meaning we can use. Notice also that the need for authority is ever-present,
Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker. -Mikhail Bakunin
just not illegitimate authority. Scratch religion off the legitimate list. Seniority is also a poor basis. Might does not make right. Artificial positions of authority in unnecessary hierarchies are anathema to democracy, to freedom, and to equal opportunity. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why anarchy is called "the first cousin of democracy", and why if you are a (true) anarchist, you must favour democracy, but it need not be the case that if you favour democracy, you advocate anarchy.

Anarchy is often the base word of some hyphenated longer word. "Anarcho-syndicalism" (click play below), for example, is a particular branch of anarchist thought.

In recent years, it has become trendy for young, right-libertarians to spice up their usual advocacy of capitalism with opposition to the state, which, in our politically ignorant climate, they have termed "anarchy". (Never mind that anarchy existed in the way we defined it above well before these posers ever came along.) Of course, what they very often mean by "state" is taxes and social services, and what they mean by "anarchy" is not having to pay or support them.

I have previously defined capitalism, so will not do so again here in any detail, only the extent that is necessary to examine it using our new lens of anarchy. Capitalism is the relationship between those who own the means of production and those who don't; the latter must sell their labour to former. I won't go into how this arrangement came about (read the link), but suffice it to say that there is no legitimate reason why one group of people should have exclusive control over a tract of land or a large industrial machine, etc. and the hierarchies that develop along these patterns of arbitrary ownership are indeed unnecessary and artificial.

There is this idea that the "state", as an agent foreign to the "market", needs to step in to fix problems caused by the vagaries of its unruly counterpart. The "market" is where you get to do battle against everyone else, and the "state" is what gives everyone a fighting chance, and ensures that what you earn in battle is not taken by someone else. There is no reason for a rich old white man (yes, he is likely male and white, as there are historical reasons for this) to put a bunch of barrio kids through school. None. So the benevolent nature of humanity creates, through its use of representative democracy, a social machine that redistributes wealth. There is a very good reason the rich old white man would want police forces, and possibly even a large military, because these tools are probably at his disposal, and exist to satisfy his evil purposes.

So it should come as no surprise that "anarchy" and -capitalism were stuck together to sound like a really great idea: anarcho-capitalism. The full potential of humanity is reached by interactions in the marketplace unrestricted by the state. The greed of each mitigates the greed of all. Sure. Instead of advocating something worthwhile, something that makes sense, "anarcho"-capitalists stick two contradictory ideas together.

There are several reasons why the term amounts to a dog chasing its own tail:

1. Capitalism necessarily forms unnecessary hierarchies and allows artificial positions of authority.

2. Capitalism undermines democracy by concentrating wealth (and thus power) into the hands of a few. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

3. Most early anarchist thinkers were decidedly socialist, and all were anti-capitalist, because the whole idea of anarchy came about as a response to capitalism. They are spinning in their graves at the term "anarcho"-capitalism.

There are some variants to the idea that also need to be addressed. One such cultivar would be advocating reducing taxes, dismantling social programs, while maintaining a state-organized military. The military industrial complex (MIC) is presently the recipient of about half of all taxes collected. Social programs, although by no means pinnacles of human endeavor, still offer some benefit to society, and may actually grant some of the less fortunate members a way to pull themselves out of poverty. The MIC sucks resources into costly wars and destructive endeavors. Not only that, but any taxing power of the state is made possible by the threat of violence, made possible by, yup, you guessed it, the MIC. Even if the dog does catch its tail, it will still be going around in circles.

Advocates of "free" market "anarcho"-capitalism suggest that the market would serve as a source of justice and security in a stateless society. I like to call this "neo-feudalism". Private firms that offer police and security services will obviously be bought out by those with the most money. Profitable justice is not blind justice. There are other concerns that I often consider:

Suppose the gummint did not meddle with the market any more, and drugs were legalized (I certainly advocate the decriminalization of marijuana), including crack and meth. In a "free" market, these goods will be as legitimate as any other, so long as those selling and those buying don't use force or coercion in determining price (this whole idea is utter baloney, which I will destroy in a few paragraphs). These substances have a permanent and debilitating effect on humans. They are also highly addictive. I'm not going to address the morality of unrestricted drug sales, what I want to address is the MESS this would make, and how it would be remedied in a society with private police and security, and even rehabilitation services.

It makes a whole lot of sense for someone to sell crack or meth. Highly addictive substances make for a great market. But why oh why would anyone want to rehabilitate addicts? A heavy meth user is burned out, a wasted shell of a human. A crackhead is equally useless. There would be nothing to gain from these poor wretches; all of their money would have gone to drugs already. How would the "free" market solve this problem? It can't. It will have created a problem it could not fix, because the means to fix it are outside its functioning goal: profit. What is more likely to happen is drug cartels will form, hire police and security firms to defend turf, and we'll end up with feudal states ruled by drug lords, media moguls, and CEOs of multinational corporations. No thanks.

(Think this is a hypothetical? We have privatised prisons, and the largest ratio [by far!] of prisoners to citizens compared to other industrialized nations. Addictive, profitable, corporate drugs are legit, whilst relatively harmless and unprofitable drugs like MJ are illegal. A fat talk-radio host can be addicted to pharmaceuticals, employ insurance fraud to get them, and be let off with little more than a slap on the wrist, whilst Marc Emery, Canadian seller of cannabis seeds, is looking at extradition and life in prison.)

There are premises to free market capitalism that I cannot accept. The source of my Y chromosome tells me I just don't understand what it is. This is as much for him as it is for anyone else who wants to know, and for posterity. The most glaring silliness is the stipulation that no force or coercion be used in price determination. When workers are required to sell their labour to someone else, this is the use of force. When consumers are limited to purchasing within their meager means, or, alternatively, when they are induced via commercials (or with the aid of credit) to purchase outside their means, this is coercion. The contradiction is ubiquitous and looming. Arbitrary patterns of ownership undermine an equal stance, and, since we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely (and as power approaches the absolute, so too does corruption approach absolute), the question of force and coercion was never satisfactorily answered by the introduction of the term "free"-market, it was just hidden behind a thin veneer of an ideal.

Another odd premise is the one that the "free"-market is a utility-maximizing and efficiency-optimizing machine, operating in a chaotic sea of market forces. This is often contrasted with planned, top-down economies like the USSR and PRC. The claim is that the invisible hand of the free market makes sense of the chaos out of the chaos better than the deliberate and visible hand of the state (often the erroneous definition of socialism). Two points to address here:

1. The "invisible" hand is quite visible when we consider the basis of value and of price determination in a "free" market economy: profit. We can see the arm of the visible hand and notice that it is attached to the rich old white guy, who is really the CEO of a large corporation, and who helps orchestrate and plan large sectors of the economy. When the "invisible" hand is invoked, it just means we are unwilling to question the matter any deeper. To me, it amounts to god did it. (And yes, I have read Wealth of Nations.)

2. As we saw in number 1, and as I have explained before, because economies are the acts of many individuals, all economies are planned, because we are all making economic decisions. True, no one person can know everything that is going on in an economy, but computers are fast approaching this capability. I have previously mentioned Wal-Mart's massive inventory system that keeps track of sales in different regions and updates prices accordingly. Did you notice that? PLANNING! AHHH! In a "free" market capitalist society! The very epitome of capitalist success is (internally) PLANNED! (And, of course, the main beneficiaries are the ones who installed this system, certainly not the workers, nor the slave-labourers on the other end of the production line.) So, to all those who really, really believe that A) an economy is not planned, and B) that planning cannot be done efficiently and successfully at all: EAT IT.

Since all economies are planned, and it is really a matter of who does the planning and who benefits from it, the only real legitimate stipulation that a hypothetical "free" market has that could be considered worthwhile and actually come about in practice is the idea of "equal footing" in price determination. Of course, the practical side of it is horribly undermined by capitalism, which means "free" market capitalism is also a contradiction. In fact, socialism, an economy planned by society, for society, is the only reasonable way to even begin to bring about the conditions necessary for a free market.

This post was intended to dismantle ridiculous ideas, which, in my mind, are very much like religious dogma. It may also have been offensive, and was partially designed to be so, but know that it is the meme which is under fire, not the host. For them I have utmost pity.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


In dire situations, sometimes it is easier to defer responsibility and control to some external force. Consider, for example, global warming. A religious person, genuinely concerned, reasons:
God with his omniscient benevolence will take care of it.
Someone who has faith in the free market might say:
The market with its invisible hand will take care of it.
A promoter of government intervention would suggest:
The state with its bureaucracy will take care of it.
I hope you noticed the pattern. Instead of actually addressing global warming (or any other pressing concern) by examining the source of it (our behaviour), we have this awful tendency to hoist the problem onto an abstraction. God does not exist, the invisible hand is ethereal, and the state's bureaucracy creates way more waste and mess than it could ever hope to undo. Abstractions have no business solving our problems; we are going to have to accept responsibility for our actions and truly seek a way to remedy the situation.

Change begins with the individual.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


There is a concept of classical economics that attempts to ascertain the source of value (and thus prices) of commodities. Marx used it in his work, Das Kapital, but he just got it from Ricardo and Smith and developed it. Modern economics, known as "neo-classical", claims it has discovered the TRUE source of value, refuting Marx, Smith, and Ricardo. Classical economics gave us the labour theory of value and neo-classical gave us marginal utility. Each seeks to explain the basis of an economy.

They both make sense - to an extent. This will provide a brief overview of the ideas, their strengths and weaknesses, how they differ, how they are similar and complementary, and the addition of my own mad ramblings.

Marginal Utility (MU)

Let's say I have a hard drive that stores 30 GB. On it, in equal partitions, I have:
But suppose before it dies, I manage to get a new one, 40 GB, and move all my files over. I now have 10 GB of space I didn't have before. I now can use that as server space, and get greater utility out of it, which was dependent (in this case) on how much of it (hard drive space) I have:
In this instance, we can see that a larger hard drive is better because I can do more with it. Using this ordinal ranking, I can determine which hard drive I should buy, which determines how much I am willing to spend, and thus how much it costs.

By itself, MU is dangerous. If we base values on "utility" (based on price), and seek the greatest return for the minimum of outlay, we may begin to alter our standards. Instead of a delicious, enjoyable meal, food becomes something that makes you stop being hungry. So a consumer has a few bucks in his pocket, is hungry, and patrons a fast food restaurant. The value of the stale, congealed meat; starchy bread; wilted veggies and rancid mayonnaise is that it made the hungry fellow not hungry, and all for pocket change! I think this can be attributed to the MU assumption that utility = value = price. Goods on a market have a tendency to drop to the poorest quality standards that consumers are still keen on purchasing. I must also include anti-free will rhetoric, because, once again, "free" will gets in the way of true understanding:

Company A and Company B both make Product X and sell it for the same price. Company A invests in research to make X better, whilst Company B invests in advertising. Company B sells more units of Product X because they convinced more people to buy it than did Company A, which actually created a better product.

This is why even poor quality goods are available and purchased by consumers. If we're all rational, free agents as neo-classical economists would have us take as a prerequisite for MU,
we would expect (hope!) that the quality of goods on a market would begin to increase, not decrease. Advertising would simply be a way for consumers to become aware of the product. (Tactics of media saturation suggest otherwise.) MU hides potential by obscuring value behind an attractive price. The coop grocery where I shop offers goods at slightly higher prices than other retailers. Part of this is the small, local, coop nature of the beast, but it also has to do with the difference in quality of the goods of the goods offered. I have a great habit of reading labels, and have noticed time and again that cheaper, lower-quality goods are actually a worse buy than the higher-priced but also -quality goods, if value (nutrient abundance and variety) has anything to do with price (nutrient to cost ratio).

Another problem with MU is that it doesn't really explain the source of potential value. It is all very well and good to know how much more worthwhile an activity is, but by what universal standards would they be determined?
If we don't have a basis for value determination, we cannot truly appreciate the value of a product of an activity. Emphasis may be placed on tasks that yield values less desired over others. They do, however, yield a profit. Milton Friedman, an important neo-classical economist said:
There is only one social responsibility of business: to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.
Whew! And here I thought we had to make quality products with love and care for individuals with whom we interact in the community without messing up the environment and indigenous cultures too much. Focusing on profit and assuming it represents real value, I can do anything that makes me a quick buck and feel good about it!

This is a snippet from a discussion I had with someone a while back and expresses their direct, unadulterated sentiments. It needs to be included as an item to be addressed:
Let's say you flip burgers in a nation with a relatively free market. Well, chances are you have no qualification beyond burger flipping. If you do, then there are probably too many people who have the same qualification, so there are no jobs. The cold truth but nonetheless the truth is that burger flipping is unfortunately the best you can do to help society
At this point, you may be wondering who gets to determine which task has more utility. Someone has to determine the value and worth of people as they relate to each other productively. With this in mind,
we see that value potential and value output determination is dependent on profit. McDonald's serves poor quality goods because it's after a profit. Wal-mart sells literally tons of cheap goods made in China, at a most inefficient expenditure of finite fossil fuels, because it seeks profit. Someone determines your worth to society as a measure of how useful (profitable) you are to them.

It should come as no surprise that neo-classical economics places itself in opposition to classical, and thus Marxian, value appraisal methods. While MU has some validity, that is, at times utility does equal price and does equal value, without considering anything else, MU becomes an excuse for the abuses of the existing power structure.

By rejecting LTV, neo-classical economists can ignore the bulk of the critique modern environmental movements have about business practices, and almost all of what Marx had to say about capitalism, even as they adhere to the concept of the "invisible hand" that Adam Smith developed in classical economics.

Labour Theory of Value (LTV) This idea can be abstracted to a great many applications and circumstances, and it is in our distant past that I believe we developed an innate sense for it.

Suppose there are members of a small hunter-gatherer group each engaging in some unique activity. One gathers nuts, another berries, yet another roots, etc. The one with nuts has way too many nuts, the one with berries has far too many, etc. They bring their appropriations to a central location and trade their surplus goods for varied other goods. No money is used; it is all barter. Each gatherer determines the value of other goods in relation to their own, even though they don't want to keep all of what they have. Some exchange rate is decided, like,

3 nuts = 1 berry


10 berries = 1 root

Since no money is used, and each member indeed does determine some "value" of the goods available, how is this value reckoned? What does that equal sign equal?

Each and every member of this trading group expended a certain amount of labour to gather and retrieve the goods they brought together to share. As hungry monkeys, they want to recover the energy they used up and get a little extra for their trouble. They trade goods to get some nutritional variety.

This overly simple and crude model demonstrates that trade and exchange need not occur with money, but also that the source for much of our value appraisal takes place in relation to other products and in a social setting. Studies of animals in the wild suggest that organisms can assess energy needs and returns. A cheetah, for example, will chase after an antelope only for so long. Any more, and the cheetah may be expending more energy than she can retrieve, after which time she let's the prey escape. In this way, animals shape their behaviour. It should come as no surprise that humans have this ability as well. It is my humble thought that in the previous example, each member was aware of the energy they themselves expended, and could even roughly gauge how much effort was put forth by the others. These undoubtedly were factors in their decisions.

If we take LTV as the sole source of value, we have trouble assigning relative importance to particular tasks. There is also a degrading effect on humans by thinking of them as merely a source of labour, a means to an end. Inherent to these is waste and hiding of potential:

A big difference between classical and neo-classical is their mutually exclusive adherence to and acceptance of LTV and MU, respectively. If it is to come to such a stand off, I would have to say that LTV is better than MU, because it actually represents a real, concrete thing: labour. Subjective value judgments, although meaningful, cannot be indicative of value of expenditure or return.

Separate and opposed, they are each dangerous as a method of value determination. But I don't think it has to be this way. I think both make sense together.

An example that I find interesting is art. I like to use old cardboard and other "trash" materials to make art. When I dig something out of the trash and bring it home, it is still just that, a piece of trash. Right before I start to work on it, though, I get nervous. What if I mess up? What if I ruin it?

Ruin it!? It's a piece of trash! How could it be that even before I begin to work on it, something that did not matter to anybody mere moments ago, I value it? This is where marginal utility comes in. After I finish it and hang it up, I enjoy it because I put effort, patience, and concentration into it. I fulfilled some desire by labouring honestly for it; my labour becomes embodied in the object. This is labour theory of value. The two ideas together go a long way in explaining how we value commodities. When someone sees a work of art, they can appreciate the time, skill, and effort that went into the piece, as well as the subjective themes or expression of it. If they were to purchase the piece, both factors would be considered.

From an abstract standpoint, all labour, all effort is value, simply because it is energy expended. Ordinal rankings help determine relative values of activities, because not all labour is valuable. Thus, MU is a layer of value determination.
From previous hypotheticals and examples, it can be seen that this system, even as the combination of two major theories of value, is incapable of addressing all aspects of value. The Wal-Mart example with the waste of fossil fuels cannot be resolved with LTV nor MU. Therefore, I will introduce my

Mad Ramblings (ETV)

Fossil fuels contain energy that we utilize to power our modern economy. As monkeys, we jitter in cubes and factories, adding our own energy. Our special efforts combine knowledge and experience of currently alive individuals as well as those of the past in a unique way - though it is still energy. It is therefore logical and prudent to begin with this as a universal measure.

With this understanding, we can approach the question of value determination from several angles. As mentioned before, we have labour and relative utility, but now, thanks to the energy theory of value, we can measure net energy, comparing initial energy costs to total energy output:
Now we have a system that factors into the cost of production the use of fossil fuels and other energy expenditures. Right away we can see that the costs of pollution on human health alone far outweigh the costs of preventative measures. A recent White House study concluded that a total of $120 billion and $193 billion was detracted from the economy to deal with the effects of pollution (hospitalization, illness, etc). About $23 billion to $26 billion was allotted to reduce such pollution, which is a fair amount below the cost of ignoring it. So, looks like businesses that write off environmental concerns as a threat to their bottom line are actually hurting themselves.

Conveniently, ETV integrates well with our modern information and energy dependent society, providing a standard of value. Energy is analogous to information, so viewing information embodied as energy allows it to become a commodity like anything else.

This understanding becomes really good at making sense of blogs and open source. I was asked in the park once if I felt that our generation was more industrious than previous ones. Affirming this was so, I made the case that work we do is often not economically fruitful labour (monetarily), but labour nonetheless. I certainly don't get paid to blog, but feel it is productive. The entire open source movement relies on people volunteering their labour and time (and thus energy!) to survive. It does more than that, and, in my opinion, a lot better than other methods of software development, because it reflects an appreciation of LTV and MU. Labour is allocated to maximize utility (that is, returns on energy investment), not to maximize profit - which, as we have seen, is by no means a meaningful standard of value.

Considering energy costs and use helps us spot dependencies in terms of energy. We see that Wal-Mart is horribly dependent on fossil fuels, not only in the use of overseas transportation, but also the electricity generated (without environmental concern) by China. We are dependent on each other in terms of energy. From an LTV standpoint, by being aware that the line of dependency flows from the workers to their bosses, and that the line of profit flows the opposite way, by being aware of who directs whom in productive (energetic) activity within a corporate hierarchy, we can dismantle and reshape our interactions to reshape economic structures, hopefully more along democratic, autonomous, and decentralized lines (see: open source movement, wikipedia, libertarian socialism, etc).

Another ancillary idea is the connection between life, energy, and information as value. Concern for the environment is very often a low priority for businesses operating with profit as a goal. They do not factor in nor appreciate the energy stored in bio-systems, and often mutilate them horribly. Wasteful excesses like the planned-obsolescence of Wal-Mart products and the obscene disregard for nutritional value and environmental concerns of fast food places like McDonald's can no longer be written off as being necessary for creating value. By considering our world in terms of energy, appraisal of products becomes more than just a matter of what they cost to us in terms of money. Suppose cars were designed with energy use in mind, as a rule, or new appliances were designed around efficiency. To do these things and be consistent about it, we must have a consistent framework for understanding, judging, and reacting to our need and use of energy. Now we can include other, wider-ranging concerns, many which can also be included seamlessly with energy - like life. Rather than compete with and/or out-and-out destroy nature, perhaps we can learn to mold it (nicely!!!) to our mutual purposes.

Historical Materialism, Energy, and Kondratieff Long Waves

In keeping with a materialist conception of history and economics, it follows that I would accept and defend LTV more than the subjective-value-based MU, and include real, quantifiable energy as another source of value (ETV).

A nice bonus to this framework is a greater understanding of the changes wrought by the industrial revolution(s). Machines become an active participant in the use of energy. Sure, humans have been utilizing power external to themselves for a very long time (camp fires), but never in such cleverly directed and enormous amounts.
No surprise that the inclusion of machine power rocketed a bunch of motley monkeys into a world of material abundance. In the process of using machines as an aid to production, humans use them as a source of profit, often at the expense of those humans of lesser means. The rate of expansion of industry and the world market allowed more and more wealth (energy) total to be developed. But the shares of this energy were increasingly gobbled up by those in a better position to do so, such that of the total energy input, those who participated very intimately with the creation process (the workers), received less and less for their efforts.
Two thoughts to mention here. If the inclusion of machine power increases the total energy output, why did workers end up working longer hours? Secondly, there was a dramatic change in the ownership patterns of society following a revolution in machine technology. An economist by the name of Kondratieff noticed certain patterns of behaviour when it came to the inclusion of new technology and the stagnation and obsolescence of old technology. He also included other events like wars to make a compelling chart showing something called "Kondratieff Long Waves".

A profound warning from several Marxian scholars whom I read is the ability of unscrupulous power-mongers to monopolize or otherwise restrict information, skill training, technology, etc. Very often this is to the great detriment of those who lack these things. Well, if K-Waves are to be believed, there will soon be another shift in technology and energy utilization, and a new opportunity for more equitable energy distribution. It could be that we are being set up for the most horrible of repressive regimes to develop in the wake of awesome technology, or perhaps a new foundation upon which we can finally curtail idiotic and greed-induced destruction.

Biotechnology serves as a great example of this. New and exotic treatments and cures can be developed thanks to more powerful analytical tools and other advances. At the same time, though, a great chance for abuse begins with the creation of a patent system that caters to biological information (which is, as previously established, synonymous with energy) being restricted for profit-based use. I have already shown that value is not the same thing as price, and profit does not necessarily mean a net gain. Such restrictions on use accentuate already existing power distortions, favouring those who have plenty of it already. When crops with self-terminating seeds are the dominant mode of agriculture, society will necessarily be VERY dependent on a VERY small group of people for their very subsistence needs.

Software also has this potential problem. As mentioned before, open source is a much more viable approach to maximising utility because profit does not direct activity. Patenting software for profit reduces the potential for maximising utility. If A.I. is to come about, we must acknowledge that a great potential for abuse lies in the use of it in military technology. I could talk all day about nanotechnology. In a world ever more driven by information technology, funneling more and more control of essential tools into the hands of profit-driven institutions will hinder a free and open information society.

For these reasons, activists need to be aware of technological phenomena so preparations can be made. Some technology can be adapted to become more conducive to equitable and responsible energy distribution, whereas others that only maximise profits (and not value) will need to be replaced or abandoned. We can develop technology around workplace democracy and other inclusive measures to ensure that widely disparate knowledge-based strata do not threaten society. We can see to it that applications are beneficial and maximise energy return while minimizing harm. We can see to it that the pie grows at the same time the shares become more indicative of effort and net gain.

This was a really long post to compose. If any of it makes sense, or, better yet, if it doesn't, please let me know. I feel that I could have elaborated a great deal more, but the general outline needed to come out before I forgot. Any additions or corrections would be most welcome and encouraged. I will likely draw on these ideas as a framework in sorting or categorizing other ideas and posts (see my business plan, which I wrote with many of these ideas in mind).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Secular Society

A secular society prevents artificial divisions, rigid codes, and dogma hierarchies from harming individuals.

I. Artificial Divisions

Maintaining a cohesive and secure society requires that as few irrational differences exist between its members as possible. By claiming allegiance to a particular faith or creed - often opposed to other faiths and creeds - individuals identify themselves using artificial criteria. Groupings of individuals will be along faith-based associations, reducing interaction and communication between individuals of different and often exclusive faiths. Immaterial concerns pigeon-hole people, decreasing their worth as humans in the eyes of the bigot. The potential for unfair and demeaning interactions is thus increased. By removing artificial labels and inconsequential criteria, we are more able to acquaint ourselves with one other as we are, not as we unnecessarily judge each other to be. We finally can regard each other as being human.

II. Rigid Codes

A society must be flexible and adaptable to match changes in the internal and external environment. Individuals that are open and supple respond faster and more effectively to changing conditions. By defining the role of individuals in a society based on supernatural considerations and divinely-inspired texts, a people will be limited in their ability to alter their behavior should the need arise. It is not only that certain behaviors are explicitly forbidden, but that solutions revolve around "divine" (ultimately human) wisdom, which may not suffice. As conditions change as a result of development or refinement, ideas that were once suitable and adequate will become unwieldy and cumbersome. By focusing on broadly-defined goals and limits to behavior, a society can successfully steer its members away from harm without causing stagnation.

III. Dogma Hierarchies

Patterning individuals within a society along merit- and experience-based concerns serves the needs of that society. By adhering to faith-based hierarchies, a society is developing positions of authority and power in light of immaterial considerations. The authority and power is also often attached to faith or the supernatural, presenting an unassailable and unchallengeable command. Competence and skill are trumped by divine right. Society grows and contorts in an unhealthy manner to accommodate and support this artificial hierarchy. By focusing on material, legitimate concerns - like experience and knowledge - a society can encourage organization along more productive and effective patterns.

A secular society benefits from an honest appraisal of the natural world and the freedom and responsibility granted to each individual.

IV. Honesty

Understanding the world requires that we take in and interpret information. By beginning with internal assumptions as to the nature of our world, we are hindering our efforts to understand it as it is, not as we believe it to be (it takes no effort to do that!). We cloud our minds with tales of supernatural origins and feats, distort facts with myth and legend, and obscure reality with blind faith. We cannot gather a meaningful assessment from this. Instead of reacting to legitimate concerns, our energies will be focused on catering to figments of our imagination. By withholding conclusions until we have accumulated enough information, we are saving ourselves the trouble of redefining our understanding - if we even were so inclined - in order to accept and incorporate these new findings. Quite the contrary with internal assumptions. Time and again, we will find that the more accurate and true our interpretation is, the more use we can get out of it.

V. Freedom

Acknowledging ourselves as the source of our actions grants us as wide a range of freedom as possible. By presupposing that our actions and fates are determined by some force external and unknown to us, we are relinquishing control of ourselves to an abstraction. We deny our freedom to choose as some other force is now wielding this power. Every act of ours becomes the desire of some other entity - not our own. By determining our own course through life, well aware that they are choices we make without supernatural biases, we are free to find our own happiness and fulfill our own desires.

VI. Responsibility

If we accept freedom with secularism, we must accept responsibility, as any less of one undermines the other. When we achieve great success, we would hope to receive credit and due recognition for our efforts. By assigning our acts to the will of an externalized internal abstraction, we deny full responsibility for our successes and triumphs, as well as our failures and wrongdoings. In this setting, we can never be fully satisfied nor can we learn from our mistakes. Justice is difficult when the accused attribute their acts to external factors. By accepting responsibility for our actions, we are affirming our freedom.