by Mike Meyer
We are facing extremes and failing to manage them. If we continue to fail we will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That defeat will be major and will mean the death of a large portion of our planetary population. Species death is not something that we understand so it can easily be dismissed. Besides, it would take between 100 and 200 years. That is beyond the range of our intuitive understanding of time. So this is not a problem we can solve directly.
The victory that we are moving toward is closer than most people think. It will allow the elimination of scarcity that sickens and destroys millions each year. It will allow the maintenance of diversity that is creating the opportunity to allow a purposeful life for almost every person on this planet. Just beyond that will be the protection and opportunity for creativity for all life and the planet itself. Within that will be types of life that do not yet exist but which we can cause to exist and help to evolve.
The range of these two possibilities illustrates the nature of the problem that we are facing on the microcosm of our daily lives and local communities. We have been working for many years now to understand these type of conditions but that is spreading only slowly outward from the intellectual edge of our thinking. Even that is a problem as we have growing rejection of science and logical analysis but that also gives us one leverage point to use to break through the complexity.
We are dealing with complexity, chaos, nonlinearity in a fractal world. This means that the problems on the largest scale are replicated at each level down to our daily lives. But the chaotic appearance hides the fractal replication and leaves us in confusion that our normal, intuitive tools of problem solving cannot handle. Rocket science is easy compared to this.
How do we solve these massive, chaotic problems? We need to think recursively. Recursion is the mechanism most like one of our intuitive problem solving techniques.
See if this makes sense. The nonlinear and complex chaos of our full problem is replicated at each level, that’s what a fractal structure is. For people that is very frustrating because instinctively we try to break problems down into components until we get to something that we can understand and fix. Then we look for another component to fix. Step by step that solves even very large problems. That’s how we built the pyramids, great classical empires, and made it to the moon. Yes, we really went there.
With our problems now the components are the complete problem. Fractals, again. You break it down but it looks the same at each level. The tool doesn’t work. But recursion can be thought of as a way to break this unbreakable problem into something we can do. We add to it to make it work more the way we want. In basic computer programming we use a loop to add new processing to a larger process. This is the standard ‘goto’ command that says when you hit a certain step in the process you want the process to stop while another process runs. When the new meta process has run it produces a result and this is passed back to the base process which continues. But it continues with a more sophisticated variable that could no longer work in its original form.
We have a lot of variables that no longer process correctly in their original form. Instead of taking things apart to fix them we need to run them with new additional things to be done so they become functional again. This is only a metaphor but it gives us the opportunity, all of us, to take a very different approach to solving these new complex and chaotic problems.
No, this is by no means simple and I am not ignoring the full extent of our problems in post industrial societies or in societies still caught by arbitrary authoritarian rule based on iron age religions. But we need to make this work and we can. Failure to reorganize ourselves to handle global warming and all the fractalized aspects of these complex problems means we will not survive.
Everyone needs to be directly involved in the solutions form now on. That is the challenge that we have. The failure of our current systems is creating a psychotic epidemic that feeds on us and our sense of ignorance and helplessness at the loss of what we knew. You can see this in fascist opportunists such as Trump and others, the insanity of antivaxxers putting their own and all children at risk for reasons they do not understand, and even fades such as flat earth silliness. All of these are symptoms of powerlessness and hopelessness in the face of planetary sized problems. But we can move beyond this to hope and competence to remake this planet for all life.
But how might this work?
On the human scale, at the people level, we are struggling with the failure of systems that we use to process the world. I’m going to suggest how these look from the new perspective for solving what, for many people, look like unsolvable problems.
Capitalism was an incredibly powerful and successful set of system that focused on building wealth from resources and people. It worked wonders for four hundred years but then it began to fail. More and more wealth defined as money was made raising everyone’s resources and ability to live until it reached a plateau. The structure of capitalism is inherently against competition and toward efficiency. When growth needed to slow there was not way to do that. Inevitable more efficiency and greater wealth meant that all competitors and any new ones could be bought and eliminated. In that process wealth only accrued to the direct owners of the near monopoly enterprises.
Except as a necessary expense for labor there are no mechanisms for broad distribution of wealth. With market saturation wealth piles up but has no way to move out from the owners. Capital growth is what this system is about so the wealth is the reward. Greed is a virtue and the greedy succeed.
This combined with rapidly expanding automation reduces the labor needed and may reduce it to almost zero. Instead of wider wealth distribution this pushes the mass population, that was once doing well, steadily downward to subsistence. This begins to affect the market process that is an integral part of the overall system and things become unstable. Artificial (financial) products are created to keep things cycling through the system but that only expands the problem, a tiny percentage become even more wealth, and the population sees no future except slow decline.
How do we fix this? Capitalism is failing but parts of the process are still valid, i.e., markets to assign value to goods and services efficiently. New processes need to be added to redefine value (wealth) and to allocate this across the entire population. We need to redirect the outputs of the old system and add new processes that both redefine wealth and ensure that it is sustainable and broadly distributed.
The evolution of nation states as sovereign entities was successful as an environment for the growth of wealth in market capitalism. This fostered the rise of representative republics theoretically placing the source of authority not in a person or group of people but in all of the people in the nation state. This did not ever really work as the evolution from traditional tribal systems and kingships with hereditary rulers from specific tribal groups allowed power to be held by a few and that was always the true source of authority.
The idea was reasonable and did work with an expanded authority base in the citizen population that grew with the rise of a middle class created by capitalism. Large groups were left out and exploited and, just as with capitalism, the structure was most efficient with strong central control. The citizen authority tended to erode over time and easily broke down into forms of feudalism that used the power of small groups to exploit others for personal gain.
The structural weakness of capitalism tending to monopolization and concentration of wealth in a tiny elite exacerbated the weakness of the nation state semi-representative system by increasingly making wealth the basis of power with efficiency in a small ruling group.
How do we fix this in a complex system? The concept of the nation state made sense as a model for sovereignty in the 17th to 19th centuries and as the western European model was distributed and implemented, usually by force, around the planet. The benefits of the resulting system made this the rough model by the end of the 20th century.
Increasing structural failure is the result of poor distribution of wealth, the old definition of wealth based on endless exploitation and growth, and the establishment of very large nation states that required vast administrative structures and a small, powerful ruling group. The later usually functioned as military empires of conquest. Smaller states either needed to become militarized conquerors or became part of strong military alliances under control of the very large state empires.
Most of the problems could be solved by actually implementing a democratic structure with significant decision making power in the hands of the population. This could force redistribution of wealth, setting of sustainable and environmentally critical controls, and democratically redefined standards not only of sustainability but of wealth as something other than material goods and exploited services.
This can now be achieved by the use of planetary networking and the ability of tracking and processing massive amounts of data on each individual. These system are already being put in place: 1) For market exploitation and growth in order to stave off full capitalist failure, and 2) To track and manage entire populations for political control in, inherently, authoritarian and police state governments. Neither of these can be stopped whatever anyone thinks because they provide far too many benefits.
How to correct this:
- Add full citizen polling to make major decisions for the entire hierarchy of administrative units eliminating corrupt “representatives” owned by the oligarchic elite;
- Flatten the hierarchy of administrative units by limiting the authority above the lowest level;
- Reduce the size of administrative units to the equivalent of a large urban region.
By moving the data harvesting and mining process to public or citizen ownership all companies seeking to use individual or aggregate data would become clients of public administration. And that administration would be managed directly by the citizens not through any secondary or tertiary representation. These systems originally had limited functionality and were modeled on the original Athenian democracy that worked, with no technology, only at 10–15 thousand population level. We can emulate that now at nation state level and soon at planetary level.
The evolution of governmental units to fully democratic would also eliminate political parties except as advocacy groups for projects to be voted on. Our intelligent tools (AI/ML) are becoming better and better at modeling based on massively tracked data on individuals. The actions required of individuals could be managed, not as requiring research and learned expertise in all decision areas (representatives do not do this but simply rely on whoever pays them and tells them what to do) but approval of official ‘decisions’ suggested by the official information systems.
What are currently complex and chaotic system failures illustrated by the loss of public trust and even denial of scientific certainties that can kill us all can be corrected by putting rule, for the first time, in the hands of the population but a population fully augmented by machine learning. The failure of people to manage their societies is always a product of ignorance and emotional response to perceived threats. We now have intelligent tools to correct for these things and to do so with high security and transparency adequate to our needs.
The new system is simply Direct Rule by people for people. This may sound familiar as it is the essence of the 18th century Enlightenment goal that has never been achieved. It is now possible to achieve that but only by using a much newer set of tools, of our creation, and a much newer problem solving methodology to do this.