24 July 2015

More on the eventual emergence of an Economy of Abundance

​I wrote the following in answer to a friend who expressed understandable skepticism about my ideas on the eventual emergence of an Economy of Abundance. His objection is, to paraphrase, that people are just too cussedly mean to ever learn to really cooperate. We are talking futuristics here, so if that's not your thing, better tune out.

Human meanness is an aberration, not an innate feature. You'd better hope I'm right about that, because the distinction will literally be the difference between extinction and survival / flourishing as an advanced civilization. My guess (pure speculation) is that most of the time civilizations that reach approximately our level eventually fail. (This would be one factor accounting for the fact that the universe isn't exactly teeming with them). You might conclude the odds are against us. But, as a species (including our potential descendant offspring-species, if any), this is our one and only shot, so what choice is there but to strive for the kind of cooperative adaptation that is so obviously necessary in order to develop into an advanced spacefaring/spacedwelling civilization?

If you think long term, like Asimov and the turgid and unreadable Stapledon (and maybe Tsiolkovsky and Kardashev in the Russian take-it-seriously school of futuristics) were among the first to do (I discount Doc Smith), it's obvious that there really are no other choices. Interim solutions, such as "empires" and other such nonsense, are doomed to failure. (Not that I endorse any of these people's vision; I think all of them, in their own ways, were unaware of certain important factors or failed to really think through some of the implications).

Now, as to your ethics point [that "Love Your Neighbor" is an impossible instruction or basis for society]. You are right, if by love you mean warm, admiring feeling towards others. Nice, but not essential. And here I rely on some Eastern insight as well as Western. Love isn't really an emotion, and on its most basic level, it is nothing more than the answer to your rhetorical question. ["How would you like it if this were to happen to you?"]. That's a formulation of the Golden Rule. If you answer the Golden Rule with, "So I'd better cooperate with my neighbors so we'll all have something," that is love, and whether it comes from warmth or just cold, correct analysis and the desire to survive makes no real difference. Love in this simplest sense can be intentionally created, and it just means "have the intention to benefit another." We don't need to cherish everyone, but, as a society, we must, quite literally, socialize well-being. We must want to, enough to work to, achieve benefits for all, not just ourselves. That is love, in its most basic sense, and it is an essential component of adaptation for survival long term. Of that I am completely convinced.

This is indeed a more or less Marxist view of history. But I'm convinced it's true. Global capitalism is the grand experiment in using a system that relies, in theory, though not practice, on "enlightened self-interest." It is failing, and will drag the entire species down with it if people don't wake up and change the course of history in time. Stay tuned. No one yet knows how it will turn out. I believe, but cannot prove, that "self-interest" in this acquisitiveness-oriented sense, as an ethical basis for organization of societies of sentient beings anywhere in the universe, does not and cannot work. You call it guilt, I call it cooperation. And it's the only way. Ants probably have a better social organization than we do, but I think intelligent beings are always messy. They have to be free to think and experience. So there has to be a lot of flexibility. But at the core there has to be mutual benefit cooperation. Or else, collapse. No other road.

Years ago, when I first started to think about my million year old technological civilization of Ionus, I conceived its motto (kind of like "In God We Trust," the kinda thing they'd plaster on a public monument): 


Ultimately it all comes down to self-improvement. Humans are shitty at this, but we are better than any other animal of Earth, so we might, just might, be able to do it. You notice that the difference between the Ionian motto and the one you propose (the "Turkey" motto, if you will ["Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!"]), is that theirs emphasizes production, not consumption. Consumption takes care of itself. What humanity has to, and just might, come to realize, is that there is a tipping point in the grand historical production curve where there is so much abundance that consumption, and in particular competition for the opportunity to consume, more or less drops out of the equation, and the overall success and well being of the civilization is measured only by its success at production. Terraforming worlds. Building space habitats. Harnessing the ultimate energy sources of nature. Inventing and developing more and better space transportation. Delving into the secrets of nature and the Multiverse. Creating monumental art and beauty. You name it.

​ I am cautiously optimistic, and I'll tell you why. I think that the advantages of socialization of well-being will become so obvious, assuming we survive the Fossil Fuel Interval and reindustrialize using purely renewable resources (an obvious necessity), that the theory will become so widely accepted it'll be treated as fact. Then, over time, civilization can build institutions with checks and balances that guarantee a degree of stability. Something like this has happened many times before, but here we're talking about the first real global cooperation. What makes me optimistic is that once that is working, its advantages, I believe, will be so obvious to everyone that there will be no going back. Of course there will always be rogues and rebels, but there will also be a slow and steady progress towards a permanent economy of Abundance. And that will change everything.

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