Predictions

The present system will not continue as it is. It will change for better or worse to something else. The revolution will occur by evolution.

Things will likely get better. Individual people will have more knowledge and power. Most people will educate themselves via the internet. People will be able to make things with their 3D printers — household items like spoons, dishes to smart phones and guns.

Violence will continue to decrease. Stephen Pinker has shown that violence of all kinds has declined and he has suggested reasons why. One of the reasons is people are getting smarter. And the increasing knowledge and intelligence  as they continue to increase will continue to trend violence down.

Democracies and economic systems will also change. Instead of government handouts to the unemployed, societies will pay such people, and people in general, to do certain tasks, certain work, that a smooth running society will need them to do.

First of all smooth running societies will need more and more educated people. People will be paid to educate themselves in general, and in specific areas that need knowledgeable people. One example is voting. People will be paid to educate themselves about candidates and issues before they may cast a vote. They will be paid to do this work. If you don’t want to vote, that will be OK, but you won’t be paid. We already do not allow people to vote whom we consider not mature enough. 17 year olds cannot vote since we have decided they arn’t smart enough. So we already have a smartness test for voting. We will be just refining the test criteria.

Other things will be done to eliminate the influence of money on voting and politicians.  Maybe congresspersons will only be allowed to receive contributions from the districts/ states they represent. Or maybe voting should be organized as tournaments where the voters must demonstrate a level of knowledge about the candidates before they can vote.

There are huge fundamental disagreements and misunderstandings about our current economic and money systems. So society will need many educated people to sort all this out. People will need to be paid to study, research scientifically and objectively all these questions about how these systems are organized so that so that all people receive all the resources they need, all the human necessities so that they can develop themselves maximally in whatever positive contributary ways they want. 

We already claim to believe that people should be rewarded for work. We just need to recognize that society needs people to do some new kinds of work and therefor society should pay people to do the work required.

Unity of Individual and Community

I posted the following comment at Naked Capitalism today as a comment to Yves Smith’s post on passion.

“In other words, your circumstances do not create your mental state. You do.” — Yves Smith
“…a separate ego is an illusion” — Ven
“Is it still possible for an individual to be a specifically identifiable personality with values, time for personal development and pleasure, and self administereds agenda within the flow of a society/world where profit is law?” — El Snarko
“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest” — Einstein
“ …’western’ values of the sanctity of the individual” — crazyman
“Consider for a moment the phrase, the opposite of solipsism. In solipsism, you are ultimately isolated and alone, isolated by the premise “I make it all up.” But at the other extreme, the opposite of solipsism, you would cease to exist, becoming nothing but a metaphoric feather blown by the winds of external “reality.” —number 9
We must stop trying to put primary emphasis on only one of the two: individual or community. It is not one or the other. It is both. It’s not or. It’s and. But this is not enough. We need to go further. It’s not two things: individual and community. It’s one thing. To even think of it as two things is wrong because two implies separateness. And individual and community are not separate or separable. We are social creatures. A human being totally isolated from any contact or communication with any other human would cease to be human. Almost everything we know and are comes from the community we are raised in. And if we are lucky we may build upon the knowledge and work accumulated by all those who came before us and we might make some individual contribution to our community. Not only are individual and community inseparable in practice — in our actual lives — but they simply cannot be separated conceptually. It is absurd to try to separate them. When you try to separate them, when you try to understand one without the other, you cannot understand either one. [End of Comment to Naked Capitalism]

I should add: And today our community is the whole world, all of humankind, and even the biosphere.

This is relevant to the revolution we must have in that people need to come to understand that the individual pursuit of the individual’s well-being — with no or little thought to what happens to others well-being — is not the ultimate, the privileged, the one and only goal it has become in much of the world. Individuals do not, can not exist outside a human community. Individual well-being is limited, diminished by a poor, ineffective, messed up community.

Besides there is not even such a thing as “the individual pursuit of the individual’s well-being”. Almost nothing is done individually. Almost everything an individual does is done with others. All our progress, all the things we make, almost all the knowledge we use to make things, to do things (provide services) comes from others both the living and the dead. Yes, on rare occasions some individual puts together knowledge, information, ideas of other people in a new or clever or creative way to create some new knowledge that is or will be of great value to huge numbers of people. This is wonderful. Sometimes it seems like magic. But in a smaller version this is what humans do every day in their lives, their jobs — working with others. There is some problem to be solved, a mistake in a design that must be corrected, a telephone pole blown over by the wind that must be fixed — How to do it? People use the knowledge and information they mostly have gotten from others and they work together in a small team maybe, to discuss and consider solutions till they find one they are willing to implement. Human creativity occurs in the daily life of all of us, not just in the rare grand discoveries of people like Newton and Einstein. But no matter. Even the daily creativity we all do is built upon knowledge and information we have gotten from others, those who came before us. It is only because we are ordinarily not aware of the vast store of knowledge and information we depend on, that our cultures, our communities build up and make available to us that we perhaps rate our own contributions so highly.

It is really, really, really arrogant and ignorant to ever, ever say: I did it all by myself.

Games and Organizations

Yesterday, as a comment on the Naked Capitalism blog, I wrote:

“Competition is cooperation because all those participating in a competition are behaving in accordance with agreed upon rules. Conflict is fighting — trying to harm or kill someone. Some people don’t seem to see the difference. So we need agreed upon rules for corporations and individuals in their economic behavior if it is to be competition rather than conflict. Capitalism or whatever system we have needs more competition, less conflict, more rules. Every system, every game needs rules or it turns into destructive conflict. Most people don’t understand this. Yes, let’s get rid of all regulations. Let’s have a game with no rules!”

I want to elaborate on this a bit.

Is the world economy a game? Or how much is it like a game? How is it different?

I am thinking here of games as sports games like baseball, football, soccer, basketball. All these games have definite rules of behavior which all the players must know and understand and agree to follow. These games have officials or judges who observe the behavior of the players and they assess penalties for violations of the rules. These are team sports. Each team consists of several individual players who mostly cooperate with the other members of their team in playing the game. Each team gets points for various accomplishments by its members and each team tries to prevent the scoring of points by the other team. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. Generally a team has a coach who’s job is to suggest strategy and tactics.

Over short periods of time the rules of each of these games are fixed. But over longer periods, the rules evolve. That is, all those participating in the games agree to make small changes to the rules. Then we have a slightly different game.

 All these games have spectators. They really should be considered as part of the game if we look at the game as a whole as a system. What is the purpose of a game? As a system in our culture, what does a game do? It encourages and develops human excellence in the players. The spectators come to see and encourage and celebrate the human excellence demonstrated by the players. If the game didn’t have clear rules that the players and spectators can easily understand, or, if there were too many violations of the rules, the players and spectators will be turned off and will no longer be interested in such a game.

In the world economic and political system there are many more players and teams. And the relationships between individual people and various teams are much more complicated than the simple rules of the above team sports would allow. But we can still look at corporations, governments, and other organizations as teams. As with sports teams, individuals within any one of these organizations are supposed to cooperate with one another in the accomplishment of the purposes of the organization. Any competition is supposed to be between organizations. Within and among corporations and nations the rules are excessively complicated, often out of date (old laws), not uniformly inforced, and most participants (people, corporations, nations, and other organizations) do not know or understand or agree with the rules! Not a very good game. Not pleasing to look at.

But if we do look at the whole world economic and political system as a game, what are the points? How are accomplishments scored? Governments, nations used to compete (rather conflict, fight, war) for territory, for exclusive trade with other countries, etc. Corporations are supposedly competing only for money. But money can’t be the whole story. At least some corporations must have some purposes besides making money. At least some corporations must make some goods or services like food, houses, health care or we would all be dead. You can’t eat modern money.

Economists reduce everything to money — for example Gross National Product (GNP), per capita income, etc. But these measures are inadequate because they ignore the details. Money spent on cleaning up a nuclear disaster has the same weight as money spent building a house. Average income ignores gross income inequality.

So in the case of the world political and economic system, the rules are so poorly defined that nobody has any clear idea what the points are. So if it’s a game, it’s not a very good one. It’s not one in which we can celebrate human excellence.

What’s the purpose of the world economic and political system? First, who ever asks this question? Almost nobody. If the question is asked, some people will say there is no specific purpose because it wasn’t designed or built by any one person and so it has no purpose. It just is. It developed and evolved over the history of humanity.  Some people will say that yes it is a system that evolved and although not designed by any one person it is still appropriate to say that it has a purpose and this purpose can be determined by the main things the system does. And what the system does is mainly the following. It produces food and other human physical necessities — goods — and necessary human services like education — and it DISTRIBUTES these (poorly) to the human population.

We need to build a world system with clear rules for corporations (and all other human organizations) and a system of points for their competitions so that a corporation gets points in proportion to its production and fair distribution of the human necessities. Money ain’t it.

Then maybe we will have a game where we can really celebrate human excellence.

Emotions and Thinking

Emotions and thinking go together. We use emotions in our thinking. They are inseparable. How they go together in various individuals influences the effectiveness of the individuals’ thinking.  The magnitude of the emotional response should be appropriate to the situation we are thinking about. In this there is great individual variation. Sometimes the wrong kind of emotion is used. More often it is the amount of the emotion that is wrong.

The type and amount of emotion a person associates with a thought or action is a measure of the importance the person places on the thought or action. Seeing a snake close by is more scary for most people than seeing a rabbit. Being physically injured is more fearful than being yelled at.

Emotion is contagious. An angry person elicits anger in many of those around him. Fear and anger are emotions which are very often used in inappropriate amounts. Anger is actually physiological and psychological preparation to physically fight. Many people use too much fear and anger in many aspects of their lives. They are thinking with too much fear and/or anger. This in itself is a distortion of (correct or appropriate) thinking. If a person has an “irrational” fear of spiders, that person may do unnecessary or harmful things such as spraying too much cancer causing bug spray in their house. If a person has too much fear of people they don’t already know, they may avoid people they don’t already know. Other people can see the emotions we are having. Emotions show on our faces, our tones of voice, bodily postures, and the words we speak. When other people see the type and amount of emotion we are having, they often will experience that same emotion. This is the contagion of emotions. So a person who approaches a stranger with fear may very well elicit fear towards himself in that stranger. And there is the possibility that the stranger’s fear, when perceived by the first person, will reinforce or make his own fear greater. Similarly for anger. Similarly for hatred. Similarly for disgust and contempt. But also, similarly for happiness, openness, acceptance, confidence, compassion, empathy, and love. In all these emotions contagion often occurs and mutual reinforcement can occur.

The key to effective thinking and action in all cases is the appropriateness of the types and amounts of emotions attached to, associated with, the thought or action. (For background see “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and see “Emotions Revealed” by Paul Ekman.)

I am now reading “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Robert Sapolsky. This book is about the stress response in animals and humans. Sapolsky provides a broad and detailed physiological and psychological description of the stress response based on recent science. This is relevant to emotions and thinking because the stress response is what excessive fear or excessive anger or any strong emotion produces in people. Actually the stress response is, or is a part of, any strong emotion. This is because emotion is by definition the body and brain’s reaction to events and to thoughts. And this is what the stress response is — increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tensing of muscles (facial and bodily expressions of emotions), increased alertness and attention to the perceived event or situation, turning on the sympathetic nervous system and turning off the parasympathetic nervous system, secretion of epinephrine (adrenalin) and norepinephrine, secretion of glucocorticoids (cortisol, etc.). So when we speak of emotions and when we speak of the stress response we are pretty much talking about the same things. The different emotions correspond to different variations of the stress response.

There is an aspect of emotions and of stress responses not yet mentioned. And that is our feelings when emotions and the stress response occur. We all know the feeling of fear. We know what it feels like to be angry. We know what it feels like to be happy. The feeling is not the same as the emotion — the bodily changes. Yet the feeling comes with the emotion. The feeling actually is our perceiving of the bodily changes actually occurring — increased heart rate, increased muscle tension, increased alertness, etc. We feel the changes in our body. (Read Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux for discussion of this distinction. Not everyone makes this distinction.)

Where am I going with all this? I want to show that poor thinking leads to many social problems. In particular thinking with excessive emotions is a very bad way to think and to live. Yet many people go through their whole lives fearful of all kinds of things. Others go through their whole lives angry at almost everyone and everything. Many hate. As a shortcut I call all this thinking with fear and anger. But remember what I mean is thinking with excessive or inappropriate fear, anger, etc.

For a zebra running for his life to avoid being killed and eaten by a lion, a full-blown stress response is appropriate. For a human couple planning some activity together, a full-blown stress response is almost always not appropriate. Yet many humans argue rather than discuss all kinds of matters day after day. They think with fear and anger. Why is this bad? For one, too great or too frequent stress responses cause many health problems. Beyond that thinking with fear and anger by a human couple or between two groups of people is much less likely to lead to an agreement between them. (See “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg.) This is because although an event that causes a stress response can pass — be over with — the adrenalin and cortisol secreted into the bloodstream stay high for some period of time after the event that initially caused the stress. This is called the refractory period (see Ekman). The important point is that during this refractory period, the person’s attention is still focused on the event and similar events. So it is very hard for them to think about anything else. So it is hard to move on. It is hard for them to make progress to a solution that would otherwise be satisfactory for both of them because they are still distracted by whatever caused their fear or anger in the first place. The fundamental fact is: After thinking with fear and anger, our thinking about anything else is seriously degraded during the refractory period. Furthermore, if the stress response to the original event is great enough, if our fear and/or anger is great enough, the event, along with a large amount of fear and/or anger will be stored in our memory, to be retrieved and reviewed and worried about indefinitely. So it is not just the initial refractory period that messes people up. It is also their memories stored away with excessive fear and anger, which when recalled can cause a stress response similar to the original one. This can go on indefinitely (consider post traumatic stress disorder, an extreme example).

So if Osama bin Laden had not thought with hatred (or contempt, or disgust, or …) or if vice president Richard Cheney had not panicked (thought with fear) after 9/11, then we might not have had depraved torture and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

OK, so poor thinking leads to many social problems. BFD. We already know that. So what? What can we do about this thinking with fear and anger? Isn’t this human nature? We evolved from some ancestral primate. Many primates — chimpanzees and baboons — organize themselves in hierarchies where there is a lot of fear and aggression. If it (thinking with fear and anger) is natural in them, then maybe it is natural in us too.

Implicit in the above line of thinking, at least for most people, is the idea that the emotions we express are a matter of genetics. Our genes make us do it so there is nothing we can do about it. Genes are involved but they are not the whole explanation. The capacities for fear, anger, and other emotions are built into our bodies and brains, mostly by our present genes. But what we fear, what or who we get angry about, who we hate, and by how much and under which circumstances — these things come from our environment, our culture, through learning and our development. THEREFORE THEY CAN BE CHANGED. We are not doomed by our genes to be as fearful and as angry and as hateful and as aggressive and violent as we presently are. This stuff is learned — either actively as in school or passively absorbed from our cultures, our traditions.

This is a big deal because the science references above prove that our emotional and stress responses are very variable, and most importantly that we can control them, that we can learn to control them as to what circumstances and to what degree to use them. For a zebra being chased by a lion, the stress response is automatic. For many present day humans it is also automatic most of the time. But many people today have learned to not think with fear and anger. Already some Buddhists completely eliminate anger from their lives. There are effective anger management courses. There is psychotherapy for phobias like fear of spiders, fear of snakes, etc. There are effective negotiating and communication strategies that do not use fear and anger. (See Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non Violent Communication” and others.)

How is this relevant to the revolution we need? It means we can greatly reduce and essentially eliminate thinking with fear and anger from all of our cultures. This will improve human health worldwide, improve social interactions, ultimately eliminate hostility, aggression, and violence. This is a big part of the revolution we need, but only a part. We still have to evolve a new economic system that provides a just and fair distribution of the human necessities to all people, we have to get our democracies back from the 1%, preserve the environment, and accommodate ourselves to the earth’s limited resources. But improving our thinking will help us a lot both in terms of social groups and in each individual life. The fact that thinking better in general, and thinking without fear and anger in particular, will lead to more satisfying and productive lives for the individuals who make the changes in their own lives — this will cause more and more people to adopt improved thinking. So this is a self spreading meme. It has Daniel C. Dennet’s frequency dependent fitness. (See “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel C. Dennett.)

 

 

 

 

 

The Fairness Principle

We are always changing our systems. Every new law changes something. Why do we make these changes? The easy answer is to make things better. Better for whom? Ideally better for everyone. But often the changes made are designed, consciously or not, to make things better for some individuals or for some class or classes of people with no consideration as to what the change does for the system as a whole, and no consideration as to whether there are any benefits for everyone else.

We need a new principle to be used when designing and considering changes to our economic and political systems. This principle should be something like: No change should benefit one group at the expense of everyone else or at the expense of other individuals or groups. This principle should be applied especially to the production and fair distribution of the human necessities. We can call this the Fairness Principle.

The human necessities are those goods and services every person needs to develop fully as a human person. Specifically these are: Food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, opportunities to associate with, cooperate with, work with other people, maximal individual freedom consistent with the well-being of others, and non-violence. And this production and fair distribution of these human necessities must be done within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and the preservation of the natural world.

If there are many people whose basic human needs are not satisfied, then these people cannot contribute as much to the production of the goods and services we all need. We want a just system. We don’t want a system where there are a lot of freeloaders — people who get the benefits of cooperative work but who don’t do their fair share. This is one side of justice. The other side of justice is that the system must assure that those who work have all the resources they need to do the work they do. This is why we want every person to have the human necessities.

The principle that no changes to our system should be made which favors particular individuals or groups over others is a kind of Fairness Principle. Why should we accept this principle? Because it seems unfair to change our system so that it takes away (or does not provide) goods and services from some people to give them to other people. This is more unfair if the goods and services taken away are human necessities. Then those whose necessities have been decreased become less able to contribute to the whole and the system works less well and everyone may be affected. If it is not human necessities that are taken away, then maybe it does not matter. So fairness in the distribution of human necessities is what matters most.

There could be rather immediate benefits if the above fairness principle were applied to the crafting of new laws. We can imagine a constitution where it would be required that laws conform to the fairness principle. Then courts could review laws and void them on the grounds of unfairness with respect to human necessities. Or maybe the courts or some new institution (maybe a part of the legislation system) would analyze and say yes or no to proposed new laws.

So special interest legislation could be reduced greatly. There already is some rule that is aimed at preventing legislation naming a specific individual, corporation, locality as the beneficiary of a law. Our legislators go around this rule by adding enough conditions so that only the desired individual or corporation or location qualifies for the benefit. But clearly the legislators could decide not to allow such fakery. The legislators already make all kinds of rules for themselves that the laws they write must conform to.

We all know our legislators are not going to make these changes any time soon. But don’t dismiss the idea just because it will not be implemented soon. I am exploring how things could be, not how they are likely to be next month or next year.

Many people recognize that our legislators have been bought and paid for by the rich, the 1%. Legislators write and pass legislation favoring those who contribute to their campaigns, their party, or who do favors for their family and friends. It is proposed that if we could only “get money out of politics” we would solve this problem, get our democracy back, and then start making the progressive changes we all want. It is more complicated than that. There has to be a revolution not only in the minds of the voters but also in the minds of those who are supposed to be our representatives.

What kind of different ideas must our legislators acquire? One idea is the Fairness Principle.

How can we help them change their minds so they make new laws to change our systems to systems that are better for everybody? For now we must continue thinking, researching, and writing.

 

 

Abandon all economic theories

Economic theories often claim to be about the way things are, as if they were objective scientific theories about the real world of human group behaviors —  as if they were about how we actually produce and distribute goods and services. But some of these theories have another element to them. And that element is: how things should be.

How can we distinguish whether a theory is a description of how things actually are, how our systems actually work as objectively observed and scientifically verified, and when a theory is attempting to say how things should work? When is a theory attempting to describe what people actually do versus what they should do?

It seems that most economic and political theories (and it is impossible to separate the two) have a lot of “should”s in them. Few if any have no “should”s.

Governments exist. Many of the “should”s have to do with the role of governments in our systems. How much should governments be involved in economics? Some people (some capitalists) say governments should have no role or a minimal role; some people (some communists) say governments should make all or most economic decisions. Clearly both extremes do not describe how any actual systems actually work. Governments always have some role. They make and enforce laws which constrain human behavior. Stop on red, go on green, be careful on yellow. And enforce contracts. And no government can make all economic decisions. Governments don’t know enough and they can’t possibly manage everything. They don’t have enough information and even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to put it all together and use it. So many of the “should”s are about the roles of governments.

Every law is a “should”. If a law were not a “should” then it would be a description of actual behavior and it would not need to be enforced.

Many “should”s are about individual behavior. Traffic laws, for example are about individual behavior. Most individual behavior occurs with or in groups of other people — in families, clans, tribes, towns, cities, clubs, associations, partnerships, corporations, states, nations. Many of the “should”s are about these groups, these human organizations.

“Should”s are not only laws. Customs and habits that most people (in some group) follow most of the time are also “should”s. Human life is full of “should”s.

Some “should”s take the form of: You should behave according to theory X because if everyone behaved as specified in theory X, then good thing Y will happen. Classic capitalists said that if everyone would pursue his own rational self-interest, then the resulting system would be the best for everyone. If everyone is greedy, then the resulting system will be best for everyone. Classic communists said that if you let the central government make plans for all the types and amounts of goods and services to be produced in some period of time, and if everyone follows the plan, then this will result in a good and efficient system that will be best for everyone. If everyone just works and obeys orders, everyone will be taken care of, it will be the best for everyone. Note that in both cases “best” is not clearly spelled out and there was no proof, no valid argument, that the “best” could be actually attained. Note also that in both systems many people were and are left out — their situations became worse.

There are many reasons why any preplanned social system for the production and distribution of goods and services will not work as expected. The main reason is we cannot predict the future at least in detail. And human behavior changes. Technology changes. Cultures change. Nature intervenes. Accidents and disasters happen.   

So we cannot dream up an ideal system with specified roles and rules for governments, corporations, organizations in general, and individuals, and claim that if every organization and individual behaves as specified (everybody and every organization always follows the specified rules), then the result will be the best for everyone. We can’t even claim it will be good for everyone, or for sure better than some other system. There is no such thing as perfection in such matters.

We cannot get 100% compliance with any set of rules and laws. At present huge numbers of laws are ignored by individuals and corporations and are not enforced by governments. So any such predesigned system would have to be built with the assumption of less than 100% compliance. And since nothing stays the same, since culture, technology, nature, and human nature are always changing, always evolving, any preplanned and highly specified system will not continue indefinitely to produce the same results it once may have produced.

So any system we might contemplate implementing must not be too highly constrained. It must have mechanisms to allow it to co-evolve with evolving nature, human technology, human nature, and culture in general.

In a sense we already have some of this co-evolution. Not so much in our theories (which are often presented as static, highly specified, and unchangeable), but in our practice. We are constantly changing our laws regarding our economic and political systems. The goals, purposes of the new laws are often to benefit or favor certain individuals and groups but not everyone. Sometimes the purpose of a new law is to make our practice (our operational system) conform better to one of our simple theories such as capitalism, communism, socialism, libertarianism, “the Austrian school”, Keynes, or the theories of any particular economist. But often, behind such a purpose is the more basic goal to benefit some individual or group.

We need something else beyond these simple, highly specified, over-constrained systems as the goals for our system changes, as our law changes. We don’t need any more theories like those listed. They are all simple-minded, limited, and do not (or would not) work very well for most people. Each may work well for a subset, some class or classes of people, the rich or the powerful, but often make things worse for most people.

We need a simple, clear, direct goal for our system changes, our law changes: We should design our system changes, our law changes to our economic and political systems, so that to the best of our abilities, the resulting system is better for everyone. We must eliminate the middle men — the simple-minded theories (which are mostly fake covers for benefiting the few at the expense of everyone else) — and we must aim clearly and directly at the goal of changes that benefit everybody.

Clearly since we will have no theory to guide us (and even if we did, it wouldn’t help), and we cannot predict the future in detail, we will have to use trial and error, which is the scientific method. That means we make our best estimate, our best guess, as to what to change. Then change it and look at the result. Check whether it made things better for almost everybody. (We must not get hung up on seeking perfection in every single step. Perfection is an illusion.) If the change made things better for a large enough number of people (and not just a few individuals or classes) then keep that changed law. If the change only benefited a few individuals or classes, then reverse that change and try something else. Trial and error. There really is no other way.

When I say abandon all the above theories I mean abandon them as exclusive overriding dogmatic systems. There surely is important knowledge about how human organizations work and can work, both internally and in cooperation with other organizations (for example maybe money, markets, property, contracts, laws, incentives, technologies, education, safety, redundancies, etc.) and this knowledge should be the basis for our best estimates and best guesses when changing our systems to make them better for everyone. In any case we must start with whatever we have now. No system as complex and interconnected as the present world system can be “overthrown” and a new one built from nothing.

Finally I want to spell out in more detail what the goals of our world economic and political systems should be: The goal should be to change our systems step by step as above into systems that provide almost all human beings with the human necessities which are: sufficient water, food, clothes, shelter, education, health care, opportunity to work with others to contribute to the welfare of everyone, maximal liberty consistent with the welfare of others, nonviolence — and all this consistent with the earth’s limited resources and consistent with preserving the natural world from further degradation and destruction.

We cannot know now if it is possible to reach such a goal. Nor can we know now that it is impossible to reach such a goal. To find the answer, we must try. We can measure how close we are to each of these sub-goals. This is something economists can do since they can stop wasting their time generating grand theories. Surely great progress can be made. Reaching the goal is not the main thing. The main thing is to keep moving our economic and political systems toward these goals. Let’s have a directed evolution. That will be a real revolution.

 

A password is not a physical thing.

 

“Basically, if the password is a physical thing she has, than the Fifth Amendment does not protect it. But if the password is deemed to be something the defendant knows, it is protected.” — From John Fontana of ZDNet quoted by David Sirota in Salon.com commenting on a criminal prosecution in Denver

The password is information. Therefore it is not a physical thing because information is not a physical thing. Instances of information occur on or in physical things. The physical things on or in which information occurs are of course physical things. So if she had written the password on a piece of paper and she still possesses that piece of paper with the password written on it, then, by the quote, the 5th amendment does not protect that piece of paper from being handed over. But if the password is not stored in, or recorded on, any physical substrate but her brain, then, by the quote, the 5th amendment protects it.

Information is not a physical thing.

The password as information can exist on or in many substrates at many different places and at many different times. The instances of the password as information can come and go like a wave in water: electric or magnetic charges in a computer, tiny dots on a CD or DVD disk, pencil smudges on a piece of paper, or ink on paper, or some patterns in her brain, or sound waves in the air if she should speak the password out loud in a courtroom. The connections between all these — what makes them all instances of the same information (namely her password) — is that these various patterns on all their variable substrates are convertible from one to another by specific more or less known processes. For example she knows how to speak the password out loud. That is she can convert the password pattern in her brain into sound waves via speaking. The sound waves travelling through the air to another person (who understands her language) will be converted to a pattern in the hearer’s brain that will be another instance of her password information, assuming it was heard and understood correctly. The patterns in her brain and in the hearers brains will not be identical. At best they will be similar. Same for two instances of her password written on two pieces of paper. They may be similar. They will not be identical.

Her password is not a physical thing she has. There are instances of it from time to time somehow recorded as various patterns of neuronal activations in her brain. Rather it is a collection of instances here and there, and at various times, with some instances in her brain and some instances outside her brain. Note that when the password is spoken that instance of the password as a pattern of sound waves in the air between the speaker and the hearer exists only for a second or so whereas if the password had been stamped on a bar of gold in some bank vault, that instance might last for hundreds of years. The collection extends over space and time. The collection is not attached to any point in space or any point in time. The collection may have physical things in it from time to time, but the collection is not a physical thing.

(This post may not seem to be connected with How to Make a Revolution, but this example gives a good opportunity to talk about the nature of information — what information is. And since my emphasis is on how information spreads through cultures, this is relevant.)