Post-scarcity stuff #1

A cool exchange on the World Transhumanist Association mailing list, between myself and Bryan Bishop (I like Bryan a lot).

2008/12/19 Bryan Bishop <>:

> On Thu, Dec 18, 2008 at 11:50 PM, Emlyn <> wrote:
>> It is the way of politics and economic organisation to say “The fixed
>> rules of the universe are these. Now, how do we organise within those
>> to best effect?”. So we have capitalists, socialists, libertarians,
>> fascists, what have you.
>> And then, there is the technologist, who can say “Those rules aren’t
>> actually fixed. Let’s change them”. This is the heart of
>> transhumanism. It’s why we need to keep the politics at arm’s length.
> This was discussed somewhat on the extropy-chat list a while back:
> “My first thought: this technophilia has exhibited itself here before and
> on wta-talk in the sense of anti-“let’s just do it” tendencies.
> Somebody was laughing at me the other day for suggesting that we build
> teh tech. Odd. Another thought that I would like to add, from my
> general observations on the state of those ideologies and the “old
> world”. The status quo takes a lot of time to update. Lots and lots of
> time. The opportunity to update a unit relaying the status quo is rare,
> so old information is always being propagated throughout society while
> the freshest and newest information has to find its own context to keep
> alive (and that’s fine). But on the other hand, we have significantly
> large organizations (“Left” and “Right”) and ideologies still
> propagating and still abducting new minds even though there’s no real
> power that is necessarily making news releases to gain eyes and get
> possible neophytes to convert (peculiar). Today I was sitting in a
> psych class that was talking about ‘developmental psychology’, going
> over the theories of Piaget and the like, staged versus continuous
> development, emotional taxonomies and whatever else. The designs of the
> studies were simply wrong — *no*, you _don’t_ do longitudinal studies
> or cross-section studies, not at all — that’s studying a
> mystical ‘normal’ brain and the normal status quo does not necessarily
> represent something that is within the possibility space of the
> construction or growth of the human brain, it’s not psychology at all
> (perhaps social studies, but only on a “pop” level, since real social
> studying would involve more, you know, hard (read: real) studying).
> And the theories of, say, Maslow, were developed so as to promote a
> more ‘humanist’ idealization versus the other negative images of humans
> at the time and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with his ideas,
> they are not as intense as they could be. And what about marxism? Or
> libertarianism? Republicanism? Capitalism? Objectivism (cringe)? These
> are archaic, in more than a sense than “they are old” but that they do
> not fall into any particular coherency when, on the contrary, it seems
> that many historical figures were ‘fighting’ for coherency. So this
> idea of coherency (sometimes poorly guided, but if one is careful it
> can be a powerful tool, yes) and defending our own ideologies does not
> necessarily help the general situation at all … perhaps instead we
> should be working on the art of self-creation, design of new ideas and
> societies from the ground up, integrating and sharing novelty from
> where ever it may come from. But it seems that one must have their own
> internal journey of personal growth and development to come to this
> conclusion, to some extent isolated from society. Maybe we can propose
> some solutions to the Keepers of the Devastated Ideologies in an
> attempt to minimize their damage while seemingly maximizing their
> missions? Or alternatively start teaching parents how to help minimize
> the damage of society on their children as they grow up and prepare for
> the future (“the future is now / the singularity is now”). ”
> – Bryan
> 1 512 203 0507

That’s a beautiful post, I missed it the first time around.

On your general question in the later part of the post, can we teach
people to see outside the box, I think No. Really all you can do is
put your point of view out there, find the others who agree, then
raise the flag high enough and visibly enough that those in milieu who
“get it” will see it, understand, and come toward it. Evangelise, too,
but mostly everyone will treat you like you’re crazy.

The tendency for people to stay inside the space of the old ideologies
is understandable, imo. Most of the time the fixed rules are really
fixed, all else being equal, and you do need to work within that. They
stay fixed for long periods of time. And, while they stay fixed,
people don’t get any smarter, so after an initial period of thrashing
things out, the extent of the space of workable ideas (ideologies) is
pretty much explored for that set of constraints, and it’s all about
details, about clever optimisations, and tribal clumping in the
various implied camps.

And, most of the time, if someone tells you that important rules can
be or have been changed, they’re wrong.

So, when they actually are changed, and we spill into whole new spaces
of possibilities, and other pre-existing spaces now close off, it’s
probably very hard en-masse for us to accept that. In some naive
statistical sense, it’s always a bad bet to believe it (although
there’s a black swan in there, but we’re really bad at dealing with

I think we’re in one of those times right now, with the cost of
information dissemination approaching zero; it’s a discontinuity. The
political discourse revolves around enforcing objectness on
information, bringing with it ownership rules. This allows continuing
of the old right vs left arguments about distribution of property in
that space, while all sides lament the increasing difficulty of
enforcing the rules (clue: if you have to enforce the fixed rules,
they are no longer fixed rules!).

Meanwhile, the technologist way is to say Wait, look, the rules have
changed, once information is created, it is no longer scarce, and
furthermore, even creation is not scarce because of the weird things
that happen when you put billions of people into one creative space.
So we have open source and free software and free culture and all the
related things, which are the technologist way in action. People on
this path can feel the importance of this project, especially because
the info-sphere is going to slowly absorb the physical-object space,
invalidating objectness and ownership everywhere.

And so we’re in a new exploration-of-the-space phase, except most
people don’t realise that we are (probably this is always true). At
the other end of this there is a new stable equilibrium, but between
here are there, it’s anyone’s guess. Probably it’s going to get pretty
messy, it’s amazing what people will do to each other when the ground


Post-scarcity stuff #1

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