Why pure free markets will fail (and what might work better)

Modern popular discussion about socioeconomic systems revolves around how much government we should have (more? left wing. less? right wing). But that naive dichotomy is based in and to some extent obscures some more interesting questions.

Slightly more sophisticated discussions talk about the market, and whether it is a good thing or not. When we talk about big government or small government, we are often really talking about small market or big market. In our heads, socioeconomic organisation is state+market, government+corporations. That is also a false dichotomy, but if we dig a little deeper again there are more interesting questions.

We can also ask, do we want bottom-up systems, or top-down systems, for running our lives. Much more interesting! To modern sensibilities, the top down system is anathema. It’s hierarchy, elites controlling the proles. We have a gut reaction against that, as we might well be advised to, because we don’t identify with the elites, we identify with the proles, and so we don’t want to be thus controlled. Actually, some people clearly do identify with these elites, they are classical conservatives, the type of conservatism that dates to before the right rejected “big government”, and the only type which really deserves the label, *except* that the society they want to conserve hasn’t existed for at least the better part of a century. Note that this imagined elite isn’t based purely on money (it’s not a modern concept), but on a network of those intended to rule; one way into this small circle would definitely be immense wealth, but wealth isn’t the whole story.

So bottom-up systems sound like the answer, right? Well, maybe. This is a big space we are papering over with a dichotomy. Just because we reject top-down systems, doesn’t mean bottom-up systems are “the answer”. I can expect good systems (what is “good”? I’ll come to that) to have an attribute of bottom-up-ness to them, but I can’t say much more than that.

My unwillingness to commit here is an aberation though, as far as I can see, probably a character flaw. Mostly people don’t have this problem. In fact they are happy to simplify further!

Over the last few centuries we’ve managed to simplify the idea of the bottom-up system, into the idea of the free market. Bottom-up organisation is often a codeword for free market, especially in libertarian circles. So in modern discussion, to accept bottom-up organisation is usually to accept the free market. Even better, in our wonderfully polarized discourse, to accept bottom-up organisation is to rabidly defend every aspect of free market organisation, and often even to defend capitalism and corporatism, the latter clearly being an assertion of the worst kind of top down control inside the shell of a bottom-up system. Perhaps I am too hung up on logic, but I find this baffling.

Let’s get back to the idea of free market. What is it? Here’s a tidbit from wikipedia:

“A free market is a market without economic intervention and regulation by government except to enforce ownership (“property rights”) and contracts. It is the opposite of a controlled market,
where the government regulates how the means of production, goods, and
services are used, priced, or distributed.”

So that’s a kind of bottom-up system. There is no top down control (except that there is, the prohibition of force, but let’s paper over that). The market is made up of property ownership and contracts between consenting individuals. Contracts are a bottom up rule, definitely. Private property, enforced from the top as it is, and doled out in some original fashion also in a top down manner, or at least somehow outside the system, is a bit more questionable.

How do we say anything else about this system? We can say if it is bottom-up or not (free market has the attribute of bottom-up-ness, although I don’t think I could say it is 100% so), and we can probably say whether it is self-sustaining or not (when you run it, does it continue to exist on its own?). And we have said that bottom-up is good. So free markets are good, no?

The problem is that we can’t say that bottom-up is good, as has been argued above. Bottom-up-ness is merely a necessary condition for a good system, whatever that is. Clearly we are missing criteria for what is good, and a method for judging a system against those criteria.

How to define good? Here, values enter the picture. Good is what we believe it to be. It may also be that there is some absolute foundation for what is good, but I can’t hope to address that here. I will posit that there are cross-cultural values (like injunctions on murder and incest).

I don’t want to argue the rest of this using an abstract notion of what are the right values. Rather, I’ll propose some which I think are more or less uncontroversial (for whom? I’ll get to that). Simply, we all want to be free. We try to approach maximal individual freedom. I will allow here that if you don’t believe individual freedom to be a basic value, parts of the following discussion wont be supported.

I think from freedom you can generate a lot more values. Firstly, we have equal consideration of interests, what they call  universality in politics. Maximal freedom is impossible because we interact with others with incompatible desires. The best we can do is to say, let’s all not coerce each other, and let’s treat each other’s interests as equal in weight, and work from there. I’m ignoring an elitist view here where you might say that a few can do better in a small group by treating their interests as worth more than everyone elses’, because I think all such systems will end in a lower over all outcome (not least of which is because the people who propose them and benefit from them tend to be arseholes).

And you can keep generating more and more specific subrules. The Golden Rule flows from the preceding paragraph. Don’t murder people, don’t unfairly discriminate, etc.

So how does the free market look when we judge it according to a reasonable set of values derived from the principle of individual freedom? It comes off kind of tarnished I think. For one thing, people have uneven resources in the system, and we find that the more resources you have, the better you are likely to do. People start with uneven resources as accidents of birth. So, that’s not really compatible with equal consideration of interests, and if we say that more resources tends to mean more freedom, it’s not really working. We know that resources tend to distribute according to a power law.

As you get more specific rules (people should be able to live a dignified life… eg: enough to eat, roof over their heads, etc), you will necessarily keep finding failures; it just doesn’t do this for some (not enough resources down the tail end of the power law curve). Overall, it doesn’t measure up terribly well.

Here we come to blows. Progressives want to fix these problems by addressing them directly. Not enough food? give people some. Incomes too disparate? Smooth it with tax and benefits. Not getting education to the poor? Government makes some. Meanwhile free-market enthusiasts say we shouldn’t do this, because it breaks the bottom up system, and you’ll have unintended consequences of your additional top-down constraints.

Note that unintended consequences means unintended bad consequences. Unintended good consequences would be serendipity, a boon. Unintended bad consequences means you have made a modification to more closely approach the ideal, but it has not worked and/or has moved you away from the ideal in some other unforeseen way.

I contend that no simple, preconstructed system that doesn’t directly incorporate values is
going to be able to solve our problems. The values we hold about how human society should function are not parsimonious, and a parsimonious system, preconstructed, can’t address them. That doesn’t mean we can’t create a just, free society, it just means it’s going to take tinkering. It’ll be an iterated solution, not a gleaming marvel of platonism, sprung forth fully formed from the mind of Zeus (or Adam Smith, or Marx for that matter).

We need a meta system where we have our proposed system and our values. We run the system, measure against our values, and modify the system accordingly. Wash, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.

I’m reading the Black Swan (Nassim Taleb) at the moment, and the point is made clear that we can’t predict what is going to happen in a social system, it’s too complex, at least past a very short threshold. So we need iteration. This isn’t a pre-plannable mission, it’s driving a car across unknown territory; we have to actively steer.

Now there’s a lot to pick at in what I said above. Who determines the values? Who determines how we measure against them? Who determines how we modify the system in the light of the values? Who is this “we”?

My answer is, that “we” is all those people under the influence of the system. This is where we get back to bottom-up. We need a mechanism so that we as a whole can determine values, measure the current state of the system against them, propose modifications to the system, choose which to implement, and implement.

Arguably a government is supposed to be this, but we feel as though it is the canonical example of top-down. This is fair, and it’s at least in part because we use a system designed for our communications impoverished past. It was impractical to include us all in all steps, because the logistics wouldn’t work. Just voting in elections was a monumentally expensive, lumbering, error prone process.

That’s no longer the case. Everyone can be consulted. Everyone can propose new approaches. Everyone can be able to take part in decisions. It’s cheap and instantaneous. Groups can come and go and be entirely ephemeral. Also, we should read “everyone” here as “everyone who cares” if it’s looking intractable!

We can make a new kind of organization, an organic, bottom-up one, which can drive our socioeconomic organisation down the highway of the future, and keep us from running off the road.

Notice that I haven’t proposed an actual system here, I have proposed some attributes/elements of what a good system might look like, some qualities it might have.

Free markets do not fit this bill on their own. They could be a part of the solution though. They do have some lovely properties in allowing weak tie groups to function, and that’s a difficult thing to achieve. It allows you to scale. But we need to not be afraid to regulate markets. I’ve shown above that regulation doesn’t need to be a top-down activity, it just needs to be outside the maret, and can use a different type of bottom-up system which is more directly tied to first level values.

It must be noted that there is some automatic behaviour in a free market; it’s meant to adapt to the preferences of the participants, adjusting prices to match supply & demand. However, individual market preferences are not values. One of the best ways to see this is that markets can’t enforce an implicit value of their own system, that coercion is wrong. Instead they rely on an external agency to enforce this, top down. There are proposals to do polycentric law, policing, etc, which are supposed to deal with this, but I’m not going to address those here. It sounds like warlords to me.

A strong objection to everything I’ve said above is to my choice of values. Free market advocates can and often do say that we are looking at the wrong set of values. Instead of lots of first order values about how we treat people, we should have second order values about creating and maintaining a bottom-up system, not interfering, and letting it solve the first order concerns. The free market will solve your problems if you just get out of its way.

I have a huge problem with this, which is that you are adopting the rules of the system you are proposing as your values, then judging it against these values, finding them 1:1, and declaring success. These second order values are not actually values at all! They are a stub placed where values should go.

I think it is the job of values to be about people. They are meant to be a way of deciding whether your behaviour or system is appropriate. Redeclaring your values to be whatever the behaviour is your are measuring is to perform a kind of ethical lobotomy.

Crucially, it also renders you unable to steer as you navigate the future.

You could build a car with no controls, no steering wheel, no accelerator, no brake; you just turn the ignition and it goes whichever way the wheels are pointed. You could logically say that it is working correctly, even as you plow into a tree – it went where its wheels took it. You could say, yes, I’m seriously injured, but what’s wrong with that? My health isn’t part of the value set. It’s wrong to care about it.

You could even build in some more clever simple rules – for instance, the car detects obstacles and avoids them, changing direction or slowing down and steering around them. Now the car system is self sustaining. But where is it going? It’s on a random drive through unknown territory. Are you getting to where you want to go? You can’t even ask the question, because you haven’t defined any goals.

You have to use first order values, in my opinion. They’re for steering, and you need to steer, because you cannot design a machine, a system, to negotiate such complex terrain as the future without a steering mechanism. You can’t even give the machine itself values and the ability to steer based on them without human intervention (here we are in AI territory), because what is important is the fluctuating and partially contradictory values of all the passengers. Those living inside the system must have the ability to equally participate in steering the system.

I think a lot of problems in western culture arise from us believing the myth that second order values are ok, so we don’t notice that we actually have no values, just a kind of post-amputation stump.

Why pure free markets will fail (and what might work better)

The Digital Commonplace Book

Commonplace Book from the 17th Century
Commonplace Book from the 17th Century

UPDATE: The first version of my digital commonplace book is this blog on blogger.com: http://edcpb1.blogspot.com

I just happened, in the last few days, on the concept of the commonplace book. It has been a revelation, and a project shall commence henceforth, inspired by this wondrous idea.

But I am ahead of myself.

A commonplace book is a notebook in which to keep interesting intellectual and information snippets, often quotes, excerpts from books, poetry, etc. It is a place for centralizing all the disparate information that one comes across in the course of life, for future reference. It is a little like a diary, but not really time ordered. Some people kept indexes by title or author or subject.


Now this made a lot of sense in a world where information was trapped in paper (or people’s heads!). It’s a response to general information overload, combined with our poor ability to recall facts, and the general paucity of information technology. You can’t carry a copy of every book you’ve ever read with you, and even if you could, it’s unsearchable. You need a summary, notes, boiled down to a manageable size. The early moderns probably found it quite an improvement on oral rote learning when they could afford it (paper was very expensive).

Now, our intellectual world is completely different. Paper costs next to nothing, and you can take all the notes you like. Moreover, we can store what is functionally unlimited amounts of text in machines.

Also, we have most of the world’s knowledge increasingly at our fingertips. Why hoard knowledge when you can just go pull it out of the ether at a whim?

And yet, I’ve been bothered for years by the feeling that something is missing in this information rich environment. I have books, and other printed paper, which sits on shelves and which I can reference if I think to look. I can write notes in notebooks (something I used to do extensively), but they soon become too cumbersome to find anything in. I forget what I’ve written, so will never go look, so I may as well have never written it.

On the other hand, Google will hand up general search results to me, but these are unknown quantities, like a crowd of strangers. That’s great when I’m researching something that I don’t know, and haven’t researched before. But, if I’m trying to recall and/or work into an area that I have covered before, one I know passingly well, I often don’t want a crowd of strangers, I want to recall work that I’ve seen before.

It’s that moment, when someone remarks on subject X, or I am writing about subject Y, and I think, hey, I’ve seen something relevant to this, it’s –hazy muddled recollection–, hang on it was an article, when did I see it? Some time of searching later, maybe I find it, usually I don’t. Failure is more likely the more time has passed since I originally saw/read the item.

There is so much to know. I have adopted the practice in recent years of consuming as much information as possible. I subscribe to many blogs and newsfeeds. I have many social network connections. I follow links in texts and read background material, I trace out the network of informational connections. When I have a conversation and it becomes clear that myself and my fellow conversers are ignorant on something important, I look it up online.

What I decided to do was to take in more information than I could handle usefully, and damn the torpedoes.

And it turns out there is a limit to what you can manage. I’m beyond it. I notice symptoms like my desire to post links to interesting articles out to others as soon as possible after I read something, because I know the information will fade from my mind, in fact I’ll forget the existence of the article. I often notice that people remind me of things I’ve said or believed in the past, and I’ve completely lost all recollection of that. It’s like an intellectual groundhog day. Maybe pumping too much too fast into ones mind can cause it to split at the seams, and then one can only try to pump faster than the system leaks?

There’s a reason people call information flow “the firehose”.

Really, the amount of information that smashes me in the face will just increase, while, if anything, my ability to handle it as an au naturelle human being will continue to decrease. So, I either continue with groundhog day (which becomes groundhog 20 hours, groundhog 16 hours, groundhog half day, etc). Or, I limit my intake of knowledge, which is really to doom myself to fail in the task of understanding my universe. Or, I use technology and augment.

Let’s augment.

The Problem

What my real problem here is, is that there are some separate realms where knowledge lives, and I’m having an integration issue.

The realms are these:

Internal knowledge: Stuff stored in the grey matter. Limited (I think maybe fixed) size, lossy. Quick to access. Poor resolution. Has links into External Knowledge That I’ve Seen Before.

External Knowledge That I’ve Seen Before: Books, articles, papers that I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, diagrams I’ve seen. Much of this I’ve at least partially forgotten. Even if I have hardly remembered it, it has shaped my thinking. My internal knowledge contains references into this set of knowledge, and I am inconsistent/incoherent where they no longer point to anything.

External knowledge that I’ve never seen before: Future offerings of the great Goog. It’s an ongoing quest to explore more of this undiscovered country. No links between this and the Internal Knowledge.

(nb: there is some cool latin terminology for knowledge stored inside the head vs outside, but I can’t remember where I saw it, tried googling it and failed. I read it in some book by Carl Sagan. This is *exactly* the problem I’m talking about)

The thing I’m interested in is External Knowledge That I’ve Seen Before. The crucial thing that separates it from the other external knowledge is the links between it and the Internal Knowledge. I’m not getting an upgrade of the Internal Knowledge hardware any time soon, so I need to maximise its effectiveness. I think having it filled with half baked bits and pieces linking out into nothingness is a complete waste; it’s like a piece of software that keeps throwing access violations.

This crystalised concept is what I was looking for when I wrote the post Infinite Bookshelf. Progress!

So how does this all relate back to the commonplace book?

Well, the commonplace book was also about this. You wrote this book to create solid links between Internal Knowledge and External Knowledge That I’ve Seen Before! So it isn’t just a book, it’s outsourcing part of your cognition. That’s exactly what I need to do.

However, I have different issues and opportunities. The issues are that the scale of the external knowledge spheres is much larger. Also, there’s a flow rate which changes what I can deal with; just like you can’t use a household water filter on a town’s water supply, you can’t use a paper book to outsource your Internal-External knowledge links. On the other hand, the opportunities are, that there’s much more knowledge, and so much more to gain. Also, computers are far more sophisticated than books, the networked mass of them even more so, so I can do something critical with a much larger collection of knowledge links; I can make it searchable. Crucially, for it to scale, it shouldn’t be designed to be browsed, like a book, but to be searched.

I need to invent something, the 21st century, digital commonplace book. It is a system that can manage internal-external knowledge links. It’s outsourced cognition.

The digital commonplace book

Firstly, how would I use it? Well, this breaks into two pieces, Storage and Retrieval.


– When I’m reading an online article, I should be able to put it into the commonplace book. This might be just via URL (but that may then need to draw in the article at that URL, for indexing purposes). Or, it might just be snippets from something I’m reading online, which could be cut and pasted in, along with URLs and any other useful metadata (Author? …)

– When I’m reading a paper book, I might find snippets that need to go in. I should be able to scan & OCR that text (or type it in in the extreme case, but bleh!). Then add some metadata (crucially, details of the book! ISBN would go a long way…)

– If I’m reading something large online, I should optionally be able to put the whole thing into the commonplace book, where it gets broken up and indexed.

– Storage needs to be quick and painless. The more work required, the less likely I am to do it. eg: with a book snippet, a handheld device with a hires camera and wireless net connection would be ideal; take a photo of the text, send that to the commonplace book, which OCRs it and stores the image, the OCRd text, plus any hand entered metadata. eg2: with web based information, a browser plugin could be grabbing and entering anything I read, with little or no intervention from me.

– Integrating storage with posting on social networks would be ideal. Sometimes things going into the book can also be social network posts. Sometimes social network posts should also go into the book.


– Basic retrieval should be by search. Straightforward google style search. It should only search my commonplace book, not other things (nothing from External knowledge that I’ve never seen before).

– Search retrieval ideally is at a paragraph level. A list of relevant paragraphs is retrieved, which then link back to the whole article in question. Searching directly on entire articles/pieces of information would limit the size of things that could go into the commonplace book; if I add an entire book, and a search just gives me a reference to the book, I still have too much work to do in browsing the book looking for the actual references.

– Categorization would be useful. Particularly, restricting searches to chosen categories might narrow things down when the book gets large. Text-based tags would be good enough. Note though that the use of categories/tags imposes a burden of assigning them on the Storage step.

– A browser plugin that continuously put text from the screen into the search, and showed strong matches in some kind of sidebar, should be a pretty strong external associative memory function. Nice to have.

– Date based criteria would be useful

Implementing a first Digital Commonplace Book

I realize I’ve already had a bash at this. This blog, in fact, was a first, less clear attempt at the concept. However, it isn’t a commonplace book, because blog posts (in this blog) are too much about a serious piece of writing, and not about just throwing interesting tidbits into the pot.

Also, my social network posting (currently at record levels I think, apologies to my network), have been an attempt to remember (and perhaps to load up my social network with my ideas, so later on they might be thrown back at me). I sometimes post a link on facebook when I intend to read it later in the day. But in the end the stream of facebook posts sort of go into a mostly non-useful swill bucket. Facebook is such a crappy walled garden, gah.

A blog is close to what I’m looking for.

I noticed a wonderful thing the other day. When I posted on my blog, then immediately searched on google, there was the blog post! It’s google’s new realtime web functionality.

Combined with the fact that you can restrict a google search to a single blog, this turns a blog into a wonderful free full text database with absolutely brilliant text-search functionality (it’s google search!). Provided, that is, that you are ok with the contents of said database being freely accessible. Which I am.

That’s the heart of a digital commonplace book. If I were to use a blog, I’d need to abuse the concept slightly; given a text to go into the “blog”, I’d want to break it into paragraphs, add each paragraph as a post of its own, all with links back to the original (which also needs to be added I guess). Some fun and games with categories might be useful so you can tell paragraph chunks from original texts.

The storage functions would require custom apps. Google AppEngine would help here, as would some firefox plugin development. I might also want a server somewhere (Amazon? Or just under my desk?) taking scanned text, OCRing it, and submitting the results to the blog.

Basic retrieval can be based on a simple search box on the blog as can just be added in as a widget. And, to do more sophisticated things, custom code can talk to google to get search results, then massage them into the shape desired.

A blog with a solid API seems to be the thing. Blogger would be a good bet, and as all the rest of the tools come from google, it might integrate better too.

I’ll need to check if there are limits on the size of a blogger blog, or posting limits.

Well, I’m out of steam for this post. Great idea though, I think, and I can implement it incrementally.

The Digital Commonplace Book

The future is an alien place

A snippet of a conversation between myself and a facebook friend, W. Big shout out to W, I like your work!

Emlyn (me): I wish you could make your own “personal google”, just searching things you had seen before, possibly including your own notes.

W: Do you want Google knowing everything you’ve seen before? (Your web browsing history)

Emlyn: Couldn’t care less, in fact. You should live now as though your every action is public. We are not in the transparent society yet, but when we are, the past will also be redredged and brought into the light, private and public.

W: Man, I hope you’re wrong about that. I know people are saying Mark Zuckerberg plans to open Facebook up. But think about this… I’m an atheist and everyone here knows it. Everyone at my company, though, is Christian. If my manager and co-workers can come in and read everything I’ve posted on FB, I’d be out of a job. Not instantly, but eventually — things like that affect how people perceive you, which eventually seeps into job performance reviews etc. Thinking about this further, it means religious economic segregation — Christians will work only for other Christians, atheists will work only for other atheists, etc.

And that’s just the stuff I post on FB. For the most part, I don’t post political stuff on FB because when it comes to politics I like to read stuff outside of the accepted left/right political spectrum in the US. If people had access to my complete browsing history, I could get in heaps of trouble. Actually now that I think about it, this means we are also headed for political economic segregation — Republicans will work only for other Republicans, Democrats will work only for other Democrats, people belonging to the lunatic fringe will work only for other members of the lunatic fringe — or be unemployed. Etc.

So when you say, “You should live now as though your every action is public.” — maybe for you it is easy to think only what you are supposed to think, and never question what you are told, but for me it is not so easy… i like to think for myself, to doubt, to question things, to follow evidence wherever it leads, even if to ideas that the PTB say are off-limits (usually because they want to cover up their own hypocrisy/corruption etc). But the consequence of thinking for yourself is that you can’t say what you really think any more. See http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

The interesting thing about browser history is that the browser history is very revealing because it’s how a person gets non-mainstream ideas in the first place. A person can’t get non-mainstream ideas from the mass media (TV/radio/newspapers/maganizes/etc), at least in this country. So if a person knows their browsing history is being made public, it means they can’t browse to sites with non-mainstream ideas, which means they will self-censor and prevent themselves from being exposed to any non-mainstream ideas in the first place. So making browser history public has far-reaching consequences.

Emlyn: ” … So when you say, “You should live now as though your every action is public.” — maybe for you it is easy to think only what you are supposed to think, and never question what you are told … ”

Thanks for the vote of confidence W 🙂

I have some of the same troubles as you, we all do. In general, we segregate our social spheres, and bank on them staying separate. Work vs private spheres, friends vs family, intellectual-stuff vs everything else, there are consequences right now if they merge.

The only really sustainable answer I can see is to try to change my life by slowly merging all the spheres. In places it has definitely alienated people, but I can’t help that.

I see this as possibly the major social challenge of our generation. We clashed with the baby boomers largely I think over status and lifestyle – should you live for work, status, money, or should you focus on what you care about and damn the rest. But, our generation (and the boomers) is just beginning the mother of all clashes with the next ones coming up, over separation of social spheres. I don’t think the younger people believe in it (separation) at all.

If you look at younger people and their collisions between, say, their facebook antics and school, or online life and expectations from employers, you’ll see they’re always clashing with institutions run by older generations. They publish everything, and they expect that of each other. We see this and think “are you crazy? you can do these things, other people can even know, but if you publish, then it is part of the formal realm that we all know, and it can’t be ignored. Irresponsible!”

It comes down to this: We expect a private life and a public face (or faces). You hide the details of your real self, because how could you otherwise put your best foot forward? And, all our social institutions are geared to this. Resumes are expected to be somewhat inflated. Public figures can’t have any public flaws because it is expected they would be covering things up, and if there are visible problems or errors, then that must be the tip of an enormous iceberg! We have lots and lots of metrics for judging others, based on assuming this bias in presentation (think about it, the examples abound).

Life in the 21st century increasingly breaks our ability to sustain public faces. It’s happening to (and I would argue is destroying the very concept of) institutions – government, media, corporations, churches, military, education. And, it’s happening to us individually. The net is a knowledge ratchet, it discovers things and then they can never be undiscovered.

With social change so large, you’ve got to look to the people who are born into it and know nothing else, to see how to survive. Those rascally kids. And they don’t do public/private face, or at least do it a lot less. They publish much more, and they judge people not on their flaws, but by how open they are; do they publish, is there a lot of published material? In this world, a person without a published public data trail is probably hiding something, and is untrustworthy! Someone whose flaws are not visible are likely lying about something.

That’s where we have to move I think. There’s no choice. We can do it slowly, but you really need to start now. Just look at all the people in the 20th century caught out in retrospect by disclosure of something they did in previous cultural ages with different sets of rules (the people who perpetrated the Stolen Generations in Australia, or the catholic church’s abuses, or the abuses from institutions all over the world). We may look like that in retrospect, and the record we are creating now (including conspicuous holes) may be totally public in the future and be damning in a different cultural context, that might for instance not tolerate the idea of telling one person one thing, and telling another something else.

The future is an alien place. But, it might just be awesome to be an alien. I’m game to give it a try.

The future is an alien place