Truth and capitalism

This started out as a question on Truth, but turned into a serious exploration of the utility and danger of many of the economic structures we find ourselves in.

Question of the Day – March 18, 2011 – truth

There are more truths in twenty-four hours of a man’s life than in all the philosophies. -Raoul Vaneigem, writer and philosopher (b.1934). What has been your truth (or truths) for the past 24 hours?

In the last 24 hours so much has happened.

So much love for family – Ailsa & Jewelia in particular.

So much interaction with others, particularly on yesterday’s question of the day here seeing beyond your walls.
Also out in the community – helping another set up email on his computer, then being helped by being given a couple of gallons of tomatoes, and some beetroot, carrots and raspberries.

More consideration of the deep issues within the control system of the planet – reading more of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, watching reports on the situation in Japan, and on the day or remembrance for those lost in the Christchurch earthquake.

Reports on the Libya situation.

The reading

I guess the big truth of the last 24 hours is that we have problems, many of them, some more urgent than others, and all solvable if enough of us direct our love and our attention toward them, then take action in reality to make the changes required to sort out the issues.

There are a lot of people of goodwill out there, and sometimes the walls of our social institutions get in the way.

We have got to stop the wholesale destruction that is war.

It is so much easier to destroy than to build.

There is so much that needs building.

[followed by]


While I do not exactly see the issues as froth, I can sympathise with the general thrust of the terminology.

Below is the letter I wrote to John:

Hi John

You asked two questions:

1.) Given the finite geophysical boundaries of the biosphere, how can finance help drive the transition to a sustainable economic system that does not breach these boundaries while at the same time, creates a more just allocation of wealth and well-being?

2.) Can you describe the characteristics of a financial system that support this transition

All questions have implicit boundaries, and implicit assumptions within them.
There are some implied assumptions that need questioning.

Yes the earth has geophysical boundaries, but does humanity need to threaten them?
Could it be that it is the quest for money itself that is the problem?
There is no such thing as a poison, all substances are poisons when at concentrations outside of the ability of the system to tolerate. What is critical is the concentration.
All systems, even systems of change, have a rate limiting step.

We are not short of energy, we have abundant solar energy, what we lack is appropriate technology.

What most people require is an abundance of a few simple things, food, shelter, communication, water, sanitation, information/education and transport. Given those things, human society is pretty much self-sustaining.

Money only measures scarcity. The more scarce something is, the more it is worth. Abundant things have no economic value (eg oxygen).
Thus is it even sensible to think of economic structures delivering abundance, when there is no economic value in doing so (in fact there is severe economic penalty)?

The idea that everything has an economic value is clearly a nonsense.
Does it even make any sense to try and think about using economic tools as a method of developing a future that is of benefit to all humanity?

In terms of energy, we have abundant energy, but it is distributed (as solar energy) and there is no economic incentive to harness it, as there is no possibility of super-profits from a distributed system that delivers abundance (there are in fact no profits – abundance = zero economic value).

If money is used purely as a tool to enable producers and consumers to connect without having to find a someone with a good you want who also wants the service you have, then it provides huge social utility.
As soon as it is allowed to be pursued and multiplied as an end unto itself, then it has acquired the systems characteristics of a cancer (unrestrained growth of once cooperative subunit of a system – to the detriment of the system as a whole). So long as the tumour is small, it is not life threatening, once it gets large, and consumes a significant fraction of the energy within the system, it threatens the system as a whole – then it becomes noticed, and is called “the scale problem”.

Yes – there is a life threatening issue of scale.
And the entire sub-system is in fact cancerous.

What we need to be doing is directing significant efforts into creating technologies to produce abundance in what matters to humanity, and distributing it to everyone, in the full knowledge that this will not (cannot) produce economic activity (as abundance has no economic value).

We need to remove the ability to extract money without effort.
Finance and insurance and stock and bond and futures and exchange markets have become speculative cancers on society.

What we need is people of character willing to take on the economic system, and deliver systems that deliver abundance to all people.

We have the technical ability, but the economic structure, with its demand for profits, is preventing us from delivering.

To create a transition, we need to keep everyone working, we need to keep people spending, and we need to stop people from hoarding food. There is no point in diverting food to bio-fuels productions when people are hungry. We can divert old food that is surplus to bio-fuels, but only when all people are fed.

We need to empower many people to explore whatever interests them, for no economic reason at all – but for the green-fields research involved.

We are not short of people – we have plenty.
We are not short of energy – the sun converts 600 million tons of hydrogen to helium every second, and the little bit that lands on the earth is equivalent to a layer of oil 6 inches deep over the entire planet every year.
What we lack is incentive structures to match these realities to human needs – and no economic system is ever going to do it.

We need to disinvent the myth of money – and do it fast.
If we do, we can create abundance for all.
If we don’t most will experience increasing scarcity.

Hard for many to accept.



[followed by]

I followed up my earlier letter with this one:

Hi John

You asked how to get “from here to there“?

I think the analogy of a cancer is an appropriate one.
It is an analogy I have given a lot of time and study to over the last 10 months, as 10 months ago I was told (in a 2 hour conversation) by one of NZ’s top melanoma experts that I had advanced metastasized melanoma, for which there was “nothing known to medical science that could significantly alter the probabilities of survival”. He gave the probability as “a 50% chance of living 5 months, and a 2% chance of making 2 years”.

Since then I have studied a lot, read a lot, and tried a lot of things. It seems that the specialist was partly right, and partly wrong.

I have changed a lot, mostly diet (see for details), am still alive and feel great, and the tumours on my liver shrank then disappeared.

What I did is interesting, and it is interesting in regard to analogy with the cancer we face within the economic system.

It seems that there are many ways of approaching cancer (very few of which are patentable or can be charged a lot for, and therefore few of them make it into “medical knowledge” – which knowledge has to be able to support doctors and their ancillary economic structures). It seems that the “placebo effect” (aka belief) is at least 70% as effective as even the best drugs, and over 90% as effective as most drugs.

Most cells contain two major mechanisms that are used in preventing cancer:
(1) apoptosis (suicide of cancerous cells); and
(2) cellular senescence (cells stopping doing what they were doing when they “realise” they are no longer part of the larger cooperative). All cells have many mechanisms for triggering these processes.

There are several other approaches to defeating cancer also.
(3) Many cancers are started by an infecting virus.
If that is the case, then we can do a raft of things to enhance the immune system to deal with the virus.
The usual “rate limiting step” for the immune system in fighting viruses is vitamin C, which we can both boost by changing diet and we can also supplement to high levels.

Our biological systems have evolved for most of the last 6 million years to work in an environment where we have a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits in our diets, supplemented by occasional protein from animal sources (wild animals – mostly grass-fed, not grain fed).
(4) Thus it seems logical that many of the mechanisms of our immune system and general physiology will be optimised to such a diet/environment, in many ways, many subtle and (I suspect) many that we are unaware of at present. Grains are a very recent addition to our diet in evolutionary terms, and have many biological drawbacks, but many economic advantages (they store and trade well).

For most of our existence, when we have had stress to deal with, like sabre tooth cats, it has been of short duration, and we either survived it, or perished. Turning off all not-immediately-essential systems in such situations makes evolutionary sense, but cannot be continued on a long-term basis, as these systems are essential in the longer term. Our systems are evolved to deal with short-term stress, but not stress that is ongoing.
Modern stresses such as mortgages, and lack of job security, invoke long-term stress, which in turn leads to degradation and failure of many key immune system components.
(5) Adopt attitudes and systems to remove stress.

(6) If we are looking to optimise the immune system to be able to detect and attack cancerous cells within the system, it pays to remove from our diet all proteins which may be of similar structure (hence I have gone vegan).

(7) We can then use surgery to remove any tumours that are a major threat to the survival or operation of the organism (I have had three lots of surgery for lymphatic tumours).

(8) We can also adopt strategies targeted toward prevention of the growth of new tumours, things like anti angiogenics (things which prevent the growth of new blood vessels, and thence limit the size of tumour growth).

Plus a range of other minor approaches.

In the realm of applying these approaches by analogy to the economic system; we do not want to be too literal.

Using analogy to (1) above, we do not want economists and traders and bankers to commit suicide, merely getting them to change professions is sufficient (professional suicide, rather than personal).

Possibly more effective at a systems level, is rather than getting them to change profession, is to simply get them to stop engaging in cancer promoting activities (analogous to (2) above).
Calling people to higher levels of awareness, and speaking to their “good character” seem viable options.

In analogy to (3) above, the infecting virus in most cases seems to be mimetic, and is a very simple one (as most viruses are), that is some version of “economic profit above all else”. This simple meme seems to be dominant in a significant fraction of American society and societal systems. It seems deeply rooted at many levels, and seems responsible for the deepest levels of corruption in the halls of power in Washington DC. (And for the sake of clarity, I am not saying that all or even most people in DC are corrupt, but rather that a significant minority are corrupt at all levels, and most of the systems found in DC are corrupted very near their base.)

As an analog of (4), we need to be teaching all people the very clear value that money is a tool to serve people – rather than what is clearly now the reality of people being tools in the service of monetary systems.

To remove stress (5), we need to promote security at all levels.
Security does not mean staying the same, or life without change.
Security means change without threat.
It is possible to enjoy absailing if one has confidence in both the anchor/rope/harness and the belay team. One can experience security even in highly dynamic and dangerous environments, if one has reasonable trust in both the tools and the teams.
Take the focus of our news systems away from disaster and danger, and bring the focus on security and prosperity (more “good news”/”we can do it” stories). Tell us the threats please, but also tell us what is being done to mitigate them, and if nothing, then do some investigative journalism to find out why not, and change it.

Throughout much of human history, humanity has evolved to deal with communities of less than a couple of hundred individuals. We need to structure our institutions at all levels to reflect this evolutionary fact (6). Many large scale social experiments have been successfully carried out over the past 60 years in this (eg Mondragon).

We can use the legal and political tools available to us to excise the tumours we can clearly identify (7) as cleanly and as efficiently as possible. And we can create newer and more effective tools and procedures.

We can actively explore systems from ancient societies and surviving modern cultures, that promote stability, and create abstractions and analogies that promote ever-increasing levels of security (8).
We can also create entirely new structures and technologies, beyond anything evolution has come up with previously (eg or

We need to be very clear that evolution is not simply “Nature red in tooth and claw”, though that is a part of it; evolution is also about ever more successful cooperative structures (from simple molecules, to prokaryotic cells, to eukaryotic cells, to multicellular organisms, to social structures, to managed ecologies, and beyond).

I could progress the analogies much further, but for now, I think this is sufficient to paint a “broad brush stroke” picture.



[followed by]

Hi OM,

I like your extension of the analogy.
The question becomes, what is a foundational cause?

Is the foundational cause the damage to the DNA?
Is it the agent that damaged the DNA?
Is it the process that gave rise to the agent that damaged the DNA?

Is it the failure of the DNA repair mechanisms?

Is it the failure of the cancer prevention mechanisms?

Is it the failure of the cancer elimination mechanisms?

Is it the environmental factors or the dietary factors?

Or do we take a purely practical approach, and say that it can be any combination of the above, and we need to have a multi-facet approach to work on as many probability functions as possible, rather than putting our reliance on any single factor?

At one level, there is no absolute guarantee against cancer, there cannot be; and we can certainly alter the probabilities significantly.
All the things you mention are possible factors, so is radiation. Some radiation is unavoidable, it is part of the natural environment. Some comes from the earth itself, and some from distant stars.

Some of the causes of cancer are the unavoidable consequence of metabolic activity, and hence we have evolved all of the many mechanisms that we have to deal with DNA damage and the cancer that sometimes results at so many different levels.

In the analog world of human activity and choice, human beings have free will, and the ability to choose.
That ability can always result in actions that are “outside the incentive structure”, and so we need similar levels of mechanisms to catch, developing “cancers”, whatever their cause, as well as actions to minimise the levels of causal agents.

I agree that we need to look at subtle systemic causes, and we also need to accept that we will not be able to eliminate all of the causes, and must therefore create additional layers of systems, equivalent to our immune systems, and to cellular level safety systems.

I agree we need to look deep into history, both genetic and mimetic (body and soul). We also need to be open to possibility, and not limit ourselves to the lessons of history (and neither ignore them).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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2 Responses to Truth and capitalism

  1. holessence says:

    Ted, I oh-so-agree with your statement:

    “I guess the big truth of the last 24 hours is that we have problems, many of them, some more urgent than others, and ALL SOLVABLE IF ENOUGH OF US DIRECT OUR LOVE AND OUR ATTENTION TOWARD THEM, THEN TAKE ACTION IN REALITY TO MAKE THE CHANGES REQUIRED TO SORT OUT THE ISSUES. There are a lot of people of goodwill out there, and sometimes the walls of our social institutions get in the way.”


  2. Pingback: Assorted short posts | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

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