Ignorance and Power

Flawed, Ignorant and Dangerous: A Bain Capital Partner’s Worldview

Hi John
Your sentence “Ignorance, when coupled with power, is what’s truly dangerous to civilized society” is one of the greatest sentences I have read.

POLpursun correctly states that the purpose of economic activity is the well being of people.
What many have mistakenly done is to go from that, to inferring that more economic activity must necessarily mean greater economic well-being. Such an inference is a logical fallacy, that is easy to prove with a simple example.
If someone lacks only one thing in their life, and they get enough money to buy it, and do so, then they have all they need for their well being. Further economic activity is simply churn, without any increase in well-being.

When people take economic activity as a proxy for human well being, humanity is in serious crisis.

The economic drive to extend the shelf life of food has had (and is having) a huge impact on human health. It is (in combination with the huge intake of animal protein), without any shadow of reasonable doubt, responsible for most of the obesity, heart disease, and cancer epidemics currently facing humanity.

On a personal note, I was essentially a carnivore for 55 years, and it wasn’t until being told 2 years ago that the melanoma in my system had metastasised to my liver, and I would probably be dead in 6 weeks, with a 2% chance of living 2 years; that I seriously started looking at the causes of cancer. After 3 weeks of intensive study, I decided to try a strict vegan diet with high dose vitamin C. It took 3 months for the last of the tumours to disappear, and I lost 17Kgs. Pleased to report that I am still vegan, alive and well, and with not trace of any tumours in over 15 months.
I am now, on the basis of many months of study, convinced that diet, driven by economic (rather than well-being) factors (ie how to make more profit, rather than how to improve the well being of people) is responsible. We need to alter the incentive structures that have delivered our current state of affairs if we want something different.

Money and markets make very useful tools, but very poor masters.

[followed by]

Hi Tim
One person at a time, one conversation at a time!
(Just as you are doing. We need to work through our wider networks, as well as within groups such as this.)
And we leave trails wherever possible, so that if someone’s interest in sparked, they can follow a trail, rather than having to blaze one themselves (which is a slow and hard work).

[followed by]

Hi POLpursun
Just one point.
You said that natural systems are self correcting,, which is not always true.
Many natural systems have evolved feedback systems that tend to maintain the system within certain limits, and many more are open.
Life as a whole seems to be an open system.
Life is continually evolving, in response to changes in the environment, and the opportunities produced by recent evolution.
The illusion of the 60s conception of life as being in some sort of grand equilibrium, until humans came along and stuffed it up, has been clearly debunked. It simply is not so.

Life is continually exploring the possibility space available to it.
Humanity seems to be uniquely endowed with ability in this respect, if we have an appropriate environment.
We need to sort out our systems, and create systems that deliver an abundance of necessities to every human being, and leave plenty for the non-human natural world.

My preference is to see that as much diversity of life as possible survives.
I would like to like to see humanity decide to limit itself to using no more than 50% of the planet surface, and no more than 10% of the incoming solar energy.
If we need more energy for anything, then we need to create that technology in space. Technology for that is simple enough if we stop trying to launch soft humans into space, and instead send tough machines that we can control remotely. If we can build machines to survive 200g, then a 30km long linear motor could accelerate them to geostationary orbit for an energy cost of about 18KWHrs/Kg (under $4,000 per ton at today’s retail electricity costs). A little bit of ablative shielding on the nose, and its a quick trip to orbit.
Most of the cost of rockets is the cost of accelerating the fuel. If the only thing accelerated is payload – the numbers are very different.

[followed by]

Hi POLpursun

Agree with all you say.
And it is a simple fact that nothing can continue exponential growth ad infinitum – everything has limits.
So that really isn’t the issue – in and of itself.

The real issue is much deeper and closer to home – it is markets and market valuation (aka money).
Markets are a really useful tool, and a very poor master.
Markets tend to make people think that human value and market value are equivalent – which they clearly are not.

When we were reliant on the work of others we needed markets.
Now we are capable of automating all the processes required to sustain humans.

We now have the technical capacity to move beyond a world of fighting for survival, a world of scarcity, a world of necessary competition, of fear and uncertainty and anxiety.
We can choose to create a world of abundance for all, of cooperation, of security.
It is actually quite easy, and quite ecologically stable, provided we do away with the concepts of money and profit.

That latter requirement is difficult for many to conceive of, particularly economists.

Just imagine a world in which everything you need is so abundant that it has no market value – it is just there for the using.
Note that I said need, and not want.

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 www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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