Would Darwin be a Socialist or a Libertarian?

Would Darwin be a Socialist or a Libertarian?

and after reading Why Libertarians Should Support Many Forms of Government Intervention – How to solve collective action problems.

Those are not the only options.
I suspect Darwin would have evolved into someone like myself, neither socialist or libertarian, and with some attributes that acknowledged the need for the greatest degree of individual liberty possible, within a social context where the life of individuals within that social context was of greater value than any perceived liberty. Holding such values does not involve the idea that the needs of the state are paramount, or that the state must dominate individuals. And holding such values in the context of an understanding of evolution, of complexity theory, and of the notion of the dispositionality of complex systems, does impose upon individuals involved in all levels of governance, a requirement to put restrictions on liberty where the unfettered liberty of some imposes unacceptable risk to the life of others.
And that is always something of an art form, particularly in environments and contexts where all information and all interpretive paradigms carry significant uncertainties.

Michael Shermer states:
“Apparent design from the bottom up does not imply the necessity of intentional design from the top down.”
While this is true, it doesn’t explicitly allow for the levels of complexity that emerge from systems that contain multiple levels of awareness, and multiple levels of creativity and intentionality and tendency and freedom.

Raw natural selection, at its simplest, relies on climbing Mt Improbable, with each step requiring that it contribute to the probability of survival, or at least not detract significantly from such survival probabilities, before encountering some further mutation that does add significantly to the survival probability.

Anyone who has ever climbed up a scree slope to the top of a mountain will understand that it is possible to make it to the top, even if one slides back two steps for every three steps taken. It just takes a long time, and is sometimes the only safe path up particular sections of particular types of mountains. Evolution often has to work like that, in the various levels of its random walk through the space of possible strategies available in the contexts actually present.

Where I disagree completely is with the notion:
“Corporations as species

If there is a specific analogy to make between evolution and economics beyond a description of bottom-up self-organized emergence, it is that species are analogous to companies and corporations, not to societies and nations.”

Evolution is about forms that can replicate.
Nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) can replicate in certain chemical environments, and cellular and viral life forms are examples of strategic interactions at that level, allowing the emergence of other levels.
Cells are higher levels, based on RNA and DNA.
Bodies are yet higher levels, based upon cells, which are based upon RNA and DNA.
Societies are collections of bodies, based upon ….

And there is something else at play also – as Dawkins described in the latter chapters of his 1976 classic The Selfish Gene – for which he coined the term memes.
Memes exist in the minds of individuals.
Individuals exist in the context of societies (which have many levels of cultures).
Cultures can be viewed as ecosystems of mimetic entities, and corporations are but one form of entity within that vast ecology.

So while I acknowledge that both you and Frank have some very valid points, you both miss the deeper and much more salient (in terms of existential risk) issue involved here.

Markets, and their derived measure money, are scarcity based measures of value.
The more abundant things become, the less value they have.
That makes a certain level of sense, when most things are genuinely scarce, and few things approach universal abundance.
When the only thing universally abundant was oxygen in the air, everyone could easily ignore the fact that air is arguably the single most important thing to any human, yet it has zero market value.

Then automation started to make a real impact.
Initially it was the industrial revolution, and the production costs of some goods dropped to near zero, but there was still distribution costs that were real, so the system limped on.

Now automation is really starting to bite.
It is already the case that information can be essentially free. So the idea of intellectual property has been invented to impose some artificial barrier upon that abundance, and turn it into a marketable scarcity. Most ignore the cost of that to those at the bottom end of the distribution curves. Few economists, with notable exceptions like Robin Hanson, have the intellectual honesty to point out where this must lead.

But few people have really come to terms with the fact that automation is moving a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services into the set of things that are universally abundant, and therefore outside of the ambit of market forces.

If one is stuck in a simplistic understanding of Darwinian evolution, and is looking only at low level competition and survival, then one does in fact see corporations as a species, and it is a useful ability to be able to see them as such, in a sense.

And it is far more useful to see them as a species adapted to a certain scarcity based view of reality, as one can view anaerobic life forms as life forms adapted to live in environments without oxygen.

And it is true that way back in the beginnings of life on earth, all of the environments were without oxygen.
And that is no longer true.

Now it is true that there are only a limited set of conditions that are without oxygen, and within which anaerobic biota can flourish, and our guts are one such set of environments. So it is possible to conceive of humans as gene machines for the transport of such anaerobic environments, and that can be a useful perspective for certain aspects of our relationship with the anaerobic flora in our intestines.

And in a similar (though more abstract) sense, it is now useful to view scarcity based thinking (market values) as a mode of thought that was useful in a world where universal abundance was limited to a small set (oxygen and light most of the time), but is not nearly as useful (and actually becomes toxic) in an environment where automation allows us to produce universal abundance of all of the necessities of life for every human being.

We are now in a transition phase.
Just as anaerobes became confined to a restricted set of habitats as a result of the oxygen released by cyanophyta all those millions of years ago, leading eventually to us and our technologies, so now our ability to automate processes is leading to the need to move beyond market based thinking (with its attribute of ascribing zero value to anything universally abundant), and into actually valuing individual life and individual liberty as our highest hierarchy of values, and within that context of valuing every life capable of conceptualising itself as having value, and the freedom of all such individuals to self actualise as they see fit (given the infinite variations possible in such a possibility space) giving people the greatest freedom to be as competitive or as cooperative as they choose. Markets cannot do that.

And given that all of our distinctions and abstractions are fundamentally based in useful heuristics, and therefore are necessarily probabilistic, we need to have a test of reasonableness at all levels. And such a test necessitates that what may seem reasonable at some levels of abstraction may not be at all reasonable at other levels of abstraction – recurse to infinity!

Welcome to evolution in a context of infinite levels of complexity!!!

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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1 Response to Would Darwin be a Socialist or a Libertarian?

  1. Ted — I’m trying to figure out how come I no longer receive email notices when you post. I’m going to put a checkmark in the “Notify me of new posts via email” box and see if that does the trick.


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