Money cartoon – comments added!

On Ailsa’s Facebook Page – Cartoon of a man with a stick tied to his back, with a string tied to a wad of money, running hands outstretched towards the money, with an open grave unseen ahead.

I just can’t bring myself to “Like” this – and yes – accurate in many cases.

And it need not be so.
Money is almost all myth.
It was a really useful idea when most goods and services were in fact genuinely scarce.
But we have had exponentially increasing computational systems for over 120 years. We can now automate the production of a large and exponentially increasing set of goods and services.
The only thing stopping us developing systems that deliver all the goods and services required to live whatever sort of life one responsibly chooses (and there is a test of reasonableness that most {over 99%} would have no problem accepting) is the very idea of money.

Money as an idea is based in scarcity. It only values things that someone doesn’t have. So poverty is an integral part of making the money system work. Consider Oxygen in the air – arguably the most important thing for any of us, yet of no monetary value.

We could easily (in a technical sense) create systems to deliver all the essentials of water, food, shelter, education, communication, healthcare, sanitation, transport to every person on the planet – but doing so would make all those things as valuable as oxygen in the air to the monetary system – zero value. So there is not, nor can there ever be, any monetary incentive to do such things. In terms of money, they just don’t make sense.
In terms of humanity – money no longer makes much sense.

In days past, yes – one could make a strong case in terms of utility, information processing, coordination and cooperation – but those days are past.
We have far more powerful tools now, that do a much better job, and money as a concept now works against the interests of humanity both individually and generally.

So yeah – funny, but not so funny cartoon.

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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6 Responses to Money cartoon – comments added!

  1. Marc Sanders says:

    You wrote: “to live whatever sort of life one responsibly chooses (and there is a test of reasonableness that most {over 99%} would have no problem accepting) “. Please, describe the test.

    Also, given the current world population of around 7.425 billion people, that still leaves (depending on how much above 99% your estimate includes) around 70 million people who reason differently (or lack the (consistent) ability to reason) – a far from insignificant source of disruption (e.g., death and destruction) to the 99%.

    To conclude, something I’ve never specifically asked: given that the world is currently populated with those who do not share your values of sapient life and liberty (to the extent you do), by what means do you propose that we, the small number that do share your values, begin to overcome – substantively – the cycle of ignorance (i.e., parents (and all older relatives), teachers, ‘authority’ figures, opinion ‘leaders’ – and indeed any human thought that has been recorded in any medium – shaping the minds of the succeeding generations of humanity)?

    Thanks for your thoughts, Ted.


    P.S. – I’m commenting in this posting, because this is where I found your statement. I recognize my questions go quite beyond the scope of the original cartoon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marc,

      You are “on form” today 😉

      You raise two major issues:
      The test of reasonableness; and
      The values most people hold dear.

      Both of these are really interesting, and in a sense each could (and does) fill many tomes, and in essence both seem to resolve down quite simply.

      In terms of reasonableness, there are two major aspects to reasonableness.
      When are people reasonable?
      What do they consider reasonable?

      In terms of the “When”, most law enforcement authorities know the numbers.
      One can usefully consider society (and individuals) to be a spectrum of behaviour patterns that range through 3 general classes:
      About 20% of people are compliers, they just obey whatever convention (rule) is present, and never question it.
      About 80% are conditional compliers, that obey rules if they can see a good reason. The reasons for compliance may vary considerably, from the deeply moral to the intensely practical, from some value one holds dear, to simply some risk of being caught. So the modern trend to large numbers of cameras, and vast information processing networks has the potential to ensure all those “risk of being caught” class of motives move us to comply, which leaves the other class of the “moral”.
      Is it “right”?
      Is it “fair”?
      This is the one I have been working on for the last 42 years. What is it that the vast majority – from the conservatives, the liberals, the libertarians, those at the extremes of the dimensions of social spectra, actually are able to agree are reasonable?
      The third class is some fraction of 1% that in that particular context and state of mind (time/place/emotional/internal chemistry/etc) are outside of the conventions that move the probability of actions to the socially cooperative. The law recognises that any person can enter this state, and most rarely if ever do. “Crimes of passion”, while not a complete defence, do provide extenuating circumstances in most situations – at least for some unit of time – usually measured in some small number of seconds. So there cannot be any 100% guarantees here, and with modern profiling tools we can get sufficient mitigating measures in place that the numbers of actual instances of serious consequences come down to very small numbers. And that “eternal vigilance” thing does rear it’s head in this aspect of the domain of freedom (as well as many others).

      In terms of “What”, it seems that at every level it comes down to context, and some version of the old Greek “virtue of the mean”. Most (well over 95% of people) are more than willing to act in ways that respect the lives and liberties of others if their own material needs to security and freedom are being met.
      And there is an aspect of neural networks that are habit forming and habit formed.
      Some habits take a long time to change.
      Habits of mind occur at all levels, from the deeply subconscious behavioural through all dimensions of distinction, abstraction, and “values”. {And there is that aspect I have discussed with you on several occasions, that all of our values seem to distil down to some set of survival drivers if one chases the chains of “causal” linkage back far enough.}
      It takes time to change habits.
      It usually requires a change of context to deliver sufficient sets of incentives to actual create a context where habits can change.

      So it is a very dimensional set of contexts.

      Choosing paths through N-Dimensional spaces is something of an art. Even with small N values the possibility spaces are infinite. With larger N values the space of possibilities is “magic” in a very real sense.

      At lower levels, there will exist contexts that don’t seem to some to have a great deal of freedom, and to others the mere existence of such contexts may appear near the boundary of unacceptable risk.
      So I’m not saying it is going to be easy and all “plain sailing”, could be a few storms, and a bit of tacking required to bring this ship to safe harbour, and get all aboard certified to sail their own ships wherever they reasonably choose. Or at least get everyone who wants to take on captaincy to a minimum level of competency.

      And we’re back to that word reasonable again – in an ever recursive, ever expanding set of sets of contexts and values.

      So in one sense, of the simple search for some ultimate set of explanations and rules – nope – not that. Wolfram has exploded that myth once and for all – does not and cannot exist – the system we exist in is open, and in many aspects maximally computationally complex. What that means is that there are in fact many aspects of reality that cannot be predicted in any fashion other than simply letting them go where the particular sets of rules and or probabilities take them. And being human has many such aspects to it. Ultimate security in that sense is a myth, and we can certainly move sets of probabilities in our favour – and there cannot be any 100% guarantees – such things have gone the same way as Santa Claus. Sometimes all we can do with life is “suck it and see” (in terms of seeing what it tastes like).

      It seems this universe within which we find ourselves will always contain some useful approximation to “magic”, whatever our level of intelligence and knowledge.
      We’d better get used to it.
      Rumi and the old Zen masters were onto something, even if they didn’t really have a very good handle on exactly what – but then, that is the fundamental nature of “the beast”. Wolfram has shown that even in a totally causal universe, where everything obeys rules, one cannot predict where it will go, as so many aspects are maximally computationally complex. And I am very confident that this universe we find ourselves in is not actually fully causal, though at some levels and in some contexts it is a very close approximation to causal – such that the difference is well within the measurement error of our best instruments as yet.

      So reasonableness is an ever changing thing, as one grows, and at every stage of growth, and level of existence, it will have a particular form for each individual, as some complex set of flexible boundaries in a complex system of agents. A sort of n-dimensional Venn diagram in a sense.

      And we have explored the notion of values many times before.
      As mentioned above, at all levels they seem to track back to the survival of something.
      Survival, existence, seems to trump everything else. And sometimes the mimetic (or higher level) survival overrides the genetic, which can be a bit difficult for some to get their minds around. And it does seem to be possible to accommodate survival at all levels, for most people, most of the time.
      Indefinite life extension does in fact seem to be a reasonable probability (and there is that “R” word again 😉 ).

      Nothing simple.
      No “100%” guarantees.

      And certainly – a test of “reasonableness”.

      And the basic set, to give anyone a reasonable chance, is meeting the survival needs of all, and giving all a reasonable set of options of paths to whatever level of freedom they wish to explore. And of necessity, some will always be at the leading edge of such explorations, where the risks are truly uncharted – and for all, there must be a certain amount of that. Some of us are happy to explore such spaces in some dimensions, and not so happy in other dimensions. That works.

      And all freedom comes with responsibility.
      The notion that anything comes free of consequence is nonsense, in a very real sense.
      And that need not be in the hard causal sense, and it must exist, at least in the probabilistic sense of flexible boundaries in complex systems – (push to as many dimensions as you like).

      And the “system” as a whole has to be able to work for everyone.

      The current system based on exchange values (money) clearly cannot do that.
      If anyone at all wants a reasonable chance at survival, then we need to have a different system, go beyond the money system, into other possibility spaces. There does in fact seem to be an infinite set of workable possibilities (and even an infinite set of non-exclusive possibilities – that all contain those values of life and liberty).

      So I challenge your last assertion.
      It seems clear to me that the world is populated by people who share my values of life and liberty, it is just that they are not in a context that currently allows those values to dominate.

      Once one can see the issue in that context, the possibility spaces and probability spaces change substantially. [Perhaps a useful analogy is – closing the loop on the Buddhist notion of “basic goodness”.]


      Liked by 1 person

      • Marc Sanders says:


        thank you for your thoughtful and expansive reply. I want to be ‘reasonably certain’ ;-} (sorry, again I’m too mentally lazy to investigate what it would take to include emoticons in this reply) that I understand your reasonableness test criteria:
        1. meet the survival needs of all
        2. provide options for everyone to explore their own ‘limits’ of liberty.

        If I’ve got these more or less correct, then what is to be done in the case of a self-sufficient agent that is not aware that a choice made in category 2. conflicts with a (or several) category 1. requirements(?)

        I believe it possible that we may ‘play this imitation game’ many more rounds – but I’m truly, deeply, existentially – compelled to desire a simpler, more practical and utilitarian methodology to reducing “n-dimensions” to at most “n – n/2” dimensions, such that we might really begin an age of enlightenment (I use the Turing reference purposefully – what could be simpler than the binary digits – yet, note what ‘magical’ realms they’ve allowed us to begin discovering…).

        Is it unreasonable to suggest that we (you and I and whomever you believe might assist us) search for the very tiny minority of humanity that currently possess both the ability and will to design and implement the technologies you’ve described on your prior websites and numerous posts to progressive internet sites? Or are the risks too great?

        One last ‘bounce’ on my random-walk-of-a-reply: how familiar are you with B.F. Skinner’s “Walden Two” (and his 40 year old preface to the 1970’s edition of the work)? It was my jumping-off point from my life of ‘semi-self-imposed’ ignorant compliance with the status quo in the USA. Although dated, I believe it holds a key technical detail (i.e., our children can be the better future we envision) we’ve not yet begun to implement.

        I choose the very sharp razor of simplicity, that, in certain very specific cases, the ends justify the means (with the explicit exclusion of foreseeable harm to sapient beings). Altering the generally ignorant trajectory of humanity is just such an end. Biological evolution has created the human brain, which has the capacity to transcend evolution itself. It is high time we act on this capability.

        Best regards to you and yours,


        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Marc

        I’m not familiar with Walden two, just looked it up on Wikipedia.

        It’s complex, not simple.

        Everything on the internet, and on web servers is encoded in binary.
        It has nothing to do with the fact it is binary.
        It could be in trinary, or quaternary, or anything else.
        Binary is the simplest possible base for an encoding system.

        It is what gets encoded that is important, not the base of the encoding system. That is one of the things about information theory, all systems are essentially the same in many aspects, though some things are easier in some systems than in others.

        And sure, everyone has to start simple.
        And we don’t go to a child that has just learned to distinguish light from dark and ask them to critique van Gogh’s masterpieces.
        We give our children environments that are some mixture of safety (involving constraints) and freedom, and we teach them what we can, and they learn what they do.

        Skinner only ever had part of the puzzle, an important part to be sure, and only a part.

        There is so much information encoded in our genetics and our culture. Far more levels than most people have any awareness of or inclination to search for.
        So many levels.

        Being an embodied human is not a simple thing.
        Never has been.
        Never will be.

        I love the Marianne Williamson quote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
        Many levels of truth in that statement.

        Much of the technical development work continues its exponential progress. The technical task gets easier with each passing year. Ray Kurzweil has largely eased my concerns on that front.

        The evolution of freedom is always constrained, always has been, always will be, in a very real set of senses. We don’t give 2 year olds access to an M1A1 and let them loose on neighbourhood streets. We teach them to play with wooden toys in the yard. They have a lot of learning, a lot of competencies to demonstrate, before being able to take control of such a machine. Perhaps not the best example, but you get my drift.

        I learned to drive tractors at 4 years old (did my first solo around my 5th birthday). By 10 I was using most farm machinery competently and sometimes solo (though mostly under my father’s direct supervision). I didn’t learn to ride on two wheels using an XJS900, that came much later, after push-bike, scooter, and a range of off-road and road bikes.
        As I demonstrated competency, I gained freedom.
        And pushing some of those boundaries is dangerous. I have known a lot of people who have died in cars, on bikes, in aircraft, in boats – come close myself too many times for comfort. I don’t race any more, happy not to push those limits now, and accept the competencies that I have for what they are.

        So sure, there are boundary conditions on freedom, and pushing those boundaries too hard too often is dangerous. That’s reality. Deal with it!

        Very rarely do our modern tests of competencies (our licences and degrees) actually have much to do with competency. I will never forget when I did my skippers ticket. After we completed the course the Master Mariner who was our instructor invited us on the Department of Transport’s vessel and took us over to the navel base. As we came into the dock, I could see by the wavelets on the water that there was a strong current going under the wharf, and I assumed our captain would round up into the tide and come gently sideways to the wharf. He didn’t. He just drove it in like there was no current, and smashed one of the wharf piles, and did a reasonable amount of damage to the boat. All of his sea time was on big boats, he knew about them, but not about little boats. Big boats get bought alongside by specialist pilots. Those of us driving little boats in dangerous conditions have to train our neural nets to recognise all the many warning signs of currents and shallow water and submerged obstacles, and practical ways of navigating them safely.

        So theory and practice don’t always shift easily from one domain to another.

        I am part of many different groups that work at finding safe limits that people who don’t want to push boundaries can work safely within.

        Reducing one’s models below the necessary level of complexity demanded by reality is a dangerous strategy.

        The game is not about reducing complexity below necessity, but about accurately identifying the many different types of complexity and adopting appropriate risk management strategies for each type and circumstance. And for some sorts of complexity, the only viable strategy is avoidance, or getting yourself out of it as quickly as possible.

        Building one’s suites of tools, or models, or strategies, to the point that they can reliably deal with the situations one is likely to face seems to me to be far more sensible than trying to dumb it down to something that becomes essentially meaningless (little better than random chance).

        Sometimes drastic action is required.
        There are some times, when a skipper requires a crew to do exactly what he says, without question, or we all die. I have been in a few serious storms that were like that.
        And mostly, that is not the case.
        Mostly there is plenty of time to question and explore if any particular way really is better than the old way of doing things.

        People who are successful generally build strong trust relationships with people who have greater competencies than themselves in many other areas. Teamwork.
        All for it.

        People don’t think well in high stress situations.

        Under stress,most people revert to very narrow focus, and trust old patterns.
        In our modern, exponentially changing times, that is not a high pay-off strategy.

        As a species, we are definitely transcending simple evolution by natural selection, at both genetic and mimetic levels. We may be in the third evolutionary paradigm (beyond mimetics).

        And there are many things that genetic and mimetic evolution have perfected that few people understand much about at all.

        And people generally are much more competent than you seem to be giving them credit for, even if such competencies are severely restricted by the current social contexts in most instances.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. debyemm says:

    I agree with you, Ted – “In terms of humanity – money no longer makes much sense.” – and yet, we can’t seem to get beyond it as a civilization of human beings. Though my heart yearns for the day !!


    • Hi Deb

      For me it is quite clear, it is not a matter of can’t, it is “simply” a matter of “haven’t yet”.

      And simple is a relative term.

      And there are lots of ideas involved, about the nature of knowledge, the nature of reality, the nature of being human.

      It seems that all knowledge is heuristic.
      Heuristic means something that works in a particular situation, a sort of “rule of thumb”.
      It is clear to me, that the more I know, the more I know I don’t know, and the less confident I become about things that I was once very confident of.
      Thus even the idea of “Truth” makes little or no sense to me now.
      Sure, there is a sense that reality probably is whatever it happens to be in any instant, and that idea needs to added to the idea that we never have any direct access to reality. It seems clear that we only ever get to experience the subconsciously created model of reality that our brains produce from a combination of past and present sensory data and experiences.
      So it seems that we all live in our own personal illusion in a sense. It seems clear beyond reasonable doubt that we all have our own personal versions of “reality” and in most situations and for most purposes they seem to be close enough that the difference isn’t significant, and that isn’t always the case.

      So in my world, my understanding, even the idea of causality seems to be a “useful approximation” to something, that works most of the time in most situations.

      So in this sense, I can understand why people adopt heuristics like “god” and “karma”, as they provide useful answers to questions that would otherwise occupy years of study to come up with alternatives that give more useful outcomes in most situations.

      One of the many attributes of these amazing brains we have is that they are habit forming machines, at all levels. We develop comfort zones, largely defined by the heuristics we accept, that it takes exceptional circumstances to take us beyond (recurse to infinity, at potentially infinite levels). So as one of my mentors used to say “we can get comfortable standing in sewage”.

      So most people accept and become very attached to notions like “truth” and “laws” and “purpose” and “right”, and these can be some of the most difficult notions to go beyond.

      And it does seem that it isn’t that difficult to take people beyond them, but one does need to have a new context available that reinforces the new paradigms if those individuals are not to revert back to their old paradigms very quickly.

      So I don’t expect many people to be able to see what is coming, and I do expect that most people will adapt to the new reality when it arrives quite easily (with a few exceptions – there are almost always exceptions in the reality I now dwell in – it is fundamentally stochastic, fundamentally uncertain, however much certainty and confidence it delivers in some aspects).

      I don’t see myself as any part of any grand plan.
      I am just one individual. Amongst the billions of individuals that exist, it seems very likely that there are millions of others both like and unlike me – to varying degrees.

      I see what I see.
      I choose what I choose.

      The consequences of my choices go out there and mix and mingle with the consequences of everyone else’s choices.
      The dance goes on, for as long as it does.

      I am committed to creating conditions that both maximise the probability of long life for every individual, and maximise the freedom available to those individuals.

      And I say that acknowledging that we all live in physical and social realities that impose constraints on freedom.
      So in that sense, freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.
      Freedom without responsibility isn’t freedom – it is a path to destruction at some set of levels.

      And it seems possible to create a path forward where every individual experiences gains, though for those at the bottom of the current distribution set those gains may be many orders of magnitude of material prosperity and freedom, while for those at the top, a similar increase may be only a small gain in terms of percentages – they are still huge gains.

      Nothing simple here.
      Many layers.
      No end to the levels possible (though any one individual must have a finite limit to the levels and degrees of exploration).

      And some of the ancient notions seem as applicable today as ever – like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (and even that one isn’t infallible, and it does seem to be a reasonable heuristic in most situations).
      And there are many other ancient ideas that need to be abandoned.

      And in all of this, I am cautiously optimistic, and growing ever more so.
      One of the things about freedom, is that it delivers ever more ways to seriously create problems, and it also delivers exponentially increasing ways of mitigating such risks.

      And there seems to be, as always, a price to freedom.

      Eternal vigilance!


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