To be human is to earn the right to share in the wealth generated by productive social institutions
Some excellent stuff in this article, and in the following comments, particularly those of Ducan Cairncross & Noel Darlow.
And yet I am still left with the impression that the article does not explicitly go deep enough into the incentive structures of the very complex systems present in modern society to give us useful insights on making powerful choices for our shared future.
Unless one can understand human behaviour (including all of the many complexities of economics) in the multiple contexts of evolutionary theory, games theory, complex systems, quantum mechanics, and probability, then something very important is missing.
Perhaps the single most important insight from the combination of those five disciplines is that, to a good first order approximation, all major advances in the complexity of living systems are characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation, and to be stable, all cooperative systems require active attendant strategies to prevent invasion by cheats. In a very real sense, all levels “moral sentiments” can be seen as levels of such stabilising strategies.
Maxifixer notes we are all animals, which is true, and that some animals do eat each other, which is also true, but not all animals eat each other in all contexts, behaviours can be very context sensitive, with even many of the most violent of predators having their social side in appropriate contexts.
Human beings have very complex natures, which include both competitive and cooperative aspects, and which of those possibilities gets to express depends very much on the context perceived.
In contexts of genuine scarcity, competition tends to dominate.
In contexts of genuine abundance, cooperation will always out perform competition.
We live in multiple levels of simultaneous contexts.
Which of those levels we get to “see” and experience depends very much on what we look for.
There are two insights not mentioned in this article that are key to the possibilities inherent in our future.
1/ Technology is on an exponential growth path that far exceeds our population growth. Information processing is doubling in under a year. That ability to automate systems is making tentative steps into manufacturing, and molecular level manufacturing envisaged by Drexler some 30 years ago is rapidly approaching. We can do it now, but only in limited contexts at present. That context set will expand rapidly. As it does so, the set of goods and services potentially available in universal abundance without need of further human labour will expand exponentially. Our ability to do more with less is growing far faster than our population. Universal abundance of all reasonable needs is a real option in the relatively near future, and it will never be the natural outcome of any market based system.
2/ Markets are a scarcity based measure of value, and all the many levels of information processing done by markets have the characteristic of valuing universal abundance of anything at zero. That was fine when the only important thing truly universally abundant was air, but it becomes critically important as the set of things potentially universally abundant expands on a double exponential. Right now, most of those things are in the realm of information. Energy and material objects are both on the start of that curve.
All of the many levels of information generation and processing now done by market mechanisms can now be done much more efficiently by other mechanisms, if we choose to make it so.
Markets require scarcity to work. That is the major reason for Intellectual Property laws.
We have the ability to produce material abundance for every person on the planet, and doing so will break the market based system. Logic demands it.
Doing so is, to my understanding, clearly in the long term interests of everyone, as everyone benefits from the security delivered by the levels of cooperation such abundance makes possible.
Seeing that every person has the potential to live on indefinitely is very much part of the bigger picture. Such thoughts are still beyond the bounds of credibility for many, even if they have been beyond any reasonable doubt for me for over 40 years.
Individual life and individual liberty are and must be the prime human values, and both must exist in contexts of social and ecological responsibility.
Complex systems have complex and very context sensitive boundary conditions.
And the price of such liberty must be eternal vigilance against new levels of cheating strategies, and for new levels of effective risk identification and mitigation, and anti cheating strategies.
[followed by in response to Maxifixer]
If one starts from the assumption of causality (as Plato did) and follow that line of thought critically and enquiringly, as did Bacon, Newton, Heisenberg, et al, then you end up at Quantum Mechanics, which seems to suggest that at the very lowest level, nothing may be known with certainty, and everything is made up of complex systems operating stochastically within probability constraints.
When you take large collections of such small things (which includes the smallest of things that humans can perceive with their native senses), then they deliver a very close approximation to hard causality (within experimental measurement error).
It seems that only within such a complex system, that is a mix of the random and the constrained, can the possibility of free will exist.
It seems that for individual human beings, the possibilities that occur as being available are very much a function of the unexamined assumptions delivered by culture and biology.
Yes, certainly, there are many levels of influence on human behaviour, levels of physics, chemistry, biology, culture, habit; and to the degree that one examines and questions such things, and brings them to the light of awareness, then to that degree, it does seem that free will exists; as one influence amongst many in the outcome of the vast array of probability distributions that seem to actually be involved in this thing we call reality.
And there is a sense in which free will seems to be declarative – it exists only if we say it does. In this sense, it is something that must be claimed. So in this sense, if you say you have it, or you say you don’t, in either case you can be correct.
I don’t see it that way.
I don’t see free will as being in control of everything.
I see free will as one influence amongst many on the probability of the occurrence of anything.
Systems have the properties they have, as do networks.
And we seem to have this property of free will.
Free will is not any sort of omniscience, or omnipotence, it is simply the ability to consciously be a causal agent, to choose one model amongst many, to have a go, not necessarily to get everything accurate or to succeed.