A new narrative for a complex age
It has to be about far more than economics.
There are so many dimensions to the issues facing us, ethical, interest, risk, predictability, security, freedom, technology.
Ethics is a complex topic, and at root seems to boil down to the survival of something at some level. Different ethical systems seem to evolve around the sorts of “something” one identifies, and the sorts of contexts it exists in. For me, personally, it is about sapient life first and foremost (every individual, where sapient is defined as a sufficient level of complexity to be able to conceive of itself as an actor with freedom of choice, in its own internally generated model of reality), followed by the freedom of all such sapient individuals to act in whatever way they reasonably choose (where reasonable in this sense means having due regard to the risk profiles of action on the life and liberty of all others, which by inference includes a duty of care for the environment that sustains us all). Note that there are no hard boundaries, as it seems clear that we live in an open complex system, that seems to contain the possibility of an infinite set of infinite sets of possibilities, many of which are not predictable, and some of which pose existential risk.
We are all complex entities, capable of all extremes of behaviour, from the most cooperative at the highest levels, to the most competitive at the lowest levels. Finding ways of allowing expression of all modalities, in contexts that are appropriate to the survival of all, is the greatest challenge. In simplistic terms, we all have our good and bad sides, every individual, however ethically advanced, faces deep ethical challenges and is prone to error. Designing systems that are resilient to such errors at all levels is challenging.
Game designers have long known that there is a boundary between anxiety and boredom that keeps interest. Highway designers similarly know that people adjust their behaviour to a risk profile they are happy with; make a better road and people speed up so the accident rate remains the same.
Whatever humans do, we have to be in environments that keep our attention, without being too high a risk.
The huge issue with that is the spread of risk profile preferences present in the population – so great that what is boredom for someone at one end of the spectrum can be extreme anxiety for someone at the other end.
This applies to every domain, every level of human activity.
We are all very different in our skill sets, and in what we consider acceptable levels of risk.
Finding effective tools to allow us to manage risk profiles that become extremely complex multidimensional landscapes is non-trivial.
It seems that having a wide diversity of intersecting independent networks is a key part of any effective strategy. Centralised systems are vulnerable both to single point failure and to single point capture. Decentralaisation and massive redundancy are fundamental strategies for resilience (at all levels).
Part of assessing risk is predictability, but our knowledge of complex systems is now such that we know that there are many different classes of systems that are fundamentally unpredictable. These include maximal computational complexity, chaotic systems, stochastic systems, and aspects of fractal systems.
Exploration of infinities involves unknowns.
Risk is part of existence.
Assessing and balancing risk is often at least as much art as science.
Security in any absolute sense is myth, yet we each require security in a more normal probabilistic sense of reasonable expectation.
Existing economic systems have reach a failure point, where the scarcity based valuation system of markets is meeting the exponential ability of automated systems to deliver universal abundance, and those two systems are fundamentally at variance with each other.
Every individual needs an abundance of all the essentials of life and liberty.
Automated systems can deliver that, but in an economic system their value drops to zero, so the economic incentive set is directly opposed to the reasonable needs of individuals.
Some sort of Universal Basic Income (UBI) at around the $20K per person, universally (every person on the planet) would seem to be a reasonable transition strategy to get us past the existing choke point.
Freedom is never absolute. Our existence is only possible because of boundaries. All freedom comes with limits, with responsibilities, with constraints. And at the highest levels there must be reasonable choice about the nature of those constraints, and given the infinities present, it seems there may be no end to that process, should we live for the rest of eternity. It seems that life will always involve negotiation of limits at the boundaries, and more clearly defined areas of freedoms within territories that have been more thoroughly explored.
We now have technology that allows us to automate any and all processes essential to human survival. There is no longer any need to force individuals into economic roles. And a human will always do things differently to an automated process, so there will always be niches for anyone who wants to choose any sort of goods or service delivery; and it should also be possible for individuals to choose other sorts of activities that have no direct economic benefit – particularly in the arts and sciences, but also in the humanities more generally.
So any replacement set of systems needs to meet all of these criteria.
The popularity of the Harry Potter series clearly demonstrates something about the popularity of the idea that we each have the hero and the villain within us, and we are each both at different times. Acceptance of diversity, and being there for others when they are at their worst, is an essential part of being human, one that our economic systems need to reflect.