Comments on a Facebook post by Sam Mahon

Sam Mahon’s Facebook post of a letter to David Caygill

A good read Sam, and from my perspective contains both shared values and incompleteness.
I’ve known David Caygill, Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas for over 30 years, not bosom buddies, but people I met occasionally, who invited me to stay at their houses, who stayed at my home, and who would discuss issues facing the world, and strategies to address them, well into the small hours of the morning. I often disagreed with Roger, and I have no reasonable doubt that he had the genuine interests of all individuals in society at heart. I don’t challenge his motives, and I do challenge his logic and methods.

Elinor Ostrom is to me someone who has made a great contribution to the historical verification of strategic complexes. It is the sense in which she catalogued societal and historical examples of the sorts of strategies that Robert Axelrod et al formed into games theory and subsequently developed into Theory of Moves (ToM) etc.

For me, the essence of Games Theory is understanding how cooperative systems can emerge in complex competitive environments, and the sorts of strategic environments that are required to make them stable.
In this sense, raw cooperation is always vulnerable to invasion by cheating strategies, and requires secondary strategies to mitigate those risks.

In a sense, the law can be seen as a set of such secondary strategies. And there must always develop something of an evolutionary arms race, at ever more abstract levels, between new levels of cheating strategies and new levels of mitigating strategies to retain stability to the cooperative.

In this context, the English common law presumption that all individuals have all the rights that are present, except where there is conflict, and in such cases of conflict judges develop precedents (which again can be a very abstract set of relationships) has great power, and is also subject to capture by “cheating strategies”.

Everything comes back to what one chooses as basic values.
For me the minimum set is two – individual life first, followed by individual liberty. And it gets very complex very quickly from there out. For we all rely on the environment for our life, and if liberty is to have real meaning then it requires a reasonable degree of natural diversity – the liberty to roam a sterile room has far less value than the liberty to roam a landscape of mountains and forests with all their diverse ecosystems that you and I both love and enjoy.

And if we do not actively encourage small family size, then expanding human populations demand extra area of land be converted to meeting the needs of people.

And ecosystems are very complex at many different levels. Often there are rate limiting factors in terms of nutrients, some of which are derived from relationships between organisms that very few people are aware off (I trained as both ecologist and biochemist, as a kid from a rural farming and fishing background).

Coming back up a few levels – it seems that our greatest societal threat comes from the changing incentive sets between markets and money as one element, and computation, automation and technology as the other element.

Markets are scarcity based value measures. Anything universally abundant in a market has zero value – like the air we breath, which is arguably the single most valuable thing to any of us, yet of no economic value. That was fine in a sense, when most things were genuinely scarce, but now that automation is making an exponentially expanding set of goods and services universally available, it is leading to systemic failure at several levels. It is hard to make sensible decisions when the prime valuation mechanism keeps returning zeros where they are not appropriate.
Markets will likely always have a role in human affairs, and there can no longer be any logical validity in the notion that free markets can deliver sensible outcomes to the difficult problems facing society.

We need a greater awareness of the role of cooperation in evolution.
It needs to be generally understood that all new levels of complexity in biological systems are characterised by new levels of cooperation.

While it is true that competition can be a major force in evolution, it is far truer that cooperation is what allows complex systems to survive – and cooperation requires attendant strategies to survive against invasion by cheating strategies.

Arguably most of the legal profession, the advertising profession, and the finance profession can be generally categorised as cheating strategies.

And Ostrom’s work was great in identifying that responses to identified cheats need to be appropriate to the cheating – to remove benefit plus a little (but not too much) and to encourage the transgressor back into cooperative patterns.
Arguably our entire legal system, with its tendency to invoke minimum and maximum penalties, has flipped that logic upside down, and made the legal system a haven for cheats.

So we have a lot to do.
We need to care for each other.
We need to care for our waters, care for the land, care for the life upon and within both.
We need to create and spread awareness.
We need to be bold, to speak our truths, to make the effort to respect and listen to others.
In times of exponential change, a linear view of the past is not a good predictor of the future.

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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