Philosophically talking socialism

Philosophically talking, can socialism be taken as the most advanced and ideal political concept just because it’s the newest and latest in emergence, following the idea that humans become smarter in time?

[ 16/4/20 ]


The core idea of socialism is that of central ownership and control of all resources, ostensibly for the good of all.

The core problems with that idea are:

1/ that all humans have essentially the same information processing capacity though the distribution of information varies greatly; and

2/ that reality contains examples of many different types of complexity spanning, simple, complicated, complex and chaotic; and human brains are strongly biased to find pattern, even where it does not exist, so we are very poor at identifying real chaos.

The moment anyone creates a central system, then the information pathways become congested, and information flow to the core is poor (various levels of politics in the necessary bureaucracies sees to that), thus resulting in far from optimal distribution of resources, until some at the edge of such distributions revolt.

Any system that is going to work in reality has to devolve most of the information processing and choice making and sense making to the individuals within it, at the same time as it establishes systems which are able to maintain the necessary boundaries for the survival of complexity at that level of organisation (that was/is one of the real powers of market systems).

Thus any real system that is to survive has to have a dynamic and context sensitive balance between central coordination and distributed independent action.

Pure market capitalism and pure socialism both fail in these necessary requisites for survival.

The problem has many dimensions and levels of complexity.

One dimension is that of our sense-making.

Every one of us has many levels of sense-making within us. The structure of our bodies, our organs, our brains, our biochemistry, predisposes us to many different classes of sense making. It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that these systems have been selected and tuned by the survival of our ancestors over the deep time of biological history, and thus embody usually workable solutions to many classes of rare but important events (like famines lasting many years, disease that killed most people alive, etc that happened in that deep past – frequently in geological time – if infrequently in time measured in human generations). Our cultures similarly come with stories and patterns encoding information that survived many events over the scale of thousands or tens of thousands of years (like the idea of a great flood – like the one at the end of the last ice age as ice melted and the sea level rose 300ft {100m} over a few thousand years) drowning all coastal cultures of the time (and the waves destroying all evidence) – everywhere on the planet.

Each one of us starts with the particular biological and cultural defaults that we happen to be born into, and then we do with them what we do.

Each one of us must start making simple distinctions, and a binary (a set of two) is the simplest possible distinction. Thus we all start with simple ideas like hot/cold, big/little, right/wrong, good/bad etc. Reality is almost always far more complex and subtle and interconnected than such simple ideas allow for, but we all have to start somewhere.

The idea of right and wrong seems to be particularly important to us as language using entities, as it seems that it is an essential part of the bootstrapping (self starting) of a pattern in our brains that becomes an essential part of our self awareness and choice making capacities. And we all need to get past it, and see it for the useful simplification that it is.

If we get to study disciplines like biology, biochemistry, history, cosmology, mathematics, logic, philosophy, computation, strategy, quantum mechanics, geology, psychology, politics etc then we start to appreciate that reality is complex beyond the capacity of any computational entity to deal with in detail. So all perception, all experience, is necessarily a simplified model of whatever reality actually is; and clearly in most cases it is useful enough to allow for survival.

So, once someone has accepted that all models, all understandings of reality, are necessarily and always wrong, but that some are less wrong than others, and some are more useful than others in different contexts, then it starts to get really interesting.

A more accurate model (understanding) isn’t always more useful, if it takes too long to produce or takes too much energy to develop. If there are tight constraints on the time and energy available for decision making, then simpler models that work often enough for some to survive will be strongly selected for. Evolution seems clearly to have done that, at many different levels of biology and culture.

Thus, the more stressed we are, the simpler will be the models that our subconscious systems produce and deliver to us as our experiential reality. If we need to make rapid decisions, that can be a very useful approach. If however, we are faced with situations involving irreducible complexity; then the output of such models is essentially random. That isn’t always a bad thing, as in some contexts random search is the most efficient way to find a solution; and sometimes not.

We appear to be living in one of those “not” contexts right now.

And this is where it gets really interesting, and there is a simplicity that can emerge once the complexity has been accepted and acknowledged.

Markets and money were very useful tools in assisting with distributed coordination of diverse agents when most things were in fact genuinely scarce. But there are fundamental instabilities in any such system, and periodic failure of purely competitive systems is inevitable. For most of history such cultural collapses were not a major problem for the species, as some other nearby culture would survive and become dominant.

We no longer have that option.

We now live in a singular global culture (technologically speaking).

We now need to accept the biological and mathematical and strategic reality that our survival is based upon our ability to cooperate, and that if we go all out competitive we are highly unlikely to survive (individually or collectively).

Socialism is not a viable solution. It necessarily must fail, and must lead to a loss of freedom for any that are off the center of any distribution (which because we all have many different distributions of attributes means all of us).

What we must have is a complex hybrid system, that acknowledges that our survival is predicated on cooperation, and also acknowledges that the highest values are individual life and individual liberty. And liberty in this sense demands responsibility, because life comes before liberty, and the ability to live demand the existence of the ecosystems and cultures on which we depend. So we must each restrict our actions to the classes of actions that allow for the long term survival of ecology and culture and everyone else. And that can mean that lots of small and seemingly insignificant impacts can add up to big impacts over time, and can demand action of us. That is responsibility! It applies at every level of awareness that one is able to achieve (and at every new level it necessarily starts with crude simple approximations).

And one thing everyone must accept, is that liberty, even liberty responsibly expressed, necessarily results in diversity. The necessary outcomes of any form of real freedom is change and novelty and occasional error. That is eternally true – a logical and physical necessity.

The old ways we had of creating and distributing money are no longer workable.

The covid-19 pandemic should demonstrate that clearly to everyone.

All the essential systems of production are still present – nothing has been destroyed.

Almost all of the people and skills and tools and machines to produce services are still present.

And yet people are saying that a depression is necessary!


Because of a distribution of numbers in computers somewhere (which is all that money actually is).

We need to have systems that ensure that everyone has enough money for the essentials of life. If the ability to buy is there, the market will supply. That much works. However, most of finance of much of most other systems are essentially embodied cheating strategies,and need serious reform – many levels of it.

Automation has removed the ability of labour to generate sufficient value to survive.

Capital has developed systems that accumulate capital. That is not stable or viable.

I am all for diverse distributions.

I have no issue with some individuals having extremes of wealth, provided that all individuals have enough to live lives that they consider meaningful and secure; and that capital itself is not self accumulating – so that the individuals with huge accumulations have to actually do something that others consider valuable in order to attract and maintain extreme wealth.

In today’s world, we need to acknowledge that everything we do has social and ecological impacts, and we all need to make real efforts to limit the negative impacts of our activities – to the best of our limited and fallible abilities. Making mistakes will eternally be part of existence. Fundamental uncertainty demands it. Perfect information about anything is not possible. At some level, we all have to use our best guesses at some point. And in some contexts, we can get uncertainty down to very low levels (like when building a computer circuit), but in other contexts (like weather prediction) not so much, or not much at all.

So No – socialism is a serious failure of understanding.

Any system that is to have a reasonable probability of long term survival must be based in cooperation (evolutionary theory is clear on that), and must also allow free agents to make their best guess which must inevitably mean making mistakes from time to time (particularly in novel situations or in situations involving real chaos). That is not socialism, and nor is it pure capitalism. It is something else, something really new, and really old, at the same time. Something that can vary the type of leadership present to meet the demands of the context.

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
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics, understanding and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s