On Politics

On politics

[ 28/June/22 ]

Politics is usually defined as some version of those activities related to making decisions in groups.

Often these are characterised into a spectrum of Left-Right; where those on the Left are primarily concerned with social justice and redistributive social and economic policies, and those on the Right are more concerned with private property and capitalism and conservative approaches proven in history.

The extreme form of the left is often seen as communism, where all property is owned in common, and the extreme form of the right is often seen as Fascism, where a strong central power dictates the rights and responsibilities, and forcibly suppresses any opposition.

If one steps back a little further, and looks at the very nature of political power, at what are the ideas, stories, beliefs, systems and strategies that lead individuals and institutions to behave in the ways that they do; then the picture gets deeply more complex, very quickly.

When one looks at how individual people actualy work, how bodies and brains are organised, and how evolution has worked over deep time to sort the systems we see expressed around us today, then it is a deeply complex picture, one that has fascinated me as I have learned more about it over the last 60 years. And for all the abilities of my high IQ to learn new things rapidly and to ask questions that occur to few others, and for all the things I have studied and learned, I am very clear that what I currently understand is something less than 1% of what is already understood by someone somewhere, and what remains to be discovered is so much greater than what is known as to make the known seem like nothing compared to what is there that we don’t know, and don’t know that we don’t know (every form of logic I have investigated leads me to this same conclusion).

One of the common political divides is between the use of reason, and the use of tradition.

To me, both have some power, and both are clearly overly simplistic and inappropriate in some contexts.

The classical idea of reason, that everything necessarily has a logical relationship, is clearly true only in the simplest of all possible logical systems, the simple binary logic of True/False.

When one starts to look at the infinitude of possible logical systems beyond this simplest of all possible logics, then one can find infinite ways of putting together universes that can approximate classical logic in some subset of conditions, and can in other subsets of conditions support degrees of freedom that allow for genuine creative and liberty.

And one of the things that is clear from the decades I have spent exploring strategic structures in non-binary logics, is that in any form of logic or system, complex systems must have boundaries that are reasonably reliable; and any degrees of freedom that are not responsible for and respectful of those necessary sets of boundaries do, in fact, destroy the entire structure that made their existence possible.

So in what might seem to many to be a paradox (a contradiction) real liberty can only survive in the presence of responsibility. Any agent that is employing liberty and exploring beyond the boundaries of the known must also be exploring what responsibility looks like (if they wish to survive their explorations), and must accept that fundamental uncertainty exists at every level.

What will be even more difficult for many is accepting that even what we think we know is probably illusion at some level, and only works (to the degree that it does) in some limited subset of reality. So it is often the case that our ignorance of uncertainty leads us to inappropriate levels of certainty. Beyond a certain threshold, the more certain we are, the greater the probability of error.

One more confounding part of the picture, is that it seems beyond reasonable doubt that reality is sufficiently complex that all any of us can possibly experience of it is some sort of simplistic model of it assembled by the subconscious systems of our brain by a mix of systems provided by our genetics, and the experiences of our life to date (in terms of language and culture and social interactions, and all the complexity implicit in each of those things that we are mostly ignorant of at a conscious level). So it is kind of like we all live in our own personal virtual reality (VR) versions of whatever objective reality (OR) actually is. The levels to which evolution has sorted for systems to approximate that over the deep time of our ancestors has taken me decades to start to get some reasonable appreciation of.

So in this context, with multiple levels and classes of agents present, and multiple levels of tendency to over simplify that which is actually irreducibly complex and fundamentally uncertain – we have the reality of our time.

For anyone who has taken even a passing interest in quantum mechanics, in how atoms interact, and has some basic knowledge of the biochemistry of life, then it is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that we are all vastly more complex than we can possibly appreciate in anything remotely approximating real time.

We have no option but to simplify things, if we want to be able to do anything in any reasonable timeframe. And evolution is, first and foremost, about what systems survive in practice – over all the many sets of contexts encountered over deep time.

Over simplifying this deeply complex biological and technological reality is guaranteed to lead to failure, and there are very strong biological drivers at multiple levels to prefer simplicity to complexity.

Yet we are complex.

Deeply more complex than most have ever considered the possibility of.

Overly simplistic political systems are guaranteed to fail (eventually).

Overly simplistic economic systems are guaranteed to fail (eventually).

The greatest security possible lies in an eternal exploration of the unknown and unexplored for solutions to the already identified existential level risks. A failure to do that is a guarantee of our extinction (eventually).

So there are some things that must be accepted, by all levels and classes of agents, if survival is a desired outcome.

All agents must have reasonable levels of freedom, and all such freedom must be accompanied by appropriate levels of responsibility.

All levels of evolved complexity are founded in cooperation, and any level of competition that fails to respect the foundational cooperative boundaries will destroy the level of complexity that made that level of competition possible. This strategic reality seems to be true in every class and level of logic I have explored.

Thus, at our current level of technological capacity, it is no longer viable to create conditions of stress that drive most or any levels of agent to simplistic binary positions.

The only survivable option is to have largely automated social and technological systems that ensure that all agents have their reasonable physical needs met, and all agents experience reasonable degrees of freedom, provided that they are demonstrating reasonable degrees of responsibility.

Every human being is both an individual and a member of one or more social groups.

We all, necessarily, have both natures.

None of us are only one thing or the other.

At many other levels, we are all also, necessarily, deeply complex mixtures of many different aspects.

Over simplifying any of that will, necessarily, result in destruction. And we all, necessarily, have brains strongly biased to prefer simplicity over complexity whenever that is possible. And the last bit of that sentence is the essential bit – whenever possible, and not more frequently.

We all must accept that every human is irreducibly complex.

Any political system that ignores that reality, poses existential level risk.

So what is our current situation, and what is possible?

We have essentially built a complex technological society based upon cheap fossil energy (oil and coal).

In modern societies most people consume energy equivalent to that of some 100 slaves (20kW) from classical antiquity. We can now use advanced automation to deliver all the goods and services that once required slaves. If we got all that energy from solar cells in one place, then it could be done from a square some 1,400km on each side within the confines of the Sahara desert, or the Australian outback, but neither of those alone would be a stable solution, as what is required for long term survival is multiple levels of redundancy to cope with any level of failure (and when other sets of risks are factored in, it requires massive amounts of manufacturing capacity off planet).

So what is actually required is something far deeper, a level of cooperation across all classes and levels of agents, that acknowledges the presence and legitimacy of diversity, and the fundamental need for cooperation between diversity to ensure the survival of all.

This is something completely different from any sort of hegemony.

This is an acknowledgement that eternal exploration, eternal freedom, and eternal responsibility, are necessary requirements if minimal risk and maximal likelihood of survival are desired outcomes.

It is about as far from “simple” as it is possible to get.

And it is possible for some groups to develop some degree of isolation within that structure, and to basically follow some set of historical norms, just as some like the Amish do now.

And there is a degree to which a majority (or some significant minority) need to take a post cultural approach – an approach that has emerged from some set of cultures, but is not necessarily constrained by any of them – an approach that looks to the constraints supplied by reality itself, and eternally explores what a reasonable approximation to them might be in any particular set of contexts. And there must be uncertainties in such things, and it must to some degree have cultural origins.

To some degree, that has been the case for a very long time, several thousand years, and the levels of complexity embodied in that are now substantially greater than at any previous time in history. We now have available levels of understanding of the actual complexity embodied in evolutionary systems that was simply not present in any previous age, and that understanding of that complexity is expanding (in some more generally and in others more narrowly).

The “search space” available seems to be infinitely complex, in each of an infinite set of possible dimensions. It seems entirely possible that we will continue to learn new and interesting things about the possibilities of life should we live for the balance of eternity – that seems entirely realistic.

And many people in the last century or so have pondered the question as to why we do not see a galaxy teaming with intelligent life. That tends to come down to a question about what is the “Great Filter” that removes intelligent life before it can spread from its home system?

To me, the prime candidate for a solution to that question is a necessarily evolved tendency to over simplify the irreducibly complex, and thereby become overly confident about simple solutions to deeply complex issues, thence leading to total systemic collapse.

If there are any simple lessons from complexity theory, then perhaps the leading ones are:

Complex systems are always changing, and any attempt to over constrain them with hard boundaries will lead to boundary brittleness, then failure.

Managing complex systems is an eternal process of probing the system, seeing how it responds, amplifying things going in survivable directions, dampening down things headed in other directions, and repeating.

Responsibility in complex systems is an eternal enquiry, and necessarily involves various levels of trial and error; and the safest way to approach that is to empower multiple instances of “safe to fail” experimentation (and to have friends around to rescue you when that is needed).

And from evolutionary theory comes the most basic and essential piece of understanding, that cooperation is foundational to the emergence and survival of any and all levels of complexity. Sure, there are always competitive elements to evolution, and competition always has a tendency to reduce both freedom and diversity, and in the extreme, survival probabilities over-all.

There really are multiple classes of issues that can only be safely resolved in a cooperative context.

Once that is accepted, then solving for all the many other classes of risk is essentially trivially simple, in comparison to getting general acceptance of the fundamental need for cooperation and respect for diversity at any and all levels of complexity.

So in terms of classical political theory, I really do not fit on a left right spectrum; because I am a strong advocate of individual rights, individual freedom and individual responsibility, and I accept that those can only flourish in a social context where the reasonable needs of all citizens for materials, security, energy, freedom and responsibility, are met.

Nothing really like that exists today.

New Zealand arguably comes closer than most other places, and it is still embodied within and constrained by a global economic and strategic set of contexts that pose existential level risk.

We have come a long way, and we have a long way to go, if we wish to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs.

That does seem to me to be entirely possible, and it will demand a lot from each and every one of us (some more so than others).

Comment and critique welcome

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