Risks and responses

What are the greatest risks we face?

Some risks are physical, storms, sea level change, comet and meteor strike, Carrington events (solar induced ground electric currents), major volcanism, earthquakes and tsunamis, drought, heat waves, disease, war etc.

Some risks are social or systemic, the effects of the systems we use, the ways we think, our cultural histories, the systems we embody.

Some risks are relatively common, and well documented, others occur at much lower frequency (ie are not in the written record), or result from new levels of systems that have not yet been encountered.

One of the major risks comes from a failure of understanding.
Reality seems to be far more complex than any human mind can deal with in detail. This fact means that all of us use simplifying assumptions in our models and understandings of reality, whether we are aware of them or not.
Sometimes, as situations change, those assumptions that worked in our past fail in ways that we are blind to the risk of.

Building higher level understandings of the general sorts of risks present can help.

Three such common failures are around our ideas of the ideas of understanding and truth, our understanding of evolution, and our understanding of the relationship between freedom, boundaries and existence.

The classical notion of truth seems to have been falsified.

It now seems beyond reasonable doubt that reality is so complex, and contains fundamental uncertainty and chaos of many different types at many different levels, that the best any of can hope for is an understanding that is some sort of useful approximation in some set of contexts.

This is a very different sort of idea from the classical notion that Truth is knowable, and should be the object of our desire.

This is a much more humble and tolerant idea, that there may be many different approximations that have delivered utility in the contexts of the past, and none of them might necessarily be relevant to the contexts of our future, and some may. And some of the oldest may be more relevant than many wish to consider.

We need to use truth much more like a sailor uses stars to navigate. No sailor ever expects to reach a star. A star is so far away, that it is a close approach to fixed, and is very close to a point in space, but the closer you get to one the bigger, the more dangerous, the more chaotic, the more uncertain it becomes. All notions of Truth seem to have that aspect to them. Anyone who thinks that they can hold such a thing close is deluded in ways that are fundamentally dangerous.

The common understanding of evolution being about competition is wrong.

Certainly evolution can and does have competitive aspects.
And evolution can also be about cooperation – it all depends on context.

And it is a good first order approximation to say that all major advances in the complexity of living systems result from new levels of cooperative systems. And simple cooperative systems are always vulnerable to exploitation, and so require sets of attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies, at all levels.

We as individual human beings seem to be the expression of some 20 levels of cooperative systems, with each level containing many instances of different types of complex systems.

What few people consider is that all systems require boundaries for their existence.
Consider that without our skin, all our water leaks away, and bacteria are free to invade and eat us.
Every sort of system has its metaphorical skin.

At every level of existence, from the sub atomic on upwards, boundaries allow for the emergence of new levels of complexity.

So freedom for complex entities like ourselves cannot mean an absence of boundaries, and it can mean having no more than the minimum set of boundaries required to maintain our existence and grant the maximum level of freedom possible to every individual.

Most of our laws and institutions evolved in an age where most things were genuinely scarce, and markets and money provided many very valuable services at many different levels, not simply exchange, but in information transfer, trust networks, distributed governance, distributed coordination, risk mitigation, etc.

Automation, and the exponentially expanding set of goods and services that we can create in universal abundance is changing that – fundamentally.

Markets are based in scarcity.
We only go to markets for things we don’t have.

When the only thing universally abundant was air, that made markets very useful tools.

Now that the only thing preventing the universal abundance of any information based product is the legal structures we have in place to create artificial scarcity, and thus market value – that is changing. The people who suffer that lack, and its very real physical consequences, see and feel the injustice of the situation; and many others see the levels of systemic risk present in that “injustice”.

As more people are becoming aware of the need for major systemic change, how we transition from scarcity based thinking to abundance based thinking is one of the critical questions facing our time.

Universal Basic Income would seem to be a useful aspect of a transition strategy, though it is not necessarily any sort of stable long-term strategy.

We have some major changes on the relatively near term technical horizon.

As we develop molecular level mining, and molecular level manufacturing, then solutions to many of the risks from our past become relatively simple engineering projects, at the same time as whole new classes of risk and requirements for risk mitigation strategies emerge.

This process seems to be capable of infinite extension and recursion.

It seems that the price of liberty will always remain “Eternal Vigilance”.

It seems to be the case that risk minimization for any demands a new level of cooperation, based in universal respect for individual sapient life (anything capable of conceiving of itself as an actor in reality, and using some sort of language to signify that – be it human or non human, biological or non-biological), and for the liberty of all such entities to do whatever they reasonably and responsibly choose (acknowledging the need for all the necessary boundaries that make their existence, or the existence of any other sapience, possible).

That will involve delivering all the reasonable requirements of life and freedom to every individual. And what is reasonable might be a very personal and individual thing, and it will have social aspects.

That would seem to involve an ever-expanding set of conversations and negotiated agreements, across many levels of networks, with all agreements up for re-negotiation as contexts change.

And it will require of everyone respect and tolerance.