Getting to 100 social-technical points (was Re: a Change)

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Getting to 100 social-technical points (was Re: a Change) Paul D. Fernhout 2/21/09 9:54 AM
Herbert Snorrason wrote:
 >> Which is why open manufacturing as an alternative might be so
 >> important, so individuals can carry on even as the monetary control
 >> system has seized up.
 > Remarkable. What is the novelty introduced, in this context, by "open
 > manufacturing"? I will contend that there is none whatsoever. In fact, I
 > will go farther. I will contend that the system you are arguing against
 > has already faced a crisis of similar magnitude, and prevailed. I
 > contend that all the alternative solutions we argue for today were clear
 > to people at that time, and even earlier. I contend that today offers no
 > unique opportunities for the conquest of bread.

You raised a similar point back in your introduction in September, where you
"There are no radical new possibilities today that did not exist fifty,
seventy-five, a hundred, two hundred years ago. "What," you may say, "don't
you understand that technology has altered the fundamental character of our
societies?" And the answer is that no, I don't. And I am a student of
history. Looking at the realities and potentials of the past is what I spend
my time doing. The truth is that technical changes have never opened up
truly new avenues, not even in the case of movable type printing, which is
undeniably the single most transformative technology in recorded history"

One can think of it this simplified way. Imagine abundance for all takes a
society earning 100 "social-technical" points. :-) These points come from
the multiplication of the "social" points times the "technical" points.
So, 50 * 2 = 100.
Or, 2 * 50 = 100.
or, 10 * 10 = 100.

Social points might be things like learning to share better, or learning to
get along with each other better in resolving conflicts with less damage, or
in general, even eventually a global mindshift:
   "Global Mindshift: The Wombat"

Technical points are like the ones we are usually talking about here, how to
make things efficiently and effectively.

Let us consider three scenarios for these points, with the numbers as above.

The first is the one you allude to in your September post, which is that we
could have abundance for all now, as well as centuries in the past, even
with high populations.(*) It's quite true, but it would require a higher
number of social points then we have ever had in most places. It would be
like multiplying 50 social points times 2 technical points to reach that 100
points. Many intentional communities try to do this by voluntary simplicity
and alternate living styles, whether New Age communes or Roman Catholic
monasteries or other such arrangements, but it can be hard to maintain this
level of social coherence, especially in the face of the temptations of the
rest of the world or the need to integrate new members coming from the outer
world. A world like this might, in one variation, have everyone sitting
around in their soft hemp garments, maybe even smoking something, and
watching the stars go by, while having great conversations and making great
music, and every once in a while somebody digs a new latrine without too
much argument. These people would have trouble dealing with a large incoming
asteroid about to hit the Earth, as happens every 100,000 years or so.
Still, this society might easily progress to whatever level of technology it
wanted fairly peacefully, although they might not see any reason to. It
would probably be a great place to raise happy children, like some laid-back
tropical islands are even today. This is sort of the realization of the
dream of many 1960s Hippies. :-)

Similarly, "free market fundamentalists" like many US conservatives believe
we can have abundance for all by continued technical/business development,
and they are right, too. Their model is to multiply 2 social points times
about 50 technical/business points, to get to 100 points. This is actually
the course much of Western society has been following. People are dumped in
the streets when their health insurance runs out in the USA (see the movie
"Sicko"), but we have amazing computers too. However, technically, I'd still
put us at about 5 points (not 50), for a total of 2 * 5 = 10 points, so
that's why the USA is such a bad place to live if you are poor and why free
market fundamentalism has failed most people. One reason for that failure
has been the "tragedy of the anti-commons"
preventing people from collaborating more effectively (one thing this list
is about). Ray Kurzweil, I'd suggest, is in this camp with his version of
technical development as an arms race assuming no social development. One of
the problems with this approach is that when social development is at a 2,
and technical development is at 50, there is the risk that powerful
post-scarcity tools (nukes, bioweapons, killer robots) will get unleashed as
globally-destructive weapons by scarcity-preoccupied minds. There is also
the risk of social turmoil as conventional economics fails from "divide by
zero cost" errors (and we are seeing some of them even now:)
   ""Free" is Killing Us--Blame The VCs"

A different way forward is to get 10 social points and 10 technical points.
And I feel we are almost there on both fronts. Conflict resolution ideas and
other social ideas maybe have us to a 5 social points in some places on
that. And technically, we are at a 5 also, as above. Still, multiplied as
5*5, that only gives us 25 points in the more socially progressive
communities like the Netherlands (the US is otherwise overall still 2*5=10).
Now, we can raise both social and technical levels to 10 points globally,
and then 10 * 10 = 100, or we can perhaps raise our understanding of
technology from 5 to 20, and then get 5 social points times 20 technical
points, to get to one hundred. Either way will work to provide global
abundance, even though they imply different types of societies at first.

One could hope, that for any of these three approaches, that once there was
global abundance in some form, that we would then progress to some next
stage where the path did not matter as much, and both social and technical
points continued to go up, where the social supported the technical, and the
technical supported the social. We already see this in a small way with
today's internet facilitating sharing ideas and insights (both social and

Still, there is perhaps a basic conflict on this list between the 10*10 path
and the 5*20 path (or even perhaps the 2*50 path for some. :-)

So, that is why I think advancing technology makes a difference, but I also
think advancing the socially makes a difference too.

Obviously, this is a simplification to illustrate a point. There are many
factors involved, and there are many levels of global abundance, and many
potential effects and discontinuities as we get part way there. Also, there
is a big issue ignored here that the technology we build reflects our social
values; for instance people in one society might develop technical knowledge
about cruise missiles when people in another society might develop knowledge
about water purification. Or a profit-driven system with large
concentrations of capital might build an energy infrastructure that is
highly centralized where the edge is dependent on the center, whereas a
different set of values might build an energy infrastructure that was more
decentralized and robust. So, not all technical knowledge is
interchangeable, and not all technical infrastructure is the same.

And, this illustration still doesn't address your other valid point in your
September email about active resistance by vested interests to abundance
breaking out globally. That's still a problem, but it may need to be handled
in more subtle ways, to get the elite to realize there is no realistic
alternative at this point than to allow at least some global abundance. That
issue is addressed in part in the section of the Triple Revolution paper
discussing modern (post-scarcity) weapons:

--Paul Fernhout
(*) Remember, in hunter-gatherer times, we did have global abundance of a
sort relative to needs and expectations, with small populations with few
wants living in an abundant biosphere (abundant per capita):
   "The Original Affluent Society" by Marshall Sahlins