Restructuring Political Economy for Public Benefit in Isolation

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Nathan Cravens

Mar 31, 2020, 9:11:29 PM3/31/20
to Open Manufacturing
This proposal rapidly shifts all institutional activities into transparent expert councils, with major decisions addressed by a sortition of peers. Open data, citizen polling, and algorithms will bring issues and hopes to the surface and construct as organically as possible better living environments for everyone. Thanks for reading.

Published: 26/03/2020

Revised: 1/04/2020

Nathan Cravens

The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” rings truer today than ever. The opportunity for social transformation is before us and we must act swiftly to secure the prosperity and enlightenment of our future while the devilish bearings of the old ways remain disjointed. During the pandemic, to those of us privileged enough to isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are faced to meet needs in novel ways like never before, absent from close human contact, yet feeling as if our connections to one another grow stronger online with every passing day. Despite the global fear of suffocating to death from the illness, we isolate and work to breath fresh air into a new way of living. 

Everyone is affected. Hundreds of millions of people are abruptly out of work, or for the lucky few, able to work from home, pouring more time into online activity than ever before. Now seems like a better time than ever to use this pent-up energy or free time to serve the public good in ways we never before imagined. The granting of a basic income to every person under these challenging times will provide the sacred layered cloth from which to launch, building anew from the tools created by our ancestors that sacrificed generation-after-generation so we may one day have the ability, the freeness and liberty, to live how we truly wish. 

The spell is breaking and many are beginning to realise the system’s faults and where it can improve, more than ever. We are seriously questioning in this time what jobs are essential and how to keep the economy going as an isolated population. The synergistic factors of isolation in a high bandwidth, technologically connected world, almost in itself, have great potential to accelerate technological and economic change in a matter of days, weeks, and months, instead of decades and centuries were the beast able to lumber along. Before we begin, let’s make a point of observation:

  • During a crisis we look to authorities for guidance lacking the information or power as a public to solve problems ourselves.

Online, experts in epidemiology are saying they are getting better and more up-to-date information about the pandemic from colleagues on social media than from the institutions they represent or seek knowledge from, as would seem the case for practically all disciplines. It's time to bring all process knowledge within institutions to light, observable and made understandable to everyone, young and older, so we can better manage the crisis, but also build a resilient future for every living being. 

Institutions rely on extrinsic motivation, waiting for master with the whip or the carrot. Most people would not do what they do, or at least do it less, or differently, were the wants and needs of life provided for free. For far too long, misery as a conflicted double life to please a manager in addition to doing the actual work solely to prevent slaughter by the wolf, ultimately maintained by the threat of social stigma. Parents come home from abusive work environments to abuse their own children. An immediate threat to human life on earth has halted much of this nonsense, while the stability of relationships are being tested with many undergoing new romance or abusive turmoil. Indeed we can easily expect many birth certificates and divorce papers in the near future. Whatever the case, we are collectively jolted out of our poorly manufactured realities. Banks have held off charging interest on debts during the crisis, while in the United States, booming businesses such as Amazon and Instacart are seeing massive strikes from workers who have power like never before. With a majority of people out of work, with governments pouring trillions into useless businesses unwilling to bail out the people, debt and rent strikes are underway. Tapped, with more to come, is a tremendous amount of intrinsic motivation in place of debt peonage, using platforms accessible and open enough to cause and, indeed, accelerate personal and systemic transformation. If the stick is used, it will only motivate us to fight harder for what burns inside.

It is here we find the opportunity to augment and replace institutions altogether once the usefulness of the institution, rightfully salvaged for parts to build upon, itself now under scrutiny like never before, is analysed and met to be coincided and replaced by an intuitive, user friendly online platform—plus robots. This platform will know what level of engagement to address the user, whether a teenager or an older person, grasping cultural background and other experiences, to communicate in a way that speaks and presents information at one’s level while building stepping stones to greater stages of development. The activities and solutions at hand will be specifically crafted by our collective engagement and enhanced by a variety of algorithms running in the background like magic. 

Data generation and collection is exponential, enabled by computing power accelerating at a similar rate. Data then becomes information and information becomes knowledge, and with proper experience and care of the designer multitude, knowledge becomes wisdom. Visualizations and other representations of wisdom will enable us all to see the big picture and better determine what variety of roles we play, opportunities to explore, and more generally how fruitfully we live our lives. 

Wisdom will grow even deeper as the fuel of commerce runs dry, exposing corporate cocoons and egotist silos as they collapse into dust, leaving the door wide open for individual growth that expands to fully embrace neglected human bonds and beyond, no longer divided but embraced by our differences: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and other social distinctions, including the finer points of differences in perspective or ways of being. We will begin to see, if not already, our differences as a virtue rather than a threat, and that we share more in common together than we do as separated competitive entities. 

Bringing everyone together as one integrated inspirational village was the dream of the Internet’s first theorists and participants. That should be the immediate goal of online activity today as we face massive global disruption, to make the absolute best use of our sheltered time for a more direct human experience, once we are finally able to de-isolate. We could very potentially and dramatically, realising and acting broadly, clearly, and diligently, as a collective power in this historic moment, in just a blink of an eye, have the machines work for us, all of us. Finally. 

Already in process, we must continue to pressure politicians and other elites through mass strikes on various fronts into drafting laws written by self-assembled expert councils under direct democratic scrutiny, but with expediency in mind, that take over previously privatized or commercialised activity. 

Practically everyone on some level knew they were duped by the craft of coercion that hijacked our natural instincts for social cohesion, divided on every spectrum to nurse on consumer garbage and toxic identities, further blinded, reinforced, and assuaged by spectacles appealing to every sense, with thinly veiled enthusiastic mockery for those that could see that with the majority of advertising, the joke was on the suckers; psychologically abused by a spectre peer group that never really wanted to exist in the first place, trapping society into a sick and boring game, with a yearning however misplaced, the human instinct wills to win and have affirmation, even if the game is stupid and rigged. 

As the spell begins to fade during this time, we can reassert and redesign the most vital industries for the public good, starting with food and medicine, and the ways in which they are delivered. The most effective forces will rely on the execution of sound principles at exactly the right time and place, with the most effective strategies as best as we can determine, however risky, with tactics that radically execute strategies that build upon a series of plans and backup plans. The time for transformation is now! 

Here is a basis for the new social contract:

  • Freely and openly integrate and centralise data storage and make it concisely conveyed as visuals itself, including the physical spaces that incorporate it, in order to make the physical world available for public view and teleoperation where appropriate, for the purpose of free public consumption of all things once deemed products and services. 

Let’s clarify with a scenario. You enjoy social media and love sharing your life. But there’s more to life than your personal perspective. Wouldn’t it be nice for others to see more than a snippet or some video, but a bigger picture? You are not just you going out or what you and your family are up to. You live in a place and occupy places in the real world. Wouldn’t it be nice for others to explore the places you cherish and provide input that you and those close to you can choose? Soon, mobile devices will easily capture and platforms will transmit 3D environments, including sounds, and maybe one day, smells, and further into the future—the cosmic—as science has yet to adequately capture, measure, categorize, or replicate that which many of us instinctively feel and spiritually practice. For now, let’s focus on what we wish to show: our personal living environments in 3D for those of our choosing to explore, much like The Sims game. From the comfort of one’s user interface, they can see what our living spaces look like—and sure—filters will be used to keep things looking presentable. Here friends, family, and trusted professionals or algorithms can observe the space, discuss it and suggest alterations, from interior decorating down to specific objects within the home, including task suggestions and time-and-motion monitoring that would make Lillian Moller Gilbreth’s heart sing.

At this point, the dark side of such aforementioned insight will likely spur the recollection of 1984 and Brave New World, while other works, such as Cheaper by the Dozen, if remembered at all, will ring hollow. Indeed, if only personal spaces are made for view and the institutional sphere remains a black box, whether business or governmental, we risk further manipulation and injustice by a minority of monopoly interests extracting from increasingly impoverished individuals from proprietary agencies that only have our interests at heart if it provides them with an advantage. The presentation of the virtualized household, not yet realised, is to be provocative, and aid in our inquiries, surely one day soon, coming to light. So as we open up more and more of our personal lives to everyone on the web, we must also work diligently and aggressively to make institutions do the same. 

Many scholars of the environmentalist movement are increasingly concerned with institutional process transparency in addressing the climate and ecological crisis. They know it is not just our own personal behaviors that need to change to regenerate ecosystems, as individual behaviors—with some exception to a certain cohort of monied individuals—pale in destructive comparison to the ecocide generated by institutional processes in dire need of public observability, scrutiny, and control. We must remove the lense cap and lift the veil of the institutional sphere to develop a better picture of what is happening in every environment we depend on. Process must transform from extraction to regeneration. In most cases, once frivolous industries are shuttered, formerly occupied territories will largely return back to the wild. 

Often when addressing these ideas they are either ignored or dismissed as technocratic. But I have news for you: We live in a technocracy. It usually goes by other derogatories: neoliberalism, monopoly capitalism, and so on, but whatever you want to call it, a technically minded bureaucracy of unelected officials make decisions for all of us at every turn. Therefore, lacking a better word to encompass the synthesis of expertly guided politics and technology, we must reclaim the word technocracy and baptise it of its sins by exposing it to the liquidity of the public sphere where we may all be each other’s shepherd and sleep like lambs.  

  • Where do we start? 

  • How can this be done?

Assemble a group of design-minded experts of various stripes that see the big picture and practice as artists and visionaries. Conviene a roadmapping session which will include the drawing of 2D models of all vital systems with multitudes of experts highly knowledgeable and experienced, both narrowly and generally, working within the areas the models represent. The meeting would virtually assemble for expediency and will hopefully take place if not already during the pandemic, to frame and provide essential detail of each system and how they interact with one another and the greater ecology that surfaced us.

Self-organised, and later, state recognized expert councils (local, regional, national, and global) vote within their own expertise a representative and chief manager who links with other managers to sustain systemic integrity with decision making approved online by virtual sortition, a process whereby experts in the related area, without personal advantage from the outcome, can make suggestions based on experience, approve, or critique a proposal. It should be firmly noted that expert councils will only be a transitional measure and that the goal will be to pass on duties and obligations to non-experts, intelligent software and robotics, that continually work to strike the best balance, that best provide for the whims of individuals while ensuring the resilience of the society as a whole. People that wish to take on duties will be honored as this may well be a rarity, but perhaps the fog of the past is blinding. Non-experts with an interest in a program—at the expert council phase—would essentially be relegated to something resembling a focus group, but by other means such as floods of data generated by individual and collective activities, from location tracking to understand the needs of the people, including survey submissions that hold an element of political power. This way many people can provide input without the risk of responsibility or being too worried about the workings of the system, so we are better able to get on with creative and recreational endeavours. 

  • If the world is run for a time by experts, how do we hold them to account?

Rankings of expert decisions by users will ensure an expert’s council position. If the ranking falls to a certain level, another qualified expert selected by peers will fill the placement. In time, as said before, intelligent agents flush with public data can vote or alter systems directly on behalf of individuals, groups, and territories. Data in some cases could be anonymised while remaining calculable if the user considers a data point too personally sensitive. Meetings can be requested and processioned, but probably rarely, unless a critical error has occurred. For those of you still on the fence about allowing experts to manage things, think of this: If your loved one needed medical care, wouldn’t you want the most knowledgeable and experienced person treating them? Of course, this is why experts should be at the helm of a system that also affects the quality of our lives. 

This will require, as mentioned, the efforts of every passion and occupation. Let’s list a few primary roles that begin to paint a picture: 

User interface and other designers, architects, engineers, materials and agricultural scientists, and city planners. This group will redesign the city as we know it. They work with models from capturing 3D imagery, sound, and other physical space data points from billions of personal mobile and other smart devices, succinctly presented as a variety of visualizations aided by machine learning algorithms, including GANs to piece together the bits elegantly. This group would be responsible for the representations displayed of electricity, telecommunications (including teleoperation usage), logistics tracking, and other information flows played out in real-time (or near enough) for public view. The public will know more precisely how space is used and what activities and functions occupy that space. People will also feel free to create spontaneous activity in an unoccupied space, no longer deviously classified as squatting, guerilla gardening, or raving. In such an environment the majority will self regulate, no longer requiring professionals to provide care or support. Anyone will have the ability to create designs, bubbling to the surface backed by positive feedback similar to search engine rankings. Designs in most cases would be created and adopted seemingly anarchistically through algorithmic regulation without anyone’s approval. The larger systemic areas as yet properly automated or easily learnable would ultimately come down to the decisions agreed upon by expert councils working in coordination with other expert councils through user feedback, for safety and security reasons, until, as said, software and hardware replaces the need for fancy titles outside everyday lived fictions and other works of performance art. 


  • Where and how do we attract participation? 

Let’s dabble again in observation. When a path is blazed and continually occupied, that which remains wild or unknown remains wild and unknown, while participants of that system return to the path again and again. In cybernetics this is called stigmergy. Recent public outcry has expressed how social media companies, old and new media alike, have accelerated stigmergic behavior by any means possible for monetary gain, magnifying positions of outrage likely to get the most reactions with an endless stream of notifications reminding you of what you are missing, turning online habits into an addiction that feeds the beast, leaving the soul after a taste of excitement, empty, but hopeful. This well trammeled trail we are finding, hopefully more so in isolation, that a great deal of territory is yet to be explored!

So how can we turn the addictive behavior of ‘likes’ and endless scrolling on its head? How can we use the systems that feed addiction into systems that construct and fuel a kinder world, a world where time is held preciously dear without waste? How can we move beyond screaming silently into the void, and invite meaningful, satisfying, and beneficial online activities that bring us closer together as one human race on an abundance generating planet?

We can begin by having these conversations openly on proprietary social platforms while linking to other aligned projects that build the alternative paths swiftly adopted as the new mainstream, the new normal. We are truly at the dawning experience of a paradigm shift. Just imagine what the fruits will bear along the way. Hopefully, in just a few short years, we work to make the world delightful beyond our wildest dreams. Or, we could allow the police state to continue to lock us down and out until the majority of us perish. We must act while we still have some shred of power—and there is no better time than this moment. 

We are forced through restricted movement with a communications technology more powerful than ever just waiting to be unleashed. We have the time and space to better reflect and reorganize our lives, to more deeply embrace the bonds of friends, family, and the crafts and practices that keep us alive. In this we begin to realize how arbitrarily life was taken for granted in the past and the very importance of life itself as we cling together, ‘sheltered in place’ online.    

During the pandemic, billions of realizations are becoming ever clarified. Let us finally act while the beast is confused. The majority of us were living in discontent or disillusionment, coerced by the few using technology to amplify elite power, extracting wealth from labor into the coffers of the idle, as has happened time-after-time, wave-after-wave, again-and-again, in the span of economic history up to this point. This time it is under global lock-down conditions, faced with the sheer necessity of remaining alive. 

We are realising we really don’t need as much as we thought we did nor did we ever need to work as hard as we once did. Why do we leave our children and elderly vulnerable in institutions with institutionalized people who, with some saintly exceptions, lack a deep personal interest in their care?

As we conserve the space and its usage to reduce the spread of the pandemic, we can work in isolation, together, building on our interests to create an elegant patchwork that enlightens us all as we explore, more freely and ever further, into the future. 

Nathan W. Cravens | @nwcrav |
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