societal, structural, stepping stones

After my last post about the apparent appeal of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle… and a lively debate with my uncle, who claims the Obama administration is setting the USA up for socialism… I feel compelled to write more explicitly about my thoughts on the capitalistic system that exists today. For whatever reason, changing that system seems unfathomable to many people. That bothers me.

As long as I have been alive, and for as long as my uncle before me, the United States has been infatuated with capitalism – and Americans have benefited from it. We have been the winners, and the people making our cheap products have been the losers (at least arguably, and for a time). After being thoroughly exploited, most of these countries have gone on to have their own economic expansions, and so, perhaps capitalism actually helped them along. At any rate, capitalism is all about this cheap “stuff” we ┬áseem to so enjoy. It has always required human labor, and in many cases that labor has been cheaper outside the USA.

That’s all well and good, and most of that last paragraph isn’t too debatable. Capitalism, in pioneering new stuff (new technologies, too) has made the world a much less “boring” place. In the hunter-gatherer society I discussed in a previous post, you’d likely have a lot more time on your hands… but you would have far fewer ways to spend that free time. Maybe this is why capitalism and industrialization have made hunter-gathering an obsolete way of life. Maybe, among other things, people were just too bored.

All I really want to say about the relationship between hunter-gathering and capitalism is that the transformation from the former to the latter has been evolutionary. At some point in history, hunter-gathering seemed like a stellar social system, and out of it led agricultural systems… and eventually we had capitalism. (More free time breeds less free time, go figure… although it seems the trend hat been reversing in the past few centuries.) Now, few people would consider (or do consider) non-industrialized ways of life preffered ways of life.

Ok, so here is the issue a I have with capitalism. It has invented technologies that are on the verge of reinventing themselves. Artificial intelligence, robotics, computing in general – these areas emerged from a capitalistic system. (For which we should all be very grateful to capitalism.) However, once these technologies become relatively self-evolving, capitalism has a real issue on its hands. Namely, there will be very few jobs. Almost everything will be benefit from new technologies that can work faster and smarter than humans. Massive unemployment… not simply single digit, but high double digits. Then what?

Capitalism is very poor, in my opinion, at dealing with unemployment. Which is perhaps why socialistic legislation gets passed when unemployment gets too high. At any rate, capitalism’s success is going to cause real issues. Not just for the worker, but for the capitalist. The technology will be so cheap that it would make little sense for anyone NOT to have their own machines working for them. Every man a capitalists, every machine a laborer – errr, capital.

Some new system will have to emerge to deal with this. The system will have to deal with the sky-high unemployment, the serious possibility of resource depletion caused by an exponential increase in output, the social issues that will emerge (after all, this setup looks a bit like a new form of slavery). I posit that system is going is going to look a little more egalitarian than capitalism – dare I say, a bit more communistic or socialistic.

Machines will be exploited rather than people, and what’s so wrong with that? It is hard to comprehend now (for some people), but so too was our capitalistic system to the hunter-gatherers that necessarily came before us.

Some day, capitalism may look as disagreeable as picking berries six hours a day – but it will be remembered as a stepping stone. A system that bred technologies capable of furthering social evolution. Bravo!

On the verge of such a change we need not hold on so tightly to the system in which most of us are comfortable. Thank capitalism, and lets move on.

evolving away from freedom

I imagine a man in a thick forest, wandering around in search of berries or roots. He carries a sharpened stick for spearing fish. He has no dependents and is content to sleep in makeshift shelters.

This man has few constraints. He requires food and water. To obtain these things it costs him significantly fewer than eight hours a day. With his free time he may do whatever he pleases, granted his options are somewhat limited. Since he is on his own schedule, he can dry enough meat in one month to live for a few months, or he can hunt more often. He answers only to himself, works only for himself… and I think he has the purest form of freedom.

Now, this man must have learned to hunt, or what vegetation is edible. In some sense, this man starts of with a sense of obligation. He owes his parents or his teachers for his knowledge, and so he may wish to take care of them in their old age. He acquires more constraints. The elderly cannot move too often, so the man builds more stable shelters and procures more food. Still, this can be done in fewer than eight hours a day. He cannot move as often, but otherwise he is free to do what he wishes.

We may realistically assume that the man does not know how long he will live. He knows that when he is elderly he will have a harder time procuring food, and so he takes out an insurance policy – he has children to care for him in his old age. In so doing he must aquire a few more constraints – a woman and a child. Still, he can feed all of his dependants with not much more work. Emotional constraints are bound to emerge – and the man’s free time will likely not be quite as discretionary. He will be somewhat obligated to spend time with these people. Which, given the few other options he has, may actually enhance his free time.

At any rate… this small group is relatively flexible. They enjoy a freedom that is absolutely unobtainable in our society.

We are not born into a world where we can wander the land (there are property rights), and if we want land to wander upon we must have money (we must satisfy the wants of others) and we must continue to have money to pay taxes. The way in which we can use our land is often restricted as well, and should we not abide by these laws it will cost us more money. At every turn we must procure money, so we must satisfy the wants of others. What’s more is that we do not have a few hand-picked and personal dependents, we have a whole number of them that we do not know (funding welfare programs).

How, or why, is this system better than the the one that came so many years before? Why did it emerge, and for what reason does it linger? If freedome is the ideal, for what have we sacrificed so much of it? Is our technological system completly opposed to this free system? Could the two somehow merge?

I’d like to investigate answers to these questions.