[extropy-chat] A view of what politics is.

Brett Paatsch bpaatsch at bigpond.net.au
Thu Oct 13 03:26:53 UTC 2005

Jef Allbright wrote:
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jef Allbright 
  To: ExI chat list 
  Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2005 5:54 AM
  Subject: Re: [extropy-chat] A view of what politics is.

  On 10/11/05, Brett Paatsch <bpaatsch at bigpond.net.au> wrote:
    Jef Allbright wrote:

    > Why should politics be limited to issues of scarcity?

    Because we are built of biological stuff. Selfish genes that
    wanted to replicate.

  Actually, if I were arguing your point, I would argue at the cultural level, with a legacy of Malthusian scarcity driving our traditional political approach.  But we're already moving past the assumptions of Malthus, Paul Erlich, Club of Rome due to the changes in societal choices and increasingly efficient production accompanying accelerating technology. [Which breed new challenges along with opportunities, and increasing awareness of the need to develop innovation/sustainability together, but that's for later discussion.]

    To mortals time matters. Humans are mortals.
    If one wants the assistance or attention of others to pursue 
    ones needs/wants/desires one usually has to compete for
    it because the others that can help are mortal too. Their
    attention and concentration of others is itself a limited
    resource.  We humans can't do much on our own and we 
    have evolved to be social and to try to do what we can
    to get copies of our own genes into the next generation.

  I would say you're still confusing the evolved biological basis for human behavior with the dynamics of the larger socio-economic system.  But we agree that effective social interaction is key to our survival and growth.
By talking of selfish genes I'm probably going down too far. 
For present purposes at least and indeed perhaps generally.

My inclination is to try to understand human behavior by
seeing it connectedness to social animal behaviour which is 
what politics must be at its most basic level. The virtue of 
this approach, if it can be successful, is that it places the
political within the sphere of the scientific and only one 
meta-model is then necessary. 

But lets leave that alone as too low for present purposes.

You say "the dynamics of the larger socio-economic 
sytem". That is something that is made up of individual
decision making agents. Humans. Right? 

Mortal, biological humans, with potentials they want to
develop and selves they want to actualise.   All of which
most of them perceive they will have to do within the context
of some life expectancy and development stereotype that is
influenced by culture but is largely based on the fact that
they people are biologically animals whose growth and
development is conditional on getting the resources they
need at each stage of their development in order to proceed
on to the next. 

    > Isn't it appropriately called political action when working 
    > together to promote development toward increasing
    > abundance...

    Maybe. The words are too general for me to say.

  My point was to generalize a conception of politics, not mired in competitive zero-sum thinking related to reducing scarcity or authority, but in functionally neutral terms, and open to cooperative positive-sum thinking related to increasing growth and freedom. 
I don't think one can steam-brush what politics essentially is, in order
to make it nicer and more appealing. It is what it is. Behavioral
epiphenomena arising from individuals competing with other individuals
for mutually desired goods, when goods include the favour of and finite
attention of other individuals. Whether those individuals be voters, 
funders, consumers, or even sexual partners or parents with finite time. 
Aren't you trying to sort of nice-up politics a bit? To try to make it nicer
by defining away unpleasantness?

I suggested that we think of politics as "social decision-making applied to groups, expecially with respect to methods of influence within those processes."

I'm getting stuck with phrase "social decision-making".  
I'm wondering if it is an oxymoron.

I can see how one can call a meeting and invite attendees to
come and discuss things and try to agree. I can see how one
might do that online and use new communication technologies
and new media to do that.
But in the end the people that may or may not choose to go to
the meeting or use the new media are the same people as 
existed before. You are just employing another tactic to get
their attention and to win their support. 

It seem to me that trying to find new technologies to use is really
like trying to find ways to be more personally influential in the
finite universe of influence. There is nothing wrong with that at
all. Nothing wrong with trying to self empower and with trying to 
peer group empower. 

One can plan a party, build a nest, put on fine clothes, read
poetry, sing songs, or do whatever the heck one can to *try* to
attract the interest and support of other persons or people but
in the end there is only a finite amount of other-concentration
to be had and one IS necessarily competing for it whenever
others want it as well.  And others do want it. They do want
to grab some of that finite resource, that attention. That attention
which is necessary for getting votes, funding, or even returned

That's politics (or part of it).  There is only so much attention
to go around and individuals that don't get enough of it don't
survive and thrive.  

This definition works at all scales, and applies to directly competitive as well as directly cooperative approaches.

    I once thought that transhumanisms great offering and political promise 
    might have been something along the lines of a bold offering to the
    haves (and have nots) of something they didn't have.  More time.

  My own view is that the best we can do is decide and act in the present such that we maximize the survival and growth of our subjective interests.  Since my interests include a vision of increasing opportunities for growth, it follows that I am motivated to promote improved frameworks of awareness and cooperation to facilitate this vision.  
You mean "of our subjective interests" collectively? 

  I think it is misguided to hope for more time, given the environment in which we find ourselves.
I agree. But I think that the attention grabbing thing that transhumanism had going for it for a while was
the possibility of giving people including powerful people that already have a lot of things, more time. 

It lost those things and lost the attention grabbing thing when the wheels came off the Drexlerian
nanotech applecart, which is needed to make the cryonics promise credible. 

    With the promise and peril of nanotechnology upon us, most likely followed by recursively improving AI, but not necessarily in that order, it appears that we have only a brief window within which to promote the growth of those human values which work, and thus perhaps improve the odds of living in a future more of our choosing--before the rules of the game change drastically.

This is away from the issue either of what politics is, or what you want to define it to be and get agreement on. 

The promises and perils you percieve mark you out as a particular sort of person. A transhuman subcultural insider. But the subcultures best claims for the attention of the mainstream have not born sufficient fruit to continue to be credible or particularly attention demanding of the mainstream. Both the promise and peril of nanotech that you talk of are intended to be attention grabbers. And for a while they were attention grabbers. But their attention grabbing power has been lost relative to other promises and threats that the mainstream feels it is facing. 

Brett Paatsch

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