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

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Oct 13 15:41:04 UTC 2005

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.
>   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.

Yes, a single, more encompassing meta-model is our goal in this discussion.
But each level of organization has characteristics not evident in the
simpler levels below it. There is a meta-model that encompasses your concept
of politics being essentially related to "competition over issues of
scarcity." That particular concept is only a part of the phase space of a
broader concept of "effective interaction of agents."

> 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.
>  Aren't you trying to sort of nice-up politics a bit? To try to make it
> nicer
> by defining away unpleasantness?

No, and that has been a point of frustration during this discussion. There
is ugliness in politics, and in the situations that motivate politics. I am
not trying to define away the ugliness; I'm trying to show that thinking in
terms of scarcity is self-limiting because that is only one aspect of the
system, and that scarcity thinking is rapidly becoming less
appropriate--less effective--due to changes in the environment in which we
interact. The population bomb appears to have been defused, efficiency of
production continues to increase, and most importantly--information
technology allows us to increasingly (1) see the bigger picture consequences
of our actions and (2) see the subjective values that drive our actions, and
(3) implement collaboration frameworks that apply #1 and #2 to produce more
effective social decision-making.

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.

Ah, perhaps this is the crux of the matter.

 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
> smiles.
>  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.

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?

Yes, in the sense of an expanding sphere of interests in common based on
increasing awareness of who we are and what works. Note that this does not
mean that eventually we all become identical, because the process of
evolutionary growth entails increasing diversity.

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.

Promoting our values and effectively influencing choices for our future is
very close to the point of this discussion.

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, I think I clearly understand your position, and disappointment, that
transhumanism seems to be failing to grab sufficient popular attention. I
think this "failure" is quite understandable, not least because of the very
counter-productive label "transhumanism" and because most of what seems
obvious to insiders seems threatening and out of touch to most outsiders.

Rather than trying to grab attention and spotlight some key issues, I'm
saying that a general framework of collaboration is emerging, and that it
will increase the effective intelligence of our social decision-making. It's
already happening, with google increasing our accessability to knowledge,
blogster, flickr, various collaborative filtering systems for music and
video, the rise of blogging to make worldwide news and opinion more
immediate and less central...

All of these trends are seductively leading to increasing awareness of
ourselves (our values) and our world (what works) and providing a more
effective framework for social decision-making applied to groups.

It's happening, but it's not at all clear that it's happening fast enough
and effectively enough to deal with the approaching threats of ubiquitous
nanotech and recursively improving AI.

- Jef

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