Sunday, October 4, 2009

Inverting the homunculus

What would our world look like if we believed our soul was distributed amongst everyone except us?

I blame an artifact of our evolution for most of our problems. (It's certainly preferable to an incompetent deity!) We have brains designed to outwit our surroundings, not to understand them. Thankfully it just so happens that a little understanding is actually necessary to outwit things or we'd probably be completely clueless and live by our urges alone. (e.g. George Bush)

Unfortunately, one of the things we're designed to cleverly outwit is ourselves, and that seems to be what most gets in the way of being open minded and receptive to even those perspectives that are antithetical to our internal model of reality. We just can't see what we're not actually looking for. And we see all too well whatever it is we are looking for (sometimes even if it isn't there.) Having good senses helps some, but the real problem is more structural and systemic. True objectivity is a fantastically unnatural act.

Even when our systems fail, we're still very hard pressed to discover what's wrong by any means other than looking for a particular problem. Prisoners of our own dogma, we would indeed be doomed to generate nothing but heat were it not for the feedback that eventually becomes impossible for even us to miss. And that's why I have hope that we're in the beginnings of an inverted revolution; a reinvention of society that starts from the top down like a wave and reorganizes all of mankind around a completely new economic paradigm.

Another quirk of our design seems to guarantee this will happen; we behave a bit like fermions in that no two of us can share the same model of reality (occupy the same intellectual space) at the same time. Maybe it's only because that space is so large. Or maybe it's because we're so small. But it does suggest that we're likely to try everything, steal and improve what we can't invent ourselves, and eventually stumble onto sustainable economies. They are almost certain to be sustainable because they unite humanity into a collective struggle against it's real enemy--entropy--rather than each other.

It might be as easy as eliminating the externalities that prevent our free market system from achieving sustainability. Suppose that in order to consume more than one share of the earth's resources in a given month that you had to buy that excess from those who must then have used less--at market prices. I don't believe they'd sell for less than they needed to achieve an adequate standard of living. Nor do I believe they'd be able to hold out for much more than that since someone would be willing to settle for less in that case.

That one change seems to trigger a cascade of changes that address a great many of our most serious problems. If people didn't need to work to subsist there would be a sort of selective pressure favoring those business models which tended to create jobs people actually enjoyed. We might even see the emergence of a completely different type of business model--where the employees actually paid for the privilege of getting to do their jobs (but of course shared the resulting profits as well.)

It might even lead to a gradual inversion of our very perspective on wealth, leaving us to measure our own worth in terms of how extensively we enriched and empowered everyone else. My guess is that exploring that enormous space is simply a lot more fun than the tiny sphere centered around ourselves.