Monday, 24 January 2011

A Defense of Capitalism, not that they might see it that way...

Capitalism is shit.  That I feel is the consensus of the majority of the world from my limited viewpoint from on lucky street.  It is also, I would argue, closer to what the majority of the capitalist world itself would proffer compared to its glittering opposite as the contemptuously titled ‘End of History’.   The growing inequality; complete ignorance of what it is to be happy, nay, the frightened denial inherent in wealth’s desire to buy what cannot be bought.  It has the potential to tear us apart as a species, this walling off of homes and minds.  But this article isn’t really about that.  It is about perspective, about how we got where we are and why we can have optimism about where we may be going.  It is also about picking the right target, so that we may endeavour not to marginalise those that might otherwise adept to the zeitgeist.

Humanity has progressed to varying degrees through three main types of imagined identities (as in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities), created by those who monopolised cultural production.  Religion, the State and Commerce emerged one from the other to accommodate the ever-greater complexity that derived from the accumulation of knowledge and technology.  Larger empires, multiple faiths and disparate people... they could only be bound by common memes to the extent communication technology allowed.  This is why a common vernacular in Europe, as brought about through the printing press (commerce), facilitated such fervent nationalism.

Throughout history, power has devolved; and that is reflected in the level of brutality.  Just a few hundred years ago, heads were left on spikes in city streets as warnings. Genocide was commonplace, the wholesale rape, pillage and hand-made destruction of entire cities… who could imagine that in the developed world? From Emperor and Demi-God, King and Aristocracy, CEO and Marketing… Those who create culture, create identity.  That power is now democratising further, toward an information-based identity.  If we identify with the ‘other’ through shared culture then we have done the complete opposite to the dehumanising process that enabled the Holocaust.   Even simple communication is enough, since our shared humanity brings with it common desires, familiar fears, more than enough to make that connection.

This is what capitalism has given us.   It got here through some pretty noble ideas, ideas that the right are loudest to (often blindly) shout but which, compared to what came before (and sometimes now to be fair) are pretty radical.  Individual Freedom?  A lot of the headway with that was from merchants and business.  Free-Markets and movement of capital and labour are very much post-nationalist ideals that resulted in a changed dynamic by the mid-20th Century.   The consumerism it produced enabled TV’s to be in almost every house, something many would regard as negative when it fact it’s merely primitive.  By the standards of the age however it was a miracle and no one can deny the effect film has had on the global consciousness. In the book Multitude, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri sum up this transormational aspect of caiptalism by saying:

"Capital has always been oriented towards the production, reproduction and control of social life... [however], the production of Capital is, ever more clearly and driectly today, the production of social life."

In other words, now that the fuits of capital have enabled the multitude itslef to partake in social production, capital has gone from creating and maintaining virtical social identities (when the form was monopolised by the state) to being the medium of expression of the multitude itself.  Truly this represents the biggest shift in tendency since Marx himself recognised the coming hegenomy that capital represented at a time when agriculture was still hugely dominent.  Now we are tending toward true emancipation of the individual, a reawakening of the notion of network, not centralised discipline.

We have to be careful to remember what Capitalism actually consists of.  We are quick to picture the fat cat corporate exec, lighting his cigar with a fifty-pound note.  Yet the majority of capitalism feeds from the same meme-pool as you or I (assuming you aren’t an actual corporate exec reading this which, if so, please change).  Sure, as you get to the top, the memetic influence becomes restricted to high-powered, institutionalised jargon and dogmatic priorities, an identity that has outsourced its own responsibility to humanity for the sake of shareholders.  But they do not live in a vacuum.  Not like Kings, not even like the four-yearly terms for politicians.  They have customers and they have staff and more so than religion or the state they have more incentive to keep us happy. They know about evolve or die.

In the last hundred and fifty years capitalism has shown considerable amounts of adaptation in the west when it comes to western populations. It’s because we aren’t the ‘other’ anymore, no longer the proles.  We’ve had that outsourced now too.  For decades, multi-nationals have polluted, killed, bribed, betrayed and pillaged their way across the world, every bit the fundamentalist with their own holy book with it’s own commitments.  Number 1, Make money for shareholders. Number 2, Make money for shareholders… I’ve no doubt many are great family people that sincerely believe they do good.  We are relativistic beings, and if you are unknowingly trapped in a wealth induced meme-bubble consisting primarily of positive reinforcement how can you think otherwise?

The co-opting of the political class by corporations combines the two most potent cultural identity producers in the world since the demise of religion in the west.  Listen to a politician.  Now listen to a high-level manager.  They speak the same language.  There is a pretty obvious reason why: it is because of the intricate web of links between business and government, a back-slapping, champagne swilling orgy of congratulatory arse-licking; a web that forms a cocoon. It is this meme-bubble that the global consciousness should seek to expose, using the infrastructure capitalism lays, (as they must to compete) to counter this push from corporations (unlimited funding of politicians in the U.S., the concentration of media conglomerates, the institutionalisation of mainstream media) in an info-war that will grow ever larger as technology continues to explode exponentially. 

But this will take time.  Evolution has to happen in steps.  There are no sky-hooks in biological evolution and there aren’t any here.  Violence can clear a blockage, but it must be an act of last resort on behalf of the majority else, like suicide bombings, they will appear illegitimate to the global consciousness.  It must be rational, targeted violence and only when the right to speak and to listen to contributions to the creation of imagined identity have been fully denied.  Too much, and without rational limits and objectives both stated and kept to, and the chaos produced can have the opposite to the desired effect in the short-medium term leading to greater suffering.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Cultural evolutionary function of Twitter and Wikileaks and how it applies to Tunisia

Did wikileaks cause a revolution? Did Twitter? Did rain in LA a couple of weeks back cause a mild spell in the UK today? Probably not, but it is impossible to tell anyway.  They all aspects of non-linear complex systems sitting on the edge of chaos, a googol of tiny threads interacting in ways that produce unpredictable and sometimes emergent outcomes.

Complex systems have emergent properties, new phenomena that arise as a result of interactions in networks of enough nodes.  When humans began to settle, the network was at such a scale as to generate emergent properties; there were enough threads to create a tapestry.  Story, myth, nature… those that could decipher them to the level of believable knowledge of the time could command prominence in the system, conflating the religious authority with authority over humankind and monopolising the memetic content of the system.  Religious empires were the result of millions of nodes acting from, I would argue, a few simple axioms (1), an emergence that evolved along with communication technology into the state and then commerce, though all remain to varying degrees of power throughout the world.  Our culture represents a tapestry of countless links that interact in unpredictable, chaotic ways.

Wikileaks function is to introduce new material that can be woven into the tapestry.  It so happened that it’s colour didn’t match the colour that those with the most potential to weave were describing to us.  How much?  I couldn’t possibly claim to know what the picture is in reality, too much content I’m exposed to is manufactured, be it for power or profit or spin.  Some content is easier to trace, such as the blinding significance of Mohamed Bouazizi.  It shows that from what we each know as individuals we can only make subjective, if as well-informed as is possible, claims on the subject.  Besides, without prior prediction the claim leads to criticism of post-hoc reasoning, a rationalisation for western minds who, as is our curse, demand to see cause-and-effect according to our personal, wiki-saturated, schema.

Our societal system has an infrastructure that connects us.  It is our speech. It is our culture, our reality, accessible through sight and sound.  It is us.  And now we are intimately connected to Moore’s law.  Computer-based technology, whether in manufacturing or the final product, is accelerating at an exponential rate.  That means that an already significant proportion of our systems links are also increasing exponentially.  More than that, they are going global, pitting growth against the established order of the state, whose nodes are indoctrinated into a nationalistic mind-set as institutionally demanded by the democratic concept of the social-contract. 

That could all be about to change, and for me personally this is the most exciting prospect I have the optimism to believe in. 

Twitters function is to weave this new content via commenicating information in as close to real-time as possible in an auto-correcting, crowd-sourced system.  Try to see where this is going: imagine Twitter 2.0, as part of an advanced semantic web, when everyone’s connected most of the time, multi-sensory, multi-media communication controlled by speech and thought, mashable with any other function on the web (i.e. google earth).  What you could well see is its own emergent property, it's own artists and culture yet so diverse that the picture it weaves encompasses all humanity, a realised tapestry-within-a-tapestry, a fractal self-similarity that we will all be able to see free from the perverting conduit of self-interested, narrow-minded, nationalistic, corporate ‘protectors’. 

Wikileaks is a node.  Twitter is a network of links.  Yet they are but parts of a larger whole, the internet. This is itself but a part of a larger network, one that encompasses all of the culture and civilisation that each node experiences.  To give credit to one or the other for people taking to account the previously unaccountable would be glib to the extreme.  It would ignore the decades of suffering for a society who for the most part didn’t even have the internet. 

As long as technology continues to progress and the number of people who have access to it continues to increase, we will see the creation of a global scale memetic Hamilton’s rule that will finally eliminate the ‘other’ that for so long has been used against us.  Evolution is inevitable.  For that reason the onus for allowing this progression for humanity falls upon the politicians.  Yet it is the state, with their subjugated media, and corporations with their subjugated states, those hegemonic meme-producers, that have the most to lose. In these globally connected times, our collective sense of morality is raising the bar to a point that states and multi-nationals aren’t happy with. It’s not profitable and it makes no sense to them because they are simply doing their job as they should, as nationalists and profiteers. That reality is beginning to become untenable to todays youth due to their ability to sync with technology and the resulting dissonance.  Exposure to dissonance, be it wikileaks or the sight of a Palace, equals conclusions contrary to that which we are told by those in authority. It is the state’s resistance to this moral change which turns evolution into a revolution. 

So there you have it.  Ultimately it was the Tunisian government that was responsible for the revolution..

1. Axioms of human behaviour: All that is needed for this thesis is three axioms which I think you'll agree make both evolutionary and intuitive sense.

· Fear the unknown
· Do not waste energy fearing the known
· Defer to percieved authority

Monday, 3 January 2011

Addendum to last post

What we once knew/what we need to at least understand

@exiledsurfer put me onto a blog by a guy called George Mobus. This particular article dealt with the difference between 'knowing' and 'understanding'.  Then I started watching The Coconut Revolution and it struck me that there was an ethnocentric hole staring me in the face from this essay. To say that we have yet to acheive widespread recognition of the individual, let alone as part of a complex system, is to ignore that once we all knew that once before.  Indiginous peoples know their place within nature, recognise the relationships and the reliance.  This is not to say they understand it.  Theirs is a language of metaphor and story, myth and song as beautifully explored by Jay Griffiths in Wild.  I very much doubt an indiginous amazonian knows that sand blown from across a massive ocean helps fertilize their homeland and that isn't to be derogatory.  Knowing an ecosystem is in a lot of ways far more difficult to acheive.  The amazonian may not know of the Saraha, but I very much doubt the scientist who figured it out would last very long if left in the Jungle on his own.  You can buy understanding.  You can only acheive knowing through hard work, in this case survival.

So how did we in the developed world lose our knowledge of the environment? Was there no place for mans idividual link to nature within the plans of those early usurpers? Was there a point whereby History bore silent witness upon a Reformation in reverse, an initial event that instigated the worlds first organised relgion, the first of many obstacles to place themselves between the individual and the system they inhabit? What happened? Were we infantilised? Well, not right away.  I've no doubt that as the chart would predict, those first creators of imagined community draped their visions in the laguage of the land, invoking spirits and myths, many using drugs, all using music and dance... happy to be the priviledged mediator for the time being.  During this time, knowledge of the land would still be to the fore, it's simply that their understanding will be becoming skewed. 

When humans began to settle, two things happened.  They lost a lot of the previous knowledge of the land that came from nomadic life (obviously not at once, it was and still is an ongoing process). They also had a far greater opportunity and motive for replacing it with an imagined community.  As the land lost it's power on the minds of the people, the reins were handed to the preachers and the prophets, the witch-doctor and the shaman, the CEO and the Politician. Rather than an amalgamation of beliefs stemming from each groups connection with the land, the need for shared memes across greater numbers of people required a central dogma to homogenise the group.  Unless the territory was small, the land often would not be able to provide that link with different, isolated land types and entirely different peoples often located within the same dynasty.  Technology was such that stories were the only way to provide this bond, and so as the marauding armies expanded, religious belief grew.

Since then we in the west have lost almost all our knowing of the complex system that surrounds us.  We have literally insulated ourselves, placed walls between nature and our senses, plugs in our ears, cars on our feet.  Yet paradoxically we are also beginning to understand it for the first time.  Will this understanding explode in sudden realisation? Seeing ourselves as part of a complex system is possible for those who grow-up unawares to come to understand, it's merely very difficult.  How is knowing nothing conducive to coming to understand it?  Our culture has cut itself off from nature, reduced it to a therapy or somewhere to buy a third property.  The people who know their lands, accross the world, are screaming at us to look at what we are doing, and our leaders simply do not want to know.  By cutting nature out of the question, it is eaier to rationalise the raping of it for wealth.  In the national interest.

It would be far easier if we geared more of our resources into both knowing and understanding our role in natures system to transcend it's identity from national, to global, to ecological before we fuck everything up.  Indiginous peoples want to help, maybe we should let them, we can teach each other a lot of fascinating things. 

Or we could continue to kill them and destroy their homes for profit and we all lose.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Some predictions for humanities continued progress

 Extrapolating from the Historical Progress of Identity

After reading the inspirational predictions for the next 25 years on the Guardian website, I felt inspired to expand on my theories of the correlation between identity and communication technology and attempt to extrapolate my own predictions from the historical progress of identity and humanities study of the complex system that is society.

Here is the chart I drew up giving a rough outline of the cycles and progression of memetic production (identity), as accelerating advances in communication technology take our complex system to greater scales of connectivity:

Nb. For the sake of identifying key features, simplification and generalisation are to some extent necessary. Exceptions will always be found since the spread of communication technology (the framework of the complex system) is not universally even.  Indeed, accross the world all stages of identity may be present at any one time until we converge together.

The following identities are based upon the catagorisation of what Anderson termed 'imagined communities', those identities that transcend the local and which bind humans together into large enough groups to constitute emergent properties we know as History.  Emergent properties of complex systems are self-similar, and so we see at each definition of scale self-similar processes and cycles regardless of the actual content of these imagined identities...

Fundamental Imagined Identities

Three fundamental identities have arisen on Earth: Religion, State and Commerce. These identities have found homes within each of us to varying degrees of dominance in what we believe, where we live and what we do, respectively.  Each arose in times of expanded communication technology (language, mathematics, transport, media, digital etc) and became seemingly permanent by attaining a monopoly of memetic production which then suffused cultures with language, symbolism and memes which persisted beyond the control of the monopoly itself, continuing to influence future individuals identities.

As each new identity emerges it goes through a cycle.  Firstly, it identifies itself in relation to the older identity, by definition a necessity since this is the memetic monopoly one has to play with.  Thus States began as theocracies, corporations evolved from National enterprises and individualism is the progeny of the corporately defined 'individual as consumer'.  There have been three fundamental identities thus far, but a fourth is now emerging, that of the autonomous individual. 

Each progression is the result of an increase in knowledge facilitated by a more detailed, diverse and extensive complex system (society).  Each progression of identity represents a new level of emancipation, with greater sharing of power, more feedback, more freedom and importantly greater democratisation of memetic production.  This last point is crucial.  Since identity is produced from culture, the less monopolised memetic-production is the more emancipated individual identity can be.  It represents the opposite of dogma, of ideology.  Democratised memetic production means the elimination of whole-scale identity creation of the many by the few and the exposure of that manipulation through contact with the demonised, mythologised 'other' of which they speak.

Driving this emancipation is rationality and cognitive dissonance.  Each new identity succeeds the last because it's embracing amalgamation of more diverse memes results in a closer approximation of reality.  As the anachronisms of prior identities become visible through the advance of knowledge, cognitive dissonance increases also, leading to new generations to come to predominantly new conclusions contrary to the dogma of the established order.  It is precisely because we grow old and die, together with the rebellious, adaptive, open-mindedness of youth, that society is able to progress politically as our technologically driven shifts in identity occur.

The cycle of each fundamental identity

As dogma becomes exposed through increased communication, ideas begin to form from the emerging cognitive dissonance.  These ideas are presented as rationalisations within the context and under the regulation of the existing memetic monopoly (as cause-and-effect demands).  As knowledge advances and more of the unknown becomes known (diluting the power of the mythological other), these sporadic rationalisations become untenable and cognitive dissonance spreads with more veracity for it, eventually leading to a paradigm shift in political governance and identity creation.

Co-opted Monopoly
Emerging from the language and culture of the previous fundamental identity comes a new monopoly on memetic production.  Religion is divorced from the state, corporations go from state enterprises to multi-national to supranationalAnd yet, despite gaining absolute power, they still feel the need to dress themselves in rationalisations of memetic identities past, co-opting the power of reminiscence .  Hitler draped his genocide in divine garb, corporations practice with 'national interest' and individualism defines itself according, for now, to the corporate plan.  Each subverts the last to saturate our culture with their identity-creating memes common interests: power, wealth and the wilful ignorance of dissonance that may shake their self-serving, manufactured, yet no less sincere rationalisations for maintaining their brief turn at benefiting from inequality.

Peak identity
Our innate nature insists we continue to communicate, the obvious benefits that result maintaining a drive at increasing our communication networks.  Whilst political structures may come about through a domino-like paradigm shift, communication technology keeps accelerating exponentially, telescoping the rate of change dramatically as we get to ever finer definitions of this networked complex system we call society.  As such, there comes a point where dissonance becomes too great for the rationalisations of the ruling elites to make sense any longer. Take the Democratic system.  Founded on the inherently nationalistic doctrine of the social contract, it's usefulness is drastically outdated and unsuited to a globalised world.  It represent a broken network, with nodes that shut themselves off from one another, polluting the system. When communication structures available to the public exceed what is directly manageable by the ruling class, reality will begin to contrast with the official line, creating dissonance and the desire for change.

As our newly emerging identity (more complex network) forms, it's greater scope and scale of identity emancipation produces far more rational memes than those that came before.  This exposing of anachronisms is most keenly felt in the young, those who have yet to be infected with the dogmatic ideology they have had forced into their brain.  Dogma dies, to be replaced with better dogma, more inclusive dogma, until finally we break the cycle altogether.....

So what happens next?

I think Hegel will be happy to hear that his notion of History being mankind coming to know itself is truer than most gave him credit for.  As communication technology spreads to the masses one step at a time, political structures follow suit by slowly adjusting, sometimes piecemeal, sometimes radical and violent, much as an earthquake does depending on how much tension has arisen.  The Internet is a radical technological invention and its effect on that tension cannot be over-estimated.  The corporate meme-machine as been busy telling us we are individuals, the by-product of which (lets not forget it's central aim is to flatter us into buying stuff) has resulted in a radical notion of the self as an autonomous unit, a self-contained bundle of rights and privileges.

This information age, where the democratisation of memetic production has exploded in a noisy, ill-defined sea of identity bits and bytes, isn't the utopia people make it out to be however.  It's message is better for sure, we are sovereign citizens of our own mass-manufactured castles, walled off mentally and physically in order to capture that essence of individuality, that false veneer of material possession hiding us from ourselves.  This hyper relative individualism, combined with the concept of competition that previous rulers deemed a virtue, plays havoc with peoples minds! The dissonance between the religious, state and corporate  models of perfected form and the reality we as individual live with is vast, resulting in depression, mental health problems and growing neurosis.

These problems, together with the Wests emerging relationship with those that have until now silently shouldered the burden of manufacturing our continued opulence, will expose the anachronisms of the corporate subversion of the state.  The supranational manifestation of wealth production will lose it's facade of greater good once the publics idea of what 'greater' constitutes exceeds that of their former creators.  Religious identities will continue to decline in-line with access to communication technology, with only those shunning the technolgoy itself left to ever-more radical ratioanlisations of their own actions.  The state will follow a similar course, with direct-democracy coming to those who recognise and escape the crip of corporate co-opting. 

The advantages of this progression are vast.  The information age will at last recognise humanity as one complex system, eliminating much of the discrimination and prejudice the exploitation of the 'other' has caused.  The corporate co-opting of the state will be exposed mainstream, with a separation similar to that of church and state (already a publicly stated ideal, it is never-the-less another lie rationalised from above) and the autonomous individual will demand greater power and control over their political lives through the co-opting of corporate ideals of individual freedom from outside forces.  The availability of information will need to adjust to the finer definition of network connections, recognising that democratised memetic production invalidates the rationalisation for such extensive centralised power and access to knowledge.

And beyond that...

Religion will become an ever decreasing force though still visible as memetic echoes of a former age.  States will be udner ever greater pressure to stampt out corruption, open itself to accountablility and allowing the public to govern itslef to ever greater degrees.  Corporations will be under similar pressure, perhaps basing themselves within those states that are most stubborn in embracing progress (since those conditions best for profit also appear to be worst for the public as a whole).  Free from national obligation, they could become even more explicitly dangerous, even to powerful states slow to change, before subsiding themselves into a rather different legacy than they currently envisage in their assumed noble ideals.

I am reminded at this point of an interview in the film Waking Life.  Aklilu Gebrewold talks about humans coming to understand themselves, how our minds work, what and who we waking up to in this new age of hypersubjectivity.  Only when our individual minds fully understand themselves in relation to reality can we then look outside of ourselves anew with a radical objectivity.  The ideas in this essay are in a similar vein, having come from an attempt to work my knowledge of philosophy and cognitive science to the world of the emergent properties of complex human systems (what we call History).  And so it goes with identity.  Once we understand ourselves as part of a complex system, it is a small step to recognise that that system is not closed, the sole dmoain of monosapien. No, we are but one part of a greater system, that of Nature, which in turn is but one insiginficant part of even greater, galactic, universal systems.

This will become the next source of conflict, the recognition of Nature and the environments place within our network.  Although communication structures will encompass all of humanity, we will still need to hear from Nature itself in order to understand our effect on it.  Dwindling resources and growing destruction of habitats and wildlife cannot continue if we are to exist peeacefully.  As such, practices and beliefs that run contrary to this will in turn produce enough dissonance to ensure that after the age of the individual comes the age of Earth itself: An identification with and recognition of this global biosystem and our place in it.  Once we are there, there is no other to be exploited and we will finally be able to live in harmony before amking the jump of understanding our place not simply on this planet, but within our galaxy, our universe.  We are still only at the beginning of that journey.