Here’s a new, timely article by David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolita
Some interesting excerpts:
Four versions of tribalism
As I’ll list shortly, four of the most destructive tendencies in modern social life have their roots in our apprehension of “the other”. In each case, our social harmony is warped by ideologies that reinforce our innate tendency to fear those who seem different from ourselves. In each of the four cases, an ideology tells its adherents that there are deep reasons why the leopard cannot change its spots – why, that is, the outsiders are bound to keep on behaving in dangerous, destructive ways. So the ideology exacerbates the mistrust.
The first case is nationalism, or its variant, racism.
The second case is anti-capitalism. That’s a bit more sophisticated than nationalism, but not by much. This line of thinking goes as follows: some business owners are ruthless profit-seekers, therefore all business owners are ruthless profit-seekers. Anyone who claims to be a “conscious capitalist” or a “moral capitalist” is deluding themselves. Their prevailing culture – the system of shareholder contracts and imperatives to maximise profits – ensures that they cannot really change. Therefore the “decent, normal people” – the working class – need to seize power, seize the means of production, and (if need be) string up the recalcitrant capitalist class from the lampposts.
The third case is the widespread rigid displeasure at EU bureaucracy. Here’s the thinking: some EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders, therefore all EU bureaucrats are faceless self-serving empire-builders. As before, the argument runs from the specific to the general. A business leader finds his growth plans thwarted by ill-conceived regulations handed down imperiously from Brussels, therefore we have to take back control of all regulations handed down from Brussels. An innovative medical intervention is stymied by slow-moving EU healthcare review processes, therefore we have to take back control of all review processes from the EU. Perhaps we should even string up the leaders of that bureaucracy from the lampposts.
That takes me to the fourth case: rigid displeasure of government. It’s worth some extra attention.
What is the point of governments? Governments provide social coordination of a type that fails to arise by other means of human interaction, such as free markets.
Governments prevent all the value in a market from being extracted by forceful, well-connected minority interests, in ways that would leave the rest of society impoverished. They resist the power of “robber barons” who would impose numerous tolls and charges, stifling freer exchange of ideas, resources, and people. Therefore governments provide the context in which free markets can prosper (but which those free markets, by themselves, could not deliver)
Given the three risk factors I’ve just listed, various counter-measures ought to be clear:
- Action is required towards the concrete factors that generate a sense of alienation. Rather than the fruits of economic success being channelled to a small fraction of society, with growing inequalities, we need powerful steps for greater inclusion and wider participation.
- Language that encourages grievance must be rooted out. Whenever pundits present distorted stories about “the other”, these stories should be strongly challenged.
- Education is long overdue about the positive role of big government – as a kind of “visible hand” that complements the famous “invisible hand” of the free market.
On the third point, I particularly like the formulation of Hacker and Pierson that the mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the 20th century:
The mixed economy spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security.
As a transhumanist, I look forward to a time in the hopefully not-too-distant a future when we’ll be smarter, not only rationally, but also emotionally.
Whence comes this better emotional intelligence? That’s perhaps the biggest question of all. Smart drugs may contribute. So might improved meditation techniques, or digital nootropics (such as helmets that modulate the brain via electrical stimulation). Enhanced communities of emotional support are likely to play a key role too.
Some remarks and questions:
- It doesn’t necessarily pay to be nice within our current capitalist system. The systemic forces that aim at maximizing profit make it hard to maintain a high level of other qualities, including humaneness. This logic seems to be partially challenged by exceptional companies who do profit from being more ethical, self-organized, and purpose driven, but unless this advantage is sufficiently understood by most capitalists, it won’t change the current dynamics of the system sufficiently. Is it really the case that all companies can transition to a more benevolent business model, or is that simply another niche that can be occupied within contemporary capitalism while all other businesses need to continue their selfish rationalisation that disregards social and ethical considerations?
- Isn’t the EU close to the best form of transnational governance that can be currently implemented? I mean, it looks complicated, bureaucratic, and isn’t especially democratic, but perhaps any effective system that transcends national politics needs to have these characteristics until most people really transcend thinking and feeling on a merely national level. Anyway, what can be improved about the EU?
- Perhaps it might be worth analysing what kind of coordination problems cannot be effectively solved without the interference of a government. In other words: Why are governments actually and irreplacably necessary? Could scientific and technological innovations change the necessity of governments in certain areas?
- How can be problems of big governments be minimized while still maintaining their effectiveness?
- Communities of social support often provide that within the context of a relatively rigid ideology and culture. How can we create communities of social support without succumbing to that sort of rigidity? I haven’t found the social support within the transhumanist community to be especially functional. Community building and social support don’t come easily in a globally dispersed community of independent thinkers who are wary of most kinds of authority.