I get asked this time to time, mostly I think because I tend to be fairly varied and I base my position on the issue and not to some ideology or singular thought process. If someone were to ask me, “What political identity do you hold?” I would say that I don’t like labels (pauses for everyone to let out their groans). Gun to my head, I guess green minarchist or eco-libertarian? (Holds out for more groans…)
I guess one thing I’m trying to do with this blog is figure out exactly what guides my views. Here is what I have so far.
I’m kind of a platformist, not in the anarchist sense of the term, but in that I believe that whatever happens, good or bad, is significant and that in order for anything to happen it must be on stable ground. If we are all monkeys on a rock floating through space, we need to have a rock to stand on. In general, people should be free to do as they please (within reason) but they should not do something that will destroy or corrode a platform for others to do as they please, past or present. This leads to two obvious thoughts: sustainability and existential threats.
Existential threats are any events or technologies that can cause an end to the grand experiment of life in short timescales. Biological warfare, grey goo, LHC tearing open a black hole on earth, whatever. The most frightening and immediate of these are obviously nuclear arms. Obviously, existential threats can immediately destroy the large platform of earth, but also decimates scaled platforms like cities in an instance, thus maintaining a platform means guarding against existential threats.
Sustainability figures in quite logically also (in my opinion). Not all threats are immediate; a large majority of threats occur in pieces, over long timescales. These negative externalities tax future generations and will eventually create a future scenario when life cannot continue or propagate. So, when creating events or technologies we must be mindful of their impact over longer scales, i.e. how sustainable is this technology or event? Will these things eventually destroy my platform, the rock on which I stand? Will it destroy my children’s platform?
- Physical Constraint
My engineering education tells me that design must be limited by physical constraints. In my belief, there are three (really two) real constraints – information, energy, mass. Everything must somehow be reduced to these things. See Joseph Tainter on the role of energy analysis and the collapse of civilizations (platforms).
Engineering also has taught me that there are always, always trade-offs. Sometimes they work out for you, depending on the specifics of your situation. Sometimes it’s a zero-sum gain. But they are always there. This means that the best thing that can happen is a designed technology for a specific environment or moment. Appropriate technology for appropriate context. As I’ve mentioned previously, technology has a broad definition and many applications.
As a behavioral following from this thought, the only thing that matters is what you can do and what you can’t do. I’ve spoken about this with regards to natural law, natural rights, and direct action before. To add a personal note, I think the reason I believe this is that I saw this video when I was really young, maybe 5 or 6, and no matter what cannot shake it as being in some part reality.
This is one good reason to trust biomimetic design – we can be sure that evolved technologies evolved to not only comply with the laws of physics, but were evolved to fit well (or at least as well as they can within this timeframe) with the environment. Evolutionary arguments are usually abused to justify the present state of things, but if we are to actually attempt to understand why creation works well with its environment and how it got that way, it can offer a sustainable technology or practice.
- An anthropological framework
To take this idea of biomimicry further, structuring and developing government and institutions should be modeled after anthropologically studied tribes. “But they’re backwards and don’t you like civilization? Don’t you like toasters and cars and computers? Don’t you realize that all those things are because we’re evolved?” Strawman makes a return! I do like a lot of the benefits of civilization, but I also think there is a lot of lost and ancient wisdom that can inform us even today if we keep an open mind. While technology and zeitgeists may morph and change, human nature and the human condition will forever be relevant.
One ongoing discussion is the role of Native American thought on the American Constitution. While this is highly debated, there is a cohort of scholars who believe that the Constitution was drafted with significant inspiration from the Iroqouis Confederacy. The Great Law of Peace, ideas of the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, and the notion of democracy itself were supposed inspirations for our American Constitution.
My point in all of this is that modern political structure and institutions have a lot to learn from “primitive” or “tribal” peoples, and in several of those cases we need to recognize that those older structures were the result of centuries of evolutionarily selected practices and their success spoke to the level of sustainable thought put into them.
- Economics are as physical as engineering
When I spoke earlier of direct action and how we must act as though we are free because we are free, I lied a little. While it is true that we are not physically bound, we are often bound by incentives that trap us into make the same choice over and over. These economic choices are as real as physical restraints.
I remember when I was learning about the prisoner’s dilemma, a well known thought in game theory, we simulated the prisoner’s dilemma through a game. I distinctly remember thinking that “I want to be as contrarian as possible and not conform to the standard Prisoner’s choice” but unable to do so in any way. I acquiesced so quickly, and it bothered me because I felt it was a moral failing. But it’s not any more a failing than falling due to the force of gravity is a moral failing.
But as with engineering, understanding these rules is necessary for not only a greater understanding of the world but to develop methods and technologies to circumvent some, not all, of our limitations. Again, that’s why I am so inspired by bitcoin, because the technology was developed to form consensus, not promote division or polarization.
* * *
I think these provide a rough, semi-logical framework to approach, if not politics, my ideas. Not necessarily new or original, but then again nothing under the sun is. But hopefully a seed to guide further thought and develop into something resembling a cogent philosophy on systems thinking and design.