4.04.2014

Human caste systems: reifying class

// From the ongoing SA thread on Strangecoin

> Just out of curiosity, RA, when you discuss ideas like reifying the class structure by assigning people coloured buttons identifying their social class and when you advocate a system that would admittedly make it more difficult for poor people to buy food and basic necessities, are you making any kind of value judgement on the merits of such a system? It's hard for me to reconcile 'worried about hypothetical silent discrimination against cyborgs' RA vs 'likes the idea of clearly identifying poors with brown badges to more easily refuse to serve them' RA.

// I would only advocate for the idea if I thought it had a chance to change the social circumstances for the better. The reasoning is something like the following:

1) People are psychologically disposed to reasoning about community membership (identity), their status within those communities (influence), and how to engage those communities(culture/convention). This is what significant portions of their brains evolved to do.
2) People are not particularly disposed to reasoning about traditional economic frameworks (supply and demand, wealth, etc), their status within those framworks (class, inequality), and how to engage those those frameworks (making sound economic decisions). They can do this, and the ones that do, do really well, but its hard and most people can't and suffer because of it. 
3) It would be easier for most people to do well in a system that emphasized transactions of the type that people are typically good at reasoning at than ones they are typically bad at reasoning at. 
4) Therefore, we should prefer an economic framework that emphasizes reasoning of the former and not the latter type. 

I'm not saying this fixes all inequality and suffering, but it makes it easier for people to do things that might be harder in other frameworks. Homeless or destitute people, for instance, might have an easier time finding coalitions of support than in a traditional economic framework. Why? Well, first because the cost to anyone helping that person is distributed across the network in a way that minimizes the burden that anyone would bear in the process; in other words, it's in people's interest to help because of the incentive structure of Strangecoin. And second, because the only thing you really need to do to generate a flow of resources is to find other people who want to collaborate, which in the very act of collaboration generates an economic flow that can prevent destitution. So it's just much harder to "bottom out" in the network. 

Which isn't to say that it is built to be perfect for everyone or that some people won't fall through the cracks, but just that it might do a better job than the tools that we have in place.


If this answer was insufficient I'm happy to refine it. I am hesitant to talk to much about my "ideal" society because this isn't about any particular configuration within the social system. Strangecoin might even encourage certain kinds of relations that I'd find objectionable or offensive or immoral, and I'm not advocating any particular end-state utopia. Instead, my ideals are all methodological or pragmatic: the system needs to be capable of certain kinds of transformations and stay within certain organizational limits, and I'm not really concerned with much else except these practical issues about the overall dynamics. The general methodological principles all stem from what I've called in other threads the "digital values":

https://plus.google.com/+DanielEstr...sts/TXUwt32fWU8

quote:
AN INCOMPLETE LIST OF DIGITAL VALUES

1. Participation: Everyone is encouraged to contribute.
2. Inclusivity: By everyone, we mean everyone.
3. Open Access: Everyone's contributions are shared with everyone.
4. Collaboration: Everyone is free to use everyone else's contributions.
5. Self-Organization: Everyone has a say in how those contributions get organized.

edit:

6. Perpetual beta: Everything is open to revision.

Just to briefly clarify, the digital values aren't the only values relevant to consider here. I consider the digital values to be like the normative expansion pack for traditional humanitarian values (of freedoom, justice, beauty, happiness, etc). The important difference is that the humanist values are grounded in reason and free individuals, and the digital values are grounded in discourse and collective action (or again, networks). The digital values don't reduce to the humanist values or derive directly from them, and while they are in some sense compatible, the digital values shake up the importance of many humanist values (especially privacy). The digital values haven't always been imperatives, but as tools like the internet become more ubiquitous there becomes more normative justification for operating within its framework. I can elaborate more (in simpler terms) if anyone is interested. 

So Strangecoin is, methodologically, supposed to instantiate these values, in that it encourages self-organized participatory collaboration between persons, and everyone is coupled through TUA as an inclusive whole. 

Within that framework, Strangecoin users can arrange themselves however they want. Given my description, its possible the network reverts to a simple-minded kind of tribalism around race, religion, and other political divides that is far more brutish and nasty than we have now, like some hellish global stanford prison experiment. I've argued in this thread that people are psychologically disposed to an identity politics that encourages tribalism, and it's also undoubtedly true that the history of human civilization reveals our species to be incredibly clever and efficient at dishing out immense amount of pain and suffering to its members. So let me be absolutely clear that I don't think the worry being raised by these questions is idle or off base. If a working model of Strangecoin ultimately increased or magnified the pain and suffering and economic calamity of humanity, that would be a failure and I'd condemn it alongside all of you. 

But I've given reasons for thinking that the incentive structure of Strangecoin, and the values it represents, will at least discourage any simple recapitulation of the these standing and apparently impassable political arrangement. I thought one of the most productive parts of the hangout was making explicit the idea that money in traditional economics isn't a measure of value, as if the value were a free-standing objective fact in the world and money were the thermometer that put a value to that fact. Instead, money creates value in its simple being-there. A different economic tool with different incentive structures will create different arrangements and values. I was somewhat disappointed by the Butler talk last week, but she hits the nail on the head in Gender Trouble: "“There is only a taking up of the tools where they lie, where the very ‘taking up’ is enabled by the tool lying there”.

So while it's true that people are disposed to tribalism, I see no reason for thinking that they'll find the old political tribes to be any more useful in Strangecoinland than they already are in our world. Strangecoin doesn't suddenly make the existing political cabals go away, but it doesn't dramatically increase their power either. Rather, it put certain kinds of pressures on their ability to persist and maintain themselves as strong entities, and some of the tribes today might fare better or worse under those new economic conditions. More importantly, it ensures an economic framework through which collaboration can develop across the old political divides, so at the very least there are procedures in place that keeps reconciliation possible. In the hangout, I talked about class and economic influence being, from the perspective of the end user, vague at the borders and amorphous in its impact on the overall economy. The same is just as true of race, nationality, ethnicity, generation, gender, and all the other political divides through which we organize ourselves. In Strangecoinland, our economic collectives are defined with digital precision, and their impact on the economy is explicit signal in every transaction. This doesn't solve class struggles, but it does motivate thinking about them in terms of strangecoin where the tools for addressing the problems are also available. 

I have basically the same view of money that I do of race and class and so on. I think our psychology requires that we socially mark ourselves in various ways (either literally or conventionally) in order to coordinate a division of labor, and we look for ways of making this marking process easier. Skin color can be a convenient tool for doing that if you're trying to control a large population with mostly agrarian technologies, especially when no one is around to stop you for being a complete oblivious asshole; hence racism in both its interpersonal and institutional varieties. But in just about every other way race is a terrible tool for organizing a division of labor because it tracks almost nothing of value. It's merely a labeling technique. I don't see any reason why that particular labeling technique becomes any more potent in Strangecoinworld, especially when so many other, useful labeling techniques are available that don't rest on the same old entrenched political divides. Again, those divides don't go away, but I see no real reason for thinking they become dramatically worse. Maybe new divides arise in Strangecoinworld that are much worse, but that's yet to be seen, but I'm not terribly worried that racism is becoming a bigger problem than it was in the past. Entirely apart from Strangecoin, that's not the direction culture is headed. 

That's not a sufficient answer, of course, but perhaps it says a little more about where I'm coming from.