Friday, 30 November 2007

LIVELIHOOD , PROGRESS and CAPITALISM. A brief introduction to the concept of a BINARY SOCIETY .

Foreword :

The goal of this pamphlet is to promote a discussion about the points which it raises and which can make the subject of in-depth studies to be developped at will .
Although the model was originally mostly of a theoretical nature and was intended as an intellectual provocation , the collapse of Communism , the creation of free market zones in China , the advent of the internet and the dramatic manifestations of the greenhouse effect, have in recent years validated its theoretical applicability , practical viability and even necessity .

There is something about the homeland of Henry David Thoreau that challenges a man to seek independence and self-sufficiency , to want to live the course of human knowledge through his own individual and original experience .
As an adolescent Maryland schoolboy inspired by his writings , I set out in the early 1980s to explore the woods which my house overlooked .
The initial idea was to gather information about all useful plants, trees ,shrubs and man-made materials for the sake of developping a “technology of viably comfortable and self-sufficient livelihood ” .
Hence , I began by building a simple shelter , which I had to put to the test by spending a night in .
While I sat inside it , by the time it got dark , I suddenly heard a mild splashing noise coming from the creek which flowed a few yards from my shelter . As I focused my eyesight walking towards the source of the noise , and thanks to the reflection of the moonlight in the water , I was able to make out its size . It must’ve been a racoon or a dog . We both stopped and examined each other , neither proceeding any further or backing off .
Rabies epidemics were very frequent in the area and they didn’t spare the wildlife .
It was hence clear from the start that I needed light . Yet , to remain faithful to the purpose of my experiments , I needed to obtain it by myself without making use of ready-made marketed goods such as an electric torch . I couldn’t light a fire either , as it wasn’t allowed .
The creek could provide the energy I needed and not only for making light . I would transform the cinetic energy of its water into versatile electric power .
By the next time I was down at the shelter , I had my best schoolmate with me , and we started analysing the problem . Before even thinking about how to find the materials to build an electromagnetic coil , we heartily enlisted in the mission of building a mechanism to increase the water flow at will , which led to the building of a lock .
In brief , the initial purpose , which stemmed from an objective and simple need , was quickly diverted to an intellectual challenge .

Boys games , no doubt . Yet , these games say a lot about the society , the cultural and psychological mindset in which such boys were brought up .
A question then arose in my mind , and never left me ever since : could this transition from NECESSITY to INTELLECTUAL CHALLENGE or PLAY , have happened in the same way along the history of humanity ? Is there a line that was crossed at some point in time which separated an era where PROGRESS was the result of necessity, from an era in which it was triggered mainly by pure intellect ; a historical boundary
between a reasonably dignified and comfortable existance for man and an era where technological advance started being pursued for its own sake instead of for that of adding any objectively significant value to mankind’s overall sense of fulfillment ?

The encephalus of Sapiens Sapiens is at once an awsome and eerie creation , definitely unrivaled and unique in nature . This is a fact . However, one cannot but wonder what its purpose is , even when applying Darwin’s evolutionary theory , which is still the Bible of naturalism today .
This large amount of grey matter appears in the natural world at some point , and it thrives to the level of overwhelming , overpowering and quite often destroying the surrounding natural world to replace it with creations of its own . No doubt , it has been a success for its bearer , and by Darwin’s book , this should in itself explain its survival . Ethologists will tell you that the purpose of this hypertrophic intelligence is that of compensating for the lack of claws , fangs, horns , hooves or muscle . Fair enough .
But does it need to be that big ? Does it really NEED to be so vastly superior and with so many more functions than any other’s in nature in order to fulfill the purposes of self-defence ,survival and even evolutive success ?
Obviously not, and according to medicine , we only use a very modest portion of it .
It’s quite clear that we have an excess of this “thing” , and this surplus makes us play in a different league
even with respect to the natural environment of our own planet . That same environment from which we stemmed and which we now find even too petty, as we concieve , detect, monitor and in the near future probably will industrially extract , minerals that aren’t even of this Earth .
Whether we like it or not , whether we believe in the Bible or not , we have indeed become , the rulers of this planet and of all the other creatures that inhabit it .
Whether this was the design of a devine entity or not , isn’t the scope of this treatise which goal is to point out that naturalist theories do not apply to Sapiens Sapiens simply because it is not strictly part of the natural environment in which it was conceived , endowed as it is with a peculiar characteristic which purpose lies within its own self and which pursues designs and follows laws and behaviours which are intended for and explainable by only its own self ; the brain surplus .
This entity expresses itself through intellectual play . Technological progress for the mere sake of it, is its product .

After introducing NECESSITY and PLAY as the factors of PROGRESS , we must deal with a third element which is commonly deemed a fundamental engine of the latter and might appear as distinct from the other two : economy .
However , at a closer look , we must consider that as a behaviour , production finalized for trade is itself a by-product of either necessity or play .
Indeed , production can have the purpose of exchanging goods or of creating a surplus under the form of currency . The latter can be either regarded as an alternative to stocking food or can be used as a mean of readily acquiring all sorts of “unnecessary” goods without actually having to make them .
The classic economic approach would oppose to the concept of “necessity” that of “satisfaction” : the price of goods , the “market price” , is seen as a meeting point between the inclination of the purchaser to acquire a specific good and that of the offerer to sell it .
However , such approach takes for granted the existance of the MARKET as we know it , focusing on societies that have a merchant behaviour , thus disregarding those who don’t have any interest in a market economy , at least in the most basic traits in which it is intended .
Our objective is an approach that encompasses also these types of societies for as minoritary as they may be and therefore , classical economic theory cannot be entirely applied .

Coming back to the concept of a boundary line traced at some point in history to delimit NECESSITY from INTELLECTUAL PLAY , this is to be considered mainly as an intellectual provocation , a model . It isn’t in itself of much interest to find that specific point in time , provided it does exist .
This binary approach , with all the flaws that such simplification entails , has however the merit of introducing us to an equally binary splitting of the human soul and to the two , utterly distinct socio-economic systems that from them derive : STATIC and DYNAMIC .

According to the pre-socratic classical Greek philosopher Heraclitos , “all flows” , everything in nature is in perennial change . Indeed , this is confirmed by modern physics where systems are seen as being subjected to an “enthropy “ , an inner drive to evolve in a certain direction . “Static” situations or points of balance are therefore considered as plausible in very limited intervals of time during which a phenomenon is being observed and are refered to as “virtual balance” .
At the human scale however , and dealing with human behaviours, such lapses of time are far from being negligeable and most importantly , they are not perceived as such by humans .
Indeed , how does one account for the existance of human communities which refuse any form of change and are scattered all over the planet ?It has been suggested in the case of the pygmies , who show no interest whatsoever in any form of modern craft , that they are not part of the Sapiens Sapiens species . If this were true , which hasn’t been confirmed by genetic studies , what about the Germanic Mennonites who have colonized the Americas ? ( Amish)
What can explain their stubborn refusal to go beyond the technology of the 16th century ?
Furthermore , is their life less dignified or significantly shorter or spiritually less stimulating for as much ?
The Amish do not all refuse modern medicine and technology , but what is interesting is that they all feel that such advances need to be carefully vetted before being adopted and that they do not tend to participate
in their discovery .

Characteristics and scopes of the static and dynamic systems :

Absolutist man .

The prevalent system which we find today is definitely the dynamic one . The driving force of this system is a boundless ambition, the human tendency to yearn for the ABSOLUTE , to sit besides man’s very creator and eventually replace him thus transcending into the eternal .
This coincides with Thomas Hobbes’ vision of all humanity , whereas we deem it to be the trait of only a portion of it at a given point in time . I will therefore refer to this type as “absolutist man “ .
There is definitely a prevalent “deterministic” tendency in our world today , a sense that progress has a generally rising trend . This philosophical outlook was definitely set by the “Illuministes” of the 18th century as a consolidation of that empyrical framework for modern science layed out by the mathematician-philosophers of the 17th century , which itself found its roots in the anthropocentrism of the Renaissance .
The MARKET ECONOMY in the form of CAPITALISM , with its indipendent forces which miraculously meet to create WEALTH and INVENTION is the most powerful engine of PROGRESS known to man , and progress is the main drive and reason of existance of the ABSOLUTIST system .

However , the neurotic “frenzy” , the pressure that the ambition and the cruelty of the “survival of the fittest” law which comes with capitalism, the violent competition for resources and their uncontrolled consumption, the alienation brought by a life spent in crowded environments which crush the individual and his sense of belonging , cannot but make one yearn for a system which caters for human needs other than that of the fulfillment of a boundless existential ambition through technological progress and the accumulation of wealth for the mere sake of them .

Rational non-absolutist man .

As already mentioned , such humanity already exists : it is concerned with production merely as a mean of livelihood , regards natural resources as a commonwealth which possession is not worth the price of armed conflict (which is unknown to Bushmen , Pygmies and Amish ) as wealth and ambition are not driving forces but mere assets , it is resilient to change . For such reasons , I will refer to the members of this “static system” as “Rational non-absolutist man “ .
In detail , such system is characterized by small communities , direct democracy and self-government , a near self-sufficiency , recycling and rational management of resources , a near-barter economy , absence of criminality and warfare , social cohesion and welfare .

It is interesting to note how this humanity very closely matches that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s
myth of the “good savage” while the “absolutist” type matches that of Hobbes’ pessimistic vision of man as a “wolf to other men” ( Homo homini lupus) . While there might have been a historical turning point in the numerical prevalence of one over the other , it must however be stressed , that a Rational non-absolutist society is not a substitute for the Absolutist one .Both systems cater for two core and partly conflicting needs of humanity and therefore both need to EXIST , CO-EXIST and EXCHANGE . Both must however remain relatively “pure” within their physical boundaries and scopes as only at this condition can they guarantee the fulfillment of those distinct human needs for which they have been brought into existance .

The binary model :

Before progressing into the outline of the BINARY MODEL , a historical digression must be made about its application to the classification of political doctrines and their viability .
In the late 1980s , well before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Capitalism to sole dominant political doctrine , I have asked myself the question of the sustainability of Soviet Socialism or Communism .
Applying the binary model , I couldn’t place this system in either the static or dynamic cathegories .
The ultimate goal of socialism infact , as intended by Marx , was the creation of a production system which , by the hands of the proletariate’s appropriation of the means of production , would yield great wealth for the whole of society . Although in Marx’s vision this would represent the end-point of history ( seen as an endless series of clashes between the social classes ) and was also associated with an equally utopistic disappearance of the State , and therefore contains elements of “stasis” in the long term ( note that a projection on the long term is itself a social concern ; according to the capitalist economist Keynes “ in the long term, we’re all dead ”), nevertheless , Marx’s core concerns are Wealth and progress and in this , he is the product of the bourgeois Victorian Age in which he lived , no more no less than were those same capitalists which he aimed to overthrow . This is made clear in his pamphlet against what he considered to be the “small-time socialists “ entitled “ Misery of philosophy” destined to the French anarchist Proudhon .
Yet , the planned economy of Soviet Communism , the single class system , the overbearing presence of the State in every aspect of the citizen’s life , could never achieve what the free market economy , with its “magic chaos” of resonating , indipendent forces could, and therefore , couldn’t be classed as a properly “dynamic” system, while itself proudly refused to be “static” . I therefore came to the conclusion that such ideology was an unnatural , artificial creation which could satisfy neither of the basic needs of humanity and was therefore destined to succomb to the competing capitalism .
Communism collapsed within less than a decade from this omen .
Conversely , the shunned and various anarchist communitarianisms (or cooperativisms)of Proudhon , Blanc and Blanqui , have resisted and set strong roots within capitalist society itself in the form of cooperatives , societies of mutual assistance , rural chests , charities and trade-unionism . These doctines are alive and well and can be classed , to my opinion , within the “static” family .

A territory for the static system – the static area

It is obvious that “static” societies already exist , as minoritary and scattered communities all over the planet . Our purpose is to seek State recognition for the public interest of such communities in order to create PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS from them inspired, with a physical , tax-free territory assigned and guaranteed by the State, as already exists with National Parks and Reservations .
This aspect , although posing a legal and cultural challenge , is not entirely unexplored .
The Chinese , with their proverbial astute pragmatism , have already implemented something similar by the creation of “free market areas “ within the framework of the People’s Republic . Although these “capitalistic” areas are the minoritary ones , the concept remains the same : the recognition of the binary nature of man and of the vital importance to provide for both these natures in line , perhaps , with the Chinese concept of Ying and Yang , which is so different from the uncompromizing western approach to everything .

Ground rules and structure of the static society

The static society needs to be promoted as a general model , which uses the technological body of knowledge and social laws of the traditional communities in addition to any useful modern technology that can be imported from the dynamic area .

-Within the static area , these communities do not make use of currency or market . Their mean of trade is the barter .
-Their production is therefore not aimed at creating any surplus or added value but aimed at achieving a “dignified and reasonably comfortable livelihood” . The communities are rigorously self-sufficient in terms of food and clothing which they cannot receive from the dynamic area .
-Any imported technology or technological knowledge from the dynamic zone will be recyclable , spartan and strictly non-polluting . It will come with the necessary training and tools to MAINTAIN and REPAIR it within the static area , as a fully self-contained package . It will be mostly , if not strictly, about housing , energy and mechanized transportation kits .
-Any energy used within the static area is strictly renewable .
-The communities are autonomous , self-governed and self-policed . Their form of government is direct democracy by direct vote . The State Governement is however entitled to receive reports and to appoint survey officials to monitor the areas .

Exchange between the two zones

The main purpose of the static zone is to provide for a spiritually , psychologically and physically healthy life , an alternative to the stress , alienation and cyclic high unemployment rates of Capitalism .
Last but not least , it provides for a relief valve for the mass pollution of the over-populated dynamic zone .
As already mentioned , this system cannot cater for the human need for progress , which is best promoted by Capitalism , the ultimate dynamic system .
The two systems are therefore reciprocally in need of each other and are therefore bound to communicate .
The recent advent of the internet has offered a cheap , non-polluting mean to ensure this link .
In a lifetime , a dweller of the dynamic area might migrate several times to the static area and back . During their stay in the static area they will follow a physically productive and non-polluting lifestyle , while continuing to keep updated , trained or re-trained for an eventual re-immission into the competitive market economy of the dynamic area .
In turn , any productive surplus from the static area can be traded with the dynamic area in exchange of technology and knowledge .

Conclusion :

When I shared these thoughts with my father in the early 1990s , he asked : ” why separate in two distinct areas what already exists within a single one ? And won’t the two areas end-up merging into a single one again ,
given that they are inhabited by the same human species ? ”
A wise point . However , at the time , the greenhouse effect hadn’t yet been well detected and proven as being caused by human activity .
Although there are other reasons to justify the benefits of the binary system , a relief valve for CO2 producing masses is rapidly becoming the most significant one .
Time has become a critical factor in the resolution of this epocal problem and there isn’t enough of it to allow for the present capitalistic societies to adapt to new rules and regulations and energy sources , which imply the immediate re-engineering of the current production technology . The market economy does not just “do away” with what is killing it . Oil drilling wells cannot just be dismantled . For the market economy , “the show must always go on , no matter what” , provided the show is PROFITABLE and keeps workers in their jobs .
The same cannot be said about Rational non-absolutist man whose motto is : “ if it harms you , don’t use it , no matter what “ .
Ultimately , it is sensible to wish that in the long term ( I don’t want to espouse the keynesian boutade according to which we are all dead by then) the two systems will merge , after having sufficiently benefited from each other’s separate experiences to form a unique , balanced , wise , society .