Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Arken Incentives ~ How We Did It

We faced the free rider problem before, along with the issue of incentives, and found easy solutions to both. Actually, what we learned was that those problems were not inherent human problems, but rather, caused by the very same perverted incentives we had developed--sort of a "chicken and egg" issue, at first glance, until we realized that neither of them were responsible, and it was the farmer's doing.

On this subject, Joe wrote:
Those arguments strike me, conscious or not, as being rationalizations for the economic status quo rather than how to best ensure that everyone pulls their weight. I get the idea in principle, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that one very small and wealthy class of people benefits massively from controlling everyone else’s access to resources. I’d say it’s more about keeping the rich rich and the rest of us in a state of dependency.

The impetus for individual effort would be what it’s always been: work or go hungry. Except that in a “system” (for lack of a better word) where resources weren’t artificially restricted, there wouldn’t be anything preventing people from being more self-sufficient. And if some people still didn’t want to do anything, that’d be on them. It’s not like there aren’t entire segments of the population who don’t work now, and it’s not because they lack an external impetus, it’s because artificial scarcity has essentially locked them out of the job market...My problem with conventional politics (not saying you subscribe to this) is that there’s no vision. This is the way things have always been and probably always will be, so we’ll applaud programs that throw a few crumbs to the poor and get all excited about some corporate welfare scheme dressed up as reform, and vote some more frauds into office while doing our best to ignore how little their slogans have in common with reality.

On the same subject, Anonymous wrote:
There is no doubt that capitalism necessarily destroys self-sufficiency. But on the other hand, it creates these enormously productive centralized systems of production that are physically capable of satisfying everybody's needs with very little effort, at the cost of individual contribution becoming practically negligible and meaningless. This is where the vision becomes unclear to me: say, somehow the power of capital is weakened, and "the public" gains control over the key production systems. then what? these systems are complex, and require expensive training, organization, and upkeep. Today, you get people to invest years of life in training to become nuclear engineers to man the reactors by promising them juicy salaries (and conversely - by being threatened that if they don't, their future is to be walmart workers). But, if you remove status and survival anxiety from the equation, what will ensure that enough people will devote years of their lives to become nuclear engineers?

The impetus 'work or go hungry' is fine for activities that do not require long commitments, but how do you create the conditions to foster long-term effort and commitment? And once you do, how do you ensure that this elite class does not monopolize power once again? (e.g., "give us more, or we're turning off the reactor!")

I'm not disputing or defending the fact that artificial scarcity mostly enables exploitation of the many. But what if the highly productive systems we are now dependent on are so interwoven with economic and political power that we cannot simply change the regime without dismantling many such systems as well. Not that this would be a bad thing, but it would help to have a better vision of what will come in their place.

The issues being tossed about are, here, considered age-old: should we try to take care of everyone? And, if we do so try, will we then encourage people to rely on gifts, rather than to do anything useful? Traditional western capitalists argue that, without incentive, people will largely stop working. Inert and purposeless, unmotivated by pain of starvation (or fear of starvation, or some other negative thought experiment), they will either die off, or just forever exist purposelessly, dragging down those who actually try.

Actual Lazy Jerks

There are actual lazy jerks out there, of course--people who will literally go inert, even confronted with a choice between utter financial/social ruin or great success, and demand that their sickened egos be endlessly coddled. People who will, even in the best of circumstances, ruin everything, and abuse and leech and destroy, never feeling sufficient shame to change their behavior. Whenever we consider these kinds of philosophical issues, we must acknowledge that they exist, and that any system we come up with shall have to deal with them.

Capitalism feels like a great way to deal with free riders, because their unfairness--their unwillingness to contribute to the livelihood of others, combined with their blind eagerness to draw upon resources produced by others--seems to perfectly suit a free market. It will only be just desserts when they crash and burn, goes the argument, and it will prevent them from reproducing either their ideas or their genes, saving us all future pain.

There will occasionally be people who pop up like this on their own, but in Arka, we discovered that it was economic competition that created the vast majority of these people. It was simply a fundamental economic incentive.

Pursuit of Profit: The Motives That Sustain Us

Capitalism rationalizes itself on incentivizing the production of more than an individual needs to survive, by allowing the individual to accumulate excess goods and hold them privately. In this way, goes the argument, people are motivated to do more work than they need to sustain themselves--and thereby support families and countries, to the betterment of all. That's the "profit motive." We also assume, under capitalism, that we have a natural aversion to work (the "lazy motive"), which is why we need the profit motive to get us moving. Additionally, people don't want to get hurt or to die, so the "death motive" should keep them, at a minimum, trying to avoid starvation.

So we've got three forces here, on which modern economic theory bases all its assumptions: people (1) want profit, (2) would prefer to relax rather than work, and (3) don't want to suffer/die.

Imagine, now, that you create a system based on these assumptions. Whammo, capitalism. Socialists may assume a fourth motive, the "altruistic motive"--the desire to better the welfare of all, even if it involves more work than necessary to simply sustain the self. More clever socialists reject that motive, arguing instead that avowed socialism is a better expression of the profit motive, because those who intelligently pursue profit with long-term interests in mind will realize that they get more profit when they give some of their labor to take care of the poor. E.g., housing the homeless saves me money in the long run, ergo conservative Republicans in Utah can act more rationally and humanely than idiot neoliberals in California.

Here's our list of motives again for review:

1. The profit motive--the individual wants to better itself.

2. The lazy motive--the individual would prefer relaxing to working.

3. The death motive--the individual wants to avoid suffering yet continue existing.

4. The altruistic motive--the individual wants to better other individuals/things without specific individual reward.

While the first 3 are assumed true by almost everyone, even the bleedingest-hearted of avowed socialists, the latter one is debatable, so we'll generally throw it out. Clever capitalists will claim that (4) requires them to be even more behind (1), because they genuinely believe (or see great personal benefit from pretending) that individuals pursuing private profit will result in the best consequences for everyone. They think, or pretend to think, that the selfish motivations provide the only road by which the greatest heights can be reached. It's the normal Ayn Rand/Tony Stark/America thing. It's capitalist market-evolution theory, yet again--the belief that being a murdering, heartless, selfish prick who demonstrates genetic superiority through a free-market rumble is the one who deserves to survive.

Droopy-Ears Bunny Heirarchy

Okay, we're on topic now. All the issues are at the forefront of the mind. Now, this one will tell you how we did it in Arka; how thousands of years of a society based around the Law of the Arena (for here, think "law of the jungle") was converted into something better (and how it later fell).

There is an incentive, or a profit motive, that applies to economies, and there are lazy people who will take advantage of programs for the general welfare. It happens. What we did to improve things was to design incentives into society that weren't backed by corresponding death threats. We first established a baseline, a goal, that life's intensity was the most valuable thing. In all of its increasing forms, it was the most valuable. We began with mere reproduction, creating a hierarchy that began with Void (pre-vacuum, unaffected by spacetime), and moved to Vacuum (establishment of spacetime rules and physical properties) and then onto stuff like inanimate matter, animate matter, and stages of consciousness, from the most dimly aware insect to (at the time) humans.

From there, we went into the more complex forms of life, and broke down sensations and awareness. From despair, to pain, to fear, to neutral; to comfortable to warm fuzzies, upward to ecstasy and next bliss. The hierarchy ended up looking like a bunny picture with droopy ears, where the highest lightform energy, call it "bliss," was near the top, but the drooping ends of the ears--springing from life, but able to dangle lower than it--could be states of such despair that they had less instant value than inanimate matter that they drooped beneath. (For example, living under extended torture might be less attractive to an individual than not living, ergo the bunny's ears could droop downward, becoming considered less valuable than inanimate matter.)

The primary goal of society was to go higher--at each level, to move things upward. To obtain more spacetime, more matter, more life, and more happiness. Anything that produced a net subtraction was a crime, while anything that produced a net gain was good.

Example 1: Bob rapes Tanya. Bob obtains ecstasy, Tanya fear and pain and despair. Crime. Bad. Wrong.

Example 2: Tanya jars her raspberries for the winter. That day, she eats dry bread and is kind of blah about it. That winter, she has raspberry jam on her bread and feels mild pleasure. Good. Right.

It was all pretty easy and instinctive, since it's what we'd all been trying to evolve toward anyway; expressing it as a social mandate ended up as pretty much a libertine's paradise.

Incentive in Earth

So, everyone was fed and sheltered, and given teaching and healing, also. (We'll do more specific anecdotes later; for now, stick with principle.) The problem from here is, what incentive did we all have? What motivated us to do anything at all? Firstly, we had the understanding that this was all pretty nice, and that if enough people didn't do their part, it would collapse. That underlying recognition--that generalized, social understanding of potential collapse and destruction--is a far stronger force than people acknowledge here, even as everyone fantasizes about the latest zombie apocalypse or spends time discussing the "free rider" problem in such detail. Clearly, we're interested in and thinking about the survival of all, not merely of ourselves.

Bigger than that, by far, was honor. Looking at many centuries of our past, we could determine that what most motivated people to succeed at things was a desire for recognition, by other people, that they had done well. In Earth, we can see this clearly: people pursue honor ferociously, even when it comes with no money, or with a high chance of getting killed. What tiny grasps of "honor" we socially allow have incredible motivational power. For example, soldiers--even in the sheltered west, people join militaries, give up a lot of freedom about career and lifestyle choices, and risk getting their reproductive organs blown off, all for those fat salaries. Army example: Privates start at $18,378/year, as well as getting generous communal housing and food, and being first in line to get their reproductive organs blown off and/or to die. Even inside the military, people are extraordinarily motivated for pointless little merit badges, the right to wear a certain kind of beret, or other nuanced internal honors that no one else knows or cares about, and that don't come with a raise in pay.

You can see this with Earth children, too, as they pursue status symbols that have no connection to wealth or power--or that cost wealth and power. Kids go after their own merit badges, gold stars, or "best kickball player" certificates; older kids, even in high economic times, will eschew jobs in industry and pursue a PhD in the hopes of earning the now-dubious honor of calling oneself "doctor," just because there are no other social distinctions to earn in most of the west. Wealthier kids will put aside business jobs starting at $75K with real prospects for advancement, then spend 8 years making nothing in medical training, and outlaying $250K in academic costs, in order to get out of residency and work at a family practice for $100K a year where no one ever gets raises because they're all "rich" doctors already. And they'll do it just because the distinction--the assumption of intelligence and service--motivates them after that MD. So that, for the rest of their lives, their opinion at the Thanksgiving table is accorded just a little more weight.

People desperately want to satisfy established rituals of general approval, and they want it more than money. Criminologists know that so many (occasionally "most") violent killings occur in the context of posturing rituals: men don't want to "back down," so they get shot to death, when they could've just held up their hands and whimpered a little, and ended up alive. Investment brokers throw terrific fits and lose their jobs when they get the smallest bonus in the office that year--a mere $2.3 million, when everyone else got over 2.7! Our perceptions of our own relative status influence behavior more than we like to pretend. Sure, it's cool to say that you make decisions only for money (or maaaaybe pussy), but that's not how people actually behave. People will spoil adult relationships, or just waste a lot of money, in order to prove a point to someone who was a social better in middle school (and who now lives in a different state and couldn't care less).

Poor people prove this point, too. On disability assistance, with no hope of ever becoming wealthy or important, ex-cops will still try to pick up more cougars than, or out-drink, their friends, in pursuit of some embryonic conception of achievement and success. They'll hurt their elbows trying to prove they can still play golf just like before; they'll break their own hearts and egos for a couple months in a row, until some chubby forty-five-year-old blonde-dye is willing to overlook their knee brace; they'll lose their upgraded cable subscription because they spent too much of their monthly check on beers for prospects...and still, on they go, trying to improve their perceived status in an isolated community they've decided to care about.

Rich people prove this point, too. People worth, say, forty million dollars could retire to travel a world full of exotic mansions, have group sex with or just get massages from escorts all day long, eat organic cuisine prepared by a rotating cycle of five-star chefs, or do any other nice thing you can imagine. And yet, so many of them lead hectic, idiotic lifestyles, rushing from place to place to "make deals" that no one other than a tiny subset of people care about. And they do it personally, when they could be out having all that other fun instead, and appointing very competent (probably more competent than they) business managers to do it all. Yes, they're still banging escorts and eating great food, but they're also stressed and overwrought and losing sleep and getting sick and all that other stuff, because they want to go a little higher on the Forbes list, not be thought of as "out of it," or prove something to their dead father....and still, on they go, trying to improve their perceived status in an isolated community they've decided to care about.

Political "service"--and the reason it's even considered "service" with a straight face by these guys--is similar, for elites. They could spend their lives relaxing, but they're so hollow and narcissistic (like the rest of us, devoid of social purpose) that many of them want to become subjects of national lampoonery by repeatedly losing elections for town council, finally becoming a State legislator, making a name for themselves, becoming a Senator, and then signing on as running mate to some more famous person's presidential campaign. If they get elected, they try to kowtow to as much of the deep government as they can, give a few speeches, and play a lot of golf, but they still end up having to go places and talk to people and do other work that they don't want to do.


Why do they do all that crap? Because they're driven by the same pursuit of something, anything, like honor, that many of the rest of us are after. Living on Earth is like being in a society where sex has been outlawed, and then forgotten about--we're all after something we desperately want, but because "honor" is considered an outdated social concept, no one knows why they spend their time as they do. We're all so atomized and ignored, that when we get a little bit of fame--by people looking at our Facebook account, say--we act just like celebrities, releasing banal, politicized "statements" about how nice it is to have a vacation with our kids, or how shocking the latest massacre was, how much we identify with the victims, or whatever else. The smarter among us tend to get irritated at the blatant mental damage our politicians and celebrities put on display, but that's exactly how most of us would act were we in their places.

(Just watch some yahoo with a blog that starts to get a "lot" of hits or comments. Suddenly, he's deleting negative stuff, calling people trolls, and enforcing arbitrary communal standards. Other small-time celebrities have been doing this for years. Make a guy a Water Services Supervisor, and he gets more aloof when approached by confused customers at the Walmart who think he must be the manager because he's wearing a tie. Local models, pseudo-professional, who make $15K a year doing isolated shoots for local businesses, will suddenly become snotty when approached without proper deference. All of a sudden, it's like someone just burst into John Kerry's office during a tough trade deal, trying to show all the foreign diplomats pictures of their grand-dogs: aren't you aware of what you're interrupting?)

Incentive in Arka

We captured that power, establishing systems that acknowledged contribution along the hierarchies above. First, we ran through centuries of using a complex arrangement of titles that was actually quite fun--something like a Royal peerage, but where titles were only earned by service, never inherited. People could walk around calling themselves whatever they wanted, but centralized registries verified real titulature, and gave people and society goals in life. Invent a new product, save a life, engage in certain quantities of dedicated service in certain more difficult fields, and you could earn a globally-acknowledged right to a corresponding title. Everyone knew and understood what it meant, so you got that conversational pause when they realized who you were and what you must've done.

And these meant things to people, in a serious way, yet without all the gushing we see in comparative situations here. For example, the British crown hands out titles to entertainers, now, only as a way of trying to appear relevant: "You're really popular right now, so here's a title, and everyone please think that lavishing luxury upon our inbred asses is somehow related to culture!" Still, you see how western media fawns over the things, don't you? Marks of accepted social distinction are a powerful incentive. As we base our cultures around capitalist evolution and genetic supremacy, it's only natural that "blood" and "rich & popular" should be our standards.

In Arka, the other titles had the opposite effect, driving the positive behavior of the free individual, and toward the betterment of all. People would spend, literally, decades of their lives working to clean, maintain, and improve food machinery, hoping to obtain the honored status that their great uncle had. And once they got it, they'd grow old and die happy, because the acknowledgement meant something. In their later years, they had an air of gravitas about them, similar to the way some people do now, in certain areas of the country, if they've been a volunteer pediatrician in Africa, or a combat veteran in Vietnam. People would scan their ID, blink, and say, "Oh, Lord Drysil! This'll be free today." It seems fantastical from this perspective, of course...but if you've ever seen a train full of people break into random cheers for some poor embarrassed private headed to boot camp in his BDUs, you'll understand the untapped potential there.

The incentive to be thought well of is a powerful thing; far more powerful than we've been doing on Earth for a long time. So much of what drove the French revolutionaries, and early Americans, was the incentive of acknowledged social advancement--freed from the Ancien Regime or the British monarchy, and with the old titles either slapped down (France) or made illegal (America), people thought they had a chance to be recognized for their efforts, rather than their blood. Unfortunately, those revolutions crafted societies where obtaining money or political office were the only real "incentives" available. Women could become mothers, and men own their own farm or head a family; you could become either "the Mayor" or "the richest man in town." Other than that, society had nothing to offer. No goals, no direction, just the "pursuit" of happiness. It was all as random and pointless as an evolutionary theory based on selfishness, producing the predictable results we see today: a nation of insane, selfish, pointless people, desperately looking for standards of some kind.

High Arka

All the different titles ended up getting a little silly in Arka, so after a while, they were scrapped for something more simple. Extraordinary service gained the title "High," and if you kept it up, or engaged in the nebulous practice of helping others to ascend to High, you could be "Highest High." So, if you were Francine, and you'd worked with sick children for 8 years, and then one day the building caught fire and you got three of them out and took some burns, you could be High Francine. If you kept at it for another decade or two, doing some rare research and guiding apprentices toward doing what you were, you might become Francine, Highest High.

There was bullshit involved, of course, but way less of it than you see now when people are jockeying for the "sales manager" position at some car dealership that'll go out of business in five years. Structuring things around honor, and specifically enunciating these social values, seemed to steer people in the right direction. Like the Olympics, most people didn't expect to end up playing there, but they appreciated that it happened--and it became, over time, very easy to identify what it looked like when some kind of cheating occurred. After a while, it settled into a very nice groove where everyone sort of cared, tried their best, contributed, and so forth.

Some people fought like hell to earn honors and didn't make it; others had a lucky breakthrough. But it ended up being all in good fun, because there was never the penalty of being cast down to starvation and homelessness if you didn't "succeed." The ethic of service permeated everything, in much the way that cash has America: people valued the honor so much that they wouldn't lie about it in private anymore than they would burn cash in private. The intrinsic value of the titles, and what they said about all of us, kept us moving.

Motivational Effects

People built big firms, big buildings, and public art. Cities prided themselves on being clean, or healthily overgrown, or giving. We started with just feeding children, as this one discussed earlier, as part of our leaving behind societies based on death-competition. That expanded to feeding everyone, and sheltering everyone, and healing everyone, then teaching, as at each stage, it proved a cheaper way to manage things, besides being "right" (back then, "cheaper" still mattered).

To protect it for the future, they realized society needed a goal--a purpose--and it became the promotion of light/life, which resulted in the drooping bunny hierarchy discussed above. Once that was in place, and when more kids had had a chance to grow up without death-competition in the backs of their minds, Arka became pretty heavenly. Incentivizing titles that translated to direct social honor was so powerful that it's hard to describe it. People would spend their whole lives, happy and fulfilled and social, trying to help one of their number, a family or friend, gain the High title, and then break down in tears when they got it themselves instead. Along the way, a few thousand lazy people took advantage of lying around all day, and just consuming, but you read that right--a few thousand, on a planet that, at the time, hosted over 14 billion. The ethic of purpose was like what we now call "Christian charity" multiplied a thousand times over. It was a firm planetary stamp of approval on certain kinds of behavior, and it worked.

This one can't even tell you how good it was during the peak. The advancements we saw...the science, the games, the trinkets...the whole feeling of the place was almost unimaginable from here. Like, if you stand in a long line to buy a lottery ticket, you know what the people in that line are thinking--it was like that, but in a positive, holistic direction, even just to walk down the street. You would not want to come back here.

For just being here, the important variables to put together are the ways that society can arrange itself to further itself, rather than destroy itself. The most arbitrary connotations of "success" create the bulk of output behavior; that's what culture, as part of evolution, is meant to do for a planet. In the same way that the Federal Reserve System in America incentivizes behavior by proclaiming that currency will have value, other firms can be structured so as to apply value, by fiat--and people will live for it, and die for it. Fiat honor, if you will. If our goal is something other than "survive; accumulate," then it can happen. We can fly.

You can have fiat honor alongside currency, of course. In High Arka, we had currencies aplenty. Above and beyond the basic stuff for promoting generalized life--bed, meal, healer, learning--there was all the other stuff that "capitalism" here likes to claim exclusive license to. Plenty of people wanted to get rich, to buy buyable stuff, to relax in higher degrees of luxury, and to set their own distinct standards for achievement, against which they could base a competition with others. And they did it, and they had whatever wicked fun those types get from it--but they did it without forcing everyone to play, and it mostly burned out after a while, anyway, because guaranteed sustenance meant that no one was willing to buy a shoddy widget.

Ergo, there were no shoddy widgets. Society defined its own successful, so to the vast majority of people, having a better ship or a fancier suit really didn't mean anything. Most Highs were in working clothes, busy trying to make things better (though to be fair, what were "working clothes" there were made, and perceived, much differently than here). Long story short, so many people were assumed to be emperors in disguise that most people ended up treating each other with kind, honest deference all the time, until after a while, it wasn't even an act. No shoddy widgets, because no one had to buy anything, so whatever you wanted to sell had to be pretty fantastic, so whoever was making it had to be skilled and invested in, and there were no bad working conditions, because anyone could walk at any time, so everyone and everything had to be nice, or else it meant community housing and fixed meals. Everything was clean and got cleaned up even when no one was looking, because there was never an incentive to gain from leaving a mess, as it would've only provided someone else with a free good deed to clean up after you (and the competitive people hated that, believe you me. even in places that still used asphalt-style roads, there were no potholes, and those roads themselves didn't last very long either).

Surely, over the years, some people tricked or manipulated their way into title, but all they got in return was respect from people they'd never cared about to begin with. Those types, as a result, didn't feel it was worth their effort to even try to game the system. They could pursue money and enhanced private pleasures, if they wished, by following the socially available course to such: by working, hard and personally, for the immediate and provable and long-term benefit of others, for a long period of their lives. It brought out the best in a lot of those assholes, let me tell you (although really, there seemed to be way less of them around in those times, at least compared to here). Most of the lazy ones turned out, arguably, to be the ones who would've been cruel, powerful successes under a death-based system. Honor, it seemed, only rewarded those who would've cared in the first place. Those who most earnestly believed in the need for incentives to prevent starvation turned out to be those who knew their own character was that of the parasite. A title was only an empty envelope to those who just wanted a triumph based on the backs of so-called "losers," anyway.

The key to preserving goodness was in the immovability of honor. The preservation and promotion of life could not be challenged. In the best times, for literally hundreds of years, for someone to suggest a slight cutback on food delivery (because it was cheaper, we shifted from centralized distribution to a postal-style weekly grocery delivery not long after the feeding program itself was established) would have been like someone now executing a random person by hand, live on TV, while announcing that it was being done for no reason whatsoever. Honor was sacrosanct in a way that has no social equivalent in Earth 2014.

Motivating Laziness

A side effect of death-games (market competition in an abandonment-possible society) that we picked up on during the earliest of the good times was that "capitalism" actually breeds the kinds of despicable laziness that capitalists use to justify themselves. This argument can even be made here. What free riders rely upon is the lack of free rides. By making starvation (or homelessness, or lack of medical care, whatever) an inevitable consequence of failure, free riders--lazy jerks--are motivated to obtain charity. The establishment of a death-game society is like an advertisement for lazy people, because the absolute nature of non-assistance waiting at the bottom gives great bargaining power to lazy people. Lazy people can say, "Help me, or I die," and it gives them an instant (although terrible and pitiful) power over those who are not lazy. Because we are human, the conception of someone dying motivates many of us to want to prevent that death/suffering--so we will send welfare checks to a lazy dude watching TV all day, but not help his counterpart who works in the factory.

Take away that death, and provide food and housing and doctors, and suddenly, the lazy have no more argument. They can't threaten the rest of society with a rock bottom, because there's a pillow. It eliminated all that stuff, and lo and behold, we discovered that capitalism was actually the cause of not only the poverty of the unlucky, but the willing poverty of those who just wanted to abuse others' emotions to get something for nothing. "Something for nothing" had no value in Arka, ergo almost no one pursued it.

Capitalism motivates the willingly lazy, because its "profit motive" combines with the "lazy motive" to encourage living by charity. Just like a free market will motivate some people to work hard to pursue a lot of private profit, it will motivate others to not work to pursue a lot of effort-free profit--it's one of the most rational actions for a rational player in the game, namely, to risk one's life in a gamble to obtain free profit. That's the little piece of all this that, ironically, Ronald Reagan had partly correct, even if every single other thing he said was atrociously in error. Ronald, of course, wouldn't concede that it was the profit motive itself that encouraged some people to exploit their lives for free profit. However, mathematically speaking, the highest proportional return on an investment is anything, provided that the initial investment is zero. In a skewed, selfish, terrible way, that makes some welfare recipients the most rewarded of all capitalists (depending on the kind of graph you're working with, and not the case with most welfare recipients, but it is for some of them, and the motivation is there as a direct result of capitalist thinking).

The Fall

The economic point as to Earth 2014 is made, though since we're in the story, we'll finish telling it. So back to High Arka. Didn't last forever. As technology advanced, we began to create larger networks where we could achieve more effective control over things than we could in the real world. (A comparative word here is probably "virtual reality.") Unfortunately, some of us allowed that to bring back all of the problems from long ago--the obsession with controlling real things, like solar weather, planetary weather, and disease evolution. Just like it had before, control led to control, the selfish people were ready to take advantage of that, and things eventually changed.

After an extended pleasant period in High Arka--many generations, even there--darkness started to creep over the underlying system. Curiously, it happened with the titles first: they started to get awarded more often, then more often still. It probably started with something of an egalitarian movement, alleging that it wasn't fair that this or that person got something, and another didn't. Somehow, it was overlooked that one of the fundamental characteristics of a High was supposed to be humility, and that it was a higher honor to be known privately as someone who should've been it, but wasn't discovered (and higher still for no one to know). That just went out the window, in the pursuit of some kind of standardized society where we had to prove, using graphs and charts, that titles were being done fairly.

(Movements like that were hypocritical and ironic from the start. The selfless society does not concern itself with an individual's reward; she who serves is already High in spirit, so she who complains that she is not being acknowledged for serving has immediately unveiled herself as disinterested in service and unfit for reward. Philosophies designed around making sure that any individual or group "gets" something are, with a few exceptions, indicative of dangerously selfish trends. Mistakes were inevitable, and in the good years, before the "me, too" crowd of selfies began gaining power, no one cared about the mistakes. At the peak, Highest Highs were always trying to quietly give their titles up, only to be told what they already knew, namely, that they couldn't because now they had an even greater duty, that of exemplifying what they had done. On a side note about aging, that made "retirement" rare, as no one was scorning help, so corporations didn't have to hold six figure seminars on dealing with knowledge attrition. On a second side note, elders, being unisolated and useful, were not so dangerous and expensive and liable to lose their minds, so entire swathes of the death-based economy completely vanished.)

In a sense, the fight over titles didn't really matter. Everyone was provided for, so it was ridiculous that the titles began being treated with such a covetous flair. There never was any enforced privilege to the title; if a Highest High lost her money, she was in the same community housing and fixed meals as everyone else. You couldn't order anyone around, or anything like that. Sure, everyone was free to--and did--honor those who had titles, but it was a free, informal thing. You could spit on someone's shoes, and the penalty wouldn't be any greater whether they were High or not.

But it happened anyway, this obsessive balancing. The purse came into it, and people began buying their way through, and you know where it went from there. Titles started having associated privileges, fixed in law; people would cite their forebears' lack of a title as proof of injustice; people started using the titles in casual conversation, putting up their titles on buildings or doors or letterheads, and everything got cheap and common. Hailed as an advancement all the time.

And before long, we were charging for everything again. There was a time when planetary transportation was free and automatic (although that was a system we had inherited, not built), and energy, along with housing and all that. Then they're telling us to keep things working, we had to pay for it use by use...different network access, from dreams to phantasil, got "improved" in exchange for tithes, and before very long, it was over.

This one isn't really sure how to avoid that, on account of not having been anywhere else recently. I know how to avoid it, but barring the right kind of education and maintenance of principles, this one doesn't know how to "encourage" that kind of person to avoid the desire for control, chilling, and Void. As far as economics, though, that's how you do it: you establish boundless goals of improvement and expansion based around the infinite, expanding universe, so that you never run out of purpose and never stop growing; you provide for the most valuable of all human incentives, namely, human recognition; and, you ground those incentives in a fixed honor system based on those goals. Even the stupidest, most pointless incentives--like a fifth Seraphim name, or a "Highest High"--are of priceless value in motivating people to produce colossal surpluses to prove what they always wanted to prove in the first place: that they were a good part of their planet.

That's how you beat capitalism. That's how you absorb realism and make it the most humane thing there is. It's how you define every Earth economics "problem" as grounded in a desire to pursue exploitative death instead of expanding life. There are people out there who quit their jobs to play 16 hours a day of MMOs so that they can receive a special level 99 dungeonmaster sword that will be irrelevant when the next expansion is released in 6 months--they do it because, like all the other examples from before, they're pursuing a social recognition far more important than a salary or a nice retirement home. The defining of boundaries of honor pinned to worthwhile planetary goals absorbs and transcends the mere profit motive like a hurricane eating one of Trump's sneezes. Complete win.


  1. So, basically an argument for some form of enlightened fascism?

    You will probably hate me pointing it, but you essentially replicate Plato/Socrates genealogy/devolution of regimes from best (aristocracy), to worst (tyranny), with stops in tymocracy (love of honor), oligarchy, and democracy.

    Except you interestingly start with timocracy, arguing that the pursuit of honor would create some merit based aristocracy. Best of all worlds, eh?

    Except honor is a pretty risky concept, and the old political philosophers considered it important in guiding human affairs, but certainly did not think it should be allowed to rule. The pursuit of honor characterized the heroic period, and that was essentially barbaric.

    Also, speakinc of Socrates, what does your society do with people like him? People who never do anything, just contemplate and stir trouble by questioning the basic premises of everything, including the regime?

    What if a person does not care about honor, but merely contemplation? What if it is most people, but the pressure from the system overemphasizing honor drives them to spend their lives in the pursuit of it, rather than sit back, relax, and contemplate, giving up most of the texhnological civilization in the process.

    As Jack Ellul quipped "No technique is possible if men are truly free". Although the issue of technology is secondary, the project - like all such projects - illustrates the fundamental tragedy of men; thinking that they can do it all by themselves, end ending up in dead ends all the time.

    (stuff like that is what, strangely, makes me move from stauch atheism more closelly to christianity...)

    1. <3

      "Merit-based aristocracy" might be literally correct, but remember, this was a powerless aristocracy. Nothing formal went along with the title--no land or serf ownership, no right to sit in a legislative house, or any of that.

      I focused the initial description on the differences that would stand out most to us from this perspective, but actually, things were, on the surface, very similar to a neoliberal western society, at least in terms of economics. The majority of people spent the majority of their lives going about working, playing, seeing friends, vaguely being aware of "the news" (although there was waaaay less news), and thinking that it would be a good idea to earn a title someday, just like it would be a good idea to write a novel or run a marathon or learn how to operate a sailboat. Those who formally gained "honor" were special, but not in the sense that they held lives in their hands or governed the nation. It really was so much like capitalism that you could almost mistake the two for each other.

      I see your point about enlightened fascism, but almost every industry other than the baseline food/shelter/healer/teacher was what we would call "privately held." Most people used the free stuff for a few years when they hit 13, then got bored and got dreams and never went back.

      Socrates, in this case, would've had to become wealthy first, or else he'd be, essentially, "on public assistance." So he'd either be (1) criticizing what sustained him, (2) a person who'd produced great value himself, or (3) a person who'd just inherited it.

      Since (3) is closer to the real Socrates, and is the most troubling example overall, use that one. People did pull that crap, just like now, arguing that we could save so much and be so much "better" if we stopped caring for worthless breeders--that was what caused the Fall. Before then, though, we had the kind of cultural attitude that could recognize that stuff as advocating indirect murder, and being against our development. So the food was able to keep coming, and people like that were few, far between, and powerless, until the issue with dreams came up.

      Once enough of the Forgotten learned what you said ("ending up in dead ends all the time"), it was able to become an open part of our cultural understanding. We realized that caring for everyone by offering food to the hungry was as vital to everyone's survival as we now think "a vigorous military defense" is. And advocating getting rid of the concept was unthinkable for generations.

      Certainly, it does require "better people" to develop such a system. Describing how High Arka worked before the Fall is meant to illustrate how a people could maintain incentives to produce, even in an "easy" world. When we contemplate how it could happen, and see the proof that people will vigorously pursue rewards which are not currency, we can drop the London School and become closer to fine.

  2. Also, not only the notion of "the greatest net good" migh be incompatible with "honor above all" (doing the honorable thing, even if it means, say, destroying one's self, city, army, family etc.), killing the ones that offend one's notion of what is "good" is historically one of the most honorable things one can do, and the more dangerous the better. Was the Trojan war not good and honorable given that it was waged to avenge one of the most henious crimes imaginable at the time - to disrespect your host?

    Besides, how is the notion of greatest net good even different with the bourgeois/Joh Stuart Mill nonsense about the "greatest good for the greatest number"?

    What if you can achieve the greatest net good by maintaining a very small number of slaves to run the planetary machinery? Minimum amount of suffering, offset by a tremendous benefit.

    But anyhow, my main issue is the notion that one can establish "good" standards for what's honorable, without also imposing a very narrow limiting version of human possibility.
    Again, fascism too aims at the perfection of the human. While there are some desireable features in the above project, I don't necessarily find it inherently less opressive than the mess we deal with now. At least it furnishes the opportunity to be left alone once you make enough money (even if it is almost impossible). In arken, you are consistenly scrutinized, without even establishing the credentials and the right of those doing the scrutinizing to scrutinize. Plato tried to do that, concluded that it is impossible, and called it a day. I would like to see it possible, but I'm not convinced yet.

    1. Well, we defined honor in being that which advances light (which moves things up the illustrative bunny hierarchy that I really wish I had a good picture of), which answered many of those objections. The principle of light is true light, which is why mathematically smaller lies or injustices were not acceptable, even if they appeared to produce a net gain.

      (That wasn't really this one's area of focus, but this one gathered that the general idea behind true light was that, in fluctuating between identities of "self" and "selves," we were permitting technological advancement, and that to allow the harming of our that-selves to promote the interests of our this-selves, we were stunting cosmological research.)

      As far as here goes, that's irrelevant, because even from here we can tell that:

      1) Small injustices tend to grow, so permitting them threatens the system as a whole, ergo maintaining a tiny suffering caste of slaves or the impoverished is a way of telegraphing to the future that everyone will be slaves;

      2) Small injustices foster honest, just rebellions, and dealing with those is more expensive in the long run than the savings theoretically produced by exploiting the slaves;

      3) The development of children in a society that permits poverty/slavery is harmed across the board, as to be aware of mathematical injustice during mental development hampers concern for everyone, leading to adults who see people as fungible rather than invaluable;

      4) Like (3) above, socio-mathematical development is hindered. The ability to "use" people in exchange for others undercuts the entire foundation of priceless light that justifies the society.

      We came to see, ultimately (or as far toward ultimately as we got, which we must humbly admit was not very far at all, however cool the toys), was that there could not be any distinction between "net" and "gross" gains. Mathematicians were able to keep using negative numbers for speculation only, but accountants had to stop believing in "net" gains.

      It turns out that, systematically, it is more efficient to spend time picking up every grain of spilled rice than it is to use the time to grow a larger rice crop--even a rice crop ten times larger (proportional to time spent either cleaning/cultivating). The closest equivalent here is probably "waste not, want not," but that quote came from such an awful context and source that it doesn't really apply.

    2. Regarding consistent scrutiny, no, not at all. There was more "privacy" than America 1800, if you wanted it. In your professional endeavors, your results were often observed and/or recorded, but it was more like the Pulitzer committee meeting to review books than it was a job assessment. Of course, this one shudders at saying that, because Nobel and Pulitzer and the other major awards now are all these terrible corporate marketing tools. But your idealized versions of how those things would've worked are closer to how titles got handed out in Arka.

      Speaking "practically," as to Earth, consider a blend of stuff like customer feedback (shudder), anonymous reports (also shudder), and academic peer review (do I have to keep typing shudder?), all removed from the context of economics, and all *mostly* removed from the context of trying to one-up or screw someone over. And then, imagine that it takes a decade of this kind of consistency to get anywhere.

      The process of how titles were awarded, and who they were awarded to, was one of the most annoying, stupid, and contentious things, even in the peak times, true--but then, think about that. That happened against a backdrop of world meals, beds, healers, and teachers. No war, no hungry, and the best that whiners could complain about was that they weren't getting assigned a title. You'll never eliminate the desire of many people to argue over perceived slights, real slights, and the nuances of policy, but once we'd established untouchable ground rules for our standards as living beings--food, bed, healer, teacher--every competition occurred against a backdrop of world peace.

      And really, titles weren't *that* big a deal. Everyone wants to be recognized as great, both here and there; the difference is, we can be civilized enough to agree that no one should be starved or bombed over it.

  3. Again, fascism too aims at the perfection of the human

    Doesn't every theory of social organization and power distribution proclaim or pretend to aim there?

    Referencing the term "fascism" can be a shorthand device only if everyone talking agrees on what it is, at a meaningful level of substance and detail. Most people I see or hear using that term are using it as a put-down, it's usually uttered toward people assumed to be of the Enemy Tribe, and often it's used internally in the USA to defend One's Tribe relative to the Enemy Tribe: "your ideas are fascist!"

    Giving the term its full cultural-meaning due, most often it means "power I don't like wielded over me, by a government whose military also is its police force." In the USA, the pretense of separate police and military confuses many people into thinking Mussolini's idea of merged business and government can't apply to the USA.

    1. To be fair, in the best times, there was no distinction between the "military" and the "police force." But that had more to do with a global civilization and no "countries" to hold wars with, than anything else.

      As to "fascism" in particular, you've got the right working definition. The essential elements of even the contested definitions are "authoritarian nationalism with strong corporate/government connections," and of course, that means that about every country that entered into and away from World War II did so as a fascist state.

      Many centuries from now, Earth historians will probably take it for granted that the 20th and 21st century were "the Fascist Period."

  4. To be fair, in the best times, there was no distinction between the "military" and the "police force."

    But they wear different uniforms! MPs look totally different than muni PD members! Soldiers look different from MPs! And army looks different from navy looks different from air force looks different from marines! And those contractors, what about them, they have their own uniforms! SWAT teams don't look like their regular PD brethren, ask Howard Hunter!

    Once you conquer, who are your best choices for keeping the order you just forced down the throats of the conquered? Ask General Conquistador, he'll tell you: my men!

    Regarding fascism, what about Communist China? Someone may experience an exploding head figuring out how a communist nation can be fascist. Fascists are right wing! If the State takes control over business then it's not right wing any more, even if it runs the same way it would under Benito!

    Will any living historian dare to say that now about the 20th and 21st Centuries?

    1. An interesting problem here:

    2. "Will any living historian dare to say that now about the 20th and 21st Centuries?"

      Tenure track or assistant? Of course not! Tenured, possibly but unlikely to get very far.

      (The movie summary was too brief for this one to make the connection.)

    3. Essentially it is a thin fiction version of the bankruptcy of Parmalat.