Colloquium at Stanford
The Unfinished Revolution

Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 07:55:33 -0800

From:   John \sb\ Werneken

To:     Stanford Bootsrap ToPOst>

Subject:   Business/Government, and Different Worlds

I feel rewarded just seeing the thought and time folks are applying here.

I just have two disagreements I'd like to underline.

First in priority is how we might sell or design bootstrapping. Seems to me a big-agenda group - UN problems or human enhancement - probably SHOULD be resisted, as too diffuse to get us going. Seems to me issues like keeping abreast of medical knowledge are humongous enough. And a practical IC or NICK would focus I think far more narrowly than that.

Where the Sizzle of the Big Idea could be invaluable (as it has in spawning this discussion) might be in bringing MANY IC or NIC groups into contact with each other - much like Linux zealots join in maintaining projects and then the project communities cross-pollinate.

I feel the groups-in-contact are the proper - and indeed the only practical - sponsors of the high-level research into augmentation per se (the stuff Doug has talked about, so far). This would be in serious opposition to a plan for a UN Energy Commission to decide to contract for 'human decision augmentation" on a top-down basis.

Second in priority, I just gotta say I live in a different world. Freedom FROM government is our pivotal US privilege, IMHO. Of course the Government has to be well-designed to function so as to foster a nation while staying relatively (compared to other advanced society governments) impotent in every day life. Thank God it is (relatively) impotent.

Business is people voting by spending something NO ONE has an unlimited supply of: money. So the decisions are selfish and rational. Not as people might wish they (or others) would decide, but as those individuals actually DO decide, one at a time. This provides the fine-grain feedback that over the long haul has produced the miracles of modern technology, living standards, and personal freedoms.

I agree with separating business from the State: the State's only role is to keep elements within business from exercising State or State-like powers (violence, law-enforced monopoly) against each other. As long as big property remains divided into thousands of hands, and NOT subject to State control, for only that long will the individual property (personal freedom) of us billions of ordinary individuals be safe.

Were Government to reduce and not increase its subsidies of energy waste, for example, business would come to make "better" use of energy far sooner and with less social disruption and harm to individuals.

In the past - say with wood in the UK - known fuels were in danger of exhaustion (and in fact, were exhausted). Gradually individual decisions shifted things: found new fuels, now made economical by technology and/or rising prices, such as coal; shifted production to places or methods not needing so much of the vanishing resources, such as America or using coke; or in some cases maybe reduced ultimate demand (perhaps Victorian housing had better insulation than the Elizabethan?).

This process will work fine in the future too - as long as people in general are asked to decide one dollar at a time, and are given limited opportunity to effect as a mass a matter that is FAR too important to be left to the results of elections.

Money in politics is a Godsend - it balances mass opinion with feedback from the real activities to be enhanced or hindered by public decisions.

Finally, population is an excellent example. All the BS in the world about the long-run problems caused by having many children has had little affect on anyone's fertility. Thank God. Whether in America or in China. What changes it, are two things: growing odds that an individual child will live (more wealth) reduces the peasant's reasonable cause for a large birth family; growing chances that an individual adult will be attracted to activities that require less child-rearing (more wealth) reduces the worker's reasonable convenience in having a large birth family. As people get richer, they have fewer kids. As the society develops, its members develop past the point of having reasons to WANT to contribute to the so-called population bomb.

As long as feedback continues, problems tend to lessen: either things get better and we have less desire to contribute to the old problem (as with population) or things get worse and we have to evolve socially away from contributing to the old problem (Britain ran entirely out of wood as a significant fuel). Either way, the living system - by definition a "complex self-organizing system" - overcomes the barrier.

Just don't let intentions - religious or political values expressed by the mass of the people - find a way to trump actions, through the State's power to compel.



John Werneken