John \"sb\" Werneken

Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 19:04:40 -0800

From:   John \"sb\" Werneken

To:     Stanford Bootsrap ToPOst

Subject:   Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?

[Responding to Paul Fernhout's letter on December 19, 2000, and previously his letter on December 18, 2000 explaining that bootstrapping is part of the problem....]

Paul, I respect your point of view but I do not share it.

Desires, intelligence, values, - rings true, up to a point. But it's sort of like id, ego, superego. A way of naming and thus discussing something about mind or personality that seems real to many of us, but not terribly informative about how we function or could or should function.

I suggest that if we are affirming values (widely shared or otherwise) we ought to affirm Respect for Human Autonomy. The idea that one individual may better determine that individual's needs, wants, and means than another. The idea that one may be mistaken, especially about other people.

I believe the evolutionary environment humans have adapted to, is that of other humans. Hence the skill at detecting cheaters, free riders etc. - as well as the adulation for those whose exploits demonstrate both a specialness as an individual and a major contribution to the community as a whole - success in two major areas of human endeavor. I think our great teachers refer to this when they talk about harmony, about finding peace as a part of the whole.

Another related value: voluntary decisions aren't only more whole-hearted than compelled ones, they are more likely to be correct for the precise individual circumstances. Summed over all humanity, these individual decisions - sometimes competitive, sometimes cooperative, are the well-spring of progress, both material and moral.

I see too much authoritarian direction in some views of the DKR - the right thing made known and enforced upon the people, for example if we forbid lipstick until all eat well.

I haven't seen any exponential growth yet. The Lilly in the pond taking 39 days to cover half the pond, and one day to cover the rest, like Moore's law, may look exponential in the short run - in this case, over 40 days. But the limits still exist.

In my not so humble opinion, I believe that we continue to need technological progress rather more than we need more humane distribution of its fruits. As wealth grows, the willingness and the ability to lift those of us lower on the food chain grows as well. More importantly, the prospect of many coming to enjoy what formerly only a few could dream of remains real.

In practical terms, I think continued progress on three fronts to be mandatory.

  1. We need more energy. Probably solar energy converted cheaply in space to microwaves to then become electricity on the ground. Perhaps thermonuclear or others not yet understood.

  2. We need more material resources, both as input materials and as a means of disposing (at least temporarily) of wastes. Asteroid bodies come to mind as one practical target here.

  3. We also need better ways of organizing and utilizing the energy and material we do have. Nano-technology, genetic technology, and computational technology are examples.

To instead retreat to a closed cycle model would require a complete change in human nature, is not necessary, and is contrary to the desires of all but the already well-off.

On the politics of meeting human needs, it has been shown that famine is a distribution affect, not a supply and demand effect. Nonetheless a top-down redistribution would kill the golden goose of competitive autonomous innovation.

There are other ways of attacking the distribution issue, for example by extending to the poorest the benefits of capitalism.

In Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank has pioneered micro-lending managed at the village level. Through the efforts of individuals empowered by its micro-loans, extreme poverty has reduced from 1/3 of villagers to 10%.

Perhaps the DKR could lead to early recognition of many more successes like this winner of many international prizes.

But I don't think the DKR itself will prosper, if the concept gets linked to the idea of re-arranging human character.


John Werneken