Re: continuity of self [ was META: Sept. 11 and Singularity]

From: Cliff Stabbert (
Date: Fri Sep 20 2002 - 17:31:34 MDT

CS> To clarify, by "people and organizations in a position of
CS> privilege" I don't mean the (say) approx. 10% of the world
CS> population in a relative position of privilege. I mean the,
CS> what, <1% who "have power" over the rest, and who I fear are
CS> close-to-chronically addicted to such power (and its
CS> corresponding belief that one is not doing well unless others are
CS> doing worse, or any other number of metaphors for higher/lower
CS> status). My concern rests both on that entrenched if incorrect
CS> belief and the real-world power such entities have (to e.g., shut
CS> down research or mobilize public opinion against it).

SA> I realize that. The above I believe applies just as much to
SA> them. I suspect some of them will be among the first to
SA> understand the benefits of true abundance and shifting
SA> consciousness. I think you do many of them an injustice when
SA> you assume they are only given by addiction to power and are
SA> only happy when others are doing worse.

BG> Well, as it happens I've known a handful of very wealthy people
BG> (by which I mean net-worth $100M - $5B+), and my experience with
BG> them is, not shockingly, that their psychological makeup is about
BG> the same as anyone else's. Some of these have been friends,
BG> others just brief acquaintances.


BG> I would say that Samantha is right -- these wealthy biz people
BG> I've known (who may NOT be a representative sample) are by and
BG> large MORE tech-savvy than the average American, and are by the
BG> nature of their business concerns, quite interested in and aware
BG> of global trends. Their wealth is certainly not threatened by
BG> abundance in any direct way.

Well, perhaps you're more optimistic than I am. Of course nobody's
wealth *is* threatened by abundance -- that's the whole point. Power,
in the sense of "over others" however, is. And regardless of the
facts, what counts is whether abundance is *perceived* as a threat.

More to the point, when talking about power I don't see this as being
"in the hands" of people so much as embedded into various social and
economic structures and loops. This is why I mentioned "people and
institutions", although I should perhaps have been clearer. My
attempt to clarify, although not as solid and clear as I'd like,

Take, for instance, a cigarette company: it may well be that every
last person working for the company (including the owners) is a fine,
upstanding moral being in a personal sense; while the actions of that
company as a whole, or as a system, are immoral. This gets us into
Prisoner's Dillemma territory -- e.g., even if those people working
for the company decided that its actions were not morally acceptable,
and quit, they would soon be replaced by others; realizing this, many
may choose not to quit but instead stay on and try to behave "as
morally as possible" in that context.

But that does not change the context or the overall system: the
company will still produce and market cigarettes.

I don't think there's widespread understanding of these types of
issues -- Prisoner's Dillemma, systemic lock-in -- and I don't think
it's easy, even *with* such understanding, to change systems.
I haven't heard or read of strategies to break out of such systems, to
stop such wheels.

In the case of cigarettes we have seen and are continuing to see
slow social change, but I would remind you that the process has been
drawn-out, difficult and antagonistic (wrt the companies), and
continues to be. How much more so when the issues are not so
clear-cut as cancer vs. profit? I've read that the same man who
originally conceived of suing cigarette companies is contemplating the
same approach to fast food (McDonalds et al). This has afaik largely
been "laughed out of the court of public opinion", and understandably
so. Yet "zooming out" and looking at the bigger picture, I
don't think anybody would claim that McDonalds is engaged in a morally
sound business.

To make this a bit more general, look at publicly traded companies
with their stocks and shareholders. It's my understanding that if a
public company fails to fully optimize profits by e.g. failing to take
advantage of an opportunity (which may be immoral), they (or the
Board?) can be sued for so failing. Again, it's a situation similar
to the Prisoner's Dillemma: once responsibility for decisions has been
parceled out in this way, everybody can (and does) claim clean hands
-- the employee is "merely" doing what his boss tells him to, and would
only be replaced if he quits; the boss "merely" tells him to do these
things, and would only be sued/replaced if he does not; the
shareholders "merely" are looking out for their financial interest (or
to add another layer of abstraction, the fund managers are merely
looking out for their fund's profitability, and will be defunded if
they don't).

A quote from Ambrose Bierce's _Devil's Dictionary_ is appropriate

  Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit
  without individual responsibility.

It's a matter of systems, ones that have gotten pretty complex over
time (the concerns I sketch apply to far more than just
commercialism). I don't see such systems as being easy to change --
although I'm reasonably optimistic about changing individuals. I'm
not saying it's not possible, but that it's not simple.

Now, I raise this not to *discourage* preparing society for abundance,
but to sound a somewhat pessimistic warning note for those working on
technologies of abundance: be careful. Anticipate and account for the
*possibility* that there are powers (impersonal and personal) who will
perceive such technologies as threatening -- or who may want to
subvert them to their own goals. Bluntly put: be prepared to go either
open source or underground if necessary.

Call me paranoid, but looking at history does not give me confidence
that "win-win", much as that phrase is bandied about, is well
understood. We already produce enough food to feed anybody. We
already could be polluting far less. We already could be living far
more efficiently, and "benefitting everyone to the detriment of noone"
(relative to our current situation) in Buckminster Fuller's phrasing.
And we aren't.


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