Home > Uncategorized > Stephen Hawking: “we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity”

Stephen Hawking: “we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity”

from The Guardian   “the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many”

. . . the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders. . . .

. . . The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past.

. . . it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities and economies cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must do more to encourage global development, as that is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home.

We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.

The Guardian

  1. December 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Our continued existence on Planet earth rests on one and only one universal truth: The biosphere is finite. If Homo sapiens cannot find a way to live in a congruent state within that finitude, it is finished.


  2. patrick newman
    December 2, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Professor Hawking’s thoughts on these vital global issues is most welcome but he should be encouraged to move beyond hope and exhortation and into political systems for change.

  3. December 3, 2016 at 8:52 am

    If this is the best the smartest person in the world can do, we’re screwed! Elites need to learn to be humble! Hawking’s comments are without any recognition of history, of evolution, or of the struggles of the human species (plural) to create ways of life in which humans can become smarter, wiser, and more aware of its common history. Early homo sapiens knew they had a common link, were a single species. That was lost as human population grew and the sense of kinship was lost through the very imagination and creativity that set homo sapiens apart as a species. Homo sapiens literally imagined itself into another species. A species focused on wealth, selfishness, and “ruling” the entire world. We’ve divided ourselves into races, religions, nationalities, laymen, scientist, etc. Creating one barrier after another to our unity and our survival. It’s these barriers we must tear down. And put in their place a unified species. How to do that is the big question. Hawking certainly doesn’t have the answers.

    • December 5, 2016 at 3:50 am

      “Early homo sapiens knew they had a common link, were a single species.”

      No, Early humanity looked more like what we saw under Genghis Khan. The fundamental problem here is that we developed an ability to turn off morality if signs are that we have a lot of political power. This enabled those with the trait to have far more children in times of tribal warfare. This is one of the most likely candidates for the Great Filter.

      • December 5, 2016 at 5:51 am

        Two problems with this scenario. It doesn’t agree with the archaeological evidence. Second, and more important Sapiens of 12,000 years ago had not yet invented morality. That would come several millennia later. Early Sapiens either worked together or they did not. If the latter, they died.

      • December 12, 2016 at 4:47 am

        “Second, and more important Sapiens of 12,000 years ago had not yet invented morality.”

        Really? Think about it. You have a group of 30 or so people who travel together, have mastered human language and you don’t think that after spending 20 years or more together they weren’t able to work out standards of behavior? I would put that at 2 weeks tops.

      • December 12, 2016 at 6:06 am

        There is no archaeological evidence of such. There is no sign of burial ceremonies, of symbols of rank, of religious organization or ceremonies, or of notions of an after life. You may be correct that humans had some form of moral codes, but we just don’t know that from the evidence available. The evidence does indicate that homo sapiens of 12,000 years ago coordinated in hunting and child rearing. In my view that doesn’t qualify as morality.

      • December 13, 2016 at 2:32 am

        You don’t need archeological evidence for something that is guaranteed to develop within a week if you make a small group of people dependent on each other for survival.

        Rather than “evolution of mores”, evolutionary development of planned behavioral plasticity is a better model. For example, look for the “hard mother/soft mother” monkey experiments, or the experiments involving rat pups that were either kept warm or left exposed to the elements.

    • December 13, 2016 at 8:32 am

      I don’t disagree that behavioral plasticity is a form of evolution. But in the case we’re discussing here I wonder what in the environment of homo sapiens 12,000 years ago would prompt behavioral changes that constitute morality? I can’t imagine any such. Perhaps you can.

      • Rik Pinxten, Belgium
        December 13, 2016 at 8:44 am

        dear Colleagues,
        as an anthropologist I can see that the discussion on morality in the wee times of the early Homo Sapiens is a fascinating one. As a concerned citizen I want to invite you NOT to be tempted by such a discussion. If anything, the situation we are living in proves to be such that we might better concentrate on another point of anthropological (and ethical) importance: what can we suggest as a good and possible feasible way to cope with the dangerous situation we have created (partially)? what can anthropology teach us about this? There are a few ‘disaster’ studies (e.g. d’Aquilli and his group in the 80’s) which show that deterioration of societal structures follows a very compelling logic, but also some studies on how cultures allow for a survival-fit answer (even J. Diamond might be considered, but certainly ideas from so-called ‘peaceful societies’). What can we bring in here so that people at different levels of organization would benefit from social science studies,
        Any ideas?
        Rik Pinxten

      • December 13, 2016 at 12:37 pm

        Rik, one path we might consider is how human groups are formed, and more importantly how they achieve egalitarianism. Human groups tend toward equality of all members. When members cheat – take more from the group than they give – it is vital that the cheaters are punished immediately before the cheating disrupts the cooperation of the group members and the egalitarianism of the group. It’s the immediate punishment that’s missing in human groups today. Equally important is the creation of groups that help and support one another, and thereby society as a whole. Exploitation of members of a group by other members, and one group by another stop intra- and inter- group cooperation, and thereby the cohesion of the groups. This seemingly small change to cooperation and mutual control of groups and groups of groups is a major factor in separating chimp from homo sapiens society.

      • December 17, 2016 at 10:59 am

        My comment below referred to the initial discussion. Here I’m grateful for Rik getting us back to the ecological problem and how to resolve it. What Ken says here about the need for immediate correction of cheating rings bells with both my arguments about control by continuous error-correction and a situation I’m familiar with: a shop where the owner and a long-standing member of staff have a cooperative give and take relationship but newer staff see only the take side and give only what they have to, so the flexibility needed by the older employee is no longer feasible. It seems to me the problem is that this is an employment situation. Only the employer has the status to effect the correction, and being more likely to lose needed new staff than the old has failed to attempt it; the old Catholic standby practice of the employees examining their own consciences has unfortunately disappeared. The findings of research into family breakdown was that it didn’t happen in families in which communication was good. It is therefore relevant to point out that morality could not develop without language to express it in.

  4. December 3, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I agree with Patrick here: perhaps reading Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” might give Professor Hawking more understanding of why rural people are flocking into towns and not just their homes but the villages they left are disappearing for want of cultural function. By the same token, I profoundly disagree with Ken and am saddened by his ungraciousness. Humanity, like the rest of nature, developed requisite variety through genetic diversity, enabling it to survive catastrophes and fill all the available niches in which life might thrive. We humans have not divided into races etc by simply labelling historical and cultural differences which already existed – as a result of climatic differences and our geographical dispersion beyond the range of regular intercommunication. Christianity answered the question Ken asks 2000 years ago, with Acts 4:32 – 5:11 anticipating Hawkins on sharing but also redefining the proper use of money. St Paul in I Cor 12/13 does not tear off labels, but redefines our species and local communities as systems, in which the component parts perform different roles that can work together given the mutual respect he portrays as love.

    • December 4, 2016 at 5:55 am

      Now I’m ungracious. First, your notion of evolution is a bit off. Genetic changes are mostly accidental. The changes continue because the individuals who carry them survive more often than those who do not. Unless you believe there is a god who plans evolutionary changes, most are simply accidents that work out. Genetically speaking all the humans alive today are about 96% homo sapiens. The 4% is the estimate of homo erectus, homo Neanderthals, etc. DNA. So how did we end up with different races, religions, nationalities, etc. These were all constructed as part of the process of creating our ways of life. For homo sapiens of 20,000 years ago, however, they did not yet exist. Studying the processes of how and why they were created is essential for ending the strife they have fostered. Buddhism answered the question of how to bring humans together 3000 years ago. And Zoroastrianism answered it 3500 years ago. Christianity is a late arrival here. But so far, the work they propose has failed. Often because of the very divisions they seek to close. To believe current day Christianity is of one form and purpose is, for example contrary to observed events. Buddhism has done better, but is under great pressure today. And Zoroastrianism (from which Christianity borrowed so much of its basic beliefs) is now almost wiped out. Not looking good right now.

      As for Hawking’s comments, they provide no help in dealing with this crisis. If Hawking were to propose that scientists all agree not to work on anymore weapons projects that would likely make a big difference. Will he do that?

  5. December 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Preaching in the desert?… Perhaps the least catastrophic scenario outcome will be some kind of a «New Middle Ages», with enough «food» and «entertainment» for the vast majority and power games for a minority…

  6. John Bragin
    December 4, 2016 at 6:45 am

    The evolving concentration of wealth and power is inevitable in any society where material resources can be legally or by custom owned (or controlled) by limited individuals or groups. Wealth and power are not distributed according to a Gaussian (Normal) Distribution, but according to a skewed-right distribution where the mode and median continually decrease and the mean tends to increase, as those to the right of the distribution accumulate either more of the developing resources or a greater proportion of the existing (and, yes, limited) resources.

    Technological developments may (as they have in the West) resulted in greater resources available to the many for a time, but in time these resources get swallowed up by the few as the distribution gets more and more skewed to the right. (An example is median labor income in the United States, which has stagnated and represents a smaller proportion of the increase in productivity for many decades, while the proportion of productivity going to the rich has increased steadily). It seems we are returning to a civilization more like the slave/serf societies of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece where the few had or controlled the bulk of the wealth and power and the masses were confined to subsistence living, although today’s subsistence is (for the moment) materially far greater than in ancient societies, because of technological developments and liberalizing political systems.

    Whether or not individual countries or groups get better at cooperation among themselves is irrelevant, if the the socio-economic systems of those countries continue to favor the accumulation of wealth and power by a limited number of individuals and groups; and the distributions of wealth and power continue to become more and more right-skewed.

    • December 5, 2016 at 4:06 am

      “Whether or not individual countries or groups get better at cooperation among themselves is irrelevant,”

      Two things. There is a shakeup every 80 years or so in which the powerful fall. Also, those societies that balance wealth enough to stimulate both the sell side and buy side simultaneously will grow fastest and become most important in the next round.

  7. December 4, 2016 at 10:08 am

    The concentration of wealth is as you say inevitable in situations which allow such or make such acceptable. But in most of western history since the rise of Christianity such concentration has not been acceptable. When the Roman Catholic Church was all of Christianity, its position was quite clear, superfluous wealth belonged to the poor. As stated by Thomas Aquinas, “According to natural law goods that are held in superabundance by some people should be used for the maintenance of the poor. This is the principle enunciated by Ambrose … It is the bread of the poor you are holding back; it is the clothes of the naked which you are hoarding; it is the relief and liberation of the wretched which you are thwarting by burying your money away.” Withholding of alms from the poor needy folk is theft in the sight of God, for the covetous rich withdraw from the poor folk what belongs to them and misappropriate the poor men’s goods, with which they should be succoured. And if the poor folk die then anyone who has failed to give them what they need is guilty of murder. Strong statements, not always lived up by the Church and by many Christians. But this brings up the important question. Why have humans denied one another food, shelter, and other necessities? This was not a problem for the first homo sapiens. For 180,000 years homo sapiens lived as hunter gatherers. These problems did not exist. About 20,000 years ago homo sapiens invented agriculture, animal husbandry, then later cities and government. So where are the mistakes in this process? In my opinion the major error was allowing members of the society who were disruptive and selfish to stay. Before the 20,000-year mark members who did not work for the common good were exiled. In modern psychiatric terms the sociopaths were exiled. Now the sociopaths are heads of companies, members of Congress, leaders of public opinion, and often very wealthy. In Biblical terms the sociopaths are the snakes in the Garden.

    • John Bragin
      December 4, 2016 at 11:03 am

      The principle of Christianity may well have been for a long time that “superfluous wealth belonged to the poor”, but in practice this has hardly ever been the case. As for the case of alms for the poor, whatever has been given by Catholic and most all Christian churches (and those rich who profess to be Christians/followers of Christ) has been a mere trickle down to these poor and hardly enough to maintain their subsistence and perhaps soothe the consciences of the rich and/or be just enough to get the rich into heaven. Rich individuals, groups and churches that claim to carry out God’s/Jesus’s commands never have given away their superfluous wealth (as Jesus commanded) and always have been far too bloated (like the elephant) to get through the eye of the needle.

      Further, I don’t think it is just sociopathy, but socio-economic systems that favor the accumulation of wealth and power by individuals and groups and systems that allow (by law or custom) such accumulation to move the distribution further and further to the skewed right. One may become a sociopath as his/her ownership or control of wealth and power increases, but one needn’t be a sociopath at the beginning of the process. Donald Trump probably always has been, but probably Bill and Hillary Clinton developed their sociopathies as they climbed the greasy pole.

  8. December 4, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Actually, the Church for a time enforced strongly the doctrines about giving to the poor and damnation if one failed in that duty. Even the aristocracy was for a time fearful of excommunication and after-life damnation. But homo sapiens are good at inventing things. It is imaginative. Sapiens invented trade, democracy (for the 2nd or 3rd time), double entry bookkeeping, and the theory of the business enterprise. After that everything began to change. The Church and Christianity began to lose not only control but also its sanity. As the Middle Ages closed, the place of duty to the poor, and even the reasons for poverty and how to live a poor life were in flux. Over the next 600 years poverty and the poor became a matter of individual failure and just deserts for failure. Duty to help the poor faded away. And was often replaced by hostility and even punishment. Even among may Christians.

    Socio-economic systems are, as just noted invented and constructed by Sapiens and other actors together beginning about 10,000 years ago. Sociopathic Sapiens carried their sociopathy into the systems they helped created. Over 600 years sociopaths used their lack of respect or empathy for other Sapiens to create systems that did not respect or have empathy for Sapiens that were different or did not fit into the system. Most sociopaths, even those like Hitler will often relent and retreat if confronted aggressively. For 600 years sociopaths have mostly battled only one another to create exclusionary, bigoted, and cruel systems of exploitation and control. Look around. That’s our world today.

  9. Rik Pinxten, Belgium
    December 5, 2016 at 8:15 am

    As an anthropologist I am understanding the despair that speaks in Hawking’s words, but am also triggered by the fact that the so-called most intelligent person in the world can only appeal to some kind of common sense. In my view privileges and power, together with a sharp divide between the “classes” is what is happening under own eyes. Will this change in the near future? A major clash (class wars?) is a possibility, or the ‘New Middle Ages’ governed by electronic control devices, maybe. Everything else will be the result of hard bottom up work, uniting green, socialist and scientific models and ideas. Is this feasible? It might be, but at present it looks rather gloomy. For one thing: what new metaphors and what new and uniting global project can we can up with? What tax reform, what reformulation of the Enlightenment ideas, writ human-wide this time? That the West should become more humble (and internally decolonized) along the way is right, but insufficient.

    • December 6, 2016 at 9:26 am

      Hawking’s previous statements inspired me and offered hope that there might be a way out of our slide into extinction. Nothing has changed genetically for homo sapiens since it out performed Neanderthals and Erectus to become the dominant human species. Sapiens had something these others did not, imagination. Imagination allowed thousands and then millions of Sapiens to cooperate and act together. But now this imagination provides the means for Sapiens to deny kinship and attack one another. The cooperation that made Sapiens successful survivors is now tearing them apart. Without cooperation, Sapiens lose their evolutionary advantage. Perhaps one of the options you list will reverse this. Although I cannot now see how this could happen. The most imaginative species to ever exist is about to imagine itself out of existence.

    • David Chester
      December 6, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Rik. I’m glad you mentioned taxation reform as being a means of helping our little old world to better survive. Today most countries have a system of taxation which makes progress difficult and it drives people to despair due to their failure to find work and earn a living. We need to tax something that we should all be sharing and not something that is our right to own due to our own efforts. I refer to the natural resources of the earth, particularly the land which is a gift to all mankind and not to a relatively few selfish land owners, some of whom are holding it out of use for speculation in its value.

      The most dangerous time in our lives, as Hawkins notes, is due to how we treat our earth. We need to eliminate poverty by better sharing our resources and the opportunities they provide.

      A wise and sensible government would recognize that this problem derives from lack of opportunity to work and earn. It can be solved by the use of a tax system which encourages the proper use of land and which stops penalizing everything and everybody else. Such a tax system was proposed 136 years ago by Henry George, a (North) American economist, but somehow most macro-economists seem never to have heard of him, in common with a whole lot of other experts. (I would guess that they don’t want to know, which is worse!) In “Progress and Poverty” 1879, Henry George proposed a single tax on land values without other kinds of tax on produce, services, capital gains etc. This regime of land value tax (LVT) has 17 features which benefit almost everyone in the economy, except for landlords and banks, who/which do nothing productive and find that land dominance has its own reward.

      17 Aspects of LVT Affecting Government, Land Owners, Communities and Ethics

      Four Aspects for Government:
      1. LVT, adds to the national income as do other taxation systems, but it replaces them.
      2. The cost of collecting the LVT is less than for all of the production-related taxes–tax avoidance becomes impossible because the sites are visible to all.
      3. Consumers pay less for their purchases due to lower production costs (see below). This creates greater satisfaction with the management of national affairs.
      4. The national economy stabilizes—it no longer experiences the 18 year business boom/bust cycle, due to periodic speculation in land values (see below).

      Six Aspects Affecting Land Owners:
      5. LVT is progressive–owners of the most potentially productive sites pay the most tax.
      6. The land owner pays his LVT regardless of how his site is used. A large proportion of the ground-rent from tenants becomes the LVT, with the result that land has less sales-value but a significant “rental”-value (even when it is not used).
      7. LVT stops speculation in land prices and the withholding of land from proper use is not worthwhile.
      8. The introduction of LVT initially reduces the sales price of sites, even though their rental value can still grow over a longer term. As more sites become available, the competition for them is less fierce.
      9. With LVT, land owners are unable to pass the tax on to their tenants as rent hikes, due to the reduced competition for access to the additional sites that come into use.
      10. With LVT, land prices will initially drop. Speculators in land values will want to foreclose on their mortgages and withdraw their money for reinvestment. Therefore LVT should be introduced gradually, to allow these speculators sufficient time to transfer their money to company-shares etc., and simultaneously to meet the increased demand for produce (see below).

      Three Aspects Regarding Communities:
      11. With LVT, there is an incentive to use land for production or residence, rather than it being unused.
      12. With LVT, greater working opportunities exist due to cheaper land and a greater number of available sites. Consumer goods become cheaper too, because entrepreneurs have less difficulty in starting-up their businesses and because they pay less ground-rent–demand grows, unemployment decreases.
      13. Investment money is withdrawn from land and placed in durable capital goods. This means more advances in technology and cheaper goods too.

      Four Aspects About Ethics:
      14. The collection of taxes from productive effort and commerce is socially unjust. LVT replaces this extortion by gathering the surplus rental income, which comes without any exertion from the land owner or by the banks– LVT is a natural system of national income-gathering.
      15. Bribery and corruption on information about land cease. Before, this was due to the leaking of news of municipal plans for housing and industrial development, causing shock-waves in local land prices (and municipal workers’ and lawyers’ bank balances).
      16. The improved use of the more central land reduces the environmental damage due to a) unused sites being dumping-grounds, and b) the smaller amount of fossil-fuel use, when traveling between home and workplace.
      17. Because the LVT eliminates the advantage that landlords currently hold over our society, LVT provides a greater equality of opportunity to earn a living. Entrepreneurs can operate in a natural way– to provide more jobs. Then earnings will correspond to the value that the labor puts into the product or service. Consequently, after LVT has been properly introduced it will eliminate poverty and improve business ethics.

      • December 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

        David, I would just like to acknowledge this contribution and the thought you have obviously put in it. It must be fairly obvious by now that I don’t disagree with your arguments, I just see the whole concept of tax as putting power into the hands of unwise government just as rents (or rent-seeking profits) put them in the hands of the managers of powerful organisations. That is why I’m arguing for personal credit voluntarily repaid by doing necessary work, for which highly automated facilities already exist in the credit card system

      • December 22, 2016 at 1:49 pm

        Thank you for reminding us of that taxation issue.
        We do need a new «fiscal paradigm»… As «The Economist» pointed out (April 1st, 2015) «Henry George had a point».
        My own version – the one I have been trying to sell in my country – is that one could begin by taxing the usage of fundamental, resources (such as energy, water and specially land) and according to their usage… Emphasis on «type of usage»… That, together with a proportional decrease in «taxation of activities», would go along way to help eradicate the «world wide offshore system».

  10. December 5, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I’ve been left behind in this discussion, but I would like to say

    to Fonseca-Statter: So Marx was preaching in the desert too? We could have a good discussion on this: http://cfpm.org/scive/The_Economy_as_a_Complex_System.Draft.pdf

    to John Bragin: I largely agree with you, but socio-economic systems ceding power to leaders can be a sign of immaturity as well as socio-pathology. The young have to be taught the need to care and share, but if they achieve personal independence from their parents by following the example of plausible leaders consoling themselves for non-care by accumulation, then we may win the battle between good and evil without conclusively ending the war. Try enjoying http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20058/20058-h/20058-h.htm. In any case, one can no more blame the wisdom of the caring Christ for the naivety or mendacity of his followers than the caring Keynes for the New Keynesians. Better to learn what we can from the primary sources.

    to Ken: perhaps you need to remind yourself of what kind of a life Stephen Hawking has had and be grateful (therefore more gracious) for his example of surviving by immersing himself in the world’s problems rather than his own. The world is indeed the way it is, and you express yourself very well; but if the love of money is the root of all evil and love of each other the root of all good, then it is important to make money less love-able and to appreciate each other’s contributions more.

    • December 6, 2016 at 9:38 am

      You miss entirely my point. As men go Hawking is a stellar representative of the species. A fine cosmologist and from all appearances involved with the future of the species. But in this instance his comment is no better than something from Donald Trump, who is certainly not concerned with the extinction of the species. The issue is simple to express: how to return humans to the cooperative excellence that made it the dominant species. Money, property, wealth, economics, etc. are merely human inventions that either well express that cooperation or betray it. Betrayal has been the dominant movement for over 200 years. Another 100 years and homo sapiens will likely be extinct.

      • December 6, 2016 at 10:14 am

        Well, we’re nearly all agreed on that, so why are you telling us again? If Hawking et al aren’t up to the job, why don’t you exercise your own imagination and invent a way out of our predicament? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

      • December 6, 2016 at 11:24 am

        I’m just saying what I expected Hawking to say. He’s a lot smarter that me, IQ-wise anyway. But neither he nor I can do all the work on this. Help us out here. Add something!

      • December 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

        Well, I keep adding “credit card economy”. See my latest comment on Trade, Trump and Mankiw. But IQ is not really the issue: that is mainly a measure of how quickly we see things, and what you see is largely a measure of what you look at, which in turn is a question of your happening to be in the right place at the right time. Which is why it is important to try and imagine what it is other people have been seeing, given the historical environment they’ve been in. Hawking has been into physics, not economic communication systems, which is why I appreciate his supporting what we are seeing regarding government of economic responsibility for the continuation of life on earth.

      • December 6, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        Thanks, Dave. Is there anything that most humans won’t do to gain advantage over the planet or one another? This must end badly since homo sapiens’ success as a species is based on doing just the opposite. It’s this self destructive way of life we must end. But how is that possible since it is now the dominant way of life on Earth? A mythology of success through competition must be replaced with a mythology of success through cooperation. People like Hawking can help make that happen.

      • December 6, 2016 at 3:21 pm

        Thanks, Ken. Indeed, “a mythology of success through competition must be replaced with a mythology of success through cooperation”, but it is said that the hardest part of learning something new is forgetting what you assumed you knew: in this case the myth of the evolution of species and the urge to become a Superman. What’s wrong with that is that Mankind has evolved ideas, not a new species, so that the competition should be between ideas better and less well adapted to our environment, among which sharing livelihoods by niche filling is much more realistic than competitive killing. Dawkin’s “selfish gene” is a legacy from our animal days, but so is the instinct to care for our young, and even atheists can see that thoughtful human caring is the better bet, see Matt Ridley’s “The Origins of Virtue” (1996, Viking).

      • December 6, 2016 at 3:47 pm

        Perhaps mathematical simplification needs to be added to mythological evolution. See this from W W Sawyer’s Prelude to Mathematics. [Published 1955]. For status see http://plus.maths.org/content/w-w-sawyer-passes-away

        p.28: “One cannot judge the importance of any mathematical investigation by the particular objects it discusses. ‘Topology’ is an example. Topology is sometimes referred to as ‘the rubber geometry’ – the geometry of figures drawn on an elastic sheet. And so in a way it is; it does treat of the properties of such figures. But its importance derives from the fact that on a rubber sheet there are no fixed lengths. There cannot be any result like Pythagoras’ Theorem. We can only make remarks such as: this curve is continuous; that one is broken into two separate parts. Continuity is the basic property in topology, and topology has something to say about anything which is capable of varying gradually. As there are very few things incapable of such variations, topology has a very wide influence; it is increasingly becoming the concern both of pure mathematicians and of technicians; some most remarkable results can be proved by it. It has the utmost generality and the utmost simplicity”.

        Accepting that money circulates like electricity, an important theorem can be demonstrated with the calculus but once proved can be used directly. The maximum power available from a source occurs when the external resistance of the source is equal to the internal resistance of the source. Trying to get more out of the system by lowering the load resistance still further simply heats up the source. Is that not a nice myth to convey the idea of global warming and the need to streamline the monetary system?

      • December 6, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        Apologies. In the last para, second sentence, the second occurrence of the word ‘source’ should have read ‘load’.

      • December 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

        Dawkins was incorrect about how evolution works. Genetic changes come and go, with no plan or purpose. Those genetic changes that improve chances of survival of those who carry them tend to have a better chance of being passed on to future generations. Thus, the gene becomes more common. It too survives. Genetically speaking homo sapiens has not changed in 50,000 years. Maybe longer. The cognitive revolution about 70,000 years ago, changed the brain of homo sapiens, but not the other human species. Homo sapiens could now recognize and plan cooperation around not just things they observed but around things that were not or could not be observed. Things like cooperation, family, tribe; and later city, monarchy, government, etc. Over time these “fictive” things became important features of homo sapiens’ life. This allowed homo sapiens to invent things like morality, philosophy, and science. But it also allowed homo sapiens to invent things like war, competition, and racism. The questions facing us is how have homo sapiens used such inventions, how have they shaped homo sapiens’ life, and which fictives have become dominant and which submerged over the last 70,000 years. Mathematics is one of the fictives to which these questions apply. For example, why would homo sapiens invent mathematics and apply it to themselves, to their other fictives, and to the “universes” around them? Simple answer, homo sapiens find such applications useful. Not for the pursuit of truth. Rather, for the pursuit of expanding homo sapiens’ creativity and cooperation. Your Earth example shows this off superbly.

      • robert locke
        December 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

        I do not understand what is so hard about recognizing economies of cooperation. Examples of them abound in stakeholder capital system, e.g., Rhineland capitalism, or Nordic capitalism. What keeps people in the Anglo-saxon world from learning from others?

      • December 17, 2016 at 6:29 am

        Robert, I agree cooperative economies exist. Although they are under attack in many places. Including the US. I’ve asked many times the question about why Anglo-Saxon societies find it difficult to learn from others. It may have something to do with perceived prowess. For example, I often include in my lectures the assertion that the best engineering schools in the world are not all in Europe and the US. The Americans in the audience always reject the idea. The French are offended. And the Brits are actively hostile. I list Tsinghua University, National University of Singapore, Zhejiang University, Nanyang Technological University, Harbin Institute of Technology, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University as examples. They are rejected, with great prejudice.

    • December 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

      To davetaylor1
      No… No… No… Marx was not «preaching in the desert»…
      My question was of a rhetorical nature… To my understanding Marx was rightly drawing attention (clamouring…) for the need of «radical system change»… Where “radical” literally means «going to the roots of the problem»… My concern is that the «lords of this world» have clearly understood that evolutionary process and are working towards a scenario that I ( and others…) would call «new middle ages»…

      • December 19, 2016 at 2:47 pm

        Understood, but my response was also of a rhetorical nature: asking who with any power to change things immediately was listening to Marx any more than they did to Christ? Both called for “radical system change”, I and it seems you agree, but they differ on “how radical” and probably we differ much as Ken and I disagreed at “A new orientation away from neoliberalism”, i.e. on effecting reorientation via war or truth.

        Having read and appreciated your draft on Complex Systems, I was disappointed you didn’t come back on that. Again my own position is the more radical, taking account of information as well as power sciences. Compare what Merijn Knibbe says on “Some Problems of the Neo-Classical Concepts… “. The fallacy of composition applies to what’s coming down the river, not to what can be learned about the direction of the river from the banks constraining it.

      • December 20, 2016 at 9:43 am

        I favor radical social changes. So radical that many may not live through them. I find it amusing that “liberals” can’t see evil when it’s standing right next to them. Exxon-Mobile, Koch, etc. are evil. They would not be disturbed at all if the policies that make them ever richer and ever more in control also literally mean death for many other Americans, as well as many non-Americans. The only empathy they feel for the “lesser” folk is how to keep them poor and full of fear. Teddy Roosevelt “busted” trusts (the early multinationals). I favor destroying their very core and a firing squad for their leaders. This appeal to open violence disturbs some. I look at it as prudent self-defense.

        Democracies often are reluctant to strike at threats. Thus the US stopped being a democracy so it could attempt to become an empire. Now the US has to respond as a democracy to those who are working very hard and with no mercy to destroy democracy in the US and elsewhere, permanently. I see this as a kill or be killed situation. Just like the war against Fascism 1931-1945. FDR was dishonest with the American people and used propaganda to get the US into WWII. The purpose: save democracy. We are in that situation once again. As with WWII and Roosevelt, it is in this situation better to act bad than be bad. The time for civil negotiations has passed. That ended with the Russian hacking. We either win this war or lose it all.

      • December 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

        Ken, these evil people have to buy other people to do their dirty work for them, and won’t be able to that once it is understood that their money is worthless. (For measured by their debts, so are they). If you don’t solve the root problem – the love of money being the root of all evil – you won’t get the radical social changes you want; just more war spawning new generations of evil people.

      • December 21, 2016 at 10:42 am

        Dave, It isn’t money these folks love. It’s power and the lifestyle of being in charge all the time they love. War is neutral in all this. It creates as many good ad evil people. Social arrangements that emphasize competition and conquest create the circumstances for evil to develop. Changing money or its distribution won’t resolve the problem so long as humans are pitted against one another for the means to survive. In that struggle money is just a tool for blackmail, terror, fear, and subversion.

  11. John Bragin
    December 6, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    From a 12:29pm post by Ken Zimmerman: “A mythology of success through competition must be replaced with a mythology of success through cooperation.”

    Yes, it certainly seems to be the case that had large numbers of early Homo sapiens not cooperated with each other they would have torn each other apart due to the superior individualistic traits evolution endowed them with, just as it endowed them with “cooperation” genes.

    Ironically, however, it is just this cooperation (some would call it collusion, or even conspiracy) that has resulted in the right-skewed distribution of wealth and power becoming more and more exaggerated due to strong linking and positive feedback. The far right end of the distribution is made up of individuals and groups which ensure their existence and flourishing through tight cooperation, far more than through competition. Recall George W. Bush’s comment at a convention of these types about how happy is was to address “the haves and have-mores”.

    The regular conferences, conventions and individual meetings (recall Dick Cheney’s work with oil companies and his Haliburton connections) are well-known. Individuals and groups in the middle of the distribution have far less of this. Individuals and groups in the left end of the distribution have nearly none of it, as they are almost completely pre-occupied with earning a basic living. Witness the decimation of unions in the United States (especially since Ronald Reagan, as President, crushed the air controllers union). Unions being almost the only cooperative group that could wield wealth and power for the mode.

    Actually, the whole skewed right distribution is made up of mainly three sub-populations that are differently distributed: The far left is mostly Gaussian distributed, with its members highly disconnected (as if random). The mid- to upper middle portion is more nearly like a log-normal distribution. And the upper third more nearly a power law distribution.

    Competitive success might get one to the top 1%, but once there it is far more fruitful to cooperate with other 1%ers to help ensure one stays there and flourishes. The development of capitalist oligarchs in Russia, out of the ashes of the Communist Soviet Union was a rapid, almost startling development, although power (if not wealth) in the Soviet Union was a pre-cursor to this concentration and distribution of wealth.

    • December 7, 2016 at 9:48 am

      John, I agree with most of your comments. But you don’t address the big question. How did the situation you describe evolve? That history can help us understand not just the events we think we see, but also their creation. And that can help us figure out how we might change them.

  12. Craig
    December 12, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    It seems to me that we need to cultivate an integration of rationality and graciousness, both individually and systemically. Developing such an integrative mindset could turn us in the proper directions of both scientific progress and ethical ascension. If we had a model for integrating the truths in opposite factors and concepts the thirdness of both individual and systemic wisdom would become more apparent and attractive to us. Intellectual fragmentation is part of the problem, and the fragmentation of intellect from long observed ethical considerations is probably the core problem that keeps us from recognizing both individual and economic progress.

  13. December 13, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    John, Ken and Craig, you are all raising important issues.

    Ken, it seems to me you have a short-sighted view of history. Despite your 12,000 years you seem to be looking for patterns in evidence rather than causal factors operative since the beginning of time – which include the physical possibility of positive feedback, though not positive feedback through language and the physical realisation of thought: language and information science are relatively new. Can I suggest you reflect on the difference between biological phenotypes and genotypes?

    John, the skewed distribution you are describing seems to me characteristic of your positive feedback operating most strongly through those in a position to mass-produce realisations of their thought, so that the realisations influence more strongly than words the thoughts of others, most of whom adapt to them whether they are good or bad.

    Craig, I’m entirely with you on “the need to cultivate an integration of rationality and graciousness, but individually and systemically”. The question is, how? What I have been arguing is that the brain which exhibits the intellect is not fragmented but a complex system with four parts, involving emotions, actuation, language and sensory memory, with the senses triggering emotional responses but memory developed by familiarity normally bypassing that response. The problem is not that the brain is fragmented but that while infants are instinctively emotional we have to learn how act, speak and judge in light of our knowledge and experience, and most of them get by on feeling and reacting, with older women tending to develop local linguistic and men specialised practical interests. (Worse: in early life emotional support is needed when confronting challenges, but too much child-centred love preventing challenge can spoil development). And every generation has to start anew, so that the experience and wisdom of the aged tends not to be passed on. This is why its realisation in linguistic and social institutions, so that the inexperienced almost unthinkingly adapt to wise ways of speaking and acting, are so important.

    What I’m visualing, then, is the integration of rationality and graciousness by cultivating awareness of the facts that we all have to grow up and at the individual level need to understand and allow for the differences in our development and capabilities. For those still learning linguistically, the Bible is as good a history of wisdom and its failings as any, with 1 Cor 12 entirely relevant here.

    For those seeking its systematic realisation in practice, it is important to understand the advantage of getting our ideas straight first by talking about it – why we talk at all. It is not only easier but more efficient to sort out one’s problems on paper rather than bear the costs of going wrong in practice (hence mathematics and indexed object-oriented computing). The disadvantage is that it is like looking at ourselves in a mirror: what we see is the mirror-image of the reality which caused it. Even more tellingly, it can be like looking at the negative of a photo, where we see shadows but are left guessing at their meaning until, like Copernicus, we negate the negation and see the reality: see the earth moving rather than the sun. I’m still ploughing through Polanyi’s “The Great Transformation” but came across a passage (p.214-5) suggesting how this is working out in the economy:

    “Internationally, the monetary system assumed, if possible, even greater importance. The freedom of money was, paradoxically enough, a result of restrictions on trade. For the more numerous became the obstacles to the movement of goods and men across frontiers, the more effectively had the freedom of movement to be safeguarded. Short-term money moved at an hour’s notice from any point of the globe to any other; the modalities of international payments between governments and between private corporations or individuals were uniformly regulated; the repudiation of foreign debts, or attempts to tamper with budgetary guarantees, even on the part of backward governments, was deemed an outrage, and was punished by the relegation to the outer darkness of those unworthy of credit. In all matters relevant to the world monetary system, similar institutions were established everywhere, such as representative bodies, written constitutions defining their jurisdiction and regulating the publication of budgets, the promulgation of laws, the ratification of treaties, the methods of incurring financial obligations [etc] … No government, except perhaps the most powerful, could afford to disregard the taboos of money. For international purposes the currency was the nation; and no nation could for any length of time exist outside the international scheme”.

    So the language of international money has created institutions which perpetuate a “negative” of our loving and nurturing our children. As I see it, the task before us is to get rid of international money and institutionalise personal credit repaid by mutually nurturing and appreciating reality. Credit card accounting technology already exists.

    • December 14, 2016 at 6:52 am

      The three C’s are the basics of homo sapiens evolution – cognition, culture, and cooperation. Everything you mention is a result of these basics. A part of these is phenotype evolution. This is behavioral and physical changes resulting from interactions with an environment, like genotype changes, but not associated with changes in genetic structure. Homo sapiens have always created a world to live in. I have no real issue with what you suggest about rationality, wisdom, and graciousness. Just don’t expect that human groups will be able to accept one version of this unification.

      Polanyi is correct. All that matters in a money society is who has the money and how much they have. Can that be replaced with another metric? Yes. A society based on technology, respect for one another, democracy, etc. are all possible. But how can these changes happen? They happen by tapping into the basics of homo sapiens – cognition, culture, and cooperation. For example, cognition allows humans to imagine other options. Culture provides ways to use those options. Cooperation is elemental for homo sapiens. Cognition and culture need to support and expand cooperation. In many ways capitalism violates most of these necessities. In simple terms it is an aberration. An illness. All living things suffer illness. Sometimes to death. That’s where we are today.

  14. December 14, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    “Just don’t expect that human groups will be able to accept one version of this unification.”

    As I was trying to explain why people (like you and I) don’t think the same, that’s hardly likely. I don’t expect a child to “cognise” that crooks have “cultivated” (Craig’s interpretation) a sick monetary system. I’m trying to help grown ups cognise cognition better, so they can see the need to cooperate in cultivating a sane monetary system.

    Yes, there is an illness, but it is a cultural one, with both cognitive and cultural positive feedback loops. It is indeed phenotypical, but I had hoped that by reflecting on that you would see that human cultural evolution occurs not in our genes but in our physical memories, and thus in our understanding of what we see in the reality around us.

    I am trying to cultivate understanding of how cooperation works within the complex systems of modern technology and how technology can “computer-assist” cooperation in the complex systems of sane as well as sick economies. Having “taken the economic system to bits to see how it works” I’m arguing the virus is a mirror-image understanding of the value of money. It is not real value but the reflection of it in a hall of mirrors where it is impossible tto see what is reflection and what real.

    The reality is that the capitalist economic system is now a fraudulent system in which credit earned is paid in IOUs for services rendered, passed off as indebting their first users to monetary savings banks, rather than users for their drawings on the wealth accumulated by nature and our predecessors.

    In a credit card system the IOUs the veil of money is drawn back a little, so we can see more clearly what is true of all of us: that we receive first and give back later. In life we receive first in order to become ABLE to give back later. When in commerce we receive goods in exchange for money, it seems as if the money has the same value as the good. much as it seems the sun moves around the earth. Yet just as the worthless label on a tin merely represents its contents, so worthless money merely represents value. Commerce involves both buying and selling, so it is merely a convention that it has positive value, and the negative value of credit card debts is much more representative of the underlying ordering of real events.

    When we take the credit card system to bits to see how it works, we find banks merely give us a credit limit and we write our own IOUs – create our own money – in making purchases. Employers likewise pay for our services in their IOUs and traders write off their debts with our IOUs so they can restock with more of their own. So credit card debts remain our own, being not recycled but written off; and they are normally repaid by our earning our keep, i.e. cooperating where necessary in the reproduction, caring for, distribution (sharing), reinvesting (replanting) or recycling of what we use or cause to deteriorate.

    So, “Contrary Mary”, let me say less summarily that, as I see it, the primary task before us is not to make each other miserable by bewailing the illness and balking at the medicine, but to get rid of the hall of mirrors which is the shadow economy of international [banker’s] money, and in its place to institutionalise personal credit repaid by mutually nurturing and appreciating reality. Credit card accounting technology already exists. The secondary task is to rewrite economics accordingly, so that our youngsters not only become able to understand what they are doing, but aware both of the seriousness of our problems and how to use honest credit to organise the addressing of them more effectively.

    • December 15, 2016 at 6:01 am

      I can support your proposals, if they include the end of usury. The Christian Church forbade usury of any form as a sin. But more than that the Church forbade usury because it was considered an attack on the Christian community. And this prohibition and concerns are echoed in most major world religions. Bur usury is the heart of modern financial capitalism. As Warren Buffet noted some time ago, getting rich is easily achieved using compound interest. Ending usury is a complete reset of modern capitalism. The shock and chaos would be tremendous and most of the pain would fall not on bankers or hedge fund managers but rather on ordinary citizens. As was the case in the 2007-2008 financial crises. A second problem with ending usury is enforcing the ban. Gray and black economies exist today. I fear the battle to end usury around the world would add even more pain to the lives of ordinary people as a result of gangsterism and underworld economies. Financial capitalism needs to end. But how do we cure the disease without killing the patients? And in some instances even the doctors?

  15. December 15, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Ken, let me reassure you that personal credit does not involve paying interest to ourselves. We don’t pay interest on our credit cards if we pay them off within the normal time period, and I envisage what is now interest on them becoming fines (implemented by reducing our credit limit) if we don’t have good reason for not doing something towards earning our keep.

    I entirely agree, ending usury this way will be a complete reset of modern capitalism, which by abolishing Polanyi’s fictitous labour and money markets will have profound effects on landed estates and enterprises, making cooperatives more feasible than empires. Bankers, hedge fund managers and property magnates being deemed in debt for what they have in the bank, their best option will be to write it off, negotiate generous credit limits and borrow whatever they need to (relatively speaking) earn their keep by running down unsustainable lifestyles gracefully. Most of the pain will NOT fall on ordinary people, most of whom are in one way or another learners, carers or retired, for they too will have relatively generous credit limits and be spending not what leaked out as dividends but all that now disappears into the black hole of the financial system, keeping industry turning out what is needed and people earning their keep by time-sharing the work actually needed in industry and local communities. In short, if people understand what is happening and that they won’t lose financially by volunteering for time-sharing work worth doing, there is no internal reason for this to go badly.

    Where I am less confident is in the international implementation of this. Reading the last section of Polanyi, it seems to me that what he says about how Hitler came to power can be read across into the anti-Catholic putsch in England at the time of Henry VIII, again into the founding of the Bank of England under William of Orange in 1694, and yet again into the unconstitutional founding of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913: respectively legalising, institutionalising and privatising usury. “In no case was an actual revolution against constituted authority launched; fascist tactics were those of a sham rebellion arranged with the tacit approval of the authorities who pretended to have been overwhelmed by force” (p.246). “Bruning maintained in 1940 that the German reparations and disarmament had been solved by him before the “clique around Hindenburg” decided to put him out of office and to hand over power to the Nazis … both in Germany and Italy fascism could seize power only because it was able to use as its lever unsolved national issues” (p.250). “Germany reaped the advantages of those who help to kill that which is doomed to die” (p.254). Sadly, the monster has recovered and is more powerful than ever, so the unsolved issues have become international. Can a few intelligent people in high places give governments an excuse to turn the monster’s strength against itself? This game would most appropriately be played out in UNESCO.

    • December 16, 2016 at 3:50 am

      Some concerns about your statements.
      1. What do you mean by “earning our keep?”
      2. Most of my clients are cooperatives and credit unions. In that context, I share what one credit union manager told me, “banks and big money never negotiate.”
      3. How you gonna “make” the banks and big financial institutions give up the wealth you want to take from them?
      4. Who are the “few intelligent people in high places” that will give governments an excuse to “turn the monster’s strength against itself”? I’ve worked with hundreds of intelligent people. While many complain about the unfairness of the current “system” few have volunteered to fight it. And that number has grown smaller each year for the last 30 years.

    • December 16, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Fair comment, but bear in mind we are exploring strategy here, not yet making definite proposals.

      1. On “earning our keep” the emphasis is on the “our” and the “keep” is what we take from Nature; the “earnings” are not wages but work. Given the proportion of persistently unearned income now going to the rentier class, there must be sufficient slack in the system to cope with a few determined free riders and those who like seasonal Nature have done the jobs appropriate to their stage in life and are taking a rest.

      2. “Banks never negotiate”, yet in Britain at least they do pay fines and adapt to the law.

      3. One can’t “make” banks give up “wealth” which is merely a reflection in a mirror. One can destroy the mirror.

      4. The point of quoting Polanyi on Hitler is that “a few intelligent people in high places” did turn democracy’s strength against itself, as Cromwell turned Henry VIII’s monarchy against itself, Locke’s “balance of power” arguments helped financiers tame William of Orange and in America self-serving politicians benefitted from a few crooked bankers abusing the letter of democratic procedure to defeat the spirit of their Constitution. It can be done because it has been. Can the United Nations “reap the advantages of those who help to kill that which is doomed to die”?

      • December 17, 2016 at 8:59 am

        Thanks, Dave.

        1. I can support this form of societal arrangements. They’ve proven their worth over several millennia. But making any such change today will be difficult.
        2. But the difference is negotiating changes vs. forcing changes.
        3. Again, excellent notion. But few would support such changes today. To get them means a lot of re-education and creative propaganda.
        4. I agree it’s been done. But only with the right supporting conditions. Which are not present today. Again, lots of propaganda and re-education may be able to change that.

    • December 17, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Further to this on motivation to work, read Polanyi’s “Notes on Sources” for Chapters 4 and 5. As I’ve said, skimming “The Great Transformation” left me the impression of his filling out my English history from his better knowledge of Continental sources. Ploughing through its text has been hard work, but turned up a lot of English sources which as a lay historian I had not been aware of. These particular Notes however are itemised and very easy reading. They spell out and document conclusions about normal people’s motivation which correspond almost exactly with my own experience.

      Where I do differ from Polanyi is in his notes on Chapter 1, where he puts David Hume’s seeing the balance of power as historical law before its earlier spelling out as a principle, not even mentioning John Locke. Also, on p.270 he quotes F Schuman: “If one postulates a States System comprised of three units, A, B and C, it is obvious that an increase in the power of any one of them involves a decrease in the power of the other two”. Yet he misses the opportunity to point out the gist of his own argument: that where the interests of the industrialists and landowners coincided (as they did in the need for low cost, reliable labour), landless workers became powerless to maintain the balance!

  16. December 17, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Looking back for what we have not addressed in the conclusions of Professor Hawking’s essay (the last four paras), escaping from earth to establish “human colonies amid the stars” is obviously hyperbole. Yet it seems there is a real possibility of disposing of nuclear waste by hoisting it safely into space, then needing little energy to direct it into the sun. Sounds far-fetched, but so was the idea of powered flight little more than a century ago. See anyway https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator.

    “We need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations”? This was the Christian ideal of Catholicity, to be achieved bottom up: not top down, “with resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few”. Tribes became nations because a naive understanding of money permitted the introduction and reintroduction of usury, cause and effect both being eliminated in the bottom-up personal finance of a credit card economy.

    “[G]lobal development … is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home”? Yes; but surely the form of development needs to be a safer one: e.g. making necessary materials available to everyone, not centrally mass-producing commodities then needing to sell them. With solar electrical high tech tools mass-producible cheaply, the way to redevelopment is surely to make the satisfaction of having use of these tools available locally for primarily local production. The Polanyi notes (see above) are particularly interesting on how inter-community trade worked in the past.

    “[T]he world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed … the elites … to learn the lessons of the past year”? But the elites are not the world’s leaders, they are the conservative defenders of what works for them. The leaders need to learn the lesson of Copernicus and invert their understanding of the value of money. The elites probably deserve to be humbled, though better shamed with mercy than with mutually destructive if justifiable retribution.

    • December 19, 2016 at 5:30 am

      The suggestion to dispose of nuclear waste into the Sun has been discussed for over 40 years. The issue has always been a moral one. If the waste misses the Sun it may end up polluting someone’s else’s planet. The inhabitants of that planet may object to our intrusion and disrespect.

      Bringing up the Christian ideal of Catholicity raises an historical question. How was the original Christian Catholicity achieved? Sometimes by love, charity, and understanding. But sometimes by conquest and threats. Both approaches work. But the longer-term consequences are different. I agree that the Church hierarchy after a time moved Catholicity in an autocratic direction.

      “[T]he way to redevelopment is surely to make the satisfaction of having use of these tools available locally for primarily local production” is a valid and important point. But the big obstacle is to make this transition without lowering standards of living.

      Leaders who seek personal gain or prestige for themselves fail leadership always. Both often these same leaders are very good at convincing the “masses” that they’re leading them to a better life. Generally, this better life consists of more consumer goods and a better seat for the local games. One historian commented about Commodus’ arrival in Rome after the death of his father, Marcus Aurelius, “… the youthful Commodus must have appeared in the parade as an icon of new, happier days to come; his arrival sparked the highest hopes in the Roman people, who believed he would rule as his father had ruled.” Just shows how mistaken we can be about leaders and leadership.

  17. Rik Pinxten, Belgium
    December 19, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    dear all,
    In my gloomy-ist thoughts I tend to agree with the ‘New Middle Ages’ view. If you look at the right(ist) scenarios that have been developed over the past three or four decades (from Ayn Rand, over Huntington and so on: see Hannerz’s new book on ‘Writing Future Worlds’, Palgrave, just out) you will notice that such rightist so-called realistic utopias have found their way right up to the desks of presidents and world leaders. Blair, Barosso and others are shameless in that sense.
    The idea of Human Rights, democracy, economy in a perspective of sharing and more wealth to all is rapidly changed for ‘all rights to a new elite’. These are messages by social scientists, economists, political scientists and novelists which attack ideas and institutions on equality and solidarity head-on. The net result yields a societal picture of a split society: the small group of haves (the 1% of Stiglitz) with all rights, and the 99% of dependent people with gradually (very much) less rights and privileges. The populist rhetorics addresses those of us who have a job and a (good) life, systematically preaching that we will belong to the losers if we stick with solidarity and equality, because ‘them’ (the Mexicans in the USA, or surprisingly similar the muslims in the EU, or the Russians and Ukranians in Istanbul, and so on) will eat up our wealth and ‘rape our women’. Fear instead of reason. This is an ideological stand, of course, quite likely masking a shift towards a new version of Ancien Régime: with a new elite feeding on disoriented and fearing mobs held in bad jobs for a lot of them. The effects of automatization are thus introduced on a massive scale without systematic and organized action from larger groups.
    The growth of inequality (see Piketty and others) is not an economic necessity like some sort of natural given, but a result of choices by some and bewilderment or reluctance (to say the least ) by others. With Piketty (at the end of his famed book) one should say that economy is not a science (in the sense of natural science of the 19th century), but is always ‘political economy’. The choice to be discussed is: what commonly shared, deeply responsible and probably systemically solidarity-driven ‘theory of the human household’ (=economy) can we imagine? And how can we split the haves in the two halves that are visibly there: those who understand that sharing is the best choice in the long run, and those who only want to grab and run (but whereto?). and of course, we know today that we live in an ecological system, so sharing has to to be thought through in that context.

  18. December 19, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Ken on “How was the original Christian Catholicity achieved? Sometimes by love, charity, and understanding. But sometimes by conquest and threats. Both approaches work.”

    By the King being responsible for material welfare and the Church (a word meaning community) holding him to account for his morals, c.f. the famous story of the king doing penance in sack-cloth and ashes for the murder on his account of St Thomas a Beckett.

    Polanyi (p.286) provides a nice way of describing this relationship. “[Dicey’s] incomparable analysis of the relations between law and public opinion treated “laissez-faire” and “collectivism” as the woof and warp of the texture; the pattern itself, he believed, sprang from the industrial and business trends of the time, that is, from the institutions fashioning economic life”.

    Rik, on 5th Dec you were “understanding the despair that speaks in Hawking’s words” whereas I was seeing him bravely joining in despite his terrible handicaps”. How can I get you thinking positively instead of wallowing in your own [ understandable] gloom?

    You went on: “but am also triggered by the fact that the so-called most intelligent person in the world can only appeal to some kind of common sense. …. what new metaphors and what new and uniting global project can we can up with? What tax reform, what reformulation of the Enlightenment ideas, writ human-wide this time?”

    When even the most intelligent person in the world knows next to nothing about information science, his appeal to common sense is hardly surprising. What makes a new science is a new metric, necessarily discovered by looking at an old rather than a new metaphor. The old metric of information science was error-preventing logical rules. The new metaphor was electric circuit switches automating logic and the new (1948) metric of information (counting detectable changes like switch positions or currents turning on or off), was so completely worked out by C E Shannon as to enable information technology to take off without the usual decades of scientists forming a new discipline able to explain and teach the science. Shannon used his new metric to reveal the extent of redundant information and how to use logically unnecessary audit trails to detect and correct errors before they have time to spread. His colleague N Wiener termed this dynamic error control logic Cybernetics or steering, but users of control theory have long thought in terms of control mechanisms for particular jobs, notably as the Market “steering the Ship of State”, rather than a control method some or each of us need when driving a car or “paddling our own canoe”.

    So, Rik, as a result of information science we now have old-fashioned steering newly used as a metaphor; the communications and control structures of new-fashioned computers and internet communications available as metaphors: for human methods of decoding and encoding information and understanding the dynamics of language and number. We have the information technology; what we don’t have is a recognised body of scientists big enough to make themselves heard and old enough to have been involved in and aware of its history and theory as well as its practice. Just a few oldies like myself, left trying to plant seeds from which can spring the new and uniting project you are looking for.

    Shannon suggests to me using the world’s redundant people to correct the economic errors we have made: engineering irrigation of the deserts and replanting trees to cool and purify the atmosphere, shading the soil from the sun’s heat. How to finance this? WITHOUT tax, by crediting its workers with what they need anyway: so supporting the undertaking by sharing our surplus produce. The Enlightenment replaced hierarchical authority derived from a Creator with local balances of power in an infinite and eternal Cartesian universe. However, the Christian original (1 Cor 12) can now be reformulated in terms of complex systems formed by a subsidiarist (bottom-up) inverted hierarchy of self-controlling subsystems on Hubble’s Bubble: the limit of Einstein’s “Big Bang” expanding universe.

    Try looking up some of this. It will at least lift your mind out of its gloom!

    • December 20, 2016 at 11:06 am

      Dave, but Henry II remained King. He changed the world. And not for the better, unless you limit the better to the expansion of the British Empire. He got all this for a few months of sack-cloth and ashes.

      You want us to “think positively” about a situation that threatens democracy in the world, the future of the planet, and the lives of 7 billion people. I don’t believe thinking positively provides any effective means to address these problems. Fighting back addresses them. Science can’t save us. Science has been co-opted since WWII. Big science in energy, agriculture, flight, etc. is now firmly in the hands of corporations. And definitely out of the hands of academics and government laboratories.

      • December 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm

        Ken, very interesting comment on Henry II, invader of Ireland with an English pope’s authorisation to impose law and order. Mary Cusack’s “Illustrated History of Ireland” pp.274-5 is full on centuries of pre-Christian-Norman plunder; here briefly: “Henry’s great object was to represent himself as one who had come to redress grievances rather than to claim allegiance; but however he may have deceived princes and chieftains, he certainly did not succeed in deceiving the clergy”.

        Your other argument has me wanting to quote Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” at you. (Read it)! In his paradoxical way he quite consistently supported Britain defending Belgium and fighting Prussian philosophy in WWI, but noted the exemplary turning of cheeks and “the fact that priests never fought”. However, this to the point: “a mysterious but suggestive definition said to have been given by a little girl.

        “An optimist is a man who looks after your eyes, and a pessimist is a man who looks after your feet”.

        He says “I am not sure that this is not the best definition of all. There is even a sort of allegorical truth in it. For there might, perhaps, be a profitable distinction drawn between that more dreary thinker who thinks merely of our contact with the earth from moment to moment, and that happier thinker who considers rather our primary power of vision and of choice of road”.

      • December 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

        Dave, Henry II was a man who used any means available to him to reach his goals. His goals were the expansion of the British Empire and the control of the Church. He never succeeded with the Church. That would come with his successors Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

        As for eyes and feet, both are necessary for any journey. Instead of optimism in the face of evil, I prefer resoluteness in the face of evil. Never saw much use for either optimism or pessimism.

      • December 21, 2016 at 1:38 pm

        “Never saw much use for either optimism or pessimism”?

        Nor did Chesterton. He goes on: “My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. … Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her. … Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, “I will not hit you if you will not hit me”, there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, “We must not hit each other in the holy place”. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine and found that they had become courageous. … The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin are (in their personal intercourse with the man) are almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head. … Love is not blind; that is the last thing it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.”

        So where’s YOUR primary loyalty?

      • December 22, 2016 at 6:16 am

        Dave, don’t have much use for love either. Loyalty, duty, obligation, trust, yes. But not love.

      • Craig
        December 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm

        Ken, perhaps if we defined love as a movement outward from self and toward another it would help. That way mutual aid would be a form of love as would a handshake and any cooperative situation. Scientifically, everything in the cosmos is an electro-magnetic outflow toward a perceiver…..who is also radiating back. That could make the world look a lot friendlier, and contemplating that most basic fact and integrating it into our thinking could be the start of a wise and more wholistic philosophy

      • December 22, 2016 at 9:42 am

        Poor you. Poor Earth.

      • Craig
        December 22, 2016 at 4:12 pm

        And I certainly also agree with your values of loyalty, duty, obligation and trust, but aren’t those all aspects of love? I think we’re all much more in agreement than we are in disagreement.

      • December 23, 2016 at 5:47 am

        Dave, poor homo sapiens.

        Craig, love is not required for loyalty, duty, obligation, or trust. In fact, love often hampers these. And they certainly are not all aspects of love. Each of us carries out obligations, duties, loyalties, and trust regardless of individual feelings of love. That’s one of the things that allows collective common life to emerge and continue.

      • Craig
        December 23, 2016 at 8:37 am

        “That’s one of the things that allows collective common life to emerge and continue.”

        I would say that lack of love is undoubtedly the thing that prevents actual community from being reality in every aspect of life. I certainly don’t deny the reality you point at, but again, if we integrated those two perspectives I think a third and more unified reality would present itself. Integration of opposites is wisdom. For instance, in zen buddhism the koan is a question/device for overcoming habitual rationalism/dualism and/or glibness in the noviate in order to experience the thirdness-oneness depth of satori/wisdom. Economic theory, I assert, is stuck in dualism, and badly needs the integrative and wise third alternative.

      • December 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

        Craig, I agree with your conclusion on economic theory and dualism. However, I can’t quite see how love, even of the Zen variety can cure this problem. After all, love is one of the oldest dualisms — eros and agape.

      • Craig
        December 23, 2016 at 6:21 pm

        All dualisms need to be integrated, even those of love. And then, in order for love to be relevant to the world we live in it must be integrated with action…because the temporal universe is in continual action, continual process. Integrate love and action and you get loving, i.e. love in action otherwise known as grace/graciousness/gracefulness/flow. And relevant to our monetary economy the way to make it flow and remain flowing would be to integrate policies of grace as in continual monetary gifting into the debt based system that currently dominates.

      • December 24, 2016 at 10:29 am

        Craig, I agree with most of what you say. But neither gifting nor grace require love. Many native American economies are based on tribal identify (not racial) and gifting. But members of a tribe do not love all other members. They do consider them kin and thus deserving of gifting relationships and followers of the same path. During the 1970s this changed with some native Americans being Indian in name only. Apples is the pejorative used for these Indians.

      • Craig
        December 24, 2016 at 7:34 pm

        Okay. Systemically, what is more relevant and constructive, that the policies/actions of that system are loving and gracious or that people be up to the full understanding, experience and expression of love? I happen to believe, with perhaps a few exceptions, that virtually everyone wants to do and is trying to do the right thing even if imperfectly and/or incompletely consciously. We “see through a glass darkly”. If you kept giving $5 bills to even the most dedicated “there ain’t no free lunch” arm chair pundit eventually 99% would either stop going harumph and say thank you or stop throwing them back at you after a consult with his more practical, socially aware and commonsensical wife.

        Systems were made for Man, not Man for systems. Our current economic and monetary situation has that completely inverted, and current economic theories lack a fully integrative philosophical and policy concept that would effectively invert that inversion.

        Consider that if the philosophical concept of grace is both an idea and simultaneously its integrated/integrative action, and as per the example above tends to either raise awareness of an agreed upon healthy state of mind and/or elicit a healthy urging of so by others who see both its efficacy and their self interest in it, then it could be entirely relevant to economic and monetary theory, and the way out and the way home to sustained prosperity and stability. We’ve tried, mere calculus and mere science, why not complete the trinity with a new philosophy of economics?

      • December 25, 2016 at 3:33 am

        Craig, I agree with all you say in your latest comment. The cynic (there is no free lunch) would say anyone who gives money away is both a fool and harms social order. Social order has many possible forms and sources. Certainly the competition for survival, everything has its price, Ayn Rand is my idol way of life supported by mainstream economics and neoliberal politicians and businesses is one form for this order. It is not the only one, and, in my view does more harm than good in terms of both survival potential and happiness for humanity. The big problem we face in dealing with this restrictive lifestyle is the narrowing of human imagination in terms of proper and improper ways of life. As things stand right now most of humanity can’t even imagine a socialist lifestyle as reasonable much less ways of life that broadly and subtly go well beyond socialism. Leaps of faith, something else most humans no longer understand or accept will be essential in this evolution.

    • robert locke
      December 21, 2016 at 6:45 am

      “Ken on “How was the original Christian Catholicity achieved? Sometimes by love, charity, and understanding. But sometimes by conquest and threats. Both approaches work.””

      The problem has not been Catholicity but clericalism. My wife tells the story that when she came to Poland from Russia at age seven, she was sent to school, where she was surprised to see a man in a dress enter the classroom. All the Polish children bowed obediently and respectfully to the priest, except the little “Russian” girl. The priest call her to him, and said: “Stick out your hand.” She did and the priest struck the palm of her hand with a rod as hard as he could, with the words “you are in Poland now, not Russia.” My wife has hated the priesthood ever since. The hierarchy has made deals with various devils to serve its own interest, from the Freedom and Justice Party in Poland today, which is suppressing democracy in the country, back to concordats with Mussolini and Hitler. Clericalism, that is the enemy, French Republicans said in the 19th century.

      • December 21, 2016 at 10:15 am

        Thanks for this, Bob. I entirely agree that the problem is clericalism, and the present pope (like John XXIII) also seems to agree. If I may put the problem more abstractly, it is an epistemological rather than ontological concept of hierarchical paternal authority, enforcing the letter of justifiable laws rather than passing down the spirit of paternal love, where the root Creator was the father of all men, not just our own tribe.

        Happy Christmas to you and yours!

      • December 21, 2016 at 11:29 am

        Robert, agree with you about clericalism. But still the Church (i.e., the Pope) could control clericalism and redirect the focus of the Church away from traumatizing children to enforce the power of the Church (not the priests). If you suggest we go beyond this to change the focus of the entire Church to more closely match the call of Jesus, this would be admirable in my view, although not really practical. Remember the scene in the movie version of “The Big Fisherman” where the Pope strips the church of all its possessions to feed the starving. Would even the current Pope actually so such a thing? After all, after the wealth has been distributed how can the Church go on to help the next starvation, war, or disaster crisis. There is a balance point here. I just don’t know where it is.

      • robert locke
        December 21, 2016 at 4:51 pm

        In Poland lots of anticlericalism arises in rural areas now, because the Kachinski government’s policy which forbids the sale of land to people, let’s the Church acquire land, which it does not farm but keeps or sells on at a profit to lay people.

      • December 22, 2016 at 9:37 am

        So the Church (whatever that is seen as : international corporation or local parish) does what it is not allowed to do (sell land)? Chesterton’s discussion of pessimism and optimism continues after more amusing discussion: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. … [Christianity] was attacked on all sides and for contradictory reasons”. He found his explanation in the perception of the attackers. “Outrageously tall men might feel [a man of the right shape] to be short. Old bucks who are growing stout might think him insufficiently filled out”.

        Seriously, what you say would make sense if the prohibition were against buying freehold from each other, as against the traditional buying leasehold all one needs from God while remaining responsible for care of the remaining commons? Even allowing medieval practice didn’t always live up to that ideal, Prof Hawking might appreciate it as at least a gesture in the right direction.

      • January 5, 2017 at 5:15 pm

        Robert, you might find this interesting, from the Newman Association events in hand for its 75th anniversary year.

        “15 February – New Models of Christian Community: towards a Post–Clericalist Church – Werner G. Jeanrond – Edinburgh”.

  19. December 19, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    I have read – once again – all the comments in this thread and I want to thank all the contributors in this very interesting discussion… As always, and quite normally, I have learned a few new things… My own perspective comes from an Hegelian/Bertalanffyian approach to the study of our current socioeconomic system.
    What do I mean by that?…
    What I mean is that, even if we consider that «the devil is in the details», we should start by looking at – and studying – the interaction of the whole human species with «mother Nature». It seems that we are the only living species with the capability (and the impulse) to produce (extract from Nature and transform) more than what is strictly required for the normal societal upkeep, at the same level of comfort as before. Even if one considers the demographic growth, that comes from us being the «ultimate predator» of all other species, generation after generation, we have always been capable of producing, at least, a little more than what was required for our continued existence. That originated if not the notion, at least the fact, of an «economic surplus» being produced and accumulated, year after year.
    To me the «great transformation» was the shift in the locus of decision as to what to do with that annual surplus. For generations its use was decided either by some «council of elders» or, more commonly, by the «leader» («paramount chief», king, emperor…).
    One can see the «remnants» of that material accumulation in monuments, pyramids, castles, aqueducts, palaces… As well as in the accumulation of knowledge.
    Then (over a period of time…) the merchants took over.
    In this context I am now thinking – and just for illustration purposes – about the potlatch phenomenon. A gift-giving feast practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, which was forbidden only in late XIX century for its «irrational» character…
    I guess one could go on (and on…) and write a number of papers and/or articles and/or theses on these themes of «locus of decision» and «agents motivation»… And in this respect I am also thinking about the Bill Gates interview with «The Atlantic» last year, where that multi-billionaire openly admitted that «only Socialism (of some sort, I might add…) can save the planet». That was the title of the interview, anyway…
    Incidentally, to my understanding (the way I use the word…), «Socialism» does not necessarily imply «State ownership» of «means of production»… To me, I would be content with «Political/Democratic control over global strategic economic decisions».
    Coming back to my stance of an «Hegelian/Bertalanffyian» approach, I believe that at this stage of our evolution, there needs to be three «revolutions»: (1) an energy revolution (independently of one being skeptical or not about «global warming»…) that enables abundant/cheap/clean energy for the peoples of the «South-Third World»; (2) a drastic reduction in «working hours» (the “the lump of labor fallacy” notwithstanding…) that enables «jobs for all» (here I am thinking about Keynes and his «Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren»…) and (3) the eradication of what I call the «world offshore system»…

    • David Chester
      December 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Until the rights to own and waste our natural resources are taken out of the hands of a relatively small number of greedy speculators, there will be a worsening degree of social injustice and a greater reduction of the sharing of opportunities to both work and dwell in a reasonable way. A wise government will collect from land owners most of the economic rent from their privatized natural resources for public benefit, instead of what has been created by public taxation and land price rise from infrastructure developments is returned to the people. TAX LAND NOT PEOPLE; TAX TAKINGS NOT MAKINGS!

      • December 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

        “[On Hegel],”I was thinking more in terms of starting the analysis of Human Society from «the top» … rather than from the individual components”.

        Sorry, should have seen that from your earlier comment. Well, so am I; I’ve proposed “the macro foundations of micro-economics” on the logical grounds that what is true of all is true of any, but not vice versa. (Think Venn diagrams). Synthesis in Algol68 starts from its modes of interpretation, i.e. ontology (what logical type of object are we discussing) rather than epistemology (where did the data come from)? Where I’m at just now is mapping the universe to a dynamic version (evolutionary clock time units) of an Arabic number system, where the whole is not the sum of the numerals because places of higher significance emerge from those of lower, as particles emerged from the energy of the Big Bang, then atoms, molecules, cells, life human life, hence societies and social systems involving linguistic communication. Thus we can see reality whole like we see a number whole, even when primarily interested in its most significant figures.

      • December 23, 2016 at 11:15 am

        The above response was misplaced, referring to Fonseca-Statter’s comment below.

        An important extension of saying that the evolution of humanity leads to human societies and methods of operating them is that the methods can go wrong, whereon their institutionalising in parts of society and thence, in the brains of the human cells of its “body” like (but more easily communicated than) faulty DNA in cells of our own bodies, can become “cancerous”, taking over and eventually killing the host it is embodied in, which is formed not just humanity but life itself, and even (thinking of fast-breeding nuclear reactions) of inanimate material.

        As Professor Hawking says, “We are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity”. The need is not just for medicine to kill off a few rogue cells but to recognise the fault in the method (not so much in the detail as in seeing the negative as the photo) and reinstitutionalise the world’s society, and that quickly. That this is possible is therefore of the utmost significance.

        The argument I’ve been repeating ad nauseum, simplified to what can be explained in a blog, is that the market economy is in fact a control system as intuited in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”; that up-to-date thinking on control systems has led to the mass-production of electronic PID control servos, institutionalising as against merely applying the equivalent of navigation (as against mere steering) of not just the Ship of State but of any boat, or indeed any form of directed motion. Where navigation can go wrong is because the compass is ambiguous: it merely points North-South, so the South Pole can be mistaken for the North Pole, in which case corrections for drift to East or West are also fed back the wrong way round, exacerbating the error with positive feedback instead of containing it with negative feedback. In practical terms this is equivalent to what we have now: growth in monetary profits being taken as valuable when what this is indicating is an increasing debt to humanity and life on earth. The answer (which exists and so is entirely feasible) is to replace the money markets with some form of “credit card economy” to finance “replacement” of what we use and “regeneration” of what we have already laid waste.

    • December 21, 2016 at 12:53 pm

      F-S on “Coming back to my stance of an «Hegelian/Bertalanffyian» approach …”.

      I’m sorry it has taken me a while to respond on this, F-S. I can see the Hegelian pattern easily: “THESIS: automated powered production, ANTITHESIS: less working hours, SYNTHESIS: personal credit + work worth doing”. I have had to look again at Bertalanffy.

      I had found his “General Systems Theory” admirable but dated (published before Algol68) and therefore missing the crucial point, about how to include space for development of processes in time. Mathematically this was resolved by Hamilton’s quaternions back in the 1840’s, which reduces to rotation through a right angle by operator i with complex numbers. With quaternions, rotation of planes of view through different spaces (as in an architect’s plan, front and side elevations) does not suffice: the three-dimensional building itself (with all its contents) generates a transition from theory back to one’s theoretical starting point in reality. In Algol68 this shows up in data referred to by variables which are referred to by modes which refer to the procedures which will in time decode the data and encode a new generation of it. A late and much lamented Chestertonian friend put me on to Arthur M Young’s “The Geometry of Meaning”, which relates this to Newton’s laws of motion and by implication to the electronic components distinguished by Heaviside’s electric circuit theory. Library classification and my work with Algol68 led to understanding the use of indexes to manipulate complex data objects in data bases and interrupts from operating systems, while Chesterton himself had put me on to linguistic and imaging sides of brains controlling perception and action. Bertalanffy’s indexed references to Shannon all record other people’s opinions. e.g. “Information theory, although useful for computer design and network analysis, has so far not found a significant place in biology (Bell, 1962)”. He has missed the the fact that his information theory provided the mathematical components necessary for a dynamic rather than physically specific basis for cybernetics. It is therefore not surprising that (in advance of Algol68) he had previously said “The relationship between information and organisation, information theory and thermodynamics, remains a major problem (cf. pp.159 ff)”. He has not seen how e.g. the complex number symbol i (one bit of complex information) refers to a process as well as distinguishing ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ dimensions of a two-dimensional space – of which the so-called ‘real’ is a one-dimensional abstraction. Again, as in the misunderstanding of catholicity I’ve just discussed with Robert Locke, this is a case of looking at the letter rather than the spirit of what Shannon was saying: at what it is saying rather than what it is doing: pointing to the dynamic “PID feed backs on different time scales” understanding of complex systems.

      As I said earlier when you linked your paper on Complex Systems, we could have a good discussion about that! This is enough here, though. Happy Christmas to you too!

      • December 22, 2016 at 1:39 pm

        This has been a fascinating discussion…
        Let me clarify a few of my ideas – and also going back to the ecological issue.
        1. In this particular context, by «Hegelian approach», I did not mean the simplistic idea of «thesis-antithesis-synthesis»… I was thinking more in terms of starting the analysis of Human Society – in its interaction with «mother Nature» – from «the top» (the society as a whole) rather than from the individual components («methodological holism» to cut a long story short…) – Stephen Cullenberg in his book «The Falling Rate of Profit», talks of an «Hegelian totality» as opposed to a «Cartesian totality»… The idea was also as a reference to the linearity implied in a Cartesian analysis as opposed to the non-linearity implied in an Hegelian analysis.
        My reference to Bertallanfy was a mere indication of the need to look at the current juncture («we-are-at-the-most-dangerous-moment»…) in a systemic manner. Perhaps a reference to Norbert Wiener might have been more appropriate.
        2. This whole thread «kind of» revolves around (and quite rightfully so) the convergence of «Economics» and «Ecology»… «Once upon a time», in the days on ancient Greece, the word «economy» meant the «management of the household». Once «philosophers» started considering that same concern in the public space, we got «Political Economy», as Rik Pinxten rightly pointed out. So, in a sense, «Ecology» truly is the «new economy»… The management of the common household, which is our planet Earth…
        And in this context one is daily reminded of the crucial role of energy… Its production, distribution and consumption. And the fact that most national governments of this world (with the possible exception of China…) have been taken over – their «agency capability» – by transnational corporations opens up the question of «who is managing our common planetary household»?…
        3. Because of «energy sources» based on carbon-based-raw-materials are deemed to seriously affect the climate, many are considering alternatives such a «new nuclear» (thorium cycle, traveling wave…) as well as solar and wind… The problem is the amount of energy needs of those countries we used to designate as «Third World»… And this is where the Political Economy of Underdevelopment» comes into play.
        I wish every one («believers», «unbelievers» and «agnostics») happy Christmas festivities…

      • December 22, 2016 at 6:21 pm

        Misplaced my response to this: see above Sorry.

  20. Rik Pinxten, Belgium
    December 20, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I agree with a lot of Ken’s latest reply. But let us say out loud what is new is this ‘globalized’ world of ours (you know, the one where the sea level will rise 7 meters or more once Greenland’s permafrost is gone): ‘the richest people will die last, and their death will therefore not be to envy’.
    Rik Pinxten

  21. Craig
    December 20, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Let’s be honest, the business model of finance has been enslaving every other business model and 95% of the general population for the last 6000 years. This is not to suggest summary executions or anything, but that problematic dragon must be slain. It must go the way of the city horse manure shovelers after the invention of the internal combustion engine. Manure shoveling is a bracing experience. It brings one into present time. Hence it could very likely be a positive and enlightening next step for many economists and financiers who have become ethically challenged via their hypnotism by the monetary paradigms of Debt, Loan and for Production only. In fact the positive aspects and intentions of both capitalism and socialism can be integrated and the first step in that process is integrating direct monetary gifting and strategically placed, so as not to injure any economic agent, reciprocal price gifting at the end of the economic/productive process into the economy. That would balance and resolve the monopolistic financial paradigms of Debt, Loan and for production only and free both the individual and enterprise….at the same time. It would also restore the social contract at a time that the pace of innovation and artificial intelligence is poised to destroy employment at a rate 20 or 30 times faster than it has ever done before. Then modern societies, with the aid of the helping professions, the clergy and public service announcements from the government, could help the individual find their own self chosen positive and constructive purposes in addition to employment. That way we could begin to create a gracefully growing society based on freeing man and enterprise to do the work of better survival. Without a vision the people, the productive system and civilization perish.

    • December 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm

      Craig, I’m very much with your conclusion here. What worries me is that destroying employment or being employed in the management of money rather than people and the countryside also destroys the opportunities to care and to see where care is needed. Giving is an alternative to taxation which enables the giver rather than the government to choose what projects to support, but when the rich don’t live anywhere in particular they too cannot see where the needs are until these amount to complete destitution. Polanyi also strongly made the point that the evil of the Speenhamland wage support system was to deprive paupers of even what little reason they had left for living. So the giving has to real and where the need is, with work-sharing leaving skill and dignity but also the need for precisely what you say, about helping individuals find their own constructive purposes in addition to employment in efficient mass production. With money as we have it the motivation to do this is counter-productive, which is why my vision is of a credit card or “hitch-hiker” economy.

      While quoting Chesterton, I found this. It seems to me very apt. The monetary system has lasted a long time, but is it fragile? “[To] be breakable is not the same as to be perishable. Strike a glass, and it will not endure an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years. Such, it seemed, was the joy of man, either in elfland or on earth; the happiness depended on NOT doing something which you could at any moment do and which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do”. Like loving money. Replace the money with credit and work worth doing, and that too will be durable,

      • Craig
        December 20, 2016 at 9:31 pm

        Yes. One of the best ways to turn a problematic factor into a solution is to re-define it. For instance we could re-define the concept of full time work into 20 Hours of Employment + 20 Hours of volunteerism and/or self determined positive self development + a $1500/ mo. dividend paid to every individual 18 and older. Of course if you and your employer wanted you to work 40+ hours/week that would be an available option as well and you would still get your dividend. Re-definition/philosophical transformation is what I call Wisdomics which is my idea of a multi-disciplinary integrative body of thought instead of the intellectually fragmented thing we currently call economics.

    • December 21, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Craig, I admire your forbearance. Humans have never been free. They always owned obligations and duties to one another. But humans’ invention of agriculture, government, and then monarchy forced human freedom be possessed by some more than others. And with it the invention of slavery. In one form or another slavery has been with humans ever since. And contrary to views of many the current versions of slavery in serving capitalism and corporations are not either more humane or more democratic than its predecessors. So far except in short time periods democracy has been no match for the slavery of either monarchy, totalitarianism, or capitalism. Marx was wrong about a lot of things. But he was not wrong that most of us live in chains.

      • Craig
        December 21, 2016 at 4:52 pm

        Yes, this is not for lack of intelligence, but rather lack of the pragmatic and ethical consciousness that attends wisdom. That is why economics needs to become Wisdomics.

      • December 22, 2016 at 6:44 am

        Craig, humans today, mostly as a result of rationalism’s sway have a narrow understanding of intelligence. Intelligence is about all cognitive abilities. Analysis, emotions, perception, loyalty, commitment, etc. I do like your term, Wisdomics.

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