A Sapient Society

SUBHEAD: There will be survivors and areas of the world where some small semblance of civility will remain.
By George Mobus on 01 June 2009 in Question Everything - (http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2009/06/a-sapient-society.html#comments) Image above: Site of Nalanda, the world's first university, founded in the 5th Century A.D. in India. From http://www.thezensite.com/BuddhistPhotos/Nalanda.htm Our current social order is not sustainable. Our economic system is based on a false set of premises — that we can extract all we want from the environment, pump all the waste we want into the environment, and all make our wealth by speculating with currency tokens. And all of this without any consequence other than that we are all enjoying more material wealth. Our political and moral positions admit that our societies must grow both in numbers of persons and in terms of how much consumption each person accounts for. This is a monstrous lie. The world is finite. And we, as a part of the world, have reached, nay exceeded, our fair share of space and resources. Fairness, here, means that our existence does not threaten the existence of the vast majority of the biota. As things stand now, our existence, and the way we insist on living, has triggered the sixth great extinction event. What is ironic about this is that we are almost certainly one of the species that is threatened since our existence actually does depend on the existence of the biota as it has been for the last many millions of years. And we are destroying much of that biota. Our actions have set in motion slow but inexorable forces that will accelerate the degradation of the natural world as time goes on. But that will take many centuries, maybe even millennia to work out. What will actually happen very much sooner is that we will loose our capacity to do the kind of economic work that has been the hallmark of modern civilization and upon which our civilization utterly depends. Our world, even the less developed nations, run on fossil fuels that provide the most compact source of high power that mankind has yet exploited. [NOTE: nuclear fission might be considered more compact, but its uses are primarily stationary and is still restricted to a very small percentage of the total energy consumed in the world.] And the net power availability of fossil fuels is starting to decline. For oil it is declining at an alarming rate and oil is the king pin energy source since it takes diesel fuel, for example, to mine and transport coal. Hence, all fossil fuel energy sources will go into decline even though there will still be lots of fossil fuels left underground! Our current form of social organization, our forms of governance, our economic processes, and our approaches to education of the younger generations cannot stand for much longer. We are on the verge of a social collapse and if I had to guess I would say within the next decade. Our world order is in a chaotic state and in such a state anything can happen. Even a slight event can trigger a complete phase transition. And no particular path to the bottom is predictable, only that the collapse will take us to the bottom. For myself I maintain an optimism that lets me think the collapse will not be so catastrophic that mankind will destroy itself completely, say in a nuclear winter scenario. I do think very many helpless humans will suffer horrendous deaths from all manner of catastrophe, but there will also be survivors, even areas of the world where some small semblance of civility will remain. Indeed, those wise enough to foresee this may make special preparations (I'm not necessarily talking the typical survivalist story here). If so, we will need to consider a new social order upon which to build a new society that may live in balance within the Ecos. • An architecture for social structure • A human centered social structure What we seem to have forgotten in our haste to create physical nirvana is that we are human beings and not just pieces of a giant wealth making machine. The latter is something that can easily ignore the rest of the Ecos and destroy nature in the name of progress without care. But if we remember that at the center of our human endeavors are real human beings who are not just cogs in a wheel but living beings that touch and interact with nature, indeed need nature in order to survive, we may become more human-centered. And human-centeredness doesn't mean hubris. It means we value ourselves as living, feeling, thinking beings first while still recognizing that all of those qualities obtain from being a part of the Ecos, not separate from it. The key insight into how society might be arranged so as to optimize the human presence in this world is that we as a species are a product of the tripartite co-evolution of...
• individual minds (development and learning), • genetic pools, and • group culture.
We, as individuals, are a product of our genetic inheritance, our cultural inheritance, and our knowledge inheritance — our conceptual constructions or mental models. An individual human being is an incredibly adaptive system, one whose behaviors can change and cover a wide range of responses to environmental change. The human capacity to learn is at the heart of our future. So, too, our societies have an inherent capacity for adaptation even if more sluggish than individual adaptation. Institutions are stable over multiple generations because they are more conservative in terms of organizational learning and changing as the environment changes. For most of human history this has been a strength. Where human individuals came and went, institutions endured, changing only slowly. In the quickened pace of our current social milieu this tendency may have become a liability, however. Finally, with the advent of our understanding of the mechanisms of genetics and epigenetic controls we are beginning to grasp the nature of evolutionary adaptation, that which takes the longest time scale for change. And we have discovered that it is feasible (at least it appears to be so) that we can directly intervene in the genetic adaptation process to meet the challenges of this rapidly changing world. We stand on the verge of reconciling these three very different time domains of adaptation in order to coordinate the future potential of human kind in the Ecos. A society that is centered on the greatest human strength would have as its core value learning and adaptation even while maintaining a framework of time-proven knowledge. This is a succinct description of a university. The university is a confluence of schools, laboratories and libraries where knowledge is gained, modified as evidence dictates, is taught to the younger generations, and is stored and maintained for ready retrieval upon need. A university is not just a "social construct". It is a natural extension of the human brain and mind. It is the societal mind, having all of the functions and qualities of an extended mind, along with the mechanical means to obtain, store, retrieve, and process knowledge for the good of the collective. It is, or should be, the seat of wisdom and understanding and open to all who seek that understanding. A university of noesis (mind and knowledge) would form the core structure for a sapient society (Fig. 1). Rather than our current conceptualization of a government, 'running things', the university would be the guide for how best to coordinate the organization of the rest of the social structure. The governing board of the university would be a council of wise elders, not chosen by democratic vote, but by lifelong evidence of growing wisdom and moral stability. They would be selected as in a meritocracy with no set number of members and a rotating chairmanship. The university would be the strategic mind of the society. Not a central planner (as so many too often confuse this form of governance with the failed model of Soviet bureaucracy), but a strategic vision setting body, and all that that implies. Figure 1. An architecture for a new social order. The University of Noesis is the core as described in the text. It would include the strategic element of a hierarchical, distributed control governance. The next outer shell contains the tactical and logistical functions for the entire society. Note that aesthetics, the appreciation of beauty, and the enjoyment systems are a part of this layer as these are as important as communications and education to the support and growth of every member of the society. The outer shell contains the operational systems that keep the society well and developing internally. The exergy and food systems are of primary importance but interfaces for other social systems and the rest of the Ecos are also part of this shell. The system is not closed, but the inflows and outflows of matter and other people are kept in balance. The principle idea in Fig. 1 is that a social system must naturally incorporate a hierarchical and distributed control subsystem for all of its essential activities. This is accomplished naturally with the concentric rings shown in the figure. The outer ring contains the operational level activities that make life possible and provide for the material wealth the society needs. The middle ring provides the coordination control (logistical and tactical support) to keep the society operating smoothly and to provide rapid adaptive responses to changes in the overall environment (for example defense includes repairing storm damage). The inner core captures the highest value of human life — knowing and understanding — for the individual in the context of the society. The highest purpose of this social architecture is that all members have access to all knowledge that they might desire and that their lives are devoted primarily to self-actualization. The education and communications subsystems are devoted to ensuring all citizens as much access as they desire to the core. The only cost one has to pay to be a member of society is to perform work as needed to maintain the structure. The bulk of 'jobs' will most likely fall under the exergy and food production categories. But any job that helps to maintain the structure so that energy flow is used most wisely (e.g. in helping construct energy efficient housing) counts. And as long as energy flows, everything else is free! Of course in a large enough grouping of such a social unit, some form of money token may be used to facilitate trade, but the monetary units would be based on exergy units and so would not become a basis for speculation or overvaluation. Feasible???? As I am sure many of you are now saying to yourself, 'but this is just utopianism, this is nothing more than a hippy commune!' Well, I'd like to believe it is a little more sophisticated than that. And I think it employs a good deal more subtlety in terms of its governance and economic underpinnings than your run-of-the-mill commune. For example, this is advanced not just as a model of a small community (though that it certainly is) but, by extension in scale it is a model for larger, indeed, global community organization. Note the import/export/immigration/emigration aspects. These allow any number of small communities to link up with one another and to form aggregate concentric shell-organized meta-societies. The model applies at all scales because it is based on distributed hierarchical control as I have described it elsewhere. And do not worry that I have gone off the deep end in dreaming. I recognize that what I have just described (and you have to recognize that this is in the context of all my previous writing) is completely infeasible because of one overriding factor — human nature. Or rather, the low sapient nature of our current species. We, in general, are simply not wise enough to form these kinds of communities, or communities of communities (as with so many of my concepts this architecture is self-similar at multiple scales!!!). If we were, it would already be done! No, I do not expect that anyone will rush out and try to set up such a community in the wilderness somewhere with the dream that they will create utopia. What I want to do is point out that under the right conditions of human consciousness and eusapience I think this organization might actually be the natural consequence of societal living. If humanity were to evolve into a more sapient creature, I suspect this kind of social organization would be the norm. Rather I offer it as a vision of what could be at some distant future time, after the fall of our current social order, and after evolution has had a chance to select for greater sapience among the survivors. One possible scenario might have it that some highly sapient individuals will seek one another out sometime before the fall and organize a means of ensuring their own survival. This could lead to a very interesting evolutionary bottleneck phenomenon whereby the gene pool of the survivors would have greater representation of whatever genetic (or epigenetic) factors are involved in sapience inheritance. Wishful thinking? Probably. Feasible? Possibly. I can hope, can't I?

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