Friday, September 25, 2009

Money as distorting incentive

What financial incentives are there to write blogs, to post comments all over the internet? People do this in their millions. They care about issues because they care about life and about what they think the right way is. So many of us are motivated by our passion to try and do something that “makes things better,” and that in a culture where the knee-jerk argument is: “money motivates, without it nothing would get done.” With so many millions putting in so many millions of hours motivated by passion or a sense of community alone, surely we can safely say, money is not the only, nor even the best incentive. In the face of enormous pressure to be rich, to acquire stuff, to believe happiness surely follows on the heels of owning shiny things, with advertising bombarding us day and night no matter which way we turn our heads, the fact of this volunteer spirit is awe inspiring.

For me humans are cooperative first and competitive second. If this were not so, why did we develop language? How could anyone be a bad loser? Why are trust and friendship so important to us? Cooperation is our underpinning, our starting point in life. We have to trust our parents because they have life and death power over us. We begin life fully dependent on the whims of those who watch over us. Without trust and cooperation informing our behaviours from the deepest level we would be nothing but snarling beasts, dirty, brutish, and short-lived.

Thomas Hobbes was wrong.

Nature as operating system

Nature is an operating system. We are a piece of software dependent on (embedded in) that operating system. We are trying to understand this operating system that has spawned us using a middleman called language, a tool of symbols and meanings that has arisen organically in the crucible of our history to aid us in the ongoing struggle to become what we are becoming.

This is not spiritual, though it sounds that way. The spiritual angle – at least in the traditional sense – would be: we created the operating system in which we spend some time to learn about one aspect of All That Is. That may or may not be the correct interpretation of reality, but by my lights the more useful perspective is to see us as embedded in an operating system that spawned us, since this is the more motivating, the more efficacious, the more useful “paradigm.”

Since nothing is perfect, language is therefore an imperfect interface into the system. Homo sapiens sapiens is unique in its ability to ponder things in this way (using complex language), rather than the more typical impulse --> action --> reaction --> impulse cycle that other animals seem to exhibit. Using ourselves we are able to look back into our impulses and other elements of the operating system in which we are embedded, meta-represent back to ourselves what we observe via this meta-representation, and slowly learn how to get better at learning. It is an amazing thing.

I sincerely hope we don’t destroy ourselves. We are fascinating, and “fascinating” is only possible with humans around. For this alone, we’re worth saving.

The State we're in

“The association at Shoreline Towers, a 378-unit Chicago condominium, plans to use reserve funds to buy foreclosed units, rent them, then resell them when the market improves. The move prevents foreclosed units from being sold far below market value and allows the association to recoup some unpaid assessments, says Chris Sempler, vice president of Shoreline Towers' condo association board.”

How can anything be sold “far below market value”? If a buyer and a seller agree on a price, that is the market in action; the parties to the transaction determine the market value by agreeing price. If the seller loses large due to a crash in the prices of the product he invested in at some peak price, tough. Everywhere there are signs of agencies and corporations engaging in any measure that prevents the free flow of creative destruction. Without creative destruction, you do not have capitalism, you have the early stages of fascism. Capitalism is being brutalized, and yet the people who attack it call its disfigured face capitalism still, and claim to be its defenders.

We have a system completely dependent on endless growth; the extension of ever increasing amounts of credit; that stokes the insatiable appetites of a consumer likewise addicted to credit; a culture that lauds material wealth above all things, that says taking care of number one magically takes care of everyone else too; an economics that has no notion of trust, no model for taking fraud into account, no sense of the power of advertising, a giant blind spot concerning the vulnerability and malleability of human psychology, and that seems incapable of caring about the environment, the very thing we all depend on! And this is the best that humanity can come up with?

If you ask me what I suggest, I say lets test, openly and vigorously, the idea of a resource-based economy.