Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Can the hope circuit help us to circumvent dysfunctional politics?



This question came to mind when I was reading the final chapter of Martin Seligman’s latest book, The Hope Circuit.

The book is an autobiography, but in discussing his own life the author provides readers who have little knowledge of psychology, people like me, with a painless way of informing themselves about some major developments in this field over the last century.

Marty Seligman played an important role - as a researcher, author of popular books, and transformational leader - in helping to bring about important changes in his profession. He made major contributions in encouraging the profession to study cognition, recognise evolution, embrace positive psychology, and give greater attention to prospection.

I will focus here on learned helplessness, learned optimism and the hope circuit. Marty, as he is accustomed to being called by just about everyone, made his name as a researcher in the 1960s for his work, with Steve Maier, on learned helplessness. Marty and Steve observed that when dogs were unable to avoid electric shocks by changing their behaviour, they subsequently tended to remain passive when they did have the opportunity to avoid shocks. The dogs appeared to have learned that nothing they did mattered.

Marty saw the potential implications of this research for understanding of mental illness among humans and developed the helplessness theory of depression on that basis. That theory was subsequently reformulated, with assistance from John Teasdale, to take account of the way people think about the causes of their feelings of helplessness. For example, those who see their current problems as likely to last forever and to undermine everything they do are likely to feel helpless long into the future. Pessimism leads to helplessness.

Marty’s popular book, Learned Optimism, published in 1990, integrated research findings on learned helplessness and explanatory style.  It advocated disputing pessimistic thoughts as the central skill of learned optimism.

Marty coined the term “hope circuit” in 2015 to describe the MPFC-DRN circuit of brain activity discovered by Steve Maier, who had retrained as a neuroscientist. Marty explains that Steve’s discoveries turned learned helplessness on its head:
“He showed that the arrow of causality that we had postulated was wrong and that it was not helplessness but control and mastery that were learned".

One of the implications of this research is that therapy that “creates end runs” around trauma and helps people to plan a better future is likely to be more helpful than therapy that tries to undo trauma by confronting the past.

What does all this have to do with dysfunctional politics? This passage got me wondering:

"Human history has, until recently, been a tale of woe: warfare, plague, famine, injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent death. The last half century has witnessed, if not the eradication, a great reduction of these ills. When the world is a vale of tears, it is natural that politics, religion, science, medicine, and the arts should concern themselves with defense and damage. But what happens when the world is no longer a vale of tears?"

My initial reaction to that passage was the same as my reaction to Steven Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now. I agree that massive progress has been made in human flourishing, but I see huge problems ahead for liberal democracy. We are confronted by widespread failure to adhere to the norms of self-reliance and reciprocity that underpin liberal democracy.

I became even more pessimistic when my thoughts turned to Jason Brennan’s book, Against Democracy. In my response to that book I mourned the declining power of the major political parties to shape political agendas in ways that moderate the ill-informed desires of electors. I raised the question of whether many voters would be likely to accept impartial advice on how to vote to achieve their objectives.

It is not obvious that there is anything that anyone can do now to save liberal democracy from political hooliganism.

So, why aren’t I feeling depressed and helpless?  The main reason is that a few months ago Max Borders’ book, The Social Singularity, gave me grounds to hope that technological advances will eventually enable citizens to circumvent dysfunctional politics. Rather than moaning endlessly about the decline of liberal democracy, we can look forward in the hope of a better future. There may even be practical things that we can do in cooperation with others to facilitate growth in opportunities for human flourishing.   

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Is human flourishing primarily about psychological health, capability or opportunity?


This question is not just an intellectual puzzle. The way we answer it has important practical implications. The main point I want to make is that the appropriate answer if we are thinking about the flourishing of a close relative, friend or acquaintance is not appropriate if we are thinking about public policy.

Before attempting to answer the question, I need to outline the three different approaches.

The psychological health approach:  Martin Seligman is a leading exponent of this approach. In his book, ‘Flourish’, Seligman suggests that well-being theory ‘is essentially a theory of uncoerced choice, and its five elements comprise what free people will choose for their own sake’. The five elements he identifies are summarised as PERMA: positive emotion (pleasant experiences, happiness and life satisfaction); engagement (the flow state); relationships (positive relations with other people); meaning (belonging to and serving something bigger than yourself); and accomplishment (success, achievement, mastery).

In an earlier post I suggested that Seligman has missed another important element that people seek for its own sake, namely control over their own lives.

A more fundamental weakness of this approach is that it ignores all elements of well-being other than psychological well-being. For example, it seems reasonable to suppose that free people would usually choose to be wealthy rather than poor, even if their wealth made no contribution to their psychological well-being.

The capability approach: This approach was developed by Amartya Sen, an economist. Sen argues that a person’s capability reflects the alternative combination of functionings the person can attain and from which he or she can choose one collection. Functionings include objective criteria as being adequately nourished and being in good health as well as a range of other factors such as achieving self-respect and being socially integrated. In his contribution to ‘Capabilities and Happiness’ (2008, edited by Luigino Bruni et al) Sen noted that individuals may differ a good deal from each other in the weights they attach to different functionings. He seemed unwilling, however, to leave the weighting exercise to the individuals concerned. He suggested that ‘the weighting exercise has to be done in terms of explicit valuations, drawing on the prevailing values in a given society’.

The opportunity approach: The concept of opportunity proposed by Robert Sugden, also an economist, rests on “an understanding of persons as responsible rather than rational agents”. According to this view, individuals may sometimes act foolishly but nevertheless accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The term “opportunity as mutual advantage” expresses the idea that “one person’s opportunities cannot be specified independently of other people’s desires”. Sugden implies that an economic system that generates a great deal of individual opportunity is a system that rewards individuals for finding ways to benefit others. (‘Opportunity as mutual advantage’, Economics and Philosophy (26)).

If we were discussing the measurement of flourishing, I would add life satisfaction to this list of approaches. As discussed in another post, it has become common for life satisfaction ratings to be used to measure the extent that people are thriving or flourishing. Life satisfaction is measured by surveys asking individuals to give a simple numerical rating to their satisfaction with their livesThe countries with highest life satisfaction ratings tend to be those with highest ratings in terms of psychological flourishing and opportunity. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to argue that life satisfaction provides an ideal measure of any of the three aspects of human flourishing identified above.

So, what aspects of flourishing are most relevant if we are considering the extent to which relatives, friends and acquaintances are flourishing. In that context it seems reasonable to argue that psychological health, capability and opportunity are all relevant. For example, you might be able to think of individuals who would score highly in terms of PERMA even though they have limited capability and limited opportunities. You might be able to think of others who may have a fairly low PERMA score, even though they have had superior opportunities in life and seem to be functioning at a high level in many aspects of their work and family life. You might be able to think of people who have weak capabilities because they have wasted the opportunities available to them, and of others who have strong capabilities despite limited opportunities.

When we are assessing the extent that an individual is flourishing, it makes sense to consider the opportunities they have had, their current capabilities and their emotional well-being. It seems to me that an assessment would obviously be incomplete if it focused on only one of those aspects.

However, if we are looking at human flourishing from a public policy perspective, we need to have in mind what aspects of human flourishing public policy could, or should, be attempting to influence.

It doesn’t make sense for governments to accept responsibility for raising PERMA scores, because PERMA scores depend on factors that are largely outside the influence of governments. That is why the role of governments in relation to mental health has traditionally been focused on protecting community members and protecting the mentally ill from those who might seek to harm them. As options for treatment of mental illness have improved, the role of government in funding treatment has become more like its role in relation to other forms of illness. The main difference arises in relation to compulsory hospitalisation/treatment of people who are a danger to the community or themselves.

It seems to make more sense for governments to accept greater responsibility for raising the capability of citizens, but that is not without problems. Governments of wealthy countries have arguably played a role in enhancing the capability of many citizens through their involvement in funding of education and healthcare. However, it seems to me to be more accurate to describe those government interventions as attempting to promote more equal opportunities, rather than raising capabilities. Opportunities provided in education, for example, do not always end up raising the capability of students to earn an income after graduation.

The role played by governments in promoting more equal opportunities seems to me to be rather like a parent intervening in a card game to take good cards from some children to give to others, or to take out of the game. Despite the redistribution of opportunities, the scores throughout the game still depend largely on how well individuals play the cards in their hands. Further paternalistic intervention to nudge the weaker players might improve their scores, but is also likely to weaken their incentive to enhance their capabilities.

In my view, from a public policy perspective, human flourishing should be primarily about enabling opportunities to grow, rather than about redistributing the available opportunities. It makes sense for governments to accept responsibility for facilitating growth in opportunity because government policies impinge greatly – often negatively – on growth of opportunity. Although the growth of opportunity is often uneven, we have seen with the history of economic growth since the industrial enlightenment, that as some people take advantage of new opportunities – for example as a result of technological innovations, additional opportunities are created for others. The growth of opportunity has also provided the wherewithal for individual and collective efforts to improve economic security for those who are not capable of providing for themselves.

Growth of opportunity is not identical to economic growth as conventionally measured. Growing opportunities for people to live the kinds of lives that they aspire to have obviously encompasses considerations of environmental quality and all the other important things that are excluded form GDP measures. As noted in a recent post, the objective of growing opportunity amounts to the same thing as the Wealth Plus objective advocated by Tyler Cowan in his recent book, Stubborn Attachments.
Summing up, considerations of psychological health and capability are highly relevant to assessment of the extent that individuals are flourishing, but the primary focus of public policy should be facilitating growth in the opportunities for people to live the kinds of lives they aspire to have.   

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

How does skin in the game help solve the Black Swan problem?


As I was reading Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb’s latest book, the thought crossed my mind that the author might classify me as an IYI (intellectual yet idiot). He puts economists in the IYI category along with psychologists.
Taleb writes: 
Knowing ‘economics’ doesn’t mean knowing anything about economics in the sense of the real activity, rather than the theories … produced by economists”. 
I agree. Some economists know little about the real world.

Despite his low opinion of economists, the author acknowledges that some of the economists I admire, including Friedrich Hayek, Ronald Coase and Elinor Ostrom, had useful insights about the real world. He even suggests that Paul Samuelson made a useful contribution by pointing out that people reveal their preferences in their market behaviour rather than in what they say.

Rather than viewing Nassim Taleb’s offensive anti-intellectualism as evidence that he suffers from SFB, I think economists and psychologists should view it as a clever ploy to attract the attention of their students. I hope Taleb succeeds, and also hope that his book helps students to pose difficult questions for some of their professors.

There is some irony in the fact that Taleb has a low opinion of intellectuals, since Daniel Kahneman views Nassim Taleb as “one of the world’s top intellectuals”. Kahneman, a psychologist, won the Nobel prize for economics, largely for his research on asymmetry in the way people value potential gains and losses in making decisions. Taleb is critical of that research.

The question I raised at the outset was prompted by the following passage:

Skin in the game helps to solve the Black Swan problem and other matters of uncertainty at the level of both the individual and the collective: what has survived has revealed its robustness to Black Swan events and removing skin in the game disrupts such selection mechanisms. Without skin in the game, we fail to get the Intelligence of Time".

It is worth trying to take that apart to understand the reasoning behind it.

Skin in the game is about more than just sharing in the benefits of an activity. It involves symmetry and reciprocity – paying a penalty if something goes wrong as well as sharing in the rewards for risk taking.

Most people who provide us with goods and services still pursue occupations where they have skin in the game. The problem is that many of the people who don’t have skin in the game - for example, politicians, bureaucrats, bankers and university professors - occupy positions where their mistakes can have far-reaching consequences.

The Black Swan problem arises when we ignore extreme events – potential disasters - that occur infrequently. Taleb’s main point is that there are some risks that we can’t afford to take even though there is a low probability that they will occur at any point in time. His book, The Black Swan, was published in 2007 and made him famous following the 2008 financial crisis. Taleb contends that banks and trading firms are vulnerable to hazardous Black Swan events. The bank blow-ups occurred in 2008 as a result of hidden and asymmetric risks in the financial system.

At the level of the individual, skin in the game helps to solve the Black Swan problem because it helps people to focus on their need to survive in order to succeed. Taleb argues for profiting from risk-taking that doesn’t threaten survival. He points out that Warren Buffet made his billions by picking opportunities that passed a high threshold, rather than by applying cost benefit analysis.

At the collective level, skin in the game helps to solve the Black Swan problem because it requires decentralization of decision-making. Under a decentralized system the costs of the mistakes made by individuals are borne by those individuals, without necessarily affecting other participants. Centralized systems are exposed to the Black Swan problem because they can only be run by people who are not directly exposed to the cost of errors.

What has survived has revealed its robustness to Black Swan events. That applies to ideas, institutions, technologies, political systems, procedures, intellectual productions, car models, scientific theories etc. The only effective judge of things is time, because time is equivalent to disorder. The longer things survive, the more likely it is that they will have survived Black Swan events.

Removal of skin in the game disrupts selection mechanisms. When people have skin in the game they are less likely to reject ideas that have withstood the test of time in favour of new ideas that that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. A lot of findings published in peer reviewed journals fail subsequent replication tests.  

Without skin in the game, we fail to get the Intelligence of Time. Time removes the fragile and keeps the robust. The life expectancy of the nonfragile lengthens with time. Taleb writes:
The only definition of rationality that I’ve found that is practically, empirically, and mathematically rigorous is the following: what is rational is that which allows for survival."

I think Nassim Taleb is correct in his view that skin in the game helps to solve the Black Swan problem. Unfortunately, however, when it is comes to consideration of potential Black Swan events that threaten the survival of humanity, the political systems we have inherited do not ensure that political leaders have enough skin in the game for their minds to focus appropriately. Political leaders focus on their survival at the next election rather than on the survival of humanity. It is up to citizens who are concerned about potential Black Swan disasters to initiate appropriate action themselves.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Why don't all sides of politics agree to pursue Wealth Plus?


It would be great if the major political parties in all countries of the world were to pursue Wealth Plus as a national objective. However, I don’t think that is likely to happen soon, even in the wealthy countries that have implicitly pursued similar objectives in the past.

Wealth Plus is the objective advocated by Tyler Cowan, in his recently published book, Stubborn Attachments: A vision for a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals. Tyler defines Wealth Plus as:

‘The total amount of value produced over a certain time period. This includes the traditional measures of economic value found in GDP statistics, but also includes measures of leisure time, household production, and environmental amenities, as summed up in a relevant measure of wealth."

Tyler also suggests that we should aim to “maximize the rate of sustainable economic growth, defined in terms of a concept such as Wealth Plus”. He suggests that we should think more broadly about economic growth as an ongoing self-sustaining process that produces goods that contribute to human welfare, rather than in terms of growth in GDP as conventionally measured.

I think the objective that Tyler is writing about could better be described in terms of pursuing growth in opportunities for human flourishing – growing opportunities for people to live the lives that they aspire to have. I prefer that terminology partly because it fits neatly with the view I expressed in Free to Flourish that good societies are characterised by widespread opportunities for human flourishing. In my view, progress is movement toward better societies, with growing opportunities for human flourishing.

An emphasis on human flourishing raises a question, touched on in an appendix, of why human flourishing should be prioritized above the flourishing of non-human lives. One good reason is that flourishing humans show greater consideration for non-human lives than do humans who are struggling to survive. Discussion about what constitutes ethical behaviour toward non-human lives is a feature of modern life in prosperous countries. More fundamentally, if ethical behaviour is intrinsic to human flourishing – as Aristotle argued persuasively long before modern psychologists took up the idea - then human flourishing must encompass ethical behaviour toward all other living creatures.

Tyler makes a strong case that we should care about the well-being of people in the distant future just about as much as we care about the well-being of the current generation. His argument is based partly around the implications of discounting the value of future human lives. Under any positive discount rate, one life today could appear to be worth as much as the entire subsequent survival of humanity if we use a long enough time horizon for the calculation.

The argument for using a low discount rate seems to me to have considerable force when we are considering the benefits of public investments to protect future generations from potential catastrophes. As previously discussed on this blog, that argument is pertinent in considering what discount rates should be used for public investments to avert or mitigate climate change risks.

I am not persuaded by Tyler’s argument that the well-being of future generations isn’t adequately considered today in the choices “we” are making about “how rapidly to boost future wealth”. The “we” Tyler is referring to is the collective “we” that makes public policy choices. As I have previously suggested, the argument that positive externalities cause free markets to produce too little economic growth does not appear to have any more merit than the argument that negative externalities cause free markets to produce too much economic growth. Tyler hasn’t persuaded me that government intervention can improve on the growth outcomes of the savings and investment decisions made by individuals and families in a free market.  

In any case, the choices that governments make about “how rapidly to boost future growth” seem to be largely implicit rather than explicit. Boosting economic growth may be a motive for public investment in research and some forms of education, but I can’t think of many other examples. Perhaps what Tyler has in mind are the choices that governments make that unintentionally reduce the rate of economic growth. For example, he notes that when government spending is cut, investment spending is often the first area to go while entitlements for the elderly remain intact.

Tyler is on firm ground in arguing that the strengthening of good institutions today can be expected to provide benefits for centuries into the future. There is strong historical support for the view that growth promoting institutions and a history of prosperity tend to have enduring effects.

Tyler suggests that three key questions should be elevated in their political and philosophical importance, namely:

1.       What can we do to boost the rate of economic growth?

2.       What can we do to make our civilization more stable?

3.       How should we deal with environmental problems?

He goes on to observe:

“The first of these is commonly considered a right-wing or libertarian concern, the second a conservative preoccupation, and the third, especially in the United States, is most commonly associated with left-wing perspectives. Yet these questions should be central, rather than peripheral, to every political body. We can see right away how the political spectrum must be reshaped to adequately address these concerns. Politics should be about finding the best means to achieve these ends, rather than disputing the importance of these ends."

I agree that is what politics should about, but I am not optimistic that political leaders can pursue those ends diligently, even if they can be persuaded to embrace them. Liberal democracy has been weakened in recent decades by widespread failure to adhere to the norms of self-reliance and reciprocity that underpin it. As predicted by James Buchanan (see this post for explanation) failure of the liberal democracy is becoming increasingly likely as a higher proportion of the population becomes dependent on government, and voters increasingly seek to use the political process to obtain benefits at the expense of others.  

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that we are heading toward a tragedy of democracy. When interest groups view the coercive power of the state as a common pool resource to be used for the benefits of their members, the adverse impact of tax and regulation on incentives for productive activity produce outcomes that a detrimental to just about everyone. The process seems to be intensifying with the fragmentation of broad interest groups supporting the centre left and centre right of politics.

As Henry Ergas has noted recently, with particular reference to Australia, it has become “increasingly difficult for “catch-all” parties — as both our main parties have been — to position themselves in such a way as to aggregate a winning coalition. The concept of the ‘average’ or ‘median’ voter, which used to help orient the parties’ choices, has lost its substance, as has the notion of ‘the centre’. (“The Australian”, 25 Oct. 2018).

Similar problems are evident in other mature democracies. The process of fragmentation of broad interest groups has accelerated in many countries over the last decade or so as innovations in the social media have greatly increased the power of the rabid sports fans of politics - aptly referred to by Jason Brennan as Hooligans. Hooligans tend to seek out information that confirms their pre-existing political opinions and ignore or reject information that contradicts those opinions. They tend to communicate in echo chambers that reinforce their outrage when the leadership of the major parties is unresponsive to their concerns.

In some countries we are seeing ill-informed Hooligans taking over major parties and the reins of government. In other countries splinter parties comprised of Hooligans are attracting supporters away from major parties and making it more difficult for them to pursue coherent policy agendas. No matter which way it is happening, the growing political influence of the Hooligans makes it increasingly difficult for political leaders to pursue Wealth Plus, or any goals relating to the future well-being of the broader communities who elect them.

As more people come to recognize that liberal democracy is confronted by deep problems, perhaps some of them will attempt to make concerted efforts to reform political institutions so that they produce better outcomes. However, it is not obvious what reforms would stop the rot or how reforms could be achieved. A major economic crisis might help to focus the minds of responsible political leaders, but it could just as easily further strengthen the hands of the Hooligans.

I now think the best hope for future generations lies in the potential for new technology to enable people to circumvent the obstacles created by the Hooligans of national politics. As Max Borders has suggested (see discussion on this blog here and here) technological innovations provide us with the potential to “reweave the latticework of human interaction to create a great reconciliation between private interest and community good". The social singularity has potential to enable people to enjoy growing opportunities to live the lives that they aspire to have.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Does the I-You relation enter into every aspect of the moral life?



Roger Scruton argues in On Human Nature that the “I-You relation enters essentially into every aspect of the moral life”.

That strikes me as an exaggeration. Examples readily come to mind of the exercise of the traditional virtues of prudence (practical wisdom) and temperance (moderation) that do not involve other people. We can make the ethical judgement it is good to exercise practical wisdom by managing our food intake and exercising regularly without considering possible benefits that might have for others. We can make the ethical judgement that it is good to be able to respond with moderation when our computers misbehave, even if there are no other humans nearby to witness unrestrained emotional outbursts.

So, why does Scruton take such an extreme position on the importance of the I-You relation? Scruton follows Stephen Darwall, who argues that the moral life depends on the “second-person standpoint” – the standpoint of someone whose reasons and conduct are essentially addressed to others. In attempting to explain that proposition, Scruton argues that it is “only because we enter into free relations with others that we can know ourselves in the first person”. He presents two supporting arguments – one from language and one from recognition.

The argument from language, associated with Wittgenstein, is that first-person awareness arises from mastery of a public language and recognition that others are using the word I as I do, to express what they think or feel directly.

The argument from recognition, associated with Hegel, is based on the claim that in a state of nature, motivated only by my desires and needs, I am conscious, but without the sense of self. The sense of self arises from encounters with other humans and the struggle for survival.

It seems to me that the argument from language fails because it does not explain why first-person awareness would depend on having words to express what that feels like.

The argument from recognition fails because it does not explain why it is necessary to identify other humans as having self-awareness before being aware of your own thoughts and feelings. Indeed, it is not clear how any individual human can ever be certain that other humans are self-aware – we assume that others are self-aware as we observe their behaviour because of introspection about the way our own actions are related to our thoughts and feelings.

Within a few decades, we could well be assuming that some robots are self-aware because they seem to behave as though they are self-aware. Incidentally, just now when I asked Siri if she is self-aware, her response was: “Not that I am aware of”. I expect she has been programmed to make that response, but it is the kind of response one might expect from a self-aware human trying to appear to be clever.

In attempting to provide a functional explanation of self-awareness, it is not clear why Roger Scruton gives so much credence to the speculations of Hegel. He persuaded me earlier in the book that much human behaviour, including laughter, can be better understood in terms of its social meaning rather than evolutionary causes. But evolutionary causes are pertinent to functional explanations. We should not lightly dismiss the possibility that self-awareness provided evolutionary advantages to the individuals who possessed it by helping them to survive terrifying solitary endeavours, as well as to compete with and to cooperate with other humans.

Of course, we don’t need to ask how we came to have self-awareness if we acknowledge that the fundamental problem of ethics is taking responsibility for how we live all aspects of our lives. It is sufficient to acknowledge that we have self-awareness, which entails the ability to reflect upon our own behaviour, feelings and thoughts.

The template of responsibility, advocated by Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen in The Perfectionist Turn, bases ethics on “the existential fact that we must make something of our lives”:

“For the template of responsibility, the basis for determining worthiness is human flourishing or wellbeing of some sort. Its ultimate value is integrity. Integrity expresses itself interpersonally in honour but when applied to the agent herself, the term ‘integrity’ signifies a coherent, integral whole of virtues and values, allowing for consistency between word and deed and for reliability in action” (p 20).

By contrast to the template of responsibility, the template of respect refers to the view that ethics as essentially about relations among persons. Den Uyl and Rasmussen note that Stephen Darwall’s second person perspective provide a prime example of the template of respect. Darwall’s perspective leads him to the view that ethics is essentially a social or communal phenomenon. He sees our sociable nature as giving rise to moral obligations conceived in juridical terms. Den Uyl and Rasmussen comment:

“Darwell wants to suggest that it is only reasoned and reasonable claims and demands that we can make upon one another. And yet, unless a determination of what is reasonable is left to individuals, there is … nothing beyond the grasp of what might potentially become the subject of publicly dictated forms of claiming and demanding” (p 167).

(The Perfectionist Turn has been previously discussed on this blog: here, here and here.)

In the hands of Roger Scruton, the founding of ethics in the I-You relation leads eventually to approval of Hegel’s assertion that the dialectical opposition between the family, as a sphere of pious obligations, and the market, as a sphere of free choice and contract, “is transcended and preserved in a higher form of unchosen obligation – that towards the state”. Scruton asserts:

“The bond of allegiance that ties us to the state is again a bond of piety”.

In Roger Scruton’s framework, ethical conduct almost seems to be equated with accepting obligations and following rules, rather than accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. To his credit, he condemns the commandants of concentration camps “given to obeying orders and willing to sacrifice their conscience to their own security when the time to disobey had come”. But he doesn’t seem to understand that people who feel a bond of piety to the state are likely to be particularly challenged when it comes to knowing when the time has come to disobey.

Before concluding, I want to note that I enjoyed reading On Human Nature, despite the impression that might be given by what I have written above. I found Roger Scruton’s discussion of the limitations of the explanations offered by evolutionary biology to be particularly illuminating.  

Friday, September 21, 2018

Why read a book providing advice to radicals?


I doubt whether many people would consider me to be a radical, even though I look forward to the withering away of the state as the social singularity subverts government activities. My views about politics have been most strongly influenced by people who were once considered to be radicals, including John Locke and Adam Smith, but these days people who hold such views are more likely to be described as conservatives. Following Friedrich Hayek, I reject the conservative label because I am strongly opposed to the use of the powers of government to resist spontaneous social change.

I have been reading Derek Wall’s book: Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals: Cooperative alternatives beyond markets and states. My main reason for reading the book was my previous advocacy, on this blog, of Elinor Ostrom’s approach to discussion of economic and social issues as a means of promoting dialogue across ideological divides. Elinor Ostrom argued that instead of presuming that individuals sharing common pool resources will inevitably experience the tragedy of the commons, we should leave ideology aside and seek to learn from experience why some efforts to solve commons problems have succeeded while others have failed. I suggested that if we apply Elinor Ostrom’s research methodology to national politics we should also seek to learn from experience why some countries have been more successful than others in coping with the tendency of interest group activity to have wealth-destroying impacts that are analogous to over-fishing.

Derek Wall describes himself as a “left-wing member of a Green Party”. When I started reading the book I didn’t expect to be able to endorse it as suitable reading for anyone other than people who self-identify as having radical views, or have some desire to be able to have a dialogue with radicals. The fact that I endorse it as worthwhile reading for a wider audience illustrates the potential for Elinor Ostrom’s views to have wide appeal across the ideological spectrum. The nonpolemical tone of the book is a credit to the author. The deep impression that Elinor Ostrom’s views have had on Derek Wall will be obvious to everyone who reads the book.

The rules for radicals that Derek Wall has derived from Elinor Ostrom’s writings are listed below, with some brief explanation summarised from the book:

1. Think about institutions. Economic activity is shaped by institutional rules. Formal rules are less important than the “dos and don’t that one learns on the ground that may not exist in any written document”.

2. Pose social change as problem solving. Those who look at politics and economics in an abstract way often fail to deal effectively with particular issues.

3. Embrace diversity. Polycentricism promotes good decision-making. The idea of a god-like leader or committee with perfect information is a myth.

4. Be specific. Move from slogans to analysis. Keep asking what can we specifically do in a specific context.

5. Listen to the people. People who participate in commons may be more likely to have good ideas about solving problems than outside experts.

6. Self-government is possible. The Ostrom approach of promoting self-government at a local level provides an attractive alternative to both top-down bureaucratic management and exercise of power by populist politicians.

7. Everything changes. Evolution happens. Technological change is creating new opportunities for collective economic activity e.g. Wikipedia.

8. Map power. If you can map flows of power, you are in a better position to change the flows.

9. Collective ownership can work. It is not always utopian and unrealistic.

10. Human beings are part of nature too.  Ecological problems are profoundly political. The politics of humanity has an influence on the rest of nature.

11. All institutions are constructed, so can be constructed differently. Communities need to keep adapting and reinventing institutions. Institutional development should occur constantly and engage all citizens.  

12. No panaceas. Imperfect humans cannot design utopia. If we attempt to construct institutional blueprints failure is likely.

13. Complexity does not mean chaos. Polycentricism and overlapping jurisdictions can be more efficient than hierarchical structures with linear chains of command.

It seems to me that most of those rules are as relevant to conservatives as to radicals. In all modern democracies conservatives and radicals seem to share the misconception that all economic and social problems can be solved if they can win and hold on to power at a national level.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Can MEMEnomics help us to predict social change?



MEMEnomics is the title of a book by Said Dawlabani, a cultural economist. The book, published in 2013, is an application of the psycho-social model of human development pioneered by Clare Graves and Don Beck. MEMEnomics has been praised by several prominent people, including Deepak Chopra and Bruce Lipton, but I have yet to see any praise by prominent economists. The author does not claim that his book is part of the economics mainstream.

Said Dawlabani suggests that MEMEnomics represents the coming together of two fields: memetics – the study of the replication, spread and evolution of memes - and economics. Just as genes carry the codes that define human characteristics, memes carry the codes that define cultural characteristics. The book is focused on value-system memes - the varying preferences and priorities that humans have in their lives depending on their level of development. The way human values may change with levels of human development was discussed in a recent post on this blog.

The author defines MEMEnomics as “the study of the long-term effects of economic policy on culture as seen through the prism of value systems”. Much of the book is devoted to attempting to explore the cultural implications of changes in economic policy in the United States. The author recognizes the desirability of ensuring that his model can explain history before it is used to attempt to predict the future.

There are three memenomic cycles identified in the book:

·         a “fiefdoms of power” cycle, peaking around 1900, in which American industrialists played a dominant role - large-scale exploitation, fraud and corruption came to identify the values of that era;

·         a “patriotic prosperity” cycle, peaking around 1950, characterized by economic expansion and government intervention – Keynesian macro-policies and social polices – and ending in stagflation;

·         and an “only money matters” cycle, peaking around 1980, characterized by monetarism and deregulation of the economy, and leading to the financial crisis of 2008.

I am not sure the author succeeds in demonstrating that changes in economic policies have led to cultural change. The cycles identified seem to me to be caricatures of beliefs held by powerful elites rather than accurate descriptions of deep-seated changes in values held by ordinary citizens. Nevertheless, it might be reasonable to argue that the cycles represent changes in ideologies of opinion leaders that have been reflected superficially in voting preferences and priorities of the American public.

The author suggests that we are standing on the cusp of a fourth cycle, “the democratization of information cycle”, in which technological advances are allowing social networks to play a pivotal role in affecting social change. That view has merit in my view, but I think this technology-driven change is better viewed as an exogenous factor rather than a new ideology emerging from the down-side of “only money matters”. At this stage it seems that, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, social networks have aided the return of economic nationalism rather than a policy environment placing higher priority on human development and living in harmony with nature.

As discussed in previous posts (here and here) there does seem to be scope for technological advances to have profound impacts on human values and the way we organise ourselves relative to each other over the next few decades. However, since some of those innovations threaten the scope of government, it seems unlikely that government policy will play a top-down role encouraging them to happen. Policy change seems more likely to occur in response to the demands of ordinary citizens for governments to get out of the way, so citizens can make effective use of new technology.

I enjoyed reading the final chapter of the book discussing the concept of a sustainable corporation. Inspirational examples are provided of corporation leaders setting out to define how the core values of their organisations can enable them to simultaneously pursue profits and a higher purpose. Unfortunately, some of the shining examples of 2013 do not all shine so brightly today.  Said Dawlabani has written an interesting article recently on the reasons why that has happened.
 Entrepreneurs who are selling new sets of values to investors, staff and customers will always encounter naysayers. In the face of this negativism some of these pioneers will succeed, many will not.

One of the messages I get from MEMEnomics is that individual entrepreneurs are likely to play a crucial leadership role in facilitating transition from a subsistence value system limited to expressions of selfish interests, to a value system that understands the interconnectedness of all life on the planet.

It strikes me that for economics to shed light on the role of the entrepreneur in this process it needs to recognize that the value created by entrepreneurs is likely to have a large non-pecuniary component in future. In pursuit of personal values some innovative entrepreneurs are offering investors the opportunity to feel that their funds are being used for the betterment of humanity and/or the environment, as well as generating financial returns. Similarly, they are offering employees the opportunity to feel they are engaged in a meaningful venture rather than just an income earning activity, and are also offering consumers opportunities to feel good about their purchases.

The economic model that seems most relevant in this context is 'identity economics' - as discussed in a book of that name by George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton. The key idea is that people gain satisfaction when their actions conform to the norms and ideals of their identity. In a tribal society, identity economics is like identity politics – people adopt the norms and ideals of the tribe to which they belong. In a cosmopolitan society the relevant norms and ideals are those of the market economy, incorporating a large measure of respect for the rights of others and social trust. Over the next few decades, hopefully the relevant norms and ideals will incorporate greater concern for the well-being of all humans and other living creatures.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

How will human values evolve as we approach the social singularity?


As explained in a recent post, Max Borders has coined the term, social singularity, to describe the transformation in social organisation that could occur following mass adoption of secure networking technologies. Some existing mediating structures could become obsolete, new forms of coordination could emerge and we might collaborate as never before.

In his book, The Social Singularity, Max relies heavily on spiral dynamics to discuss the way cultural values may evolve as we approach the social singularity. Spiral dynamics was developed by the psychologist Care Graves and popularised by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. It postulates that at different stages of development different values become dominant to help people to function in the life circumstances in which they find themselves.

The spiral is summarised in the graphic shown at the beginning of this post (copied from the toolshero web site). In brief, at first stage of the spiral, survival values are dominant. At the second stage, the dominant values are those of the tribe or clan. At the next stage, we have values related to power, glory and conquest. Then we have loyalty and deference to higher authority. This is followed by the values of science and commerce, and then the ethics of care and the politics of equality.

As we approach the social singularity, prior value systems will be transcended: more people will come to see themselves as interdependent beings, requiring some autonomy and respecting the autonomy of others. Beck and Cowan described the final, holistic, stage as an integrative system that “combines an organism’s necessary self-interest with the interests of the communities in which it participates”.  Max comments:

“This way of seeing the world is neither rugged individualism not crude communitarianism. It requires seeing ourselves through others and others through ourselves”.

What evidence do we have that humanity is heading in that direction? Questions have been raised as to whether spiral dynamics is firmly grounded in evolutionary biology and anthropology, but from the little I know of ancient history it seems to provide a plausible account of the way different cultures have emphasized different virtues. If we look at the economic history of the last few centuries, the story told by spiral dynamics seems consistent with the work of Joel Mokyr and Deirdre McCloskey about the emergence of a culture of economic growth, first in western Europe and then spreading to other parts of the world. The theory also seems consistent with the empirical work of Ronald Inglehart and Chis Welzel on value change, based on the World Values Survey. As noted on this blog a few years ago Chris Welzel’s book Freedom Rising provides evidence that as societies have advanced in terms of technological sophistication and education, emancipative values - relating to autonomy, choice, equality etc. - have more widely shared and the dominant life strategies of populations have shifted from an extrinsic focus on material circumstances to an intrinsic focus on emotional qualities.

That research doesn’t tell us how dominant values might evolve in the years ahead, but Max Borders makes clear that he sees people who are comfortable with subversive innovation – innovation that has potential to replace existing mediating structures including government agencies - as “the standard bearers for a future in which a better world can be dreamed by visionaries, socially constructed, and hard-coded into existence”. Max adds:

“As dreamers and doers, we are prepared to forgo the spectacle of elections and the blood sport of campaign politics. We want to take a vantage point from high above, looking at how we can reweave the latticework of human interaction to create a great reconciliation between private interest and community good."

If we view spiral dynamics and the values of the social singularity in normative terms, Robert Nozick’s suggestion that the pursuit of higher layers of ethics can be thought of as building on the ethics of respect, seems highly relevant. As I noted some years ago, Nozick saw four layers of ethics:

·         The most fundamental layer - the ethics of respect - mandates respect for the life and property of other people.

·         The second layer – the ethics of responsiveness – mandates acting in a way that is responsive to the inherent value of others, enhancing and supporting it, and enabling it to flourish.

·         The third layer – the ethics of caring – ranges from concern and tenderness to deeper compassion, ahimsa and love to all people (perhaps to all living creatures).

·         The top layer – the ethics of Light – calls for being a vessel and vehicle of truth, beauty, goodness and holiness.

Subversive innovation offers a basis to hope that the ethics of Light could one day pervade the cultural values of many humans rather than those of only a few saints and sages.

Friday, July 20, 2018

How can we overcome confirmation bias?


This guest post by Leah Goldrick was originally published on her excellent blog, Common Sense Ethics. Leah acknowledges that confirmation bias is linked to pattern recognition, which serves a useful purpose. The confirmation bias problem arises when we seek out information to confirm what we believe and ignore everything else.

The documentary that Leah refers to in her first paragraph is worth watching. It illustrates how easy it was for a group of people who did not appear likely to be particularly gullible to acquire an unshakeable belief that the end of the world would occur on 21 May 2011.



Why is it so hard to for us the change our beliefs or to get other people to change their minds? A new documentary film Right Between Your Ears, examines the science and psychology of how people form convictions. According to producer Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist, certain aspects of human psychology make it very hard for us to be objective or unbiased.

People usually form beliefs by accepting what they've been told by someone they trust: parents, teachers, media and so on. Our beliefs can change when we learn new things. But when we become convinced of something, it is similar to a religious belief in the way our brain operates. We may react with anger when challenged. This human tendency often leads us to seek out information which confirms what we already believe and ignore everything else - it's a cognitive bias actually - called confirmation bias.

It seems obvious why confirmation bias can be a problem - it can prevent us making good decisions. It makes us rigid thinkers. Someone can easily fool us by simply appealing to our established belief systems. The good news is that there are some practical strategies to overcome this natural human shortsightedness that I'll let you in on at the end of the post.

How We Form Beliefs

Let me back up for just a second. What led me to write this post (besides my abiding interest in critical thinking) was the Shakespeare authorship course I recently took online via the University of London. Along with being just about the most interesting topic ever, the instructor, Dr. Ros Barber, focused the first lesson on the science of how beliefs are formed, cognitive bias, and how belief systems can crystallize into orthodoxies which may not be questioned without ridicule.

Dr. Barber interviews ​Kris De Meyer, a neuroscientist and documentary film maker currently working at the Department of Neuroimaging at King's Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, about how we form our beliefs in the first place.

According to De Meyer, we form fairly rigid belief systems or perceptual frameworks out of necessity as we go through life in order to handle the information continually coming at us. Usually, our perceptual framework serves us quite well. But it can also be a major intellectual handicap when we are confronted with information which undercuts our established belief systems. De Meyer states:

"But beliefs become strongly held and particularly if we build our identity around them, they begin to act as perception filters. Indeed, it might be useful to think of a belief as a perceptual framework, something that helps us make sense of the world around us." 

Confirmation Bias

The problem with our perceptions being filtered through our belief structures is that it can create something called confirmation bias. We tend to interpret new information in a way that strengthens our preexisting beliefs. ​​When we are confronted with information which conflicts with our beliefs, we will often find ways to discard it. We also tend to search out information which confirms our beliefs rather than looking for more neutral or contradictory information.

For our general functioning in the world, we must keep our perceptual frameworks fairly rigid. So even when our brain finds data that is anomalous, confirmation bias can lead us to explain it away as an error. Experiments in the 1960s hinted that people are biased towards their beliefs. Later experiments focused on our natural tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives.

Anyone can suffer from confirmation bias: teachers, Shakespeare scholars, even scientists. In one study on confirmation bias involving scientists, over half of laboratory experimental results were inconsistent with the scientists' original hypotheses. In these cases, the scientists were reluctant to consider that data as valid. The anomalous finding was usually classified as a mistake. Even after scientists had produced an anomaly more than once, they would often choose not to follow up.

When we perceive, we construct systems of beliefs inside of our heads like a lawyer trying to prove a case. The more strongly we are engaged in a topic, the more likely we are to dismiss contradictory evidence. Basically on both sides of any debate, we have a system beliefs that tells us that we are right and the other side is wrong.

According to Ros Barber, "[When any conflict happens] it's been described as "a dialog of the deaf" because people can't hear the other point of view. They just think it's totally invalid." 

Cognitive Dissonance

So why does confirmation bias happen? It might be because of wishful thinking, or because of our limited mental capacity to process information. It could also have to do with a failure to imagine alternate possibilities (more on this later). Another explanation for confirmation bias is that people are afraid of being wrong, and fail to ask the right probing questions about their beliefs, instead reasoning from their already held conclusions.

When we are confronted with contradictory evidence, it causes something called cognitive dissonance - mental distress caused by information that doesn't fit in with our current understanding of the world. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable and people will sometimes go to great lengths to avoid it.

​Cognitive dissonance was first theorized by psychologist Leon Festinger who argued that we have an inner drive to hold consistent beliefs. Holding inconsistent beliefs causes us to feel disharmonious. Festinger studied a cult whose members believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood. He investigated what happened to the cult members, especially the committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs, after the flood did not happen on the proposed date.

The most committed cult members were more likely to rationalize their original beliefs (confirmation bias) even after experiencing cognitive dissonance in the face of the flood not happening. Loosely affiliated members were much more likely to admit that they had simply made a mistake and to move on. The more attached we are to a belief, the harder it is to change it. 

How To Think (and Debate) With Less Bias

​So what are the best strategies to overcome our natural human shortsightedness and bias? The first is to keep emotional distance in reasoning, and the second is to consider the other side (or sides) of any debate, a technique called the "consider the opposite," strategy.

1. Keep Emotional Distance When Reasoning

Given the natural human tendency towards confirmation bias, it is important to be at least somewhat dispassionate when reasoning and debating. I like to call this emotional distance. Emotional distance is just as much a character trait of a reasonable person as it is a strategy for handling cognitive biases.

Confirmation bias may in part stem from our desire not to be wrong, so by keeping emotional distance, you essentially are willing admit to yourself that you could have some things wrong. Don't be too attached to any particular piece of evidence. In any difficult debate we all may get certain parts of the puzzle incorrect.

Look out for signs of confirmation bias in yourself. ​ Remember that the more strongly held your beliefs are, the more likely you are to refuse to consider alternative evidence - like the cult members who invested everything in their belief in an impending flood.

Emotional distance also involves viewing debate as dialog rather than an angry fight. If your ego gets too caught up defending a certain belief, you are more likely to get angry when contradicted. Angry people usually double down and become more extreme on their point of view rather than considering someone else's. Keep in mind that politeness might actually be the secret weapon for getting someone to overcome their bias. Kris De Meyer suggests:

"When we do feel a pang of anger at being challenged, rather than responding very quickly we can step away from it for maybe a few hours or a day, think carefully about where that person is coming from, and then see if we can give them more constructive comments that then doesn't spark his or her angry response. Because it's those feelings of anger at being misunderstood and of being misrepresented that really are the ones that drive us towards more certainty. And if the conversation becomes amicable, it can be heated and passionate without being acrimonious and negative. The way to use [your knowledge of confirmation bias] is to question yourself and to reflect on your own assumptions and your own interactions with other people."

Maintaining emotional distance is powerful, but it may not be enough to overcome biases, which is why we should also use this second strategy:

2. Consider the Opposite

Confirmation bias may in part be the result of our limited mental capacity to imagine alternative scenarios. The consider the opposite strategy helps us to envision how else things might be. In a recent study, this technique was proven to work better than just attempting to remain objective.

Considering the opposite in everyday practice works like this: you take a look at a set of facts about something. Generally, you would try to discern whether the facts support your belief or not. If you are experiencing confirmation bias, you would probably imagine that the facts do actually support your belief. But when you force yourself to consider the opposite, you instead imagine that the facts point the opposite way, disproving your belief. This helps you to imagine alternatives to what you already believe.

The consider the opposite strategy works particularly well with diametrically opposed beliefs, but always bear in mind that there may be more than one alternate possibility. Be willing to entertain various possibilities rather than falling victim to false dichotomies. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Should we look forward to the Social Singularity?


The social singularity should not be confused with the technological singularity, which Wikipedia defines as the hypothesis that invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable change to human civilization.


The Social Singularity, as described by Max Borders in his recently published book of that name, relates to the way we (humans) organise ourselves in relation to each other. Max’s hypothesis is that at some point social organisation will be completely transformed as a result of mass adoption of secure networking technologies. When that happens some existing mediating structures will become obsolete, new forms of coordination will emerge and we will collaborate as never before.



What does that mean in terms that you and I can understand? The best place to begin is with the concept of subversive innovation. You might think it is tedious to begin an explanation by introducing another concept, but I promise to provide some concrete examples before long.

These days just about everyone knows what an innovation is. Most readers will be familiar with disruptive innovations that are making many goods more accessible and affordable. Subversive innovations “are those that have the potential to replace long-accepted mediating structures of society”. The mediating structures that Max is writing about include: hierarchical firms; group-think practices among the scientific establishment that have led to widespread acceptance of numerous findings that cannot be replicated; centralised education which views students as having “heads like buckets to be filled with information curated by central elites”; long-standing practices of financial intermediaries; mainstream media that once generated social coherence; and national governments.

Readers will already be familiar with some of the subversive innovations that are occurring. Some firms are replacing hierarchical command and control structures with decentralised systems in which self-directed individuals create order by establishing networks to achieve common purposes. The Internet has enabled informal networks of people, often including amateurs, who question scientific dogma e.g. the paleo-diet movement. Disruptive innovation has begun in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Long-established practices of financial institutions are being challenged by block chain technologies, and cryptocurrencies are enabling people to transact without using national currencies or financial intermediaries. The Internet has disrupted the role of mainstream media in generating social coherence - making it possible for populists to challenge political orthodoxy, but also reducing the potential for views to coalesce around a deeply flawed narrative.

The potential for subversive innovations to displace centralised government is in my view the most interesting idea in the book. We can already see this happening to some extent as innovating firms search out the weak joints in government regulation, particularly the regulatory barriers to competition that have enabled incumbents in various industries to prosper at the expense of the rest of the community. Think of how Uber’s ridesharing innovations circumvented regulations protecting incumbents in the taxi industry.

Max suggests that the potential for subversive innovations to displace centralised government will be enhanced by the advent of smart contracts in which a host of humans can act together to achieve a common goal without middlemen. The coordinating mechanism of smart contracts involves distributed ledgers, programmable incentives and blockchain secured tokens. Tokens can align the interests of producers, consumers and investors in ways that may have potential to enable many types of public goods to be produced privately by profit-seeking entrepreneurs. It doesn’t seem possible at this stage to provide a concrete example of how this might work. Perhaps it can be thought of as crowdsourcing on steroids.

Where might this take us? Max suggests that the potential for people to forge real social contracts - contracts they choose to enter voluntarily rather than the hypothetical social contracts of political theory - “could become the killer app of politics”:

"Communities of tomorrow will form entire systems of mutual aid through digital compacts that have nothing to do with borders or accidents of birth. … Humanity will upload important commitments into social contracts. Cosmopolitan communities of practice will form in the electronic ether. What remains on the ground—goods, services, and the relationships of flesh-and-blood neighbors—will be a far more localized phenomenon. The days of outsourcing our civic responsibilities to distant capitals are numbered."

What Max has in mind is polyarchy – competitive provision of goods that have been provided collectively. The basic idea is that if there is nothing intrinsically territorial about a system that provides goods like health insurance or education, you should be allowed to exit one system and join another without moving to a different system’s territory. You could take resources you were once required to pay in taxation and use them to pay for membership of another community or multiple other communities.

So, what reason do we have to think that governments might one day be willing to recognize the right of exit required to make polyarchy a reality?

Max notes that new constituencies are forming around the benefits of the sharing economy:

"Special interests that once squeaked to get the oil are confronted by battalions bearing smartphones. Citizens, fed up with leaving their prayers in the voting booth, are voting more with their dollars and their devices. Free association is now ensured by design, not by statute."

The Social Singularity mixes the author’s views on how things ought to evolve and how he expects them to evolve. Max acknowledges that he does this. The book offers readers an appealing vision of how the future could evolve and invites them to help make that vision a reality.

The book contains much that I haven’t written about in this short review. I should mention the link between the social singularity and spiral dynamics. Now I have mentioned it, I want to write more about it. Perhaps later!

I should also note before concluding that the title of the book, as presented on the title page, is The Social Singularity: A Decentralist Manifesto. Decentralization is a theme of the book. Max begins his chapter on the future of governance by quoting Vincent Ostrom:

“The fashioning of a truly free world depends on building fundamental infrastructures that enable different peoples to become self-governing”.

 In a post I wrote a few months ago I mused about how Ostrom’s vision of decentralisation of politics could eventually become a reality. If I ever write on that topic again there will be a reference to Max Borders and the concept of subversive innovations will feature prominently.

The Social Singularity deserves to be read widely and thought about deeply.

Postscript

1. You might also be interested in a follow-up post on how human values may change as we approach the social singularity.


2. Simon Saval has drawn my attention to his excellent hand-illustrated guides for Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and Ethereum which have been designed to help beginners understand the technology. If you are interested, please follow the link.