01 February 2020

Civilization

I need to get back to "right action" sometime, but right now -- with the US going publicly non-democratic and Canada contemplating stochastic genocide -- it seems like time to talk about civilization.

Civilization is the idea that through collective action, the circumstances of life can be arranged that, on the odds, you die of something other violence or starvation.

Seems like an improvement, doesn't it?  The tradeoff -- everything is tradeoffs -- is that you get law and taxes.

In an authoritarian society, you get three classes of people; those who the state oppresses, those who the state does not oppress, and those whose purposes the state acts to further.  (This manifests as white supremacy in most of the Anglosphere; there's the expectation that if you're white and rich, the state acts to make sure you get what you want; that if you're white, the state will not act to frustrate your purposes; and if you're not white, you (at a minimum) get your purposes frustrated to make sure you don't start thinking you might be white.)

What we're seeing now is fundamentally a choice between authoritarianism -- the comfort of a secure, known hierarchy and the primate reassurance of knowing there are people you can hit who won't dare hit back -- and civilization.   Pretty much anyone in the "those whose purposes the state acts to further" class are, and always will be, against civilization. (They think taxation is immoral and detest the idea of being bound by laws.)  A whole bunch of folks doing bad insecurity management desperately need the "dare not hit back" thing, because otherwise it's a big cold world that doesn't care at all and they're not good for anything; give it a few years and their odds of starving are very high.

If you want civilization -- if you want collective action to try to get everybody into the future together -- you have to not want authoritarian structures.  "If you don't work, you starve" is capitalism; it's also an authoritarian structure.  Everybody rich today and deciding to stay rich -- no matter who or what it kills -- should not be a surprise; we've got the century-old example of the House of Hohenzollern to point out that, no, really, absolutely whatever you do, capitalism says you get to keep the loot.  Murder isn't on the balance sheet anywhere.

Civilization is possible; the point to a functioning civilization is not the good it does.  ("Good" doesn't go into systemic terms!)  The point to a functioning civilization is that being authoritarian makes you materially worse off.  If that's so, people have the option of doing something about the odds of the various means of dying.[1]  If that's not so, the system does not notice; it's measuring something entirely indifferent to what killed you.  "Late Capitalism" isn't "capitalism has run out of resources" half as much as it's "nothing is now able to defend itself from capitalism".g


[1] it doesn't magically make you not-a-supremacist; it doesn't magically make you able to extend the scope of civilization to more people.  You can look at the post-1960 anglosphere and decide that, yeah, this is people who care intensely about making sure various other people don't get to participate in civilization, and if that means living under a bridge roasting sparrows on a curtain rod, OK.




12 comments:

Peter T said...

Wouldn't curtain rods be too thick to use on sparrows? Better suited to cats. For sparrows, a knitting needle suffices.

Sergey Rybasov said...

> "If you don't work, you starve" is capitalism; it's also an authoritarian structure.

Now, in old capitalist countries, if you don't work, you are not to starve, in fact - you will be fed, you'll have a bad, you'll have some basic medical support. So, there will be, by your oun definition, less authoritarian level in old capitalist countries of real world, comparatively to your Commonweal society, where if you don't work, you are ostracized badly, even maybe silently killed by Zora's mention; that is quite authoritarian society really.

About climate collapse you reference now indirectly. Science data we have - that's about AGW, yes, and that is serious. But not a close collapse, there is no science consensus, AFAIK. And that is close to primary point, because your point is about getting us into future; _if_ this close climate collapse is a real danger to all of us, a real danger to technological civilization, then your definition seems to be more coherent.

But at this point I cannot understand how to use your definition about getting into the future.

Individually - we have no way to do it: our life expectations are quite limited, smth about 70 to 90 life years and it's the end for most of us, and so, we have a multiple choice between getting _what_ into the future?

We can choose to get our lineage into the future. That's how nepotism and, in more stable societies, aristocracy works. That's how to make life meaningless to those, who have no offspring.

We can choose to get our nation into the future. That's how unlimited nationalism works, how to have local, continental and intercontinental wars in time of climate collapse, because that's _your_ nation, and if you cannot get it into the future without agressive war - than you must run aggressive war and get a chance.

And there is no sound upper level. We cannot practically choose to get our species into the future, because our species will be into the long future quite surely - there is very small scope of scenaries, where we have to become extinct entirely; human tribes _can_ live quite everywhere now, and there will be many terrains to fall back in climate collapse. That's majority of population to die in catastrophe, not a humankind as a species, and so no way to use an idea of getting smth entire into the future.

Well, we still have an option to get our social _structure_ into the future. That's how conservatism works, and that's not an especially adaptive cognitive model, nor very humane one; social structure have no feelings, and so no atrocity can be applied to it. Social structure is an instrument, but what is the goal, the objective function of this instrument? Not getting smth into the future - that's impossible to demarcate this smth practically.

But this goal _can_ be to mediate some scope of desirable choise, and that _is_ how good (at social context) defined in modern culture, as well as in any pre-axial culture. Why not to use it?

> "Good" doesn't go into systemic terms!

Why not? Anything can be picked up as systemic term, that's a question of sound definition.

What is unavailable to systemic approach - is sacral, esoterical, unrelated to other things definition of good, those remnants of tradidional ("axial") culture, where good is smth you must accept without questions and doubts, without relating it to other desires and deeds of yours and your relatives (family members, comrades and fellow citizens). To have those relations is to have an ability of systemic view.

Graydon said...

+Serge Rybasov The IPCC, that staid and contemplative collective, has (if you dig them out of the reports) a couple strong assertions; one is that under business-as-usual, we get 2 C of warming by 2050. The other one is that agriculture breaks somewhere around 2 C of warming.

If you were to carefully graph hay harvest dates (or prices) for a region (if you can get the data! getting nigh-impossible even in Canada), you'd see a lot of swings; hereabouts, hay comes off in June. Except in 2012 it was September and in 2019 it was August and it's getting less and less predictable. (I think hay -- which is after all a measure of "can we cut and dry grass?" -- is a good measure because it's pretty much directly a measure of "did it rain when we expected?") This doesn't tell you when the "none at any price" year happens, but if you watch the graph oscillate and recognize that the forcing is increasing, it's necessary to recognize that such a year will come.

So, yeah, agricultural collapse is "no later than 2050" by the IPCC's strong consensus.

In Anglosphere capitalist countries, it is absolutely "if you don't work, you starve"; not necessarily quickly, but you will.

(Note that the Commonweal social disapproval is around won't work, not don't. And comes with both official and social educational support.)

Good doesn't go into systemic definitions because it's inherently contextual and thus personal; resolving conflicts between values of "good" becomes rapidly intractable. Believing that you need to resolve such conflicts results in things like the 30 Years War.

(Same with anything immaterial; you can't resolve conflicts, so you wind up with a lot of needless murder.)

But at this point I cannot understand how to use your definition about getting into the future.

Anything that doesn't get copies into the future goes away. What exactly gets copied is highly variable.

What do we want to have in the future? the increase of realizable choice for the general population. (Or at least, I think so.) How to do that is an open question. (If is pretty open, too.)

Sergey Rybasov said...

> The other one is that agriculture breaks somewhere around 2 C of warming.

I think, IPCC means _strictly recent model_ of agriculture breaks somewhere around 2 C of warming, not _any likely industrial_ one. That's sound assertion, we have to prepare, but that is not a catastrophe. The same is about hay: you say, that's you cannot predict and control, but we _can_ harvest without strict control. Traditional peasant have no such option - they have no sound theory for adaptation, not much choice of seeds, and no reserves, no refrigeration, no interregional transport, so two bad years in succession - and it's famine.

> In Anglosphere capitalist countries, it is absolutely "if you don't work, you starve";
> not necessarily quickly, but you will.

Yet even unemployed-on-principle drug addicts are not to starve. Too many food around - gratuitous refectories and doss-houses is a better way, to live by begging is a traditional option too, but there are dustbins and dumps anyway. That's not ideal, but no starving!

> Note that the Commonweal social disapproval is around won't work, not don't.

I got it already. But if you have no capacity to work - you are not to starve in Anglosphere capitalist countries too; there are disability benefits, dependency allowances and so on.

My point was that if you have no desire to work - here you are to beg and to live without sound medicine, but no more - you are even not to be under moral pressing. Therefore, by your definition, Commonweal is really much more authoritarian! (And not only by your, of course. Social moral pressing as a classical authoritarian mechanism is a commonplace.)

> Good doesn't go into systemic definitions because it's inherently contextual and thus personal

Yup, human needs are personal contextual needs! The only way to get rid of it entirely - that's eternal (i.e. non-contextual) schematical-inhuman values, what is the benefit? And that's why we have money and voting: to count values outside of Dunbar's number community, and that's the only known sound way to systemic definition and accounting of human needs and, so, values. We have to adjust laws to do it, but it _can_ be systemic.

> Anything that doesn't get copies into the future goes away.

Anything _at all_ goes away. So, the difference is not qualitative, it's quantitative: how much we expect to copy into the future and how long. And, what's my point: not only we have to count how much and how long - we also have to count how _valuable_ are things we expect to copy. To copy smth that is not a value - it's bad idea obviously. And that is the connection to my previous point: there is no value without personal contextual need. How much a value - that's to count, to relate, to mediate (save or increase) by law, by policy, by any decision.

How to name it - good, or proper, or weighted - that's a question of names, not fact of the matter. Personally I prefer to name such decisions as weighted, and to avoid referencing smth as good in social context, but it's some sort of cultural trauma: centuries of consequences of "axial revolution", when good was meant as good for some inhuman entity. No need to maintain traumatic avoidance; if someone reference smth as good, and it's weighted - well, even Halt can say "Such a good boy" referencing social good. Why not?

Graydon said...

+Sergey Rybasov
I think, IPCC means _strictly recent model_ of agriculture breaks somewhere around 2 C of warming, not _any likely industrial_ one.

Alas, no. Agriculture works because of six inches of dirt (currently being strip-mined by industrial agriculture and given no more than fifty years at the optimistic outside) and rain at predictable times (and amounts!) If you look at, say, East Africa, where the rains have stopped being predictable, or western Kansas (where the rains have stopped) you can see current day agricultural failure.

Once you no longer have predictable rainfall you no longer have agriculture. Once you no longer have predictable seasonal temperatures, too; if you get a prolonged thaw in March that has all the fruit-trees bloom and then it freezes again, you're not getting a tree crop that year.

Given a few thousand years, it will settle out and agriculture will be possible again. It's getting through the cropless years that presents the interesting challenge.

Human needs are personal and contextual, but they come into conflict. Your desire for a good night's sleep is in conflict with the kids across the way wishing to have a party. Both entirely legitimate needs.

How do you resolve the conflict? Social system. The social system needs to be able to address policy without having to say "so-and-so's good is the one we use when making decisions" if it is going to be stable. (this is hard!)


The system wants to copy itself; that's part of the definition of system. Because humans are nigh-eusocial, there will be a system. The question is which system, not if, so things do not and cannot end with personal contextual needs. (which still come into conflict!)

Sergey Rybasov said...

> Agriculture works because of six inches of dirt (currently being strip-mined by
> industrial agriculture and given no more than fifty years at the optimistic outside)

Yep, and phosfate depletion is a danger, too. But that's not a climate question and I have no data about scientific consensus about 50 yrs (globally) soil depletion. At 2018, stats about arable soil degradation was 6 mln ha/y, AFAIK, where global plowable stock was about 1,5 bln ha. That's 250y, not 50, and that's about traditional ploughing agriculture we have no need to hold on entirely.

> and rain at predictable times (and amounts!) If you look at, say, East Africa, where the
> rains have stopped being predictable

I don't understand why you think that it's climatic collapse there, because last 5 years reports are definite: they have regions (inside nigh-every East Africa country) with _abundant_ crops, but cannot reallocate it properly; complains are about shortage of transport and political stability, not climatic-scope-of-area agricultural collapse at all.

> or western Kansas (where the rains have stopped)

That's not unpredictability, and that's not a global danger - climatically arid areas are reducing, not expanding now.

> Given a few thousand years, it will settle out

That's about wild crops, not even pre-industrial agriculture. Civilization have much quicker response times, than natural selection can provide. Those responses can be robust, yes, but quick, not thousand-years.

> Human needs are personal and contextual, but they come into conflict.
[...]
> Because humans are nigh-eusocial, there will be a system. The question is which system

Nigh-eusocial human nature means making social _systems_, not the one and the only system forever. And systems come into conflict too, so systemic-not-refencing-personal-and-contextual cannot stop conflicts, no way. I see no reason it can be even significant damper, because most of atrocities in history are of conflicts between systems, not individuals. At the same time, if your system is not clearly referencing needs of participants - conflicts are to be of "nigh-all sensible persons against this system" format, because this system is not for them. People are standing up for system, if they feel that system is standing up for them, and that means - for their needs, not their existence, because "to stand for" means personal existential risk in emergency, so that will be paradox if you reference existence, not needs. The need, the desire is primary, the existence in the future is only one of desires, and not always the strongest of. And, to the point: referencing smth as good (in social context that means - good to mediate needs of social group) is not contradicting to systemic, it's fit for it. It's to protect social system from inner conflicts - to build companionship, reciprocal backup and support; that makes capable system of human elements, because that's how our eusocial reflexes do.

Graydon said...

+Sergey Rybasov
Worrying about soil by area is like worrying about Arctic ice loss by area; the much more relevant stat is thickness.

Civilization has no response to the loss of agricultural conditions. (Look for places that there were civilizations, and aren't anymore. It's hardly unknown!) It's not inconceivable there could be one, but it's much much harder than people seem to think. It's not receiving focused effort.

System scale at person scale, comprehensible group scale (the Dunbar's number one), and the larger scales all have different, incompatible, notions of what's best. There isn't a value of "good" that covers all of them, and none of the larger systems focus on individual definitions of "good" unless they're autocratic tyrannies. Good and bad are barriers to seeing what the system does, rather than what it is alleged to be for.

Sergey Rybasov said...

Area degradation is an indicator, that can be registered without deep probing, available to recheck, both ice and soil areas. Thikness is more like probe some points and guess about all other, no much reliable data, so it's more relevant in ideal sence, yes, still less practical.

Some civilizations killed themselves with unfortunate agriculture schemes, that's factual. That means, their reaction time was not quick enough. Some of them moved or changed, not killed themselves - so their reaction time _was_ quick enough. Positive examples are not to prove inevitability; examples of century-scale process are not to prove millennium-scale ones. Our civilization have much quicker responce times, than pre-scientific, pre-industrial and likely even pre-bureaucratic ones, that killed themselves with agriculture. I agree with you completely, that modern nigh-gobal society tends to misestimate some dangers, and it can drive our civilization to end. I see no agreement with you among _specialists_, not in society overall. Depletion of some irreplaceable resources, yes! But climate?.. No, that is to aggravate a little (civilizational scope), no more. It's serious, it is to remedy, but not an existential threat. And that is not _my_ opinion, that is scientific consensus, AFAIK.

People en masse are not inclined to fight violently to get _the best_ they can imagine. They are inclined to fight against critically bad. The best - that's what they inclined to to buy or build, not fight; fight is too much risk to do it against good to get the best. (There are exclusions, irreconcilable fanatics, but they are, as a rule, not very numerous, nor sane enough to be effective against reciprocal companionship groups; if those groups are not dead of some toxic contagious idea already - they'll win.) That's why system have to be good, and that is "good enough", not "eternal absolute good" (= the best); the latter is a remnant of immaterial "axial" ideas, and we have to control ourselves, to not make that widespread mistake (absolutization), misplacing good with the best.

To the point again. You (personally you, the author) still cannot avoid referencing good at any level. Dove quoting Line manual: "Choose what keeps the Commonweal in the better future". Better is comparative form of good, and that's Commonweal level. You have no option not to do it, and you do it, as everyone do. Nothing wrong with it, just no other way to run sane socium.

Graydon said...

+Sergey Rybasov --

You (personally you, the author) still cannot avoid referencing good at any level. Dove quoting Line manual: "Choose what keeps the Commonweal in the better future".

Sure I can; I then have to deal with the editor being distressed at me. Despite various opinions, I'm not trying to make these books obscure or hard to read.

"Choose what keeps the Commonweal in the better future", well, this is the first book, the one that's supposed to be the easy on-ramp to the setting.

"Choose what keeps the Commonweal closest to its chosen future", that's not as straightforward.

"Choose what maintains the civil Commonweal's ability to alter its collective choices about the present it desires to maintain for indefinite time frames in the way least constrained by invasion of those external agencies the Line believes itself obliged to destroy", well, that is an English sentence, but it's fallen out of being something useful to that point in the narrative.

The Buddha is supposed to have said something about how one person is small in space, so it takes them a long time to change anything. Maybe I can make a dent in the ubiquity of good and bad as ways to not think about what one is doing in material terms.

Sergey Rybasov said...

That was not the 1st book, that was in the middle of the 2nd. And the following is from the 4th.
–°lerk:
"The standard-captains have made that terrible blank request for the instructions of Parliament, which means they do not believe there are any good options available."
One of the best officers:
"Our Captain found the operational manual good."
The Shape(!), and context is social too:
"Captain Blossom thinks this is good."

But that's not the point. The point is that "good" in such a conext is a synonim to "effective enough", "suitable", "fit", etc. Try not to use all such words, and you are to break the sanity. Try not to use only the "good", and that's nonsence - those are the same, synonimic.

And another point is one of the previously discussed here. Well, "ability to alter its collective choices [...]". Let's try mental experiment: imagine, that you can throw your society to some vast choice of different kinds of barely endurable hells, and you can throw it to some medium, usual scope choice, but those variants are kinds of good human life. Test your definitions about irrelevance of good!

Graydon said...

+Sergey Rybasov --

It's not easy to write in English without using "good".

And, no, good is not a synonym. It can be, but in statistical expectation functionally it's an axiom of permission. If it's good, you can do it.

Works is not an axiom, remember that? You can't just claim something works, you have to show it's true, say what you think _works_ means, and for who?" Show that you're distributing any costs fairly. Lots of what helps you hurts someone else.

Sergey Rybasov said...

> And, no, good is not a synonym. It can be, but in statistical expectation
> functionally it's an axiom of permission. If it's good, you can do it.

I don't understand your point.

If it's consistent with moving society's median desirability up - yep, you can do it, that's by default sanctioned by this society, and yep, it will be referenced as good, for the sake of brevity. And why not to say so, if you cannot use much more semantically narrow phrase without making it too-hard-to-grasp?

_What_ is good by common sense-definition of this social group - that's not always obvious, and that's why we have such a big brain. You cannot fix it saiyng such phrases as "consistent with [...]", because such things as scope of choice are _less_ graspable, less convenient for human mind; no social reflexes to deal with scope of choice, and all social reflexes are to deal with median desirability - we are quite good with it naturally, that _is_ nign-eusociality. That's not ideal, there is _no_ ideal obtainable, but where is better choice?