Stepping into Roads Less Travelled

I’m writing an essay to be published later this year, hopefully as part of a collection by different authors of utopic ideas worth exploring. My plan for the essay is to gather, in an organized way, some the key ideas in Mind the Post:

  1. Collective intelligence as the only way to break the barrier of complexity and avoid the collapse
  2. We need new ideas (and new institutions) to leverage our individual capacities

and go one step further, start exploring roads less travelled.

The essay comes in a moment in which COVID-19 has made us all painfully aware that we are likely at the end of a historic period, dominated by the ideas and institutions of the post World War II. Capitalism and (neo)liberalism seem to be at a crossroad, democracy in retreat, and the technology bubble and solutionism close under inspection.

For mainly aesthetic (in part politically correct) reasons, most ideas and reflections more directly related to politics in this blog are tagged “democracy”. I decided to use the name of the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried as a flagship and symbol for one of our highest achievements in terms of collective intelligence.

The time has come to go one step further. I will argue that there is no reason to think that the path history has followed has led us to a social optimum. I am fully against those conformist voices who preach we are in the best moment in history. Those voices belong typically to the well-off and rely on an interested use of utilitarianism. Those are the same voices who sing the virtues of innovation and progress, who urge us to get out of the comfort zone, to try and fail, and learn from failing. Those voices are singing this song while they are typically sitting on a comfortable armchair repeating that we are living in the best possible world, the world they govern, by the way.

There is no reason to think that, beyond all those other forms of government that have been tried before, there is no a better one, a better way, and a better society. Very interestingly there are plenty of alternatives to states and hierarchies to coordinate action, like free markets (to assign resources), science (to produce knowledge) or blockchains (to validate transactions). Some of these (utopian) ideas are tolerated by the establishment while kept under a close eye. Many other, and in particular all things related to self-organization in society are typically tagged under stigmatised tags like anarchism. What if the road not yet taken is the good one?

It’s time to start exploring here some of those interesting ideas on the side-lines… Let me start, before triggering the hostilities, by quoting someone not particularly suspicious of anarchism, one of the finest thinkers in the history of ideas, on one of the hottest issues of the moment, to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day.

Nothing appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular. The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: But he must, at least, have led his mamalukes, or prætorian bands, like men, by their opinion.

David Hume, “Of the First Principles of Government”

6 comments

  1. Yes, very good! (looking forward)

    some reflections (pessimistic but not so much)

    1) there may be no solution.
    2) if there is a solution may be beyond us (even collectively,… incidentally, we have always thought collectively)
    3) maybe the solution is already there, even if you do not fully like it (I do not)
    4) possibly we are in the best possible world, perhaps because it is the only one we have access to
    5) those who think we are in the best possible world may be right, since we have moved to it and it seemed a good idea. It does not mean we shall always be in this “solution” and we shall move shortly to a new “best world”, that will be replaced in turn.

    We could talk about the details and on the procedures to get there, but I prefer more uncontroversial issues.

    • Very pessimistic indeed, but you are welcome and your (always wise) remarks will be taken into account…

      There is one thing in which I tend to agree with you, and it is that with time and perspective enough every situation (world, society, whatever) will be seen as positive or even the best possible by those in that situation. That’s the magic and the tragedy of adaptation. I touched upon this question in Spanish here: https://ideasyficciones.pacojariego.me/2018/02/27/sobre-la-percepcion-de-distopia-tu-eres-ayla-yo-soy-naoh/

      But there is one thing in which I cannot agree with you. To believe in progress (a debatable option, of course), we need to be able to compare and judge about alternatives, and conclude that there are some better than others…

  2. Very good your story about Naoh. But it proves my point, Noah do not think our world is better than hers. (Even if equality were much higher,…)

    Do not mis understand me. Of course, we need to look for better solutions. Possibly this is the reason why we are here (though there may be no reason for being here, I hope that is not true).

    My only concern is that it is difficult to find global better solutions, because, as I say, those solutions might be too evasive, difficult to measure (how to decide?) and changing. It does not mean that anything goes.

    Perhaps, the whole process may be the solution (this is a possible alternative reading of your article on Wolfram)

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