By René Milan, Thelemic Transhumanist [see editor’s note[i]]
When i first heard about the prospective title of this book i was baffled. Politics 2.0 – what might that mean? Like most people probably would, i immediately associated it with the numbering system commonly used in software releases, but having worked as a programmer for 30 years i could not see how this could be applied to something as complex and diffuse as politics. However if taken as something like a cognitive metaphor i still could not clearly grasp its meaning, beyond the vague implication of improvement over Politics 1.x, presumably what humanity is struggling with today.
As is my habit in such cases i forgot about this for the time being, and three days later as hoped a possible solution occurred to me. What if i simply maintained the software approach and regarded the task as coming up with an improved kind of politics according to user requirements?
And already i run up against a fundamental problem in business software development, which constitutes the bulk of my experience: user desires are taken into consideration, but mostly within the strategic framework of increasing productivity, which can under smarter management even, and at best, include user contentment. But the real driver is always some kind of business case for increasing profitability. “Who pays the piper calls the tune.”
However in this case only the user pays (the very minimal cost of this book), so i am free to assume the user’s perspective in presenting, not a completely deliverable solution, which would be way beyond any single person’s capacity, but at best a draft of specifications for an upgrade to current politics with the aim of providing an improved user experience. Unfortunately i can not query all seven billion users, but as i am one myself, and as the major shortcomings of current politics can be seen so clearly, i believe to have enough to go on.
Thus in the following i shall attempt to identify the drivers and mechanics of current politics, determine what effect they have on the people subjected to them (users, willy or nilly) and offer conclusions on how they could and should be improved for a Politics 2.0 release.
The current state of affairs
Sampling the currently prevailing conditions, unscientifically, simply from the common anecdotal user experiences gained by following international news, one can easily identify the main factors determining the ideas, the interests and the effects shaping the reality of current politics worldwide.
The ultimate determinant of politics within a certain geographical area is, at least theoretically, the nation controlling this area, regarding the area and the idea of the nation as inextricably intertwined, as different aspects of the same national identity, which is claimed to be sacrosanct and tends to take on mystical proportions by associating itself with concepts of destiny, providence and even divinity. Two good examples of how the myth of the nation was, and keeps getting to be, reinforced over the decades are the films “Birth of a Nation”[ii] by Griffith from 1915, and “Triumph des Willens”[iii] by Riefenstahl from 1935. The current state of affairs is rather surprising considering that as recently as 500 years ago the idea played virtually no role in politics; the basic units then were empires, kingdoms and lower level fiefdoms. While even only 200 years ago, and in reality even now, fixed borders were not effective in large parts of Africa, the middle east and elsewhere, today everybody claims ‘national sovereignty’ to be the highest good, in practice only one’s own. The days of internationalism being part of anyone’s political agenda are long gone (early 20th century communism). And even though there are international treaties and organisations, they are by design subservient to the interests of (the strongest) nations. A possible exception to this was initially the EU, conceived out of the fresh experience of what nationalism ultimately results in, but as time passed even that unique experiment seems to have become secondary to the interest of the nations who were supposed to be absorbed and dissolved into this new structure.
The effects of this common paradigm are obvious. In the name of ‘national security’ large proportions of the people’s wealth are endlessly spent on weaponry, subventions and trade preferences in order to make the nation ‘stronger’, but as this happens everywhere simultaneously in proportion to national wealth and moderated only slightly by variations in national ideologies, the effects of these efforts are largely cancelling each other out. But what are the effects on the objects of our deliberations, the users of politics 1.x?
It appears that among the users three distinct groups can be identified.
- Those who directly or indirectly benefit from the expenditures generated under these conditions
- Those who get some emotional satisfaction merely from abstract ideas like that of a ‘strong nation’
- The rest
It also appears that ‘the rest’ constitute an overwhelming majority, and that they are therefore disproportionally exposed to the negative effects generated under current conditions, namely
- an increase of influence of the small groups identified under 1. and 2. above, and the resulting decrease of influence of the majority, meaning that most users are deprived of their voice in these matters
- the loss of resources wasted on this global zero sum game, which could otherwise be spent on truly beneficial endeavours such as improvements of health, educational, infrastructural and environmental conditions even in times of those destructive tools not being used
- direct (death and wounding, loss of habitat) and indirect (loss of resources, property, income, health and home) effects in times and places when and where these tools are used
To stay within the metaphor this importance of the nation could be seen as a current operating system feature, and as a consequence of the above it seems obvious to this engineer that for an upgrade to Politics 2.0 with the aim of an improved user experience the first prerequisite would be an OS upgrade that completely eliminates the role of the nation from the operating environment.
Increasingly we can observe over the last few decades the effects of religious influence on politics and beyond. This influence has been with humans at least since the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago and the resulting congregation in large settlements (cities) and division of labour. Even before that time this influence was obvious and actually potentially useful, for instance in the chieftain asking the shaman for advice in matters of hunting, planting, moving or fighting. But in those days there was not yet a clear separation of religion and science. After that time it took the form of identification of political leaders as divine entities (egypt etc), which was, for reasons which to explore would be beyond the scope of this brief analogy, common in the three early human large cultural evolutionary centres based in Mesopotamia and along the Nile and the Indus. In the more off centre and smaller kingdoms it was less common. Through the Greeks and then the Romans Europe inherited many values and institutions of the earlier civilisations, but the Greeks establishing philosophy and science outside of the domain of religion constituted an early break of the religious monopoly on politics which was only reestablished, partially, when Theodosius I decreed, of all the choices, xtianity to be the new state religion of Rome, which then survived the collapse of the western empire and positioned itself to sanction, or not, subsequent european monarchies. This lasted throughout the middle ages and ended through the reformation, but was not ideologically questioned until the emergence of the enlightenment over a century later. Nonetheless, religious influence and privileges are still common in Europe, and more so in the u.s. Islam, being 500 years younger, is still at the beginning of its own reformation, and most countries in which it is dominant are explicitly defined as ‘islamic nations’.
Again let us examine the effects of this state of affairs on the users of politics 1.x.
The users are divided along similar lines and in similar numbers as under I. In simple and direct terms there are the beneficiaries (who gain material advantages), the ideologues (who gain ideological, mental advantages), and the victims (who gain nothing). And again we see a disproportional allocation of desirable and undesirable effects: too much political power for the first two smaller groups to the detriment of the third and largest group, a waste of resources on the privileges enjoyable by the first two groups largely paid for by the contributions of the third, and a host of policies restricting freedoms of users, most of whom are part of the latter group, as in marriage, abortion, political and sexual privileges.
Thus it becomes clear that a second OS upgrade is required in order to completely eliminate the influence of organised religion on the political domain, before implementation of Politics 2.0 with the aim of improving user experience can be undertaken.
I had briefly considered giving this section the heading ´Money’, however money is merely a quantification of material value, created to have something approximating an objective measuring device for this value. Clearly ‘objective’ is meant in a very relative manner, only in the sense that many would, or are simply forced to, agree that certain material and even immaterial objects have a particular value that can indeed be expressed by using this device. In reality monetary value is defined by desirability, a very subjective concept, which in turn derives from real (biological) or artificially created (psychological) need. Another option could have been ‘capitalism’, but that is just the currently fashionable term for the underlying force, which is truly greed, and which has been a driver of economic activity for much longer (in fact since the concepts and activities of hoarding and raiding proved to be conducive to survival) than the term ‘capitalism’ existed.
Again the effects on the experiences of the vast majority of the users are dismal to say the least. As before, and more so than above, we have a subgroup of users who benefit materially, giving in to the genetic imperative of hoarding more than is reasonable, needless to say at the cost of the majority, many of whom do not have enough to even ensure material survival. In between we have what used to be called the silent majority, which is not so silent anymore, and on a global scale certainly not a majority, who get by materially, but get nothing more out of a bad deal than some sort of intellectual satisfaction for which they were psychologically conditioned by the media controlled by the material beneficiaries in the first place.
This then is the third, actually the most important, operating system upgrade that is a prerequisite of even being able to implement a set of policies that could qualify as Politics 2.0. I say the most important, because all the problems caused by ideologies such as nationalism and exoteric religion ultimately are maintained in the service of this same force, namely greed. I am well aware that to resolve this problem requires a deep intervention in what is generally perceived as ‘human nature’, in reality merely the current manifestation of a genetic configuration resulting from arbitrary biological and historical conditions, which humans are becoming finally able to change, if only agreements on these issues can be arrived at. But this subject is again beyond the scope of this piece. Nonetheless i must point out that this must and will be addressed in the appropriate context.
Once these operating system changes are in place, meaning that we can work on a basis of not meeting fundamental resistance to changes in software, or in policies, we can try to determine what is actually needed in order to arrive at maximal user satisfaction.
The hierarchical nature of this concept seems to be quite obvious. Nobody will be too concerned with self esteem or even family if they can not fulfil their needs for food and drink. So it must be, contrary to currently prevailing conditions where certainly safety requirements are not guaranteed to be met for millions of users, paramount for policies meeting the specifications of Politics 2.0 to ensure that these needs are met. Then the question of priorities arises. As politics will consist largely in the art of applying still, even after eliminating the parasitical forces described above under III, limited resources equitably on a global scale, before the needs above the basic two lower levels can be addressed all users must be elevated to that level, explicitly the first global priority must be to create conditions within which all users can elevate themselves to level three, or in other words, everyone’s physiological and safety needs must be met.
On this basis let us examine how Politics 2.0 can and should impact the safeguarding of meeting these needs.
On the physiological level it is clearly the first three items that are vulnerable to adverse political conditions. Even a partly commercial, partly scientific and purely adventurous project like MarsOne must include provisions to guarantee the users’ access to air, water and food, and to do so is a political decision. On this planet environmental conditions vary so widely that pressures are quite different between various places. Nonetheless given current population distribution it is the function of politics, and 2.0 in particular, to safeguard supply of these resources within the powers of current technologies, whose limits are increasingly tested as by rising sea levels and desertification.
- Air is one of the oldest problems. In recent decades air pollution caused problems in the 20th century, famously in L.A., Tokyo, Mexico etc, but these problems have been solved there long ago and the knowhow and technologies are easily available. Nonetheless we have seen recent recurrences, especially persistent in Beijing, and surprisingly in Paris. Other recent incidents were caused by burning of rainforest in Borneo and even volcanic eruption in Iceland. With the exception of the latter these occurrences can be more or less easily controlled, especially after elimination of the greed factor, and the will and means to do so must be part of Politics 2.0.
- Food is a much more complex issue than the problems with air. It has environmental, technological, cultural and social components. Since its establishment 10,000 years ago agriculture has undergone, and caused, some profound changes. Its industrialisation throughout the 20th century is perhaps the most important, and its results are mixed. Efficiency has increased, but its social effects (transfer of ownership to corporations), the impact on health and environment (large scale use of industrial chemicals, large monocultures and subsequent environmental degradation), and cultural consequences (establishment of an unprecedentedly large meat eating habit) are mostly negative. Even the potentially so positive impact of genetic modification technologies has under the current capitalist paradigm often had negative social consequences (but these should be eliminated by the measures recommended under III). To rectify these problems will constitute a major chunk of work writing low level requirements and coding for a release as part of Politics 2.0.
- Water availability is strongly intertwined with the issues hinted at under b) as 70% of the water utilised in the context of human activity is used in the service of food production. Therefore some of the current problems with water shortage deriving from overuse of current resources, as practiced in the course of industrial meat production, will be alleviated by measures designed to improve global food supply. Nonetheless global aquifer depletion[v], which is currently gaining attention in California, besides the many places where it has long been an urgent issue, will remain a problem alongside political issues such as conflicts around water rights, such as in the middle east and along the Nile, and will have to be addressed when developing Politics 2.0. One hope i have in this context is large scale cheap implementation of new desalination technologies.
- A resource not explicitly mentioned in the above hierarchy triangle but certainly closely intertwined with the three mentioned above is energy. Energy is needed in providing the other three, in transportation and communication, and even to provide creature comforts (making it warm where it is too cold and vice versa). But energy has been the subject of global discussions for quite some time, largely in a context of power politics (in the name of obsolete nationalism), but increasingly also as an environmental issue. Even after the recommended OS upgrades, which will eliminate the profit motive and the attendant manipulation of energy prices, a lot of creativity and effort will have to be applied to better provisions in Politics 2.0.
- Health is listed on level two of the pyramid, but it really affects all the levels throughout. What is referred to as level two health, is probably something like the minimal health required to allow the individual to function reasonably well in its survival activities within nature and society. But if health is negatively affected by crippling or disabling, chronically painful, or fast progressing mortal disease, functionality even on the physiological level is denied. Of course there are cultural practices prevailing in some human and other mammalian societies designed to mitigate the effects, but they amount to palliative interventions at best. Therefore it must be addressed here. Like the four previously mentioned issues it is out of the control of individuals, and even the most advanced efforts by organised health institutions are still far from understanding aetiologies of, or developing therapies for, many diseases including death. Clearly political efforts in this area are also of the highest priority and must be a fundamental consideration in the process of upgrading politics.
- The other listed items, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion, are, in a healthy individual (and society), pretty much self regulating physiological processes. One other issue relevant in this context and connected with health, education, infrastructure and last not least direct individual control is hygiene, but its centre of gravity lies probably on the next level.
Beginning on the level called safety things get somewhat more complicated. It becomes obvious that two factors, relevant throughout, that are not explicitly listed, assume increasing importance: education and infrastructure. Listed however are several items that are quite culture specific and do therefore not belong into this pyramid of needs at all.
- Education beyond the level of basic survival skill is clearly a prerequisite for maintaining control of access to resources, specifically those pertaining to economic activity, caring for offspring, health and hygiene, and perhaps issues of morality. And its need goes way beyond this level, after all how can one currently fulfil one’s needs for esteem and self actualisation if one can not read or write or has not developed one’s capacity for logical and critical thinking? It is a prerequisite best met by society, not private enterprise with its overriding profit motive, which is also not exactly interested in maintaining and growing a customer base with capacity for independent thought as history has shown and does to this day, but we will have eliminated its influence already with the measures undertaken as recommended in III. But education itself is undergoing profound paradigm shifts. While in many places primary and secondary education still takes the form of assembling the youth of the village in (or at) one place for communal teaching, investigation, experimentation and conversation, or that of not yet technologically replaceable traditional individual teaching by experts or masters, in places with access to advanced technology education is becoming increasingly nonlocal and free of cost. This is very welcome in principle, but the difference in possibilities of access to the enabling technologies between these places raises another issue: infrastructure.
- Infrastructure is even more important in the provision of health services than in education. Advanced knowledge and technologies are of no value to the users unless they can be delivered to where they are. Thus a complete network of operators (hospitals with physicians, equipment and personnel) within reasonable proximity to users, which is still widely lacking, must be established. This in turn is dependent on solid transportation facilities. If health and education services are provided online, as is becoming more and more common, requirements include a reliable and secure communications network. Needless to say, both types of infrastructure require availability of the energy to operate and maintain them.
- Security of body is a concept subject to various influences. The most direct and often irresistible one is force majeure, as executed by natural disasters. Human technology may never be able to completely shield users against its impacts as long as life is based on physical substrates within this universe. But given that terra is a normally slowly changing environment compared to current user life spans, much progress has been made for example in adjusting construction technologies in earthquake prone japan or fending off the sea in the low lying netherlands. Much more must be done especially in the light of climate change and rising sea levels. Security threats caused by humans must be considered as criminal after military conflicts have been eliminated by overcoming the nation concept, and are being handled in two major ways: law and therapy. It is clear that both approaches are still in their infancy; therefore much research in these areas must be undertaken under the provisions of Politics 2.0.
- Employment and property are both economic concepts and can be discussed together. The original function of both is to secure the user’s economic basis, in other words they are tools toward guaranteeing the fulfilment of the user’s needs, on all levels of the hierarchy, within the current system characterised by scarcity and the exchange of privately (lit.: stolen) owned property without which the user is totally dependent solely on the commodity of his physical productive capacity. A huge number of users are currently subject to this latter condition: without employment and without property. This of course is largely caused by the force described under III, which we assume to have eliminated before implementing Politics 2.0. Thus alternative ways to secure users’ material needs must be found. Many alternatives such as cooperative production and more recently universal basic income have been developed, tested and discussed for a long time. Building on this work developing requirements for an upgrade is one of the major issues in improving user satisfaction, as it affects billions, indeed the vast majority of current users.
- I will be generous and interpret ‘family’ as code for ‘securing the survival of offspring’ since it is clearly not a biological but a cultural concept. Throughout history, in different human cultures and more so among other species, family is just one of the many social forms in which this function is being executed, and it is itself undergoing constant change. The last century saw a transition in developed regions from ‘Großfamilie’ (apparently there is no english term describing the typical 19th century configuration with three or more generations and sidelines living together) to the currently common core family, and recently we are seeing the introduction of legally sanctioned non gender based models. Throughout history we have seen different social constructs that among others all have proven capable of executing this function, while none is guaranteed to do it well, such as single parents, institutions, communes, polygamous and polyandrous groups. Nonetheless i submit that groups operating on liberal principles tend to do a better job than those based on authoritarian ones. Complexities of this issue are defined by the gradual change of children’s capacities throughout development, which requires finely grained understanding of the development processes while avoiding the traditional, and current, underestimation of these capacities. The issues of child rearing are also closely related to those of education (addressed above under a), and to privilege (to be addressed below). In conclusion Politics 2.0 must include provisions to secure childrearing with the goal of enabling the highest physical and mental potential of children while abstaining from interfering in the social constructs providing this function for any other reasons than goal oriented ones.
- Morality is an interesting issue for several reasons. An obvious one is that it occurs twice in this hierarchy, once here and again on the highest (self actualisation) level. This can be interpreted to mean that here we are discussing morality as something learned, in whatever framework and by whatever authority (do good, don’t do bad), while under the self-actualisation paradigm it is understood as something coming from a combination of character and experience, from ‘within’. But this interpretation implies a simplification that will not suffice to do the issue justice. First let us examine the meaning of the term ‘morality’. Derived from the latin ‘mores’, roughly equivalent to ‘custom’, meaning the way things are done, the term does not include any obvious legitimacy, other than perhaps that of evolutionary success. But evolution is equivalent to change, so the conservative notion of morality is already questionable. Then there is the question of the distinction of morality and ethics. A brief but plausible treatment i have come across in my perfunctory investigation is presented here[vi]. According to this morality would be the appropriate term here while under ‘self-actualisation’ it should read ‘ethics’. Consequently morality, being conditioned by culture, of which humans and other animals have many, should not be listed under ‘needs’. More precisely what is meant here is playing by the rules that prevent ostracisation of the user from the cultural context in which he happens to find himself. The value of this ‘in the wild’ is obvious, but it must be a point of importance in Politics 2.0 to liberate users from this constraint.
Fortunately upwards from level three (love/belonging) the influence of politics diminishes. Policies can create or obstruct conditions conducive to meeting the needs of this level and beyond, but a lot of the required effort is dependent on the individual user.
- Family here, as opposed to ‘the family’ (this brings up, perhaps not without reason, mafia associations, a social construct which indeed attempts to guarantee survival in exchange for playing by its rules) under 2.e, seems to indicate a sense of belonging and protection, and a construct that can respond to this need. Again, the traditional family is not the only social unit ensuring the desired outcome, and certainly not one to guarantee this outcome. My generation (i was a young man in the ‘60s) had to and did find, or build, other social entities to provide for this kind of need, and i do think this holds true today, but i do not know how successfully, or even if, this is undertaken these days. There is not much an upgrade can do beyond removing all systemic obstacles, which do currently still exist, toward letting individuals build these entities, fleeting and transitory as they often turn out to be.
- Friendship and sexual intimacy can be addressed together. Friendship is equivalent to intimacy; if it takes on sexual qualities, and to what degree, is dependent on psychological configurations and definitely must not be subject to policy. In fact friendship is the overriding quality needed to ensure users’ needs are met on all levels of this hierarchy. There is not much point in having a ‘family’ if none of its members can offer friendship to the user, and the same applies to alternative social constructs mentioned above. Apparently sexual expression and conduct has been more or less subject to cultural conventions and pressures for a long time, and clearly since religion assumed its position of control of individual behaviour during the agricultural revolution. Currently we are seeing two contradictory trends. In more enlightened societies there is a steady retreat of powers attempting to regulate sexual behaviour of its citizens with one notable exception being the area of ‘underage’ regulation. Children are widely and falsely seen as asexual beings, and arbitrary age limitations are set by law. This is an important issue to be addressed within Politics 2.0 along the lines described under 2.e. Simultaneously there is a strong reactionary backlash against this increasing liberalisation observable even within, and stronger outside these societies. An upgrade of politics must include complete decriminalisation of these, and other, victimless activities.
4. Esteem and self actualisation
The needs described on the remaining two levels, esteem and self actualisation can be addressed together. Those listed under esteem (self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of and by others), are all more or less dependent on the realisation of the quality of friendship, which was mentioned in the previous paragraph. Friendship appears to emerge from fulfilling the needs mentioned on this level and in turn to facilitate this fulfilment, as in a virtuous cycle. Friendship must include a well developed capacity for empathy resulting in knowing when and how to step in and when to keep out, and again it plays a beneficial role in this development. However empathy can, and should, apply beyond established friendship in relation to strangers, who after all are potential friends.
Of the six items listed under self actualisation, the latter three, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts, are all results of basic education, and should have been addressed and resolved long before this level is discussed. Thus they are the only ones mentioned in these two highest levels that are actually subject to politics.
Of the other three, morality, creativity, spontaneity the first one has already been mentioned under 2.f “as something coming from a combination of character and experience, from ‘within’”, and labelled as ethics rather than morality. Like ethics, creativity and spontaneity are properties of ‘character’ or ‘personality’, but how much they are also subject to a learning process is to be researched and discussed. Another open question is whether any or all of these three can be rightfully described as needs. One can lead a perfectly fulfilled life without being spontaneous, creative or having a finely developed sense of ethics. However much i share Maslow’s ideas about what it takes, for me personally, to become a fulfilled human, or transhuman, being, these ideas can not be automatically presumed to be true for others. What we are discussing here is politics, an activity with the potential to facilitate, and on the lower levels to guarantee, or as is widely the case today to obstruct, the possibility of living a fulfilled life. How that opportunity is used if attained must remain subject to individual choice.
5. Further discussion
There are two issues which are rightfully, as they do not constitute needs, not discussed within the preceding, but which are intimately connected with its content and with each other.
- Taxes – this is here just meant as code for any number of ways in which societies take responsibility for issues that can reasonably and successfully only be addressed through a communal approach. All of the policies required by these specifications take resources, expressed in monetary value (money), and this money is usually raised through collecting taxes. Even after recovering the money currently drained into private holes by greed as well as that wasted on the nationalistic zero sum military game, and by sheer incompetence, there may be additional funds required to be raised as taxes, unless government, or better society, is set up as a wealth generator itself. This is a wide open issue which will however have to be discussed, agreed upon and included in the new version of politics.
- Privilege (lit.: private law) is another huge factor currently draining resources from the community into the hands and pockets of the minority that benefits from these transactions, the privileged. These are mostly corporate, political and religious structures as well as wealthy individuals, which have managed to manipulate legislative processes in order to maintain or establish these privileges. Code within Politics 2.0 must ensure the elimination of all privileges. Law can only apply to all.
The list of specifications arrived at here through one of many models describing users’ needs is far from complete, and it is merely that: a list of high level specs. This must be discussed, revised and fleshed out in low level requirements, then coded and tested before being put in production. At least that is how it would work in a well designed and executed project which itself is a rarity in the real world.
And now it is time to give up the conveniently assumed illusion of Politics 2.0. The basic changes to ‘human nature’, that i nonchalantly presented above as prerequisite operating system upgrades, in reality will be, and already are being, hard fought over, mentally, politically, economically and militarily, and the outcome is far from clear. Those who think that their greed has served them well are not willing to give up the benefits it has allowed them to accumulate, and may not even be willing to give up the trait of greed itself, if and when genetic reconfiguration tools which can do this become available.
On the other hand many desirable policies described in these specifications are already, and have been, subject to attempts at introducing them, with mixed success, despite and against the unfavourable conditions of this faulty operating system that is human, but hopefully not posthuman, nature. If there has been progress or not over the last 100,000 years, when discussed from various utilitarian viewpoints, remains an open question. However we have no other starting point than the present, and in this sense the best i can hope for is that this list of specifications may contribute to the debate on where to go from here.
[i] Editor’s Note:
The author of this chapter has chosen to abide by his personal style which includes customised spelling, neologisms, minimal capitalisation, and other peculiarities, which may appear to the reader to be mistakes
The article above features as Chapter 8 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.