Of Mind and Money: Post-Scarcity Economics and Human Nature

By Stuart Mason Dambrot, Synthesist | Futurist, Critical Thought

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.

Why Socialism? Albert Einstein, Monthly Review, 1949[i]

These two quotes from the same article written by Albert Einstein demonstrate that intelligence and imagination do not necessarily guard against nonconscious cognitive bias and unexamined beliefs. The question is whether either, both or neither are correct. This chapter, Of Mind and Money, provides a perspectival answer showing not only that, given advances in science and technology, the first quote is not necessarily factual, but also that as such it would support the design and implementation of a post-scarcity economic environment by modifying our fundamental, evolution-derived beliefs about scarcity, capitalism, class hierarchies, labor, and competition.

The Nature of Human Nature Redux

In the myriad discussions focused on future scenarios envisioned and articulated in science, technology, humanities, business, politics, or military, and other fields, there is one fundamental factor that is invariably undefined yet implicitly or explicitly assumed to be an unchanging and unchangeable constant.

Human nature

This is curious, in that the creators of said scenarios appear to be all about change, be they Singularitarians, Transhumanists, scientists, technologists, philosophers, or any other of the countless labels with which we describe ourselves to both ourselves and the world-at-large. Moreover, this cognitive bias is perhaps most pronounced in those scenarios concerned with post-scarcity economies, in which goods, services and information are universally accessible without the need for capital or its exchange in order to produce and acquire said goods, services and information.

This chapter will examine the evolutionary neurobiology of what we experience and perceive as human nature[ii] – the thesis being that as we learn more about the human brain and learn how to modify ourselves using a range of methods and techniques, human nature will take its rightful place amongst all other aspects of physical reality that we have studied, understood and modified.

This shift in perspective will then form the cognitive foundation of a new approach to constructing a post-scarcity/post-capital scenario that is no longer bound to attitudes and behavior long and erroneously held to be inviolate.

Human Nature: Fixed or Flexible?

In general, we appear to understand what is meant by human nature, accepting the term as if it refers to well-defined and permanent aspect of our existence. As the above quote demonstrates, this unquestioned assumption is independent of intellect, education and imagination, being more akin to religious belief in its unquestioned adherence to the axiom that human nature is, in Einstein’s words, “fixed and unalterable.” While the concept that human nature is constant is understandable when viewed as an inference based on observing historically recurrent patterns in human behavior (which are amplified versions of behaviors found in our closest hominid relatives2), only recently have science and technology given us discoveries and tools with the potential to change our evolutionary heritage and architect a very different possible future.

To this end, neuroscience, synthetic biology (a branch of biology integrating evolutionary, molecular, and computational biology with biophysics and nanobiotechnology – the melding of nanotech and biology) and other fields of established and emerging science are beginning to provide us with an understanding of our neurobiology at neural, molecular and genetic levels. These advances will then be instantiated in technologies that enable us to physiologically modify our dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors. The resulting shift in perspective will form the cognitive foundation of designing and implementing a technology-enabled post-scarcity economy by abandoning the belief that our human nature has not allowed, and therefore never could allow, such an environment to emerge and thrive on a large – much less global or exoplanetary – scale.

In addition to neuroscience and synthetic biology, the other areas key to designing and effecting human neuroaugmentation include synthetic genomics (a field within synthetic biology); optogenetics (a neuromodulation technique using light to control neurons genetically light-sensitized); neural prostheses; artificially accelerated evolution (already achieved in laboratories with fruit flies); and biorecalibration (biophysical optimization and health/life extension).

One of the main focal points in this effort might be to fine-tune the effects of the human-specific gene ARHGAP11B[iii], which appeared when the ancestral gene ARHGAP11A made an incomplete copy of itself and subsequently may have contributed to evolutionary expansion of human neocortex. (When ARHGAP11B was introduced into developing mice, the number of cortex stem cells nearly doubled and their brains sometimes developed folds – are found in primates but not mice.) The goal could be to use synthetic genomics to selectively modify phenotypic expression in the developing human brain of neural tissue and connectivity between the neocortex and the more primitive brain areas where emotion, motivation, habituation, and other functions occur.

One salient example can be seen in recent neuroscience research[iv] showing strong evidence that interpersonal differences in a specific area of the human brain are associated with different prosocial behavior. In another relevant study[v], neuroscientists at MIT identified the brain circuit in laboratory mice that controls how memories become linked with positive or negative emotions, and as a result were able to modify the emotional associations of specific memories using optogenetics – a method for controlling brain cells with light. More recently the technique has been used[vi] in mice to dramatically reduce stress-related depression-like behavior by activating positive memories.

The question might well be raised of why we cannot rely on widely-promoted sociocultural measures as a way to create a different conception of human nature, and thereby to change, abandon or transcend our biologically-determined behaviors by which we practice various degrees of inhumanity. While science, technology, medicine, knowledge, and other endeavors continue to advance at an accelerating rate, our basic behavioral patterns (in Einstein’s words, “biological constitution” and “natural urges”) have not. In fact, despite protests and legislation, other factors such as air and water quality have globally declined due to capitalism-motivated processes, with air itself now being carcinogenic[vii](causing lung cancer and contributing to bladder cancer) and water becoming increasingly both polluted[viii] and scarce[ix].

For these reasons, the assertion that sociocultural programs and legislation (given the role of corporate and individual wealth in politics) will address our species’ destructive behaviors seems somewhat naïve. Rather, a solution based on a medical model in which dysfunctional individual and group behaviors are seen not as causative but as symptoms of a deeper cause – our evolutionary neurobiology. The transformation of human society via optimizing human nature thus becomes a crisis to be scientifically analyzed and corrected rather than an anthropological project to be observed and discussed.

The Ethics of Enlightenment

Would this approach raise concerns? By all means: Does genetically resetting human neurobiology cross medical and/or ethical lines? Might this approach be considered Eugenics? Should any group or societal class have the authority to proceed with such a project? And so on. How might these issues be addressed – and are they, even in principle, addressable? On the other hand, are they in principle very different from other medical-model-based interventions?

Consider bioaugmentation applied to a serious disease: Imagine the development of a completely safe genetic treatment for cancer using – the same protocol hypothesized for resetting human nature. Despite the technology, delivery vector and safety of this cancer eradication protocol being equivalent to those of the universal transformation of human nature, it is likely that the former would encounter far less resistance than the latter. Why might this be the case? Several possible explanations come to mind:

  • While eliminating cancer is clearly perceived as a medical protocol focused on a range of terrible diseases, human nature is decidedly not seen as a disease state despite the parallels in symptomology (that is, where the problems and crises endemic in human society are seen as symptoms of many of our evolutionarily-determined behaviors)
  • A nonspecific fear of medical or genetic technology that operates at a scale or in a manner that people do not understand
  • There may be a religious factor at play, as evidenced by the belief by a remarkable number of people (despite the tremendous advances in evolution and genetics) that human beings did not evolve from earlier hominids, but rather were created by a divinity in that divinity’s image

In the above situations, education and social programs may be very helpful in laying the groundwork for accepting a medical model as a way of stopping and reversing the destructive path capitalism, as well as those who blindly accept its principles despite suffering as a result, seem committed to pursuing.

The Consequences of Capitalism

Capitalism has clearly demonstrated its profoundly negative impacts on individuals, groups, nations, the planet, and the space surrounding Earth. In terms of individuals, there is profoundly unequal access to many critical foundation areas, including food, clean water, electricity, healthcare, income, housing, transportation, education, security, governance, voting, freedom from, and freedom to. Two real-world examples illustrate the immensity of the problem:

Extreme Wealth Disparity

  • The 85 wealthiest individuals on Earth have assets roughly equivalent to 3.6 billion others
  • In 2011 Deloitte & Touche reported that the wealthiest 400 American families had assets of approximately $11 trillion, with the 2020 estimate being $19 trillion
  • Social Security, Food Assistance, Medicaid and other social safety nets are under defunding attacks from legislators whose salaries are by the citizens who voted them into office

Income and Mortality

The following chart[x] shows a nearly linear relationship between income level and age-related mortality: Those with lower incomes die at an earlier age.

Mortality and incomeIncome level and age-related mortality. Source: The Zeitgeist Movement Defined: Realizing a New Train of Thought, The Zeitgeist Group. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

These large-scale expressions and implementations of capitalism and other problematic behaviors based on our evolutionary neurobiology are not entities in and of themselves: They appear that way because large-scale events are agglomerations of more-or-less coordinated individual behaviors. However, even single events – especially when identified as part of a widespread practice or trend – deserve our attention. A case in point: a few representative reports from a single daily issue published on the progressive Daily Kos[xi] website are representative of a range of dysfunctional trends – some far more disturbing than others:

The typical approach to addressing these problems, articulated by Einstein and many others – whether sincerely or cynically – invokes ethics, culture, education, communication, social programs, legislation and other indirect measures. Unfortunately, given the increasingly elitist and militaristic activities trending on a global basis, this solution appears to be (except on a limited and temporary basis) less than effective.

Human-induced Mass Extinction

Much as global warming is only one factor in climate change, climate change may be part of a much more severe event caused by capitalism-fueled human activity. A paper recently published[xvi] by scientists at the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley found, even using highly conservative criteria, that current extinction rates far exceed those known to exist in our planet’s five previous mass extinction events[xvii]as determined by fossil records. The researchers found that their estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid biodiversity decline over the previous few centuries, concluding that a sixth mass extinction – one that would take millions of years, with Homo sapiens disappearing sooner rather than later – is already taking place.

Cumulative extinctions

Cumulative vertebrate species recorded as extinct or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (2012). Source: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances (2015) 1:5 e1400253. Copyright © G. Ceballos, P. R. Ehrlich, A. D. Barnosky, A. García, R. M. Pringle, T. M. Palmer. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0 license. Courtesy: American Association for the Advancement of Science and Gerardo Ceballos.[xviii]

Specifically, they found that over the last century vertebrate species (that is, those having backbones) have gone extinct at an average rate as high as to 114 times than the background, or non-mass extinction, rate – a rate that would normally take place over as long as 10,000 years – and, critically, that this trend is caused by human activities including climate change, pollution, deforestation, habitat loss, and overexploitation for economic gain – all of which, the scientists note, are related to human population size and growth, which in turn increases consumption (predominantly by the wealthy) and economic inequity. They caution that “averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Post-Scarcity Economics: Beyond Capital

It should be noted that the term post-scarcity economics is sometimes described as being self-contradictory, since most – but not all – definitions of economics are based the dynamic between scarce resources and demand for goods, services and information based on or incorporating these scarce resources, with capital as the foundation for all economic transactions. On the other hand, a post-scarcity economy can operate without the need for capital while still responding to supply-and-demand forces in determining the resources needed to fulfill demand.

This post-scarcity vs. post-capital question can be resolved by reconceptualizing and redefining economics – as has occurred repeatedly over the centuries – as the transformation of resources into goods, services and information that are provided to individuals or groups who demand and then acquire them. Given the technology-based labor-free structure of a post-scarcity environment, the definition of post-scarcity economics then becomes the post-capital, technology-enabled, demand-responsive transformation of resources into goods, services and information that are provided to individuals or groups who acquire them.

That being said, post-scarcity embodiments have been conceptualized for many years. The efforts most salient to the thesis herein include Technocracy Movement[xix], which proposed replacing politicians and businesspeople with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy; Venus Project[xx], which calls for a culture redesign to make war, poverty, hunger, debt and unnecessary human suffering unacceptable and explores the determinants of behavior to dispel the myth of human nature, asserting that environment shapes behavior; Zeitgeist Movement[xxi], reminiscent of the Technocracy Movement and previously aligned with the Venus Project, is focused on technology, post-scarcity, post-capital, post-labor and direct (nonrepresentational) governance; and Transpolitica[xxii], a grassroots Transhumanist political organization focused on enabling society to transcend the limitations and constraints of today’s political models.

Post scarcity

How would a fully-realized post-scarcity environment be structured? First and foremost, despite having elements in common with some systems, it will not take the form of any existing sociopolitical economy, including the usual suspects: capitalism (private property and ownership of means of production, capital accumulation, wage labor, market competition, labor theory of value); socialism (social ownership of means of production and co-operative management of the economy); communism (common ownership of means of production; absence of social classes, money and the State); and anarchism (absolute individual freedom and absence of government).

While the closest post-scarcity analogue is communism, the essential differences are that in technology-enabled post-scarcity there is neither labor nor ownership of the means of production. Moreover, analogous to the assumptions about the term economics discussed earlier, it is often thought that there is only one form of anarchism[xxiii] (as per the standard definition above) – but this is decidedly not the case[xxiv]. Anarchism variants can support fundamentally different political systems that vary from extreme individualism to complete collectivism – and in addition, there is a well-established link[xxv] between specific anarchist schools and post-scarcity/post-capitalism, of which examples include:

A post-scarcity system will therefore have unique features and technologies. Firstly, it will be an technology-enabled post-capital, post-labor, Crowdsourced Peer-to-Peer Networked Anarchy characterized by an absence of wealth, class, and governance hierarchies; autonomous intelligent ownerless production; distributed egalitarian point-to-point self-governance in which each individual or group can self-define as an independent polity; and Nash equilibrium replacing zero-sum game theory. Secondly, a valuation system based on positive inclusive qualities and behaviors such as reputation, inventiveness, equanimity, enablement, and empathy will replace monetization and profit. Thirdly, a post-scarcity architecture will entail a number of current (but significantly advanced), emerging, and potential technologies in four primary areas: personal production (advanced 3D/4D printers, nanofabricators); security (reputation encoding, quantum encryption, blind quantum computing); Artificial General Intelligence and autonomous robotics; and emerging, exotic and theoretical energy sources (compact fusion[xxxiii] and Polywell fusion[xxxiv], quantum thermionic conversion[xxxv], antimatter[xxxvi], and zero-point energy[xxxvii]).

Coincident with the science and technology trends outlined above, researchers studying spatial models of complex systems found that genetically-programmed mortality, while not benefitting individuals, in certain cases results in long-term benefit to the local population by reducing local environmental resource depletion. While noting that intrinsic mortality is not favored for long-range spatial mixing or if resources are unlimited, the paper[xxxviii] does not actually suggest that post-scarcity results in immortality. However, the open question is whether post-scarcity might support a human-induced genetic adaptation that would modify the scarcity-based evolutionary default of aging and limited lifespan – potentially to the point of immortality.

Despite the utopian nature of a post-scarcity economy, however, the transition to a global post-scarcity environment without human nature being universally optimized not only virtually guarantees it being rejected and prevented by capitalist interests, but also carries with it the potential for a new generation of criminal activity corresponding to the technologies described above– that is, reputation spoofing, false demand process interruption, genome hacking, neural theft, robotic telepresence hijacking, blind quantum communication capture, induced entanglement decoherence, and Artificial General Intelligence cracking. These, of course, will necessitate a corrective response, which will simply replicate our current environment in a more advanced technological context.

For these reasons, it would be wise to stage the transition such that elevating human nature is accomplished prior to attempting to construct a post-scarcity economy.

Revolution through Evolution

Summary:

  • Einstein was correct about capitalism but missed the mark on human nature
  • In a medical model, our myriad problems can be seen as symptoms of a central underlying condition, rather than cultural problems that can be addressed by social policies
  • That causative condition is a direct and primary consequence of our hominid evolutionary neurobiological heritage
  • The path forward to an enlightened world is for each individual to physiologically evolve beyond that heritage
  • We can wait for thousands of generations (natural evolution is slow) or use the science and technology our brain has manifested to achieve that step in a matter of decades.

The decision is ours to make.

References

[i] Why Socialism? Albert Einstein, Monthly Review, 1949

https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/

[ii] The Zeitgeist of Change

https://transpolitica.org/2015/04/06/the-zeitgeist-of-change/

[iii] Human-specific gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and neocortex expansion

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6229/1465.abstract

[iv] Spatial gradient in value representation along the medial prefrontal cortex reflects individual differences in prosociality

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/25/7851.abstract

[v] Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v513/n7518/full/nature13725.html

[vi] Activating positive memory engrams suppresses depression-like behaviour

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v522/n7556/full/nature14514.html

[vii] IARC: Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths

http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf

[viii] World Water Assessment Programme: Water pollution is on the rise globally

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/wwap/facts-and-figures/all-facts-wwdr3/fact-15-water-pollution/

[ix] Water Fact Sheet Looks at Threats, Trends, Solutions

http://pacinst.org/publication/facts-on-the-worlds-water/

[x] Based on data in G. D. Smith et al, Socioeconomic differentials in mortality risk among men screened for the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial: I. White men, American Journal of Public Health (1996) 86(4): 486-496.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380548/ (PDF)

[xi] Daily Kos

http://www.dailykos.com/

[xii] Teen stripped of National Honor Society position because she dared wear a sundress—in Florida

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389865/-Teen-stripped-of-National-Honor-Society-position-because-she-dared-wear-a-sun-dress-in-Florida

[xiii] NC Pastor tells graduating seniors they’ll be going to hell if they’re gay

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389845/-NC-Pastor-tells-graduating-seniors-they-ll-be-going-to-hell-if-they-re-gay

[xiv] School lunch room manager fired for giving out food to children without lunch money

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389964/-School-lunch-room-manager-fired-for-giving-out-food-to-children-without-lunch-money

[xv] Florida police murder black computer engineer as he listens to music; attempted cover-up exposed

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/01/1389661/-Florida-police-murder-black-computer-engineer-as-he-listens-to-music-attempted-coverup-exposed

[xvi] Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253.full

[xvii] Mass Extinction Event

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Extinction_event

[xviii] Graphs show the percentage of the number of species evaluated among mammals (5513; 100% of those described), birds (10,425; 100%), reptiles (4414; 44%), amphibians (6414; 88%), fishes (12,457; 38%), and all vertebrates combined (39,223; 59%). Dashed black curve represents the number of extinctions expected under a constant standard background rate of 2 E/MSY. (A) Highly conservative estimate. (B) Conservative estimate.
For a larger version of the image, see http://d3a5ak6v9sb99l.cloudfront.net/content/advances/1/5/e1400253/F1.large.jpg

[xix] The Technocracy Movement

http://technocracy.wikia.com/wiki/Technocracy_movement

[xx] The Venus Project

https://www.thevenusproject.com/en/

[xxi] The Zeitgeist Movement

http://thezeitgeistmovement.com/

[xxii] Transpolitica

https://transpolitica.org/

[xxiii] Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism

[xxiv] Anarchist Schools of Thought

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_schools_of_thought

[xxv] Post-Capitalism Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-capitalism#Anarchism

[xxvi] Post-Scarcity Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Scarcity_Anarchism

[xxvii] Social Ecology

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_ecology

[xxviii] Libertarian Municipalism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_municipalism

[xxix] Anarchist Communism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_communism

[xxx] Direct Democracy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy

[xxxi] Common Ownership

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_ownership

[xxxii] Anarcho-syndicalism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-syndicalism

[xxxiii] Compact Toroid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_toroid

[xxxiv] Polywell Fusion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

[xxxv] Thermionic Energy Conversion (PDF)

https://nems.stanford.edu/thermionic-energy-conversion

(http://gcep.stanford.edu/pdfs/UVaodfDrAb3BdgeRCpoy-w/07-Chen-GCEP-Workshop.pdf)

http://phys.org/news/2011-08-tiny-tech-big-results-quantum.html

[xxxvi] Antimatter Fuel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter#Fuel

[xxxvii] Zero-point Energy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-point_energy

[xxxviii] Programed Death is Favored by Natural Selection in Spatial Systems

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.238103

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 6 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

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