Check out me reading my latest Monkey Logic column and other updates including maps from the upcoming book Saloa:
Check out me reading my latest Monkey Logic column and other updates including maps from the upcoming book Saloa:
Read below or watch/listen to Broadcast #4 where I read the essay from the bridge of the Sanity Retreat:
The swarming social insects divide up work between castes:
Like ants and bees, humans are social creatures. We are a little more flexible than termites. We are individually smart [caveat 1: at least relative to an ant; caveat 2: in most cases] so our nests, and our roles within them, are less well defined. Depending on our mood, and on the availability of resources, the ‘hive’ we pledge our loyalty to might be family, kin, tribe, or species; but, just like a worker bee, or a warrior ant, we are all allocated our predetermined roles. We call these archetypes:
The patterns of behaviour are persistent. They crop up again and again in our fiction and mystical writing. This is because they are behaviour pre-sets that prepare an individual for a specific role in our hive/society. These archetypes are our human ‘casts’. They were created by evolution to help our species cope with the various trials of life by assigning challenges to ‘specialists’ equipped to deal with them.
Societies can change their attitude by varying their mix of ‘casts’:
Sparta, focused on The Hero, while Athens, preferred The Sage.
The same concept is common in the corporate world. We are told that effective teams are made a mix of personality traits:
These names are less mystical than the Tarot archetypes, but the concept is the same. People tend to fall into different buckets, and, by mixing and matching these personality traits, a skilled manager can improve the productivity of her team.
It should be noted that because we are dealing with squishy human psyches here, the divisions between archetypes, aka personality-categories or casts, will be blurry and somewhat arbitrary. They will also be fractal. If we zoom in on the tip of a branching category we will always be able to divide further, right down to the individual. Perhaps it is easier to go the other way then, and zoom out until we are all split into just two groups:
Which are you?
I suspect a disproportionate number of you will say ‘The Leader’. It is more romantic to be a leader. Follower has negative connotations, but evolution is not sentimental, in a social species, we can’t all be leaders; imagine a room full of cats to get a glimpse of that society! For a smooth functioning hive, most of us need to be followers. Each hive only really needs one leader — one per tribe, for humans something like one in a hundred, one per cent. But evolution will ensure a couple of spares, and, if we add in the next generation waiting in the wings for when the king gets too grey and weak to lead, we might end up with something like an eighty-twenty split between the follower-cast and the leader-cast.
The necessary excess of leaders will consign the majority of individuals displaying leader-archetype characteristics to follow; this will not sit well and will be a source of much conflict within the hive, but this overhead is preferable to ending up with no leaders at all. At the same time, some follower-archetypes will be thrust into leadership positions—in many cases by those above, emplaced because they pose less of a threat to those who put them there.
In short, archetypes are behaviour-presets installed by evolution to ensure optimal performance at the level of the hive [clan/tribe/church/corporation etc]. Most of us — the eighty per cent — are built to follow. We are susceptible to messages from our leaders, from the authority figures of the tribe. We instinctively perform loyalty displays; even if we are not aware that this is what we are doing when we put on our suits and ties and climb into our BMWs to drive to the monthly sales meeting.
When we see starlings murmerating, we can’t find individuals. The entire flock seems to move with eerie synchronicity. Humans, also social animals, are the same. When our swarm moves, we respond; subconsciously and immediately. When those around you begin to wear bell-bottom trousers, you buy them too. When all the ladies on the television use Persil washing powder, you will feel awkward if you don’t switch from Ariel. When the citizens around you decide that group X are subhuman Untermenschen you too will withdraw your compassion from their awful plight…
I am not being flippant. Scientific studies show that more than sixty per cent of us will murder an innocent with a 450-volt fatal shock of electricity if a man in a white coat tells us to. If you are not familiar with this unsettling fact, check out the chilling “The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram.
In another study on social conformity, Solomon Asch found that seventy-five per cent of people will agree to a truth they know to be false if it aligns them to the choices of the other individuals around them.
Philip Zimbardo found that just by putting on a uniform people are empowered to abuse those in their charge.
You need to understand this about yourself. The obedience that eighty per cent of us are compelled to perform is a vulnerability in our minds. It is no different from having a medical propensity to a certain condition. Like a bad-back that goes out when you lift something heavy. Once you are aware of your frailty, you can exercise, build up the muscles around your weakness and compensate.
The experiments I mentioned were performed in the 1970s. People have known these dark secrets about ourselves for a long time. For most of us, when we learn of this moral frailty built into our species, we feel a little shame; but other human casts don’t see this psychological vulnerability as a bad thing, in fact, they saw it as an opportunity! The original science was sponsored by the military, but the knowledge of these weak places in the defences of our minds is now widely distributed in the civilian world and deployed daily by advertisers, propagandists, and other persuasion engineers.
I am sure that many of you will have an area of expertise in which you are regularly perplexed by the irrational behaviour of the majority in your field. ‘How can people be so dumb’ you will think as you watch them all fall into the same shallow logical traps. If you choose to scratch back the sand and explore deeper, you may notice that in most cases this irrationality is not random noise pulling the truth in multiple directions, but a systematic bias towards facts which benefit those currently doing pretty well out of whichever status-quo currently dominates their particular discipline. If you manifest some attributes plucked from the leader-end of the archetype-spectrum, you may conclude that the fear, uncertainty, and doubt you are witnessing is not organic, but manufactured. If you are a follower you may not have noticed anything wrong at all. Or perhaps you reassure yourself by believing that the irrational behaviour of the majority is due to innocent incompetence…
It is not.
We know that advertising works.
We know we are monkeys vulnerable to persuasion.
We know that others have known this for fifty years.
Can you make yourself believe that an effective weapon that can be stealthily deployed without detection to achieve power and financial rewards will not — and has not — been deployed? If you do, take one of my Smoking-is-Good-for-You cigarettes while you sit down in front of your Clean-Coal fire to read about those ridiculous battery-electric vehicles that will never catch on…
Our leaders are mostly followers. They don’t even know what they are up to. Like most of us, they just do what they are told. It is not possible to climb high in a corporation or government by questioning your betters; sure, a few genuine free thinkers do sneak through. Like Job’s, Musk, and Branson when a true genius appears, you will know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. [Jonathan Swift]
Even the elites benefitting from this wanton social manipulation are mostly innocent. Rich and powerful people are born into the follower cast too. They grow up drinking from a bottomless bowl of soup which they will continue to slurp down until the system bursts — unless we show them where the bottom is, and tell them when enough is enough!
In my books, I write about a seagull embedded in a virtual flock. He is happy, responding to the flock’s dance, never knowing he is alone and the other seagulls are digital, virtual, and fake.
This might be you.
The tribe around you, especially if it is on TV or Facebook might very well not be real. Are you sure you are not following the bots, shills, and simps towards some dark island littered with seagull skulls?
Knowing that your obedience is being manipulated is very uncomfortable.
It makes you feel bad,
nothing will change,
…so why am I haranguing you so?
I have been asked this quite a lot recently, I think I know the answer, it’s because:
If we don’t at least ask for what we want, what is the chance we will ever get it? If we don’t at least let them know that we are onto the scam and that the deal on the table is unfair, how likely is it that they will offer up a better one?
This is nothing new. We have done this negotiation before: emancipation and equality for women, freedom of sexual identity, worker rights, civil rights for racial minorities, etc.
Nothing is fixed. When we take our eyes off the prize and stop paying attention they like to roll things back. When you see a power grab, especially when it is universally supported by institutional voices who humiliate, terrorize, and censor any debate or discussion, consider the possibility that they are at it again!
Sure the rich and powerful will always take the lion’s share, but we don’t have to make it easy for them to shake us down! At least let’s have some self-respect and haggle a little!
Make your obedience conditional.
The first step out of an abusive relationship is to recognise the problem, let me, a friend, point it out then:
They know how you tick.
They know you will do what you are told; especially if the people-around-you are doing the same.
BUT, and this is your power, YOU are one of the-people-around-you for someone else. You are part of somebody else’s flock.
They react to your moves.
If you can break off, fly crooked, think different, challenge at least one of the absurd facts that your inbuilt cognitive vulnerabilities makes it so hard for you to question, you will be starting the negotiation for a better deal!
As always, if you’d like to drop me a note, you can find me on Twitter at @weston_toby
Check out my novels which are SciFi action-adventure where I get to choose who wins the struggle for humanity’s future!
Broadcast #2 – part two of my recent Monkey Logic essay, read or listen on Youtube:
Power is a kind of gravity. Instead of curving space and time, it warps laws and bends rules. As I wrote in my last broadcast:
“Human laws, even when they start off well-intentioned, always become corrupted and broken as they are hollowed out by bad faith actors…”
Given the chance, people will bend the rules to their own benefit. For most of us, the law is ‘Read Only’, but those who can accumulate enough power get ‘Write Permissions’. If you are rich enough the law is malleable. For a real-world example, take the manifestly harmful ruse concocted by a few Billionaires to assert equivalence between money and speech, granting freedom of speech to corporations, a.k.a. corporate persons, allowing our jolly band of Billionaires to use these well-funded proxies as battering rams to push for even more benign governance. Corporations are not real people but we let them use their wealth to lobby against the laws that keep them in check, this can’t be a good idea?! It is like giving an AI a gun or putting the psychopaths in charge of the asylum.
In this collapsing world, our institutions have been co-opted. Surviving the game of late-stage-capitalism is like playing Monopoly where whoever is winning, not only gets to collect outlandish rents every time you land on their Mayfairs [Broadwalks] and Park Lanes [Park Places] but also get to rewrite the rules too; letting them confiscate your stations and utilities just before they land on you, so you never get your hands on any of their greasy yellow notes.
If we want to build things of lasting value - and not watch as they are looted by the type of kleptocrat who predictably ends up running things - we need to tamper-proof our system of rules.
In the last instalment, I claimed that rooting systems of governance in the hardwired properties of the universe helps put laws beyond self-serving meddling. For example, using gold for money is less vulnerable to corruption than using ephemeral zeros and ones. Of course, even using precious metals people can and could cheat; lead coins were plated in gold, but at least the swindlers had to work hard at these scams, now they just need to spam the ‘create money’ key on the special keyboard all plutocrats get sent when they reach the magic ten billion-dollar goal.
The problem with using reality as the underpinnings of law, e.g. violence or scarcity, is that such laws will be crude. In version 1.0 base reality-the bare bones out-of-the-box universe-law defaults to sticks and stones, the smartest most powerful monkey gets all the toys, food, and sex. But, and this should not be forgotten, a small consolation prize for the losers is that in base reality, no matter how powerful the winners get, they will never become actual Gods.
So, building the components of civilization on rules baked into the universe can help reduce meddling, but capturing all our aspirations for fairness and efficiency within the universe’s default laws of violence and power is a tall order.
Instead, we need to take the best of our human system-in an idealized world, this would be our collective vision of how the world should work-and bake them into an immutable synthetic substrate.
The substrate for our current economic system is money + our global laws and regulations + physical infrastructure (i.e. roads, the internet, etc).
We need a new substrate equally complex and nuanced but resistant to meddling.
Lucky for us I have just the thing, I call it the Mesh.
Let’s define a few core concepts. I am sure you have heard of Bitcoin, but if not, think of Bitcoin as digital gold. Like gold, Bitcoin is scarce. Unlike gold, its scarcity does not come from the laws of physics, but from specially designed algorithms built upon tamper-proof cryptographic concepts. Its scarcity is artificial, but once set, its rules cannot be changed because they are protected by cryptography, a.k.a. by math [so, I suppose, physics after all]. This is a far-from-complete description of Bitcoin, but in a nutshell, if someone tries to meddle, the math does not work, you get an error, payment rejected. Bitcoin is nothing more than its algorithms, and the way the algorithms are embedded in math makes them inviolate. This gives Bitcoin its reputation. It’s unhackable because to crack Bitcoin, ludicrous amounts of computation are required - think several universe-sized computers running for billions of years. The scarcity of computation gives Bitcoin its value, just as the scarcity of gold gives Krugerrands theirs.
There are no shortcuts. No huge deposits of unattended computation hidden off the continental shelf waiting for deep-sea rigs to come and suck them up. Unlike gold, you cannot fly a starship into space and drag back a steaming pile of Bitcoin.
The only way Bitcoin enters the economy is when it is ‘mined’-
– perhaps this conjures images of nerds in hardhats burrowing through layers of data to extract precious glinting Bitcoins-in-the-rough, but what ‘crypto-miners’ are actually doing is the dry mundane task of verifying payment transactions on an immutable ledger. Crypto-miners are running the math that is Bitcoin on the computers in their bedrooms. In return, they get paid every time they ‘mine’ a ‘block’. This is how the currency incentivises humans to do its work. This bootstrapping is the real genius of a cryptocurrency. Nobody has to raise capital from investors to build Bitcoin’s [or any other cryptocurrency’s] banking back-end. The computer infrastructure required to run the Bitcoin network, and all the geeks and nerds necessary to maintain it, bootstraps spontaneously as people rationally identify an opportunity to earn money and choose to run its software on their computers.
People flock in, momentum builds, the currency’s reputation grows, people gain confidence and the coin’s value starts to appreciate. Ten years ago, the first Bitcoin purchase swapped Ten Thousand Bitcoin for two pizzas, that Bitcoin would be worth a hundred million Euros in today’s money.
Incidentally, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) believes Cryptocurrency is the future of Money. Right now they are busy building their own version of Bitcoin with blackjack and hookers… a.k.a. cross-border controls and political censorship. The PBoC’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) initiative is building up its strength, waiting next to the bed of the crotchety old US Dollar which seems to have developed a temperature and nasty dry cough lately…
Bitcoin’s reputation, brand recognition, and autonomy from preying central banks, pretty much guarantees it a place in our future economy. I am certain Bitcoin will be around for the next few centuries, just like TCP/IP, SC2, and .txt, it is a standard that is not going anywhere. I am hodlering onto mine forever - or at least until the price reaches the moon. But before you log on to Coinbase and buy you some Bitcoin, Dogecoin-or whatever state-sponsored, watered down, bureaucracy riddled, de-fanged, regulated, shade your government will soon be peddling to you-cryptocurrency alone cannot deliver us the Singularity economics we need. Bitcoin is money, but we need more than money, we need laws and infrastructure too. Luckily Bitcoin is the innovation equivalent of using re-bar construction technology to upgrade your village from mud huts to concrete huts, entirely missing the opportunity to build sky-scrapers another ninety-nine stories into the sky. The technology of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency can do so much more than be Money, so let’s see if it can help with the other core facilities we need our substrate to provide, i.e:
– Communication (infrastructure)
– Record-keeping (data)
– Computation (rules)
Let us start with Communication.
Imagine a small technical widget that turns data - zeros and ones - into electrical beeps like an old-school modem. Let’s use off the shelf circuitry, something like an Arduino, running a program. This widget should be able to send data over wifi, or down a network cable, it will send beeps and chirps through a speaker or down an aux cable into a ham radio set which can boost the signal across an ocean. Let’s call this widget a node. These nodes can decode signals the same way they encode them. We can imagine a node sending packets of data to a twin a thousand miles away which decodes the radio waves it plucks out of the aether and pipes the data to a nearby computer. These two nodes swapping data over long distances are a sliver of Internet. The hardware is standard and off the shelf, it can be bought easily and cheaply. The software is free and easy to download. Setting up a node will be trivial for anybody even moderately nerdy.
Would you want to set up a node? Perhaps as a geeky hobby, you would be even more likely if the Mesh paid you for every byte of data that passed over your node by allowing you to mine a nugget of sweet, sweet MeshCoin. This same incentive system is how the Bitcoin network became the biggest supercomputer on the planet. People will collaborate to build the Mesh for self-interested reasons.
The Mesh will carry data, and customers will pay to send their data over it. They will pay in MeshCoin. The network will grow. MeshCoin will gain credibility and value. Its value will be real, based upon the tangible service of sending data. Pretty soon people will be launching satellites and laying fiberoptic cable to route data and so they can mine even more MeshCoin.
Next up, our new economic system needs Record-Keeping, Data-storage for all the documents, programs, records, DNA sequences, patents, dick-pics and what not. The Mesh will already be a bunch of hardware nodes distributed across the planet, it will be easy to add an old disk to each node to create a distributed peer-2-peer storage cloud. The MeshCoin currency requires strong cryptography, so we only need to add a bit of computer code to extend the encryption to fragments of files scattered across the disks. Our cryptography will ensure only the owner or those authorised by her can view or edit.
With money, data-storage, and communications, our Mesh-based economics platform now only needs rules a.k.a. Computation, to become a fully specced challenger to incumbent economics 1.0. Computation can be distributed to the processors on the Mesh’s Nodes the same as we distributed data storage and communications, but it is true that protecting running algorithms is much harder. A program that can receive secure input and deliver private output, even when it is running on a remote and potentially insecure processor, is very tricky to develop, but it can be done. How this works is far too complex to go into here [and not just because I don’t understand it!] but the technology is based around something called a SNARK: Succinct Non-interactive Argument of Knowledge. Rules encoded into algorithms that can execute without the risk of meddling are called Smart Contracts. A Smart Contract running in SNARK Capsule will give private reliable answers without exposing input or output allowing programs to be run anywhere on the Mesh, even if the data and output should be private. Smart Contracts do not need to be enforced by police or mafia because just like cryptocurrency transaction they either run or they don’t, there are no grey areas. There is no negotiation, if the terms of a Smart Contract are satisfied, the contract will execute:
You give me the MeshCoin, I email you the pdf of my book.
You give me the password, I open the airlock.
You give me the launch-codes… etc
This gives us Money, Communications, Record-keeping, and Computation. With these facilities, the Mesh will create an inviolate substrate upon which commerce can be conducted away from the grubbing fingers of the 0.001%. That is not to say they can’t play, they can, they should, it’s just that on this board they can’t cheat; nothing will open for biased interpretation; there will be no chummy regulators; no network owners with admin privileges; no roll-backs; no backing out of deals; no deleting data; no preferential treatment; no oligods capable of miracles. Just like a Bitcoin payment, once a Smart Contract transaction has completed there is nothing anybody will be able to do to cancel it. This incorruptibility will thwart the kleptocrats who are used to converting money into power over the system of law.
People will found companies native to the Mesh. Forget hosting your IT on Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s AWS, the Mesh’s self-sustaining cloud will never take your data hostage to turn the thumbscrews on price. Nobody owns the Mesh. Prices are set by supply and demand. There are no shareholders to keep happy, only employees -i.e. the miners - who install and maintain the Mesh’s physical nodes. Companies will happily delegate their IT to the Mesh because it will be cheap, reliable, and free from arbitrary regulation.
This is not to say that the companies running on the Mesh can’t make money. Many of them will, immediately! Digital companies that don’t own assets will be entirely at home on the Mesh. Somebody will create something like Uber, i.e. a program deployed onto the Mesh to match drivers to passengers. The Mesh will provide payment services, connectivity, and server backend. There will be no need to buy infrastructure upfront because the Mesh will absorb your companies digital workload as it grows. If things start getting tight, the price of processing or data transfer will go up, this will incentivise people to add nodes to the network, and cost will stabilise.
By design, the Mesh ecology will be impossible to regulate externally, but there is no reason regulation can’t be built directly into the Mesh’s algorithms at inception - if that’s what its anarchist architects want. Taxation, inflation, and even redistribution can be hard-coded into the core algorithms. Ideally, these will capture the aspirations of our species towards fairness and equality.
Let democracy decide our economies regulation, then let’s entrust it to tamper-proof algorithms protected by math to execute.
The Mesh is a robust, distributed alternative to the mess of corruptible, woolly narratives we’ve dressed up as law since graduating from hard-wired Monkey Logic a million years ago.
The Mesh is the economics of the future-
Smart Contracts will replace lawyers,
MeshCoin will be the world’s reserve currency.
The Mesh is what economics will look like on Mars;
this is what a Singularity feels like.
Get Book One Free!