Possible points for discussion relating to post-scarcity and academiaContents
* Some memes I've been pushing:
* General academic exponential to S-curve trend as described by Dr. David Goodstein
* What is post-scarcity?
* My past writings on academia and post-scarcity:
* Societal functions of academia
* Some other writings that relate to post-scarcity
* Some comments on a "Resource Based Economy"
"I never let my schooling get in the way of my education." -- Mark Twain
Prepared 2013-02-01 for a discussion with Bakari Pace, student at Moorehouse College for a discussion of post-scarcity and academia
Bakari Pace mentions a research project creating a book about post-scarcity here:
I set up an interactive place to discuss this topic here as a virtual whiteboard:
Thanks for inspiring this, Bakari!
Some memes I've been pushing:
* Irony of using post-scarcity technology from a scarcity perspective
* Five types of economic transactions -- subsistence, gift, exchange, planned, theft -- with a balance between them specific to each time, place, and culture
* Growth of AI, robotics, and other technology and affect on jobs and need for rethinking economics (enjoyed the video of ZDay 2012 - Vancouver - Federico Pistono - Robots Will Steal Your Job)
How might we apply those themes in thinking about academia and post-scarcity?
General academic exponential to S-curve trend as described by Dr. David Goodstein
There has been exponential growth of academia until 1970s when things changed in USA. Dr. Goodstein described that and the likely consequences in "The Big Crunch" essay he wrote in the 1990s as part of testimony to Congress on this:
Examples of this trend playing out in academic employment prospects:
What is post-scarcity?
What is a working definition of post-scarcity?
Minimum: every human has enough to have a culturally decent life without needing to formally "work". We are probably way past there now:
Typical: Pretty much every consumer good is "free". We will probably be there soon, especially as 3D printers, robotics, and other advanced technology spread.
Beyond: You could 3D print a million cars a minute and no one would mind except for a mess piling up which their robots could easily take care of. We may never get there for all sorts of reasons, one of which is the robots might have plans and dreams of their own.
My past writings on academia and post-scarcity:
You've probably glanced at my book-length ramble here:
"Post-Scarcity Princeton, or, Reading between the lines of PAW for prospective Princeton students, or, the Health Risks of Heart Disease "
And a relatively short precursor to that:
"The true cost of a Princeton-style education in the OLPC era"
And maybe you've seen this essay (I think I sent it to David Paterson when he was NYS governor):
"Towards a Post-Scarcity New York State of Mind (through homeschooling) "
This has a section on education, but is not on that site:
This is a shorter essay also on another site that gets at the heart of some of these issues about the difference between learning just-in-case and learning just-in-time, as well as how post-scarcity trends will invalidate the conventional schooling->job path for many:
Here is something else I wrote on using student energy productively (the p2presearch links in it no longer work but are on that same backup site):
"[p2p-research] Rebutting Communiqué from an Absent Future (was Re: Information on student protests)"
I'm going to make some comments on student unrest, mostly focusing on how students could make positive changes to the university without being directly obstructive. So, this mostly agrees with the first half of "Communiqué from an Absent Future" and then disagrees with the second half.
There are other things I've written about this general area (including many posts to slashdot), but those probably covers most everything taken all together. The essay from about six years ago on "Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools" is probably the one single thing most worth reading if you read just one of these, because it gets at how technological change is affecting conventional schooling. ("Clickers" seem like a step in the wrong direction IMHO. :-)
Societal functions of academia
Here are societal functions of academia that I can think of off-hand (probably there are more, some overlap). "Education" is intentionally way down on the list. :-) How will post-scarcity trends affect each aspect?
* Endowment investment business
* Specialty hotel business http://web.archive.org/web/20060707184042/http://www.universitysecrets.com/us.htm
* Government lending program to put cash in the economy http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion/bennett-student-debt/index.html
* Passive entertainment through watching college team sports (for royalties from media and donations from alumni)
* Jobs program (historically big rural employer, along with prisons)
* Wealth transfer to children and families (including as babysitting)
* "Schooling is a form of adoption" including to weaken families (see John Taylor Gatto) http://www.the-open-boat.com/Gatto.html
* Preventing exploitation of children through farm, factory, and mining work
* Outlet for surplus subsidized food via a school lunch program http://www.seriouseats.com/2007/11/the-subsidized-food-pyramid.html
* Advice to politicians and industry by consulting professors
* Creates apologies for the status quo http://web.archive.org/web/20051229193225/http://conceptualguerilla.com/mythologyofwealth.htm
* Concentration camp or prison (keep young people of streets and out of jobs market, keep intellectually smart people out of business and government)
* Surveillance aspect (knowing what young people are up to)
* Centers of disease transmission (presumably mostly unintentional, but a defining aspect)
* Create debt burden on children (requiring a need to work to pay it off)
* Eugenics (social class-based breeding ground, see Gatto) http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/11b.htm
* Social network formation for later alumni network
* Filtering and Labeling (including school to prison) --
Exclude people from key jobs http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199710--.htm
Support rent-seeking monopolies through licensing
Way for parents to give children wealth they can't lose easily
Way to selectively bring new blood into inbred upperclass
* Reward treadmill to keep people in system year after year
* Prevention of alternatives by pre-occupying mindshare
* Cultural extinction or genocide (Native American example of forced boarding schooling of children)
* Devalues independent unofficial unsanctioned unmonitored unrewarded learning and discussion
* Indoctrination against sharing and cooperation ("cheating", "grading")
* Indoctrination against mash-ups and rebroadcasting ("plagiarism", "copyright")
* Recruitment center for military and business
* Place to get publicity or self-esteem by donations
* Home for non-profits
* Technology business incubator
* Deciding who gets research funding
* Research (basic and applied)
* Making communication easier between people of a certain mindset
* Political indoctrination (for good or bad) http://www.disciplined-minds.com/
* A place for sharing a diversity of ideas and perspectives
* Learning by teaching
* Archiving information through libraries and museums (including by restricting access to collections)
* Preservation of traditions of habits
* Convey values through stories
* Conveys personal enthusiasm and confidence by direct interaction with practitioners
* Education --
self-development (imagination, creativity, liberal arts, music, beauty, philosophy, sport, religious),
civic participation (political process, volunteerism, cooperation)
apprenticeship (learn by doing under skilled practitioner on real project)
worker (technical skills and submissive behavioral patterns)
consumer (what to buy, how to pick it, what not to think about, standards such as DIY is unacceptable)
John Taylor Gatto's hidden "dumbing down" curriculum -- confusion, class assignment, dulled responses, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/16a.htm
Some other writings that relate to post-scarcity
Below are some links to others' work in case any of these are unfamiliar (but it seems like you are pretty widely read already on this). These are roughly in the order they were written.
If you go way back, there are many religious traditions that talk about abundance. Some religious groups use an example of people lighting candles together, as one flame can be given to others without loss of ones own flame.
But to bring things into the last century, here are some thinkers on the topic I am somewhat familiar with.
Jules Verne popularized aspects of post-scarcity techonolgy with "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" with Captain Nemo's Nautilus Submarine in 1870 (and various other works):
E.M. Forester depicted the growth and eventual failure of a post-scarcity Resource Based Economy in 1928:
Bucky Fuller started writing about abundance around 1930:
Jack Williamson in 1948 described a form of well-intended robotic-powered post-scarcity as very unpleasant because of control and dehumanization aspects:
The Skills of Xanadu from the early 1950s foresaw the internet, nanotechnology, and new ideas of mutual security and collective decision making:
In 1964, the "Triple Revolution Memorandum" about post-scarcity trends was prepared for the late John F. Kennedy was sent to President Lyndon Johnson:
Marshall Sahlins has an interesting (but different) take on abundance from 1966:
Also in 1966, Star Trek became a defining example of post-scarcity multi-cultural space-faring civilization:
Also in the 1960s and early 1970s, a variety of people including Richard Nixon, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Richard Nixon all called for what now might be termed a "basic income", which is an idea predicated on abundance even if it also is predicated on other values (like compassion and egalitarianism):
Murray Bookchin is obviously a founding thinker of a lot of 20th century thinking on this (and quite different from Kurzweil, and really does not assume too much about newer technology), from 1971:
Vernor Vinge in the 1970s and 1980s and later wrote about the "Technological Singularity" which is a possible aspect of post-scarcity:
Bob Black is also in that direction in 1985, making a key point, citing earlier research, that most work in our society has no value except in perpetuating the social control (rationing) aspect of the work system itself:
Here is a classic resource by Julian Simon from 1981 for general optimism (even as it ignores issues of equality and externalities including systematic risk and pollution, and is often vilified by self-described environmentalists for those omissions, even as it still has many truths to it):
I'd definitely recommend the 1982 sci-fi book "Voyage From Yesteryear" by James P. Hogan for one vision of what near term post-scarcity could be like and how there might be a struggle to achieve it against scarcity thinking and political ideology (even if one can quibble with some political points in it):
Starting in 1987, Iain M. Banks wrote his "Culture" novels, which are based in a post-scarcity society:
Marshall Brain's online novel "Manna" (2003?) is another in that direction (although I might quibble about the near-term likelihood or even desirability of some stuff in his last chapter):
Here is a broad "Dictionary of Alternatives" from 2007 for possible 21st century organizational forms by Martin Parker, Valerie Fournier, and Patrick Reedy:
Here is an ongoing internet radio show that talks a lot about abundance and post-scarcity (I was on it twice) and is fairly wide-ranging:
Although now that I look, I see you've been on blog talk radio too! But a different program:
There are an expanding number of sci-fi works in this area. A recent example for kids is "Phineas and Ferb" which to some extent depicts a post-scarcity lifestyle outside of compulsory schooling, with a contrast of Phineas and Ferb having post-scarcity abundance-oriented attitudes and sharing with their friends, family, and community, and the "evil" Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz being obsessed with using his "Inator" technology to cause artificial scarcity so he can climb in relative social position:
Here is one book an abundance that came out recently (2012) by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. I have mostly just glanced at it, but it sounds fairly good as a general overview of a lot of ideas (if maybe a bit conservative socially knowing something about the authors, but I'd have to read it in more depth to be sure):
Some comments on a "Resource Based Economy"
I see you have looked into and talked about "Resource Based Economy" ideas that stem from Jacque Fresco's and Roxanne Meadows' work. I just listened to your inspiring talk here:
"Zday 2012 NYC Bakari A. Pace Into to a Resource Based Economy 7 of 9"
I enjoyed listening to the podcast here with your interview with Jacque Fresco and Roxanne Meadows:
Here are a few comments on some things said about the Venus Project in that podcast, from my perspective. I like the general resource-based economy idea, including asking questions about who "owns" the world resources. Still, I feel there are some issues glossed over in an essentially planned resource-based economy. Contrast a planned economy (however well planned by whatever fancy software) with the idea of a basic income on top of an exchange economy, or the idea of a gift economy idea, or the idea of improvements to personal subsistence capabilities (or some mix of all of those, which is what we have now). Lawrence Lessig talks in "Code 2.0" about how rules, norms, prices, and architecture are all ways human behavior is influenced. Perhaps people can indeed "steal" in any economy, even in a resource-based economy (might be a good question to muse about -- what would people "steal" in such an economy when, say, norms break down)? Jacque Fresco talks about not stealing "things", but that is not the only thing that people are concerned about (e.g. what about bullying, cliquishness, or any other number of possible social problems about human relationships, including things parents deal with between siblings as they try to get limited parental attention?). What about allocating unique resources such as an apartment in a specific social location near other specific people? So, I feel that there are political and emotional value-based aspects of any sort of planning (including writing software that does automatic planning) -- as much as I really like the vision that the two have put forward and the *implied* values (at least, as I try to guess at them, since they do some handwaving about dealing with conflicts). For example, what if one person wants to use all the society's resources to launch a mission to another star?
So, I don't think one can move away from some sort of political process as easily as one might wish (or politics played out through moving around rationing tokens perhaps). There is also a big challenge to work hard to redirect aspects of competition over status into positive directions -- a challenge human societies have been wrestling with for thousands of years (including by storytelling to convey values). James P. Hogan's book "Voyage from Yesteryear" had some interesting ideas about that (and includes a gift economy model).
Marshall Brain's book "Manna" talks about a "basic income" in a way:
Home-based 3D printers, personal robots, solar panels, and maybe someday small hot or cold fusion devices, suggest people may be able to just produce locally for their own subsistence (assuming access to land). Here is a huge "Dictionary of Alternatives" of which a resource-based economy is only one possibility:
So, there are lots of possibilities to remain open to, even though, ultimately in some specific place at some specific time we need to make some specific hard choices (including choices about how to make choices).
I like Fresco's optimistic designs and his political insights into past and current problems. Still, there is a reason why I have not jumped on the Zeitgeist / RBE bandwagon (which I know have suffered some splits). I feel that Fresco ignores the issue of how values get woven into optimization software programs that do planning (which are ultimately political decisions). Also, he ignores that there are other types of transactions like the gift, exchange, and subsistence economy, which have their own implications.
For example, on values, as Moshe Adler points out in the book "Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal", the political notion of "Pareto efficiency" (as opposed to some notion of "diminishing returns") has harmed many in probably most people's opinion. Yet, mainstream economists use that Pareto efficiency concept to shape conventional economic policy. That is an example of why words like "efficiency" or "optimization" can be a bit slippery. Thinking may involve logic, but it also involves values and feelings. See the book "Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain" for more on that.
I feel it more straightforward to be upfront about endorsing a value like "egalitarianism" or whatever, and to accept that not everyone would agree with that, rather to just assume that somehow everyone would agree on that. Consider that some people would argue capitalism is based on "Natural Law", and pay mainstream economists highly as a sort of priesthood to promote that idea;
Here is something about the politics of "egalitarianism" by the way, since I think that is implicit in why many like a RBE idea:
"If the problem is developing new policies and gaining political power, which it is, then the struggle should be framed from the start as a conflict over power and values, not as a struggle between social classes. The in-group should be all those who come to embrace the program of the egalitarian movement, and the out-group should be all those who oppose such changes. If the conflict is framed in this way, an egalitarian coalition has a chance to win over the moderates, neutrals, and independents who currently identify with capitalists, and who might be offended by blanket criticisms of them as a class. It may even attract dissident members of the capitalist class who transcend their class interests, and in the process become very valuable in legitimating the movement to those in the middle who are hesitant to climb on board."
I'm not even sure what I think about egalitarianism myself, or even what that idea really means in practice, given humans tend to compete (like for mates or against other "tribes") even as they cooperate (generally within a "tribe" but more and more through the internet with everyone via "stigmergy")? Nonetheless, I feel the USA would be a much better place if at least one-half of the US GDP was distributed equally as a "basic income". And I'd certainly agree that "Rankism" can be a big problem in any hierarchy:
Still, one can make a great case for cooperating and sharing:
In James P. Hogan's book, those issues of managing rank and social status were all resolved by a sort of social process whose details were only sketchily described, and in that post-scarcity economy had to do with how good you were at doing things as opposed to having anything to do with physical possessions (which were essentially free for everyone in just about unlimited quantities). One character explained that if you were raised in such a culture you would understand the social process of how they sorted out status. Those human issues of status and competition may be less in a post-scarcity abundance economy, but humans still bring their past along with them. So, maybe one issue is how to direct any competitive urges, or urges to show off for whatever reason (including to impress potential mates) into more productive ways? There I think culture and stories can have a big role.
It seems life exists at the interface between fire and ice, between competition and cooperation, between chaos and order. Manuel De Landa wrote on that:
To make things worse, the solution to this is not simply to begin adding meshwork components to the mix. Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory alone but demand concrete experimentation. Certain standardizations, say, of electric outlet designs or of data-structures traveling through the Internet, may actually turn out to promote heterogenization at another level, in terms of the appliances that may be designed around the standard outlet, or of the services that a common data-structure may make possible. On the other hand, the mere presence of increased heterogeneity is no guarantee that a better state for society has been achieved. After all, the territory occupied by former Yugoslavia is more heterogeneous now than it was ten years ago, but the lack of uniformity at one level simply hides an increase of homogeneity at the level of the warring ethnic communities. But even if we managed to promote not only heterogeneity, but diversity articulated into a meshwork, that still would not be a perfect solution. After all, meshworks grow by drift and they may drift to places where we do not want to go. The goal-directedness of hierarchies is the kind of property that we may desire to keep at least for certain institutions. Hence, demonizing centralization and glorifying decentralization as the solution to all our problems would be wrong. An open and experimental attitude towards the question of different hybrids and mixtures is what the complexity of reality itself seems to call for. To paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, never believe that a meshwork will suffice to save us.
Something I wrote on competion vs. cooperation:
I agree with the sentiment of the Einstein quote [That we should approach the universe with compassion], but that sentiment itself is only part of a larger difficult-to-easily-resolve situation. It become more the Yin/Yang or Meshwork/Hierarchy situation I see when I look out my home office window into a forest. On the surface it is a lovely scene of trees as part of a forest. Still, I try to see *both* the peaceful majesty of the trees and how these large trees are brutally shading out of existence saplings which are would-be competitors (even shading out their own children). Yet, even as big trees shade out some of their own children, they also put massive resources into creating a next generation, one of which will indeed likely someday replace them when they fall. I try to remember there is both an unseen silent chemical war going on out there where plants produce defense compounds they secrete in the soil to inhibit the growth of other plant species (or insects or fungi) as a vile act of territoriality and often expansionism, and yet also the result is a good spacing of biomass to near optimally convert sunlight to living matter and resist and recover from wind and ice damage. I try to recall that there is the most brutal of competition between species of plants and animals and fungi and so on over water, nutrients (including from eating other creatures), sunlight, and space, while at the same time each bacterial colony or multicellular organism (like a large Pine tree) is a marvel of cooperation towards some implicitly shared purpose. I see the awesome result of both simplicity and complexity in the organizational structure of all these organisms and their DNA, RNA, and so on, adapted so well in most cases to the current state of such a complex web of being. Yet I can only guess the tiniest fraction of what suffering that selective shaping through variation and selection must have entailed for untold numbers of creatures over billions of years. To be truthful, I can actually *really* see none of that right now as it is dark outside this early near Winter Solstice time (and an icy rain is falling) beyond perhaps a silhouette outline, so I must remember and imagine it, perhaps as Einstein suggests as an "optical delusion of [my] consciousness". :-)
Still, humans are *moral* beings, so we make our moral choices informed by what we see, but not forced by what we see. As Professor Larry Slobodkin, a scholar of ecology and evolution also well-versed in philosophy and religion, even if every organism in nature did the same thing (and they don't), humans can still make a moral choice about how they want to live. That is a choice informed by our values more than by our technologies, skills, and resources.
I think Jacque Fresco's work on a "Resource Based Economy" embodies a lot of great values. I just wish he were more explicit about what those values were and how conflicts between values (which can occur even within one person) would be sorted out. Instead, it seems to me, he ends up just saying computer programmers (of which I am one) would somehow magically be able to write software to embody what would be seemingly "value neutral" decisions but are not. As a programmer, I can write programs that reflect my own priorities, or (in exchange for ration unit fiat dollar tokens that I use to make the Amazon matter replicator work :-) I can write software the reflects other people's priorities. But the software is shaped by priorities (as well as other constraints).
Then the good things he and others have to say would not get so lost in the criticism; one of many such examples:
"The Zeitgeist Venus Project And Why A Resource Based Economy Won't Work"
Maybe you could make a prioritized list of values that might reflect RBE values that would go into any such RBE planning software? I think you might find it a bit of a challenge, especially if you then discuss your list with others and get their opinions -- which may end up then with politics rearing its ugly head again. :-) Here are a couple lists of values and virtues to use as a starting point if you tried that:
Feel free to use that content under a Creative Commons BY-SA license. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/