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03/02/2015

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Alexander Ač

Thanks Dave!

I miss your insights ever since you went off-air! But life sucks.

Best,

Alex

Jim

"These remarks apply only to large, complex industrialized human societies."

I think you can take out "industrialized" in that, too. Your description here could really apply to any large, complex human society, which by default involves cities. There was a recent news article that is relevant to this:
http://www.livescience.com/49886-ancient-cities-urban-scaling.html

I bookmarked this a few years back, too (page 2, similar theme):
http://discovermagazine.com/2012/oct/21-geoffrey-west-finds-physical-laws-in-cities

Our particular form of complex civilization (labeled 'capitalism') is unique in that it appears to be exceptionally aggressive in the pace of growth. I generally think that current capitalism arose because of vast new areas of resource availability (mainly the discovery of the New World, to be followed by fossil fuel exploitation, followed by rapid technological innovation) and a debt-based, highly financialized form of market economy was required to manage it. This form of a market economy has aggressive growth as a requirement to function because it grew up around that expectation, and it was there in abundance for centuries.

Communism saw the gross inequality inherent in this form of market economy and tried to create a new form of a complex society marked by greater equality, only to find that inequality reinstated on perhaps a greater level and a much more sluggish form of growth - which perhaps is a big reason why communism as a form of complex society has largely failed (Russia) or been abandoned (China).

All previous complex societies have hit limits to the variables you've described, and have either collapsed, been absorbed or conquered by other complex societies, or more slowly reverted to less complexity.

People like Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben really do have their hearts in the right place, but they can't see the larger picture for whatever reason. We actually can't end our form of market economy called capitalism without collapse, even if, as they recognize, continuing it will inevitably result in collapse anyway. The very few who really care and are upset about our current trajectory, and who really want to do something about it, essentially only see a part of total problem, and thus their 'solutions' are either completely hallucinatory or completely ineffective, and the vast, vast majority see these few people as wild-eyed radicals. As a society we much prefer our iPads to some vague and currently immaterial future difficulty, and the lies and half-truths couched in optimism are our way of coping.

Oliver

Interesting angle. I plead guilty to blaming capitalism for our shitty existence, but then I also acknowledge that capitalism is the only game in town. Which is the same as saying humans are bereft of better ideas. All temporary adventures in the direction of faux-socialism come right back to good old capitalism in less than a human lifespan.

Regarding "discussion for another day", I'd like to add this thesis to your list: "The United States remains stable for the time being." If the USA is considered stable in 2015, I am a monkey's uncle.

Er... umm...

Ed

I diasagree. I think you are arguing a tautology.

Your definition of capitalism seems to be "any economic system that promotes growth and promotes (or at least tolerages) inequality. Well damn! A definition that broad really will cover many, if not most, economic systems.

But even this broad definition fails. On equality, systems have gotten more and less egalitarian in history, and if anything the trend until recently has been in the more egalitarian dirction, otherwise we would still have slavery. Deliberate efforts to increase equality, including the twentieth century communist states, have been fairly successful (the People's Republic of China is still a much more egalitarian society than the U.S. Its not even close). Its true in the tautological sense that no system has delivered 100% equality, for the obvious reason that this is technically impossible, at least in any system using specialization. On the other hand, the opposite, a perfectly unequal system, is also technically impossible (literally one person in the entire society would have property rights and access to cash) so the pendulum will swing back and forth.

As for growth, even after the Neolithic Revolution, systems that aimed for maximum growth have tended to be a minority, limited to frontier societies, and more crucially, industrialized economies. Since expanding and industrializing states tended to be more militarily powerful than more traditionalist states, they eventually overwhelmed the latter, but only recently has the entire world been dominated by this type of state.

Jim

@Ed: "On equality, systems have gotten more and less egalitarian in history, and if anything the trend until recently has been in the more egalitarian dirction, otherwise we would still have slavery. Deliberate efforts to increase equality, including the twentieth century communist states, have been fairly successful (the People's Republic of China is still a much more egalitarian society than the U.S. Its not even close)."

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-04-30/chinas-income-inequality-gap-widens-beyond-u-dot-s-dot-levels

This is compared to the U.S. today:
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/05/u-s-income-inequality-on-rise-for-decades-is-now-highest-since-1928/

Besides that, you're missing the point. Dave isn't arguing for/against either communism or capitalism. He's examining the similar characteristics of all complex societies, no matter the circumstance, and what that means for humans in general.

"As for growth, even after the Neolithic Revolution, systems that aimed for maximum growth have tended to be a minority, limited to frontier societies, and more crucially, industrialized economies. Since expanding and industrializing states tended to be more militarily powerful than more traditionalist states, they eventually overwhelmed the latter, but only recently has the entire world been dominated by this type of state."

A few examples come to mind: Mongols, Mayans, Aztecs, Assyrians, Macedonians, British, Romans, and so on. Rapid growth marked by military power. The current system is probably faster in pace, and it's global in scale, but as far as type it's far from unique.

Also, we DO still have slavery, both figuratively (wage slaves) and literally:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/17/modern-slavery-35-million-people-walk-free-foundation-report

Oliver

@Jim - I applaud you for your polite rebuttal of Ed's statements. I will follow your lead on the civility front, and therefore refrain from any comment at all.

pintada

I have had an insight Dave and I want to share it with someone who might understand - I found myself at a loss, but then remembered you.

In Tibet, when Grandma dies, what do you do? There is no fuel, so cremation is out. You are not going to dig a hole in the rock and permafrost. You take Grandma out and as gently and respectfully as possible dump her body for the vultures to eat. If you are a hard working young monk that wants to learn to face the worst life can offer with equanimity you sit at the edge of the charnel ground (downwind).

That is what Facebook (and really keeping current in general) is for. I have not yet learned to face all the stupid with equanimity, but I am getting closer.

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