Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Same as It Ever Was in 2014: America's Owners Kept Themselves Far From the Madding Crowd

George Carlin
Many years ago, Thomas Gray penned these famous words that still ring true and apply to the workings of those who own America:
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
                   (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard)

In fact, the year ended with a lot of "ignoble strife" in America: white police officers killing black males; a black male killing two police officers in New York City.  And let's not forget about the CIA.  The Senate Report on CIA torture reveled details on how the agency tortured suspected terrorists, brutal in its methods and ineffective with regard to maintaining meaningful intelligence.

Same old, same old.  Different year, same old shit.  Only the names have changed.

Yet, above the heated fray that defines daily life in America, sit the owners of America, who go about quietly doing their business of sucking up as much cash as they possibly can.  No more ching, ching.  Just the noiseless transfer of zeroes and ones from our electronic accounts into theirs.

Although their methods have changed, the tenor of their ways have not, something best captured by George Carlin in his classic rant about the power structure of American society:

So, what can we expect for 2015?  Pretty much the same as 2014: increasing inequality and more weird weather as the planet continues to heat up.  These two things go hand in hand.

Nevertheless, I would take this opportunity to wish Happy New Year to all of you that take the time to read my blog.  May your year be filled with joy and love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The End of Empire and the Rise of the Intelligent Network

As 2014 comes to a close, a great many of us are keenly aware that something is amiss.  The great wars of the previous century are over, yet we are still not at peace.  While a tiny minority continues to amass more and more wealth, the vast majority of people in the developed world sit and watch as their living conditions slowly get worse, so much so that their is a general malaise concerning the quality of life for future generations.

Try as they may, common folk cannot bring about any meaningful change and for good reason: the political systems that we have inherited from our imperial past were never designed to promote the common good: they were designed and continue to function as a means of extracting wealth from a population and the territory they inhabit.

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From time immemorial, empires have used centralized hierarchies with their command and control structures to rule and to increase the wealth and power of those at the top.  Those at the bottom must be content with the scraps that are thrown their way, and they must be prepared to give up their lives for whatever cause the elites deem to be just and noble.

Yet, over time, technological change has brought about significant improvement to the quality of material life to entire societies.  We need just think about what consumer products now find their way into the homes of the majority and compare them to what we had as little as fifty years ago to understand the scale of the change.

And then came the Internet and its first cousin, the World Wide Web. 

Thanks to the rise of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), we now spend more and more time in cyberspace, a seamless world without borders that enables us to communicate with people around the globe twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

We now live in the Age of the Information Network, held together by competing ICT platforms and computing devices.  Indeed, power has shifted from territorial-based nation states to legal corporate entities that roam the world in search of ever increasing market share and profit. 

Years ago, real political and economic power was vested in those people who headed the ministries of the state.  Now, they appear to be little more than marionettes manipulated by their corporate masters.

Essentially, money controls the political process, especially in the English-speaking nation states.  There is a direct correlation with how much money gets spent during an electoral campaign and who gets elected.  The worst case is, of course, the most powerful empire in the world, the United States of America.  With corporations being able to invest as much as they wish in support of corporate friendly candidates, it should come as little surprise that the American Congress has literally become a millionaire's club.

The cornerstone of the political process that leads to the creation of a disenfranchised population is an electoral system that transfers the sovereignty of the people to one of two political parties, which are in reality two sides of the same coin minted by monied interests.  Low voter turnout reflects the widespread realization that the political game is rigged and that participating in such a process is pointless.

Historically, it was necessary to elect representatives because of the time and effort required to communicate information and the necessity to have the representatives come together for face-to-face meetings in order to make decisions.

However, this necessity of electing representatives in order to facilitate the process of making political decisions no longer holds true and is an anachronism of nations before the invention of  electricity -- an epoch when might made right.

Today, it is a common occurrence for someone to post an electronic document on the web and have millions of people download the document and then discuss its contents.

Why do we need intermediaries (our elected representatives) to interpret the information and make up our minds for us with regard to its relevance?  Furthermore, why do need the same intermediaries to tell us what should be done?

We don't, but the empire's elites do.

That's how they control the political process.  So, nothing changes.  We continue to elect politicians that have been bought and paid for, and they continue to pander to those who put them into office.

In order to break the stranglehold that the empire's elites have on the political process, it is necessary to knock over their command-and-control pyramid that sucks the wealth and well-being from those at the bottom and the middle to those at the very top.

Today, people no longer need others to make their decisions for them.  There is a wisdom that emerges from crowds when technology is used properly to ensure its release.

Conceptually, we need to scrap our belief that we need to organize ourselves into command-and-control pyramids and begin to organize ourselves into something we already belong -- intelligent networks.

In other words, let's use the organizational structure that gives rise to human intelligence as the organizing principle to guide our social lives.  The human brain, the organ at the very core of our existence, embodies a network structure.  Indeed, our very sense of being in the world emerges from a neural network interacting with the other systems of the body where no command and control center exists.  All human experience arises from the interaction of the brain's and the body's component parts.

Like the neurons in the brain, humans can function similarly.  Deciding yes or no are the human equivalents of a neuron being turned on or off.  Just as intelligence emerges from the pattern of which neurons are turned on or off, the same can be said of the intelligence that arises from a veritable democratic assembly in which the participants simply vote yes or no to the motions presented to the assembly.

Importantly, the work of a democratic assembly deliberating in terms of a network logic does not experience the same limitations imposed by the physical constraints of time and place experienced by a traditional elected body.  In short, a virtual assembly can have its members carry on the work 24/7.  Working documents are easily posted and people can participate in smaller groups through the use of applications and in larger groups via webcasting.  In such a context, having the financial means to liberate oneself from the time it takes to earn a living is no longer a prerequisite to meaningful participation in the political process.  Today, those with limited means no longer need the well off to represent them, which is a good thing since the immediate interests of these two groups seldom coincide.

For the most part and for most of the time, political power should reside primarily with the polis, a group of citizens who live in close proximity to each other and who consequently share a common concern about the quality of life to be had in their locality.  Concerns of a greater scale, the well-being of the network of networks, and of a longer time period, what we would like to happen in the future, can still be deliberated by representatives, but there is no need to transfer the sovereignty of the local network to a single individual who will decide on behalf of his or her constituents.  Modern technology allows for decisions made at the level of the local network of citizens to work their way upwards in concertation with other local networks very rapidly in a manner that mimics the way the brain functions.

Of course, the motivation for implementing a network structure of governance is to harness the collective intelligence of the people in order to advance the common good.  As a result, those who are interested in accumulating wealth have no interest in seeing such a model of governance come about.  The model represents the antithesis of the wealth extraction normally found at the heart of all empires.  It goes against the immediate self interest of the elites who seek at all costs to obtain and maintain a disproportional share of a nation's wealth.

Therein lies the challenge.  Presently, the existing political structures are designed to perpetuate themselves and the privileges that they confer to the elites that control them.  To bring about the necessary organizational changes to bring about a network form of governance requires people that are willing and able to disperse political power to the masses and to safeguard the integrity of the new political process from those who would try to coop it for their own benefit.

It's a tall order, one that is totally out of the realm of possibility for the English-speaking nations.  Perhaps, a late bloomer, a nation recently liberated from its colonial past and that believes strongly in the advancement of the common good could make it happen.