The story we forgot to tell ourselves

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The story we forgot to tell ourselves
The story we forgot to tell ourselves   “We have created a Star Wars civilisation with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology”, O. Wilson.   Ciprian Galaon, Abogado   23th of May 2021   In the era of surveillance capitalism, big brother governments, disruptive technologies (biotech and AI), the current pandemic – in the wake of which profound social and economic crisis only wait to happen (deepen), helicopter-money based economic policy (money, obviously, “borrowed” from future generations and handed to too-big-to-fail financiers), human-induced climate change, crony and spiv capitalism and rampant inequalities, the last thing we all need is to go back to past nostalgic fantasies: totalitarian or authoritarian populist regimes. Regimes that surreptitiously feed on our natural fear and/or hatred and bring us all more apart from and against each other than we’d instinctively do. Despite of it, more and more countries in the world today choose (or fall for) one of these political extremes; they lack better alternatives. Democracy is a delicate flower that blooms wherever it is planted and looked well after. Looking at the way political power is craved and gained today, it becomes clearer to us by the day that even the most genuine democratic initiatives – aimed at solving at least one of said predicaments threatening our civilisation – are bound to lamentably fail in the end. Human civilisations, past and present, are effective above all at solving problems. Notably, all those problems that did not exist in the first place, i.e., before civilisations have reached their peak. We too haven’t just sat down and watched our own demise. We tried hard to solve all the problems that we have created for ourselves. Great minds conceived persuasive socioeconomic stories like social democracy, Keynesianism, neoliberalism, nationalism and some other -isms. Despite it all, we seem to have reached a kind of a (dead?) end: The End of History, as labelled by Fukuyama. An end that could be easily perceived as inherently compromised and fatal. A hypothetical external observer might think that we ran out of good stories. It is appropriate to remember though that, paraphrasing Don Huberts, Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. Without mentioning the environmental catastrophe – that we have created are still pushing further, more and more poor people – deserving, undeserving, with or without children – are falling through the cracks of the political systems we have created and claim as socially fair and environmentally sustainable. To add insult to the injury, our politicians constantly remind us that the poor can only blame their misfortune on themselves: they didn’t try hard enough to, you know, get a college degree and the rest. For practically all of us, meritocracy became eventually another (bad) story. We need thus to go beyond the old imposed dogma that institutes the artificial duality of ideology and power – that until now we (they?) have tried so hard to save/improve –, move forward and agree on a renewed social contract that is articulated around a more natural duality that fits us better: community and technology. Since technology has never been deterministic in itself, we need to give to the technologies we now master a better use; one that is agreed upon, inclusive, open-sourced, and fit for purpose. Human beings, ever since they’ve learned to gather, collaborate in large numbers and live together, seem to corrupt in the end every institution or form of political power they agree upon and care to institute. Their stories become eventually nightmares, both for the members of society at large and, as we have recently witnessed, for the environment. Yes, human beings have the potential to be both friendly and caring; we are inherently good! The problem with us is that, whenever we get together, organise and surpass a certain critical number of members, our structures start to degenerate and get corrupted from inside out. Given the scale of our societies, we have learned to live surrounded by strangers and leave to other strangers all the decisions that, on a daily basis, change both our lives and that of the environment; and, as we have seen, it is not always for the good of either one of them or for both. This only happens because we (still) believe the story they told us. We are lazy to assume that, if it has worked until now, it will keep working forever; even with the price of living alienated from almost everything that matters to our human condition, in the political arena, at least, where decision-making takes place, the economic surpluses are to be fairly shared and the externalities to be assumed by all of us (or to be avoided, in the first place). We invest emotional and caring human beings like us with political power, but once they get the power, they start to deviate from their original mandate and lose in the very last end any shred of legitimacy they had; they get corrupted by the same system they helped create. They twist the story they once believed and preached to fit the reality. It is in our nature. Politicians get in bed with powerful economic agents that are enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense – the likes of financial institutions, real estate magnates, carbon barons and big data corporations, agents that are inherently and inexorably disconnected from the real economy – and forget about their constituencies all together (or, at least, about the promises they made to them). The mantra – imbedded in the story – goes that people should trust in the fact that countless life-changing opportunities are created on a daily basis on the market – the free market, obviously. Guided by their rational self-interest, people only need to grasp those opportunities and convert them into happiness. Of course, people also need, they remind the electorate regularly, to vote them every four or five years, pay their taxes and take the garbage out according to the schedule. We became machines that convert goods into happiness; we are lured to believe and are trapped into the happiness-on-the-shelf (one chapter of the same) story, because governments today are forced to only rely on good consumers, they don’t need good citizens anymore. Our attitude, fully aware of it or not, leads necessarily to one imperative: (more?) economic growth, otherwise everything starts to crumble. We need to keep the economy indefinitely growing. This is the cancer cell mentality. If something cannot infinitely grow (not on a finite planet, anyway), someday it will come to an end. All the stories they told us up to now boil down to (this only) one sad and desperate socioeconomic arrangement: some people selling things to others. The good old industrial capitalism has mutated into a cutthroat capitalism led by sociopaths. They told us to deal with others by the trader principle, i.e., to see other individuals as traders with a shared harmony of interests, exchanging value for value – in the material (wealth and pleasure), intellectual (knowledge and discussion), and spiritual (love and friendship) realms. In theory, it all this sounds good. In practice, nevertheless, humans are fallible, scared, angry, disoriented and, when put under pressure to survive, they go back to their natural instincts; to those instincts reminding the modern homo economicus: self-centred, greedy, competitive and aggressive. When the corrective process of the market, Adam Smith’s invisible hand, disappears, leaving taxpayers to hold the heavy, cumbersome luggage, immorality drops in: socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The mutated capitalism of today encourages a ruthless winner-takes-all mentality and leads to an inescapable world of winners and losers, where most of us, if not all of us along with mother Earth – our home, are the losers. A world in which the winners, a tiny and increasingly shrinking minority of us decide, directly or indirectly, all that matters to us in politics and society. Since the agricultural revolution, we have managed to master, one way or the other, both nature (plants, animals, land and other resources) and the laws that govern it. Until recently, we allowed ourselves along that process to try again and again until we got it right. It is the first time in the recorded history, given our recent technological developments – mostly in bioengineering and artificial intelligence, when the margin of error we are left with has decreased so much that we cannot afford to get it wrong on our first try. It is therefore key that we get right our socioeconomic system this time and successfully incorporate all those new technologies that, if left to their own devices, have the potential to disrupt and trump our natural collective evolution. To restructure society and its values – in a way that benefits both most of us, if not all, and nature, with all that it has been optimising/perfectioning and is giving us for free –, we need a new story.  Reinventing an old one, a technologically updated one, will be good enough too. Starting a new story or reinventing an old one means that humanity has the opportunity to leave behind the old, decrepit epic story (with baroque features), so fraught with heroes, villains, drama and futile complexity. The new one at hand, given our technological progress, could be short, instructive and pragmatic, like a diary complemented by an ad hoc To-Do list, so that we are able to proofread, revise, adapt and correct (or rewrite, altogether) on the go. An ideologically neutral story where the exercise of political power is consensual and shared. Some old stories, like money, have been with us for at least 5,000 years. Despite of being such an old one, this story looks like it is here to stay, unless the breed of money we use today – backed by thin air, i.e., fiat money – ruins our cheered money story. Another good story is community. Unfortunately, community has only proved to be effective at small scale. Uncommunicated, lacking shared values and interests and a genuine free market to operate, even today’s small-scale communities are often seen as mere evolved tribes. Their members are wired to think in terms of “us and them”. If you are not with me, you are against me (or you don’t care about me, which, psychologically, it turns out to be worse). If we scaled communities up to cities, regions or nations, we notice that the us-against-them mentality persists and even intensifies. The modern man is rational and is guided only by their self-interest. We are preprogramed to see our fellow human beings as mere competitors, potentially entitled to claim a bigger piece of the pie we all share. Entitled or not to a bigger piece, one existential truth affecting modern homo economicus still holds true today: the pie does not get any bigger (or it does not get bigger at the same rate we are consuming it). The truth is, the population is growing exponentially and the idle, value-extracting rich are becoming richer and less and less of them by the day. And if we also consider the “fairness” with which entitlements to a bigger piece are politically decided and pre/redistributed behind closed doors, we see that dead end closer and closer.   The modern technological man has the tools, both social and technological, to overcome the current emergent situation and evolve. We need to reinvent the story of communities living in peace and harmony with each other (and all of them with the environment). The first thing we need to do is to invest communities with one crucial power: the power to create money. In other words, we need to democratise the creation of money. We also need to protect the data generated by the individuals that form communities. We need to create a digital system able to anonymise the relevant socioeconomic data and make individuals, whenever they transact online, identifiable, vs. being at all time identified by both big data corporations and by governments, about all of which we know nothing.  In a few words, we need to have a system that protects individuals against, what is now called, the dictatorship of no alternative, that permeates all the big the data corporations. An unchecked dictatorship that, unfortunately, even our governments have recently learned to exploit and turn it into a tool of mass surveillance, all for the sake of making us more governable. New fully tested technologies, like the one used by all the cryptocurrencies today, i.e., distributed ledger, have the potential to both secure and to protect all the data surrounding our identities and our on-line transactions. In order to effectively function and develop, communities need a totally new kind of money (follow the link below) that benefits the real economy and helps individuals to safely exchange the values derived from their skills, their ideas, their goods, and their services freely with other people, in a genuinely free market where consumers rule, not producers. The government should shrink in size and competencies, being its intervention limited to maintaining the order and to conserving and developing both human capabilities and natural resources. Communities should be equally able to create all the money they need to ensure that each and every member gets a suitable standard of living, including food, shelter, health care, and education. What we now have is an ever-invasive state (and sometimes abusive, with the excuse of security) which collects taxes for us and decides – through anonymised and objectified criteria and, more often than not, arrogant public servants, people that we mostly don’t know – who and how much gets. All the economic agents should depend on the money communities create (obviously, it should only exist a currency for all of them, not a plethora of competing ones) for themselves and release into the economy, and not the other way around. The community will be the arena where people learn and practice being social. If community means locality, ethnicity, religion, occupation, recreation, special interest, even humanity, it is thus the only place were individuals and families will be able to find all the support they need.   Money 2.0, Ciprian Galaon, Feb. 2020, link:

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