The Boom Equation 1


You are an educated and up-to-date reader, of course, but just to make certain that you haven’t missed it, I would like to underscore that we are today living in a time of unparalleled social, technological and cultural change and development. The scientific revolution of the 17th century, the Enlightenment of the 18th, the industrial and chemical revolutions of the 19th century and even the combustion engine and the communications of the 20th century were all peanuts in comparison to the scope of what is going on today. It is as if all of these revolutions were happening at once.

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The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter named “Crisis-Revolution” which investigates the newly dug trenches in contemporary politics, the new classes and polarization to emerge and the rise of “trumpism” in the US and populist nationalism in Europe.

Today we are experiencing an era in which several extremely far-reaching revolutions of technology, thinking and behavior are occurring simultaneously. For better and/or worse, profound changes are very likely to take place in the coming decades.

The first such change is simply the maturing of information and com­m­­­­u­nication technology itself. We live in an information age and this affects all parts of our lives. We think differently, we act differently, we socialize differently. Our worldviews begin to evolve much faster, as we begin sifting through more and more information. New challenges appear  – from Facebook time wasted and gaming addictions to grooming pedophiles entering the bedrooms of children via computer screens, to new ways of distinguishing ourselves that tempt us to create emotionally inauthentic virtual identities, to the selectivity in our reading of news articles – the list goes on. As I write this, the so-called “dark net” is booming: anonymity at last, married of course to a stupefying quantity of criminality and all manner of online depravities.

Computers saturate every aspect of everyone’s life, changing governance, production, distribution, transportation, travelling and science. Education is being made available through MOOCs (massive open online courses), Khan Academy and Cours­era, and soon it will be transformed in a massive surge of gamification.

Given the dramatic changes of the last twenty years, and that these have been accelerating and becoming all the more radical, we are looking at an entirely new form of society. The amount of information is growing at what appears to be an exponential rate – and yes, here “expon­ential” is the correct term. The same goes for the total of computational power available, with the possibility of quantum computing becoming increas­ingly tangible. From the bankers of Wall Street to the Mumbai rickshaw taxi driver’s dau­ghter, the basic conditions of life are shifting. And we haven’t even entered step two of this revolution: virtual reality, now appearing as gadgets, but soon as a strong opium for the people in the form of games, porno­graphy, travel, work interfaces or online meetings in realistic 3D environments.

And peace be with us, this is only one out of several technological rev­ol­utions that seem to be at our doorstep. Another, related one, is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics – and self-learning machines, “deep learn­ing” through “stacked neural networks”. We will increasingly be able to exchange complex human work with machine labor. This may or may not “cause unemployment” (a question that is likely to look sillier by the year), but it can and will cause profound shifts in the way that we live our lives, as the robots become better at learning new tasks that go far beyond running a production plant and beyond self-driving cars. The employ­ments of doctors, teachers, programmers, musicians and research assist­ants can all, in principle, be chall­enged by the AI. The more dramatic forecasts of futurists, like those of Ray Kurzweil, suggest that we are appr­oa­ching “the singularity”, when computers begin to take control of their own development. Even with­out accepting such fanciful specul­a­tions, we can safely assume that AI will be a major force of change.

Another budding revolution is the nanotechnological one. Nanotech is lik­ely to solve fundamental problems of scarcity and has the potential to create abundance of a whole new magnitude. The growing ability to man­i­­­pulate structures at the atomic level – and the tremendous drive in scien­tists to succ­ess­fully do so – can create all manner of useful substances with incred­ible properties from virtually no raw material. Nanotech also faces us with per­haps the greatest environmental risks to date; much, much worse than plast­ics. Not to mention the implications of its medical uses and the closing gap between organic and non-organic applied chemistry.

And then there is the even stronger and more well-funded drive to mani­pulate life itself. We have an ongoing genetics revolution, nearing the possib­ility to manipulate and shape the human genetic code – which just took a giant leap with the CRISPR technology (Clustered Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) – allowing anybody with a lab to alter gen­etic code. To this category we should add not only epigenetics, the study of gene activation and deactiv­ation in living organisms, but also the broader field of “human enhancement”, i.e. the use of various techno­logies to change or improve upon the human body itself – not least by merging our bodies with machine parts. The so-called transhuman­ist movement is gaining traction with its radical ideas about the how tech­nology can and should be applied to change humanity itself. And trans­hum­anist phil­oso­phers draw a following consisting largely of tech-savvy scientists, doctors and engineers who show an almost frightening zeal in their quest to remake humanity. Bio-hacking is growing in peer-to-peer comm­unities, a form of applied do-it-yourself bio­logy. Even within the humanities, start­ing with Donna Haraway (a biologist gone human­ities professor), peo­ple are talking about “the cyborg”, the merg­ing of human­ity and the machine, and how it relates to gender iss­ues and whatnot.

Beyond that, we have a host of ongoing developments that by them­selves are revolutionary. Look at energy prices – how solar panel energy is becom­ing cheaper and how many innovations are beginning to show up in this area, including new forms of nuclear power. Take a look at housing, where we are beginning to construct homes that are largely self-supporting – and cheaper, and designed by the customer with modules. Look at the 3D-printers and drones, demo­cratizing customized produc­tion and distribution (as well as the distribution of bombs, in the case of drones). Look at the Internet of Things – connecting all of our everyday objects to the same coop­erating net­work.

Look at the peer-to-peer prod­uc­tion movements, in which people have begun to be able to produce cars at only a small percentage of the previous costs.

Look at cradle-to-cradle production and the sharing economy and what in Germany is called Ind­ustrie 4.0 (when the customer orders a full tailor-made indust­rial prod­uction from scratch).

Look at the mobile revolu­tion, today driving the on­going migration (the waves of immigrants are harder to stop because they share information with one another).

Look at Big Data and data mining – the explosively useful and dangerous analysis of vast quan­tities of real-life infor­mation gathered by registering user behavior.

Look at the Quantified Self movement and the increasing ability to measure your­self in a myriad of ways and create your own data, including inform­ation on your own genetics.

Look at the Effective Altru­ists and their increasingly evidence-based forms of charity showing up in so many areas.

Look at the staggering number and diversity of hi-tech companies being born, bought and sold. Not to mention the growing number of world-altering inno­vations brought about by talented children.

Look at the block chain tech­nologies, Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, and the increasingly vocal and serious critique of the monetary system, banking and rents.

Phew.

And then turn your gaze to the seismic shifts of perspective that are taking place across our conceptual maps of the world. The physicists are giving us an entirely new view of reality, called string theory, where poten­tiality is real and multiple universes may be possible. Fundamental notions such as caus­ality are being attacked as illusions of the senses and our living, partici­patory perspectives are proving to be ingrained into – entangled with – the very fabric of space, time and matter. The cosmo­logists are bending reality farther and farther beyond what we can recog­nize or may even compre­hend. The philosophers and myst­ics are tearing down the idea of a sepa­rate self, an ego at the center of existence, from all sides – leaving only a longing, empty space that needs to be filled with relations and partici­pation. Neuroscience is exploding, with its philoso­phical cousin cognitive science following suit and the strange next cousin computational neuro­science still being born. So-called posthumanist think­ers are radically challenging humanity’s biased view of herself in rela­tion to the other ani­mals and the rest of reality, taking us beyond the anthro­pocentric (human-biased) perspect­ives we have hitherto lived by. The mathe­matic­ians are teaching us that most things in reality emerge through chaos and com­plexity and that so many of our modes of thought are outdated and dangerous, since we are oblivious of the non-linear patterns and relation­ships that matter the most. Systems science and syst­ems perspectives are breaking through, from their home bases in com­puter science, informat­ion science, chemistry and ecology – to all aspects of life, includ­ing the interactions bet­ween physio­logy and psych­ology. The social scientists are tearing down the found­ations of the state, of the market, of money and of science itself as we have known them. Econom­ists are telling us that the economy we took so seriously was really a myth all along, just a story. Radically new spiritual movements are cropp­ing up, notably the “atheist” practice of Syntheism. And music­ians are creating stranger and stranger electrical sounds and rhythms, mixing them with strained voices, as if to underscore just how mysterious, yet pecul­iarly fam­iliar, it all seems. And fashionable, tattooed young female DJs play that music on the dance floor, and we dance under flashing lights into the darkness and get high and drunk and make out, as the reality we thought we knew is being torn down and we plunge into the sublime and the unknown. And far out into the desert, under the clear skies of that luminous, open black­ness lit by perfect stars, we find each other in an intimate, loving embrace. Without the slightest effort we converse for hours and all of reality melts away as we let go of our inner shields and become one. In that timeless moment of for­giving embrace we lose our­selves and find ourselves, both at once.

The next morning we wake up in new outlandish company. Or are we still dreaming? Are we alone, or are we together? Can we ever be alone or to­gether? We’ll have to discuss these questions later. This is also a time of deep, multifarious crisis. However myst­eriously terrifying and sublime our age may be, we must remain sober, clear sighted, responsible.

The Multidimensional Crisis-Revolution

Now look at the demographics, especially the ongoing popula­tion booms in countries like the unstable Nigeria, the quickly aging demo­graphics of Japan and Europe (and increasingly other parts of the world, with birthrates below replacement rates from China to southern India to the Caribbean and Latin America). This brings us to the colossal growth of the world economy at large, with an even more radical growth in trade, and a yet sharper growth in FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). Look at all the new finan­cial instruments, growing in size, speed and influ­­ence as the quants (mathe­maticians and theoretical physicists work­ing for investment banks) use some of the sharpest minds on the planet to continuou­sly make automated stock trading more competitive. Look at the unprece­den­ted volume of know­ledge in the hands of the equally unprecedented masses of highly educ­ated people that are more intimately and effectively connected than ever before. Look at the sheer volume of PhDs – within more areas than I could dream of naming or even imagine.

Look at the global political power structure of the world shifting with China, India and Brazil blazing into world prominence, their vast populations rising above poverty (whereas the middle classes of Western societies are shrinking and new poverty growing), and the order of international security changing (with Russia still dangerously stagnating, economically, politically and cultur­ally). Look at the budding global inst­itutions of trade, development and secur­ity, from the IMF and WTO to OECD to NATO and IPCC and the many heads of the UN hydra, not to mention the floundering EU – taking us closer, step by step to a proto- form of global polity (a World State), whether we like it or not. In a similar vein, the number of international non-govern­mental organiz­a­tions (NGOs) has kept exploding during the last few decades.

We face no less than nine simultaneous major global ecological crises, according to the Stockholm Resilience Centre (or at least three very acute ones). We are living in an age of mass extinction of species, comparable to the one that ended the age of dino­saurs some 60 million years ago. Almost all animal biomass on land (discounting insects and the like) con­sists of humans and our enslaved, tortured ani­mals under global industrial farm­ing. Even if wildlife fauna isn’t necess­arily happier than domesticated animal life, the exploitative behavior towards non-human animals must be seen not only as unsustainable but also, and prim­arily, as ethically inex­cus­­able.

Most of the oceans have collapsing ecosystems and most fish are dead or dying (a truly explosive development since 1950: over a trillion aquatic ani­mals are killed per year). The soil is eroding and climate change is striking at the heart of the frail meteor­ological equilib­rium that const­itutes our rather young current meteorological epoch. The scientists tell us­­ that we have entered a new geological epoch, the anthropocene, in which humanity shapes the envir­o­nment more than volcano eruptions and erosion.

To the defi­nite risks we must add the uncertain but even more dram­atic ones. There is the threat of nuclear war – and a host of other dooms­day scenarios are sur­facing as we begin to comprehend the sheer power unleashed by our own gazing into the secrets of the universe – and the universe winks right back at us with a vengeance. Haywire AI, erratic nanotech and global epidem­ics are the major ones. Senior scientists like Oxford philosopher Nick Bos­trom and physicist Max Tegmark (both of whom founded the Future of Life Inst­itute) warn our leaders at special UN conferences.

And the global capitalist system is based upon perpetual growth. But we have yet to see economic growth without increased exploitation of natural resources – resources that are already overused by a wide margin. Something will have to change for this system to compute and be sustain­able. The finan­cial system seems to generate both growth and crisis – and it increas­ingly concentrates wealth at the top, which in turn seems to hijack our politics by way of lobbying and other artful machin­ations. Each financial crisis reveals that our political systems are inept to deal with the dramatic changes at hand. And the political system itself is – as outlined above – in a more subtle kind of crisis, losing its grip of a runaway, global­ized world.

At the micro-sociological level, most humans are doing better than ever. Yet there is so much confusion, suffering and bitter resentment. How many beautiful, privileged people have I not heard whisper to me, late at night, that if it were up to them, they would never have been born; that they are angry with the world; that they were let down; that they live with guilt and self-doubt; that their friends and families are hypocrites? These are signs of the alienation suffered by modern human beings.

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If you don’t already know about the things I have mentioned, you should go back up the list and look them up. You may have serious holes in your education and worldview. To consider yourself up-to-date with the current state of the world you should at least know the basic outline of our day and age.

This is all just to point out a simple fact: the times are changing. And how could they not be? After all – just compare today to a hundred years ago, or two hundred years ago. How can we expect immobility from a universe that literally evolved from dust to Shakespeare, as one author wrote? Whatever will come, it is not likely to be business as usual. We need to bet on a good future. And the stakes are very high.

Just consider that right now, this moment, there are a million people out there, working eagerly on something that the rest of us don’t yet quite under­stand – knowing, knowing that “this will change everything”. If even one percent of them are not mistaken, we will literally have thousands of discoveries, inventions and insights that, each one by itself, changes soc­iety in pro­found and unexpected ways.

Even if some of the things I have mentioned turn out to be exaggerated or based on misconceptions, the totality will certainly be something dramatically new and different as the world-system evolves over the coming decades. What I have not ventured to discuss is that every one of these mentioned pheno­mena interact with the others at an accelerating pace. We live in a time of “peer-to-peer digitalized nano-bio-tech employ­ed by means of virtual 3D to solve energy problems to address climate change” – and so forth. All of this is happening simultaneously, day by day, in one great web of interacting, evolv­ing nodes.

Do the math – an increasing number of accelerating revolutions and crises, all cross-pollinating at an accelerating pace (the solution to the equation is “boom!” – we just don’t know if it’s fireworks or atom bombs).

When a multiplicity of things explode all at once, in a multidimensional crisis-revolution, our linear models of the world rarely work out – they cannot take on so many different variables (and variables with qualitatively different properties) and their mutual interactions. But that does not mean we should refrain from attempting to understand the times we live in; au con­trai­re, we have even greater reason to analyze society and to try to see the deeper patterns that connect in the chaos.

We need directions, but these directions must necessarily be of an abstract, open-ended nature. We don’t need cookbooks; we need general ideas on how to create good cookbooks, so to speak. We need stories about stories. Meta-narratives.

In circumstances such as these, it is only seemly to anticipate corresponding changes of the political system and how society functions in daily life. Indeed, to ignore the necessary adaptations of political, cultural and psychological development in the face of a multidimensional crisis-revolution would be highly irresponsible. In order to take responsibility we must use an intricate understanding of psychology – the science of the human soul and the behavior of the human organism – to develop social technologies that address the deeper issues at hand.

Politics has changed for all time. This change is part of a wide and profound shift of the world at large. We’ve just got our trembling hands on the boom-stick. Where do we go from here?

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Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, and the upcoming books ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.


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