IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > Economic > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Vision > Contributors > FreeThought > Amon Twyman > Sociology > Philosophy > Futurism > Innovation
Liberal Democracy, The Third Way, & Social Futurism (pt. 3 of 3)
Amon Twyman   Oct 4, 2014   wavism  

The first two articles in this series criticised the dominant political paradigm of the Western world (Liberal Democracy) and briefly outlined the beginnings of an alternative called Social Futurism (SF). The aim of this final article is to begin exploring relationships between the core SF idea and a few relevant concepts.

The following post is part of a series, and also related to two earlier posts about the political philosophy of Social Futurism:



Social Futurist revolution & the Zero State

The Social Futurist policy toolkit


1. Social Futurism, Techno-Progressivism, & Socialism

As things currently stand, Social Futurism is essentially a synonym for Techno-Progressivism, but that may change as both positions develop over time. The picture is further complicated by the fact that different theorists will inevitably favour different interpretations of these schools of thought, and some combinations of those interpretations will be more compatible than others. For now, it is perhaps most helpful to identify their core commonalities. I have claimed that Social Futurism is essentially an integration of social justice and technological concerns. Similarly, Techno-Progressivism stands broadly for progressive social change (the Wikipedia page mentions “the achievement of better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and a wider rights culture”) but also insists that progressivism must complement and be applied to technological developments. Again, we may refer to the summary on the Techno-Progressivism Wikipedia page:

Strong techno-progressive positions include support for the civil right of a person to either maintain or modify his or her own mind and body, on his or her own terms, through informed, consensual recourse to, or refusal of, available therapeutic or enabling biomedical technology.

Of course, any view which sees questions of personal rights and techno-social change as being interrelated is going to be relevant to Futurist schools of thought such as Transhumanism and Singularitarianism. There are some minor complications there (with certain Transhumanists disliking Techno-Progressivism, and vice versa), but for the most part these are broadly like-minded streams of thought. In addition to emphasis on social justice and technology, Social Futurism and Techno-Progressivism share an opposition to Bio-Conservatism. In fact they are arguably defined by opposition to that viewpoint, which holds that society should be particularly hesitant to adopt new technologies, especially when those technologies may alter the traditional human condition or social order. In other words, Bio-Conservatives oppose new technologies because they upset the status quo. Finally, Social Futurism and Techno-Progressivism both champion ethical technological developments, but simultaneously oppose unethical and dangerous applications of technology. That willingness to assess the relative risk and benefit of any given technology could in principle lead to agreement between Techno-Progressives and Bio-Conservatives on specific issues.

The four core commonalities described above (emphasis on [1] social justice and [2] technology, opposition to [3] Bio-Conservatism and [4] dangerous or unethical practices) make it clear why it is reasonable to consider Social Futurism a synonym for Techno-Progressivism. Indeed, that would be a truism if we could not identify any meaningful differences between the two schools of thought. In looking for such a potential difference, we might reasonably start by examining the term “Social”. That label implies some connection between Social Futurism and Socialist thought, even if that connection is not prescriptive or even necessarily intended. We need to consider the historical relationship between Socialism and Progressivism, and any continuing influence it may have on the relationships between Socialism, Social Futurism, and Techno-Progressivism.

Socialism itself is a complex of ideas, methods, and attitudes. It is far from a monolithic ideology, despite what some people believe. Traditionally those who favoured open interpretations of Socialism’s goals and approaching them via the methods of parliamentary democracy have been called Social Democrats. Social Democracy has a lot in common with the Labour Movement and a number of threads within historical ProgressivismMarxists (by which I include Marxist-Leninists and other forms of Communist), on the other hand, take a narrower view of what counts as Socialism, saying that unless a society’s means of production are owned by the workers instead of a class of Capitalist investors then a system cannot be considered Socialist. Of course there are all sorts of shades and nuances of belief to be found here, but the key point is that Marxist beliefs hinge upon a concise core definition of Socialism, and Marxists reject all other interpretations as “Populist Socialism”. This is important to note, because Populist Socialism is often taken to imply or even be an outright synonym for Fascism, for both valid historical and less valid propagandistic reasons.

There is much to commend a concise, consistent definition of the core principle at the heart of a movement. If nothing else, it makes it clear what the movement stands for, and helps protect against “mission drift” or even outright hijacking by entryists. Social Futurism / Techno-Progressivism (henceforth SF/TP) would benefit from having an easily identifiable core principle rather than a nebulous collection of values and commitments. Whatever candidates might emerge for that principle, however, it seems safe to say that it cannot be the Marxist principle of worker ownership which stands at the centre of Communism. The reason for this is that both Techno-Progressivism and Social Futurism as they currently stand are advocated by a broad range of pro-technology social activists, many of whom oppose the dysfunctions of Capitalism but only a small proportion of whom would actually support its total abolition. In short, SF/TP is potentially compatible with Marxist ideas in the broadest sense, but there is no a priori reason to allow it to be limited by Marxist sensibilities and indeed alienate many SF/TP advocates in the process. This logic applies to both Social Futurism and Techno-Progressivism as they currently exist, and so could be counted as another reason to consider the two terms synonymous.

Having established that position – that SF/TP is concerned with techno-social progress and social justice but not limited by Marxist definitions – a certain situation seems to be inevitable. This is that, from a doctrinaire Marxist perspective, SF/TP falls into the category of Populist Socialism. Marx himself would probably have categorised it as “Utopian Socialism” (a term he used to distinguish the views of earlier Socialists from his own perspective). Given the close connection between SF/TP and other Futurist lines of thought, I believe that SF/TP advocates should be encouraged to feel comfortable with their characterization as Utopian Socialists, despite the fact that the label is clearly intended as a slur. Similarly I would be dismissive of Marxist claims that SF/TP is merely “Populism”, especially when those claims are delivered in an emotive fashion or without constructive thought on where points of agreement might be found.

Any unsubstantiated or implied association with Fascism is to my mind an example of authoritarian bullying to accept Marxist doctrine or else, and in my opinion opposition to such authoritarianism must be a critical component of a mature SF/TP. To be constructive and conciliatory, however, I will once again stress that I think SF/TP needs a core principle which will cement its commitment to meaningful change toward deep social justice, and if that principle is not Marxist then we must make it clear (1) why that principle is of greater net value than the Marxist one, and (2) how Marxists can approach their own beliefs and goals if they wish to cooperate with SF/TP advocates. Discussion of candidate principles and the issues mentioned above is a huge topic, beyond the scope of the current article. Having marked that topic for future consideration, we can now turn our attention to a different, but related matter.

2. Internationalism, Nationalism, and the European Question

An ideological commitment common across different forms of Socialism is the idea ofInternationalism. Internationalism asserts that common causes which unite people across borders (such as social issues) are more important than the concerns of any given nation, and/or that the deepest concerns of individual nations are in fact best served through international cooperation rather than isolation or competition. Radical forms of Internationalism propose that all people should be able to freely move across borders as they see fit, or indeed that nations should cease to exist.

There are good arguments to be made for these views, as long as they do not come bundled with authoritarianism, and therein lies the rub. There is of course a common right-wing conspiracy theory interpretation of Internationalism which depicts a drive for authoritarian “one-world government”, and it does reflect a true correlation between support for Socialism and Internationalism. We need to ask ourselves if there isn’t a valid question to ask here, buried somewhere under the distraction of conspiracy theory, and whether anything about the inherent logic of SF/TP speaks to the issue of Internationalism. Firstly, given the connections between Socialist and Internationalist attitudes on the one hand and Socialism and SF/TP on the other, it shouldn’t be surprising that a number of SF/TP advocates are also ardent Internationalists. So the question that follows is not whether some current Social Futurists & Techno-Progressives are Internationalists, but whether they must be. Whether or not there is an inherent ideological connection between Internationalism and SF/TP.

I believe that not only is there no such explicit ideological connection as things currently stand, but that there cannot be. The reason for this is that even though one or more schools of thought grouped under the SF/TP labels could in theory declare a strict adherence to Internationalism, it would have to do so at the expense of certain personal freedoms which are already central tenets of both Techno-Progressivism and Social Futurism. In other words, up until this point SF/TP has gone to great lengths to emphasise a priority on personal freedoms insofar as those freedoms are not being used (whether deliberately or accidentally) to reduce the freedoms of others. Insofar as SF/TP might be considered Socialist, that would have to be an anti-authoritarian or even Left-Libertarian form of Socialism. Internationalism is often cast in terms of personal freedom (e.g. to cross borders unhindered), but Leftists sometimes forget that true freedom worthy of the name also includes the freedom to maintain one’s own community of choice, as long as that community doesn’t harm others by its existence. This is the Left-Libertarian idea writ large, enacted on the scale of communities rather than individuals.

This is an awkward issue, because the very assertion that anyone should enjoy freedom to determine the form of their own community (including laws, traditions etc) is the hallmark of a modest form of Nationalism, which is invariably taken to be the antithesis of Internationalism. I say “modest” because extreme Nationalism which advocates expansion of one community’s influence at the expense of others’ is in fact Imperialism, and not defensible in terms of a freedom to determine one’s own community. Again, hardline Internationalist Marxists (e.g. Trotskyites) would often be quick to denounce freedom to determine one’s own community as the seed of Fascism. My own point of view is that although any given SF/TP advocate may not feel any kind of Nationalist inclinations themselves, they must allow for freedom of community if SF/TP is to have any plausible claim to being non- or even anti-authoritarian. Of course, any kind of community supported by SF/TP advocates would have to avoid authoritarian and imperialist tendencies in itself, and there is no reason whatsoever why many small communities of choice cannot exist together in a wider cooperative network, enjoying mutual respect and support.

In this way, we can see that Nationalist and Internationalist ideas need not necessarily oppose so much as complement each other, if approached from a constructive point of view. SF/TP cannot oppose the freedom to determine one’s own community and remain true to its own anti-authoritarianism, but it can insist that any Nationalist impulse be tempered and complemented by Internationalist cooperation between networked communities. We might illustrate this idea by making a comparison between a nation-state and a family’s home. No-one should have the right to simply invade that family’s home and take it for their own as long as the family are not harming anyone by insisting on their own private space. At the same time however, that family should enjoy the benefits of connection to and support from the wider community as long as they in turn do their part to support the wider community they are a part of.

In order to ground these considerations in the real world, to see what their implications are, I would like to very briefly consider the question of Europe. After all, Europe should be particularly sensitive to SF/TP sensibilities (given its technological and political history), and it is a continent currently thinking hard about the relationships between its constituent nations. I believe that the argument above should lead Social Futurists and Techno-Progressives to advocate further evolution toward a Federal Europe which respects the continued existence of constituent nation-states but emphasises cooperative integration between those states. One might argue that we are already on track to such a thing existing, but that it is simultaneously anathema to both strident Nationalists andInternationalists for different reasons. From the perspective I’ve described it is most interesting to ignore such criticisms for the moment, and instead look closer at the details of how cooperation could work at the different scales of a thoroughly reformed EU.

I would like to briefly glance at how things might work on three scales; that of continent-sized federations, of nation-states within the EU, and of communities within any given European nation-state. The key theme here is the idea that the same principles apply across all scales, like a kind of Holarchic system.

Federal Unions

To start with, we already live in a world of major blocs which balance prioritization of their own goals with the demands of interdependence. It is quite clear that there are advantages available to states than can assemble into larger meta-states for the purpose of negotiating relationships with other large powers. No-one would expect an independent Oklahoma or Florida (or even California or New York) to have the same international leverage that those states enjoy as part of the larger United States of America, and the same is true for any state within the EU, Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China (admittedly an authoritarian bloc, rather than a federation), or less traditional agglomerations such as NATOOPEC, or BRIC. So we live in a world of cooperating entities at the largest scale and will continue to do so – that’s simply a fact of life – even if that cooperation is unfortunately not always as peaceful or constructive as we might hope for. The only real question is what kind of meta-state we would advocate; i.e. how it should operate internally, on the level of constituent states and the smaller communities they are composed of in turn.

States and Nations

That, of course, is the tricky question. The most ardent Internationalists do not believe that people should have to tolerate any national borders whatsoever, and I will consider that issue further in the context of The Zeitgeist Movement, in the next section. On the other hand, Nationalists across Europe are currently using the ongoing economic crisis to clamour for greater dis-integration of the European Union, and the reclamation of greater national independence. In my opinion the European Union has been characterised by an unfortunate degree of centralised political control from Brussels in combination with too little economic uniformity, but total dissolution of the Union would be a disaster for its constituent nation-states.

I do not believe that we face a simple, stark choice between no EU at all, and a centralised authoritarian one. After all, few would take the idea seriously that the USA is inevitably and inherently authoritarian and so must be entirely dismantled rather than working toward a sensible balance of rights and responsibilities! So, our question is what kind of European Union (or indeed USA, or Russian Federation, African or South American or Chinese Federal Republic) Social Futurists and Techno-Progressives should advocate. I feel that the EU should evolve toward a state of fully common economic and military policy, but with a written constitution guaranteeing strongly devolved political decision making in all other areas. No solution to the European question will satisfy everyone and the road to any solution will be rocky, but this approach would maximise stability and external influence while preserving as much freedom of self-determination as possible, in exactly the manner I argue should be the hallmark of a SF/TP approach to such questions.

Local Communities of Choice

This is the part where things get really interesting. Many people will develop their views on Nationalism and Internationalism with an eye on one particular scale within this scheme, but not apply the same view equally at all other scales. For example, Nationalists will frequently argue the right of self-determination for their nation but then not afford the same right by the same logic to smaller communities within that nation. SF/TP is a political philosophy in its infancy, and so it still has the opportunity to develop in a rational, consistent manner when confronting issues such as this. In order to be consistent, we clearly must approach the issue of sub-national communities in exactly the same fashion we consider states and federations.

In other words, small communities of choice must have the freedom to manage their own internal affairs to the extent that they do not harm others, but at the same time they should be encouraged to see themselves as part of the wider milieu and ready to support other communities in the network. In terms of my proposition for Europe, that would mean that the Federal government coordinates economic and military matters across the continent, while state governments develop all other policy as it applies to local communities, but then local communities have the right and responsibility to interpret and apply those policies – and develop new policies – as they see fit and in accord with the European Constitution. According to the principle of subsidiarity, in this scheme local communities would be able to manage their own affairs while embedded in a much larger network of mutually supportive communities with common macroeconomic and military policy.

3. Natural Law / Resource Economies, & The Zeitgeist Movement

The previous sections explored the relationships between Social Futurism and Techno-Progressivism, between both the SF/TP philosophies together and various forms of Socialism, and between a hypothetical Socialist-Internationalist interpretation of SF/TP and acceptable forms of Nationalism demanded by our commitment to personal rights and freedoms. Finally, I would like to turn to ideas promoted by The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM) which represent a continuation of the historical current that gave rise to Socialism and Internationalism, and which now have much in common with the views of SF/TP advocates and other Futurists. I hope that by applying SF/TP views to TZM ideas we may learn more about both in the process.

TZM describes itself as:

A global sustainability advocacy organization that conducts community based activism and awareness actions through a network of global and regional chapters, project teams, annual events, educational media and charity work.

Its core idea is that planetary resources are managed inefficiently and unethically by the Capitalist system, and that a Natural Law / Resource Based Economy (NL/RBE) could help to realise Post-Scarcity without introducing authoritarian, centralised control of any sort. Of course that’s a tall order, and to be fair TZM members seldom claim to have all the answers. Instead they seek widespread recognition that the current system simply isn’t working (hence the TZM motto “Realizing a New Train of Thought”), and emphasise that their solutions would not be doctrinaire but rather driven by the scientific method applied to humanitarian ideals.

Very broadly speaking, this is of course the raison d’être of Social Futurism, and I have said elsewhere that I believe TZM to be an intrinsically Social Futurist organization. Of course as I have mentioned different theorists will emphasise different aspects of their chosen ideologies so two representatives of even very similar philosophies may express themselves very differently, but the main thing is that at its heart TZM ideology is about a combination of social justice values and the promise of science. The potential value in this observation is that it doesn’t only apply to TZM. The same could be said of many different organizations and movements, which clearly opens the way to cooperation between them toward common goals. Often the primary barrier to cooperation is a simple lack of recognition that two groups want the same thing, and the idea that many different groups may for all their differences belong to one Social Futurist category could help bring that recognition about.

TZM activists have committed considerable time and energy to clarifying similarities and differences between their own views and those expressed by earlier movements such as Technocracy and Marxism. Inevitably, these distinctions have earned the movement partisan labelling as Populist Socialism and worse, but the movement’s consistent emphasis on broad core values has helped to retain the sympathies of many Socialists and Futurists. Given that I’ve already asserted the TZM worldview to be inherently Social Futurist, the following points should really just be taken as exploratory diversions which SF/TP advocates of different persuasions may find interesting. Although a self-identifying Social Futurist or Techno-Progressive may not agree with any given TZM view below or my brief analysis of it, I would ask that readers try to see past such superficial differences of opinion and recognise a common philosophy which unites a disparate community of activists.

Natural Law / Resource Based Economy?

Not the most elegant term in the world, I grant you. But it’s content that counts, and in this case the content is a vision (courtesy of the Venus Project and before them the Technocracy movement) of a world in which there is an accurate public map of all available resources, their efficient distribution and use is maximised through science and technology, the Open Source era idea of common access replaces the Communist notion of common ownership, artificial scarcity and money are abolished, and everything is decentralised as much as possible.

I haven’t actually been able to determine the origin of TZM’s use of the phrase “Natural Law Economy”, but assuming the traditional meaning of “natural law” I would take this to mean an economy which takes the laws of nature for its structure, moving to meet demand wherever it exists etc. I have serious reservations about that term and its implications, which I may detail at a later date, but they do not detract from the general soundness of the idea of managing resources intelligently. There are a lot of questions we could ask about how this is supposed to work, and we don’t have time for them here, but TZM activists have expressed various opinions with different degrees and types of merit. Most importantly in my opinion, we should note that the movement emphasises a change in train of thought or narrative; i.e. that the point is to get people asking the right questions rather than providing just so answers.

​Tell me how this isn’t Totalitarianism again, please?

I must admit that my primary initial reservation about TZM was that I couldn’t see how such a vision could be achieved without magic or centralised control. This turns out to be an area where TZM does not have all the answers, but it does have an appropriate response, in two parts. First and most importantly, we are told that the movement explicitly opposes the idea of centralised control of resources (as we saw under the Communists in the USSR and PRC). Secondly, we are reminded that TZM’s goal as an organization is to encourage a shift in perspective or values which sets these outcomes up as widely understood societal goals. What it doesn’t do is lay out an exhaustive set of steps for achieving those goals, which is the part where all safeguards against Totalitarianism have to be developed, along with all of the other tools required to get from here to there. If you want to help ensure that the outcome is as anti-authoritarian as TZM activists hope for, then it is more helpful to offer constructive suggestions andmake it so than sling baseless claims of authoritarianism.

In short, the most articulate TZM advocates have been consistent in saying that they oppose authoritarianism, that reducing elite control over artificial scarcity goes some way toward reducing other forms of control, and that everyone is encouraged to work toward solutions to these problems. For my part, I have simply asserted that I will only ever involve myself with groups or movements that have anti-authoritarian principles like free exit at their heart – participation in such systems must be strictly voluntary – and would strongly encourage others to take the same stance.

If I had the space to elaborate here, I would also detail my belief that Totalitarianismwould be required to stop all forms of emergent trade, and so markets in artificial scarcities would have to be tolerated in an ethical RBE society, within certain parameters. A successful RBE would be one which rendered all truly important goods, services, and resources non-scarce, and in that world it wouldn’t matter if there were fleeting markets in artificially scarce trivialities, especially if the alternative is authoritarian control. But that is a topic that will need to be fully discussed another day.

What about technological unemployment? Do robots have rights in a NL/RBE?

Technological unemployment is certainly a key issue in TZM circles, and feelings seem to be mixed since the human cost of unemployment is currently a serious problem, but TZM hopes to see technology used to circumvent mandatory employment in the long run so… it’s complicated. Which is more or less the opinion I’ve encountered amongst Futurists, too. I’ve been asked quite a few questions along these lines, because I move in Futurist circles where the ideas of AI and artificial sentience are taken seriously. The simple answer is that TZM has not worked the answers to such questions out any more than the Futurist community have, so the Futurist community and SF/TP advocates have the opportunity to steer TZM thinking as it develops to fully account for radical technological change.

A final note on events and some conclusions

In the last year I’ve been to a couple of big TZM events, a Futurist conference at which TZM was well represented, and a few small events held jointly between TZM and London-based Futurist organizations. My one recurring thought throughout these meetings was that many of these people are working their way toward a common vision, and that the common vision is of humanitarian ideals approached through the medium of radical technological solutions. I have come to characterise that vision as Social Futurism, and explained why I believe Social Futurism to currently be synonymous with Techno-Progressivism. Not only that, but I believe SF/TP (whatever you want to call it) is a simple set of values and principles which underlies the efforts and aspirations of many different groups, whether they know it or not. That’s a good thing, because it encourages cooperation between organizations and movements which might not have seen themselves as like-minded or sharing common goals before.

This series started out by casting a critical eye over Liberal Democracy; the ideology with a friendly-sounding name that has some far from friendly effects around the world. From there it went on to introduce the idea of Social Futurism, and now finally we have looked at some of the similarities and differences between Social Futurism and a few other points of view.

What happens next, I leave as a question for you.

Dr M. Amon Twyman (BSc, MSc Hons, DPhil) is an IEET Affiliate Scholar and philosopher interested in the impact of technology on humanity.

Amon's professional background is in both cognitive science and digital arts, and he has been a founding member of several organisations including the UK Transhumanist Association / Humanity+ UK, and the Transhumanist Party. Amon is currently the Transhumanist Party’s UK Party Leader, and Global Party Secretary.


I have to disagree on some points of this article, mainly that “Technoprogressives” are not for ownership of The Means of Production.

From Marxism, to Libertarian socialism, to anarcho-syndicalism, to any self identified Marxist or self identified Anarchist - including the majority of the anonymous hackers, in 2014 it is almost consensus that “The means of production” must be worker owned.

It is of my opinion as well, that if the means of production are not worker owned we will ALWAYS have class struggle.

However, I must say, as an anarchist-transhumanist I do like your ideas about ” anti-authoritarian principles like free exit” and your stance of being anti-totalitarian and anti-fascism. good stuff!

At a first glance this indeed looks like a very strong article, which I think merits a lot of discussion and reflection. In a sense I’m less interested in the “social futurism / technoprogressivism movement” per se than just in clarifying what we want to aim for (where “we” is whoever may be reading and thinking of contributing to this discussion), but to the extent that I am in sympathy with much of what the technoprogressive movement (which I know better) stands for, and much of what seems (again, at first glance) to be written in this dense and content-rich article, I would certainly be interested in reading other views about what, ultimately, these movements should be trying to achieve.

Regarding ownership of the means of production, Kris, I think you may be a bit optimistic (from your perspective) in thinking that there is “almost consensus” on this issue. Certainly if this were to be taken as a hallmark of the technoprogressive movement, this would exclude many (I would guess the majority of) transhumanists. Also, as we’ve discussed before, I personally find it essential to distinguish between what we might hope for in the longer term and what is realistically achievable and needs to happen in the short term in order for our longer-term wishes to be achieved.

From time to time we talk about mindfulness on this blog, and I want to take this further opportunity to emphasise the importance of mindfulness also in this context. Up to now I have mainly emphasised how mindfulness has helped me personally and, by extension, how I think it can help others as individuals, but it can also increase the cohesion of groups by encouraging people to take a distance from their pre-existing beliefs and be more open to those of other people within the group.

Anyway, I definitely think this is a discussion worth continuing.

Thanks very much for the thoughtful and constructive comments guys!

Kris - Yes, my personal views are sympathetic to Anarchism, Syndicalism, and of course Transhumanism too. Just to be clear, the position I took in the article was not that Social Futurism / Techno-Progressivism can’t agree with the core Marxist principle, just that it can’t be limited to it. So it’s a matter of overlap based on any given SF/TPers views, in my opinion.

I agree with Peter that perhaps you’re being a bit optimistic about consensus amongst socialists on the question of Marxism & worker owned M.O.P. The reason I say that is you may well be right in subcultural socialist circles (I’d want to see evidence before agreeing), but in countries where Social Democracy and the Labour Movement have major parties (e.g. UK, much of Europe, Commonwealth countries) those parties generally consider themselves Socialist but you won’t find a whisper of workers owning means of production in their policies or electioneering materials. (To be fair, the UK Labour Party has recently removed mention of Socialism in its manifesto and quit making Union members automatic members of the Party).

I have mixed feelings about the idea of class struggle. I mean, I oppose exploitation of one class by another and believe we should fight that. But at the same time Marxist parties have a way of setting themselves up as a new and equally exploitative ruling class. Tricky issue, which of course leads back to Anarchism & Anarcho-Syndicalism.

Peter - Cheers for the thoughts, I would welcome deeper discussion in time and definitely agree with you that mindfulness has a role to play, here. It could allow us to detach a little from entrenched positions and examine our own assumptions in a cooperative spirit, which is I think necessary for real progress.

Amon, Peter,

Your both right about it NOT being consensus among the general population or even by people who claim to be “socialist.”

I do not want to get picky here, but I think Amon understood what I meant: Under a “hybrid capitalist/socialist system” like New Zealand and Sweden many who identify as socialists are for the current system, or yearn for, under radical reform, a true socialist system.

However, Peter, what I meant was that it is nearly consensus of Marxists and Anarchists that there will always be class struggle if workers do not own The Means of Production.

As Amon points out, there are different models of ways to get to a hybrid-capitalist/socialist system, and even pure anarchism.

Those models are what are debatable and divide people all around the world, people (who identify as marxist, strict socialists, extremely-liberal-hybrid-socialist/capitalist, and anarchist) all see different ways of getting society to the political ideal of their choice. Some call for revolution, while others call for radical-reform, and others call for vanguardism.

But Peter, - I never said it was consensus of everyone on earth, nor of transhumanists - again it is mostly consensus of Pure Marxists, and Anarchists that as long as The Means of Production are not owned by the workers, there will always be class struggle. That is my opinion as well - as a transhumanist and an anarchist I cannot see how an economy not based on worker-ownership of The Means of Production can lead to a world of egalitarianism.

Thanks both! Kris, having read again your first comment I see that you were indeed referring mainly to Marxists and Anarchists, my apologies. I guess I was a bit thrown by your first sentence, which led me to think you were talking about technoprogressives.

Actually Kris I’d be interested in your thoughts about what “a world of egalitarianism” might look like, not least in a world in which individual human identity itself is challenged (at the very least) by things like high-bandwidth brain-to-brain communication. What does your utopia look like actually? I don’t promise to like or agree with it, but I think it could help us to separate the question of where we want to go from the question of how to get there.

Peter, I think that technoprogressives are in the business of striving together for equality, and for this moment in time, I would like to see further discussion on worker-ownership of The Means of Production.

Not really sure what more to say about that, Kris, except something along the lines of “been tried and doesn’t work”. What Amon says about Marxist parties is pretty much true of human nature generally, and that is why I’m more interested in a general discussion about what a “world of egalitarianism” might look like. Worker-ownership of the means of production doesn’t seem to me to be a very promising way of getting anywhere, but if I knew where it is you want us to go I’d be in a somewhat better position to judge.

I also think it would be a far better way of doing justice to Amon’s excellent article.

For my part (not trying to answer for Kris here!) I try not to get too hung up on “utopias” or specific destinations. Instead I’d rather lay out a few key lines of principle that shouldn’t be crossed, and in theory at least any set of futures that can colour inside the lines is fine by me. That approach maximises the scope for freedom and minimises the need for advance planning, within reason.

One of those lines / principles would be the right to free exit, as I mentioned in the article. I would also like to see governments with very clear written jurisdictions, which would need to be reasserted periodically in the intended spirit of the original US Constitution.

As for egalitarianism, I’m broadly very much for it, but I think that needs to be unpacked a little too. Of course we can draw a distinction between equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome. My primary emphasis would be on equality of opportunity. I think we need to be ready to tolerate a degree of outcome inequality if we don’t want totalitarian control (and I don’t), but I would lay down acceptable parameters. The deep problem with some people becoming many orders of magnitude richer than others is that beyond a certain point wealth can be used to own the rules of the game, and further distort outcomes in an already-influential person or organization’s behaviour. So there need to be safeguards against that kind of slow-motion coup, which I think is in progress right now.

I must agree with Kris (and others) that many of the problems I’d want to solve are in fact just symptoms, and we need to get to the root of the problem or they’ll always recur. This is why Marxists focus on worker ownership and movements like TZM advocate abolishing money altogether. I have reservations about both of these approaches, but need to think about this more and talk with others like yourselves before I can come to any firm conclusions. So maybe another article soon, then!  wink

(Apologies, above that should have said “...beyond a certain point wealth can be used to own the rules of the game, and further distort outcomes in an already-influential person or organization’s *favour*)

p.s. this video has just become available, of a highly relevant event held a little under two weeks ago in London. From around halfway through, I give a talk that touches on a lot of themes from the IEET article:

Video, thanks to Stephen Oberauer:

Amon’s slides:

Event description:

Thanks Amon, this all makes a lot of sense to me. Regarding people using wealth to own the rules of the game, I would actually say that has been the norm since the advent of civilisation, and to the extent that we have partially moved towards greater equality I think we should not altogether dismiss the positive role that liberal and social democracy have played. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

I also agree that we shouldn’t get hung up on utopias. On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t describe them at all, and two advantages of imagining and describing quite concrete positive scenarios are that it helps us to map the different sensitivities and preferences that we have, which is important, and that it helps us to clarify the extent to which they are realistic, and how they might be made to happen.

The risk, of course, is that we end up fighting over conflicting visions and it might be interesting to consider whether making them explicit makes that more likely or less likely. I do appreciate that sometimes it might be better to keep things implicit. On the other hand, if others (like Islamic State, for example) make theirs explicit and we don’t, that surely has to favour those who do?

Hmm, Peter, not to alienate my revolutionary and vanguardism friends, but I think you may be thinking of Maoism, trotskyism, and stalinism when you say ” except something along the lines of “been tried and doesn’t work”.”

Anarchism, because of capitalists, Christians, and communists never really had a fair chance to be tried out. Because the anarchists were extremely less violent then the 3 mentioned above, many of their chances at succeeding in having, lets say, an entire country “anarchist” were destroyed by said groups.

Sure, some communes, and a few factories have successfully been worker run, Red Mill Natural Foods is kind of an example, maybe the Zapatistas as well, perhaps even this list can help us:

But what im really looking for is a good example of a total failure of a country, region, or (within the capitalist framework) a company that has failed so badly at worker-ownership of The Means of Production (under anarchist ideals) to convince me that technoprogressives: those who are anarchist, or pure socialist [pure socialist as in anti-statism-socialism/Libertarian socialism], to write off worker-ownership of The Means of Production as something that should never be tried again.

Please keep in mind that I am not for vanguardism in the context of tried revolutions of the past, nor does anarchism even allow for vanguardism, therefore I am not interested in debate over dictators and vanguardism in the name of “marxism” - that has been written about, tried in real life, and at this point almost totally intellectually exhausted.

OK, Kris, but what is it exactly that you are advocating here? Obviously there is nothing to stop employees having shares in a company in which they work, in fact it’s quite common. Nor is there anything to stop a company requiring that all employees have such shares, and eschewing ownership by anyone who isn’t an employee. At least I don’t think there is. So is it just that you want such arrangements to become more commonplace, or do you want employment without ownership to actually be banned? Or something in between?

To be clear, I don’t have any problem with people experimenting with non-hierarchical forms of organisation. On the contrary, I’m all for it. That being said, I can’t help wondering whether anarchism has really failed (so far) because it is “less violent”, or more because it has been less well organised. Not that this is necessarily a criticism. Perhaps non-hierarchical organisation is more difficult to achieve, but when we do manage to pull it off, I think we can all see that there are advantages.

Peter, I agree with you on many points, and yes, I would like to see worker-ownership increase dramatically.

Perhaps what I am worried about the most is the connection between the current reality of economic inequality and the future of structural unemployment as a result of automation / “technological unemployment”.

We already know that when a factory of, lets say, women making clothing for us in Bangladesh shuts down, (which usually paid something like 20-24 cents an hour at 100 hours per week) they tend to become prostitutes or end up in the international sex trade. Wow. What?


So, if the companies, like Gap, Old Navy, and Disney are NOT ALREADY worker owned, and the government is NOT ready to unleash a Universal Basic Income Guarantee, and the “Management/CEOs” decide to replace them with robots, I need to wonder, what will happen to these workers?

On the premise that the government is not ready for a Universal Basic Income Guarantee in this situation, my only conclusion is to fall back on a model that does not require government, or capitalism for that matter. If the people here in the US who own the corporations do not allow for basic human rights like worker-unions, and would rather pay more for commercials then the salaries of their workers, the workers themselves are left without a supportive government, and supportive employer.

The conclusion I draw from this scenario, is that the workers will have to organize to create a supportive community for education, healthcare, food, water and housing. Again because the government is non-supportive in this situation, it would seem that if technological unemployment reaches countries like China, India, and Bangladesh, an ideal model for them to organize under would be the “anarchist” framework – separate from the non-supportive government and the employer in which fired them. The current world capitalist/government system is simply not up for the task of enforcing basic human rights, worst even – not set up to approach the need for a worldwide Universal Basic Income Guarantee in the face of technological unemployment.

It is of my opinion that “anarchism” thus wins if one wants to be both realistic and somewhat utopian.

This is turning into an interesting discussion.

Of course, part of the problem here is the inequality not within countries but between countries. This is an important distinction, because here in the West we do at least enjoy some sort of support mechanisms, there is a tradition of organised labour, and generally speaking we don’t become prostitutes when fired. There is a lot of poverty and misery, for sure, not to mention alienation, anomie and affluenza, but we at least generally assume that we are better off, and would rather be here than in countries with less developed economies.

All this, of course, is an example of people (in this case, admittedly somewhat imprecisely, “the West”) using wealth to own the rules of the game. It’s how Europe ruled the world, i.e. by exploiting the crap out of it, and now the US has surpassed or at least equalled us in this glorious endeavour. China is getting quite good at it as well, though it has some way to go.

An important point here (in my view) is that some of the most egalitarian societies in the world (I’m thinking Scandinavia here) are also the most exploitative if one looks at their global footprint. They are also probably some of the least hierarchical, with a tradition of consensus-building and informality. That’s the thing about high-trust cultures: they do a much better job at exploiting others. I’m sure the Nazis were very nice to each other.

The point of this rather Hobbesian post is not spread despair, but to ensure that we have taken a cold, objective, dispassionate look at what is really happening, and why, before we continue thinking about what should be done. I can agree that “the current world capitalist/government system is simply not up for the task of enforcing basic human rights”, and I also agree that technological unemployment risks making the situation much, much worse. I think this is already happening. But the question, as ever, is what kind of system will do a better job, and how do we get there?

Coming back to mindfulness, I want to report a psychology study I read about once where the subject is put in a crowded hospital waiting room and invited to occupy the one remaining seat. Then somebody comes in in a visibly awful condition, and the point of the study was to determine whether or not mindfulness increased the likelihood of the subject giving up his or her seat. They found that people who had been given a mindfulness training session just before the experiment were four times more likely to do so, and the suggested interpretation was that they did so because they were better able to handle the empathetic distress caused by being aware of what was going on around them. The others just pretended it wasn’t happening.

I’m saying this because when we read about Bangladeshi factory workers becoming prostitutes, or Syrian Kurds being driven out of their town, or West Africans dying of
Ebola and someone who was trying to help them going back to Spain and infecting a nurse, it is difficult not to feel empathetic distress (alongside more selfish fear). I’m not sure to what extent advocating anarchism is the equivalent of “giving up one’s chair” in this case, but I am sure that we need mindfulness to handle our empathetic distress (and selfish fear) and ensure that we take effective action, in line with our values.

Not all in government who want positive change quit, but they are certainly constrained.
For the rest, spot on.

“What does business have to do with ethics?: precious little.”

Will add one more caveat to this. Indeed business can seem to have little to do with ethics, and Kris’s link about Bangladeshi women makes this point well. Yet would we be better off without businesses at all? I think not. Certainly, life as we know it could not exist.

And some businesses ARE more ethical than others. There are honest businessmen (perhaps not the most successful ones, but they are there nonetheless), and there are complete crooks and fraudsters. And everything in between. As a businessman, where you lie on that spectrum is also a choice, albeit one that may force you out of business.

Question: is business becoming any more ethical over time? How could it be made more ethical? Does worker ownership even guarantee that it will be? Why should the workers of Company A care about anyone else? It could just procure services from Company B, which is also fully owned by its workers, and goes bankrupt as soon as Company A doesn’t need it any more.)

Not necessarily looking for answers right away: sometimes it’s best just to stay with the question.

Hypothetically in the context of the current capitalist system, if a workplace was completely worker owned, that would mean the workers would have the opportunity to freely express themselves. In this situation, where a workplace is unionized and democratic (union=workers=union=workers), workers may just choose to look at their business in a more ethical way. If it is the case that a democratic workplace can be more ethical, they may just want to change what they produce, meaning, that a company currently producing bombs may want to help create something like clean energy in the area of their expertise.

If a company democratically realizes they can profit off of green energy instead of war, the workers would have the say.

However, I do see this as very optimistic and perhaps naive, because the current system rewards war-profiteers and other non-ethical businesses greatly.

But is it really “the current system” or is it human nature? What created “the current system” in the first place? I know you keep saying anarchism didn’t get a fair shot because it was outcompeted by (allegedly) more violent ideologies, but it seems to me that the failure of leftist ideologies to produce intended outcomes, and the reason why social democracy has proved more successful, has more to do with the the fact that the latter took better account of human nature (and the concomitant need to work within an essentially capitalist system) than the former. If this is the case, then we indeed need to be cautious about encouraging further utopian approaches.

The good news is that we now know far more about human nature than we did back then, but what we do know is not necessarily very encouraging. It suggests to me that the current system, awful though some of the outcomes are, may not be doing such a bad job compared to the alternatives. What Churchill said about democracy (the worst system invented, except for all the others) perhaps also applies to global capitalism. Or as Catherine the Great said (to a French philosopher / political theorist, don’t remember which one): “your theories work only on paper, which tolerates everything”.

The even better news, from my perspective, is that a lot of young people are actively searching for jobs that indeed focus on love (sorry, I meant green energy) not war, and the fact that we are even discussing how business can be made more ethical is a good sign. Perhaps a more realistic version of your scenario is simply that non-ethical businesses (and we obviously need to define more precisely what we mean by that) find it increasingly difficult to hire people. Already when I participate in debates on energy I see people who are paid well to take the “wrong” side of the debate looking distinctly unhappy, while others who are paid less well are fired up and passionate. Increasingly, people want to be in the latter camp. That is what I find encouraging, and the great thing is that it doesn’t even require us to change the system, with all the upheaval, unpredictability and probably untold misery that this would entail.

The system is fragile enough already, we don’t need to destabilise it further.

Peter, While I agree with Naam and Brin that globally things may be getting better for workers, and that our concern for workers rights is a sign of ethical progress (in Brin’s words), I can’t be as optimistic as you when I see my generation here in the US to continuing to see their salaries go down.

Even if Naam and Brin’s optimism is correct, from their point of view, I still don’t agree with Brin that being ethically reformist in the positive sense when it comes to anti-poverty is enough.

The current economic inequality of the world is just plain unacceptable.

With technological unemployment on the horizon, that economic inequality may worsen.

I am not too sure what you mean by “the system.”

For example, Iceland resisted structural adjustment of the Washington Consensus. So in essence, Iceland had the “balls” (and ovaries) to say no to the current popular system of WTO and Washington dominated capitalism.

I think it is in the best interest of poor nations to follow that lead, to break away from the norm, that is, to say no to a system that has proved to do little for impoverished peoples of the world.

By “the system” I really mean everything: planet Earth, and everything that goes on it including human civilisation and the myriad mechanisms (including capitalism, or course) that sustain it.

Iceland has a very resilient, high-trust (Scandinavian/Nordic) culture, with its associated tradition of social democracy (and Christian/post-Christian values), and I believe this more than anything is what enabled it to recover so fast from their insolvency. It is a very long way from being a realistic model for the poor nations of the world.

Kris, I understand you when you say things like “[this] is just plain unacceptable”, and it’s good that you’re looking for (radical) solutions. Still I would caution against excessive commitment to what I have described previously as “the anarchist creed”. Assuming that we want to maximise overall welfare and minimise suffering going forward - so basically a utilitarian approach - we need to keep our beliefs sufficiently flexible as regards how to achieve it to respond appropriately to evolving evidence. Maybe some form of anarchism really can be made to work, but assuming that it is The Right or The Only way to achieve this seems counterproductive to me. The perfect really can be the enemy of the good.

1. ah, but what about existentialist ethics and (maybe Kantian ethics)?

2. Poor nations of the world need organizations like ILO and UN to stand up for them when we talk about education, food, housing, water, and healthcare.

3. The ILO and UN haven’t met the needs of the “global south”

4. The Neoliberal program hasn’t met the needs of the global North OR South.

5. Who, in their right mind (as in people looking forward to a much much better future), would say, that a system totally based on abstract social constructs (mathematically, and conceptually) , that is the Western Neoliberal system of capitalism is the “right way” either?

6. Anarchists always get a bad rap (kind of like socialists) because people associate anarchism with “anarchy”, and that is the opposite of that which anarchists propose. Another example is that anyone who wants to call themselves a “democratic socialist” has the crazy immediate association in the majority of people (because of capitalist driven propaganda) as being people who want a dictator under some crazy violent revolution.

7. Meanwhile, under a false democracy, and a poorly educated populace, the US “elects” (even though Gore got the most votes) a regime that caused a war that killed more then 1 million people.  Then, people of that same regime, like Paul Wolfowitz become the “President” of the World Bank.

8. This is “the system” you want, in the here and now?

Well it’s the system we have, whether we like it or not, so wherever it is we want to go we have to start from here.

Not that I’m talking about the US specifically: there is actually a world outside the US, and among other things it’s a world where nobody thinks of “democratic socialists” as violent dictator-lovers. It’s just what we call the centre-left. It is a place, though, at least here in Europe, where self-styled anarchists tend to deface buildings, throw Molotov cocktails through bank windows (killing a pregnant woman during one incident in Athens a couple of years ago) and other not particularly non-violent activities. Not for a moment suggesting this is the kind of “anarchism” you are advocating, but still it’s perhaps important to know why so many people associate the term with “anarchy” as in violence and disorder. Also, it IS what generally happens when hierarchical systems break down, as we are seeing now in the Middle East,

I am certainly not saying that the version of global capitalsim that we have now is “the right way”. Actually I thought my previous comments had made that fairly clear. I’m just suggesting you take a little bit of distance from anarchism as an ideological response to the challenges we face. Probably you have compelling reasons not to want to do that, but for the sake of the technoprogressive movement it may be important.

Regarding non-utilitarian ethics, yes I know there are other choices one can make regarding one’s ethical frameworks. I just don’t find them very compelling. (Kantian ethics in particular seems to be basically an invitation to ask the question, “What if everyone behaved like this?” and while it can be a useful question to ask from time to time, as a basis for one’s entire system of ethics it seems pretty miserable.)

American democracy in less then 2 minutes:


I totally agree on the Kantian ethics framework being rather hard to partake in.

Carlo Giuliani, was shot by the police in Genoa, and a few other protesters lost their lives during demonstrations against neoliberalism. I think the answer I want to say, but wont, is going down a slippery slope argument, and not even one I believe in, so I will leave that up to others.

I am not sure what technoprogressivism is, if it is not for the value of life, freedom, and democracy. The current “here and now” neoliberal system just is not a system that can boast being a value system of freedom, democracy, or life. On the contrary, it values the privatization of housing, food, water, healthcare, and education under a non-democratic, mostly Washington run framework.

If technoprogressives stick with valuing democracy, life, and freedom, I think it is best to actually do it, in the streets, and online, and most definitely through radical reform and activism. We should first value food, education, housing, and healthcare in an egalitarian, democratic way, and never say that a group of people, if given the opportunity, are not up for it. Bush and company did not go to Iraq to free the Iraqi People and give them democracy, nor is ISIS the end result of people of Iraq striving for democracy.

The future of freedom, democracy, and life (all hopefully being enhanced through the progress of technology) did not happen yet, and it’s our duty to make it happen if we really want egalitarianism and democracy.

“We should…never say that a group of people, if given the opportunity, are not up for it.”

That’s actually an interesting point, and I’m wondering myself what to make of it. Part of me agrees: to say such a thing indeed risks being disempowering, disrespectful and defeatist. On the other hand, there are also risks involved in telling ourselves they ARE up for it. Some neocons genuinely thought they were giving the Iraqi People democracy. ISIS is indeed “not the end result of people of Iraq striving for democracy”, but it is to some extent a result of the breakdown of the hierarchical systems that were there before.

And make no mistake, by opposing the 2003 invasion (which I did as well) we were implicitly supporting a regime that, while preserving order, stability and a degree of prosperity, was also a particularly murderous and terrorising regime. I have a friend who grew up there and on one occasion her neighbours were investigated because one of the kids accidentally hit a picture of Saddam while playing soccer. At least that kind of thing doesn’t happen in America. Furthermore, shenanigans in Florida aside, the main reason Bush and company came to power in 2000 is that a not-quite-majority of American voters voted for him. And I seem to remember that he won by a considerable majority in 2004. There is a limit to the extent to which we can blame the voting behaviour of free Americans on brainwashing.

There was also a silver lining: instead of being bogged down in performing the task of US President (and handling the poisoned chalice of 9/11), Gore went ahead and told the world about climate change. Now that really WAS a public service.

Re “I am not sure what technoprogressivism is, if it is not for the value of life, freedom, and democracy”, if that is really what technoporgressivism is to you then I’m really not sure why we bother with the prefix “techno..”. One thing I thought technoprogressivism had in common with transhumanism is a rejection of the confused-bordering-on-Luddite attitude of mainstream society to technology, despite (or perhaps because of) being utterly addicted to it. Again, I’m not against radical reform and activism in pursuit of democracy, life, and freedom. Of course not. But are the doctrines of anarchism the right blueprint? I have my doubts.

“ISIS is indeed “not the end result of people of Iraq striving for democracy”, but it is to some extent a result of the breakdown of the hierarchical systems that were there before.”

ISIS in the name of religion is a mess created by Bush and past ideological wars over communism and capitalism (correction, this one over Iran - and communism - ISIS is, after all, a reactionary religious group who would not have any support in Iraq if it was not for the 2003 invasion and occupation.), that is kind of Obama’s burden now - Obama is far from perfect, (his administration has carried on the Bush Doctrine and US imperialism, etc) But one cannot expect Obama to wave a magic wand and fix the absurdity that Bush (and past american regimes) have caused around the world.

Anyway - by protesting in the streets against the IRAQ war, we were supporting two things actually, right?

1. The Bush regime had nothing, at all to offer the Hussain regime -  or Iraq for that matter. Who in the world would want American Republican’s to invade a country based on lies and flawed values? The entire thing was a mess from the start.

2. science and technology can help us create a more democratic and free world, on so many revolutionary levels, I dont know where to begin, but for argument sake, let’s say DNA or Eye scans can be used for voting purposes - (yes, many democratic socialists, anarchists, and Luddites would be against this.) But DNA or Eye scanning is just the beginning - then we get to brain-computer interfaces which would, in theory, with encrypted data, help one vote from their house/office/vacation/etc. As intelligence, mind multitasking, and critical thinking speeds up, we may even want to have weekly voting, and maybe even daily voting. That would be, in essence, actual real anarchism in practice, especially if we voted more towards direct democracy / consensus / 80-99/100% agreement for a new concept/idea/action for society to act on.

I need to make a second draft of this old paper, but here it is:

Your point 2. is where we need to focus, Kris. This is how we start to envision the kind of future that we actually want, and it’s the kind of thing I loved about Amon’s article. That, along with your yearning for (genuine) democracy, freedom, and life, is what makes you a technoprogressive.

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Finding Fingerprints of Selection in Poplar Genomes

Previous entry: Color My Poop Beautiful – now on video