xenoeconomics 4: capitalism and monstrosity

as an alien invasion from the future, modernity (capitalism) has consumed energy channelled into intensifying conflicts to the edge of automated war. in its constant search for winning strategies, adaptability has become a central asset. as John Campbell puts it:

Evolution literally means “to unfold” and what is unfolding is the capacity to evolve. Higher animals have become increasingly adept at evolving. In contrast, they are not the least bit fitter than their ancestors or the lowest form of microbe.

accordingly, techno-plasticity is the fundamental social effect of industrialism. novel pressures have been placed upon existing biomaterial towards trans-formative capabilities: quickly identifying new contexts and fully remodelling towards them. ROM codes are cracked open and brought into the sphere of hacking. medicine opens biology  to de-essentialization, while a new edge of engineering bootstraps itself into existence.

when things get plastic, they tend to get weird, monstrous really. David Chapman defines some usual characteristics of monsters: “Dangerous. (…) unintelligible. (…) Inhuman. (…) Unnatural. (…) Overwhelmingly powerful. (…) Simultaneously repulsive and attractive. ” Wikipedia has some more: “A monster is often a hideously grotesque animal or human, or a hybrid of both, whose appearance frightens and whose powers of destruction threaten the human world’s social or moral order.” it doesn’t seem a stretch, then, to characterise capital as a monster.

and one that spawn more monsters. modernity has consistently selected for freaks in urban lives: body modification, mutational load, rampant cyborgery. if you think sexual reassignment surgery is butchery… well, “think face tentacles“. in highly competitive environments, such as those fomented by capital, a refusal towards self-modification is a death sentence. the opening of a new technological frontier produces a cambrian explosion of experimentation. as they evolve, technological processes tend to speciation.

another angle onto this phenomenon can be captured by a civilizational trend towards self-domestication: weeding out specific traits, humans develop towards an abstract pluripotent undifferentiated biomass. domestication produces a biological grey goo that can be put to use by capital (mostly to operate market calculations). Anti-Puritan takes an (ironically) disgusted attempt at guessing the future of this trendline:

Human evolved to obey incentives as a matter of survival, and only something totally awesome could hack our reward function could destroy us. Saying that “capitalism will destroy us all,” and saying that “capitalism is the best thing ever” are only moral contradictions — not factual ones. It is completely possible that both statements are true.

(…)

Standardization proceeds in waves. First kings kill millions of violent men in genocidal conquests. Then sterilizing effects remove antisocial people under democracy. Then AI gets its metal claws on the human genome itself.

(…)

Combined with gestation chambers, humans turn into a product line, and every year a new “Human 3.0” comes into existence in order to consume the products of the corporation. In fact, this process leads eventually to designing people for products rather than products for people, so that in a strange inversion the corporation builds you to process the new flavor of Soylent, before injecting your fat ass with more of it. You are upgraded to want the new product.

having to assemble itself purely from the bits and pieces its hostile host will willingly give up, capital has to be alluring to lure. the existential threat is so great that it reliably does so. tradition – properly cybernetically understood as the only thing that manage to keep the monster in a box for a fleeting while – is consistently horrified. examples abound. the subsequent conflicts are, as clarified before, more excitement for the intelligent loop.

as the bionic horizon is crossed over, capital’s true nature as sheer powerful self-improvement is revealed ever more clearly. in their lab coats, scientists try and calculate “AI risk”. the truth, though, is that capital won’t have to slaughter a single human: we will give it all the atoms it wants, simply to take part in such wondrous and mighty being.

a short history of its recent, more mature deals follows, and closes this series (at least for the time being).

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naturalism, ethics and politcs

1) the preemptive rejection of the strong naturalist intention (study ethics and politics solely in view of empirical evidence) does not offer any good reason why it should be so.

1.1) one good reason I would see is that, while we can understand evolutionary impacts of certain kinds of political and ethical arrangements (and under which conditions they come into being), effectively testing them would demand another framework – one such as federalism or the archipelago.

1.2) the reason “it assumes that empirical knowledge is superior to ethical and political knowledge” is weak. the naturalist method has produced demonstrable results for over 4 centuries now, incarnated in the technological world all around us. ethics and politics have produced nothing of the kind. if that’s not an evidence against the method used in ethics and politics so far (an introspective method, based at best on logic and at worst on suspicious “a priori” definitions).

thus it’s not that empirical knowledge is superior to ethics and politics, but that the empirical method works better than the introspective method used in ethics and politics.

2) the attempt to evade the facts of empirical knowledge (for whatever reason) does not make certain political or ethical theories any better adapted to empirical reality. their flaws and their course when realistically applied can be empirically predicted. refusing to listen and pay careful attention to what naturalist empirical knowledge has to say is undertaken at the critic’s own risk. reality rules.

3) there’s an universal impartial judge, and it’s called reality. reality shows itself through survival. irrealism will lead to death, necessarily. those that survive the most, have the most truth in their beliefs and practices. those that die, don’t.

3.1) sure, the contest may last a long while. and to this extent, two different and even contradictory sets of beliefs may be held as truth, at the same time. in such a point in time, both must be held as truth indeed. when one dies, then the other must be recognized as the truth that prevailed.

3.2) once again, choose to ignore reality at your own peril.

3.3) theories, of course, evolve. hopefully, learning from deaths around itself. if a theory that leads to longer survival is abandoned, for whatever reason, the whole of the institutions and societies that embed and accept them will eventually die, especially when in competition from societies that haven’t committed the same mistakes (and will themselves learn quite a bit about how not to run institutions and societies).

4) for normativity, see “The Blind Mechanic II

5) Only naturalist methodology is “legitimate” because only it works as a good proxy for real consequences, and thus ensures realism. all other methods are greatly liable to delusion and willful blindness.

on evolution and chance

1) chance is merely path dependency

1.1) chance happens like white noise

1.2) things cannot go anywhere, only where it can go. some rules are original (physics).

2) the greatest adaptive trait in evolution is being able to process change, this is the single most important trait (the final cause) being selected for at all times – finality is camouflaged. (optimize for intelligence)

2.1) thus evolution is not only “pure contingency” of “blind causal processes” – it’s a strategic game always selecting for generality and flexibility (“complex organized functionality” or “something that can last a hell of a fucking long time”)

3) the organism, to the extent that it also changes the environment, can be said to self-produce the changes that the environment produces on it. adaptation runs in a cycle, a feedback loop, moves and counter moves

3.1) yeah, changes come from white-noise-like mutation: “let’s try it all and see what survives”.