Where Does All This Lead?
In my defense I will weave together four strands of ideological evolution to fabricate a possible future answering the question: Where does all this lead? Together they form the fabric for a new biologically-based ethic to replace the ‘Me-ism’ of the Standard Model of economics and the ‘Collectivism’ of Marxism. The four are:
Among the epistemological relics of the Market/Marx Wars are the atomized pleasure-seeking individual of Jeremy Bentham and the alienated worker comrade of Karl Marx or John Lennon’s ‘working class hero’. In this post-Cold War period they are one and the same, flip-sides of the same coin. In production, the increasingly individuated or specialized knowledge worker is alienated from the means of production – knowledge as codified & tooled capital - by the existing intellectual property rights regime.
While the traditional manufacturing-based economy boasted life-long employment, the knowledge-based economy is characterized by contract work, self-employment and job insecurity. Pervasive use of blanket or ‘all rights’ licenses extinguish all future claims by creators. The employee, of course, enjoys no copyright whatsoever and cannot even claim paternity. This makes a mockery of Zechariah Chafee’s words “… intellectual property is, after all, the only absolute possession in the world... The man who brings out of nothingness some child of his thought has rights therein which cannot belong to any other sort of property.”
If this trend continues then the income
distribution for knowledge workers will likely assume the shape of self-employed
artists and entertainers who are second only to pensioners as the lowest income
class recognized by Revenue
consumption the increasingly individuated consumer strives to become the ‘star’
of one’s own movie. Ego gratification becomes
the primary pleasure and each individual seeks to differentiate oneself from
others by style and taste, by being ‘cool’.
The result of mass education has been the opposite of Bentham’s standardization of taste, custom and tradition. Globalized,
standardized products are contextualized by the consumer at the local level, e.g., the often bizarre and garbled
English expressions to be found on T-shirts in
On both sides of the economic equation – production and consumption - division and specialization of knowledge is at play. In fact, they coevolve. On both sides the individual, as autonomous agent, is increasingly individuated creating a growing adjacent possible accelerating the possibilities of change – cultural, ideological and technological. The range of substitutes and compliments is rapidly expanding. Such change must, however, meet the test of fitness. Too many exaptations, mutations or experiments too fast, can cause an organism, culture, firm or Nation-State to fall off of its fitness peak and slide into extinction. The most important of these exaptations is re-definition of the Person
We are now on the cusp of a revolution as profound for definition of what it means to be a ‘Person’ as the Republican Revolution of the 18th century. Given time constraints I can only ask, but not answer, some pressing questions surrounding contemporary re-definition of the Person. When does a Person begin: at conception, birth or the dawn of sentience? Similarly, when does a Person end: heart death, brain death or decomposition of the body when cryogenic freezing fails? Does a Person hold copyright in one’s own DNA? What is the distinction between a natural and a legal Person? Can an artificial intelligence become a citizen? Is a clone a dependent or a taxpayer? Should couples who avoid reproduction to eliminate hereditary disease from the genome be rewarded? Should cyborgs and the genetically enhanced be penalized?
Arguably such questions are rapidly migrating from the adjacent possible called ‘science fiction’ into the realm of fact. Radical and rapid exaptations raise again questions about fitness. The selection process plays, according to Kauffman, a critical role in determining whether an organism climbs up or slides down its fitness landscape. A critical factor is ‘recognition lag’. We first must recognize a question before the search for answers can begin.
It is often forgotten that Aristotle was a biologist. His four causes of ‘why things are the way they are’ reflect his disciplinary bias. Efficient and material causes are sufficient in mescopic physics and mechanics; formal and final causes, however, are essential in explaining why living things and human-made artifacts are the way they are. As demonstrated by Kant and more recently by Martin Heidegger, technology is an elemental expression of biological humanity. Enframing and enabling the environment to be ready at hand to serve human purpose is as natural as a beaver building a dam.
the Genomics Revolution humanity can now inject living things, including
itself, with human purpose. A vast
techno-economic regime of compliments and substitutes is emerging out of this
enabling technology or general purpose tool.
In the process technology is ceasing to be ‘other’. It is perhaps no coincidence that Francis Bacon
published Of the Proficience
and Advancement of Learning Divine and Humane in 1605. This was a year after publication of the
first extant edition of Christopher Marlowe’s play Faustus in which a bargain is struck between the Devil (a.k.a. Science & Technology) and
Natural Man whose gives up his soul and place in heaven in return for dominion
over the earth - here and now!
Biotechnology is now extending the human hand towards the Tree of Life grasping
at a significant extension of the three-score and ten years assigned to the
fallen Adam by a jealous God. In terms
of Western mythogems, we are witnessing the eclipse of
the Faustian myth by a Return to
If, as suggested by Heidegger, human thought and therefore knowledge exists only in time then what is ‘modern’ is subjective. This contrasts with objective Victorian technical progress according to which newness defines ‘modern’. There are, however, knowledge domains other than the natural & engineering sciences. Re-definition of modernity requires their inclusion, i.e., the humanities & social sciences, the Arts and the Practices. In this sense, ‘post-modern’ applies.
has brought 21st century science and technology, compliments and
substitutes, to cultures still practicing 6th century sexual
apartheid condemning 50% of the species to second-class status. Such patristic males coexist in a world of 21st
century Metros – men appropriately sensitive for relationship with the modern
self-aware Western woman. In the
Since the discovery of the DNA double helix by Watson and Cricks in 1953 our understanding of life has expanded dramatically. For example, according to Kauffman, life emerges naturally from chemistry, i.e., “as the molecular diversity of a reaction system increases, a critical threshold is reached at which collectively autocatalytic, self-reproducing chemical reaction networks emerge spontaneously”. He also suggests that a fourth law of thermodynamics is at work in living systems including the ‘econosphere’. Specifically, he finds “a tendency for self-constructing biospheres to enlarge their workspace, the dimensionality of their adjacent possible, perhaps as fast, on average, as is possible”.
Darwinian survival of the fittest must now be complimented by an equally important test. Specifically living systems are characterized by increasing complexity resulting from progressive division and specialization of autonomous agents achieved through mutuality, i.e., coevolution and coconstruction. Put another way, life involves not just predator and prey but also symbionts or partners. Similarly, Beatty concludes: “A diverse, panmictic population, and the democratic beliefs necessary to sustain it, produce the most adapted, and adaptable, populations”.
These findings suggest a new biological ethic: choice that fosters complexity, diversity and cooperation among increasingly individuated autonomous agents is a life affirming choice. It is clear from this ethic why the Communist Revolution failed and the Republican Revolution, unfinished though it may be, survives.
Martin Heidegger in his essay “The Age of the World Picture” stressed how representation beginning with Renaissance perspective has lead to our modern concept of objectivity. The representation or model becomes the reality: seeing is believing. Carl Jung in Civilization in Transition noted that every age has its own symbol that iconically sums up its values and ethics, e.g., the Cross of Christianity, the Crescent Moon of Islam and the Star of David. Arguably, the symbol of this new age and its ethic is visible as the image of Earth seen from space. Our instrumental realism, our technology, now allows us to see that there is only one planet, one biosphere and one human race.