An open letter to Chris Bateman responding to his blog-serial The Ascenturian Saga at Only A Game as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Feel welcome to provide your own input via the Comments.
Thank you for the writings on what is means to be a Ascenturian. How inspiring and fun! I consider it a pinnacle of your blog’s Roleplaying Game concept. You called on others to roleplay the engaging on ideas and the Ascenturian saga invites others to contemplate and roleplay a future that we will never experience. A serious yet fun game that I am joining through this reply to you.
In your series you identify six principles that you consider vital for the human species to survive into the future. In keeping with the roleplaying game theme, these six principles can be likened to RPG character traits which need to be levelled up to advance the game. Below are your ASCENT principles:
The Principle of Assembly: Assemble a plurality of reciprocal collectives of any viable kind.
The Principle of Sustainability: Reject accelerating technology for perfectible techniques.
The Principle of Commonisation: Create commons that are open to aid in the subsistence of all.
The Principle of Elevation: Secure solidarity by eliminating poverty.
The Principle of Normalisation: Achieve neutral population growth without abandoning families.
The Temporal Principle: Act in the memory of time past and the knowledge of time to come.Post 5 of 5
This is a most excellent set of principles/traits that provided me hours of pondering. Such pondering has lead me to make modifications to these principles that I’ll describe below. But first let us start off with your identified goal which is to imagine us as species existing 20,000 years into the future.
Dune is set in the year 10,191 AG, the tenth millennium after the founding of the Spacing Guild, which is generally taken to be roughly 20,000 years into our future.
Welcome to the limitless fantasy of the ascenturians, a joyous, optimistic, utterly unrealistic fiction of humanity arriving at the Tenth Millennium together.Post 1 of 5
I’m enthusiastic about you using Dune as a signpost to gage against. I love the book series written by Frank Herbert and the latest movie was outstanding. To imagine surviving 20,000 years into the distant future is as fascinating as Dune.
The timeline of 20,000 years is rooted in Frank Hebert’s 1950s-60s time frame, which was the start of the space/computer age. I do wonder if we will need less time to reach the Spacing Guild milestone (set 10,000 years into the future) given that civilization advances tends to accelerate as discoveries pile up each other.
One of my favorite ideas is The Case for a New Calendar 12017 (written in 2016 in anticipation of 2017), which takes our current AD/CE year designation and adds 10,000 years to it. This new calendar tracks humanity as a whole from the founding of the first cities and the beginning of civilization. Perhaps to survive as a species into a shared future we should adopt a calendar that is defined by a shared past.
We have already survived 12,022 years so have demonstrated staying power. It is thanks to our civilizational adaptability that we have weathered the challenges of hostile empires, uprisings, diseases, and natural disasters and it will be civilization that will allow us to reach 20,000 into the future. Civilization has always been beset by challengers and while it provides its citizens protection, this protection for the good of its citizens inevitably leads to institutional corruption.
I see this playing out right now as civilizational elites (politicians, business leaders, cultural leaders, etc.) live in self-assured arrogance that they know best for the rest of us. Yet they ignore the changing needs of the populations and challenges of geopolitical rivals. Dune recognized this tension and found a way to strike a balance between space empire and civilization. This is found by the competitive-cooperation between Dune’s various factions that keep each other in check.
Let’s discuss your first principle of assembly that can lend some insight how to attain competitive-cooperation.
The Principle of Assembly: Assemble a plurality of reciprocal collectives of any viable kind.Post 1 of 5
Your first Principle of Assembly is about the organization of civilization that is beyond the biological family. I appreciated you articulating this principle because it recognizes that civilization is complex and this is a challenge for humans to navigate. Civilizations exist because of specialization and cultivating/protecting this specialization requires reciprocal collectives. These groups train and support their members who in turn become the experts of society. Unfortunately civilization complexity and expert specialization inevitably lead to alienation, isolation, and dysfunction. These reciprocal collectives need to do more that provide elite specialist training by cultivating belonging and social bonding as was done by the mutual aid societies of the 1800s.
These mutual aid societies were initially bound by ethnicity and religion, but later expanded to geographic, sexuality, political, and recreational interests which became the basis of modern civil-ized society! Historically mutual aid societies were the welfare systems of its time, setup to materially help its members when the state did not. With the establishment of modern welfare and education systems, mutual aid societies now need to evolve to promote both belonging and skill development. I propose we call these new entities Mutual Interest Societies,
The members of these societies would have full control over its own constitution and membership criteria with the only condition being that fundamental enlightenment values of freedom of association and freedom of thought are protected. We need to ensure that these Mutual Interest Societies do not become cults or the tools of the sociopathic members.
Religion will be the most controversial of these Mutual Interest Societies with its tragic history of forced conversion and vying for control over secular society. All religious Mutual Interest Societies should have a clearly stated code of ethics for children and adults conversion and leaving religion out of politics. In Dune, religion was combined with empire politics as Paul Maud’dib, emperor and religious leader commanded a violent jihad that killed hundreds of millions of people. Frank Herbert’s protagonist was a cautionary tale about surrendering our thinking and lives to a state-sponsored religion.
As I’m particularly fascinated and enthusiastic by this Principle of Assembly, I’ve outlined a list of modifiers to it:
- These societies can be unified by whatever values they wish, be they religious, recreational, skill-based, professional, etc.
- People can join as many of these Mutual Interest Societies as they wish but each society gets to set conditions of membership and can decline people to protect its values. This will generate ethical and civil challenges but with practice should become refined and clear.
- Each society is to work for the benefits of its members now and for the indefinite future and for a civil society.
- These societies can be civil opponents with each other, but shall not aim to destroy the other.
- A society can be de-constituted at the direction of its members or if it fails to file the required papers of standing.
- Each society must sanction any sociopathic members that harm its members and larger society.
Let’s move on to your next Principle of Sustainability.
The Principle of Sustainability: Reject accelerating technology for perfectible techniques.Post 3 of 5
The logic of this principle runs up against the problem of an always changing future. Logic is useful when we know all the argument’s variables but technology always opens up new possibilities and thus adds new variables, Just as a medieval peasant could never understand what public health is when they had no clean running water, when they were introduced indoor plumbing thanks to engineering advances, the concept and logic of washing one’s hands was introduced. Technology changes our perception, logic, and behavior.
I know you are not arguing against technology itself but against the delusion that technology is perfectible through acceleration. But I do worry that your rejection of accelerating technology can make us poorer and less able to reach the challenges of the future. Can we argue against the acceleration of microscopic surgery or more efficient power consumption? Can we be against ongoing improvement of fertilizers and pesticides that despite their controversies work exceedingly well to feed our world population?
Instead we should modify the kinds of technology that should no longer be accelerated. A better surgical technology should be treated differently from a media system that affects our collective awareness. Establishing that some technologies can be accelerated because they improve humanity’s situation is easier to argue for than to say that we should reject all technology acceleration. So my modification to this Principle of Sustainability would be: All technology that changes social perceptions of each other should never be accelerated or perfected. Technology acceleration that reduces human want or misery is worthy to pursue. Dune practiced this modified principle by its sanctioning of Atomics and Artificial Intelligence yet had no problem with advanced technology overall.
The question of human want leads next to your two related economic principles of Commonisation and Elevation,
The Principle of Commonisation: Create commons that are open to aid in the subsistence of all.
The Principle of Elevation: Secure solidarity by eliminating poverty.Post 4 of 5
These are both worthy principles to follow and I appreciate they avoid state communism with its tyranny and destruction of the human spirit. Let’s leave communism as a stateless ideal where its only practical application I have see work is at the small religious commune level. Communists refuse to realize that private property exists and works because we have civilizational complexity. But not all property needs to be private to be valuable. Your creative solutions of a capital commons is a worthy solution that should be explored, tested, and implemented. Fundamental to civilization is redistribution of resources so that those who have less have opportunity to participate in society. Adopting the principles of Georgism which recognizes the critical importance of land as the basis of wealth would be a step towards that. Data farms and technology still need to built on land so the IP and data contained within can be captured and taxed accordingly.
Your proposed commons would provide a base for everyone to boot-strap oneself to become more self-sufficient and industrious to the extent they wish. Not everyone can nor wants to be a captain of industry. But for those who are overly-ambitious we will need something to strive for and direct this ambition. Our current global capitalism is the pinnacle of this ambition and it brings with it a combination of benefit and disorder. Global trade has reduced global poverty but has also eroded aspects of civil society, It has created civilizational advances through wealth creation and higher productivity but in turn harms established occupations and cultures. The creative destruction of global capitalism is not for the faint of heart and those at the bottom of the pyramid are victims of those with high ambitions. If your goal of Elevation is to eliminate poverty but not do it through global capitalism with its wealth generation, we will need a new economic system which is no easy thing since economics is mostly determined by geography.
I am a geographic determinist (in the school of Jared Diamond and Peter Zeihan) and believe geography is destiny for the societies that reside within. Until technology advances to the point that it reduces the barriers of geography, we will see that certain places will forever be too difficult for humans to excel in. For example Africa and South America are limited by its geographical characteristics (the lack of navigable rivers generating trade and commerce being a core factor) and eliminating poverty will require these people to leave where they live or have technology solve the issue. Geography is a core plot point in Dune where the Spice comes only from Arrakis and transformation of Dune to a green paradise only comes from scientific and technological advances.
If your proposal is to reduce want by reducing desire, you will find me sympathetic to this notion. The more you own the more it owns you as I would say. But we need to roleplay and simulate whether adopting such a worldview would work. Can a materially poorer but happier mass population that is lorded over by a rich but unsatisfied elite be sustainable or desirable? What’s to stop the elites from creating unhappiness in the masses in order to generate demand for products or services that they own? Is this not already is what happens? I believe your insightful experience with the people of Burkina Faso being happier is because those people simply do not have the discretionary income to be marketed to. Marketing works because it manufactures dissatisfaction! Perhaps the role of marketing should be revisited?
So we will need to tread carefully as the middle class that is uniquely found in the West with its education, economic, and political clout is the main counter-balance to elite concentration of power. I think it would be dangerous to reduce the robustness of the middle class. The question about a robust and numerous population brings us to your next principle about population growth.
The Principle of Normalisation: Achieve neutral population growth without abandoning families.Post 3 of 5
I appreciate your insight and articulation about the anti-family bias we see in many left wing thinking. We need not just economic incentives to have children, but societal ones where the birth of children is celebrated for its own sake, Women should be placed back in a position of reverence as was done in traditional societies where children were seen as gifts. Women need to be given choice over what they want to do, have control over their bodies but should be socially celebrated for gifting us the next generation. The question is how many children should be had is the question of this principle.
I see the appeal of this principle but it is the principle I have the most opposition to. When you referenced Dune as a signpost I’m not sure how this principle aligns with Dune’s expansive space empire which assumes an abundance of population has spread amongst the stars. Adopting a neutral population growth would not allow Dune space empires and could possibly harm our chances of surviving into the future.
Adopting zero population growth makes us vulnerable to the law of entropy and the constant risk for dying. We have survived calamities like plagues and wars over 12,022 years because we were steadily expanding our population. The population explosion we have witnessed has only been in the last century because of medical and public health advances and we see signs that population will level out.
A larger population means that society has more people to support the group but it also means the need to expand which has historically lead to war. And yet in our modern age where we see populations level out or starting to decline as we see in Eastern Europe we see Russia waging a genocidal war against Ukraine. I’ve read that it is because of Russia’s terminal demographic clock was the incentive to attack. Unfortunately the only way to stop such brutal aggression is that one must be prepared to go to war. We need to provide the distinctive to be attacked, essentially making it to too painful to be bothered, much like a porcupine.
If we are to survive for another 20,000 years we are going to need to know how to handle wars and their cost on humanity. We will require excess population to discourage being attacked and replenish us when wars cannot be prevented. While the Nordic nations may never attack each other again they have to worry about less stable places like Asia (i.e. Russia) attacking them. What the modern age has demonstrated is that global trade does not deter war for even now Russia is attacking Ukraine despite making billions in trade with Europe. Trade has simply becomes the means for hostile, mafia-style nations to enrich itself. War is avoided by shared values and defensive capacity to dissuade aggressors.
All nations are vulnerable to the machinations of the sociopathic personality type who use fear to manipulate and exploit the populace to do evil and to believe delusions. It does not matter if the fear is the white race replacement theory, the need for communism, the fear about the end of the world, these individuals will fly an idealistic flag to justify their own paranoia and scarcity thinking and then exploit a primed population that is made to feel insecure or aggrieved. We have to be careful as some of these movements are sponsored by geographic rivals to carry out psychological operations and promote conspiracy theories to weaken the West.
Western society is strong because it is open to recalibrating itself through its human rights and democratic feedback loops but we need to strike the right balance of protection against threats and recalibrating against corruption. We do not want to paint legitimate criticism of the state as attacks on the state, but we also need to learn how to neuter harmful actors that sow chaos. Well intentioned but naïve movements like the Bohemians, the Beats, and the Environmental movement can become useful idiots that undermine the very state that gives them the freedom to exist. A new conceptual model to distinguish the harm/help of these different actors is urgently needed.
It is for these reasons why I think we cannot adopt an equilibrium of population. There are too many risks to us as a species and so I’d modify this principle with a modest 1% population growth per year, knowing that actual population growth will likely be less due to disease and war and suicide. One hundred years to double a population provides a reasonable timeline for new solutions to be found as we kick the proverbial can down the road as we journey towards 20,000 years into the future as a species.
Let’s move onto the last but not least principle which is I think is particularly brilliant and relevant.
The Temporal Principle: Act in the memory of time past and the knowledge of time to come.Post 2 of 5
I love the poetry of you linking up the past and future in this principle. Your desire to see greater cohesion between conservatives and progressives is spot on as it recognizes the value that both sides bring to the discourse. This follows the great work led by The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt that speaks to the dysfunction of the Red Team vs Blue Team warfare which Main Stream Media / Social Media is profiting off. We need to stop these exploitive actors expanding the fractures of our civilization. I think your principle is critical to attain this and you give some concrete examples of not engaging with those who refuse to operate in good faith such as those who promote ‘alternative facts’ or ‘post-truth’ fatalism. As you say, we all stand in one place and see the truth from one angle.
This practice of being in place and working with our perception is the basis of meditation and mindfulness. Which leads me to boldly propose a conceptual modification to this principle: In addition to being aware of the past and future, we need to also be aware of the spiritual, apolitical position of being present in the moment. Let us get away from the fear and conflict that Main Stream Media and Social Media (MSMSM) perpetuates to profit. As I’ve said to you previously I think there needs to be a registering body for journalists that need to follow a professional code of ethics in order to protect society. We also need to be free from the massive marketing campaigns that make people feel dissatisfied and vulnerable.
In contrast we need to promote humanity’s mystical traditions where the taming of one’s mind through skills like meditation and practicing leisure was a core purpose of living. Perhaps with such a fresh perspective we will solve current and future problems just as Dune demonstrated through its Bene Gesserit and Mentat societies. One positive of the modern communication technology and travel is that anyone can be be exposed to the mystical/contemplative traditions found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions. Knowing our own minds/being would both reduce human misery and benefit us all.
In conclusion ASCENT have given me so much to ponder and this response is not intended to challenge you as much as a way to clarify my own thinking. Below I summarize the additional modifications I’d make to ASCENT:
- Update our calendar to reflect formation of human civilization and recognize the tension of civilization vs empire.
- A societal structure that embraces the cooperative competition of mutual interest societies.
- A clearer delineation of what technologies should be avoided.
- A fair, robust system of economic redistribution so that more members of society can participate and lend their solutions.
- A modest 1% growth in population.
- A way to neuter leaders with psychopathic traits.
- A method to reduce the negative effects of marketing and 24/7 media
- Prepare for the worst (war) but hope for the best (peace).
- A mystical, apolitical perspective captured in the present that centers us.
So thank you for allowing me to play the Ascenturian contemplation game with you. I’ve taken your ASCENT principles and by treating them like a RPG rule set, I’ve modified them to be my own house-rules. Such is the wonderful thing about house-rules, for there is no need for me to compel you to adopt them, Instead we can share and discuss and then ultimately find the optimal ones to play with.
I look forward to more contemplative gaming with you.
Many thanks for this deep and thoughtful engagement with the Ascenturian Saga, which I believe may be the highlight of Only a Game. The lack of engagement with this project suggests to me that I will need to divert my energy down other streams, although I have no plans to stop Only a Game, merely to reduce it from 30-40 essays a year to more like 10-12.
Some specific points of engagement.
“Update our calendar to reflect formation of human civilization and recognize the tension of civilization vs empire.”
All modifications to the Christian calendar express an imperial conception that descends from Christianity. We must ask Muslims, Jews, and others who use their own calendar what they think about this proposal before it can possibly be considered.
“Can we argue against the acceleration of microscopic surgery or more efficient power consumption? Can we be against ongoing improvement of fertilizers and pesticides that despite their controversies work exceedingly well to feed our world population?”
Yes, and more than this we must be. You want to try to distinguish between Good Technology and Bad Technology, but there is no such thing. There is only the mindset of technology, the system of control that has been built upon its foundation, and the production of tools at a pace that exceeds any ability to assess impact. You have not escaped the mindset of technology. As a Buddhist, this might be something you need to consider further.
“All technology that changes social perceptions of each other should never be accelerated or perfected. Technology acceleration that reduces human want or misery is worthy to pursue.”
This principle is impossible, because all new tools change social perceptions of each other.
“What’s to stop the elites from creating unhappiness in the masses in order to generate demand for products or services that they own? Is this not already is what happens?”
Concur with your diagnosis, but don’t yet understand your underlying logic as it relates to my principles. I will have to ponder this further. But I think there may be a misunderstanding here.
“I think it would be dangerous to reduce the robustness of the middle class.”
This is happening now, and I concur. But I also don’t see that working, middle, and upper class are necessary categories, whereas you do. Probably the difference lies in our different imaginings, however.
“When you referenced Dune as a signpost I’m not sure how this principle aligns with Dune’s expansive space empire which assumes an abundance of population has spread amongst the stars. Adopting a neutral population growth would not allow Dune space empires and could possibly harm our chances of surviving into the future.”
‘Space empire’…? You write as if this were desirable! Surely this is not what we wish. But in truth, you are imagining a future of interstellar colonisation that I do not believe is plausible. Space colonies are either impossible or unforeseeable. We simply cannot plan for this path without muddying our practical problems with metaphysical speculation. If we are to plan now for the future, we can at best only consider this a contingency. Otherwise, we have to plan for a future in which our planet is our home. Which factually, it is.
“What the modern age has demonstrated is that global trade does not deter war for even now Russia is attacking Ukraine despite making billions in trade with Europe. Trade has simply becomes the means for hostile, mafia-style nations to enrich itself.”
Concur. Don’t agree with any aspect of your relating this to population growth, however. You probably have more conventional economic beliefs than I do, though.
“One hundred years to double a population provides a reasonable timeline for new solutions to be found as we kick the proverbial can down the road as we journey towards 20,000 years into the future as a species.”
Sure, but then what…? You are treating expansion into space as a given. It is no such thing. Wrestle with the possibility that this planet is all there is, then let me know what you make of this.
“…we need to also be aware of the spiritual, apolitical position of being present in the moment.”
It couldn’t hurt! 🙂
Many, many thanks for this engagement with the Ascenturian Saga. This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me, and I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you for your reply and vision behind your posts. I’ve learned so much and have much to be grateful for through our engagement over the past seven years.
Yes, I think we do have differing ideas about how the economy works and the future of humanity but our disagreements have been a healthy discord in my life so it is all good. I’ve learned to adjust my position and refine what I think by engaging with you so you’ve given me a gift as well.
I look forward to future engagement even if it happens to be less frequent.