Posted: Fri, March 08, 2013 | By: Amon Kalkin
I tend to think of Transhumanism, Singularitarianism and other ideas as being part of a broader Futurist community. The various parts of Futurism are disparate, with many areas of overlap and disagreement, and that’s true of any healthy community. Some Futurists feel strongly that politics has no place in the community, and I can agree to the extent that no single political flavour should dominate. But when our ability to fund and pursue innovative technologies can be hampered by others’ political opinions, then we are forced to respond. For example, when a Bio-Conservative attempts to ban critical genetic technologies then we have to be ready to respond, or they’ll simply win.
I would like to lay out a political framework that has been developed by Zero State (ZS) - a subsection of the Futurist community - over the last two years. It’s bold, and it won’t be to everybody’s taste. And that’s absolutely fine. We just want people to engage, and to take the idea of activism on behalf of a better future seriously… so if you don’t like these ideas, tell us your own! This is actually a kind of “meta-article” in that each of the sections below will be expanded upon in subsequent articles.
1 The Wave: An Inevitable Singularity
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about revolution. Not just political, economic, or even social change… but sudden, massive change transforming every aspect of a society. Such changes can be good or bad (or both), and often we don’t recognise them until after the fact. If a Technological Singularity were to come to pass, then it would make the Industrial Revolution look like a warm-up exercise.
We live in a world of powerful trends building up toward a range of remarkable potential transitions, some more desirable than others. We Transhumanists tend to be familiar with the idea of Technological Singularity, which is usually depicted as a positive thing (although we can’t be sure of that). Negative trends include financial collapse, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, climate change and resource depletion. We might argue that any one of these is perhaps less likely or important than some might imagine, but the chances of all of them turning out to be insignificant seems remote.
So we’re in for a pretty crazy ride. The level of change that seems likely - for better or worse - is entirely deserving of being called a revolution. If the Singularity is a revolution, then it is one with implacable opponents. All of the major paradigms of our day (e.g. Capitalism, Socialism, Monotheism) are in many ways opposed to anything that would sweep them into the dustbin of history. But who are the revolutionaries in this situation?
I believe that the revolutionaries are all those who see the change coming, accept it, and work in whatever way they can to accentuate its positive aspects, while reducing the risk from dangerous or harmful aspects. Because the term “Singularity” is associated with only techno-utopian positive change, I refer to this broader, more inevitable change as “the Wave”. If any Technological Singularity (or financial collapse, or resource crisis) were to occur, it would merely be part of this greater period of unprecedented change. I am personally inclined to think that being a “Wavist” requires explicit understanding of the changes coming and a conscious desire to harness them for good, but I can imagine the existence of ‘implicit Wavists’, too.
2 Autonomy versus Renewal
Zero State is a Wavist organization. Its roots lie in Transhumanism, some of its members are Singularitarians, and yet others wouldn’t even think of themselves as Futurists, but an idea common among our members is that big changes are coming. We hope to help humanity survive those changes, and come out the other side with an improved existence. We understand that the challenges are vast.
As Wavists, we are focused upon the idea of change and renewal: A new phase in human affairs. At the same time, however, we have no desire to tell anyone what they must do, so our ideal of “generally remaking the world” must include a strong voluntarist rule. I personally am a social libertarian rather than an economic Libertarian, but this is the key point where I agree with the economic Libertarians: That people must have freedom of choice.
Now, the Zero State solution to this dilemma needn’t be the one accepted by all Wavists - but it’s the one I’m going to describe in greater detail here. It should be noted that I can imagine approaches to positively embracing a coming radical wave of change that are not the same as the ZS approach.
The ZS approach is to work at developing a sphere of influence in which our ethical Principles are paramount. These include a commitment to constructively harnessing technological (and other) change in ways that increase the common good, expand human possibilities, and reduce involuntary suffering. Thus we seek renewal, but within the context of autonomy. In other words, people are free to be a part of ZS or not, and in a deliberate inversion of Totalitarianism, one of our core Principles is that people can cease to be involved at any time, without giving any reason and without interference. Where Totalitarians built walls to keep people in, we are only interested in working toward a better future with those who want that, and furthermore show a willingness to pitch in with some concrete work. If we are successful, then we will optimise good outcomes and minimise bad outcomes within our sphere of influence, to the benefit of those who have actively chosen to be a part of that (and ideally for humanity as a whole, if that is possible).
3 Direct Democracy and Grassroots Organization
So, we are Wavists who happen to believe in working to improve things in our own backyard, without telling anybody else what to do. But how do we organise the emerging communities within our sphere of influence?
Well, to an extent we actually prefer to not organise them, where we can get away with it. Or more accurately, we strongly encourage grassroots, “bottom-up” approaches to organization, such as direct democracy. This is practised in small groups, and right now ZS is small enough for that to work comfortably. If we become considerably larger, then the plan is to encourage groups to subdivide when they reach an upper limit of around 150-200 people (i.e. Dunbar’s Number). Our preferred emphasis is upon direct democracy because we see (in society as a whole) that “representative” democracy is frequently not very democratic at all. The people elect leaders, sure, but then those leaders are effectively free to do things that the people disagree with. Now sometimes that is a good thing - unfettered direct democracy would be tantamount to mob rule with no reference to expert opinion - so unsurprisingly we’ve developed a mechanism to balance direct democracy with the need for appropriate levels of expert guidance.
4 Meritocracy and Zerocracy
Since the founding of ZS we have sought a balance between grassroots self-organization and what we see as true meritocracy. The only reason ‘true’ gets mentioned is that historically meritocracy has been a facade for nepotism, which leads to the exact opposite of our intention. Under nepotism, incompetent people rise to positions of responsibility in order to maintain the status quo, but what we want is for the assignment of certain key positions to be determined by technical merit regardless of background or popular opinion. The point here is that popular participation in decision making is a good thing but uneducated mob rule is not, and similarly a degree of expert opinion guiding decisions is good but nepotism is not. Our ideal is to balance direct democracy and true meritocracy in a single system.
For the sake of brevity we have taken to calling our attempt at this ideal balance “Zerocracy”. It is still a fairly open idea and ideal, rather than a detailed system or set of laws to govern our sphere of influence. That said, as our internet presence grows we’ve had to deal with a (very) few deliberately disruptive people who have no intention of getting involved in the intended spirit, as all online communities do, and that has led to some concrete developments. We have been forced to recognise that communities need a firm basis of operation just in case trolls try to “game” the system and take over for their own purposes, and need to balance any security measures with our ethics and philosophy.
In the spirit of balancing direct democracy and true meritocracy, the latest incarnation of Zerocracy (V0.2) distinguishes between normal, day-to-day routine, and emergency situations where a problem must be solved or contained. The entirety of Zero State is conceived of as made up of sections and subsections with no more than 200 people in each, which are encouraged to organise, handle and direct their own affairs in their own preferred way. Under normal conditions, the only constraints are that each section’s actions must be broadly compatible with our Principles, and direct democracy is encouraged. Each section has a coordinator, who is appointed from within the section itself, and who is expected to operate a laissez faire management policy, only getting involved in decisions when necessary. The coordinator, however, also acts as a kind of emergency “firewall”, there to step in as final arbiter within the section should any dispute arise that cannot be fairly and peacefully resolved by democratic means within the section itself. Although a coordinator may be chosen democratically, often there will be a strong meritocratic aspect to their appointment by the section’s own members, because this person is expected to be informed, intelligent, fair, and dedicated to the general ideals or purpose of the section. In many ways, Zerocratic coordinators are expected to follow something like the Taoist ideal of leadership - a benign guide whose existence could easily be forgotten if normal direct democratic process is operating smoothly.
5 Federal Anarchism
Many readers will recognise this model of governance as a form of Anarchism, or perhaps Anarchist-flavoured Communitarianism. It is strongly and implicitly opposed to Authoritarian modes such as Communism, and the lynchpin in that respect is the laissez faire management style of the coordinators. To put it simply: Less Is More. One can easily see parallels with Libertarianism, too, although I do not believe it is the same as economic Libertarianism (and even less so “Anarcho-Capitalism”). Clearly some delineation between Zerocracy, Anarchism, and Libertarianism is required.
Last things first, let’s start with Libertarianism. I am “social libertarian”, and Zerocracy is compatible with that view: That there should be no such thing as a victimless crime. I do not agree, however, that business entities such as corporations should have the same degree of freedom as people. The problem there is that some companies will (and do) inevitably use that freedom to infringe upon the freedoms of individual humans. I believe that certain forms of intelligent economic Libertarianism are entirely compatible with ZS Principle, but extreme views such as “Anarcho-Capitalism” essentially advocate systematic exploitation of people (AKA ‘consumers’), which runs counter to our Principles. In fact, I believe that ‘Anarcho-Capitalism’ is an oxymoron, because when all constraints are taken off companies then you inevitably get de facto rule by those companies - corporatocracy - not anarchism at all.
Although Zerocracy has some compatibilities with Libertarianism, it is much closer in spirit to Anarchism, but again some clarification is needed. Anarchists advocate either some form of functionally minimal State, or no State whatsoever. Like Libertarians, Anarchists often use the term “Statist” to disparage advocates of centralised authority. Zero State stands in a position compatible with the more moderate Anarchists, not only advocating but actively working to develop a specific form of functionally minimal State which operates on a purely Voluntarist basis.
As I’ve already explained, we are structured in terms of sections and subsections which tend to operate internally on a direct-democratic basis. We are certainly not Statists, because we work to decentralise operations at every opportunity, where prudent security concerns allow us to. Although we are in the very early stages of developing our community, the result already resembles Anarcho-Syndicalism, with our major project categories (known as “Aspects”) taking something like the functional role of worker’s unions in that belief system. There is, however, a problem with Anarchism in real-world organizations and communities that needs to be addressed. This is that one community within society as a whole might develop a more Authoritarian operating system, and then start trying to unduly influence its neighbours (whether geographic or functional). With no centralised authority, the other communities are at an organizational disadvantage when it comes to dealing with the threat. To put it simply, they’ll likely spend their time debating and bickering while the ethically substandard but organizationally superior threat gains ground.
The Zerocratic answer to this problem might be termed “Federal Anarchism”. Or to put it another way, Federal Anarchism might be considered the third critical component of Zerocracy, after direct democracy and true meritocracy. In a Federal Anarchist society, communities are for the most part free to run things as they see fit. They are however part of a Federation, which requires that their behaviour must be compatible with the Principles of that Federation. Any community that can’t remain compatible with the Principles is no longer considered part of the Federation, and loses all benefits that come with that status. The Federation is not a central authority of any sort, and its “management” approach is the same as that of coordinators or spokespeople within the communities: Laissez faire, intervening only when necessary according to a Federal Constitution. Such a system maximizes freedom, but can still respond effectively to threats.
6 Duty Now For The Future
‘Wavism” is the belief in a coming great wave of technological and societal change, and the desire to harness it toward positive outcomes as much as possible. Wavism is the “Big Idea” underlying all forms of Futurism, including Transhumanism and Singularitarianism, whether individual Futurists realize that or not. It is simply the context for their views, and has been since long before anyone reading this was alive.
Zero State is a Wavist organization (the ‘Zero’ in ‘Zero State’ stands for renewal or reset of all values and conditions) with an Autonomist emphasis, but ZS is clearly not the only “flavour” of Wavism. There are other Wavist organizations already - they just don’t use the label (yet) - and there will be many more as the coming wave becomes more obvious, to more people.
Zero State operates a system of governance called “Zerocracy”, which is still in the earliest stages of development. As things currently stand, the three critical components of Zerocracy are Direct Democracy, True Meritocracy, and Federal Anarchism.
We believe the system described above to be clear, fair, and effective. But right now, with fewer than two thousand members and only a few hundred actively engaged, we are still at the theoretical stage. The world is changing fast now, and we want to put our ideas into action before it is too late. That’s where you come in.
7 Epilogue: Six People, or Five?
Sara Robinson’s article “6 People You Need to Start a Revolution” describes six classes of person or skill set that are necessary to implement deep, widespread social change in a short period of time. These “six people” are Activists, Intellectuals, Artists, Insiders, Supportive Elites, and “The Masses” (15% popular support). One might expect that a Wavist shouldn’t care about such traditional revolutionary efforts, since the Wave is coming no matter what. This is a point of view that can be argued as having some merit, and which is common among Futurists of the “Inevitablist” persuasion.
Inevitablism is not the Zero State point of view. We strongly believe in active effort to create our own sphere of influence, in order to maximise the likelihood of the Wave being a good thing (for us, at least, although ideally for other people too). At the very least, we work to keep our family and friends alive in the face of the negative trends that are part of the Wave. Having this power requires extremely strong influence. If anyone reading this already has that level of influence, then we would very much like to have a word with you! If you are like us, however, then you are in no such position and revolutionary change is necessary. You could view this from the simple perspective of survival, or you could go further (as I do) and argue that right now the Wave could easily kill most of humanity, and that is ethically indefensible.
Either way, we need to instigate a certain level of change ourselves, in order to better weather the massive Wave of change that will follow. The level of change required could quite reasonably be called a revolution. Our revolution is to create a sphere of influence where we can live according to our own values, and work to secure our own future. Anyone who shares our views is encouraged to join us.
So what can you do to help?
We are already working hard to connect with Sara Robinson’s “six people”, and to a small extent we know three of them already. We’re working on the other three. What we need is growth. This is necessary in and of itself, but also the more people we can gather together, the higher the likelihood that some small proportion of them will have the rare skills and resources that will be critical to our success.
We need you to help fuel growth, by forming a small group of your own. The smallest organizational unit we recognize is a “Five”, which is a group which can reliably and regularly get together five members, either online or physically. If you can find four (or more) friends or likeminded people, then please do so. It helps to organise around a regular activity - such as a project, book club, discussion group, form a band, or whatever suits your tastes and interests! It all helps!
Get your group together, and then get in touch to tell us what you’re up to, and hear about other groups as they form. Together, we have the power to change our world.