Book Two in the
You and I did not choose the conditions of our birth. We happened to have been born onto a planet that already had some very serious problems before we came along. People in the past have made decisions and created structures that put us on a very clear path that leads to the extinction for our race and/or destruction of the world we live on.
We do not have to take this path.
There are other paths we can take into the future.
Possible Societies are about these other paths.
It starts with this situation: What if we had all of the technology and other tools that we now have at our disposal, but we weren’t faced with the limits and restrictions placed on us by past generations? What if a group of people with all of the skills and talents of our 21st century world, with computers full of information, with all of the technology we needed to keep ourselves comfortable and live prosperously, could go back into the remote past, to a time just before humans evolved? What if we could start fresh without any vested interests, without any ‘nations’ already existing, without any national debts contracted by past generations that current generations are required to pay off, without any traditional enemies, borders, or ‘owners’ with rights that are deemed to extend to the end of time? What if we could start fresh, with a new foundation that takes advantage of all our skills, talents, the sciences built up over the eons, the knowledge of what has worked and what has not worked over the last iteration of the human race? What could we do then?
You will see that, if we were to start with these advantages, we could easily form societies that can meet all of our needs without the inherent problems that threaten us.
This approach to societal change is designed to provide a new perspective. We can look at the realities of existence in a new way. We can see that humans are capable of living together in harmony with each other and our world. We can have societies that can meet all of our needs. These societies are possible societies.
Once we know something is possible, we can look at the issue of making it happen differently. On May 25, 1961, John Kennedy told the world that his scientists had determined it is possible for men to go to the moon and then return safely. (Link to text of speech). Once we know it is possible to do something, and we have accepted in our minds that it is possible, we can start to work through the technical details. What must be done to make it happen? What are the technical problems we will face and what steps must be taken to solve these problems?
We have incredible tools that can allow us to solve technical problems. In fact, we have far greater capabilities and much superior tools now than we had in 1961. But even with these relatively primitive tools, once people accepted it was possible, the technical details fell very quickly. In 2978 days (roughly 8 years), Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.
The book Possible Societies has two parts. Part One is about the possible. It is designed to show that the human race is capable of organizing the realities of its existence in many different ways. Some of these options lead naturally to horrific problems. Our ancestors chose options in this category and bequeathed the problems to us. But other options can meet the needs of the human race indefinitely into the future, without the problems that currently threaten us.
Part One explains one of these options in detail. This society is built on the platform that Socrates explained 2,400 years ago; it adds in elements of the societies of the Incan people (as described by Thomas More in the book ‘Utopia’) and the best elements of the societies that you and I inherited. The group in the remote past will form this society and we will follow it for several generations so we can see how it evolves. The basic premise of this society—which will be called a ‘socratic’ after Socrates who inspired it—is something called ‘alignment of incentives.’
We live in societies that work in ways that allow people to get very rich doing things that bring great harm to the human race. They can get rich destroying the world, creating fear and hatred, separating people from other people, and creating the conditions needed for the organized orgies of mass murder and destruction we call ‘wars’ to take place. The human race doesn’t want people to get rewards for doing these things. We didn’t create this condition intentionally; it evolved over time as explained in the first book in this series, Forensic History. Since no attempt was ever made to align the incentives of individuals with those of the human race as a whole, the incentives of these societies are not aligned.
Part One explains that we have access to many tools—most of which have only come to exist very recently—to help us organize the realities of our existence in ways that will cause the incentives of individuals to align with those of the human race as a whole. The group of people in the remote past will have access to all of these tools and can create a society that is a true paradise relative to the societies that we have in the 21st century and have had in our past.
These societies are possible. They can exist. In fact, if the conditions are right, we can create them very easily: nothing more than a simple vote is needed for our group in the remote past. Societal analysts design it, the people approve, and paradise becomes reality.
But you and I did not choose the conditions of our birth. We didn’t have the option of being born into a world with perfect conditions needed to create any kind of society we want. We were born onto a world where people in the past have created structures that, we are told, we must not change or alter. The people have granted certain rights to certain groups of people and told them these rights belong to them and their descendents until the end of time. These people had been told that others will try to take away their rights and they have a solemn obligation to make sure this does not happen, even if they must destroy the entire world (using nuclear bombs, which many of these groups have) to prevent any change.
These are obstacles that you and I have that the group in the remote past did not have. Part Two shows that it is possible to overcome these obstacles. We can do this by a series of steps that will essentially provide advantages and benefits to all of the people of the world that will more than offset anything that these people will give up.
This is possible because the society that we are moving toward works in ways that leads to far greater progress, growth, and creation of wealth than the ones we have now. If we use part of this wealth to essentially buy the rights that we need to move forward, no one has to suffer.
More than 2,400 years ago, Socrates laid out the basic premises of this kind of societal change to his students in the book ‘The Republic’ (available from this link). The book is a kind of transcript of conversations between Socrates and his students. After Socrates explains this approach, one of his listeners responds with a long list of difficulties that anyone trying this approach must face. Socrates reply sticks with me: he said ‘it is difficult, but not impossible.’ That is the key. Difficult, we can do; impossible we can’t.
Part Two explains the basic principles needed to turn Socrates suggestion into a practical one. I do not claim it is easy, only that it is possible.
If faced with a difficult task, we are wise to consider whether it is worth the effort. To determine this, we must consider what we will gain by performing the task and what we will lose by not performing it. Then, we can decide if we want to try.
What is the reward for building societies that can meet our needs? We can survive and prosper. We can continue to evolve and, if there is a reason for our existence here on earth, we can find it and move toward it. What if we argue as Socrates’ student argued that any approach that had a chance of success will have to be hard, so it is better not to even think about it? If we don’t think about it, and don’t try to overcome the obstacles in our way, we are guaranteed a certain result: we will continue down the path that the people in the past have put us on until we reach the end.
Possible Societies is about accomplishing the difficult. Humans can do the difficult. Some humans like challenges. They are insulted when the people around them try to prevent them from trying to do something just because it is difficult. If you can show me it is impossible, then I will stop trying. Part One will have provided the evidence that Socrates is correct: this kind of change is not impossible. I will stop trying when Socrates stopped trying: when I am dead.