The funny thing about the confusing nature of the world is that it’s become genuinely hard to put myself on the political spectrum. It used to be that you knew where you were. For the first 18 odd years of my existence, these were fairly cast-iron verities. The enemy was obvious, whether you began from the perspective of being a leftist (handwringing pinko) or a rightist (capitalist fascist Pig Dog).
But now? I couldn’t honestly tell you what a leftist or a rightist or a centrist or a person on the fourth dimensional axis wants. Perhaps all ideologies have been submerged into a we know what’s best managerialism. Maybe there are no more ideologues (who at least propound something and allow you to be clear about what their premises are). Maybe people are just too afraid to come out with it (and dear Crom was it not a very quick fall from the open information Utopia we dreamed of in the Nerd Nation of the early 90s to the” Orwell meats Phillip K Dick in a crack lounge world” we seem to be on course for?). For whatever reason, it feels to me that whilst we have hit a set of what I suppose I am supposed to politely call challenges, there is a depressing dearth of solutions, and those few around seem to be more about rebooting the last cycle of the economy than doing anything new.
“So what should we do, O wise one?” you plead. Obviously you do. I give you a simple, two word answer: “Break Stuff!”. You, equally obviously, then make a face that says “Wierdo” and run away to whatever convocation you feel happiest in. I am left pondering what it is about stasis that people find so attractive.
You see the thing about breaking stuff is that it doesn’t have to actively require you to think about the stuff you’re going to break. It just requires you to get resources that would have bee used for the thing you are going to break to be used for whatever it is you wish to do rather than what the incumbent wishes they be used for. In other words, make something, break something else. I think of this as the Shiva principle, after the splendidly destructive Hindu God/Aspect of God, but if you’re of a more Chinese bent you can express it with the three straight lines of the trigram Heaven, or if, like me, you’ve come from the deep dark depths of industrial organisation theory, you can just call it Creative Destruction. All three express a simple point: that if resources are rival then any act of creation will also carry an aspect of destruction.
Now to me, Creative Destruction is actually as much of the left as it is of the right. No seriously. “Smash Capitalism and Replace it with Something Nicer” is as much a statement of creative destruction as Gordon Gekko’s spiels. Evolution is not teleological. It has no direction save adaptation and no purpose save it’s own occurrence. How we choose to adapt to it is a human choice, and all too often the choice we make is to attempt to resist. This is often false kindness, a transfer of resources away from adaptation or embracing change into preservation of structures that might have fallen because better ones have come along. What’s leftist about conserving our current arrangements? If you complain about how unjust they are, wouldn’t you want to advocate an alternative?
The implications of accepting that creative destruction is a fact about the world are that you can take good actions in managing it. Consider, if you accept that technological change will create some economic distress, then build your systems about mitigating that distress by helping the displaced into new technologies. This is not something that any of our systems are good at. For instance what we in the UK do is insist that people are deployed in work that may well be skill depleting (and probably at minimum is not skill enhancing for people who haven’t been very long term unemployed and or have just come out of education), and in any case requires a subsidy from the taxpayer to be viable. Thus we neither respect an individuals endowment of ability nor try to increase it before we find a job for them that still needs everyone else to pay for it. Why aren’t both capitalists and socialists at the barricades for this?
So to both of you still reading this, what will follow are a series of posts which loosely theme around the possibility of taking an accepting view of change and the likelihood of being able to live with it, based on an evolutionary approach to technological change. It will take in the really big challenges (dealing with robots, getting off the planet) as well as the trivial ones (sorting out the financial crisis) and make a point or two about why predicating systems on change is a good idea, why competition is good and contestability vital and these are not inconsistent with re-wiring our assumptions so that we don’t write off so many people along the way. There might also be some heavily London N17 and N22 related rants, for which I apologise.