Stalking The Wild Multihumanism

Alternate (better) title: Becoming (multi)Human (thanks to Mark Frazier)

True and perfect Friendship is, to make one heart and mind of many hearts and bodies.
Pythagoras

fractal hand 480px × 408px

Perhaps the most momentous biological innovation next to the origin of life itself was when single-celled organisms evolved into multicellular ones. What were the specific survival advantages that promoted that transition? What were the small steps involved?

Per Wikipedia:

There are various mechanisms by which multicellularity could have evolved.

One hypothesis is that a group of function-specific cells aggregated into a slug-like mass called a grex, which moved as a multicellular unit. This is essentially what slime molds do. Another hypothesis is that a primitive cell underwent nucleus division, thereby becoming a syncytium. A membrane would then form around each nucleus (and the cellular space and organelles occupied in the space), thereby resulting in a group of connected cells in one organism (this mechanism is observable in Drosophila). A third hypothesis is that, as a unicellular organism divided, the daughter cells failed to separate, resulting in a conglomeration of identical cells in one organism, which could later develop specialized tissues. This is what plant and animal embryos do as well as colonial choanoflagellates.[6][7]   (Wikipedia/multicellular_organism)

In that context I’d like to discuss another possible phase-shift in the evolution of living systems that might be equally momentous– the multi-multicellular organism, and more specifically the multihuman organism or multihumanism. Theoretically, the multihuman organism is to the single-human organism as the multicellular organism is to the single-celled organism.

What would a multihumanism look like? How might it come about?

What it isn’t:

  1. It is not sociality or eusociality, although that is most certainly a prerequisite. Social structures or institutions like marriage, family, community, tribes, geopolitical states, religions, etc. are probably necessary precursors to multiorganism; but they are not it. Certain religious cults (YUCK!) may be as far as sociality alone can take us towards multihumanism. Hopefully those are no more than evolutionary false starts or dead ends.
  2.  It is not asymmetric inclusion. Most multicellular organisms are hosts to a microbiome of other organisms that are typically of lower phylogenetic types–viruses, bacteria, and even multicellular parasites.

Plagiomnium affine, Laminazellen, Rostock

A multiorganism is a union of multiple organisms of the same or comparable type at a level that is more profound and stable than sociality alone. A multiorganism also reproduces in kind.

Consider the slime molds. Their properties and behavior seem to fluctuate between that of a social colony of single-celled organisms and a true multicellular organism. Highly eusocial insects (ants, bees, etc.) seem to approach or border on being multiorganisms.

So, again, what might a multiorganism of humans or a human multiorganism — a multihumanism — look like?

Hopefully not like “The Human Centipede.”

Credit: South Park

After all, even the cells in our bodies are not “stitched” together that rigidly. There is a wide range between extremes of structural rigidity or solidity, and structural flexibility or fluidity, in organisms. Existing examples of semi-multiorganism such as slime molds or ant colonies are very fluid in their physical structure. A multihumanism might be even more so, and yet its structure or configuration would be more spatially, functionally, and temporally coherent and stable than anything produced by sociality alone and it would have the ability to reproduce itself in kind.

Nor should it be like the Borg (Star Trek).

Captain Picard as Locutus. “Resistance is futile–you will be assimilated.”

Like the Human Centipede, the Borg is another example of a very, very bad multihumanism design. The somewhat libertarian creators of Star Trek viewed all forms of collectivism (except perhaps the United Federation of Planets) with extreme skepticism.  So should we all as far as implementation details are concerned, but our skepticism should be of the scientific, open-minded type –not  the closed-minded reactionary type.

Any proposal or plan for becoming (multi)human constitutes an extraordinary hypotheses and as such demands extraordinary proof of safety, efficacy, and general utility. At the very least we need approval from The Consumer Report, the Underwriters Laboratory, and a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

No matter what else we might imagine or suppose, things like love, empathy, compassion, etc. are essential for a multihumanism that will be palatable to its human constituents and consistent with their best interests.

The self-actualization and well-being of a multihumanism should not come at the cost of corresponding needs of the individual constituents. There must be a net increase in happiness and well-being.

Any thoughts?

Poor Richard

[This essay is brought to you by coffee + Napoleon brandy]

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Reluctant Misanthrope

A misanthrope is one who has a general hatred, distrust or disdain of the human species. There are all kinds of reasons why someone might become a misanthrope. Many of those reasons are irrational and/or based on highly subjective, personal experience rather than on rational principles or scientifically defensible facts.

Plan of the area of Midsummer Common designate...

Plan of the area of Midsummer Common designated under the Anti-Social behaviour act. Designated Area Hatched (Grey). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a pro-social, humanistic, tolerant, and generally broad-minded sort of person. Nevertheless I am also a reluctant misanthrope for reasons I think are not only rational but possibly even logically inescapable.  There is scientific justification for my arguments, but I’d rather save supporting evidence for another time and just present the basic outlines of my case against humanity here:

Basic Arguments

1.  Humans can be sorted into three broad behavioral categories or bio-psycho-social phenotypes that are established through the interplay of nature and nurture:

2. In the USA nowadays our population is divided between the main behavioral phenotypes (SPS, SAS, and OS) roughly  in these proportions:

SAS (10%) |<——>|<—————————- OS (70%) —————————->|<————->| SPS (20%)

3. People in all three types can be highly intelligent, creative, resourceful, and competent but for convenience I’ll characterize the strongly anti-socials (SAS) as “the wolves;” the omni-socials (OS) as “the sheep;” and the strongly pro-socials (SPS) as “the cats.” Wolves, although they are anti-social towards the other two categories, often act in large, well-organized, hierarchical packs. Sheep operate in herds of many sizes, shapes, and types and form various kinds of relations with wolves and cats.

Cats tend to be intelligent, creative, liberal, and progressive but they also tend to be idealistic to a fault and to have big egos. This leads to conflicts among themselves over relatively minor differences. They have many core values and beliefs in common, but they have difficulty pulling together and synchronizing their political and economic actions. While paying very pious lip service to the common good, they tend to place things like creative autonomy,  self-actualization, personal enlightenment,  etc. (i.e. being “mavericky” free thinkers) far ahead of intellectual, political, and social norms which they may even find repugnant and confining (even if those norms are highly utilitarian and pro-social).

Cats have a broad spectrum of ideological specializations (competing “boutique” ideologies) that tend to keep further splintering into smaller and smaller factions. Examples (to mention only a few) include relatively mainstream classical liberals, progressives, leftists, socialists, trade unionists, etc., as well as:

A similar degree of political and socioeconomic fragmentation is produced as cats follow their individual artistic muses, social and cultural preferences, career paths, etc. We are addicted to our mavericky idiosyncrasies. They make us feel special, superior, and they stimulate the endogenous neurochemical intoxicants to which we are addicted. As “cultural creative” types we preach collective consciousness and the common welfare but in fact we are more often occupied with distinguishing ourselves, “going our own way,” etc. than in harnessing ourselves to pragmatic social standards or norms no matter how universal.

The collective forest (our ethical common ground, our commons of basic enlightenment values, standards, and norms) is often lost for all our diverse intellectual, political, and social trees and branches. In this regard, in our ego-stimulating self conceits,  we are just as bad as (perhaps worse than) the wolves and the sheep.

4. In the end our fierce, creative independence; our idealism; and our social conscience all fail us. The wolves use corporate media, public relations, legal and political influence, shiny consumer objects, wages and salaries, etc. to exploit the obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, and self-indulgent aspect of a cat’s nature. They keep us chasing laser pointers and toys on strings– and  thereby they divide and rule even the most fiercely independent cats.

5. But its not the wolves and sheep that I’m most disappointed in. It isn’t the predictably predetory behavior of wolves; or the foolish, irrational behavior of sheep  (driven by instincts, emotions, and unconscious calculations of self interest) that makes me a reluctant misanthrope. I’m most disappointed– no, disgusted– at we cats. We artfully avoid coming to grips with the widening gap between 1) our hopes and ideals for civilization and the planet, and 2) our actual collective accomplishments as cats. Despite progress in certain areas of social and cultural development, if we take honest stock of the big picture we find that civilization has moved closer to disaster and dystopia in our generation, on our watch.  Our institutions are increasingly helpless to cope with trends like peak oil, peak minerals, peak food, peak water, peak habitat, peak biodiversity, peak equality, peak justice, etc.  Despite the fact that fairly obvious (often empirically proven) solutions to these problems have been around for decades we seem helpless to turn the ship of civilization far enough and fast enough in the right direction. Why? Our usual answer is that we are outnumbered and overpowered by the wolves and the large percentage of  sheep they control.

The real answer is that we are outmaneuvered and outplayed. As 20% of the population (and in many ways the most enlightened and resourceful 20%) the 60 million or so of US cats might have the potential and the means to turn civilization on a dime if we played the game a certain way.

We are, after all, each trying to put his or her best foot forward–it just isn’t the same foot at the same time making the same size step in the same direction. Despite the fact that most cats are all pulling in a progressive general direction, our timing, our exact compass bearing, and our precise quanta of effort are all over the place. Cats are not synchronized swimmers. We’re more like drunken sailors. Nevertheless, 60 million cats pulling in unison as one virtual tugboat probably could move the ship of civilization in any direction we chose. The problem is not insufficient means–it is inadequate method. The problem is entirely one of coordination. A virtual machine made up of sixty million cats acting in their historically default manner has no functional command and control system. Cats aren’t like ants or bees who stigmergically act in concert. Sheep are a lot like that but cats are (if anything) just the opposite. Throw a stone at a group of cats and each will bolt off in a different direction. We can’t hold a virtual tugboat of cats together for very long, much less steer a coherent course, unless we do something different– say invent a new set  of cat-compatible social design and engineering methods with empirical quality controls. Otherwise, any virtual tugboat made of cats will immediately begin to fall apart as it runs in erratic circles and zigzags. It is on us– if we don’t alter our historically typical cat nature the wolves and sheep will keep pulling us towards the edge of the world. If we do alter ourselves in whatever way necessary to act both rationally and in concert we might well be able to alter that course. In order to succeed, cats must be able and (more importantly) willing to see ourselves as we truly are–creatures of ego, vanity, and self-indulgence. Yet typically we look in the mirror of our mind’s eye and imagine ourselves as beings of enlightenment and high moral sensibility. Of all creatures I think we cats have the greatest potential ability to see ourselves as we truly are–but do we have the courage and the will to submit to such mental and emotional self-discipline? Each of us is by nature already willing to endure great suffering and sacrifice in order to pursue his or her own personal heroic, idealistic, and esthetic narratives. But are we willing to endure equal suffering in the service of a collective norm, a standard narrative with measurable objectives and rigorously empirical quality controls? That’s not normally, naturally, or historically how we roll– which is why I’m currently a reluctant misanthrope. Can that change?

There are hundreds of good pro-social plans, solutions, projects, organizations, movements, tactics, etc. We each have our favorites. But are there any two or three of those that all 60 million of us will commit to act upon in some measurable way (say by contributing ten dollars or ten hours per month)? If so–if that would happen–then those efforts would probably succeed and ALL the other pro-social, progressive projects (including your own pet projects) might follow like dominoes.

My suggestion for a simple, initial, common agenda for the 60 million most pro-social humans in the USA:

1. Organize into 12-member consciousness-raising circles or juntos (clubs) to meet physically in person at least once a month. These clubs would network with each other to form bioregional, national, and international networks. This club of clubs would operate democratically and follow the principle of subsidiarity (i.e. any matter should be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised agency or authority capable of addressing that matter effectively). The core theme of “consciousness-raising” spans all pro-social agendas, organizations, projects, etc. but also specifically focuses on developing real cognitive and metacognitive group practices.

2. Also contribute time and/or money on a regular monthly basis to the occupy (OWS) movement  and your local Democratic Party organization.

Are you as disappointed in the overall net accomplishments of your generation (and yourself) as I am?

Is individual and collective effort of a different quality and different order of magnitude possible?

I don’t think adequate consciousness-raising is very likely, but I do think its possible.

Your reluctant misanthrope,

Poor Richard

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WTF is the Hex Model?

Exegesis on Poor Richards’s Hex Model

Systems thinking about the society

Systems thinking about the society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the “Ownership of the Commons” and a few previous comments in the P2P Group on Facebook I introduced the “Hex Model” framework:

people-places-things — relations-rules-results

The hex model was inspired by an essay by Helene Finidori, Systems Thinking and ‘Commons-Sense’ for a Sustainable World . There are probably other things like it out there, because it is practically a self-evident concept. It applies retroactively to everything I’ve written and read in the past few years on the commons, property, ecological economics, and similar topics. I would like to continue developing this concept through dialog here or in the P2P group.

Basically the hex model applies to all topics that consider relations between people in which any kind of resource is important. If something pertains to people and to resources at the same time, the hex model applies.

The hex model is an analytical tool that is intended to help draw out and organize the key particulars of any resource use case. Widespread use of such a model might potentially standardize the way we collect and organize data across many research projects and fields of study. It also provides a semantic sub-ontology that could be added to many existing ontologies (e.g. classification systems, taxonomies, schema, vocabularies, folksonomies, etc.) for thinking about and discussing the interactions of people, places, and things.

A six-pointed star formed by extending each of the sides of a regular hexagon into equilateral triangles.

The first triangle of the hex model hexagram are “objects”: people-places-things. These are variables that can be given concrete values taken from in vivo and in situ cases.

The second triangle combines two sets of algorithms and a set of results. The relations-rules-results are also taken from the same specific cases as the people-places-things.

Taken together, these elements and their arrangement may be used to model actual cases of socioeconomic activity. These elements can be arranged  like an equation in which the object variables are represented along with some arrangement of relations and rules. Any of the elements might appear on either side of the equation, but the expression on the left of the ” = ” would generally be the “inputs” and the expression on the right of the ” = ” would typically be the “output” or results.

I am trying to develop a common, generic scaffolding for organizing key particulars and metrics for the analysis of human-resource relations that will work across a variety of ontologies or idioms. Possession, access, ownership, authority, governance, control, and management might be thought of as similar things expressed in different idioms or seen from different perspectives. Control of property or resources (and commensurate responsibilities), is often distributed across various levels from state to community to group to individual. In most cases we find some degree of subsidiarity in these relations. But without appropriate and consistent models and data structures it can be difficult to compare, contrast, or quantify these things in any rigorous way, especially across different researchers, writers, activists, and domains.

In this particular formulation, as first framed, I did not see the hex model as prescriptive of practice except for analytical and rhetorical practice. The original aim was to capture particularities in commoning practice or any other in vivo and in situ socioeconomic practice and then analyze, contrast, compare, and discuss these particularities in a more rigorous way than is usually found in colloquial discourse and perhaps in some academic discourse. At  least we can aim at some terminology that might remain relatively coherent across multiple communities of interest.

But this just in…

Helene Finidori has suggested some adaptations of the hex model that might make it more applicable to “‘seeding’ or ‘domesticating’ emerging change,” or in other words to commoning practice rather than simply to analysis and rhetoric. Her suggestion consists of renaming and rearranging  the elements of the hex model as follows:

Feedback loop

Feedback loop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People-Domain (environment)-Interactions: This would form the first triangle and would “cater for virtual operations (think specification of boundaries of the commons or the system)”. (HF) Helen argues that “this is the relational context in which the emergent behavior arises, that can be ‘seeded’.”

Things (objects/assets)-Rules(culture)-Results: This forms the second triangle of elements that “make up the commons (as I described them), as outputs that can be measured, what is ‘produced’ by the emergent behavior of the system and become inputs as medium for interaction in the relational context in a feedback loop.” (HF)

I admit to some reluctance to abandon the “people, places, and things” triad precisely because it is a preexisting, familiar meme; but Helene’s suggestions have compelling force. I especially like the feedback loop or spiral perspective in which inputs become outputs and then feed back as new inputs.

At least it remains a HEX model, thank goodness, as I was quite attached to that. 🙂

But no worries for Poor Richard. Michael Maranda pulls all my old chestnuts (and perhaps some future ones) out of the fire with this compact gem:

“Interesting to consider the original triad groupings and the [Finidori] alternate that resulted from the discussion. As triads go, we don’t lose anything, because taking one triad or a different combination will be a matter of what facets are relevant for a given approach or in making particular points.” ~Michael Maranda

Nice save.

The hex model is really just a little high-level template for data. We have established that it can be permutated and instantiated in different ways to suit various ontologies or purposes. Of course when you actually get down to particulars at a level of granularity (a unit of land with various appurtenances, or an adequate functional description of a person, for example) many additional sub-categories and data structures would be required and many additional standards and specifications would be needed.

And now this is thrown open to the nascent commons community, to its critics, and even to the maddening crowd for comments, questions, and collaboration–a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Poor Richard

A view of the Hex Model in DebateGraph

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Also Related

Resources, events, agents (REA) is a model of how an accounting system can be re-engineered for the computer age. REA is an ontology. The real objects included in the REA model are:

  • goods, services or money, i.e., resources
  • business transactions or agreements that affect resources, i.e., events
  • people or other human agencies (other companies, etc.), i.e., agents

Science of the Commons?

English: ARDX - Arduino Experimentation Kit (I...

ARDX – Arduino Experimentation Kit (Inside the box) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We progressives and activists often do a better job at describing problems than crafting solutions. The best way to get at solutions is a rigorous program of empirical experimentation. The contemporary dialog on the commons gives us some hypotheses to work with (although they are mostly old fare), but that’s about as far as it goes. Even when people act together and implement various ideas (collectives, coops, ecovillages, etc), a decade or two later that group or project may be gone, leaving very little for us to analyze as to the reasons for its failure. Or it may still be going strong but we may have little real understanding of why.

Does it replicate?

Throwing down the gauntlet

Throwing spaghetti at the wall is an experiment, but what we need are longitudinal studies and comprehensive programs of progressive, coherent, controlled experimentation.

I also suggest the discourse on the commons should center on in vivo and in situ cases rather than on theories or principles. When we look at cases we see things we like and dislike, even if we may not know why. Theories and principles can help us explain what we like and don’t like, but seldom help us recognize it. The problem with reinventing the wheel ex nihilo is that you might end up with a better wheel or a worse one. A better approach is to start with a sample of existing wheels and try to understand the advantages and flaws of each.

If the current commons movement really represents something new, it should philosophize less and say more about how it is going to create a scientific framework for its program.

Information Technology

One step in that direction involves information technology. I am imagining an information system of commons practice and research. The P2P collaborative economy, free culture, and new commons movements are creating a lot of digital content. Most is in discursive and narrative form that is time consuming to read. Among this volume of content are case studies in a variety of formats (many very informal), business plans, proposals, and presumably many legal documents (charters, agreements, etc.).

I am imagining a semantic ontology according to which the key ideas and data of this content could be parsed and tagged to form a distributed database using open linked-data structures. This would help transition the collective knowledge base of the research, activist, and social entrepreneur communities into a machine-readable, semantically linked, searchable form.

Much of the digital content of interest is already in “wiki” form. The P2P Foundation Wiki is an excellent searchable resource, and perhaps the semantic wiki extensions for the wiki engine could eventually be applied. “A semantic wiki is a wiki that has an underlying model of the knowledge described in its pages. Regular, or syntactic, wikis have structured text and untyped hyperlinks. Semantic wikis, on the other hand, provide the ability to capture or identify information about the data within pages, and the relationships between pages, in ways that can be queried or exported like a database.” (Wikipedia/Semantic_wiki)

A fringe benefit of creating such data structures for existing content would be to provide common templates for future content creation and data collection.

Moving Forward

The “old ways” often had utility, but as a result of eons of trial and error which seldom had much more than temporal correlation with the prevailing philosophies, ideologies, myths, and intellectual fashions of the times. “Creating those attractors authentic to a population’s readiness” (Bruce Kunkle) is a good idea as well as a well-turned phrase. So I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of rhetoric and public relations, but if we are to have something truly worthy of communicating we need for the science and engineering (R&D) to keep pace with the philosophy and rhetoric.

A new science of the commons needs to go beyond the old narratives of economics, sociology, and even traditional ecology. I highly recommend the following topics:

We don’t have eons to muck around any more. I say this respectfully as a commoner, communitarian, conservationist, and all-around activist who has been mucking around for decades.

Poor Richard

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