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Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.
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Russell Glasser of the Atheist Experience vs. Me
Posted by: Tanoro - Jul 1, 2012 11:03AM

Alrighty! Russell Glasser got back to me this morning and sent me a canned response with some basic criticisms and pointed me to the blog he wrote back in February 2011 about it. I was prepared to have a semi-private discussion on his Facebook wall, but I didn't expect to have to write a thorough rebuttal off the bat. I'm going to need more room and since I'm largely responding to a public blog, I'll respond in kind with a public blog. I'm not going to quote the entire blog here. I'd just like to pick apart some of the basic criticisms. Let's play...

In any system of trade, some kind of valuation is going to arise naturally.

That's correct. In a system of trade, that will happen. Societies require a system of trade where it adopts a system of long-term ownership (aka "access restriction") of any and all personal effects and property. For example, you want a widget. If you live in a system of trade and long-term ownership of goods, you must give up something of relatively equal value in acquisition for that widget in long-term. The widget is then yours to keep until you decide otherwise.

The Resource Based Economy has no a system of trade and thus, no monetary system. Long-term ownership of effects and property are completely allowed, but discouraged. For some effects, like clothing and hygiene products, long-term ownership is necessary, but not so much for most household goods like vaccuum cleaners, books, cameras, recorded media like DVDs, cars, and so on. There are lots of various sharing and rental businesses operating right now that prove this point. You don't need to trade for long-term ownership of something when you already have a means of getting it when you need it in the short-term.

In any case, "scarcity" does not exist because of money. Quite the opposite, in fact -- money exists in large part because scarcity exists.

This would've been true a century ago. Human labor was the dominant means of converting resources to usable goods in past centuries. Naturally, production was low compared to what we're capable of today with automated assembly lines, but we basically kept up. Back then, a system of exchange was needed. Today, it's a very different situation. Human labor has not been the dominant means of conversion for some time. We have demonstrated that we are capable of outputting more work through automation than our human labor force can manage and we have produced more than we can consume. We can easily meet demand if we really wanted it. The problem is that we have a monetary system that demands profit be made from every venture. Therefore, products cannot be made too abundant or else they won't be worth enough on the market to generate the profit needed to sustain the business. This has been an on-going struggle for farmers for decades. Read the Agricultural Adjustment Act! Ask yourself this, Russell: "How can we have a system where everyone is fed and prosperous if we must limit the amount of food we can grow in order to keep agriculture in existence?"

An excellent (though fairly disturbing) book on the subject is Collapse by Jared Diamond.

I have taken a short pause on economics to focus on theology a wee bit, but this is a book that is on my reading list. Jared Diamond is not unknown to us in TZM. In fact, we sometimes cite him in criticizing our addiction to oil.

I'm not going to go off on a tangent about which finite resources we rely on in modern society (*cough*oil*cough*) but even so...

I see we agree. :)

I'm pretty well convinced that if we solved one problem of scarcity, the problem would just move off to something else.

That is definitely possible, but how exactly does a monetary system deal with that except to simply run out of it and cause economic issues trying to adjust? In a market economy, the solution must depend on whether or not the resources exist and are available based on the rules of the market. In other words, if the solution demands 500,000 barrels of oil and your country can't afford it, that solution is not available to you. You are forced to compromise with less effective, less costly solutions. In a Resource Based Economy, the resources just need to exist and be available for use.

So you see, this is easily achievable, as long as we first keep in mind the intermediate goals of developing unlimited, clean, renewable energy sources. Also, since human government officials are inherently corrupt, we just need to develop artificially intelligent administrators to manage our cities and distribute everything efficiently. ... we're not replacing all our politicians with robot administrators any time real soon

First of all, energy doesn't need to be unlimited. There is a difference between "unlimited" and "abundant access," but I'll come back to that in a moment. It just needs to be more than the degree of demand at the time. Are you familiar with what Germany has been doing with renewable energy over the past decade? They wanted to stop producing nuclear power plants, but demand called for 2-3 gigawatts of additional power to make up for the loss. They opted to subsidize solar energy and a boom of installations occurred. They've gotten up to 10 gigawatts and the price of energy is starting to collapse in Germany. They are also doing some work with wind turbines as well.

The U.S. is already subsidizing solar. Speaking with an associate of mine at Wilhite Solar Solutions here in Shreveport, we are experiencing a slightly smaller boom in installations than Germany, but we're trying to do it here too. Orders for solar energy installation in the U.S. are backed up by weeks (at least in my area). We are also gently teasing a few other rather ambitious ideas, like the Solar Roadways Project. You see, we have oil in our pavement as well. So some very very ambitious and forward-thinking people have asked, "Why not make our roads into solar panels?" This will enabled our roads to become not only the electrical generation system, but the distribution grid as well.

Even physicist Michio Kaku admits that while solar may not be economically ready for prime time yet, it may be very soon and it may be dominant in time for us to see the adoption of fusion which Michio Kaku admits will "create unlimited amounts of energy due to thermal nuclear reaction". And, he adds, it's clean. I don't know much about this technology yet, but I am sincerely interested.

As for government, it is not that government officials are inherently corrupt. That is too simplistic to be accurate. I would say, "politicians have too many incentives to operate poorly in this system." I have a somewhat philosophical issue with how government makes decisions. I have problems with their methodology. I also have problems with them taking the wrong factors into account in making their decisions while ignoring or stifling science, if not demanding that science stay out of politics entirely. Many are concerned with getting elected, which means they are concerned with impressing people rather than committing to truth.

What role will government play in transitioning to a Resource Based Economy? I can only speculate, because this is not my area. I would like to see more government officials aware of our idea, having more interest in science and technology, and put less emphasis on making the market work at the cost of sustainable technological solutions and more priority on getting us to a point where we don't need a market anymore. Will there be a government in a RBE? Probably, but it would be a smaller one with fewer tasks to perform.

There's no reason to think [artifical intelligence] would be more advanced than human intelligence to start with, and if it eventually got there, no reason to think it would be any less self-serving.

I want to make one point very clear here, Russell. The Zeitgeist Movement stands behind whatever technological advances come out of science. We make every effort to stick to technological advances that we can already see working and being applied in the real world. We don't necessarily endorse a fully AI computer system to make decisions on everything in the way you seem to think we do. Peter Joseph, in ZMF, called the Global Resource Management System (which was fully hypothetical, by the way) a "glorified calculator" and compared it to what we already use in stores and warehouses all over the world. We already have them! He explicitly said that it is just larger in scale. Does this mean the RBE will definitely have this? Not at all. It was merely a conceptual thought experiment. We may have it if the relevant experts consider it plausible. If human solutions appear to be more effective, that is what we'll do instead.

Show of hands, please. How many people want to turn over our economy to these guys? ...Thank you.

Let's see. That is: 1) a straw man; 2) an appeal to fear; 3) an appeal to fiction! Come on, Russell. Play fair.

I don't see why the AI is going to make any decisions better than a human with some really good ideas who knows how to use data mining tools.

Put this concept of AI aside. Let's talk about very large dumb calculators. Speaking hypothetically in reference to the Project Earth thought experiment in ZMF, let's examine the Global Resource Manage System (GRMS) that is lightly described therein. We have a task to perform: keeping track of what resources we have and where they go. Humans can certainly do this, but a well-developed computer system can do it faster and easier. That is why it is better than a human doing it.

There is another bit of irony here. Let's say, hypothetically, that we are in an RBE already and you volunteered to be the foreman in charge of the GRMS. It's your duty to monitor the computer system and its data and make sure everything is being calculated smoothly and the tasks are being done. You have just become a human operating a large data mining tool.

Getting rid of money wouldn't save the world from scarce resources.

Ok, this is a criticism we hear often and you've got it backwards just like everyone else does. We don't propose just dumping the monetary system and hope for the best. What we propose is shifting our focus and what we intend to do for the future, weaning ourselves from relying on money and not fighting this process. Ask yourself this question, Russell. "What is progress?" In many political arenas, progress would be defined in terms of the creation of jobs and more opportunities to create personal wealth. I call bullshit on this definition. There are too many presuppositions in play that are commonly taken as a priori truth, but may not be anymore in today's world. Nobody needs a job or personal wealth (in the context of money) to survive. What we want is to survive well, suffering as little as possible, and for that we need access to resources, however that happens. The very concept of theft, however wrong it may be, demonstrates this point.

To me, progress means "reducing unnecessary hardship and suffering on future generations." Employment, under its current meaning, is a hardship, by definition. Yet, we are going out of our way to create more of it! I am not convinced this is necessary or a priori in a world where resource extraction and manufacturing is being automated, taking away those jobs in the first place. A process is happening here. We can choose to fight it, but I propose we examine it further and, perhaps, embrace it.

I don't see how these super-cities that Jacque Fresco invented will stop people from wanting to travel, which is one of the big ones when it comes to draining energy.

First of all, Jacque's circular cities are merely concepts which may or may not be used. They are suggestions, nothing more. Secondly, they won't stop people from traveling. Quite the opposite. We suggest that more and more people will want to live abroad in a Resource Based Economy simply because they can. This was one of the concepts that made the idea so appealing to me in the first place and I often use it as a pitch.

In fact, if I had all this free time and were unlimited by capital, that's the first thing I'd do a lot more of.

And you make my point. :)

And I can't envision a realistic political path to implement what sounds mainly like "Socialism... With Robots!" when you have the Tea Party just slavering to declare that Civilization As We Know It is coming to an end if we allow some tax cuts to expire.

Aside from calling it "Socialism... with Robots," that is a fair criticism. As I stated earlier, I can only speculate on how to transition into an RBE. Transition is a topic that we are perpetually debating within the organizations who propose this direction (yes, there are several). The problem is that it is largely a value shift that must be pitched to society to be accepted or rejected. Once everyone knows the specifics, a change in values may occur. Someone who wanted a $1,000 handbag may, instead, explore putting solar panels on their home or invest in a hydroponic kit. That is the activism element of TZM. We want everyone to take an interest in sustainable living and watch what happens to the world if we stop worrying about the abstract monetary system do this together.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

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