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Archive for January 26, 2010

Autophagy: 01

January 26, 2010 2 comments

Complex systems such as civilizations and economies share a lot of “behavioral” characteristics with multicellular organisms, of which are one. Autophagy, is a catabolic process involving degradation of a cells components, or whole cells to maintain a balance and keep the organism healthy and alive. However cancerous cells often pervert this process by encouraging catabolism of cellular components and cells, that are healthy.

To understand why such perverted autophagy is dangerous, one must consider the first issue namely: What makes multicellular organisms possible? If every cell in the body decided to act in it’s best interest, multicellular life would not be possible. Animals, who supposedly lack emotions, such as salt water crocodiles are not as cannibalistic as ‘rational self interest’ would predict. Even bacteria in biofilms often act in synchrony, and cooperate to ensure their collective best interest.

However our whole way of life is increasingly based on adversarialism, an ideology that has reached its greatest expression in the west, and some asian countries. I am not implying that other cultures are saintly or noble, merely that they have figured out what some groups ignore..

A race to the bottom has no floor, and ends in an abyss.

The question then is: Does unrestricted competition without any rules have any redeeming features, or does it merely lead to the ultimate implosion of a society.

One of the popular themes in conventional history is a concept that people are mean, selfish and deceptive (rational actors). However it does not take a genius to figure out that any subsistence level society would not survive if even a small minority behaved like ‘rational actors’. Given that humans have lived in subsistence level societies for most of our history, it is unlikely that adversarial behavior was the norm in our species.

Sociopathy is only viable in a society with significant surpluses. However sociopaths are like stupid parasites that keep on destroying their hosts, till none are left. Normal parasites almost never stress their hosts to the point of destruction, as they cannot exist without their current or future hosts. In many respects, human sociopathy is like a malignancy. It grows where it should not, appropriates resources that will ultimately destabilize the system and replace healthy and useful tissues with ‘rational actors’. Our financial sector, most of our legal system, law enforcement systems and overpaid medical professionals have much in common with terminal malignancies, as far as our civilization is concerned. What ‘new wealth’ is created by such groups? Does it lead to any advances that can stand up to objective measurements?

The more important questions are: Does the presence and activities of these groups enrich society, a concept dependant on continued cooperation amongst the actors? Are their activities not destroying healthy tissue (other occupations/ skillsets) and reducing nutrients to other vital tissues (wage cuts), thereby reducing the ability of that system to survive. Is the effect of these groups on our system not analogous to the effects of metastasized cancer on the body?

Some may justify this as fundamental human behavior, but is that really the case? In any case most of us no longer burn witches, sell slaves, empty chamberpots out of our windows or undergo surgical procedures without anesthesia. Whenever we find better ways to do things, we change and abandon the old ways.

Every empire in history ultimately failed because it overreached and functionally killed its host, and thereby starved itself. Empires also turn on themselves (internal looting) in their final stages, a process not unlike larger metastates blocking the growth of smaller metastates in cancers. Empires are cancers, and hence will ultimately die (along with the hosts). Any stable civilization, that is not dysfunctional, requires everybody involved to benefit to some degree.

Many white historians see the building projects in ancient egypt as expressions of Pharonic ego. I see them as public work projects to redistribute wealth, and keep people fed, cared for and involved in the system. Djoser, Kufu, Rameses etc were the original Keynesians who understood the social stability issues inherent in concentrating wealth. Building pyramids and necropolises might not increase productivity, but they sure increased aggregate demand. Ever wonder why they survived as a civilization for over 3,000 years? How long have you been a literate civilization?