How Civilization Started 

The world has indeed got richer, but any such shift in morals and values is hard to detect. Money and the value system around its acquisition are fully intact. Greed is still good.

The study of hunter-gatherers, who live for the day and do not accumulate surpluses, shows that humanity can live more or less as Keynes suggests. It’s just that we’re choosing not to. A key to that lost or forsworn ability, Suzman suggests, lies in the ferocious egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers. For example, the most valuable thing a hunter can do is come back with meat. Unlike gathered plants, whose proceeds are “not subject to any strict conventions on sharing,” hunted meat is very carefully distributed according to protocol, and the people who eat the meat that is given to them go to great trouble to be rude about it. This ritual is called “insulting the meat,” and it is designed to make sure the hunter doesn’t get above himself and start thinking that he’s better than anyone else. “When a young man kills much meat,” a Bushman told the anthropologist Richard B. Lee, “he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. . . . We can’t accept this.” The insults are designed to “cool his heart and make him gentle.” For these hunter-gatherers, Suzman writes, “the sum of individual self-interest and the jealousy that policed it was a fiercely egalitarian society where profitable exchange, hierarchy, and significant material inequality were not tolerated.

”This egalitarian impulse, Suzman suggests, is central to the hunter-gatherer’s ability to live a life that is, on its own terms, affluent, but without abundance, without excess, and without competitive acquisition. The secret ingredient seems to be the positive harnessing of the general human impulse to envy. As he says, “If this kind of egalitarianism is a precondition for us to embrace a post-labor world, then I suspect it may prove a very hard nut to crack.” There’s a lot that we could learn from the oldest extant branch of humanity, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to put the knowledge into effect. A socially positive use of envy—now, that would be a technology almost as useful as fire.

Source: How Civilization Started | The New Yorker

Of, for, and by the people: the legal lacuna of synthetic persons 

Conferring legal personhood on purely synthetic entities is a very real legal possibility, one under consideration presently by the European Union. We show here that such legislative action would be morally unnecessary and legally troublesome. While AI legal personhood may have some emotional or economic appeal, so do many superficially desirable hazards against which the law protects us. We review the utility and history of legal fictions of personhood, discussing salient precedents where such fictions resulted in abuse or incoherence. We conclude that difficulties in holding “electronic persons” accountable when they violate the rights of others outweigh the highly precarious moral interests that AI legal personhood might protect.

Source: Of, for, and by the people: the legal lacuna of synthetic persons | SpringerLink

Ecology, Capitalism and The State

Modern civilisation as we know it faces a number of major threats. Escalating economic inequality and an increasingly atomised society could lead to large-scale social breakdown. The depletion of natural resources is having a profound effect on the environment. As climate change continues to worsen, the ecosystems upon which human and non-human life depend are subjected to intolerable conditions. States across the globe have long since acquired the means by which to exterminate the species several times over, and given the continued plundering of natural resources in the pursuit of profit, the possibility of a nuclear war over what’s left doesn’t seem too unlikely.

These crises are often portrayed in the mass media as though they are separate from one another. They have different causes and thus, they can be dealt with in isolation. However, this approach is proving itself to be inadequate, given that these crises are continuing to deteriorate, and accumulating evidence suggests that, far from being separate, these crises are linked to one another, culminating in a ‘perfect storm’.

A study published in a journal called ‘Ecological Economics’ recently suggested that human civilisation is headed for an irreversible collapse as a result of unsustainable resource exploitation and the increasing stratification of society between the rich and the poor.[1] Equally alarming is a more recent study, which argued that a sixth mass extinction event is likely to occur due to human activities.[2] Furthermore,a widespread scientific consensus exists in support of the position that global climate change has been caused by human activities, as a result of fossil fuel-burning processes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This position has endorsements from almost 200 scientific organisations worldwide.[3]

Finite fossil fuels are heavily relied upon as a source of energy across the globe, with coal, oil and natural gas accounting for 86.9% of world primary energy consumption in 2012, whereas hydroelectricity, renewables and nuclear energy only accounted for 13.1%.[4] Even methods of energy production that appear to be more ecologically sustainable often suffer from the same drawbacks, requiring the intensive use of fossil fuels in different parts of the production process.

Climate change and energy scarcity also have a direct impact on food production. Climate change creates harsh conditions for organisms to survive, resulting in more crop failures[5] due to extreme weather, while current methods of agricultural production are heavily reliant on fossil fuels for fertilisers, pesticides, and the maintenance of global supply chains. Conventional perspectives on industrial carbon emissions in general often fail to account for emissions that occur during distributive stages of production.

A possible way of dealing with this would be to establish decentralised, participatory forms of economic organisation, putting resource allocation under the democratic control of local communities. However, under the existing political and economic system, the vast majority of the population lack access to the world’s productive resources, which are instead held in the hands of a minority of statesmen and capitalists

Source: Ecology, Capitalism and The State