Posted by: Becoming Gaia | May 30, 2010

Mailbag 1b: Resources, “Primitive” Societies & Post-Humans


Addressing the “universal” sub-goal of gain/preserve resources, Kedaw said “This one irks me most as it is a cultural value more than anything. Many tribes, especially hunter gatherer ones, have no interest in gaining or preserving resources.”

Interpreting this statement to argue that “gaining and preserving resources” is not always an optimal strategy for fulfilling the maximal number of goals, I must agree that I over-abbreviated my intended meaning and did not provide sufficient justification for it.

Not having the necessary resources to fulfill your goals (or to negotiate with others to assist with or fulfill your goals) is, I would argue, “universally” detrimental to the goal of fulfilling your goals.

On the other hand, our culture certainly over-values this sub-goal and frequently allows it’s pursuit to overrule the main goal of maximizing goal fulfillment for everyone.  Hogging and hoarding resources that aren’t needed (or taking unreasonable profits when releasing them) are huge obstacles to other entities being able to fulfill their goals.

The crux of the matter here being what is variously phrased as “possession”, “ownership” or “property rights”.

A lengthier but more correct phrasing of my intent regarding resources would be “gain and maintain reasonable access to resources and to conserve or use them wisely”.

In circumstances where resources are abundantly available and apparently inexhaustible, there is little reason to be concerned with ownership and conservation.  Almost everything else grabs more attention (except, of course, that necessary to gaining and using the necessary resources of food, water, etc.)

I must dispute Kedaw’s characterization that “Many tribes, especially hunter gatherer ones, have no interest in gaining or preserving resources.”  Not only are hunter-gatherers critically interested in getting food and water but they also object vehemently (if not violently) to losing access to or the spoilage of resources like, say, the rain forest.

Reasonable access to resources is a necessity for self-determination and goal-fulfillment.  As long as resources are limited and need outweighs supply, access and usage (and wastage) will be important determinants of goal fulfillment.  Property rights/ownership are the means by which access and usage are determined.  Determining optimal property rights/ownership for maximal goal fulfillment for everyone is critical and this blog will return to this issue repeatedly.

No one (or everyone together) having ownership of a given resource provides no individual incentive to prioritize the sub-goal of wise usage and conservation of that resource.  Unless other incentives exist (for example, the peer pressure of a small community), the “Tragedy of the Commons” results.

Property rights over one’s own body is the distinction that explains the difference in morality between the acceptable action of switching a trolley onto a side-rail so it only kills one person instead of five and the unacceptable action of grabbing someone off the street to serve as an involuntary organ donor to save five others (organ-legging).

If we can’t determine an method/algorithm by which to optimally divide access to and usage of resources so that “primitive” societies have an equal chance to fulfill their goals, then people who wish to remain “ordinary humans” are going to correctly perceive a threat from post-humans and other advanced intelligences and respond accordingly (which obviously will have a major negative impact on many current futurist’s goals so it is in their own enlightened self-interest to not minimize the goals and concerns of others).  I will, obviously, have much more to say on this subject in the future as well.

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