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Writer, philosopher and long-time contributor to PeakProsperity.com, Charles Hugh Smith, returns to the podcast to explain the new socio-economic model he has just introduced to the world through his new book A Hacker’s Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet.
The main mission behind Peak Prosperity is to focus on new, more regenerative and sustainable models that will better serve humanity than the old models which are currently falling apart. Charles posits a new way of living that is a) achievable with existing resources and technology, and b) much more equitable and resistant to abuse.
We very much need new alternatives like this at this time. Because, once the system breaks in earnest, our ‘leaders’ will be desperate — and as Jared Diamond wisely observed “Nations in crisis borrow and adapt solutions already devised”. So getting good ideas on the table now, so that they’re available to be adopted when needed, is critical.
The principal idea is we need a new system. Now, it doesn’t have to replace the existing system entirely. It just has to be an effective alternative that people can choose if they so desire to.
In my opinion, it needs to be decentralized, anti-fragile, yet connected with other like-minded people. But right now, we’re having to start from scratch, basically reinventing the wheel. We’re fighting a kludgy, broken, unfair, rigged system every step of the way if we want to create a decentralized community-based economy.
So what would a system be like if we designed it from scratch to actually make it easy to join a community economy? Well, we want a system that’s opt-in and voluntary, not like the one we have now. We want it be fair, not like the one we have now. We want it to have it’s own money supply that comes from the bottom. Money should be created at the bottom of the economy, not at the top.
And we also want it to be human. In other words, like that it recognizes the value of dignity and our contributions, i.e., purposeful work that meets the needs of the community.
We all know it’s a finite world we’re on and that our resources are being depleted. And so we’re going to have to make some sort of concerted effort to share this somewhat equally, or at least not as un-equally as it is now.
To me, the obvious solution is take your own resilient homestead and lifestyle, multiply it by 100,000 similar oases around the world that are connected to a global community economy. Wealth can be more equitably shared because we’re all sharing the same value system: de-growth. Becoming more efficient, becoming more localized, not wasting resources, and not chasing profits as the only incentive in the system.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Charles Hugh Smith (46m:28s).
Chris Martenson: Hello, everyone. I'm Chris Martenson of Peak Prosperity, and we're here with another Featured Voices podcast. This is a really important one today.
As you know, a lot of what I do has been, up to this point in time, has been about problem definition. And I'm not going to go there because I think everybody who’s watching this is already familiar with what the problems and predicants are. Right, we’ve got global climate change and melting ice and running out of soil that’s being turned into dirt. And we’ve got oil issues looming in the future. We’ve got a runaway money system, all this stuff.
It feels out of control. That’s the problem definition, but the solution space, what does that look like? We know that we're already in the fourth turning. We know that already institutional faith and trust in institutions is eroding. And we know that we're in a period of great upheaval and change with a fractured population. So none of those are really great inputs to really begin to shift things at this point in time.
So my view is that we're going to through some more hardness, hard times, darkness, things like that before we get to the turnaround. But it’s not too early to begin thinking about what that turnaround looks like.
If you’ve been following me, you know in my own small corner of the world I’m creating a little oasis, a literal oasis where in my own small way converting soil – dirt back into soil and working with my local community and building up the infrastructure I need so that I can be really additive to my community. So that’s one thing that you could do. It’s one thing I'm doing.
So lots of people are searching for these kinds of solutions.
With us today to talk about this and the solution place and what comes next, what comes after the crumbling. There's going to be a rebirth, a reemergence. So it’s not too early to be thinking about what does that look like?
And I think if we're fair, we say a lot of the systems that we’ve put in place aren’t working for us; we're working for them. We are in service to money, not the other way around. It’s bazaar, right. And don’t even get me started on how badly our health institutions behaved during this whole COVID crisis, things like that.
So the question becomes if not that, then what? And that’s what today’s conversation is about with Charles Hughes Smith, prolific author, good friend of both myself and Adam, and a long time Peak Prosperity contributor and all around great guy. His blog is Of Two Minds, and he’s just a fantastic, fantastic thinker and articulator.
And guess what? He’s written a book about this very subject, so that’s why we're bringing him on today to talk about that. Charles, welcome to the program.
Charles H. Smith: Well, thank you, Chris, for that. And what a brilliant introduction to the ideas behind the book which is we're going to need a new system. Now, it doesn’t have to replace the existing system entirely. It just have to be an alternative that people can chose if they so desire to.
But I think what the idea behind the book is to take your oasis and other people’s oases, like decentralized, anti-fragile, but connected with other like-minded people, and create a system that actually makes it easy to do this. And right now, you're having to start from scratch, basically reinvent the wheel. And then you're fighting a kludgy, broken, unfair, rigged system every step of the way to create a decentralized community-based economy.
So my idea was what would a system be like if we designed it from scratch to actually make it easy to join a community economy? And so the books’ title is A Hacker’s Teleology. And you go well, that’s interesting, but what does it mean?
And so it means that a hack is like a life hack. It’s not like a bad thing. There are hackers who try to break in and control systems and so on. But originally the word hack meant a workaround. You’ve got a kludgy system that’s not working, and you don’t have the time, money, energy to create a whole new system from scratch. You're going to have to find a workaround. So that’s why I say it’s a hacker’s teleology.
What’s a teleology? Well, a teleology is like the destination where we're going to reach if you connect certain dots. So what are the dots we want to connect? Well, we want a system that’s opt-in and voluntary, not like the one we have now. We want it be fair, not like the one we have now. We want it to have it’s own money supply that comes from the bottom. Money is created at the bottom of the economy, not at the top.
And we also want it to be human. In other words, like that it recognizes the value of dignity, our contributions, meaning purposeful work, and the needs of the community., things like that.
Well, if you connect those dots, you end up with the system that I’ve proposed. That’s the teleology part of it.
Then the subtitle is Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet because we all know it’s a finite world we're on, and the resources are being depleted. And so we're going to have to make some sort of concerted effort to share this somewhat equally, at least not as unequally as it is now.
And so to me, the obvious solution is take your oasis, multiply it by 100,000 oases around the world that’s connected to a global community economy, and that’s much more likely to be sharing the wealth because we're all sharing the same value system. Which is degrowth, becoming more efficient, becoming more localized, not wasting resources, and not chasing profits as the only incentive in the system.
Chris Martenson: A Hacker’s Teleology, I like that. Thanks for explaining that because that definitely helped me understand what it is. And so let me pick up one piece of that; the fairness piece.
I think that one of the most obvious things about being a primate, to be biological about this, is all social creatures actually are wired for fairness in some way, shape, or form. And if we're in a deeply unfair system, people’s – any organisms’ attachment to that system begins to wane. Right, a deeply unfair system is not a really fun one.
I think if you took any six year old and you just completely rigged the game of Monopoly so they lost by the eight turn of dice, they would stop playing very quickly. So that idea, though, that we have deeply unfair institutions – my question to you is: Is that just an automatic place where humans end up? And if so, is there actually a system you could design where it just doesn’t end up there again?
Charles H. Smith: Right. I think that’s a key question because history seems to suggest that it always ends up in a hierarchy with entitled, privileged folks at the top skimming the wealth of the system.
But I think technology gives us a little bit of leverage here because it’s now introduced us to systems that we could design. In my terminology, you take a value system and you create processes that lead to those values being the goal.
And in the past, that process could always be convoluted, or it could be corrupted by people. Like that’s our political system. It was designed, you know, in an idealistic fashion, but it’s easily corrupted because everybody in the system can be bought.
But if you're dealing with a software system that’s opensource, that everybody can see how its programmed, but it doesn’t allow you to do anything but do what the system is designed to do, then you’ve limited the opportunities for human corruption. And people say, well, that sounds like a dream. Is that possible?
And I think about systems like that we use all the time, like large systems. They don’t have to have any bias. Like if you want to be an eBay buyer or seller, you join, and then that’s it. I don’t think the system is rigged to one ethnicity or one religion or anything like that. They just – if you follow the rules and you get good ratings, then there you go.
And so, if we took a system and we said we're only collecting this data: your name, your ID number in this system, and the reputational reviews of your peers, that’s all we're going to collect. Well then, where could there be any bias? We don’t have any information on which to base the bias.
And if no one is in charge, if it’s a self-organizing system, then there's nobody at the top to corrupt. And so I think it’s pretty obvious to me that the way you get a fair system is you don’t make it a hierarchy. You make it a flat system that’s self-organizing like nature, like an ecosystem.
And so, if you’ve stripped the system of opportunities for corruption and bias, well then you're not going to have any.
And, of course, there will be people that try to game the system and so on, and so you have to kind of watch out for that. But if the system is designed without any gigantic holes and it only collects this minimal data, then there really isn’t much opportunity for bias
And so I think AI could be applied to developing a completely unbiased system instead of maximizing profit. But I know that’s – my voice is lonely at this point in time, but I think that idea that AI could actually serve us instead of us serving it could catch on.
Chris Martenson: Let’s be clear. AI has been principally directed and used at this point to make money. So Twitter uses a very advanced AI system to determine what I like to see, what I don’t like to see, what’s going to ultimately lead to the most engagement. And it’s just parching through my every mouse hover and scrolling speed and all these other parameters to sort of figure out where am I slowing down, what am I looking at, and then feeding me stuff with the idea that I’ll click on something that makes somebody some money. So that’s all in service of money.
You're saying we could use AI potentially in service of humanity because, let me be clear about something – every money system enforces some behaviors, punishes others. It’s an incentive system, and so a debt based money system has some really powerful incentives baked into it.
I think, from my perspective, I cast judgment on it – I say it might have been a great idea in 1913. Probably made sense up through the ‘40s, but it’s been making less and less sense ever since. And now we're in the part of the story where you have to literally be insane to try and make sense of what the Federal Reserve is up to and the rationalizations for it.
So we’ve gone crazy over the tips of our skis in our attempts to perpetuate and maintain a system that’s pretty much outlived its usefulness. You say there's another system we could bring in on this, and AI could actually be part of that.
Charles H. Smith: Right. For instance, my basic idea, which I’ve often posted in my essays on Peak Prosperity, is if you don’t change the way money is created and distributed, you’ve change nothing. You can talk about reforms and oh, we're going to do this and noble sounding stuff. If you don’t change the way money is created and distributed you’ve changed nothing because people at the top have all the money, and they can buy whatever they want.
Jeffrey Epstein, a perfect example. You want to get into Harvard, the top echelon? Oh, just donate $10 million and then pretty soon you're the greatest buddy of everybody in Harvard. So that’s the way the system is rigged now.
So my thing is we got to start a new system of money, and cryptocurrencies give us that option. For the first time we can actually say we're going to create digital money, like the Fed does, out of thin air, but we're going to cerate it in only one circumstance, to pay for labor that was considered valued by the community.
And so if you did some useful work, like say on your creating a network around your homestead. if somebody in that network you're creating did some work that was beneficial, then they would get paid. And the system would monitor their activity, it would verify that they actually did the work so that they couldn’t cheat and say they did it but there's no verification. All this is pretty straight forward stuff.
And then the money would be created, and it would be limited because human labor is actually limited. The Fed has no limit, but human labor, there's only so much of it, even on a planetary scale. So the amount of money that we're creating is going to always be limited.
Meanwhile, it’s producing goods and services, so therefore, there's something in the system to buy. So there would be some use for the money.
So that’s kind of my scheme. And I consider it obvious which is of course dangerous because what’s obvious to me is not obvious to anybody else.
And so one of the things I tried to do in my book is explain my own life history. Like I’ve been working for 50 years, and I’ve had a lot of different jobs like a lot of other people. And so as I’ve encountered injustice and unfairness and bias and the rigged nature of the system, those experiences helped me realize well, we got to start with these fundamentals.
So the fundamental is we need a new kind of money that’s created at the bottom of the pyramid, not at the top.
Chris Martenson: Well, as I said, every money system enforces some behaviors, punishes others. I feel like farmers get punished in our system the way it’s currently configured. And having spent more time around farmers now because I'm trying to do some farming stuff, they are the most unbelievably, gifted, hardworking people I know. They are their own animal husbandry experts. They are their own crop specialists. They understand nutrient cycling. They can weld. They know how to build a house. They know how to fix stuff. On and on and on. They have to market everything.
Like if you wanted to say like basically they are everything soup to nuts from production to sales. And so it’s a pretty comprehensive sort of thing, and it’s very hard work. And by the way, they're some of the least well-compensated people I know.
So our money system basically punishes that and keeps squeezing towards an outcome which says all these smaller farms fold up shop because it’s just impossible. Kids that look at that lifestyle, aren’t drawn to it, go to do something else, and they become specialized in something. So Johnny leaves the farm, becomes a lawyer. Sally leaves the farm, becomes a doctor, whatever the story is.
And then, meanwhile, the big corporations start buying up all of the land and doing what they do in terms of industrially mining the soils and distributing stuff for the least amount of cost. All fine.
But you can see in this story we're gaining something; we're losing something. We're gaining cheap food; we're losing multi-diverse, very skilled people who are highly, highly resilient members of your community because they know how to do so much.
So what you're talking about is a system of money that begins to reverse that process?
Charles H. Smith: Exactly. And just in your example is excellent because it allows us to talk about fragility and anti-fragility, to use Nassim Taleb’s concept. And so since we're talking about food, we all know, and a recent COVID fallout, one of the things that happened was the handful of meatpacking facilities. When one is shut down, suddenly the whole system is revealed as incredibly fragile because this is what happens when you concentrate wealth and power and productive capacity in these small number of corporations and small numbers of facilities.
And I also want to say this is global. What you're talking about is equally true in Europe. Small farmers have been eradicated or squeezed out of existence in Europe as well by the same industrial scale of oil-based agriculture. And the average age of farmers in Japan, I think it’s over 75 now. I mean, I was over 70, now I think it’s pushing….There’s not going to anybody left that knows how to grow rice because that’s the incentives, as you say, in the system.
And so if we look at the forth turning and where it’s going to take us, I think it behooves us to start thinking about not just what we want but how do we instantiate those goals, those values, in a system that has the incentives that are going to reward anti-fragility and actual productive labor in behalf of the community in some way, and we disincentive unearned privilege, rigging the system, et cetera, et cetera?
And, of course, what you and I know, and the Peak Prosperity audience knows, is all the money that everyone’s chasing so blindly is all going to go away one way or the other. And so we're going to have to start thinking about a form of money that we control or that’s not controlled at the top of a corrupt self-serving hierarchy.
And people look at Bitcoin, and the problem with Bitcoin is it’s not earned by labor. It’s earned by computer time, basically electricity. And so that’s a good model for how cryptocurrencies – that’s one model. But I'm saying you don’t need that. You don’t need to mine a cryptocurrency. You can create a cryptocurrency that’s based on labor.
And just because nobody’s done it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Chris Martenson: Help me understand how it works. So let’s imagine somebody comes over and they're going to tend to my cows for a day. They do a great job at it. How do they get paid?
Charles H. Smith: So the way that I’ve envisioned the system is there has to be a group. The group is actually the one that organizes the work because a single individual isn’t going to be able to do the work, and that one individual needs to be part of a group. Because the group can organize larger work, and it can also have an organization that’s democratic.
Because we’ve got to be able to say well, who gets to decide what labor is valued and which one isn’t? And the software can manage some of that. So you need to start a group.
The way that my system is envisioned is the person that wants to help you with your livestock says, you know what? There's a shortage of people that know how to work with livestock in this community, so I'm going to start a group of people who are going to take care of livestock in the community as needed. We don’t necessarily own any, but we're going to help other people take care of theirs. That kind of thing.
So then, they’ll follow the software which has like step by step thing. Okay, it’s a democracy, so we elect a leader for a year and so on and so forth, and then we start organizing the work. And then you have to track the work. And then when you're done with your week then you have to fill out the software and say I performed these jobs at these places, and here’s photos from my Smartphone which, by the way, you can have a $15 Smartphone. You don’t need a $400 one. I mean, there's really cheap models in India and China.
So you upload some information that verifies you did the work, and then you look in your account and hey, you got paid. Now you can start spending that, and every community has its own kind of like mini Amazon in the sense that everybody’s goods and services that they're willing to trade is on the network. so you can buy and sell stuff with your new earned money. That’s how I envision it.
Because with the groups, then groups can combine, and they can do a lot more work. Groups can stay small. I mean, it’s infinitely flexible depending on the needs of the community.
And so I think – and if you’ve been in groups, and I’ve spent a lot of my life in groups: political groups, faith-based groups, companies, so on and so forth, social groups, educations, nonprofits, you name it. Of course, there's always a little friction. People are oh, somebody’s trying to run the meeting and so on and so forth.
But if you have that experience, it’s not too hard to design a system that rotates leadership, for example, and it has a system of subcommittees so work actually gets done.
And so I’ve designed a system that I think works based on my decades of experience in small groups. Yes, there's always going to be friction, but if you're working with purpose and meaning you set all that stuff aside because you're going wow, I'm contributing to something important.
And that’s such an amazing feeling, and it’s such a hit or miss thing in the system we have now. Very few people get to experience that. And that’s just – that just shows how inhumane our system is.
Chris Martenson: Indeed. Well said.
I maybe should have asked this question earlier, but based on all your research and all your writing and thoughtfulness, what’s your sense of the direction of things at this point? Are we facing a lot more hard times?
You mentioned something, you sort of threw it out there – we all know our money system is going away. I can’t imagine that without just being enormously disruptive if not destructive to most people’s lives. That’s a really painful thing when your money system fails. Are you saying that you're pretty sure our money system it going to fail?
Charles H. Smith: Yeah. I think if we look at history and we look at systems and, of course, you’re a systems guy, and people work in system. They exist in systems, but they don’t necessarily understand that they all have processes, and that processes generate output, and some systems can only generate a certain kind of output. So if that system is wired the way it is, you're only going to get one kind of output. And so if you want a different kind of output, you're going to have to change the system.
So if we look at history, and I like to look at the Roman Empire because it’s so well documented. That’s the difference between like say the Mayan Empire or the Tang Dynasty. We have some records, of course, from China. But the Roman Empire is remarkably well documented. You know, we have papyrus that was in Egypt where it shows the exact accounts and the crew members of ships going to trade with southern India and this kind of stuff. So we have a lot of detail.
Well, their money collapsed over time. They did the same thing that we're doing which is let’s inflate our money because we need more it, so let’s debase the silver coin with lead and other stuff. And then, oh, that worked, so let’s just do that some more, and then, pretty soon, there's virtually no silver in it at all.
And so that undermines the entire system because then people don’t have – they cannot trust that the money is going to have the value a year from now that it does in the present.
And Rome was also struck by pandemic. It was struck by invasions and people wanting their own resources back from the Empire. And political in-fighting that the elites in Rome were more interested in fighting each other than in dealing with the enemies, the barbarians. Which, by the way, they weren’t really barbarians – they just happened to be Germanic people that were in the Empire, but there was a built in bias against them.
And so by the end of the Empire all these fragilities took the system down. That’s how I would put it. That the Empire had once been anti-fragile, and all those sources of anti-fragility eroded, unraveled, or were corrupted, and so then what was left was only a fragile shell.
And I think that describes the U S economy, political system, and social system to a tee. It’s like a fragile, hollow shell, and it’s not going to take much for it to implode.
And since all these things are connected, you can have a political crisis that takes down the money supply because if there's political pressure to give us all a million dollars a month, well, then that’s a quick way to destroy your money supply right there.
Chris Martenson: So whenever in business you're facing a problem or predicament like this, you only have two choices: Do something. Do nothing.
And so for a lot of people I think it’s sort of the do nothing, might as well wait, see what’s happening. What you're talking about in your new book is that it’s time to start thinking about – for the people who are interested in the do something side of things, it’s never to early to start thinking about stuff.
And by the way, let me be very clear, Charles: No matter how badly it collapses – let’s imagine it collapses really bad. Money is just totally wiped out, supply chains break down, death and destruction, all of that. Nobody’s thought anything through.
Eventually, we're going to see that an economy and a money system emerges again because that’s how humans are. Every tribe, every society you look at has somehow found an expression for money, some way to store wealth, some way to do that. Whatever it was giant stones with circles in it or cowry shells or hides of animals or it was silver or it was gold or pieces of paper. it always seems to happen.
So I like the idea, though. You saying well let’s talk about this. What would we want? And I can give you a lot of not this in my own story. This whole COVID thing really – I have to confess – as jaded as I am or was, I was nowhere near jaded enough for this particular story. When I saw our health officials not recommending simple, cheap, effective things because of money, because they wanted pharma companies to be able to sell more of their latest fancy stuff.
That disconnection from the basic humanity, that’s not a world I have any interest in preserving. I don’t want to tweak it. I have no interest in figuring how to make it slightly better. I'm a burn it down kind of guy for a lot of that stuff. It’s unfixable.
So I think there's enough people listening to this though who also aren’t that way. I actually think we’ve been coopted by a very small, select group of people who are sociopathic if not psychopathic. Full definition in the DSM.
But for people who are interested in doing something and are caring and have some compassion and want to begin figuring this stuff out, what I hear you saying is it’s time to start doing the hard work. It’s not too early to begin lifting this because two outcomes: We do nothing and the economy crashes and all that, and the recovery from that could be kind of – when the Romans left Europe. Like for 400 years people are like, we don’t know how to make a heated bathhouse. That was really cool, but we kind of lost the technology. It’s gone. For a long time.
But if we had something in place and we’d thought about and we’d started working in small groups and gone through that reconnection process and that friction that always happens as people try and come to a shared understanding of something., if we can do that work now we’ll be in such better shape to at least – at least we're not starting from nothing when the rebuilding comes. Is that fair?
Charles H. Smith: Absolutely, Chris. That’s the main point of my book is okay, look it. If you’ve got a better system and you’ve sketched it out in greater detail then mine, hey, put it out there. We all need to start looking at some alternatives.
And so the basic model, that infrastructure that I'm talking about, is basically like a Linux or a Mozilla. In other words, you look at these things that basically started with one very small group of people started coding something, and then other people got interested, and they started contributing. And it wasn’t for let’s become billionaires.
And it’s all like we assume, oh, well if no one with do any work unless they're going to be a billionaire. And it’s all like, well, actually humans are wired to contribute and want to belong to something greater than ourselves, and to earn dignity by sacrificing with another group that’s got a purpose.
And so these systems, like Linux, show that you actually can design a software system which is global and robust with just people contributing to an opensource system.
So again, I think a lot of people are going to look at my ideas and go, well, that’s just airy-fairy kind of stuff, and it’s all like, well, no, actually, cryptocurrencies do exist. And actually, the more you know about cryptocurrencies, and I'm not an expert, you realize that’s a bunch of different platforms that have nothing to do with mining cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. There's a lot of other models out there, and they already exist.
And there's a lot of opensource systems which are global like Linux and Mozilla that are not owned by a corporation, aren’t run by a sociopath at the top. Here’s talking to you, Warren, Bill, Jeff. [Laughs]
And so it’s entirely feasible. And yet, it’s beyond what any one of us can do. And so it’s going to take something like where a group of people, or some idealistic person who’s now guilty about the hundreds of millions they’ve skimmed off the system to say, well, I'm going to put some kind of tiny amount of money like $10 million bucks behind this idea, see where it goes.
And so I don't know how or what that’s going to work. It could be a faith-based organization goes yeah; you know what? These are the principles of our religion, so let’s see if we can help this idea get going. I don't know how that’s going to work, but somebody, somewhere will pick up the threads.
And then there’ll because, hopefully, there’ll be a political will, a revulsion against another corrupt exploitive, parasitic hierarchy, and there’ll be a political desire for decentralized, anti-fragile system that everybody – that can benefit everybody that’s a participant and not just a few at the top.
Chris Martenson: How do you go about getting people to sort of engage with this sort of idea? I'm beating around the bush. You know, Charles, there's a lot of people out there who’ve gotten kind of used to not working, not working hard. Maybe you don’t even know how to work or work hard because they haven’t actually done it yet in their life.
So I'm interested that you started, or there's at least a part of your book that says here’s who I am, and I'm sure when I read it I'm going to say, oh, my gosh, look at all the things you’ve done. You’ve probably sheet rocked a wall and put some wiring in and built something and run a business and on and on and on. Which collectively gives you a framing that says it’s hard work, but it’s doable. Persistence and thoughtfulness can get you far.
Are there enough people who understand those values and have that experience to pull this off? Do we have critical mass here?
Charles H. Smith: Yeah, great question, Chris. And again, it goes to your point about incentives. What are the incentives in this system? So obviously, humans are generally like if we use fewer calories and get more calories, we’ll do that.
So if there is still a government giving away free money and you can use the money to buy a bunch of stuff then no one’s going to join something like mine. And not no one, but fewer people will because there's some alternative.
But when that system breaks down, just like the bread and circuses in Rome – and here again, perfect example. The wealth of the Empire was squandered on circuses, right. These enormously expensive things with a lot of bloody action and feeding hundreds of thousands of people, giving them free bread in the city of Rome, which had basically been shipped across the Mediterranean from North Africa at an enormous expense. I mean, entire fleets of ships had to be build and maintained in order to feed the quarter million people who got the free bread.
So that system was super fragile, and so was the system supporting the whole Roman infrastructure. So when it breaks down, then what? Well, you no longer have an option of getting the free bread. There's no more free money.
So now what do I do? Well, then you have a different set of choices. So my system is not going to really catch on until the free bread and circuses have gone away. And at that point, then people will start making different decisions, and they’ll say well, gee, I really want to eat still; I still want shelter, and I can’t get that on my own, so I'm going to have to make some other choice.
And so then it’s going to be joining the brigands, the thieves in the forest, or you can lay down and die, or you're going to have to join some other group. And in the post-Roman era, in the western Empire, then you can join a group of people serving a monastery or something like that, or you can join a Germanic army.
So there's always options, and it’s just like the question is are you going to create one, or are you going to have to join one that’s another rapacious, parasitic hierarchy because, of course, there's always going to those around. There's always going to be somebody that’s going to try to recruit slaves or serfs to do work for them and skim the money. So what I'm saying is if there's an alternative that’s better than people will eventually choose that.
And I think what I really like about my idea is because I worked in a lot of different jobs, not everybody is super talented. There's a lot of people who have physical or mental disabilities, and yet, there's always work for people. In other words, you can tend to animals. You can kind of watch the kids. You can sweep the sidewalks.
I mean, there's a lot of work that’s actually useful that doesn’t require the kind of insane drive and brilliance that we think of as well, you have to have these characteristics to do something useful. It’s like no, there's a lot of – most of the work that’s performed on the planet is actually very simple.
And so, if we started paying people for doing that work that’s useful, well then they’d have money, and they might actually find that they like belonging and being needed.
Chris Martenson: Warren Buffet had a great quote that he said when he hires people he’s looking for three things. He’s looking for energy, intelligence, and integrity. He said, “If they don’t have the integrity, they’ll kill you with the first two.”
And so this brings me to a comment I have about A I. So I'm of two minds. One the one hand, I don’t like how it’s been used because it’s mostly been used to sort of hack people’s – in a bad way – hack people’s wiring to sell crap. I don’t think that’s a great use.
The other mind that I hold it, though, is that we’ve now created a world where there's eight billion people, give or take, and it’s too complex. It’s too complex for ordinary human wiring to get through.
Like we have AI now that can land a rocket on a barge in the ocean. There's no human pilot that can do that. So in an equivalent sense, AI could be that thing if we're going to – if we're going to pierce through it, I technology is going to come with us for the ride, we're going to have to find a way to use the AI to help us manage things that we no longer can manage for ourselves because we're too slow, or we're too irrational, whatever the story is.
So that’s a place where I could see AI coming forward. And it kind of full circles like why did people – why was peoples’ behavior of higher integrity and more constrained a long time ago? Well, it’s because they lived in a village of about 100 people, and you couldn’t get away with anything because everybody was in everybody’s business. AI is kind of that thing now.
I think the anonymity of sort of the citification, the anonymity that people have – all I know is that when people have anonymous personas on the internet they act badly.
So to the extent to which the system now becomes – you create a system where people are no longer anonymous. And given that, though, and if everybody knows it’s a fair system, everybody has to play by the same rules, then people want the next layer up that, which they want that meaning and purpose.
And once they achieve that meaning and purpose, it builds on itself, and it goes from there, but you can’t have nothing at the base is what I'm trying – that’s what I feel like our culture has for a lot of people. Nothing at the base.
I work at Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Burger King, and there's just no meaning or purpose to this, and it feels unfair, and so therefore you never make it to the next level in that story.
Charles H. Smith: You're so right about that, Chris, because we can call that upward mobility or social mobility where – you know, ideally, every human being has a path to something better. Now, that could be a lot of different things depending on each person. And so does our system enable that? And we look at the people who rise to the top and we go oh, yeah, we live in a meritocracy.
But actually, as you're kind of pointing out, the meritocracy window is narrowed to such a tiny hole now that even getting a PhD doesn’t guaranty you some kind of secure well paying job. Even in the sciences, right. I mean, so every ladder that people had and were told oh, climb this ladder and you're going to have upward mobility, every ladder has been broken.
And so now it’s like this almost impossible to get ahead. And also, to get ahead as an individual. Like in other words, it’s not just about making more money. It’s like how do I fulfill my potential or my talents or my interests?
And so in our system, I call it – it’s just hit or miss. Like some people succeed in doing it, but the majority don’t. And so what I was thinking is why don’t we have a system that more or less guarantees the opportunity. Not the outcome, but it guarantees the opportunity.
And so to go back to your thing about AI, I think what we're talking about is are we serving AI, or is AI serving us? And if AI is serving us, then it would be used in something like my system where, as you say, once it’s controlled by corporate hierarchies or government hierarchies then we're serving it because it’s just another tool of exploitation and predation.
So will there be a change in the values of society after the complexity goes away? And I think people, as you say, people want fairness, but they don’t know how to get it, and so they're enraged, right. They're frustrated, disgusted, enraged and hence, they want to just go break some windows. We're in that stage now.
So what I hope is whether it’s my idea or somebody else’s idea, it’s like we need to have something that people can look at with hope and say well, actually, yeah, that system would work. that would work for me, and it would work for my community, and it would work for the world. Let’s talk about doing that.
And I consider that very likely, actually, if we can get it out there.
Chris Martenson: If we can get it out there. Well, it’s in Hacking Teleology. And so I would advise people to get that book.
Charles, I'm going to be personal about this. How do I get my hands on it?
Charles H. Smith: Okay. Well, if you go to oftwominds.com, I’ve assembled like an excerpt, a series of excerpts from the book. So you can read a pretty good chunk of the book for free, and then you can decide if it’s something that interests you. And then, you have to order it through the company store, otherwise known as Amazon. Because I can’t get – nobody will publish my book except if…
I’ll just give you a quick – most readers don’t know this, but if you go to a small publisher, they're going to take most of the money, and then they're going to put your book on Amazon just like you would only you don’t get any money, and you no longer own the rights to the book. So when they stop publishing it, you're out of luck.
Anyways, I have my same reservations as everybody else about the company store, but at this point, that’s the only way I can get my ideas out there is through the company store. So you have to go to Amazon and buy it.
Chris Martenson: Amazon. All right. Well, that’s where you find it, and, of course, you get the excerpts at oftwominds. So check that out, everybody. Charles, thank you so much for writing the book. Thank you so much for your time.
I'm really actually personally very interested in it because this could be a testbed here. We're setting up a whole interesting thing is going on here on the homestead. So we have a community developing. It feels really good. We’ve got a bunch of people.
Last night was a fascinating night because we were presenting a bunch of ideas to the town planning board, and they loved all our ideas. It was a big lovefest.
But afterward it just felt really good because we had twelve people who are now assembled around this idea. So my brain is already turning to uh-oh, we already have a community, what’s the container for it? What are the rules? How are we setting this up? What behaviors do we want? Like I'm just already there.
So maybe we could find a way to implement some of this.
Charles H. Smith: Absolutely. I think, just in closing, I think all my ideas, to take what you and Evie and your colleagues are doing and rationalize it. You know, like make it a set of rules that somebody could login to something and create a group just like yours, at least the infrastructure of it and the rules that would keep it going in a positive direction, and they could get into that without having to reinvent.
And so that, I think, would be hugely powerful. And so you might be able to do that, just a simple kind of web based thing where anybody could start a group similar to yours.
Now, it may not be as effective or in the same field or whatever. But just to have that model and a step by step thing would be huge. So that’s basically my idea at the smallest level. and then you could say well, gee, Chris, if you had this model and somebody in the Congo or South Korea could login and create the same kind of group, that would be pretty neat, especially if there was some way they could connect and share ideas.
Chris Martenson: Well, indeed. That’s what the next year is going to be about is really starting to gel things like this. Anyway, we’ll stay in touch around that. Thank you so much for your time today.
Charles H. Smith: Thank you, Chris. It’s been a pleasure to talk about my work. But I hope it’s not so much my work. It’s like ideas that we can all go beyond, you know, at least as a starting point.
Chris Martenson: I heard you loud and clear. It’s time to kick off the conversation. You kicked it off, so consider it started. And I'm like you – you might have the best idea out there and that’ll be great. And if there's a different, better one that comes along, that’ll be great. I think this is the stage of history where we're just going to have to try, try, try. I'm a rapid prototype, iterative kind of guy.
So there's so much more value in getting things started and kicked off and at least moving than there is in analysis, paralysis, and all that other stuff. So we got to start trying some of this stuff. It’s kind of eleventh and a half hour.
Charles H. Smith: Okay, Chris, well thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
Chris Martenson: The pleasure’s been mine.