Utopian Engineering

Overview:

Utopian enginering is a variety of social engineering which is optimistic and comprehensive. It involves coming up with a blueprint for a preferred future, and taking measures to realise that future.
Popper's Critique
Karl Popper criticised both historicism and utopian engineering, and favoured piecemeal engineering. A defence of utopian engineering is mounted.
Totalitarianism and Anarchy
A key problem for utopian engineers is how to influence the future of society without adopting totalitarian methods. The solution is anarchy, or the market.
Value Net To meet the challenge of utopian engineering markets will need to evolve. Value Net is the kind of market which might emerge, in which total social impact figures in everyday purchase decisions.
Continuous Engineering
The pace of change is accelerating. Utopian engineering must work in a rapidly changing world with continuously evolving objectives.
The Holistic SuperBrain A consensual approach to utopian engineering on a global scale. Substantially market-based, pluralistic, mass participation based on visions of the future developed in cyberspace and implemented by concensus driven individual action, both economic and political.

Poppers Critique:

Karl Popper criticised both historicism and utopian engineering, and favoured piecemeal engineering. A defence of utopian engineering is mounted.
Popper's Dichotomies
In Chapter 9 of The Open Society and its Enemies notes Popper offered two dichotomies. The first was between historicism, a fatalistic attempt to predict social futures, and social engineering which attempts to influence the future. Social engineering is then divided into utopian engineering and piecemeal engineering. Utopian engineering involves a grand blueprint for the future of society, and Popper thought, leads inevitably to totalitarianism (is this historicist?). Piecemeal engineering tinkers with small parts of the system at a time, and has no overall plan.
Utopian Engineering
I aim here to show that the second dichotomy is a false one by putting forward an approach to utopian engineering which is diametrically opposed to totalitarianism. Popper was writing 50 years ago I doubt that he would be quite so dogmatic if he were writing today. There is no doubt that continued vigilence against the concentration of power of any kind is desirable, though we may now wonder whether the concentration of political power is our greatest concern. The approach to utopian engineering is a study in how the conception and implementation of an ideal society might be accomplished as a distributed social activity, involving everyone, and diminishing the power associated with political office or great wealth.
Design, Plan, Implement
Popper clearly thought you had to do these once and for all, one after the next. I wouldn't bet on that working either. I'm talking about continuously evolving pluralistic visions of the future.
Aestheticism
Popper complains that it is immoral to use people as the material for realising some aesthetic ideal. I don't believe that beauty should be considered more important than human lives, but provided the whole process is participatory, pluralistic and consensual, aesthetic considerations are quite legitimate.
Radicalism
Popper believed that it was irrational to suppose that radical changes will work. I believe that in the information age radical changes will take place whether we like it or not, and I'd rather that we made some attempts to steer the ship.
Romanticism
Popper also regards rationality and romanticism as incompatible. I think we should have our ideals, and we should also be skeptical about whether they can be realised. But not too skeptical. This is rational. To me it is irrational not to think about where we are going.

Totalitarianism and Anarchy:

A key problem for utopian engineers is how to influence the future of society without adopting totalitarian methods. The solution is anarchy, or the market.
What is an Archy?
An "archy" is a collection of agents organised by a principle of control, in which some agents have authority over others, and instruct their "subordinates" about what they must do. Special kinds of archy include hierarchies, patriarchies, matriarchies. Totalitarian regimes are especially nasty archies.
What is Anarchy?
"Anarchy" is the word used to describe a collection of independent agents organised by dynamic consensual relationships, i.e. without "archy". The most well known near anarchies are market economies and the internet. In the context of politics the word anarchy concerns the abolition of the state.
Anarchy Works
The collapse of centrally planned socialist Russia and the emergence and growth of the internet are the most spectacular recent indications that anarchy works better than archy.
Anarchic Utopian Engineering
The approach to utopian engineering here proposed is anarchic. The easiest way to understand this is to think of markets. The proposal is essentially that markets will evolve to answer utopian purposes as well as day to day needs.
Anarchy and Totalitarianism
Anarchy is diametrically opposed to totalitarianism, and is therefore a plausible response to Popper's critique.
Economic v. Political
Market based anarchic methods for utopian engineering do not depend upon constitutional change, but encourage a shift from state sponsored to market solutions. Nevertheless any forward looking utopian thinking is bound to address the role of the state and its constitution. An anarchic preference would push the state further away from totalitarianism, beyond democracy as we now know it. It might diminish the role of the state and would increase its responsiveness to its customers.

Value Net

To meet the challenge of utopian engineering, markets will need to evolve. Value Net is the kind of market which might emerge, in which total social impact figures in everyday purchase decisions.

Continuous Engineering:

The pace of change is accelerating. Utopian engineering must work in a rapidly changing world with continuously evolving objectives.
Crystal Balls
As the information economy grows and the pace of change continues to accelerate an increasing number of people will contribute to the analysis of possibilities for the future and to the design of preferred scenarios. The space of possible futures will be presented in distributed networked hypermedia (WWW), together with huge amounts of analysis, and lobbying.
Measurement
Alongside analysis of possible and preferred outcomes there will also be a lot of varied and conflicting assessment of what is actually happening and where we are really heading. This is part of a global negative feedback loop which is a vital part of the continuous process of piloting our way to our preferred future.
Action Plans
The third vital component in this continuous process is the translation of error reports into action plans. For market implemented utopian engineering this action must ultimately take place when the consumer makes purchase decisions. Somehow or other he needs to be able to decide rapidly which purchase decisions will contribute most to his preferred futures.

The Holistic SuperBrain

The idea of a "control system" is taken from cybernetics and applied on the global scale to the problem of realising a better world.
Introduction
The holistic aspect of The Global SuperBrain is introduced as a thought experiment, to help us think about the future and how to make it turn out the way we want it to be.
Control Systems
A brief description of how a control system is put together.
Heating Example
The control system is illustrated by the example of a thermostatically controlled heating system.
Global Control
Now we try to make some capital out of thinking of the the whole earth as a control system in which the global superbrain exercises the control.
Local Action
Though the information processing in the holistic superbrain is distributed, every action is undertaken by an independently intelligent subnode, usually a person.


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