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October 16, 1997

Ganymean Organization

Genetics Vs. Programming?

HOW DID THE GANYMEANS ORGANIZE THEMSELVES?

From other letters that I've received, I thought the following exchange might be of more general interest:

Subject: Organizing activity on Minerva
From: ["WM"]

I recently re-discovered Code of the Lifemaker, which I had read 10 years ago and went on to read the 1st three Giants books. I look forward to reading The Infinity Option and others. Good fun.

In the second of the Giants books, Garuth tells Hunt (I believe) that Ganymeans work because that's the source of their self-pride and that there is no competition in the sense that the humans expect to see it. This introduces a dilemma, in my mind. How do the Ganymeans know what to do? More to the point, how did they know before the computers became sophisticated enough to allocate effort? My guess is that even if we could somehow be re-programmed to work according to some Kantian imperative, the result would be utter confusion (or very small-scale production) on the order of that in "centrally planned" economies.

I appreciate your vision. It's nice to find books set in the near future that do not begin with the premise of picking up the pieces from doomsday.

[WM]


Also from [WM]

Just one more note. I know you have many correspondents and I don't want to tie up much of your time. Still, I would like to elaborate just a bit.

As you may guess, my question (whether the Ganymean society and portrayed could have generated a complex economy) builds on a history. In particular, Austrian economists in the 1930s argued that central planning could not work for anything other than a tribal economy. The problem of calculating values and assigning resources to uses becomes too complex for such a system to persist. Indeed, one reading of the fact that the Soviet system did not fail earlier than it did is that it really didn't use central planning. Rather, it was a sort of mercantilism.

Anyway, I cannot envision how a large group of people could assign activities to its members without something much like the price system. I introduced the computer as a possibility, once the computer becomes sufficiently sophisticated. I did not mean to suggest that you did so. I agree with you that my inability to envision a complex world without a price system may reflect my limited vision and not the range of possibilities. Still, the examples that you suggest as alternatives represent relatively simple systems in which command or altruism could direct activity.

Thanks for replying.


[From JamesPHogan]

Yes, I am familiar with von Mises, Hayek, etc. They make some good points.

But I think it can be misleading to construct grand theories of what is or is not possible or workable, and then attempt to deduce from them how reality has to be. History is littered with too many corpses of pronouncements on things that were supposed to be impossible.

We would exercise our imaginations and broaden our thinking faculties more constructively by accepting as given that the Ganymeans did manage a complex, advanced society without a price system, and try asking ourselves how it might have functioned, than asserting as a dogma that it couldn't have happened. [It's interesting that depictions of faster- travel, and so on, the impossibility of which is attested to by far stronger bodies of evidence backed by all kinds of mathematics, doesn't provoke any protests. (I'm not persuaded by those arguments either, by the way.)]

One suggestion, for example, might be socialism without coercive imposition by the state, that we're indoctrinated to believe is synonymous with it. Or an extrapolation of the principles early Christianity (the first two hundred years or less), before its leaders sold out to become an instrument of European power politics and substituted a Rome-based counterfeit.

In any case, I'd submit that the competitive economics enshrined by the mythology of our own culture is far from the ideal of rationality and efficiency that we imagine. When millions of people have to work themselves into neurosis and sickness fifty weeks out of the year to satisfy needs that require a multi-billion-dollar propaganda industry to persuade them they have, there's something crazy going on at the heart of it. Every fourteen days, we spend more on cosmetics, entertainments, and alcohol than we did on Apollo in its peak year.

I think we can do better than a system that alienates individuals by pitching each in a battle against all, where everyone becomes a threat or an adversary. Ultimately, compassion and tolerance at the personal level are what decent societies are built on. Given that, I don't think it matters too much what political or economic labels one nominally subscribes to.

And whether one agrees or not, if such possibilities aren't to be explored in science fiction, then where?

Bests, James P. Hogan

 
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