Friday, 12 May 2017 20:11

The Technosphere and the Technate

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Introduction

The Design is proposing the replacement of the current monetary system with one based on Energy Accounting, which derives its basis from Thermodynamics and its goals from the third criteria. Even though the overwhelming majority of people are agreeing with our three criteria, critique and skepticism is inevitably increasing when we are starting to talk about the proposed adjustments provided by the Design.

Of course, skepticism is well-motivated, especially given that our proposal is a novelty which would transform most of the manners in which we are dealing with resources, and redefine concepts such as property, wealth, profit and trade, which have been established parts of human affairs since before historical records started to emerge. Moreover, the Design has not been exposed to the realities of human society and the economy yet, which is why it needs to undergo field tests and simulations first.

One of the aspects which laypersons find most difficult to grasp, is what the Technate is, if it is some kind of new system of government and why it (or something like it) is needed. The current generations are naturally (and soundly) suspicious of solutions which entail globalized interconnected systems – especially if these are associated with governance. Solutions are seen as individualized and achieved through conscious consumption, which disregards both over-arching structures and collective effort, and therefore ultimately will not alter our civilisationary trajectory.

Our movement has a challenging task at hand, to convince people that we not only need to move away from the dead-end hyper-individualism of our current culture, but that we – at least in regards of resource management – needs to establish an integrated, transparent and smart system of nodes which provide a global map of the extraction, flow and usage of resources.

Thus, it is not a matter of convenience or communicational strategy whether we should keep the concept of the Technate or not. We have a duty to explain our motives and the various mechanisms of the Design in such a manner that the public understanding of them would increase.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to explain what the Technate is envisioned as, why it needs to be established, and how it can come into being.

TL;DR Summary

  • During the evolution of human history, technology and trade patterns have become more and more complex.
  • Therefore, barter systems and gift economies are not to scale to administer a civilization which at the middle of this century will have nearly 10 billion people.
  • The first advocates of the Technate concept were Technocracy Incorporated back in the 1930’s, who envisioned a command economy under the control of the engineer corps and scientists of North America.
  • The EOS vision for a Technate is globalized, is aimed at co-existing with democratic governance, is de-centralised and designed to resemble an upgraded form of today’s Internet, rather than a Fordist factory from the Progressive Era.
  • The Technate is combining several functions – the monitoring of the Earth’s resources and technological systems, the measurement of our footprint and carrying capacity, internal structured channels for communication between Holons, and the issuing of Energy Certificates to the Citizens.
  • The Technate is also envisioned as a global marketplace.
  • If the Technate is introduced, it must be introduced gradually, and simultaneously from two directions, one technological and one institutional.
  • Current technological systems are insufficient in regards to the introduction of a full Technate.

Human perceptions of complexity

We live in the most complex civilization which ever has existed. There are between seven and eight billion people alive today, which increases complexity (for example, we can agree that the complexity of the United States is higher than that of San Marino). Our culture is more complex today than ever before because it builds on the self-referencing framework of a mountain of memes and graphic information stretching 5500 years at least down into our past, as well as the fact that the middle classes consist of more people than ever before, and thus more people can partake in the creation of culture. Moreover, technological complexity has increased, as has specialization in order to manage said technology on a continuous basis. 

The increase of complexity is an example of a process characterized by emergence, an unintentional result of our increased numbers and our improved ability to store and communicate information. A typical westerner today consumes as much information during one week as a European in the 18th century consumed during one year. Not surprisingly, a lot of those critical to the current path we have chosen to take attribute the complexity in itself as being responsible for what is wrong with our world.

Thus, many critics of our current mode of resource management are looking towards the establishment of a Gift Economy as an alternative. The attractiveness of such a thought is clear if the goal is a simpler, more straightforward world. A gift economy is based on the notion that all economic activities should rely on inter-individual and inter-group relationships based on trust and on the reciprocal sharing of gifts. This is not a complete novelty, in fact early to intermediary stone age societies often operated – and operate – on that basis.

However, a Gift Economy as described by its proponents will not work in upholding an infrastructure capable of supporting eight billion human beings. During the later stages of the hunter-gatherer era, the world population was around ten million people. For most of the agricultural era, the global population had flatlined around half a billion people. To support a population magnitudes larger than that for long periods of time demands complex Technology, and that requires an interconnected infrastructure which consists of thousands of nodes, where every individual component cannot possibly be mined, refined and assembled in a confined geographical space.

Individuals can demand cell-phones, medicine, food and similar, but few individuals could see any personal usage of for example copper wires, monorail beams, super-light concrete, electrical grids, sewage cleaning plants or complex medical machinery which only a few individuals might see a utility in. In first world nations, people tend to take the blessings provided by such systems for granted. To a large extent, Gift Economics as a proposal for our current world is reliant on proponents who believe that all economic interactions are (or ought to be) small-scale and individualized – ignoring the truth that our economic infrastructure is  based not on the interactions between individuals but is an (albeit primitive) integrated system purposely built to transform and blend together resources, forming complex arrays of product lines which can satisfy market demand. A Gift Economy cannot build such an integrated infrastructure since human beings are only wired to mentally work on the local level without coordination (which partially probably is why the idea of a Gift Economy superficially appears as a charming concept).

In short, in order to sustain and provide a decent standard of living to humanity, there needs to be a technological infrastructure which – regrettably – needs machinery and resources combined from several different places in order to work, and often five to six places of assembly before the finished product can started to be utilised. Our conviction is that we need to create local resilience, but the idea that the world should constitute of localized autarchies would probably be negative both for human beings and for the environment.

Our problem is of course that we need to live, but so does everything else. When we confiscate space to erect buildings, to grow food and to create transport lanes, we affect the environment and the landscape – and we must do that in order to survive.

Something must die so that we can live.

What we need to discuss is how we can arrange our civilization in such a manner that we minimize its impact upon the environment, use up less than 100% of the planetary renewal capacity and can provide a good quality of life to all human beings. In short, how can we utilise resources in a manner which allows eight billion people to thrive, while ensuring sustainability?

That is the key objective of the EOS, and that is why we need to define the concept of the Technosphere.

What is the Technosphere?

There are many global systems which surround and encompass the surface of our planet – the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere and the biosphere. The biosphere for example is simply the land area on the Earth occupied by living species, and the total biomass of life on the planet. The atmosphere is consisting of the various gasses and vapours existing above and around the surface. The hydrosphere is the Earth’s combined water and the flow which allows freshwater lakes and rivers to exist.

The Technosphere, as defined by the EOS, is basically our combined infrastructure and machine park, which build up the capability of human civilization to force multiply its efficiency in harvesting resources, while in the same time requiring maintenance.

  • The Technosphere consists of transport systems, such as roads, railways (and in the future monorails and hyperloop systems), canals, ports and airports.
  • It also consists of power plants and energy grids, as well as heating plants and sewage systems.
  • It consists of the agricultural regions and facilities, the transport lanes of food to cities and the supermarkets or food depots where people acquire food.
  • It consists of the mining facilities and other natural resource extraction operations, and the systems bringing these resources to refineries.
  • It consists of the factories which assemble refined resources into finished products, distributed to the markets and then sold to the consumers.
  • It consists of research centres and universities which serve to improve the efficiency of the infrastructure and to educate the future managers.
  • And finally, it consists of the billions of people who staff this gargantuan daily operation of our civilisation as workers, engineers, scientists and managers.

The Technosphere could be viewed as a super-connector, purposed to transfer and transform resources which could be used by our species, which controls it and has brought it forth through an emergent process.

The current Technosphere can and should be severely criticised, and its self-contradictions and failings must be ruthlessly and persistently highlighted. As it currently stands, there is no unified vision of what the Technosphere should accomplish, and barely any awareness of it. A mere cursory glance at the ecological problems created through the Technosphere would entail most of our environmental problems. We would not even need to mention climate change, caused by our reliance on fossil fuels, or the way in which our economically rational but ecologically suicidal monocultures serve to deplete the nutrients from the soils and the freshwater reserves.

Some activists, notably anarcho-primitivists, are attributing these features to Technology in itself, and see the only solution as a return to the hunter-gatherer stage and an abandonment of civilization itself as a project – which apart from being an absurd proposition which will serve to reduce the planetary population with 99% also is a gross simplification.

The position of the Earth Organisation for Sustainability remains that the prime mover behind our destruction of the biosphere is the way in which our financial system is designed. Exchanging this current financial system for a resource management system that takes into account the planetary carrying capacity will however not have a sweeping immediate effect, if only for the fact that our Technosphere has evolved mostly in accordance with the needs of a system addicted to exponential growth.

This means that even when we have introduced a resource management system able to fulfil the three criteria, we will still need a protracted transition period when monocultures and fossil-based technologies are being phased out in the pace in which they can be replaced with sustainable agricultural practices and renewable engine technologies. Given that, we intend to gradually replace the current Technosphere with another, more sustainable. This replacement in itself will only be a conscious, more active undertaking than what is continuously taking place throughout our civilization – because just as there is need for continuous maintenance of a Technosphere, individual components of the Technosphere are regularly worn out, and replaced with improved components, even today.

What we want to do, however, is more than to merely swap what technologies we use and transition towards renewables. The Design is reimagining a transformation of the Technosphere, away from an emergent, blind system following its own incremental logic, towards a conscious system fully mastered by human beings.

Enter the Technate

The term “Technate” was first coined by Technocracy Incorporated, an American and Canadian socio-political movement active during the 1930’s (but still in existence today). Their definition entailed a techno-political structure unifying all infrastructure in North America under a centralised technocratic system led by engineers and experts. It was envisioned as a command economy, and inspired by Taylorist industrial practices. Technocracy viewed society as a machine, saw human civilization basically as (an extension of) the Technosphere, and desired that all aspects of society should be subsumed under the needs of the Technosphere to maximise human living standards in terms of providing a material abundance.

Needless to say, the EOS has always maintained that the Technosphere is but one aspect of human civilization, and that issues pertaining to non-technical factors should not be the task of the Technate. Thence, we do not view the judiciary, the existence of democratic assemblies, independent associations, the free arts or the non-technical and social disciplines within the academic world as a part of the Technate. Neither our Technate would be a centralised behemoth under the command of engineer corps. Rather, we imagine it as a conduit for information and needs assessment. After all, why bring a sledgehammer to the party when you need a can opener?

In our model, the central core functions of the Technate are 1) the Energy Survey, 2) the issuing of Energy Units and 3) the maintenance of an information system connecting all groups working with different parts of the Technosphere. The Technate in its ideal form will encompass the entire Technosphere, and be a global endeavour – but it will not be responsible for other forms of governance, whether legislative, judicial or executive (though it can be mandated to carry out executive operations).

In most respects, our proposal is a distributed system, without a centralised, hierarchical authority. The core functions could be taken care of by numerous semi-autonomous Holons, as long as they use the same information base and all decisions are transparently made and can be corrected transparently too – much like how for example Wikipedia works.

  • The Energy Survey is a continuous operation, the measurement of the planetary renewal capacity as well as of how resources are currently utilised within the entire Technosphere.
  • The Technate is responsible to measure the total amount of Energy Units divided to infrastructural operations and to the public, and to provide channels to distribute Energy Units, as well as maintaining the software so that the recipients can allocate their Energy Units to what they want to see produced.
  • The Technate is responsible to provide an informational infrastructure so that Holons could coordinate and maintain joint operations, and take initiative to new operations.
  • The Technate is responsible to ensure that all Holons uphold the spirit of the three criteria and of universal human rights, and that consequences or censure should befall Holons which violate these foundations.
  • The Technate may be responsible to see to it that wider-range Holons committing themselves to important work in terms of infrastructure, maintenance, research & development, security, healthcare, education and other core aspects of society are maintained and staffed.

Internally, the Technate is built around the utilisation of the Scientific Method, meaning that though the goals of specific operations may be democratically decided, the way in which they are reached should be based on verified scientific information and statistics, which should be available to the public and disseminated in a manner which should be clearly understandable to the public.

Those who are placed in central positions and endowed with the mandate to make decisions should be 1) educated in their field of expertise, 2) have some form of prior experience, 3) be appointed on a democratic mandate by those within their Holon, and 4) be accountable in terms of having to conform to transparent standards of conduct, which – if broken – can lead to censure or removal from positions of responsibility.

The Technate as a market 

There will be several types of different Holons, engaging in different activities – some which are critical to society, must exist and coordinate their operations in an integrated, flowing manner within the framework of other high-tier Holons. Then there are Holons which will be based around the production and delivery of complex products or food – things which the users should expect to have. These Holons will be monitored, but do not need to coordinate in the same integrated manner as those providing infrastructure maintenance and utilities. And lastly, there are these Holons which basically will organise local activities, cultural activities or produce non-vital services. These should not need to be monitored on a constant or even regular basis. They are the Holons which would produce kites, provide ice-creams in parks, renovate skateboards and bicycles, and utilise community factory floors on odd days to 3D-print greenhouse parts requested by the local retirees.

All in all, most Holons will resemble cooperatives operating within the framework of a market economy, albeit a market economy which is basing its price mechanism upon the planetary carrying capacity. Even larger Holons will mostly operate autonomously and in relation to user demand, through the allocation of energy units by millions of users, rather than through any form of centralised command structure.

The exception will probably be the Holons tasked with providing essential social services, infrastructure, infrastructure maintenance and of course the Energy Survey, the energy units, their tracking and distribution on a continuous basis. This does not mean that there will only be singular departments in all these areas, but that the Holons providing these vital services are indispensible and must coordinate their operation constantly to provide the basis for a functioning society.

Of course, it is entirely possible to envision a Technate which is completely anarchistic, where even these vital functions are taken care of in the manner of localised, voluntaryistic groups which are formed, operate and eventually cease. It is also possible to imagine a stalinistic Technate, where everything is run on a centralised basis to achieve unified goals on grand scale (even though it is hard to fathom where kites, skateboards and ice-cream parlours should fit in in such an arrangement).

Ultimately, the Holonic model – structuring a society as semi-autonomous units which are designed to fit with one another when needed – can make possible both extreme de-centralisation and severe centralisation, depending on the needs of the moment (and the whims of the populace in the worst case). Like the sea, the Technate is not frozen in one institutional framework, and is unlike our bureaucratic and corporate structures inherited from the industrial era rapidly capable of transforming itself from one state to another, without the need for much central or hierarchical management.

An empiricist transition

It is fascinating to envision this kind of society, but one can easily see that such a complex form of society will demand much of its initiators, especially as we are accustomed – since institutions started to be formed – to engage with static entities with designated forms. The Technate in itself could be said to have characteristics of several different kinds of entities. It will encompass and go beyond functions currently wielded by:

  • Research institutions.
  • Supranational entities.
  • Financial institutions like central banks.
  • Mega-corporations.
  • The market in itself.

This does not mean that the Technate will wholly replace and succeed all these institutions – it will exist in parallel with some of them, in symbiosis with others. Rather, it will undertake a few of the functions of all these entities, without clearly being defined as any of them. The Holonic structure also demands that humanity of the future will be accustomed to shoulder more individual responsibility, since there will be less clearly delineated institutional guidelines on what tasks a particular Holon should undertake – as well as less borders between various aspects of the human civilization.

Thus, what is demanded by us is nothing less than to break our Design apart, and run tests on various aspects of it, with the clear goal of judging performance, analyse our successes and failures, work on the former while studying the latter, publish the results of the experiments transparently, and to do so soberly, without sentimentality, identifying our own assumptions or prejudices and discard them, and to repeat this process a thousandfold times a thousandfold, until we have fine-tuned an array of methodologies which can be readily implemented and gradually wedge our civilization towards global sustainability.

The next step

Let’s say that we have created a working model of this new civilization, and that we stand ready to implement it. How must we do it?

Firstly, it should not be understood as the task of the EOS to fulfill this implementation – the EOS exists only to identify and bring about the Design, and is not a political party or a messianic movement. The task of transitioning towards a sustainable future belongs to all of us – humanity as a whole.

Secondly, this task we have before us is the single most important task any human generation has ever encountered. The three criteria are not just a manifesto, not just an excuse to fill one’s life with meaning, but absolutely critical, vital preconditions if we should have something worth calling “a human civilization” within a century. Thus, it is paramount that humanity is made aware about the impending and encroaching crisis, that its political priorities are set straight and that the three criteria for sustainability should be the basis on which we have the discussion of our future.

Thirdly, though the situation is grave, we cannot compromise with our ideals or with our basic humanity. We need to stare into the abyss, but we also need not only to develop our humanity and our empathy, but to constantly improve on these qualities. This means that unprovoked acts of violence, repression and censorship, police states and totalitarianism should be avoided. The exercise of physical pain (or the threat thereof) on human bodies is an unacceptable route. We should also do our outmost to avoid lies and exaggerations, even if for a good cause, and to be willing to admit our own factual errors if new data is revealed.

In the spirit of this honesty, I can say that no one with any certitude can predict exactly how the transition will happen or under what conditions it would happen. The only thing which is certain is that the postponement of the transition will mean not only more suffering on our species, but also a far more severe and sudden transition for humanity. The more reactionary the response against necessary change is, the more radical the remedy would need to be.

The transition would need to happen both from the top and from the bottom. From the control heights of supranational institutions and from tens of thousands of grassroots initiatives, which must be provided the means to activate their communities and transition them towards a state of resilience.

These changes must occur on the global scale:

  • We need wide-ranging international agreements which not only are binding but which are backed up by considerable force.
  • It is possible that the United Nations must gradually be converted to a more supranational entity, capable of enforcing these agreements. It must also to a large extent be democratic in order to have legitimacy.
  • Institutions like the IMF and the World Bank must be reformed and directed towards transitioning economies as well as transforming trade.
  • The environmental costs of economic activities must be measured and hardwired into the price mechanism, in gradual implementation where the end goal would be that there would be compensation for all environmental damage.
  • We need to abolish Fractional Reserve Banking, initially probably replacing it with a variation of Positive Money, before eventually introducing EA or something resembling EA.
  • There needs to be an informed umbrella movement which can educate humanity and organise grassroots initiatives in transitioning society.
  • There needs to be compensatory programmes directed towards those most affected both by the negative effects of the collapsing biosphere, and by the negative temporary effects of the transition.
  • There must be programmes of mass mobilization of “excess labour” (those currently unemployed) in the service of transitioning society.
  • There must be disarmament and a transformation of the world’s militaries into a force intended primarily for disaster relief and sustainable transition.
  • There needs to be a redefinition of leadership, and the formation of a new type of leadership ideal better suited for a sustainable civilization, rather than the often contradictory and predatory forms of leadership lauded in our current civilization.
  • We need to accelerate the development of technologies which can help us monitor the planetary resource base and the planetary biosphere, and to integrate the infrastructure in such a manner that it can be monitored and studied as a single organism – the Technosphere (the Internet of Things is a first step in that direction).
  • We need to phase out monocultures, while replacing them with various forms of sustainable agriculture and see to it that no one starves during this transition.
  • We need to reduce the global consumption of meat and dairy products.
  • We need to strengthen local autonomy and democratic self-governance by ensuring that local communities are empowered with the control over the keys to their livelihood – energy, food, water, clothing and medicine.
  • We need to transition towards a culture based on a universal understanding of scientific principles, of individual self-control and of non-violent communication.

Summary

Note, all of this sounds Utopian – and rightly so, considering the state of the world which we are in today (and which a lot of self-declared “optimists” have lauded as the least worst possible outcome). From another perspective, however, it looks different.

If we – instead of staring at our present world – would imagine a global, highly developed technological type-1 civilization, which should be able to co-exist in a symbiotic relationship with its planetary biosphere, what criteria would you have based it on?

And this is not some kind of intellectual exercise we are partaking in.

This is real – unlike most of the meaningless first world problems which constantly serve to distract us. We must achieve sustainability, not to save “business as usual” – because “business as usual” will cause not only a loss of complexity for our civilization but a sixth mass extinction – but to save our civilization, to save our biosphere. To save humanity, to save you and your descendants.

The list of demands I have listed above are insane, politically unfeasible, disconnected from what is happening today, and they will disturb the fragile semblance of order in our international anarchy.

But they are necessary.

Note, I have not written that a Technate is necessary. It may be, but it may be not. What is necessary however is that the three criteria defined by us on this website should become the guidelines and the standard for how we envision the core goals of a global human civilization – they must become the consensus upon which we lay the bedrock for a sustainable future.

Regarding the Technate, I consider the Holonic model of a self-organising, confederational society to be a beautiful vision. A civilization unimpeded by bureaucratic rigidity, concentration of power, statically defined entities which are badly equipped at rapidly reforming themselves in relation to new situations. A market able to satisfy demand while upholding sustainability and avoiding the perverse accumulation of wealth which gradually over the generations have seen a form of inequality emerge which is indefensible – one in which eight persons own as much as half of humanity combined.

It is very possible that – even if sustainability is achieved – that only parts of what we consider to be a Technate are realised within the framework of that future. Most likely, these parts will be the Holons responsible for the Energy Survey and the issuing and tracking of Energy Unit flows. If that however is realised in the distant future, we should still consider it a tremendous success if it happens under and contributes to a state of being where we have achieved global sustainability.

Read 1342 times Last modified on Friday, 12 May 2017 20:42