Post #19: An 8 Billion Person Conversation
How do we determine a good decision for our civilization? I’ve often gotten hung up on this point as it seems like a tough question to answer. Knocking our 8 billion heads together to come up with suitable criteria for civilizational decision making is a daunting task.
As it happens, we have been having a species-wide conversation about that very topic for thousands of years. Our major institutions- economies, governments, religions- represent the current point in the conversation.
Viewed through that lens, we can pick “evaluation criteria” for civilizational decisions by looking at what the major institutions are saying.
The leading religions, the largest countries, and the most widespread schools of economic thought represent the perspective of the vast majority of humans. There are of course many parts of these institutions that any given individual will disagree with, but we can look at these systems and ask the question, “what are they shouting?” The answer to that question provides a base layer of criteria that we can use to make decisions for civilization. Our institutional perspectives represent a multi thousand year consensus reached by many groups of humans around the world. That consensus is as good of a starting point as we will find as we look to decide the future.
The Consensus As Determined by Our Institutions
Governments, religions, economies. What are they telling us?
Let’s start with governments. Looking at the constitution, declaration of independence, and bill of rights for each country, a common perspective becomes clear: freedom. Countries are a group of people that want freedom. This freedom takes a variety of forms: physical freedom to not be harmed, social freedom to not be silenced, spiritual freedom to adhere to whichever religion, and economic freedom to work on whichever job. They don’t want to be oppressed by other countries nor do they want internal oppression. These documents clearly express the common desire for freedom of action. A good evaluation criteria is “would this goal increase freedom?”
It’s worth noting that the values a country writes down on paper often stray from reality. Does each government whose documents profess a commitment to their people’s freedom really live by that perspective? No. There are many examples of that not being the case, almost every example to some extent. With an improved civilizational operating system, we can strive to close the gap between the on paper ideal of freedom and the operating reality.
Now let’s look at religion. The big 4 religions cover 6 billion people or 75% of the global population.
We can see that Christianity’s (and Judaism’s) 10 commandments, Islam’s 75 good manners, Buddhism’s 5 precepts, and Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita share a common perspective. That perspective can be summed up with “be nice to each other.” They all say the same messages: don't kill, lie, cheat, steal, etc. Treat each other with respect and love.
The Atheist/Agnostic/Secular or “none” group is the fastest growing “spiritual” group, tallying 1.2 billion users. Adding that group to the big 4 religions and we can account for over 90% of our population. While there isn’t a central text representing this group, we can look at the long list of philosophers that laid the foundation for the nones, from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to Francis Bacon, John Locke, and René Descartes to David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, and many others. More work could be done to codify the nones’ perspective since they lack a text, but the “be nice to each other” message is common throughout these philosophers’ writings, with nonviolence and empathy making many appearances. Point being, the none group’s high-level message is similar to the religions.
Now let’s look at economies. Economic activity in the form of trading and money has been around for thousands of years. To understand our collective economic perspective, we’ll jump to the first economist Adam Smith who formalized economic thought in the 18th century. The Next Economy post summarized Adam’s synthesis of economic activity which is a strategy of “trusting human nature” to make moral decisions. He saw our empathy, competitive nature, and instinctual self-preservation as tools that could be leveraged to trend our society in a generally good direction.
So what are our institutions saying?
The species-wide conversation we’ve been having that has resulted in our governments, religions, and economies is saying that we want to be free, to treat each other nicely, and to trust our instincts.
Forgetting the mechanics of our governments, religions, and economies for a moment, we can see that the three concepts actually support each other. It’s hard for you to maintain your freedom if I am trying to harm you, and it’s hard to make decisions that increase freedom and improve our relationships if we don’t trust our human reality as a guide.
We can use those three criteria as a starting point to evaluate which paths we should pursue.
In practice, using “freedom, empathy, and trust” won’t let us fully evaluate most projects, goals, and ideas as we’ll need more nuanced criteria. For example, evaluating a web3 project as good or bad using “freedom, empathy, and trust” as criteria would result in a shaky decision since the criteria are too high-level. Whereas if you used criteria like “transaction volume, zero knowledge, emissionless,” you could start to make a clearer decision. But the foundational criteria that we’ve determined over the past few thousand years through building our institutions give us a starting point to develop a more complex evaluation taxonomy.
The List of Possible Paths
Similar to how the initial evaluation criteria for civilizational decision making already exists in the form of our institutional values, the list of possible paths also already exists. The list exists in the form of all the activities that humans are doing. All the jobs, projects, goals, research, companies, and other accomplishments people are working towards.
Let’s see how we can organize civilizational activity. There are 8 billion people alive today, with approximately 6 billion being of working age. Those 6 billion people are each living unique lives, but as far as their contribution to civilization and to the future of humanity goes, there are considerably less than 6 billion unique forms of contribution. For example, we can look at the U.S. census employment data to see how many people there are in certain jobs in the U.S. The data shows there are 730,800 financial managers, 174,200 HR managers, and 847,600 agricultural workers. Of the 158 million people who are employed in the U.S., this census organizes their jobs into 1,100 categories. The United States is the world’s most advanced economy, so it's likely that those 1,100 categories represent most of the work being done around the world. To be conservative, we’ll assume there are some unique job types in countries that face problems that the U.S. doesn't and round up to 2,000 categories of civilizational activities.
As it happens, this census sucks. At least it sucks when it comes to improving civilization. For example, this census shows there are millions of teachers in the U.S. The education categories differ by who the educators are teaching. Are they teaching young children? Teenagers? Postdocs? Professionals? Knowing who our 10 million educators are teaching is sort of interesting because if we saw we had zero people teaching children, then it means there’s an oversight. But beyond knowing who our educators are focused on, it would help to know what they are focused on. Are all 10 million educators focused on teaching students to solve their disputes through violence? Or are they teaching them to follow their dreams? Are they teaching them that the only thing that matters in life is making money? The content is what matters. I want to see a list of the tens of thousands of topics that are being taught so that we can assess which we should teach more of, which are outdated, and which are missing entirely.
Let’s take another example from the census. There’s a line item called “Computer Occupations” that 4.6 million people fall into. What are these people doing? It would be helpful to see the vast array of projects being developed or maintained by these 4.6 million people so that we can assess what is valuable to do more of, which applications are outdated, and which are missing entirely.
To scope out this list of civilization’s activities that includes the content of each job, using the 2,000 job categories, we can assume a range for how many content variations each job has. It’s probably somewhere between 100 and 1,000,000 for each category. For example, the 51,200 “Lodging managers” probably don’t focus on 500,000 meaningfully different types of lodging, it’s probably closer to 100. Whereas the 4.6 million “Computer Occupations” could be focused on close to 1,000,000 different applications. So this database of our civilization’s activities probably has a high of 2,000*1,000,000 = 2,000,000,000 activity types.
I don’t blame the Bureau of Labor Statistics for their suboptimal census data that doesn’t maintain a dynamic list of 2 billion projects. Their data is actually amazing and if you’re ever hankering for some census data, I encourage you to explore their website. But, but but but, their data is only as good as a centralized organization can do. To create the kind of census that tracks the vast array of “job goals” or “work content” civilization is undertaking, it will require a decentralized effort. Each of these activities is trying to accomplish something for our civilization, and it would be helpful to have them all organized so that we can subject the entirety of our activities to an evaluation process, helping us build a more relevant civilization.
Alright folks, the next post is going to be a “project pitch” for this decentralized “list” of civilization’s activities that we can then evaluate. I suspect it’ll be rough around the edges, as any first pitch is, but I’ll try to make it clear and compelling enough that someone could say, “that is super dumb” or “that is pretty cool.”
Until next Sunday.
What’s this substack all about?
We need to upgrade our civilization’s operating system [COS]. This newsletter is a research project that explores how our current operating system came to be, which improvements would be helpful, and how we can make an upgrade happen. This substack’s goal is to land on a project that can be built to upgrade our civilization’s operating system.
I chose to write this publicly to get feedback on these ideas. Don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can join the Discord server called RelevanceDAO to share thoughts. Upgrading our COS and building our future is a team effort.
Think that's just a capitalist economic perspective - communism, socialism, etc. feel differently than trust your instincts (I think).
But but but, I think the idea is really cool. In fact, it reminds me a little bit of The Org (https://theorg.com/) which I believe is a user-generated map of a company team infrastructure. Joining means you know who leads finance at Netflix and who they report to, populated by the finance team at Netflix with the incentive to build better organizational data maps.
That but for all types of occupations, labor functions, industries, etc. very valuable.