A story about expressive capacity

On a community currency related Skype chat that I’m a part of, there’s been a conversation that cycles around now and again about how the various national jurisdictions respond to community currencies, how they are likely to try and shut them down (as they did in the 30’s), and what to do about. Arthur Brock responded saying: “I think the most effective way to avoid being shut down (or even taxed for that matter) by the powers that be is to operate using non-monetary currencies that don’t look like money or compete in the same space as money. We use dozens of these a day and they’ll never be able to even attempt to shut all of these types of things down.”

Synchronisticly I had just seen an article on the “The game-based economy” which I think neatly illustrates Arthur’s point. Look closely at what “gamification” actually means in the case studies. It’s the introduction of wealth acknowledgment token systems that account for the wealth being generated by a “game.” Each one of them is actually a different form of a “current-see,” a formal information system that lets the players see the particular current(s), or flow(s) that they can then interact with in particular ways to generate the overall intended outcome of the game. Who is limited in the creation of such current-sees? Nobody. You just do it. (ie. the true meaning of LETS!) But doing it will be much easier if there is an widespread expressive capacity, i.e. a “meta-language” in which to specify and describe the current-sees. The creation of that meta-language, to my mind, is the task of our movement.

Here’s a little story to explain what I mean about the new expressive capacity (meta-language) that is embodied in current-see:

Imagine it’s 3000 years ago and you hear all this griping about the unfairness of those temple scribes who have control of the pictograms. It’s just not fair! The scribes totally abuse their power, they tax us more and more for each letter we want to send, etc.. But we’ve finally understood that their pictograms really aren’t sacred, they’re just arbitrary symbols, any of us could make up our own set and send letters to our families! We should have the right to to do this without the temple thugs coming to get us!

And then when you dig deeper you do see that, even though they’re an elite class, they do serve an important function (maintaining the consistency of meaning) by keeping tabs on each pictogram and making sure they’re drawn correctly etc. And yeah you see that maybe not everybody should be allowed to create pictograms and write with them. Just imagine all the chaos that would ensue if just everybody created their own different drawings for each word. Because then we have to deal with competing meaning systems and maybe we’d better just have one symbol set to learn because that’s more efficient for the scribes because after all, we can’t all spend the time it takes to learn all 100,000 pictograms for all of our words! That’s why there are scribes in the first place!

So maybe we can just start a complementary pictogram (cp) system for the couple thousand words we use here locally! Yah! Let’s do it! And in some places the local temples are cool with that, and in others it’s O.K. as long as you use them only to talk about non-temple business, an in other places they see any different pictograms as a threat and ban them. So then the talk of the cp movement is all about what the laws are in different temple jurisdictions and how to get people to start signing on to new pictogram systems instead of going down to the temple for all their writing needs.. etc.. etc..

And then someone invents the alphabet, a new expressive capacity that completely by-passes the functional reason for centralizing that power to the scribes in the first place. The alphabet makes it truly practical for everyone to learn to read and write because they only need to learn a handful of symbols. Any kid can (and will) do it.

I hope you see how the story above is almost isomorphic to the current financial situation with its elite. And how many of the questions and concerns that people have about community currency relate: Worries about the nation state thugs shutting things down. Questions about what happens if any individual can issue currency. Anger at the banks for monopoly issue, etc. These are all structurally the same as those worries about the scribes. And for structurally the same reason with the same structural solution. An information system was centralized that no longer needs to be when a new expressive capacity at a higher meta-level makes universal “literacy” possible.

Everybody issuing their own current-sees isn’t like everybody creating their own 100,000 picture pictogram system just because they can. It’s like everybody learning a new “wealth alphabet” in which they can begin to speak wealth-acknowledgments to each other in new useful systemic patterns that reveal the flows in communities that actually build wealth.

Literacy is a necessary precursor to democracy in large scale societies. We live in the age before any wealth-acknowledgment-alphabet exists. Thus the political freedom made possible by democracy is not possible in the economic realm. When the wealth-acknowledgment-alphabet comes into existence, then, and only then, will a new form of true economic democracy become possible.

Jane Jacobs: The Nature of Economies

I have just 10 minutes ago finished Jane Jacobs, The Nature of Economies, and I just have to write about it.

I am totally stunned, and deeply sad that I never was able to meet her. In this book she speaks directly to me from beyond the grave completely confirming the approach I have been following in rethinking what currency is and what it means to humanity.

She ends the book with two answers to one question “what are economies for?” :

“… To enable us to partake, in our own fashion, in a great universal flow.”

“economies have a lot in common with language… like language, economic life permits us to develop cultures and multitudes for purposes… that’s its function which is most meaningful for us.”

For a while now I have take Art Brock’s lead in defining currencies as:

Information systems that allow communities to interact with flows

I’ve also written about how money is just the first word or sentence in a much bigger “language” or as I’ve been calling it, “expressive capacity,” that allows the social being to shape the flows that constitute it. But more importantly how such a new expressive capacity will allow us to integrate the flows at all levels of wealth. So to hear both of these ideas as the final punch in a whole book which is all about the shifting our understanding of economics is towards seeing it in the broader integrated context of the flow processes of the natural world, has me completely floored and overjoyed.

Part way through the book it also occurred to me that what we currently call economics is to some unnamed future science is as alchemy is to chemistry. So I thought I would try to name that science:

Since economy is oikos/nomy = home/management

I thought this might work:rheonomy from rheo/nomy = flow/management

I also like how rheo sounds like the Spanish: rio or river, and it’s also a good pun because its: realnomics… :-)

econophysics and community currency

I’ve recently been introduced to the field of econophysics and I’ve read an interesting the review paper on the field. My thoughts on this paper is that it’s very good news for the community currency movement, if understood properly. For a long time when talking about cc, I’ve been using the little thought experiment of asking people to imaging the Buddha, Jesus and Mother Theresa sitting down to play monopoly and to see if the game will have a different outcome. The answer is obviously no, not if they play by the rules. It doesn’t matter how good or evil you are, the rules of monopoly simply require that all the cash end up in one player’s hands, i.e 100% inequity. The econophysics work on the Statistical Mechanics modeling of money takes this intuitive analogy and “proves” quite definitively the fundamental inequity of our current system if you assume that the rules of the game are that money behaves like energy. The good news for community currency arises out of the basic flaw of the paper which is it seems to imply that money is natural system, rather than a created one. If money were an inevitable natural system, then the paper could be seen as an justification of that structural inequity. But since it is a created one, rather it’s an explanation of the the inequity, and thus can point us very clearly in directions of how the monetary system should instead be re-designed. What are those directions? Well, we see in the paper the very careful arguments to show how money is conserved. This is crucial to the model because in the model money is energy, and statistical mechanics is built on the law of the conservation of energy. But more importantly their model is about statistical equilibrium of energy states in closed systems. So this gives us a clear indication of where to go: change the monetary paradigm to one where the fundamental model is based on non-equilibrium state energy systemics. Well, we know what non-equilibrium state energy systems are, they are living systems. In living systems what matters fundamentally is not how much energy is accumulated but rather, whether energy can be made to flow in particular complex patterns that themselves are self-sustaining. Even more crucially, life is not about what happens if energy is allowed to dissipate to equilibrium. The name for that process is death! So I think we could even argue that that the modeling they have done is of the death of an economy! Life is not about accumulation of the energy itself, but instead it is about the accumulation of the complex patterns of energy flows. The word for a such patterns is “ecosystem”. In their model money is seen as energy, or the capacity to do work. This actually makes sense for an early stage in the evolution of money. When the main issue is the scarcity of the capacity to get work done, then finding ways to accumulate it is key, and building an economic structure to generate that accumulation makes sense. We now live in a world where our capacity to do work is not at all scarce, it’s over abundant. The big problem is the waste human capacity (think of the structural unemployment) and also the squandering of all that massive capacity in ways that are blatantly destructive (military expenditures) or systemically destructive (climate change). So our task is now to re-gear the fundamental system to not simply accumulate of the capacity to do work, but mostly to accumulate particular patterns of that capacity that are what we call “healthy”. So, how do we do that!? I use a completely different model for money that I think fits the bill, namely that money is a form of language, or more precisely a writing system that encodes information about wealth events. This model transcends and includes the model of money as energy, because in its simplest form, the rules of the writing system can be made to follow the rules of conservation of energy. What I have been calling for and working on with open money (as well as collaborting with Art Brock on his OS-Earth platform) is a meta-currency system that is precisely about making it easy to create these many different writing system (currencies) and their rule-sets, or another way to put that, that precisely enables a the creation of pattern sets for economic flows.

mexico

I’m in mexico, and it’s the start of the third day of the open money intensive.  This is an incredible experience of the expansion of the open money vision that’s been in gestation for so long and is now being  birthed.  More soon!