This is the fourth installment in the series “God’s Eye View”
Part 1 – Mathematical Theories of Life
Part 2 – Intuition, Governance Tokens, and Training Kids to Bet Big
Part 3 – Civic Tech, the Wisdom of Crowds and Off-Shore Sandboxes
Please bear with me if this post seems a bit more rambling than usual. I’ve been trying to process a lot of ideas bubbling up and it’s been a challenge to pin them down. I don’t know that I did a great job of it, but I need to move on. All of this is still simmering on the back burner. I welcome your thoughts in the comments.
When the FTX debacle blew up last fall I’d already left social media. Knowing public drama is generally a strategic spectacle, I didn’t look into Sam Bankman-Fried at the time. I viewed him as an expendable young guy who’d been tapped to advance the plot. How did Alameda and FTX gain that much traction in the first place? He was wet behind the ears, didn’t even have a PhD – which seems to be a prerequisite for elite quant jobs. Bankman-Fried’s very public fall was a necessary step in a larger campaign to steer public perception of distributed ledger technology away from its largely crypto-centric identity, one intentionally steeped in greed, speculation, and blatant corruption. In these smoking ruins, blockchain could then get a makeover as a “neutral” tool that could be productively repurposed to advance the “public good” and digital “democracy.”
Raul’s article pointed out the link between FTX and online poker fraud via lawyer Daniel Friedberg. I then discovered Alameda Research had backed The Secret Network’s private smart contract roll out, making it just a few steps removed from the Ultimate Bet by way of Iovation’s fraud monitoring software and Intel Capital. Flaws in Intel’s hardware had left The Secret Networks’ data open to decryption. The opportunity to secure a “god’s eye view” in poker or in futures trading, games defined by information asymmetry, is a terrible temptation. The value of data as “the new oil” isn’t simply as a commodity that can be used to generate profit. The importance of data is to secure a tactical advantage over your competition in the big game of life.
It was Bankman-Fried’s LinkedIn profile that brought me to elusive Pennsylvania billionaire Jeff Yass and Susquehanna Investment Group’s arbitrage prowess. Sam’s first job out of MIT was at Jane Street, another low-profile market-making firm that handles billions in Exchange Traded Funds each day. The firm was started in 1999 with staff from Susquehanna; its founders were trained on high-level applied mathematics and many, many rounds of poker at SIG’s casino-grade poker tables.
After Jane Street, but before starting Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried worked for two months as Director of Development for the Centre for Effective Altruism, an Oxford-based think-tank/charity started in 2012 by philosophers William MacAskill and Toby Ord. Bankman-Fried’s embrace of data-driven “charity” was spotlighted by the mainstream media. Surely that agenda will continue to advance, along with universal basic income, digital citizenship, and token engineering. In reality, it’s about installing the policy, financial, and sensor infrastructure needed to catalyze post-Moore’s-law computing. Distributed ledger technology has always been meant to function as a “decentralized” steering wheel, guiding (and harvesting) the “wisdom of crowds.”
The Centre for Effective Altruism operates out of Trajan House, a space it shares with:
The Future of Humanity Institute led by Nick Bostrom, an interdisciplinary project focused on “big-picture” ideas around human civilization
The Global Priorities Institute working in the area of decision making around “doing the most good”
The Forethought Foundation funding research around longtermism
The Centre for the Governance of AI that addresses transitioning humans to an advanced AI era
The Global Challenges Project offering workshops to students about existential risk and moral decision making, and
Eric Drexler, a pioneer theorist in molecular nanotechnology who wrote the 1987 “Engines of Creation: the Coming Era of Nanotechnology,” is embedded in a number of the Trajan House initiatives. Not only is he a fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, Drexler is also an advisor to the Centre for the Governance of AI and an affiliate of the Centre for Effective Altruism.
It was Drexler who first proposed a “grey goo” scenario in which self-replicating robots take over the world through ecophagy, a theme featured in a Super Bowl advertisement featuring “White Noise” star, Adam Driver. In this case Squarespace replaced “robots making robots making robots” with “websites making websites making websites.” Midway through the ad, a vortex is opened up by the Singularity, sucking in all but the original Driver who is left standing in the desert in a torn suit. The sequence calls to mind the centerpiece of the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the black vortex everything bagel. Then of course you’ve got the East Palestine derailment mirroring “White Noise’s” plot line – an airborne toxic event where several residents of the town had actually been extras in the film. Extras whose last name is part of the title of one of DeLillo’s early, most inscrutable works, about high level mathematics and astronomy – “Ratner’s Star.” What are they trying to tell us?
Drexler, with his first wife Christine Peterson and James Bennett, founded the Foresight Institute in 1986 based in San Francisco. Many early members had ties to L5, an effort to promote space colonization in the 1970s. Foresight was created to focus on molecular manufacturing but is now working in the areas of “intelligent cooperation,” neurotechnology, longevity, and health extension.
One of Eric Drexler’s recent projects involved theorizing a new vector and graph language for intelligent machines. In reading Drexler’s paper, I remembered that in the first chapter of Oliver Reiser’s “World Sensorium,” he lays out the need for a new language that will trigger the age of cosmic humanism by creating a “medium which remains invariant for all, so that whosoever choose may read or talk about it.” He continues on page 28: “The job is to find a layout, a picture basis, so simple and so huge that is it seeable by anyone who has mastered the movies or can punch a radio panel.” The ideal language would be “in psycho-social motion for spiritual traveling” and would “shrink all knowledge so that it can be put on an all-history, all-world basis for invariant transfer across social wholes.” Such a language, Reiser thought, would bring about global unification and a planetary democracy through “language-logic” emancipation. He then suggests that musical composition may be the starting point for a means of communication that lies outside linguistic frameworks, citing Pythagoras’s music of the spheres on page 30: “this method not only has wide applications in electricity, but as will some day appear, has possibilities of development through the treatment of electromagnetic fields of force at work in biological and other super-physical systems.”
Note the feature image for this post, the logo of the Centre for Effective Altruism, is a heart confined within a lightbulb – an energetic pulse contained within an artificial field. For more insights into this I recommend Stephers’s posts “Getting to the Heart of the Social Distancing Matter” and “Tuned In – A Mother’s Intuition on Transmission from the Jabbed to the Un-Jabbed.” I believe Reiser was onto something with energetic entrainment as a new form of psychical communication and that Metaverse mesmerists may be in the process of tapping into that potential. Reviewing the history of the Neurophone and reflecting on John Lilly’s research into dolphins, it seems alternative communication systems have been the works for quite some time. I was somewhat stunned to find out that, Project Xanadu’s, Ted Nelson and, Macy Conference anthropologist, Gregory Bateson were also involved in Lilly’s dolphin work. Bateson’s daughter Nora is also affiliated with Jim Rutt’s “Game B.” This article, “Music and the Transhuman Ear: Ultrasonics, Material Bodies, and the Limits of Sensation,” shared with me by Stephers may offer some insight into this headspace. What if AI language is actually an acoustic frequency beyond the normal reach of our senses but through engineered prosthetics (visual, audio, bio-fields) we could access information in novel ways that bridge our minds to artificial intelligences. Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman is actively working on sound to touch sensory substitution and a variety of technologies to extend our ability to “sense” frequencies beyond the reach of our innate biological equipment.
I imagine this is not unlike the synesthesia or heightened awareness experienced in altered states of consciousness. It recalls the AI character “Jane” from Orson Scott Card’s “Enderverse” world who “speaks” to Ender’s mind through a jewel in his ear – a sensory prosthetic. A “hearing aid” but not in the traditional sense. It is darkly humorous that in the plot line Jane emerged from the Enderverse’s equivalent of the internet, manifested by the Hive Queen (eusociality) to be a mental bridge to the boy soldier. She then became Ender’s “investment manager” and close confidant. I bet Jane would be a formidable poker opponent.
So, a new language that exists outside current constructs, perhaps outside biology itself…through which agents in the game can access all knowledge across time…and that may incorporate electro-magnetic principles to prepare society for spiritual traveling. That’s quite an ambitious program. Drexler’s project may not be shooting quite that high, and yet his proposed vector-graph exchanges are something I need to mull over. I recently presented on Rihanna’s halftime Super Bowl performance where pheromones were prominently featured. Could such a “language” be like a musical pheromone represented through graphical annotation?
We know there is considerable interest in the scientific community to digitize taste and smell for Metaverse experiences and to use technology to tweak our sensory experiences like “hearing” through haptics. I didn’t mention it in my halftime show analysis, but the fact Justina Miles’s sign-language interpretation of Rihanna’s performance went viral seems to me to indicate the importance of acoustics to extended reality. Maybe our current conception of how we “hear” is being taken in a new direction? Jim Sorenson is a key figure is social impact finance who has played an active role in the deaf community for many years. One of his companies, Sorenson Communication, is a global leader in providing closed captions for video calls and sign language services for video conferencing. Ten Sorenson employees were involved in an unusual sidewalk / pedestrian car crash next to a food truck while attending the DeafNation Expo in Austin last April. I’ve been curious about Second Life’s Philip Rosedale moving into spatial audio at High Fidelity, before coming back to his work in virtual world building. Rosedale seems to be very cozy with IEEE. I’m also thinking about Jordan Hall, a leader in Game B with an interest in blockchain and stigmergy, and his early success with MP3, digital music.
If Reiser’s universal communication were realized, would we be able to understand it directly? Perhaps due to their complexity, advanced concepts would need to be relayed to us through an interpreter, an AI personal assistant. I’m thinking of the AI librarian character in Neal Stephenson’s “Snowcrash” novel (the first use of the term Metaverse) who teaches Hiro Protagonist about Sumerian nam shubs, speech with magical force.
Drexler’s proposed new language is an outgrowth of the pattern-seeking behaviors undertaken by machine “intelligence” as it roams the vast quantities of data generated by fourth industrial revolution sensor technology. This paper, “Sensing the Future of Bioinformational Engineering,” shared with me by Stephers, is shocking in its out-in-the-open plans to transform biology using light and electrical signaling from a distance. Targets include humans, crops, even entire ecosystems! Now consider how much real time data this will generate. Of course “intelligent” machines are going to need to share information at levels beyond the comprehension of human minds.
The “Internet of Biological Things” (see lower screenshot) isn’t just about sensing, but sensing with a purpose. These sensors will ultimately be connected to actuators with the power to alter objects and agents being “sensed.”
Sensor networks are being installed across the globe, a networked, “outside in,” robotic infrastructure to launch a “regenerative” blockchain finance paradigm. We’re meant to live encased in “green” webs of encrypted data, supposedly to “save the planet.” The seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals give structure to the sensor data, while distributed ledger technologies provide contextual depth through interoperability and metadata tags.
In trying to picture how an “agent” might be incorporated into an “intelligent” machine’s communication, I remembered the gif of an Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) shared with me by Sebs Solomon last year. It’s a dynamic, complex form composed of nodes constantly moving outward as new information is added. To me this seems like an accurate representation of “goal-directed” life, a form that could be nudged through cybernetic processes like smart contract logic fed by invisible sensing technologies.
It seems to me that Drexler, in the spirit of building a noetic, networked “global brain,” may be seeking to go beyond the limitations of human biology and shape a new grammar to underpin programming of matter and “smart” guided evolution. Perhaps the semantic web, rule sets for managing data, is part of that trajectory? See Ross Quillian’s work for the US Airforce in the late 1960s around structuring human knowledge in a graphical format that would allow for future inferences.
For me this brings to mind the central conundrum in the movie “Arrival,” how to accurately translate alien Heptapod logograms. In thinking through this with Stephers today, she mentioned making the connection between the circular communications in the film and Enso circles created in the Zen tradition of spiritual calligraphy. These free-form brushstrokes could represent wholeness and perfection (closed) or development and movement (open). Zen Buddhism shares a synergy with Daoism, a complementary practice, both emphasizing order and harmony.
But what if we swap out “Arrival’s” aliens for artificially intelligent machines? What if tokenization of everything on planet Earth wasn’t simply about financialization or making interactions machine-readable? What if the constellations of networked tokens will be a new form of vector-based communication that can only be understood by the machines themselves? Would such a language enable “intelligent machines” to intervene in our lives and the environment through sensor networks, a supreme example of cybernetic “governance.” Would such intervention be used for overt domination? Or would the mechanical conductors embrace subtlety and wield their quasi-linguistic neural representations as covert “spells” we might not even be able to discern?
Today I was watching a recently posted talk by Belgian cyberneticist Francis Heyligan at a “Human Energy” conference held in Berkeley last year that went into considerable detail about his work at the Center Leo Apostel’s Evolution, Complexity and Cognition Group. The main thrust was around the Noosphere. His work centers complexity theory in emergence and the origins of life through simulation modeling of self-organizing systems.
I think back to Perry Marshall’s $10 million Evolution 2.0 grand challenge. Marshall, a high-powered business consultant from Chicago, is seeking nothing less than to pin down the origins of life. Perry believes that the singularity will not happen until we reimagine what computers are and asserts that humans are not computers. In a 2021 paper, “Biology Transcends the Limits of Computation,” Perry focuses on the cognitive nature of all life, down to the cell. He elaborates on Michael Levin’s work in bioelectricity and self-organizing systems, including bacterial colonies (biofilms) that use cognition at the cell level to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This occurs through a process called quorum sensing. Autoinducers convey messages among cells. Once the chemical messaging hits a certain threshold, action is taken.
I see similarities between this, Futarchy and the push to remake “democracy” for “radical participation” with blockchain identity and tokens. Zooming out to take in the bigger picture, I can’t help but think that planned innovations in voting aren’t a response to populist sentiment, but rather a means by which to invite humans to adopt a bacterial “quorum sensing” model. Transformative governance is not about any particular political movement, but about evolution, eugenics, and sociobiology – applying new fitness landscapes that preference agents conforming to the superorganism, biofilm, ant colony, global brain model.
Tokens represent the equivalent of the bacterial autodinducers engineered to direct activities of the collective towards specified outcomes. Ecologies of local currencies moving about populations of agents may one day act as population level biochemical signals. The end goal? Eusociality, the pinnacle of social organizing according to E.O. Wilson. Through consilience the social sciences will be melded with the hard sciences – sociology run according to the laws of physics.
This clip is from an interview between David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist retired from SUNY Binghampton and founder of the Human Energy Project, and Josiah Ober a classics professor at Stanford who specializes in the politics of the Athenian city-state and its application to modern governance. The two men open their discussion with the premise of the Athenian city states as cooperating and competing superorganisms.
This concept was applied to urban societies in general in an interesting book someone sent my way this week, “Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligence for the Human Hivemind,” written by Marilyn Hamilton in 2008. It is aligned with Don Beck’s Center for Human Emergence that promotes integral theory and spiral dynamics, a topic we’ll cover later in a discussion of Transpartisan politics. You can see from the entries in the book’s seventh chapter how token signals could bridge the gap between social physics and smart governance within the context of “Limits to Growth” homeostasis.
Last year Ralph Merkle; a leader in public key cryptography, molecular engineering, and cryonics, published “DAOs, Democracy, and Governance,” in which he proposed a policy infrastructure that would tap the “wisdom of crowds” to create a self-improving society using distributed ledger technology, prediction markets, and voting on public wellbeing. Advisors on the paper listed in his acknowledgements included Nick Bostrom; Vitalik Buterin; Robin Hanson; Robert Freitas; Charles Hoskinson and Melanie Swann. As my friend Jason noted, that’s quite the dinner party.
I think they’re foisting this upon us to create a digital replica of the Earth, a simulation sandbox where they can explore alternative futures and gamify life. The system needs our consent, through our participation in token trading, to transform the Earth into a nature-machine hybrid super-organism. As many were captivated by Bitcoin and NFTs, Soulbound Tokens came on the scene. Could SBTs, used as meta-data tags, become the building blocks of a new language for “intelligent machines?” Natural Language Processing already relies on tokenizing elements of speech; and if the “language” of “the commons” ends up being “living” assemblies of nodes and edges, distributed ledger technology, then we’ll likely see the relationship between FTX billionaires and the effective altruism movement in a whole new light.
An engaging long-form piece published last summer in the New Yorker, “The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism,” describes the evolution of William MacAskill, Effective Altruism’s co-founder, from a thoughtful risk-taking Scottish kid into the well-connected leader of what appears to be a techno-utopian cult grounded in scientific charity management undergirded by data analytics and harsh logic. An interesting tidbit in the New Yorker piece, given the gambling focus of this series, is that MacAskill was housemates for a time with Igor Kurganov, a professional Russian poker player more recently living in Austin who briefly advised Elon Musk’s donor-advised fund. Kurganov and his partner Liv Boeree launched their own “effective altruism” enterprise, Raising for Effective Giving, in 2014 where poker players agree to donate a percentage of their earnings to specific charities.
MacAskill and Bankman-Fried struck up a friendship while the latter was still in college. MacAskill had shown up to MIT to advise students on ethical life optimization. Growing up, Bankman-Fried’s parents were Stanford Law faculty who regularly hosted social gatherings where ethics were front and center. He was pretty much raised to be a utilitarian. The premise behind EA (Effective Altruism) is that adherents pledge to make a secular tithe of at least ten percent of their income and direct it to proven charitable ventures. EA culture is defined by competitive donation tracking with adherents eager to point out flaws in the impact metrics associated with the charities of their peers. A sub-plot that bubbled up from the FTX debacle was speculation that Bankman-Fried’s strong desire to make a lot of money in order to give it away to worthwhile causes led to lapses in judgment and a sense that their beneficent imperative led the firm to operate outside the law.
I have a different take. I view what happened as a controlled demolition that will, in part, allow social entrepreneurs to continue to advance a version of Effective Altruism with new forms of oversight, shifting towards decentralized governance. A tokenized “commons” waits in the wings. Greedy, crypto-bros and egg-head technocrats are convenient foils for quirky, green-pilled, collectivist token engineers who just want to democratize blockchain and solve poverty and the climate crisis.
I’m envisioning EA’s “Giving What We Can” pledge rebooted along the lines of the Gates/Buffett Giving Pledge with assets pooled to cover Universal Basic Income payments (GiveDirectly) or “public goods” projects. Picture a pool of matching funds for Gitcoin-type grants where winning proposals must demonstrate a broad-base of public support with relatively modest contributions from regular people. Of course, none of this can happen without infusions of concentrated wealth from the billionaire class. If social impact didn’t move the ball forward on the networked state “world brain” agenda, it wouldn’t happen.
A critique offered by Stanford professor Rob Reich in a 2015 op-ed in the Boston Review tees up my assessment rather nicely:
“Plato identified the best city as that in which philosophers were the rulers. Effective altruists see the best state of affairs, I think, as that in which good-maximizing technocrats are in charge. Perhaps it is possible to call this a politics: technocracy. But this politics is suspicious of, or rejects, the form of politics to which most people attach enormous value: democracy. Would effective altruists attach any independent value to democracy? Given the chance to craft social and political arrangements from scratch, would effective altruists select democratic rather than technocratic rule? I suspect the answer is no, and to that extent, effective altruism is in tension with the commonplace philosophy that identifies democracy as a powerful normative force.” Source
Sure, EA’s misguided approach can be addressed with a big dose of “democracy;” it’s just what the digital commoners ordered. Reich proceeds as if the plan is simply to continue the traditional democratic model as we’ve known for two centuries rather than acknowledge the planned transition to electronic governance model daily tokenized voting “signals” that will eventually be managed by our digital twin personal assistants.
An example of this trend is democracy.earth founded by Siri Santiago offering “tools for a borderless democracy, for everyone, everywhere.” Santiago is Argentinian game developer turned World Economic Forum global shaper who began working with Ethereum on digital ID “proof of humanity,” DAO education models, and now UBI. Santiago’s 2017 white paper “The Social Smart Contract” garnered support from UC Berkeley, Y Combinator, Singularity University, Fast Company, the World Economic Forum, TED, the South African Shuttleworth Foundation, FastForward, and the MIT Technology Review. democracy.earth is also supported by the Templeton World Foundation for human flourishing. The foundation’s assets are derived from John Templeton‘s fortune, a Tennessee-born developer of mutual fund products who moved to the Bahamas, was knighted by the Queen, and became a prominent philanthropist investing in research into genius, character, free markets, religion, and theoretical physics.
Despite its UK address, the Centre for Effective Altruism incorporated as a US nonprofit in Berkeley, CA in 2015 and has a large base of support in Silicon Valley. The 2020 990 tax form lists a 2443 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA mailing address; twenty-six million in assets (up from twelve and a half million the prior year of which $1.5 million were in donated crypto); four giving areas (animal welfare, global development, EA infrastructure, and the long-term future); five paid staff; and a board of five.
MacAskill was board chair and Max Dalton the president. Dalton, a UK-educated economist, sought to shift EA contributions away from immediate needs around poverty into planning for existential risk, including Generalized Artificial Intelligence, a “longtermist” outlook that took precedence after Sam Bankman-Fried’s assets began pouring into the organization.
The list of grants from 2020 begins on page 37 of the 990 document. In addition to projects addressing food access, malaria, animal rights, and nuclear proliferation, there were a large number of distributions for “research.” The Centre’s infrastructure program seeks to leverage philanthropy to “drive more high-quality talent, information, and capital towards tackling the world’s biggest problems.” page 2
Among the recipients of grants in 2020 were:
Innovations in Poverty Action – led by Dean Karlan, an MIT-trained economist who runs the Global Poverty Research Lab at the Kellogg Business School at Northwestern University, that conducts controlled randomized studies of aid programs
IDInsight – global data analytics consultancy focused on poverty in Africa and Asia
Machine Intelligence Research Institute – ensuring that artificial intelligence has positive impact
Mercatus Center – George Mason University free-market think tank focused on public policy
Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative – administrative support for projects around human survival
Metaculus – crowd-sourced prediction market focused on timing and impact of tech developments
GiveDirectly – Google-seeded platform to enable UBI payments direct to mobile phone
If you follow my research on smart environments, poverty management, biometric identity, and the use of social impact verification data to train artificial intelligence, a scan of the above list speaks to the type of game mechanics being put in place to manage the transition to the fourth industrial revolution. Digital enclosures are being sold to the oblivious masses as convenience, empowerment, and self-sovereignty when what they’re really setting up are panopticon poorhouses run by AI.
Sam’s nickname was the Bentham of crypto. Jeremy Bentham was an eighteenth-century British moral philosopher whose interest in technical poverty management inspired the EA movement. Bentham’s credo was the most happiness for the most people, felicific calculus. He is considered a founder of modern utilitarianism. The concept of measuring utility, or value, has become a central feature of economic modeling and decision theory since von Neumann and Morgenstern introduced the concept of mathematically representing utility function for rational agents in a given situation.
The rise of stakeholder capitalism, where behavioral data is linked to social impact finance, has led to a gradual turning away from the primacy of Gross Domestic Product measures to embrace happiness and well-being metrics, as well. It is such measurements promoted by economists like Richard Layard, that justified expansion of mental health services in the UK. Treatments, the type that would generate data, could be scaled if they were measured against productivity that might otherwise be lost to depression or anxiety. A 2006 article that I referenced in a 2019 post about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), likened community mental health centres funded under Layard’s Benthamesque model as “a sort of Ikea for the mind.” Edwin Chadwick worked closely with Bentham. His focus was policies centering public health and sanitation and was among the first to systematically track illness spread in poor communities. He later became an expert in public service franchise contracts. I need to spend more time with, “The Economics of Edwin Chadwick: Incentives Matter,” but my intuition says Chadwick and Bentham’s economic frames are about to be applied to token engineering with a neo-Georgist (Henry) flair.
The Centre for Effective Altruism cannot be understood outside the context of Bentham’s panopticon and cult of meritocracy. I’m sharing the lengthy excerpt below from a blog post by Jenny Hughes with the University of Manchester theater department, because it brings in the issue of “moral” philosophers co-opting play into the machine. When I hear that Nvidia hopes to attach artificially intelligent assistants to children in order to code imaginary worlds into the Metaverse, it reminds me of the sinking stage. Bentham’s world needed to capture the physical effort of children, while today’s world demands access to their creativity and inner worlds.
There are many, many vulnerable communities being set up as targets for altruistic data harvest, but children – through universal pre-k finance – are on the leading edge. They need our protection.
“Perhaps less well known than the panopticon idea are Bentham’s proposals for the education of pauper children to be carried out in these new pauper panopticons. I found these ideas quite startling – and not at all what I expected...”
“For example, Bentham argues for a pauper management system based on the East India Company – that vanguard of free market capitalism – and here the poor are to be put to work in ‘industry houses’ that are made profitable, primarily, via child labour!“
“When considering the system of education to be developed in the pauper panopticons, Bentham spends some time describing suitable play and athletic activities… Bentham goes on to say that there should be opportunities for running, leaping, dancing, capering – but they must be linked to industry. This might happen via a structure called the ‘sinking stage’, which can be put to use for the purposes of pleasure, productivity and profitability, all in the same moment.”
“Sinking stage, for producing an up-and-down motion by the weight of children. A stage hanging at one end of a beam, with the other end of which is connected the burthen: water (suppose), to be raised by a bucket or by a pump, whether of the lifting or forcing kind. A certain weight pressing upon the stage causes it to sink. Children, each of a known weight, would in a certain number produce the effect. The length of the stage is adapted to the proposed number of the children and runs in a direction transverse to that of the beam: to arrive at the stage they run up an inclined plane. The stage may have two stories: the upper, requiring a longer hill to climb, will be for the older and stronger set of children. It might also, at each story, have two returns, parallel to each other, and at right angles to the first stage: the three together forming three sides of a square. The sport would be to which could first get into his place. Contrivance will of course be requisite to prevent the children from receiving hurt by any considerable disproportion produced on the sudden between the power and the burthen; but this is no more than what any mechanist will know how to provide for …”
“So, the aim is to provide an opportunity for play, pleasure and exercise, but also to put the energy expended by children in play to pecuniary uses. The power produced by the machinery here would presumably be directed in some way to speed up production. This is needed because, for Bentham, when pauper children are being educated: ‘no portion of time ought to be directed exclusively to the single purpose of comfort; but amusement, as well as every other modification of comfort, ought to be infused, in the largest possible dose the economy admits of, into every particle of the mass of occupations by which time is filled.”
“For me – I like that Bentham called these ‘sinking’ stages – I certainly have a sinking feeling when I sense the absence of my own preference for (and childhood experience of) free, unsupervised, undisciplined, completely purposeless, often dangerous, very dirty and extremely pleasurable play from past and present scripts of children’s education and development – but that’s another story.” source
In the name of social impact philanthropy, children’s bodies continue to be disciplined in educational settings; not using massive industrial kinetic structures, but rather wearables and play rubrics laid out by defense contractors with an interest in structuring their character. When we were raising our child, the Philadelphia School District saw dramatic budget cuts to the point that there were no longer staff available to watch children at recess. Families at more affluent schools raised funds to bring in “PlayWorks,” a national nonprofit that used Americorps volunteers to “make the most out of playtime.” They instituted recess rubrics; just the thing needed to measure impact! A primary funder of the program was the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. The largest contractor in the United States, one with serious ties to the CIA, exerted its influence over the structure of play in thousands of districts.
In addition to Bentham’s influence, it’s also important to reflect on the importance of altruism and self-sacrifice in the theory of eusociality advanced by controversial entomologist, conservationist, and father of the field of sociobiology E.O. Wilson. Eusociality is characteristic of social insects, and Wilson believed humans demonstrate a weak form of it as well. Wilson felt eusocial communities were the highest level of social organization. They are defined by three characteristics: cooperative care of the young; division of labor between a small number of reproducing adults and the rest of the workers; and overlapping generations living in the same colony.
Personally, I think Wilson was off target, but there are many advancing his ideas now, centering the need for extreme forms of cooperation (tokens anyone?) to address serious challenges. Wilson spent his career documenting encoded social rules of ant species and divisions of labor that enable colonies to act as unified superorganisms. Is it coincidence that an early pilot program of tokenized governance, conviction voting overseen by Michael Zargham of Blockscience, was the Aragon DAO Project. It used a native token with the acronym ANT. Yes, ant tokens! Also it was Ferdinand II of Aragon who initiated the Spanish Inquisition and arranged financing for Christopher Columbus’s voyages. An interesting set of facts considering that the “new world,” the next empire will be built on Web3.