Posted on Thu 10 August 2017

the courage of convictions: competition

Ken MacLeod writes science fiction. His job to write stories that entertain us while, perhaps, presenting some interesting ideas. He doesn’t have to be a prognosticator. Nobody really thinks that the future of humanity will be to separate into fast-thinking, fast-evolving AIs in Jovian orbit versus nanotech-equipped paranoid biological humans in the inner system. That’s just a fun story.

One of those interesting ideas is that the natural place of communism is in bottom-up structures rather than top-down. Families tend to be run more or less as communes – everyone contributes what they are able to do, everyone receives benefits that they need. It’s reasonable to run small businesses on the same principles. So MacLeod has one of his characters say

‘He never explained that? Bastard. It’s something him and me figured out years ago, arguing with that old geezer, whatsisname, Wilde. See, what we always meant by socialism wasn’t something you forced on people, it was people organizing themselves as they pleased into co-ops, collectives, communes, unions. Now look at this place. Look at space, come to that. It’s crawling with them! And if socialism really is better, more efficient than capitalism then it can bloody well compete with capitalism. So we decided, forget all the statist shit and the violence: the best place for socialism is the closest to a free market you can get!’ He leaned back and laughed. ‘I had one hell of a faction-fight over that one!’

I support this view in the real world: I think that there are significant advantages to running small businesses as communes or coops, and that a well-run union is generally a net benefit to society. Now I’m going to switch gears on you and talk about people who hold sincere opinions that there are fundamental biological differences between easily denoted classes of humans that make them better suited for some occupations and less suited for others.

For short, let’s call them ‘-ists’. Sexists, genderists, racists, colorists, whateverists. -ists have a few remarkably consistent patterns: first, they believe that being a member of their preferred group constitutes a sufficient advantage by itself to entitle them to a preferred outcome (better education, better job, more wealth, privilege of being respected…). Second, they believe that not being a member of their preferred group is a sufficient disadvantage that any non-member who has attained a preferred outcome should be examined thoroughly, because they are probably cheating in some way.

Sometimes they are in the news because they are complaining that their coworkers are not good enough and only some form of cheating can explain how they got their [educations, jobs, social privileges].

You can probably guess my proposal, now. The -ists should band together and compete against everyone else on a fair playing field. It’s very easy to have functionally racist, sexist, whateverist policies in a business without explicitly announcing the fact. If they are correct that young white Western European-descended males are fundamentally better at engineering than everyone else, they should get together and start an engineering company, which will, by their assumptions, outcompete everyone else. They’ll have to work against the slight handicap of hiding their -ist policies from the law, but many companies already do that. Illegal and (by my standards) unethical? Yup.

My prediction, by the way, is that -ist tendencies tend to cluster in people who like to blame their failures on external conspiracies rather than luck or lack of genius and effort. They will be torn apart by infighting over who is a marginal member of the preferred class well before they get to making any interesting profits. Cooperation is not something that they will be good at.

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