In the Nature of Insolvable Problems

P.F. Henshaw   id @  02/22/08

...well even a sardonic view can expose some useful perspectives...

One of the more intriguing 'insolvable problems' is that every proof and the conclusion of every argument is "...and so,.... I can't think of anything else".  Granted, it's usually muttered into one's sleeve, or hidden by a cough, but a conclusive lack of imagination is what follows any effort to be exhaustive in eliminating other possibilities.   Bye and large, proof is demonstrated by a negative finding.   Oops.. one could say, but then most often we truly "can't think of anything else", including seeing no reason to acknowledge it.  Call it insolvable problem #1.

The insolvable problem people on earth are more concerned with these days, call it insolvable problem #2, is the human tendency to increase investment in projects having diminishing returns, making their profits temporarily 'sustainable'.  The side-effect is  increasing our dependency on accelerating the approaching end of things we value, propelling their collapse.  It's a problem.   The earth's resources are nearly all producing diminishing returns and though people try to do it efficiently, the imperative is to continue increasing our returns from them.   Getting 'the last drop' of returns from once increasingly profitable enterprises is a strategy that can also be put in a good light.   On might really enjoy the added effort it takes to get the last drop from a cool drink or the last squeeze from the toothpaste, or lick the plate at the end of a great meal.   When the same strategy is applied to exhausting the resources of the earth in an effort to 'stabilize' our multiplying rates of consumption, the consequence is different.    It raises a question that this obviously can't be how nature works, or nature simply wouldn't be here.   Nature wouldn't be the sort of thing that continually accumulates surpluses if it were continually exhausting them.

From a historical perspective one could say the human problem with surpluses was caused by the discovery of agriculture.   Agriculture produces more food than the farmer needs, and all of a sudden requires that he think what to do with them.   Having a surplus means that there's a large physical pile of wealth to manage, to sustain the cycle of planting and harvesting, and a good bit more.   The rub came in learning how to manage surpluses, in learning how to manage the various new kinds of 'beggars' who came to live on these excess profits of the earth.  Perhaps the great hunters felt demoted by it, but it's clearly the variety of new kinds of beggars around whom advanced societies (tending to instability) came to be organized.  Somehow in the argument as to who gets what, all the important voices seemed to fall back on "milk it to the last drop" as their primary strategy, ignoring that only their failure to find how to do so made the system work

The worst of them were the 'money beggars' and the 'military beggars' who each rely on steadily increasing their own share of the physical surplus by offering 'services' that threaten grave penalties if they don't return them an increasing reward.   Who could argue that 'protection' was not necessary, as that was also self-fulfilling, givers only need to decide which takers to give to...not whether they multiply.   Then there are the "government" beggars who increase their share by stabilizing the dysfunction created by all the others, making a way of multiplying the surplus, minimizing the conflict "in every way they can think of", "that agrees with the common purpose".

The 'money beggars' offer to help you build an ever greater surplus if you give them a share to use.  They say it's just to continually increase the number of other people to help you do your work, but equally, to be fair, its also to multiply the people competing with your work.   That seems to be the big thing that marked the difference between primitive and modern lifestyles.   The the way surpluses are managed appears to be the main reason people stopped having free time.  Their surpluses promote continually increasing competition, and require that we continually maximize our creativity to not fall severely behind.   

The 'military beggars' offer to help you protect your stores, but to ensure their jobs also offer to help you make enemies, to  protect you from.   It's not something we think about really, how we come to have all our enemies, but making needless trouble for people outside our own communities seems to be a very productive way to do it.   People offering 'protection' that way don't even need to think about it for it to be profitable for the protectors of each community to validate each other in that way, and guaranteed to increase in intensity when the resource wars start.   The need to stabilize all this dysfunction is fairly obvious, and is the job of the 'government beggars'.   Being reliant on the dysfunction of society, and dependent on serving everyone else who is reliant on it, is a strong disincentive to doing anything about the basic problem.    Solving the problem wouldn't seem to help anyone, well, except the broad spectrum of creative people actually producing the wealth, most of whom are more modest about their own importance and have much quieter voices than the powerful beggars who say they're "in charge". 

What stands as a solution to the mortal conflicts thus maintained is just to leave it to nature, putting her in a position of saying "enough with you".   What else is she to do, when the stabilized dysfunction of people and their growing surpluses show no limit in saying 'enough' with itself.    Since 'authority' is granted largely to people with a vested interest in the dysfunction, no one with any 'authority' notices that nature evidently has simple solutions that leave literally everyone better off.   Natural systems create surpluses for each other, instead of draining surpluses from each other.   How odd.   Maybe it would be profitable to look into that.

Insolvable problem #1 is usually solved by saying, "gee, instead of wasting time trying to think, let's just go ahead".   Thinking is like gardening, though.   Turning the remains of each hunt for insight back into loose ends again, composting the questions raised and perspectives gained.   That seems to be where the fruit of new perspectives comes from, and a very good reason to follow every "I don't seem able to think of anything else" with "well, let's sleep on it too".

Insolvable problem #2 is solved in a basic way if everyone gives away their surplus to who they like but with no strings attached, rather than to beggar the world with it, expecting ever more in returns.   It's not clear that people could figure out how to make that work given our present situation.   We just spent 10,000 years becoming dependent on the opposite, but on the other hand, watching as we speak the earth taking the steps of saying "enough with you".   Good time for war it seems.   On the other hand, there also is a suspiciously large number of natural systems that maintain 'run-away growth' for rather long times in terms of their doubling in size over and over, and then switching to stability quite smoothly.

One can't, of course, leave out some of the other kinds of beggars that arose around our misunderstanding of how to manage the surplus that came with agriculture.   We needed the "philosopher beggars" of great variety, many who became hugely wealthy in their trade.   They excelled in making excuses for all the dysfunction, pointing out  how much worse it could be, and how for creative people to accept their role as lowly servants of the abusive overlord.   Accepting someone's unbounded claim to your servitude,  actually makes the tiny wedge of freedom, no overlord can find a way to take from you anyway, seem like an amazing gift from them..

Then 10,000 years later... with the quiet grumbling still continuing, still not getting much of anywhere, the common beggars task of stabilizing the increasing profit from the earth for their growing number and appetites, approaches its end.   Having spanned the globe, the mismanagement of profit from the earth finally raises the question.   Why?   Why do all the beggars demand that the profit makers milk the earth to death.    It wouldn't seem profitable.     Thinking carefully and trying to be exhaustive they come to the obvious answer, "we seem to be milking the earth to death because we can't think what else to do".


Physics of Happening  jlh