Brainstorming: Selonomics

A new philosophy for the villager in us all.

Caveat inordinata. These are not ordered thoughts. Or, rambled notes.

  • Selo (Cyrillic: село; Polish: sioło) is a Slavic word meaning “village” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. For example, there are numerous sela (plural of selo) called Novo Selo in Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro and others in Serbia, and Macedonia. Another Slavic word for a village is ves (Polish: wieś, Czech: ves, vesnice, Slovak: ves, Slovene: vas). In Slovenia, the word selo is used for very small villages (fewer than 100 people) and in dialects; the Slovene word vas is used all over Slovenia.
  • Impetus: Why did all this spring to mind? Came from a very simple argument with a friend. I suggested that I truly wouldn’t mind living in the selo. He countered that one day I’d log onto Facebook and just snap. I’d see all my friends on their jet skis on the lake, drinking cold brewskies, going on vacations, etc. — all the possibilities and accouterments of modern life. I realized that I couldn’t credibly prove to him (more on this later) that I truly wanted to live in the selo without signalling that I was incapable of or at least not good enough to truly excel in modern life. How does one balance the non-credible threat of reducing one’s economic output with the innate desire for social acknowledgement? Hence, selonomics is born. Possibly, an economic theory regarding the trade-off between labor allocation and a desire for social standing (along with the myriad health implications of maintaining reasonable social status).
  • A means of optimizing “the good life”, happiness, eudaimonia, etc., by way of relocation (social, mental, or physical — by finding a new selo, a personal selo, a final selo?) or by rejecting, stalling or otherwise denying extraction of work (your labor) for others, i.e. the corporation, the state, etc.?
  • Relative differences in wealth cause unhappiness, illnesses both physiological and mental (see Social Determinants of Health by Michael Marmot). Therefore, seek those actions which minimize your own inequality without making anyone else more unequal (a new kind of Pareto optimality condition?).
  • Is state society in any way superior to traditional hunter-gatherer or villager life? Whence the impetus for technological innovation, for savings, for surpluses of wealth and therefore investment? 30,000 years of civilization has not improved human life expectancy if you consider pre-civilization human life as a baseline (Agriculture: The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond). Sure, general quality of life, including life expectancy, has increased relative to the Middle Ages, or to some other early culturally salient period of human history, but that’s not an improvement relative to baseline ground zero and many people either don’t know that or can’t picture it.
  • Always look to what “otherwise could have been.” Would you crave iPhones, video games, and modern pharmaceutical medicine if you otherwise didn’t know these things ever existed? Probably not. That would be like a young Middle Ages squire desiring — the megalomaniac he may be — a pet Dragon for which to soar unbound and burn villages from the sky. It would be a nonsensical fantasy. Why compare your present state of mind to an ancient alternative in which such a comparison is apriori impossible to make? We should be willing to dispense with ego here and really probe whether or not one might actually be fine without the typical accouterments of modernity.
  • Is this just a substitute for fear of failure, incompetence, or inability to succeed? Let’s talk about signalling. Why is it impossible to prove to others that you actually desire less than what the average person desires? “Desiring less” for some reason is typically seen as an “incredible (non-credible) threat” viz. game theory. Are there any good solutions to proving that you do not actually “desire more if you could”? Or, under a regime in which “proving” is impossible, are there viable alternatives to simply taking a “philosophical stand” and committing to your beliefs, even in the face of potentially demuring opposition? Is social proof a requisite for adoption of selosophia or is stoicism/isolation from critics required here because there’s no other way?
  • In contract law, Coase’ Theorem is often used as a method to evaluate the relative power of conflicting parties during the negotiation and acceptance of a traditional or classical bargained-for contract. In practice, however, and as seen within many cultural conflicts, it is difficult to truly ascertain which party is generating the externality upon which the assignment of costs should be based. A canonical example is whether women should be encouraged to wear certain combinations of outfits at certain times of day/night in order to reduce the probability that they might be pestered, assaulted or otherwise courted when this is not desired (see Slut Walk). Is the assault on woman’s privacy her fault for eliciting attention via the hijacking of millenia-old biological predispositions for attraction in men, or is it men’s fault for not controlling their impulses? Opinions about who should bear such an externality have certainly shifted over time and as such varies immensely across cultures today. Why? Interestingly, I think this is deeply related to how we perceive societal contribution to wealth and innovation. Is it really my responsibility to show up to work every day and put in a hard 8 hours (despite what your contract says) or is the pursuit of technological innovation on behalf of the CEO/management class occluding my ability to peaceably live life on more personal terms?
  • If I know I’m not going to live for more than 80 years on average, what is my true marginal benefit to contributing at maximal capacity? Whence these immortality drugs we are promised for working so hard? It seems we must evoke some kind of Dues Ex Immortalitatem here. If I know I will not live forever, I am as a consequence more interested in just relaxing and enjoying a peaceful “selo” life. Should we all be working so hard then? Promise of Singularity is attractive, but extremely uncertain. There seems to be scope here to increase mental health by acknowledging that quality of life isn’t actually increasing relative to a “ground zero” hunter-gatherer/villager baseline unless we hit some kind of unexpected asymptotic explosion in technology. Yes, of course, if knowing with 100% certainty that on my 101st birthday I will become an immortal super-human, I will willingly spend every single working year before that date maximizing my economic output if that’s what it takes to achieve such a feat. But we don’t know the state space, the input parameters or the time horizon to make such an optimizing decision. It really is impossible to predict. Empirical versions of Amos/Tversky Prospect Theory suggests people are risk averse under uncertainty. Should we be? When to change pace? 2020? If truly the Singularity Is Near, perhaps we work harder closer to those dates that Kurzweil predicts? Assuming, of course, place for humanity. Assuming also that Singulitarians are rewarded for their contributions. A place for Freewheeling Seloinguliritarians?
  • Fjaka: http://www.croatiaweek.com/the-ultimate-dalmatian-state-of-fjaka/. Selonomics is the lifestyle management tool for those who swear by fjaka.
  • “FJAKA, you save my life, FJAKA, you are my remedy,
    You make me happy when I’m super slow
    You turn my life around when I embrace your flow”

Criticisms

  • A massive decline in positive natural selection pressures means genetic disease, poor physiological/mental health imbued into the population at large. Increased probability that you are one of these people. In a weird way, civilization itself has reduced your probability of evolutionary fitness (relative to baseline) to such an extent you now depend on the economic state to persist at the same level of well-being that would otherwise have been free for pre-civilization times. Example. You were born with poor vision. You now need to work x hours per year to afford vision care and eye glasses on a regular basis. Therefore, the selo life would not be for you. You need to exert effort/work to get back to ground zero. Simple example, but cumulative when considering all the myriad other civilizational impediments to natural physiological/mental well-being, i.e. the feedback cycle between modernity, depression and medication.
  • Can’t actually replicate “real” hunter gatherer life. The kind that existed more than 30,000 years. Culprit is elimination of dense, reinforced social networks with immense implicit knowledge of local floral/fauna, Elinor Ostrom-style management of resource commons, etc. Rejection of civilization not possible at a whim. Can’t just live in the forest and expect to be okay. Requires deep social ties, strong culture, mind-bending cultural mythos/ethos, and rejection of insecurity or the “the crushing weight of relative smallness” that comes from living a simple life when your friends are partying on yachts and hitting the lake with their beer and jet skis. So what’s the alternative? Is there scope for VR to create these kinds of communities under a regime of scale-free virtual wealth and social equality?