Alternative: Social Synergy
The usage of the term “alternative” is now trending up. Alternative energy, alternative consumption (for instance, carpooling). Let us talk about an alternative mode of production.
A new, alternative, socially-synergic mode of production cheerfully thrives on the still-living corpse of decaying imperialism. Social synergy is impossible not to notice, yet it is feared. Feared by the rich, for it is in fact a real economic revolution, comparable only to the capitalistic relations of modern time; feared by the poor who have grown accustomed to satiated slavery. Social synergy is like a beautiful woman: everyone wants her, but only a few dare to come closer and to at least look into her eyes. Who is she, this mysterious stranger?
All for one and one for all, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours
“Social Synergy” is a loose translation of Ibn Khaldun´s „asabiya”, incorporating cooperation and mutual aid: all for one and one for all, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It sounds like a modern and Western expression that should not be confused with synergetics: theemergence of synergy-based structures on the basis of various natural, industrial, or social synergies).
“Smart technologies” – these technologies are characterized by a high degree of internal self-organization (synergy), a large amount of feedback (both positive contributing to “acceleration” of the system and its subsequent evolution, and negative, preventing the system from “spiraling out of control,” providing its normal, rhythmic vital functions).
Smart technologies, due to their internal self-organization, contribute to social synergy of workers, employed in sectors working with these technologies. Smart technologies organize.
Smart technologies are based primarily on so-called “high-tech.” One of the first high-tech devices, discovered at the dawn of mankind was not the wheel, but rather the rope. The rope became the basis of two smart technologies: the construction of bridges over deep chasms and transportation of heavy loads. A bridge dramatically expands the territory controlled by a group of people. To this day, Pygmies have a saying: “If you want to get married, build a bridge!” And with the help of a long rope that can be pulled by a group of people, even large rocks or barges can be moved. In the first case we witness territorial synergy, in the second – personal.
Smart technologies, just like commodity-money relations, have existed since the dawn of civilization. But only when money became capital, which could be quickly invested, generate profits, and re-invested due to the smart technologies of those times (shipbuilding, over-seas trade, manufacturing), did the economic and political emergence of capitalism become possible. Today, the role of capital is performed by smart technologies that are based on different combinations of high-tech. No wonder “Ideas are the money of the future” is an imperative slogan of various start-up communities.
The qualitative differences between modern smart technologies and the smart technologies of the past lie mainly in high levels of internal complexity and large quantities of internal synergy. Modern smart technologies, due to strong internal synergies, generate “external” social synergy between small groups of people, working and uniting into horizontal patterns. In their non-fiction books “The Third Wave” and “Revolutionary Wealth,” Alvin and Heidi Toffler emphasized the fundamental difference between the “post-industrial” technologies of the present and the “industrial” technologies of the past. But, according to them, the fruits of scientific and technological progress, such as the disintegration of production processes, should have only been used by highly talented individualists. On the other hand, Toffler noted that modern smart technologies, embedded into the imperialistic method of manufacturing, lead to desynchronization of industrial and social processes.
Obviously, smart technologies generate a horizontal network of social synergy for the distribution of labor, meanwhile imperialism rests on a rigid division of labor controlled and governed by a hierarchical-tree system. As Marx would have said, productive forces outperform relations of production.
As an illustration of this reasoning, consider cybernetics. The personal computer is the best example of modern smart technology. Those who are over 50 years old, still remember the computers that took up entire rooms and were serviced by lots of staff members: programmers, operators, electricians. The modern personal computer fits on a table and runs many times faster than the “dinosaurs” of the 70s. And even a child can operate it. It seems that the “law of requisite variety” discovered by W. R. Ashby (stating that “variety absorbs variety, defines the minimum number of states necessary for a controller to control a system of a given number of states”), is not operating anymore. However, this paradox is easily explained: the inner complexity of the system suppresses its characteristic disorder, and as a result, synergies appear within the system, thus reducing the number of controlling parameters for input and output. In fact, we make the system handle a large part of the diversity of the parameters on its own, independent of our actions, which previously had to be performed by specialist personnel. This is precisely the meaning and merit of smart technologies.
No, Ashby’s law (which states that “only variety can conquer diversity”) still works. It is just that the primary part of “diversity”, being created by the system, must be processed by the very same system. When you are the one making a mess, you are the one that has to clean it up.
As a result, there is a “law of self-management”: a system possessing internal synergies is capable of converting and processing most of the controlling parameters on its own.
Furthermore today’s high-tech system offers not only just a quantitative but also a qualitative transformation of the control parameters. The number of input and output parameters of the system with high internal synergy is shrinking, whereas the quality is growing, – this is the second law of smart technologies (in which quality refers to the internal complexity, for instance the evolution of counting: from counting on fingers, to Roman numerals, through to Indo-Arabic positional number system).
And the third law is – the quality of a user grows with the quality of the input and output parameters. The system transforms the user from a specialist to a generalist.
Thus we can conclude:
One user can service multiple systems in a time-sharing regime (Toffler’s paradigm).
In an expanded variation of Toffler’s paradigm: a group of users can service a multitude of systems. In this case, the external control intensifies the internal synergy of the systems, which in turn become components of a “smart” technology. Obviously the expanded variation is qualitatively different from the preceding paradigm. Let us call it “socially-synergic paradigm”.
Socially-synergic technology (the sum of technologies) is capable of independently synchronizing itself due to internal synergy of the components and external management synergies (“The paradigm of embedded synchronism”).
The term “self-service” describes this complex of paradigms as well as possible.
Now, it is clear that complicated, high-tech components and equally complicated information processing as well as communications are tools for invention of technologies, both modern and futuristic. The goal is to achieve the creation of an effective, synergic technology, since only synergy of high-tech components gives maximum economical effect.
The complexity of this system is necessary, though complexity alone is not a sufficient condition of synergism. A certain amount of information transfers over into the “smart,” synergetic quality owing to its semantic content, which is essentially human and social.
Synergic, smart technology is impossible to conceptualize without human and social participation.
This is exactly why modern and future smart technologies are not only defined by knowledge intensity, but also by social synergy. The interaction of people and machines, people and environment and people with each other – this is the basis of the emerging socially-synergic stage of development.
All of the above applies not only to informational technologies, but also to permaculture biotechnologies. N.Kurdyumov’s non-fictional essay about “smart gardening”, inspired me to explore the concept of “smart technology”. Prof. G.Faltin, one of the pioneers of entrepreneurship in Germany, teaches how to start-up enterprises using external components. I will separately mark the socially-synergic technology of enterprise management, like R.Semler’s experiences described in “Maverick”.
Ancient cultures, propelled by slavery gave birth to structures and ideational concepts which were primarily applied to the sectors of agriculture and craftsmanship. Slavery made the progress in agriculture and craftsmanship possible by cutting down forests, thus making space for farming; building roads; digging mines; establishing smithies and potteries. As the great ancient empires collapsed, the bonds of slavery and the hierarchical-tree structure of slave society were dissolved along with them.
Yet, the beforehand achieved progresses in agriculture and craftsmanship remained for other “barbarian” cultures to come. This technological legacy, made it possible to produce food, clothing, and shelter using an independent system of labor. Peasant families and families of artisans could decide for themselves how to structure their time in processes of production. Peasants had no personal freedom (as it belonged to the lord), but they could produce independently. The artisans living in the cities were in an even better position, having more advantages from which independent production could benefit.
Using the slave-like labor of the proletariat, the industrial-capitalistic stage of development, first by of division of labor, then by mechanization, and finally, by implementing smart technologies, has transformed the feudal structures in agriculture and craftsmanship, commerce and transportation into an industrial environment. Machines have replaced the crude muscle power production processes required from proletarians and thus contributed to the development of imperialism. Computers are able to replace the routine work of a clerk.
Robots will free human labor from excessive and unnecessary physical and mental effort. Industrial environment not only enables possibilities Tofflerovian production “for oneself”, but also socially-synergetic production “together with each other” in particular.
The foundation of the socially-synergetic stage of development is the division of labor between approximately equal producers, who hold different professional skills and by working together, “master” one or more smart technologies.
Smart technology as well as interaction between staff members, arranged in horizontal network-like structures contribute to the synergic effect in such a system of production.
Social synergy has its own price: external (for the investor) and internal (for the producers themselves). Let us assume the rate of profit in the traditional, industrial-capitalistic mode of production, enriched by smart technologies, is 10%. Now, let us assume that the rate of return for the socially-synergetic production is 20% (due to social synergy of free laborers). For the investor the benefit is obvious. But how does one achieve such a high profit, not just in name only, but also in real production processes? What do you think, why did the Mongols follow Temujin, who was not yet Genghis Khan? Of course, he knew how to pillage, but he also fairly distributed the loot. A share of the profits from the enterprise and the possibility to own the means of production cooperatively – this is the internal price of social synergy, of economic efficiency.
Let us separately note “non-profit” social synergy. Why, at the risk of life and limb, should we establish new religions or become political dissidents? What makes former wimps become revolutionaries or terrorists? On the one hand, the inability to settle into the old, stagnant system, on the other hand, the possibility of receiving social capital. And this is worth for many people far more than material well-being.
The level of preparedness for social synergy is inherited. This was noticed by Ibn Khaldun, who studied “asabiya” and L. N. Gumilev, who studied “passionarity.” It seems to me that passionarity-asabiya is passed down from parents to children in scenarios and programs, which are incepted into the children’s minds by their parents or environmental influences, while they are under the age of seven, in the time the super-ego is formed. Scenarios and programs are described in psychiatrist Eric Berne’s works. In transitional periods, scenarios “break” and passive individualists turn into over-active synergists.
Ibn Khaldun and L. N. Gumilev (both independently from each other) noted that passionarity-asabiya resembles a “big bang”, of which the energy is gradually eroding. I believe that the imperialist mode of production, based on the predatorily pillaging of labor and natural resources, has exhausted itself and no globalization will help it.
The emergence of smart technology on the background of increasingly decaying imperialism – these are the prerequisites of the new “big bang”, the effects of which will give rise to a new socially-synergic stage of development.
This means more production, less work; more consumption and spending, but with less waste, by the use of renewable natural resources only. This means stopping the waste of human resources, meaningless stints on the school bench and unemployment after 50; stopping senseless exploitation of 25 to 45 year olds who are forced to work for everyone else. This means stopping the humiliating exploitation of women in industrialized countries (gender pay-gap) and the totally ruthless pillaging and humiliation of femininity in the so-called “developing” countries.
Only socially-synergetic production will allow the cease of extinction of populations in industrialized countries in the background of uncontrolled growth of populations in developing countries (developing, primarily, in the militaristic sense). Weapons and high technology in exchange for resources, natural and human: That is the main deal of globalization, inevitably leading to a global catastrophe.
There is a contradiction between the stagnant individualism of the “high-technologified” Northwest and the protesting, destructive “asabiya” emerging from the Southeast. And this major world-system contradiction of the 21st century can only be resolved by socially-synergic production with the use of smart technologies.
I hope that we will be smart enough to understand this, and we will have enough synergy to accomplish it.
Translated from Russian: Y.Pilipenko, L.Tsarfin.