Traditional theories of (the success of) Capitalism tend to fall in the camps of individualist (bottom-up explanation of social structure as the consequence of aggregated individual behaviour), structuralist (top-down explanation of individual behaviour as the consequence of social structure) or historicist camp (“horizontal”, i.e. historical explanation of both individual behaviour and social structure as the consequence of previous events).
All of these accounts fail to grasp the simple rules, dynamic
multi-level processes and complex results of
Evolution. The following sketchThis sketch is an example of trying to find the levels
on which, ontologically speaking, the dominant dynamics reside, or,
epistemologically, where the most informative
Emergence) and surprise-reducing
account is available. An example of how to
up and down in the system hierarchy to improve
and for how
evolution is multilevel meme variation, selection and
aims to spell out how an alternative account could look like that starts from the following premises:
- The most basic Explanation of why something exists is “what works stays”, i.e. a generalised understanding of (natural and cultural) Selection.
- What “works” is what ensures a System can exist, a behaviour can continue, or more generally: something doesn’t get cleared away by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
- Complex systems can consist of anything – individuals, physical objects, Memes, abstract entities like Constraints. All of these can be causally effective and attributed agency in the minimal sense of “trying to survive”, i.e. not get cleared away by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The account goes like this:
When resources are abundant, the most extractive culture will be dominant and thus get selected over others.
Based on “the production of ever-greater
from the scientific method”Lewis & Maslin (2018), 14
, Fundamental . Thus more innovation-oriented strategies (and, in the long run, Cultures) get selected.
fuels continuous growth as well. It generates
that enable by increasing the output of “stuff” (Systems view).Scott (2023)
They can do this in three ways:
- maximising input (extraction and exploitation)
- maximising resource efficiency (optimisation)
- minimising cycle time (acceleration)
In the corresponding selection view, technologies that fulfil these functions get selected.
Capitalism is a mechanism for the generation and distribution of resources, particularly towards innovation, that outperforms other mechanisms (e.g. traditional planned economies) in feeding growth. Thus capitalism gets selected as well.
Money is a necessary component of this system, but also a meme in its own right – it spreads and grows into a hugely complexby “convincing” (as an Egregore) people they need to focus on it.
In this view, our civilisation’s focus on financial wealth, which is part of that memeplex, its accumulation and concentration are a byproduct of the evolutionary selection of capitalism, not its enabler or cause. (This is further corroborated by the fact that overall economic growth is indeed generally faster and greater in contexts of lesser wealth concentration).
The accumulation of wealth in general enables individuals to insulate themselves against (the discomfort of) reality (the core of), which leads to Bubbles of Affluence and actual ignorance about other lived realities.
This behaviour gets selected because it protects the pursuit of extractive and exploitative strategies against critique and disruption (similar to Ideology), contributing to overall system growth.
- Arthur (2009), The Nature of Technology
- Lewis & Maslin (2018), The Human Planet
- Scott (2023), “Tech doesn’t make our lives easier. It makes them faster”