Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

94. Elements of a Simulation

Note: This post is the ninety-fourth in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

This week, I just wanted to think out loud about what elements would need to be included in a simulation designed to test Jane Jacobs' theory about the 'Systems of Survival'.

The three basic elements I think we need are land, stuff and people.

Based on the territorial nature of the guardian syndrome, it seems as if we need a model that allows for people to interact in a 2 dimensional territory in order to replicate whatever it is about managing land that lends itself to guardian activity.

The interesting variations in the nature of the land that I see are that it could either be finite in size, infinite or it could be finite and also contain various natural boundaries (rivers, mountains, etc.) that would tend to foster distinct political groups forming.

In addition, the land needs to support some sort of resource production, since we will need something for our people to take and trade.

As for the people, they are more complex.

First of all, people will need to have various ethical approaches open to them. Looking at Jacobs' list of precepts, I see the following minimum requirements:

Use force and fraud (take) / Shun force and fraud (trade)
Work hard(er) / Take more leisure
Be obedient / Make your own decision about what is best
Be loyal / Be selfish
Be exclusive / Be open to dealing with strangers
Consume now / Invest to consume more later
Share wealth or dispense largesse / Hoard wealth
Compete / Cooperate

Naturally, putting these options into concrete terms that can be coded into a simulation will be the tricky part.

In addition, for obedience and dispensing of largesse to make sense, we'll need a concept of hierarchy or rank.

For definitions of loyalty and exclusivity to make sense, we'll need a concept of groups or identity.

If taking is an option, we'll need some sort of conflict resolution method, involving individual strength for our people as well as some logic for measuring the increase in combined strength that comes from cooperation. Note that relative strength could also function as a resource which is finite in quantity (although absolute strength would not be).

If trading is an option, we'll need at least two different goods or resources in circulation, that are valued differently by different people. It may be interesting to add another element that is finite in quantity (besides land) to see if it is treated differently.

If investing is an option, we'll need a function that translates investment of time and resources into more/different resources.

People will also need an objective so that we can rank how 'well' they are doing in the simulation. Some possibilities:
Maximize wealth
Maximize consumption of comfort and convenience (resources)
Maximize rank
Maximize status
Maximize honour
Maximize population
Maximize some combination of these.
And of course any of these objectives could be for the person themselves, for the group they belong to or for all people in existence.

Lots of possible combinations - you can see why economists like to simplify and pretend that people only care about their own personal wealth, but clearly this approach will be too limited to either represent reality or to help us develop a simulation that will incorporate the ethical choices listed above.

Finally, we'll need to define how our people's behaviour works over time. Do people just have a fixed set of ethical behaviours and we see who does best. Or do we allow people to modify their behaviour based on the context (trading vs. taking), or to modify their behaviour based on the success of those they encounter, can a leader cause them to change their ethical approach, or do we just introduce random mutation into people's behaviour patterns and see how things evolve.

Obviously, the number of permutations is large, even leaving out all the elements I've no do doubt overlooked here. It seems like it would be best to start with a simple scenario and then gradually elaborate it to take more elements and more complexity into account. But that's a task for another day...

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

93. Left and Right

Note: This post is the ninety-third in a series about government and commercial ethics. Click here for the full listing of the series. The first post in the series has more detail on the book 'Systems of Survival' by Jane Jacobs which inspired this series.

Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs defines two distinct syndromes, one covering commercial ethics and one covering guardian, primarily government, ethics.

The last few centuries of politics in western countries has been dominated by a battle between two rival ideologies, the left and the right. It's always seemed a bit mysterious to me that certain groups of policies would end up neatly packaged along an ideological spectrum like that. Given the similar structure of the syndromes and the left-right political spectrum, I naturally wondered if there was any connection between the two syndromes identified by Jane Jacobs and the left-right political divide.

Thinking about it a little, I don't think that an analogy to right vs. left really works, but maybe there is some connection to the distinction between conservatism and liberalism.

The defining element of Conservatism is respect for tradition (a guardian trait) while Wikipedia defines a concern for equal rights which lines up with the commercial ease of collaboration with strangers and aliens, and contrasts with the conservative respect for hierarchy. Similarly, classical liberalism emphasized the role of free markets and that government needed the consent of the governed (respect contracts, come to voluntary agreements). Wikipedia says that, Edmund Burke, a famous conservative, "insisted on standards of honor derived from the medieval aristocratic tradition, and saw the aristocracy as the nation's natural leaders."

When I think of our modern political parties of the left and right, however, even though the names Conservative and Liberal remain, there seems to be some drifting from the traditional Conservative and Liberal roles. The current 'Conservative' party is actually descended from the 'Reform' party, a movement which wanted to fight and overturn the existing hierarchy, and which wants to dispense with tradition in many ways, from the role of the Governor General to the Senate.

Similarly, old-style conservatism involved the concept of noblesse-oblige, in which there was an obligation of the wealthy to help the lower classes, but in modern politics it is the left-wing which supports the lower classes, while right-wing policies generally favour the wealthy. Meanwhile, the Liberal party favours far more government intervention in the economy than would have been considered under classical liberalism.

Looking back at the twentieth century, it seems that the World Wars and great depression led to a new political model, known generally as 'the welfare state' in which government directed a significant percentage of spending in the economy. Since then politics has divided between those who want to continue or expand that trend and those who want to go back to the 19th century of a much more limited government role in the economy.

On the one hand, Jane Jacobs identified mixing of the morals from the two syndromes as the primary form of moral corruption. But on the other hand Jacobs identified a number of examples where government and the commercial sphere could use their respective strengths to accomplish things that otherwise couldn't be done.

At any rate, words like Liberalism and Conservatism have so many meanings these days that maybe this post is just a waste of time, but it seems as though with the emergence of capitalism and the growing importance of the commercial syndrome, there was a period where the new commercial ethics and old guardian ethics battled it out in the political forum but in more recent years the lines have been re-drawn partly along class lines instead with the battle between the classes replacing the earlier battle between Liberalism and Conservatism.

Of course, there is no reason why a party couldn't support implementing Jane Jacobs ideal vision of both syndromes in force, complementing each other as necessary, and kept separate where appropriate. But I guess figuring out just what that last part means exactly isn't so easy.

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