Galerio Futurisma
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"The Human Condition" (concept sketch) - what one person seeks to create, another will try to destroy.
"The Quiet Place": a relatively traditional version of Utopia. "New World Order": a world divided into hundreds of nations, each dedicated to a different special interest group. Painted as a satire, it might also be seen as one possible solution to the social stresses born of human diversity, but is the Earth big enough to accommodate all the groups? Probably not!
A Practical Utopia?    
Humanity is too diverse for anyone's idea of the "perfect society" to prove acceptable to more than a minority of other people. As someone pointed out long ago, one person's "Utopia" could easily turn out to be Hell on Earth for the rest of us.

With the rise of the internet another kind of Utopia may be possible - a society that makes it possible for people to link up with other like minded individuals around the world and establish networks for trade, communication, and even financial support.

Alternatively, as we mature as individuals it is probable we'll become more emotionally self contained, rendering the need for group support and therefore the quest for Utopia less urgent and possibly irrelevant, though even the strongest individual is no island. At least not yet. Isaac Asimov offered a vision of an individualist Utopia in his novel "Foundation and Earth" which may some day be possible - a world populated by a handful of loners supported by a robot labour force. If his loners had lived by humanist principles the result would have been an arrangement I might personally be happy with.

In the absence of the individualist Utopia we must all learn to play a role within a larger social structure, so to follow are my thoughts, in the process of being better organised, on the kind of group I'd like to belong to and the changes I'd like to see in mainstream society to ensure the safety of that and all other groups.

A GROUP PROMOTING CIVILISED VALUES

Working for: -

Enlightened Civilisation - a society that pursues evolution, self improvement and knowledge while embracing these values: truth, honesty, wisdom, compassion, equality, cooperation, reason, peace, fairness, freedom, self responsibility, and respect for all life.

Aiming to live:-

A Civilised Life: you need to demonstrate a sincere effort towards minimizing the harm you do in the world while working towards self improvement. You must be vegan or aiming to be vegan. You must not engage in warfare or any other act of violence (except in self defence). You must not exploit or kill other life forms except for reasons of self preservation. You should always look for and be supportive of options that aim to reduce suffering and environmental damage (eg alternatives to vivisection in medical research).

Check out my 3rd website if you want to be a part of such a group: "Advancing Ethics & Consciousness"
or the Myspace version at http://groups.myspace.com/veganhumanist

LIFE AND CONSCIOUSNESS

What is the apparent directive behind life? The evidence from history suggests the "agenda" of life is to survive, to spread, and to evolve, forever improving upon the past and gaining a more secure foothold in the universe.

For so long as our consciousness is tied to biological organisms we are dependent on the system that sustains life, so we must do what is necessary to keep that system healthy.

We must avoid introducing poisons into the environment.

We must maintain the balance of green space on Earth to keep the atmosphere breathable and to support a sufficient diversity of species to sustain functioning ecosystems.

We must take life to other places in the universe where it does not already exist. This will ensure it is less vulnerable to absolute extinction through a global catastrophe.

Long term we need to explore the possibility of expanding consciousness beyond the biological sphere - advanced robotics may provide the means.

For the present it is enough to be concerned with promoting the quest for knowledge, truth and wisdom. This also involves promoting sceptical enquiry, honesty, and scientific method restrained by high order ethical principles. It will also involve noting and debunking the lies of media, politics, and religion.

"Foundation Principles"
ETHICS

“Do what you must to survive, but do not seek to harm, exploit or control beyond your reasonable needs. Know that you share the Earth and the universe with countless other life forms, and all have a right to exist”. From the painting “Foundation Principles”.

In our relations with both other humans and other forms of life we must endeavour to establish a consistent ethical approach based on practical principles. For the present we should be striving to cause minimum harm to other life forms, particularly those likely to be sentient. We must learn to respect the freedom and independence of all living things and avoid interfering in their existence beyond meeting our reasonable needs. It is understood we need comfort, food, good health, safety, opportunity, intellectual/creative stimulation, a sense of personal freedom and fulfilment, and meeting these needs will have a destructive impact on aspects of our environment. But it is still important to try to minimize that negative impact and look for ways that might some day further reduce it.

This approach differs from the mainstream environmental conservation movement. That movement has for some time been aligning itself with nationalistic sentiments to secure government funding and popular support. Its message to the world has become increasingly tainted with elements of xenophobia and fear of change. If the modern conservationist’s use of terms like “genetic purity” isn’t enough to make you cringe and question, the actions they use to support such agendas should. Slaughtering strong species to preserve weak ones, exterminating “foreign” species from “native” ecosystems, attempting to restore historic ecosystems under the banner of environmental protection. All this is usually irrelevant or even contrary both to the historically observable reality of evolution and to the future advancement of life and consciousness in the universe. Environmental conservation is promoting a view of the world as a museum and living things as artifacts on display for our entertainment, education, and idolatry. This only serves to reinforce the fundamental human arrogance that has created the most serious environmental dangers: human overpopulation, pollution, and the commercially inspired destruction of life on a massive scale.

We need a basic change of attitude to promote a genuine respect for all living things, not just the rare and the nationalistically correct. Minimum interference in the affairs of other life forms, be they wild birds or other humans, is an essential expression of this respect.

Perhaps our long term evolutionary goal should be to gain the knowledge and wisdom to completely detach ourselves from the cruelty and suffering that is the way of biological reality. We need to grow beyond any physical need for it while doing as little harm as possible in the process. The goal is remote, a noble long term focus for unity grounded in observable reality, independent of any mythology or religion. We are not likely to make much progress in our short lifetimes, but at least if we aim for it and get as close as we realistically can, the universe will be a better place for our efforts, and we can truly claim to be civilized beings.
May robotics provide a better vehicle for our consciousness? Detail from the painting "Arrival".
 
A bio-engineering option? Asexual, strong, forever young, healthy, intellligent and potentially immortal. Detail from the painting "Liberation".
SUMMARY OF THE GROUP'S OBJECTIVES


- To promote trade and communication between people sharing the goals and values described in this document.
- To speak out against nationalism, racism, and other agents of human oppression and irrational division.
- To speak out against those who promote superstition and lies. This can include religions, the media, politicians and government.
- To promote scientific research restrained by respect for life. Vivisection, environmental pollution, and offensive military hardware should not be considered acceptable tools or objectives for ethically sound science.
- To promote a broader appreciation of Nature. That means an appreciation of, and respect for, living organisms as independent beings rather than as artifacts worthy of preservation. Everything has a right to exist, not just the organisms some of us judge to be “cute” , rare, useful, old, or suitable idols for local nationalism.
- To research lifestyle possibilities and promote ideas/projects that minimize the suffering and destruction we inflict on other life forms and the general environment. This will encompass such things as:

- a vegan diet.
- more nutritional plant derived foods - genetic engineering is likely to have a role in this.
- genuine recycling programs.
- extraterrestrial mining and industrial operations.
- agricultural practices that avoid the use of poisonous chemicals.
- clean industrial alternatives to agricultural production offering us synthetic alternatives to all foods and materials currently derived from higher living organisms.
- human population control through education - our burgeoning numbers are a threat to the global environment, individual liberty, and personal space.
- re-inventing ourselves - we may eventually learn how to make ourselves disease free and potentially immortal, perhaps through genetic engineering or robotics.
- to call for individual choice in the way the money we pay in taxation is used, and for less government interference in our private lives. It is a source of conflict for any of us to be subsidizing other lifestyles, industries, whatever, that violate our personal values. And it is unacceptable for any individual or group to force others to adhere to a particular moral code with regard to life choices that are essentially individual choices and do not of themselves threaten the physical well being of other members of the society. Most commonly today, in countries like NZ, this refers to laws concerning activities like personal drug use, consensual sex, and public nudity. It is accepted that one price for greater freedom is increased self responsibility (if you want the freedom to experiment with drugs you alone must also be willing to pay for any negative consequences - people who choose a safer lifestyle should not have to subsidize your mistakes). Another price is increased risk of being emotionally offended by the behaviour of other people.
Right: "When Democracy = Tyranny" (concept sketch). Majority rules principles can easily allow big special interest groups to trample on the rights of others - witness the influence of Fundamentalist Christians in US politics or Islamic Fascists in the Middle East.
Above: "Portrait of Any Nation" (concept sketch) - the world's many tribes have grown and spread to become many nations. Nationalism encourages us to focus allegiance on the members of one's own nation - the phrase "my people" holds great emotional weight for true believers in nationalist & ethnic separatist visions. Yet structurally all nations are much the same regardless of whether they're based on ancient tribal concepts, some more recent ethnic bandwagon or political or geographic convenience. Modern governments, like the kings before them, sit atop a great wealth bled off the masses below. Those masses are organised into a variety of special interest groups who use lower level politicians to help them get a share of the funds the govt periodically hands out. The groups with the greatest flag waving capacity and loudest voices are the winners. Some miss out entirely and justifiably feel cheated .  
"Wakatipu Dreams" - my idea of a great place to live - a low density self sufficient urban environment affording lots of personal space and surrounded by inspirational natural wilderness.

A VEGAN HUMANIST COMMUNITY

An exercise in speculative fiction, subject to expansion and change as I think about the issues.

My personal utopia would, of course, be a vegan humanist society dedicated to the principles and goals outlined above.

Imagine the highly improbable: a large group (say 10,000) of diversely talented & skilled people all sharing this same vision for society get together and buy 161, 000ha (1610sq km) of mostly arable land from some nation willing to allow them to form a self governing territory (or build themselves a space colony!).

Of the 161,000ha: 40,000ha is for cultivation, 40,000ha is for private land shares, 40,000ha is for wilderness, 40,000ha for mineral resources, and 1000ha for urban settlement.

GOVERNMENT AND SOCIETY

Membership of this society would be conditional on acceptance of the terms of the constitution, so a child born there would not automatically be embraced as a citizen. On entering adulthood individuals would have to formally sign a SOCIAL CONTRACT affirming their commitment to the foundation principles - failure to agree with these principles would result in expulsion (the expelled person would be directed to move to another part of the world more compatible with their values). Breaking the principles of the contract would be a criminal act and dealt with appropriately through penalties, expulsion or exile.

Changes to the constitution would require the consent of all citizens (100% or close to it).

Government would be minimised with positions of leadership filled by suitably qualified people (eg judges) . Leaders would be changed every 4 yrs to reduce the risk of corruption.

Majority Rules democracy and Party politics are all about special interest groups seeking to dominate others and control resources. Politicians are self serving power mongers who manipulate and feed off those groups.

Imagine a government reduced to the minimum size and made up of appropriately skilled professionals - 3 judges would handle top level decision making and they would be appointed by random selection principles from the pool of qualified individuals and they would serve for a period of 4yrs. No charismatic dickheads getting appointed by popular vote. The roles of government and law must be limited to maintaining essential infrastructure and security.This shouldn't be too difficult within a well defined intentional community - unlike "melting pot" societies composed of enormously diverse special interest groups most of whom are forever seeking special favours or power over other groups.


POPULATION CONTROL & LIMITS TO GROWTH.

The current economic system demands endless growth and can therefore only be sustained through expansion beyond Earth or by periodic phases of mass destruction and population crashes (through disease and/or war). Civilised values will require a different approach to economics.

As our numbers increase space for other life forms decreases and inevitably more will be driven to extinction or confinement to zoos and Botanical Gardens. Higher population density increases disease risk & environmental pollution while it decreases personal freedom and the opportunity for home ownership. Obvious stuff, yet still we go on breeding like rabbits.

That old slogan "small is beautiful" needs to be promoted again for many aspects of the human condition.

Right: "Sunset on Canterbury" (art in progress). The current style of economic thinking will turn the entire Earth into sprawling city if it doesn't self destruct before that time. The above image is one version of that global fate. Pole to pole Manhattan or Shanghai might be another.

TAXATION

Essential services would be publicly owned and funded by consumption tax and non-profit subscription schemes. Consumption tax should give an incentive to reduce consumption. If possible, there should be no income tax for individuals because that seems to penalize hard workers and encourage lazy people to do less. It seems today that sensible, careful and hard working people are subsidizing fools, idiots, thieves and some very lazy or irresponsible people. There would probably still have to be company taxes or other means to restrict the size and wealth of large business organisations. Extreme wealth in the hands of a minority should be regarded with suspicion and moral disapproval, not applauded.

It is important to minimize tax. Limiting tax funding to essential services means maintaining the foundation blocks of civilisation while allowing groups and individuals to sort out the decorative elements and extra care at their own expense. So health care, communications infrastructure, education, roading, emergency services, police and basic welfare would remain in public ownership. There must be an appreciation of the difference between what is truly essential to all and what is not - we all have big wish lists but no-one likes paying tax, so if tax is to be minimised our wish lists need to be rationalized.

Imagine .... communications infrastructure maintained by public funding, but all TV and radio programming created by private subscription.

Imagine ... a health care system that operates like a non profit subscription scheme with a range of fees corresponding to the range of services provided - the more treatment options you want the more you pay. Basic care would be tax funded and "free" - most emergency treatment (not drug related), basic dental, some doctor's visits and some medical treatments. This system would aim to reward people for sensible living and inflict user pays principles on those who want to indulge in dangerous behaviours like high risk sports, sex and drug use - hopefully an incentive to live a safer life. Although there would be no drug prohibition it would be actively discouraged and drug users would have to face the full consequences and costs of their behaviour. Drug users who fail to insure themselves or pay fees would be judged suicidal - and the right to commit suicide should be respected so long as you don't harm others in the process.

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS, BUSINESS, & EMPLOYMENT

As we all suffer the consequences of the 2008 "economic meltdown" in mainstream society it should be clear that there are big limitations in what private enterprise can reliably achieve for us and some alternatives need to be explored.

For the ideal society being speculated upon here the grand objective is to establish and maintain a secure, stable, and ethically sound economic basis for a civilisation that cherishes not just individual liberty but also cooperation, honesty, social justness and environmental sustainability. The current capitalist model has failed on all these terms. It has built a technological illusion of civilization on the shifting sand of selfish, speculative greed, unsustainable growth, rumours, lies and massive debt. Underlying the technological facade is a very uncivilised competitive jungle causing intolerable social and environmental abuse.

Banking and insurance should be tax funded and publicly owned institutions for maximum security and ethically sound service. Literally they should be owned and funded by the people for the people with the goal being service rather than profit. Funds must be limited to what the people are willing to pay in taxation, bearing in mind this tax pot would have to feed essential social infrastructure as well as provide home & small business loans to guarantee everyone the opportunity for home ownership and employment. Consumption tax should replace personal income tax if possible. There would be no share market or property speculation. There can be no projects private or public built on large debts that might undermine social stability if they fail. All rental accommodation would be publicly owned. The only way to get rich would be through hard work or inheritance and we’ll all have to get used to living with only those things we can realistically afford. Tax funded retirement will most likely need to be postponed till the point of health failure.

With business the objectives are not just to supply required products and services, but also to provide desirable employment, social cohesion and life purpose. Full, satisfying and stimulating employment is essential for social and individual well being, even if some of it needs to be publicly subsidised. Self employment and small collectively owned and managed businesses are ideal in meeting these requirements while also addressing personal liberty issues. Large coorporations that treat employees like assembly line tools have improved our material standard of living by giving us a great diversity of products at low cost, but this has been achieved at the expense of other life quality indicators and environmental health. The fundamental reason for living in social groups must be improved quality of life. Who today feels this is the case? Many of us work long hours in miserable jobs to cover little more than basic living costs and loan repayments. No wonder so many of us turn to alcohol, other drugs, sexual obession or religious zealotry for an escape. Would it not be preferable to live in smaller, simpler houses in smaller, more modest cities, towns and villages, have less possessions and smaller families, travel less and do more meaningful, satisfying work?

HEALTHCARE is potentially a bottomless pit for expenses and in modern Euro-American societies it demands an ever increasing chunk of the tax collection as various groups understandably plead for more funding ... the care of premature babies, organ transplantation, AIDS, care of the elderly, and a long list of crippling diseases and accident victims. Rising costs & rising expectations cannot possibly be matched by funding. The limits for expenditure in this area must at last be defined and accepted, which means some hard decisions will have to be made. If we accept that we cannot yet avoid death we should also be able to accept that the objective of a healthcare system must be to maintain optimum quality of life for all citizens rather than prolonging the duration of an individual's existence. The vegan humanist nation must, for reasons of compassion and economics, focus on reducing suffering, not life extension at any cost. Keeping people barely alive through dependence on machines and other people for basic functions with no hope of recovery adds to human misery and takes resources away from other critical aspects of human society (like education). A painless, compassionate euthanasia option would be available upon request to all suffering through the late stages of incurable diseases and old age where the available treatments fail to provide the individual with the quality of a normal life. To express it another way, when I reach the point where I can no longer take care of my own basic living requirements (food, hygiene, exercise) I'd like the option for a dignified, easy exit and a lot of other people feel the same way. The thought of losing privacy, being dependent on machines and other people for toiletry, shopping, travel and feeding, is for many of us a fate far worse than death.

Right: "Culture Clash" (concept sketch). While fanatical religious groups praise martyrdom and embrace murderous suicide campaigns Euro-Amercan cultures spend vast sums attempting to delay the inevitable. Both approaches are irrational, inhumane and unsustainable.

Abortions would be encouraged for all foetuses known to be have health defects likely to impair their future quality of life. The public health system would not offer "heroic" medical treatment to newborn children within the first 3 months of life - allowing "natural law" ("survival of the fittest") to take out the weak before they achieve self awareness. It sounds harsh and many parents may not be able to cope with such a restriction (they'd have a private insurance option for "heroic" medical treatment but it would no doubt be costly). Yet surely it is far more compassionate to do this than to sentence children to years of invasive, depressing and outrageously expensive medical care only to end in death during the teenage or early adult years. A baby's death is hard on the family, but not on the baby who's state of consciousness is still minimal.

People who demand extraordinary medical beyond the reasonable defined limits of the public healthcare system will have to pay for it out of their own pockets, possibly through a private insurance scheme.
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EDUCATION.

Providing all people with quality education in language, maths, science and ethics is essential to the maintenance of civilisation. It would be tax funded through to highschool, and beyond that for courses deemed "essential" to the maintenance of civilisation. Obviously careers in medicine, teaching and engineering would fall into the "essential" category but careers in the arts and sports would miss out unless the citizens of this civilisation feel particularly generous in the amount of tax they're willing to pay. Students who drop out of their tertiary courses before completion would be required to pay back the cost of their participation in those courses.

WELFARE.

This is socially essential but like everything else must be restricted because of limited resources and to maintain social fairness. No-one will be homeless or deprived of food or basic medical care or education, but there must be an incentive to work. Subsidised work schemes would be preferable to the "free handout" system.

LAND SHARE.

Every member of the society on day one of settlement gets a share of arable land (I think 25ha would be ideal, 4ha a minimum) that can only be traded for another such share. This might become your lifestyle block, your income source (farm), or your hermitage (if you voluntarily wish to break away from human society) or place of exile if you commit a violent crime and refuse to pay penalties and submit to rehabilitation measures. It should also be an incentive for zero population growth, forcing a restriction on both immigration and natural reproduction.

AGRICULTURE.

The best long term goal is probably synthetic food produced by clean industrial means. Meantime all food will be plant based and much of it produced under highly controlled conditions (greenhouses and netted enclosures) to minimise environmental losses and the need to aggressively fight off competing animal species (like birds). It is important to avoid using harmful chemicals in food production. It is just as important to avoid harming or killing higher forms of animal life. Ideally food will be grown close to where we live - not difficult in a low density urban environment and surrounding rural areas. All people would be encouraged to get involved through home vegatable gardens and bigger community projects.
  Above: old school farming at left and a post agricultural alternative at right (my arboretum project, 19 June 2006).
Above: the long term objective should be to synthesise all the products we currently derive from living organisms and terrestrial minerals.   Traditional agriculture = the abusive exploitation of land and animals. Sure we have to eat, but we can do a lot better than this if we want to.

DEALING WITH CRIME.

Crime - acts of serious dishonesty, theft and violence - would be breaches of the social contract and dealt with by a system of appropriate penalties aimed at ensuring the safety and security of other people and repairing any damage at the criminal's expense (money or work). When required, the jury system should be replaced by a panel of randomly selected experts appropriate to the subject of enquiry, or maybe just a panel of at least 3 randomly selected judges.

Criminals not willing to change their ways would have to be sent into exile - another nation willing to accept them or a specially designated place of exile. If the place of exile is to be something other than a solitary space the criminal would have to be sterilized to avoid creating a penal colony full of bitter and resentful offspring that ends up turning into a threatening nation (read Robert Heinlein's short story "Coventry").

PARENTHOOD.

As the social cost of parental incompetence is enormous and can potentially destroy a civilisation, parenthood needs to be viewed as an earned privilege rather than a "natural human right". The education system would include a sex education subject that would also cover issues relating to parenthood. Beyond the school system anyone wanting to reproduce would have to attend and pass a training course. You would have to not only show the rest of this society that you have the right attitude for parenting but also sufficient income, job stability and family support. This rule would be included in the social contract. Accidental pregnancies would not be exempted from the test - abortion would be considered preferable to the probability of parental incompetence.

MODIFYING MAINSTREAM SOCIETY.

The next best thing to a personal utopia is a society that permits each of us to live according to our own personal values:-

A FREE & FAIR SOCIETY

What kind of political system would best accommodate the great diversity of human groups and individuals that make up the modern human world? The Euro-American model is probably the best of the currently available options in practise around the world, but there is room for improvement.

Government must guarantee our safety and freedom to do as we please at our own expense and in the privacy of our own lives by enshrining human rights, individual liberty, and the equality of all people in a constitution.

Those of us who live under a Euro-American style political system enjoy a good level of freedom compared to others, but majority rules principles can intrude into too many aspects of our lives, enabling any group with sufficient numbers to extinguish the hard won liberties of other groups. Islamic fascists have won democratic elections in parts of the world and the Christian version will sooner or later probably achieve the same success in the USA. The constitution needs to be intelligently drafted and very hard to change (only by 100% of the nation's citizens).

Ideally government should not force us to subsidize (through taxation) services and activities that have nothing to do with human survival and may violate our principles or conflict with our interests. At present only the loudest and most nationalistic groups get funding - others miss out and feel cheated.

There is no way there can ever be enough tax dollars to fund the wants of all the special interest groups in society, and any attempt to do so would lead to the ludicrous situation of paying one group to destroy the tax funded creations of another.

Funding only some does nothing for social justice and peace, so why not leave the groups to fund raise for their own wants and let govt confine the use of taxpayer funds (national and local) to essential services only?

Income tax should be scrapped in favour of consumption tax, thus providing people with an incentive to consume less.