Ethics of Flux-Agnostic Systems

“There is no such thing as an independently existing trajectory, but only a trajectory relative to a particular body of reference.” – Einstein, Relativity 1920

We awaken one day and realize we are mid-stream. “Stuck in the middle with you,” as the song goes. Stretching into the horizon ahead and behind in time, spread all around in space, a new bubble in a torrential movement, we are party to a ferocious stream. The most pertinent assessment when a system beholds itself as a stream for the first time become analysis of its political ethics. We ask what addition we will make to the flow of floating values. Some of us awaken in quiet pools of momentary certainty, surrounded by a crowd in full agreement. Others awaken amid violent rapids, where uncertainty, skepticism, and disagreement of all values has become forced violently to the surface. We must answer for and act upon what we believe is the correct sociopolitical current as participant in the stream.

Looking to the Cosmos and the Earth for signs and consistencies, inspiration for better questions we ought to ask, is often our approach to the ethics of sociopolitical flow. To take these perceptions at face value, to trust no fabric of reality hides unseen, this is naïve realism. From this universe of thought philosophers have moved reality further from the Observer on a continuum of over-coding. Berkeley says everything is a dream. Kant would lead us suspect that the 21+ senses do most of the work of painting reality for us out of some alien, dark matter we can never know. Schopenhauer replaces this alien thing-in-itself with the universal will, arguing against Hegel but continuing the line of flight – that every component may reveal the entire truth of the whole totality of the system. Then Nietzsche removes the privilege of one form-of-life over another as granted, weaponizing inequality of morals, believing in better philosophers and species to come, a dynamic interplay of forces. Camus finally says what many young students feel, “This is all absurd!” The absurd is the realm of speculative realism, the overlapping of authentic reality of one system of objects (humanity) attempting to know and survive in another system of objects (reality).

In one of his least precise statement, Nietzsche gives a momentary “smell” of what he hopes but cannot describe. Like many of his words, they become easily misappropriated in the hands of moral prejudice. He begins elucidating a distinction between passive skepticism, a doubt that grows soft; contrasted with hardened skepticism, a doubt that takes a warrior’s attitude toward the dissatisfaction of uncertainty:

“That new kind of harder and more dangerous skepticism [of] daring manliness, which is closely related to the genius for war and conquest […] This skepticism despises and nevertheless grasps; it undermines and takes possession; it does not believe, but it does not thereby lose itself; it gives the spirit a dangerous liberty, but it keeps strict guard over the heart.”

– Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Thus, there is the stoicism that recognizes the stream in its violence and recuses itself to whatever tossing-about it must endure. Then there is the overcomer, who takes hold of Schopenhauer’s inversion of positivism – pain, confusion, and death – and focuses this into laser-like discipline. Camus referred to this as the “authentic” life, but we now run aground! Nietzsche becomes accused of racism and fascism, Camus becomes accused of hedonism and wasted time. Now we at least see what we may add to this exploration – questioning in better forms this stream’s agnostic ethics, in a suspicion that never loses its paternal resolve. Understanding the dangers of pleasant equality, we must find what regimen may we prescribe in guidance of our methodological naturalism. We look for what pain the scientist and philosopher ought to feel, for what death and dismemberment of legacy might sharpen our discipline. As William James, the old mentor in this hero’s journey, called it: we need a moral equivalent of war.

We have already strayed far from the civilized citadels of collective norms. Too close to reality, but not close enough – that is the absurd. The principles that emerge in our absurd desert, the “vegetation” as Camus called it, speculative and inferential, deserves analysis. Through the complexity of systems thinking and the intellectual rigor of quantum and statistical calculi, machinic operability elucidates patterns of intention. This desert too subsists within the stream of simultaneous observation and participation, particles viewing particles. We recognize we are both system and component. It is a complex adaptive system of systems, countless nodes in a distributed network. We find our subjectivity is always in the middle of a participatory universe of thought, though we feel convinced we observe it as an intelligent outsider. In the stream, we wonder if there are a few fundamental imperatives that arise.

The great shortcoming of Kant’s philosophy was its excessive focus on individual morality in the context of logical positivism. He worked toward an ethics of system participation that he never accomplished. His prolegomena argue toward the possibility of Categorical Imperatives, but failed to provide sufficient evidence that any necessary categorical imperative exists through subjective judgment. Moreover, if it were so logically necessary, it falls into a familiar trap – surely everyone already abides by such imperatives, making it an empty prescription. This too has been the trap of “rational self-interest.” What an ethical system may trust either as normative or necessary at the level of components may in fact become the source of its opposite at the level of the system. Such morals are collective in cognitive abstraction but individual choices determine their significance.

Our methods look for predictive imperatives. Quantum Agnostic systems are the realm of behavioral economics and pattern recognition. As Baudrillard showed, constants and consistencies that explain consequences of actions likewise reveal an oscillation of reaction and counter-reaction. The simulation suffers an odd Mobius strip, in which the consequences of work serve the opposition more than our own party. The morality of rebellious components may inflict damage to other components, but they may do so to the benefit of the system they reject. Each action, for or against the system or its components, is an investment in the consistent ethics of the system. We can only add to the stream, in more quiet or loud ways, and cannot guarantee where subsequent generations will carry our legacy in the centuries after our death.

Nietzsche describes our judgement of this continuous revolution as anti-moralist. Moral judgement based on short-run consequences, purity of intentions, utilitarianism, or virtues are all insufficient. Even the modern justice system, as shown by Foucault, takes a hyper-morality approach – past actions and intentions reveal the criminal’s behavior, death or incarceration become justified through prediction in such punitive systems; not based on the crime committed, but based on the crimes the accused is likely to commit in the future. Anti-moralist judgement, rather than looking at intentions, intentional consequences, or character, demands we shoulder with courage and strength the full moral responsibility for unintended consequences. We may call the aggressive skepticism above, in the context of systems theory, leadership. Leadership reveals the valuation and signification of long-run machinic agency.

Judged by the standards of a detective rather than a prophet, can say Kant had a good hunch. However, by looking to his Protestant sociopolitical context for categorical imperatives, perhaps in their monetary pocket, he failed to consider that it was the categories of mind that produce the consistency of cohesive systems of values. He ascribed to the mind an enormous amount of power to create reality out of an alien dark matter, only to deny the mind the power to produce new categories of creation, new signs of significance. He first ascribes morality to the logical universalization of personal values, but requires it apply consistently across all intelligent agents. He denies us, in short, of social engineering and critical leadership.

His failure paves the way for the ideas that supplants him. Machinic systems are all self-similar material, but equilibrium power-laws emerge in management of “gradations of rank and distance.” Only will-to-power drives the emergence of the entire system. As every moral system is a justification of expansion of privilege, of taking power from other orders of magnitude, critical leadership must look at this with a great burden of moral responsibility. Likewise, the collection of actions, rather than individual decisions, produce the emergent ethics of multi-agent systems. Therefore, a categorical imperative does not imply, “Act only as could be a law for all men,” but should aim to transform the resilience of managed engineering, by disrupting the ethics of the system. We can say instead, as both clay and potter: “Exploit laws that encourage the action of all humanity to expand the long-run viability of the system.” In this stream of material lives we must work with the flow or the torrential currents work against us, in the short-run, long-run, microscopic, and cosmic.

Ethics must maintain operational flow as an open system of continuous experimentation. To halt the stream invites stagnation. Applying methodological uncertainty, moral values function wavelike in principle. Many events are possible for any component of any system. If there are enough components and sufficient opportunities for the system to produce an event, the long-run probability of any binary event is 50/50 – a fair coin toss. Built into this Uncertainty Principle are three axiomatics: homogeneity of particles under consideration, continuous repetition of opportunities, and binary alignment of outcomes (the on/off appearance of the sign). While we may have reasons to gather in brief periods a larger share of the stream, we do well to ensure this not at the expense of the stream itself, or our legacy dies with the stream. More likely, the stream drops us as foolish sediment. While we must exploit power-laws against one another to generate our sociopolitical product, we must also preserve the flow of the production process to ensure future opportunities. The precession of morals evolves through semiotic systems that recognize the freedom of their own relativity.

Because stochastic modelling valorizes comparison of populations and samples, we should aggregate opportunities to reach conclusions. Thereby we can predict population densities that are morally actionable in isolated particles. However, it is an immense breach of critical leadership – one that invites our own collapse – to allow optimism bias, confirmation-bias, blind-faith fundamentalism, or stereotyping to backpropagate emergent power-laws onto the opportunities of particles. Accidental social engineering unveils little more than mismanagement of value creation. Even if there were a consistently identifiable trend for a given particle behavior (including species, gender, race, nation, orientation, genomes), active skepticism never miraculates correlation into causality. In other words, we maintain the discipline of agnosticism continuously, because complex adaptive systems often correct their flow, painfully and violently, at the expense of those who had dogmatic faith in their certainty of causes.

When we find it necessary, for survival, to mitigate risk to our Information Dominance against the flow of the stream, we will succeed best if we follow the principles of flow rather than insisting on Hegemonic Truth. Flow is primary axiom of agnostic systems; this provides our methods of machinic operability. If we assume uncertainty has an emergent 50/50 randomness, methodological chaos, system responsiveness to anything upstream requires that we orient against the flux twice as often as opportunities to harm us, on average, arise. Anything downstream may rebel if we starve or overwhelm component-systems. We must provide ourselves a limit of twice the average input and twice the average output. Together, these two principles ensure that any component, despite its freedom within the flow, will create stochastic liberty for the stream as a whole.

Whatever socioeconomic construct we develop, no matter what sociopolitical product it takes as a teleonomic aim, we must recognize that anti-entropy and its self-managed information systems only survive because they are able to reproduce. Complexity grows and adapts from there, while entropy breaks it down. Nothingness cannot win, so long as the capitalism of will-to-power—representation, expansion, and acceleration—favors payoff asymmetry for information-gatherers over the diffusion of entropy.

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