We talked about refugees lately and I ultimately blamed Capitalism, or better, the system we’re entangled with, a system that happens to be capitalist in nature. Of course history tells us, that we’d not necessarily be better off with a communist system, or better, a system that claims communism.
It’s not that I don’t lean to the left and it’s not that I don’t suggest that its thinkers are less tainted by obvious self-interest, but somehow there is a deep problem with human nature.
Look into the bible. Matthew 5, the “Sermon on the Mount”. It’s one of the most important texts of Christianity and it is holy to billions who’d never even think about “turning the other cheek”. Jesus is unmistakable, but we have a problem even seeing the problem.
Cognitive dissonance seems to be wired into our genes. Egoism is what made us survive, but egoism is also what can be our ultimate downfall.
Recently I’ve bought a book by some Lewis Dartnell. It’s called “The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch”. It is a collection of recipies for how to purify water, how to resart agriculture, how to refine materials, generate power, doing chemistry, etc. It is pretty much a joke that I have it as an eBook, but if it’s really good, I may buy a few paper copies and store them in strategic places 🙂
The problem is, we have entered a phase in our development as a species, where we know an awe-inspiring number of facts about the world, but in reality we as members of that species hardly know anything at all.
I am a computer programmer and I have learned solving problems, creating abstrations, bringing order into chaos. I attended a technical high school and I have learned to take transistors, resistors, capacitors, diodes and other basic parts, put them together and create an amplifier or an oscillator or a simple radio or even a computer. And then, having learned all that does not mean being able to faultlessly reproduce it. But, for the sake of the argument, let’s pretend I could.
Probably I could even create power. I’d need iron and copper wires though. Standing in front of a mountain and being told to dig out the ore and turn it into metal, a ferrite core or a thread of copper wire, I would fail miserably. Those things that I can do, other people would have no chance doing, but ultimately, in case of total breakdown, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’d need to do, without other people providing the materials, the energy, the food to sustain me, the medical support to keep me healthy.
We are egoists, but our civilization is based on vast knowledge that can’t be comprehended by single persons any more. In order to function, our civilization needs cooperation, and it also needs permanent access to its collected knowledge. If nobody can keep everything we know in a single mind, then knowledge gets lost if it is not stored in an accessible way for all future.
Think of the typical post-apocalypse scenario. Would we be able to kickstart civilization and get back to where we were in short time? Would we have to re-learn everything from scratch, taking millennia? Or would we simply perish, having lost both our tools and the ability to re-make them?
It all depends upon access to knowledge. And here we are back to egoism.
A lot of things are wrong with the patent system, but maybe the most damaging is, that patents are granted without making sure that the general public gets a benefit. Patents are not granted for concrete processes, they are granted for descriptions so abstract, that even specialists in the field have trouble to understand them. Patents are intended to be unreadable and as vague as possible. This maximizes profit for the holder and it protects from easy copying. Unfortunately once a company goes out of business, it may well take its processual knowledge with it.
Remember Polaroid? You can buy a used camera, but the film is unavailable. It has been reengineered, but the result is not the same as the original.
Wanna build a Saturn V rocket? Bad luck, even NASA has lost records of how to do so.
And now imagine a catastrophe a few decades after we have made the transition from paper books to eBooks. No electricity? Bad luck again, you won’t have access to any knowledge at all.
Our civilization is already fragile and it can only get worse.
As to the patent system, I even have an idea. Let’s grant patents, but let’s also require that working implementations in plain and readable description are archived by government agencies. These agencies would guarantee secrecy of trade secrets, but they would also guarantee the option to access in case we need it. As an additional benefit, these agencies would also be able to use unified and durable long-term archiving methods.
Furthermore, I would require complete exposure of all such knowledge after a grace period long enough to turn an invention into considerable wealth.
A system like that would not stiffle inventions and it would allow for making a more than decent living off one’s creativity. It would just reign in the excesses and it would also help survival of the species.