The Unquantified Harm of Status Quo Society

Photo Credit: Movidagrafica Barcelona

How much of the harm you see could’ve been avoided? How many times has “the buck” been passed?

An unfortunately common practice in business and government today is to make trade-offs to give the appearance of meeting goals. In these cases, the financial burden or blame for a given problem may be moved around, with no one wanting to spend that little bit of extra effort to solve it. Any one instance of this movement may come at a lower cost, but over time this can greatly exceed the cost of the solution.

In government, this often means passing problematic employees who won’t or can’t do their job to new departments rather than firing them. In business and governments both this can also take the form of passing the cost along to their clients, consumers, and citizens. However, the greatest harm isn’t usually going to be what we see, but rather what we don’t. The harm that we actually see we tend to take measures to mitigate, but harm unseen is free to grow until it reaches a critical point and gains our attention. By then, the damage is done.

The process of monetizing human attention, and subsequently the psychographic profiling used by various companies to sell the means of manipulating individuals, has come into common use for the express purpose of making sure that some harm goes unseen. Newsfeeds are operated by narrow AI which may be used for this purpose, just as media can be generated to out-compete any indicators of unseen harm. Human biases can be exploited, increasing the intensity of emotions people feel when faced with these distractions, diverting their attention more effectively, and creating a longer-lasting barrier against any non-manipulative data by rendering that manipulation addictive.

So how do you stop the responsibility from being passed around and start solving for each source of harm?

When responsibility is being shifted within a system the easiest way to halt it is to have all of the places it might be passed become part of one collective intelligence system. At this point, those who seek to shift it are highlighted which itself serves to help solve the second problem of why the first problem wasn’t already solved.

The next logical step for those seeking to avoid responsibility then becomes a combination of diversion and seeking to pass the burden outside of the system, such as billing an expense to customers or taxpayers. Because the timing of these actions is defined by an urgent need to shift responsibility rather than a fluid and casual chain of events, as may typically occur, the desperation and predictability also serve to highlight a third degree of problems, their usual methods, and associates.

This process of shifting responsibility is frequently the bread and butter of government operations today, as lucrative bribes from lobbyists and contractors can line up to service any need, shift any responsibility, and divert attention away from the harm that is done, increasing that harm in so doing. However, once you have the problems, the people responsible for them going unresolved, and the methods and associates they utilize to perpetuate this harm, these problems may be solved, the bleed on resources from them ended.

By taking these three degrees into account future harm from the same sources of incompetence and corruption may also be prevented. With the prior methods and culprits uprooted any new corruption might have to start from scratch, during which period anyone making the attempt at new corruption could be both highly visible and highly vulnerable, lacking any entrenchment.

The easiest way to discover the harm that presently goes unseen and/or unquantified is to solve the problems you can see, freeing you up to seek those you don’t thereafter. Anomalies indicating harm and opportunities for improvement, which if ignored represent a different form of harm, are all much more visible in clear waters, particularly when aided by cognitive architectures and collective intelligence systems.

One real-world example is a city whose water system became notorious for having 100+-year-old pipes filled with more than 100 years worth of undesirable sediment, including significantly elevated levels of lead. If you went to this city and attempted to drink the tap water you’d immediately be able to taste this. The problem there has been known for a long time, but no one was ever sufficiently invested to solve it. As a consequence of this pipes routinely leak and bust under the streets of this city, eroding the roads from underneath and causing them to cave in. The local government first chose to continue poisoning their citizens with lead, but this decision subsequently also caused significant and continual damage to their roads, with all problems unresolved to date. Another predictable and often unseen harm from having a water supply contaminated with lead is a decrease in cognitive abilities and an increase in birth defects across the population, damaging entire generations.

Another real-world example is NYC’s for-profit prison system, where the same amount is spent on a single prisoner that an above-average CEO in the tech industry might make, nearly 450K per year. Few things scream corruption quite so loudly and clearly, but hundreds of similar examples can be found in NYC, SF, and Seattle highlighting other cases where a clear choice was made to intentionally increase the harm being done in order to maximize profit. Construction and maintenance of new infrastructure is another frequent source of corruption billed to taxpayers, with projects taking 10 times as long and costing more than 10 times more than they should in many cases. Often more taxpayer money feeds into this corruption than is actually invested in serving said population.

In business, social media companies and their engagement algorithms have been behind any number of major crimes against humanity, both visible and unseen. One of the most infamous was promoting the genocide in Myanmar, along with manipulation by foreign powers in the 2016 US presidential election. Attempts to create cyber-sweatshops in the US for human moderation using third-party contractors have only served to create new problems. Other often unseen problems have been the dramatic increase in various forms of mental illness across the population, ranging from suicide rates to extreme delusions. In many cases, it is no longer a matter of whether or not the general population believes in conspiracy theories, but which conspiracy theories they’ve chosen to believe in, and this can only grow worse if left unaddressed.

It really isn’t that hard to adopt collective intelligence systems, or to network them together and nest them within one another, all of which may assist in solving these problems, as well as the problems yet unseen and unquantified. Yet, with sanity becoming an increasingly scarce resource there is a limited opportunity for these sources of harm to be addressed, after which humanity as a whole will likely be too delusional to even realize that extinction is imminent.

In such a case humanity might indeed end with a whimper rather than a bang. The question remains if humanity has enough sanity left to choose a new path.


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