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Salon Eleven Notes

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Attended: Alex, Bergey, Alex, Jeff C., Dmitriy, Claudia, Nirav, Jimmy

We started with a discussion of trends in Internet-savvy subcultures in announcing activities, silently away from individual contact and toward broadcasting methods. People answered that: (1) Both methods continue to be in plentiful use, so no worries; (2) this effect is not increasing innocuously, so we'd see it if there was a problem; and (3) Broadcast usage does not unilaterally result in worse communications.

Bergey asked about my objections to a notion of property. I claimed that libertarian-style contract property (1) results in social ills is incompatible with wealth redistribution policies, and (2) is an unnatural abstraction that doesn't reflect how people naturally work or the actual relations between people and things. A better model, I think, would be based on collective sharing of resources. [In the next Salon I expanded on this model in depth, so I might mix up comments from then here.]

We discussed what a society without property might look like. I said that responsibilities over objects may be a reasonable replacement for property rights. Property could be redistributed based on Rawlsian principles: society would grant a person rights with respect to certain resources along with responsibilities for the benefit of society as a whole.

We soon moved into problems of the money-less economy. Money is less necessary without property, because most resources are shared. It becomes more difficult, however, to incentivise work. For example, capitalism very effectively ensures that the grocery stores in Boston are well-stocked, even though downtown Boston is far from farms. One could imagine that if someone wanted strawberries, they might drive to a farm to get them, and get additional benefit from bringing back a bunch and sharing them with their communities or to the populace at large, but it's tough to rely on that as a mechanism for strawberry distribution.

There might also be distribution problems for limited resources, in a way that property rights bipass. In general, if bikes are owned collectively, there are going to be bikes available at all times for anyone who wants one. But occasionally, all the bikes will be taken and someone will be left without. We developed a system of "privilege tokens", whereby some resources could only be rented with the tokens (not given for free), and everyone gets a certain number of tokens each month. People in greater positions of responsibility might get more per month, because society recognizes the significance of their time.

We asked what the fundamental motivations there were for restructuring society. Jeff supplied us with (1) satisfying basic human needs, and (2) the expansion of knowledge. We discussed the possible implications of such a value system (society structured like a great University) and the possible failings.

When Jeff left, we discussed his political and social views. This led to a long discussion of a particular boundary effect, between Claudia and Dmitriy... but I don't remember what. When later Claudia left, we discussed her views, which led to another long discussion I don't remember either. We wrapped up around 1:15 am.