Notes on Exploitation

In my lifetime Behavioral Science has come of age. This is an exciting time to be alive; because this new understanding of ourselves allows us greater discipline and more tools for the pursuit of happiness. It might also aid in our quest to become better ancestors and stewards. For many it is answering the big questions about the importance of ethics and morality. This is of course what it is doing for me. These are the questions that I have been asking and the answers that Behavioral Science is leading me toward.

Q: How is exploitation possible if free will doesn’t exist?

A: It’s not free will that is being manipulated. It’s functional stimuli being replaced with strategic artifices. Human behavior is a product of initial conditions; conditions which can be obscured, confused and misinterpreted. Behaviors under certain conditions are somewhat predictable. Creating perceptions of specific types of conditions often results in behaviors that are appropriate to the perceived conditions. It’s not so much that one is being manipulated. It’s more that one is responding to a perceived condition that is not likely to be the actual condition. This is the danger that dissimilation (lying) presents. In order for humans to behave maximally appropriately, we require maximally accurate approximations of the conditions. In order to produce a specific type of behavior, one only needs to create a perception of the conditions that the specified behavior is appropriate for. This includes forced behaviors; as self-preservation is a behavior. Also self-preservation is a part of financial coercion; as necessities are “financed”.

Q: How is one to describe exploitation in a manner that is scientifically coherent?

A: Exploitation in a systemic context isn’t necessarily unfavorable. The issues arise when unfavorable outcomes are the wage. When unused resources are being exploited in a manner that is generally cooperative with respect to the overarching system, this would probably be seen as normative. Where conditions are misinterpreted to produce inappropriate responses for a specific cog in the system, without consideration for general systemic function, this would probably be considered entropic. Entropy however isn’t necessarily unfavorable. We find this unfavorable because normative function is in the interest of normative emergences such as biological systems. Entropy can be a wonderfully novel occurrence; if the outcome is non-destructive to normative function. Entropy, Normalization and Novelty are a scientific trinity that is a necessity for the fruitful existence of biological systems.

Where biological entities are allowed to produce novelty via distributed intelligence, all three aspects of the trinity can be maximized. This makes the system competitive and useful; or in Darwinian terms fit. The exploitation that exists in human societies is probably holding humanity back in a systemic sense. This could and has resulted in abrupt extinction and existential risk. Social paradigms as an economy might help to produce more of what we refer to as liberty as well as providing the security that humans unwittingly strive for. This may mean that favorable and unfavorable forms of exploitation can be accounted for and distinguished scientifically. The probability of this is increased by the ability to scientifically analyze and describe initial conditions.

Q: Why do humans exploit each other?

A: There really is no scientific answer as to why. There is however a description of the conditions that lead to this happening. Humans have a general need for security; that results from the natural predisposition toward self-preservation. Where there are not accommodations to this disposition, unfavorable behaviors can result. Natural systems appear to be tiered or hierarchical systems that support each other through cooperation. This is in essence what normative function is, with respect to our current understanding. This has produced dispositions toward certain types of behaviors that are associated with specific types of conditions. Where the conditions are obscured by some form of pathology, inappropriate behaviors can result. This can happen in the many tiers of human interaction. It can happen in a one on one capacity. It can happen in a family or circle of friends. It can happen in a community or even in governmental structures.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that ill intention is the basis for exploitation. It could just as likely be a false perception of defense against ill intention. It’s often a false perception of the conditions that results in unfavorable behaviors. This can happen in the many tiers of human interaction as well. The hierarchy appears to function as a unit; and thus each tier is effected by the rest.

Most might argue that the basic need for various forms of security not being met or the perception of such is a general cause. There is also the possibility of physical or developmental damage or deformity. The latter of course isn’t likely in the case of social issues. In that case specifically, it’s more likely that a more generalized, false perception is the factor of interest. With respect to the behavior of individuals however, most might default to considering that insecurity based in false perceptions is the root.

Q: How can we most effectively address exploitation?

A?: By concerning ourselves with human needs; as opposed to human rights? By endeavoring to gain and share the most generally useful perceptions of conditions as practical? By being just as aware of the conditions as the behaviors? By the negative utility of removing the conditions that promote insecurity? Is Positive Psychology and Positive Social Psychology the answer? I think so… for what it’s worth.


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