Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Banks Fanletter: Aplutism

The following is a fanletter I wrote to Iain Banks, author of the “Culture” science-fiction series. Alas, I never heard back from him; so I show these to you.

Dear Iain Banks:

I write you about your “Culture” series. You say that the Culture is ‘anarchic’, but I think it’s something much more interesting.
First of all, any given Orbital or Ship hardly lacks an Archon; the local Mind rules at the molecular level. So rather than an anarchy, I’d call it a technocracy. Literally; the machines rule. In the Culture’s case, it’s a liberal technocracy; which leaves me wondering what an oppressive technocracy would be like. A rogue Ship, perhaps, tyrannizing at the molecular level? This sounds like a job for SC! – or maybe it’s SC itself.
Nor is the Culture atheistic; the Minds claim to be godlike – on the far side. The Culture’s metauniverse has enough lowlife calling themselves gods to justify that boast.
          Not quite anarchistic, nor quite atheistic; the Culure doesn’t entirely deny the State or the Gods; but the Culture is committed to the denial of Money. I call this philosophy “Aplutism”.
          Here’s a definition:
          Aplutism (a - ploo - tizm)(adj.: Aplutic) n. (syn.: Amonetarism, Achrismatism. ant.: Plutism)(from Ancient Greek, ‘treasurelessness’, ‘moneylessness’) 1) Philosophical disbelief in the existence of money.1a) Doubt or denial of money’s intrinsic value. 1b) The claim that money is always a fiction, sometimes a folly, and often a fraud. 1c) Any political-economic system designed to be separate from the money system.  2) Wealthlessness; poverty; personal lack of funds.
          Aplutism comes in soft and hard varieties. Soft aplutism is doubt inmoney’s existence; hard aplutism is outright denial of money’s existence.
To an aplutist, capitalism versus socialism is an argument about an illusion. Aplutism is to the market as anarchism is to the state and atheism is to religion; it defies an established power by denying the existence of that power’s god. You can tell a culture’s true gods by noting which heresies are unthinkable. We have words for those who deny God, or the State, but here we must invent a word for those who deny this culture’s true divinity: cold hard cash.
          Does money exist? This “aplutic question” has two meanings, given the two definitions of aplutism; does money exist philosophically, and do I, myself, have any money. But the two questions are linked; for to anyone personally aplutic, it is as if no money exists anywhere in the world; and the fact that many people, much of the time, experience personal aplutism, suggests flaws within plutism.
          Certainly personal aplutism motivates individuals to devise “political-economic systems designed to be separate from the money system”; which by definition is public aplutism.
          The Culture advocates moralistic hard aplutism; they believe that money  does not exist, cannot exist, and should not exist. The ruling AIs preach this out of self-interest; being themselves capital investments, they know themselves to be worth money; but they do not wish to be bought, sold, enslaved or dismantled, so they banish the money that would buy them.

I distinguish between scarce private goods, which I call “zero-sum” goods, and public goods, which I call “zero-difference” goods, or “common wealth”. Common wealth includes clean air, street lighting, rule of law, national defense, and information systems like this Internet. In the Culture the common wealth also includes gravity, any air at all, cosmic radiation shielding, the ground beneath their feet, and all other life support.
Zero-difference goods are had by none or by all; so they are naturally aplutic.
          Money is a useful fiction for rationing scarce private goods, less useful for abundant public goods; but I don’t know where to draw the line between the two. I am in a state of doubt; and I believe that such doubt is the wisest policy. For instance, I doubt that my own money exists, so I try not to spend it too quickly; and I doubt that money philosophically exists, so I don’t trust the big banks. I think this is the prudent course.
Can money be banished? In “Look to Windward”, the people of Masaq’ Orbital spontaneously reinvent money to trade for seats to Cr. Ziller’s symphony. Money is a relatively civilized way to ration scarcity; the alternatives appear to be brute force, connections or tradition. Therefore the AIs of the Culture try to make all goods and services abundant. But is this possible?
          The Culture proposes to be entirely common wealth, with private wealth irrelevant. But what if there were true scarcity? How would the Culture ration it? For instance, how does the Culture decide which AI gets to run which Orbital? There are only so many to go around, which AI gets the burden/honor? How does the Culture decide? Or to be precise, how do the ruling AIs decide?
Sincerely,  Nathaniel S.K. Hellerstein

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