25 October 2016

World Peace: the quick and efficient way

Keith Ward writes: 
There is any number of ways in which the Darwinian process of slow, gradual, cumulative adaptation could fail. This is not an argument for God. But it shows that reliance on the predictability of nature, and on its tendency to produce increasingly complex and adapted organic life-forms, is dependent on a very specific adjustment of physical laws that is itself hugely improbable. Why there almost certainly is a God: doubting Dawkins, Keith Ward, April 2009
Mr Ward is well aware that evolution - even if the human species represents its crowning achievement  - depends on very specific circumstances. We don't know (though we might believe) that there was a plan. Nor do we know whether the evolutionary path will continue to produce more complex life-forms.

There's a similarity here with the downward trend in violence that Stephen Pinker has identified: Professor Pinker tells us that over human history most forms of violence have steadily and steeply declined, and that we live in one of the most peaceful ages in history. This seems right to me looking, as Pinker does, at relative, rather than absolute levels of violence in human society.

Just as with the evolution of life-forms, we cannot know whether this decline was inevitable, nor whether it will continue. What we can be sure of is that both trends have been have been extremely inefficient. Millions of species have no doubt been created and become extinct as complex life-forms developed. It's been a slow and wasteful process, if we are to take today's ecosystem as an end point. Similarly, and even more tragically, countless millions of human beings have been killed or maimed in deadly conflicts in our history - and it's still happening.

And we have no reason to assume that either our history as a species or as social animals will continue to play out favourably. Professor Pinker is writing descriptively rather than prescriptively and he does not say the trend will continue. Some would argue (see here, scroll down to "...Taleb's major complaints...") that the risk of catastrophic violence has risen, even as the actual level of physical violence has fallen.
What's all this got to do with Social Policy Bonds? Simple: whether or not initial circumstances are God-given, I think we could use the bonds consciously and deliberately to guide our progress toward a world of peace, and to speed it up.

Instead of relying on centuries of history, during which numberless millions of innocent people's lives have been destroyed, to bring about the tentative and incomplete peace that most of us enjoy today, my suggestion is that we issue World Peace Bonds. These bonds would be redeemable for a fixed sum only when a targeted array of indicators of peace had been achieved and sustained for a long period. They would reward people who do what they can to end violence. Backed by a combination of governments, non-governmental organizations, philanthropists and ordinary people, they would encourage a vast number of peace-generating approaches. Some would inevitably fail; the way the market for the bonds would work means that these efforts would be terminated and resources diverted into more promising initiatives.

The effect of World Peace Bonds would be to give incentives to accelerate and guide our progress toward a less violent world more efficiently than has happened so far: a protracted, haphazard and bloody path that has, true, given us a less violent world, but also one that has left us fearful of self-induced catastrophe. We can do better than that. By acknowledging that not all approaches are going to work, and supplying incentives for those that do, we can guide and accelerate evolutionary processes to bring about, quickly and efficiently, what is surely our most urgent goal: world peace

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