Maps Without Slopes and Very Tired Legs
Somebody at some point will have to expend energy to deal with the slope of the terrain. We are raised looking at flat symbolic maps to help us navigate, with no terrain relief. The slope of the terrain is more real than the map ever was, and while we navigate the confines of the map we constantly expend energy on this hidden cost of the slope.
We never ask ourselves why our legs are tired, or why we were so easily persuaded to work so hard and for so long to afford a vehicle, which eliminates our perception of the cost of navigating the slope and externalizes it to a resource conflict at the end of a “supply chain”. We are given low-variety decision-making in low-frequency and easily controlled bursts as some kind of say over this organizational machinery which works day in and day out selling you to the solution to what they refuse to map for you.
Suppose someone then shows you the topographic map, showing the slopes of the terrain hidden from you. You might think, “that's interesting, but how does it help me get around”? Certainly at a personal level, the map of the terrain's slope is not all that actionable. Perhaps you have the luck to be situated at the bottom of a hill relative to your workplace or grocery. Having the map of the slope did not help you gain any advantage from this situation, but maybe you recognize that the grocery truck, or your public transit save you work by dealing with hauling heavy things up the slope for you so that you can coast home with the weight of a heavy load working to your mechanical advantage. Nothing you did individually impacted that very fortunate labor freeing state of affairs… Back to looking at your phone perhaps, the topographic map wasn't all that useful after all, need to pull up the GPS route for my work commute and get on your way...
However, suppose you were the person ultimately responsible for placing groceries throughout the city. It would be awfully inefficient to ask everyone about where the groceries ought to be, after all. You sit at your desk, and you look at the same flat symbolic map you've had your whole life. Sure, perhaps it has been updated with new features, you can see the location of the first supermarket location you approved breaking ground a year or two after you first ticked the box on your map. It is the same however, in the sense that it shows only the same types of things the map has ever shown. The mapmaker doing the job of mapping does not often ask themselves the question of what details of the terrain are most important to be mapped, do they? There is a mapping tradition, dating far back in time, with very slow and officially authorized symbolic development. If you are good at your job you might be wise enough to make use of as many of these maps as possible, recognizing that the map is not the territory, and you will never know what crucial detail might be important in determining where to place the next grocery. You have a lot on your plate, personally observing the conditions of every place you would need to survey for advantages to grocery placement for the community is something that is very time consuming! You don't have any time for that. So back to these maps, these very historied maps, these maps without slopes.
What is it that differentiates the person using the map to get their groceries, and the person using the map to place the groceries? What is their relationship. These people don't talk or know each other, so insofar as one impacts the other we can safely assume that is a one-way relation. Which happens first? The person placing the grocery, of course, that is how time works after all, causation and everything. Someone places the grocery using the map so that another person finds it using the map. A very storied, very ideological map.
I'm riding my bike to the grocery today and my legs are very tired. My legs feel this ideological oversight, making me tired. But what can I do, the relation of the grocery to my terrain was decided, the connection between the grocery planner and I was cast in the cement two blocks down from me, and my legs burn from it every day. Maybe there is a world where my legs burning could have impacted where the cement was cast, rather than this tenuous ideological connection the mapmaker has made between the grocery planner and I. Perhaps there could be a map of where my legs burn that is given to the grocery planner? But what of the ideology of the map symbols it chooses to employ don't capture the truly important information to saving my effort? And even then, wouldn't the placement of the grocery be changing that map, impacting my behavior, directing me differently than the way the map captured the effort of my legs beforehand?
Some may tell you that the issue here is that the map is centralized, rather than decentralized , and others still might tell you things like “well, if person X made the decision rather than person Y, everything would have sorted out fairly for everyone”. Reflect for a moment and ask yourself what would have happened if the grocery planner was not only elected fairly, but that the grocery planner truly was the best fit for the role. Votes don't tell them how tired your legs are, do they? That does not seem like it would give even the ideal grocery planner any better informational feedback for making the correct decision. When you fill out a piece of paper describing the names of planners rather than the tiredness of your legs that doesn’t seem like the right type of input. Suppose the job of grocery planning were decentralized, and we all got together virtually somehow, with some way of filtering out all the informational noise that would introduce to the process of checks notes placing a grocery store. At the end of the day we would be a bunch of independent grocery planners looking at maps, and possibly not even the same ones! However, none of these scenarios would seem to explain why my legs are so tired from going to the grocery store.
Perhaps we got it all wrong somewhere with this at a fundamental level, to keep failing in the same way, and dishing up solutions that only appear to introduce new organizational problems or rearrange the deck chairs on my sore, sore legs. Perhaps the planning should be play, perhaps the map should be the territory, and perhaps only the people with the relevant tired legs should be making the ones deciding where to break ground through a different kind of process. After all, if somebody at some point will have to expend energy to deal with the slope of the terrain, maybe the people who can feel it should have a try at eliminating that feeling through a self-actualizing process. I don't want to propose a structure, if anything the problem is that we are proposing structures but not feelings, resulting in structures mapped by a self-preserving organizational ideology of said structure, and increasingly inhospitable terrain.
Now what if I told you some very smart and very evil people can simulate how your legs feel with hoards of sensory data collected off of you, but rather than addressing the cause of your legs being tired they used this information to price the car you need to get to work at exactly the price point you are willing to desperately dish out for a car to keep yourself from walking/cycling the trip. This, in terms of feedback, is multiple steps above anything I proposed before, and remarkably effective if not evil. There was never a grocery planner, just a powerful car salesman in control of an algorithm. How would you feel about that? Some would have you direct your pain at the algorithm. After all, were it not for the computer, the car salesman’s power over how tired your legs are would not be so all-encompassing. Some would have you direct your pain at the car salesman. His computer is a powerful and flexible tool, fully re-programmable. Maybe we have been outmatched organizationally be a technological instrument for detecting how tired our legs are. Outclassed in the same way bows were outmoded by revolvers and machine guns. What if this algorithm was ours? The algorithm is kind of like the maps used by the grocery planners in the past, but its inputs and outputs are refreshed much faster, allowing for more feedback. It inherits some problems that are ideological, but because it isn’t a mechanical and inflexible machine, but a dynamic and re-programmable one, it could be refitted for another purpose. Perhaps you could choose to dream that the ratchet of technology was a one-way ticket to freedom instead of persistent controls of old powers and modes of thought. Maybe you could dream to design a dominant and powerful freedom no longer relegated to the fringes, cybernetically. These revolvers and machine-guns of the new age of organization can be reprogrammed into plowshares, should we try.