Michael Benedikt's C.V.

Published articles by Michael Benedikt available on-line


A General Theory of Value

by Michael Benedikt


The theory of value offered by this book revolves around three propositions: first, that (positive) value is attributed to that which preserves or creates more life; second, that "lifefulness" is characterized by a particular quantity and combination of complexity and organization; and third, that achieving this optimal quantity and combination of complexity and organization depends on the quality and flow of information among people and in the environment. To lay the foundations for this theory, this first chapter offers an account of the concept of information. Developed mostly in the 1940s and 50s, information theory, I try to show, still provides a useful if not ultimate understanding of such critical terms as complexity and organization—two terms, two concepts, that in turn shed light on the process of evolution and the phenomenon of life itself.

I. What is Information?
Substantial and yet epehemeral, subjective and yet objective, information is easy to recognize and yet hard to pin down and measure. Information grows old; information dissipates; and most of it passes us by. We live in an "information economy" we are told, and notice that more people than ever seem to earn their livings by making not things but decisions, and by manipulating not objects but words, numbers, and images. Information takes space to store, time to process, and energy to move, but there seems to be no limit as to how little of each is required. Some scientists say that, at bottom, the physical universe consists of nothing but information. What kind of stuff, indeed, is information? And when and how does it have value?

    Information theory: Shannon and Weaver
    In 1948, in a seminal paper, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver neatly dodged such metaphysical problems. They proposed that "information content" of a message or event was a function of the changed (or changing) probabilities we assign to a finite set of mutually exclusive possibilities. I explain the basic features of this idea. Every probability distribution represents a certain degree of uncertainty, U, as to outcome. When U decreases, information is gained; when U increases, information is lost. The greater are the number of possibilities, the greater is the information (potentially) to be gained or lost. Maximum uncertainty occurs when all possibilities are equally probable; minimum uncertainty occurs when one possibility has a probability of unity (and the others, by definition, have a probability of zero). I touch on some of the difficulties with this scheme, but in the main accept it as useful to our project.

II. Complexity
Other things being equal, the greater the complexity of a phenomenon in the world, the greater is the uncertainty it generates in us and the greater, too, is the amount of information it "contains." There is therefore a fundamental parallel between information and complexity, the exact nature of which is still being explored by complexity-scientists. Like information, complexity is both objective and subjective. It is a quantity one can provably be mistaken about, but just how mistaken depends on current best knowledge. A system's real complexity may forever be unknown or incomputable. In this section I try to elucidate the relationship between information and complexity with a series of less problematic examples: from gambling with dice and roulette wheels to a thought-experiment involving two people predicting the future from the same stimulus but with different expectations. It becomes clear that just as one requires two uncertainties, Ubefore and Uafter, to say how much information has been gained or lost in the encounter with another system, so one requires two complexities, Cpotential and Cactual, to define how organized that system is. We realize that to have information, I, about X, is in some sense to have come to embody some or all of X's (degree of) organization, R.

    The complexity of fields
    One can extend the concepts used in the above examples—all of which are about temporal sequences of single events—to sequences of states of a system that exists in two or three dimensions. I illustrate this with two board games—tic-tac-toe and chess—making special note of how their degrees of complexity, Cact and Cpot, as well as their degree of organization, R, change over the "life" of the game.

III. Complexity, Organization, and "the Thrust of Life"
Armed with computers and with new insights into self-organizing systems, ecology, and microbiology, today's so-called complexity-scientists are coming closer to casting the story of life into information-theoretic terms. Agreed, I report, is the following: that organismic and inter-organismic (i.e. social ) complexity increases with evolutionary time and, somehow, because of the evolutionary process itself. So too does the life-necessary degree of organization grow.

    The question of direction
    Looking to evolution for the origin of—if not justification for—our present sense of value entails taking up the question of whether evolution has an intrinsic direction. Is there something it "wants?" Does it have a goal or final state? Following Robert Ayers, I report four such directions: greater variety of species, greater complexity of individual behavior as well as specialization, greater metabolic efficiency, and greater stability. Driven by the sun and the seasons, there seems no "end" in sight for any of these directions except more of the same: more life. Biologists Daniel Brooks and E. O. Wiley offer an analytical key to the process: with evolution, potential complexity (Cpot) increases faster than actual complexity (Cact). The difference between them increases too, and that is organization (R). To appreciate Brooks and Wiley's findings, it is necessary to look deeper into:

    Complexity and scale
    Just as different radio stations can occupy different wavelengths on the dial, so can complexity (and information) be carried at different scales in a system. I examine some examples. (Written) language can be looked at as a sequence of individual letters, of syllables, of words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, "bodies of literature"...and so on, each letter-group length—or scale—being larger than the one before it. Each scale has a maximum information capacity, equivalent to Cpot, and its own degree of organization, R. The relevance of a passage of writing might reside in the R of some but not other scales. Music, similarly, is made of notes (or pitches pre-organized into keys), grouped into bars or measures, phrases, passages, themes, songs, sections, movements, pieces, etc., each of which can have its own degree of complexity and organization. In a more lengthy discussion, I apply these principles to the analysis of DNA at the scale of codons, and return to the work of Brooks and Wiley. Organization, R, and the two complexities, Cpot and Cact, increase over evolutionary time at gene-group and in total length. Many scales of DNA, though, are "silent."

IV. Some remarks on the origins of culture
The idea that there are "higher" and "lower" forms of life is ancient. What Darwin gave us was a secular explanation of how this came about: to wit, through "noisy" biological reproduction in a dangerous and complexifying environment. Newer is the idea that evolution continues when members of a species can communicate with, and learn from each other in their own lifetimes, and thus transmit information from generation to generation by means other than, additional to, and in part controlling of, genetic endowment to offspring: culture. Ideas evolve, as do social practices and artifacts. This is the arena in which value comes into its own as a subject of contemplation and object of desire—bearing all the marks of its purely biological origins.


This chapter lays out the core of our theory of value. It tries to do so in terms precise enough to extend argument and formal enough to invite empirical investigation.

I. Value and Evolution
Many have attempted to describe life's purpose—or meaning, or value—in non-theistic, evolutionary terms. Ours is one more such attempt. While acknowledging that humans are eminently capable of taking their future into their own hands, transcending the laws of purely biological evolution, I argue that psychological and cultural evolution are nonetheless cut of the same informational cloth. Even the idea that evolution is wrong, or inapplicable to humans, can be evolutionary. Much turns on the sophistication with which we understand what evolution is, and in what sense we take it to be "positive" in direction. Life's purpose—and evolution's "job"—is proliferation: more life. This near-tautology, I offer, can be the basis of a theory of value, one that is human and recognizably moral.

II. Complexity-and-organization, W, Defined
In Chapter One we began to see evidence that living and more highly evolved systems tend to be both more complex and more organized than non-living and less highly evolved systems. Here, I propose a mathematical measure of evolvedness called W (omega), whose unit is bits. W is formulated so that it is optimized when a system's degree of complexity is equal to its degree of organization, and so that it increases absolutely when each (i.e., complexity, C, and organization, R) increases without (much) decrease in the other. Specifically, our hypothesis is that W is also a measure of a system's lifefulness, an interesting if not complete-unto-itself "vital sign." I plot all these variables graphically, and offer interpretations of the result.

III. Value Defined, and Its Meaning Explored
Given the above, it more or less follows that positive value (to a certain person, P, is properly attributed to anything that increases the lifefulness of P—i.e., that increases the W of P—over a given period of time. Written most succinctly: V = DW. Admitting its presumptuousness, I ask the reader to accept V (value) as at least a candidate for the position of useful measure of value, and proceed to put the candidate through some basic tests. In the process, we realize that both V and W operate at several scales in a system, some problematically invisible. We discuss the differences between experiencing value directly (in ourselves), indirectly (in others), and attributing its "experience" to complex non-living systems as well as simpler inanimate objects. When it comes to judging the value (to some social organization) of alternative programs and policies, I show how competing advocacies arise from occupying different places on what I call the W-surface.

IV. Difficulty and motion on the W-surface
Because no familiar physical laws operate in the mathematical-statistical "space" of C, R, and W, I seek to explain our intuition that it is difficult or risky or time-consuming to climb "up" the W-surface—i.e. to evolve, to experience positive value and more life. Why—for us, anyway—is it work? And why do species not leap about on the W-surface at will?

    A. The Second Law revisited
    When systems are cut off from material, energic, and informational trade with the outside, their internal organization (R) tends to decrease and their actual complexity (C) increase. This is the Second Law of Thermodynamics in operation, and combatting it is constant work, both abstractly and in everyday life. I show how elegantly the Second Law can be represented in the space of C, R, and W, and how readily its known effects can be incorporated into our theory of value. Indeed, we uncover examples of the Second Law creating positive value—when "letting things go" is the best course of action. Further, we can see why systems must grow in potential complexity if they are to evolve rather than just improve. Here, again, it is essential to let the Second Law have its way, and even to help it along by raising the whole system's "temperature."

    B. What "drives" evolution?
    We are led to wonder: what obliges animals to learn and cultures and species to evolve? The root cause, I argue, is reproductive success. Because other animals and plants largely constitute any single animal or plant's environment, their reproductive success breeds complexity in the environment, and complexity in the environment selects for improved creaturely "smarts"—i.e. for higher W. Of help at the biological level is the "stickiness" of DNA (which promotes long-term lengthening of the genome), and at the cultural level both record-keeping and the tendency to conserve artifacts and skills (i.e. capital). Even so, nature beggars culture in the production of fine structure and extravagant beauty.

    C. Back to our second question.
    When a narrow range of values of C/R are workable, "leaping about" on the W-surface is a dangerous business—like a drunk dancing on a small table. We realize that the higher altitudes of W cannot be reached from the side, as it were, but only by steady climb up the ridge of optimal W, where C/R W 1. We realize too that all our conscious perceptions of the complexity, organization, and lifefulness of other creatures, and of ourselves, are restricted to a small region of the space of C and R. Because W is found at different scales, real systems are properly represented by constellations of points on the W-surface, only a few of which fall into the region we can readily apprehend.

    D. In summary: whence "work"?
    Four of the factors discussed above that would account for the difficulty of climbing the W-surface are summarized and re-described. (They are disorder, inertia, competition, and risk..) A fifth, additional, factor seems to be exclusive to humans: impatience. Humans are aware of time, have intentions, and make plans that are time-sensitive. In nature, by contrast, nothing is in a hurry. No animal, therefore, and certainly no microbe or plant, can be said to work in the way we understand the word. None know that they are destined to die. It is knowing of the link between time, work, and value that delivers Man from Eden: first into an economic universe, and then—when consideration for the well-being of others is added—into a moral and economic one.



This chapter surveys what independent evidence can be found to support the three hypotheses of Chapter Two, namely, that "more life" is characterized by an increase in system's complexity-and-organization, W, that systems judged alive are close to W-optimal already, and that ones judged life-promoting ("good") nudge living systems towards higher W and/or closer to W-optimality.

    A. Evolutionary biology
    Statistical studies of species: The research of E. O. Brooks and D. Wiley is reported in Chapter One. John T. Bonner finds increasing organism size and diversity in nature, with greater variety of species and cell-types in evolutionarily younger genera. It is easy to describe his findings in terms of Cpot, C, R, and W—increasing, all. DNA codon usage measures: Although total genome length bear no strong correlation to species youth, the correlation is positive. This is total Cpot. More telling is that DNA's W at the scale of codons (i.e. nucleotide triplets) is extremely close in value for all species—and very-near-optimal for Cpot at this scale (6 bits/codon).

    B. Cellular automata and artificial life systems
    John Conway's LIFE. An analysis of the several initial configurations and parameter settings that generate interesting—i.e. animated, ongoing—"creatures" and patterns in LIFE, shows that they are close to W-optimal in our terms. Robert Axtell and Joshua Epstein's Sugarscape: A comparable analysis of the much more complex artificial life system, Sugarscape, yields similar results, although less conclusive. Chris Langton's lamda measure, l: Surveying several cellular automata systems, and on theoretical grounds too, Langton developed a measure, l, that described a complexity optimum for such systems to animate and sustain themselves. I show how l and W are related.

    C. Studies in psychology
    The partial reinforcement extinction effect Classical conditioning proceeds fastest when the connection between paired stimuli and a response is completely reliable. But it decays slowest when the connection (during the learning period) is unreliable to the degree predicted by W-optimality. Possible conclusion: life-likeness in the stimulus-response relation. George A. Miller and the information-processing abilities of humans: People have a limit of around 3 bits per event in making absolute judgements on random stimuli varying from each other on a single dimension, and 5 bits for higher dimensional stimuli. Higher rates are achieved by "chunking," which is finding R at larger scales, or imposing it at some cost. Daniel Berlyne and 'optimal arousal:' A preference exists for the "moderate psychological complexity" that delivers optimal arousal, or feeling of lifefulness. Events that move us closer to such moderate levels of complexity are preferred over those that take us away from them. This finding is easy to foresee from Figure 2.6, plotting W against C for Cpot = a constant. Edward Walker's optimal complexity: Walker reinforces Berlyne's conclusions over a wide range of studies, including such "stimuli" as music. Benedikt and Lee's study of preference for melodies. A pilot study suggests that randomly-generated 60-note melodies high in W are preferred over ones low in W (W being measured at the group-length of one note). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's model of flow: In scores of empirical studies of happiness-in-activity—which he calls "flow"—Csikszentmihalyi finds support for a model of human preference-for-complexity that maps very closely to ours. I show how his one independent variable degree of challenge is equivalent to our C, his second independent variable degree of skill is equivalent to our R, and the single dependent variable, flow, is achieved in the balance the two and their increase, which is to say, with optimal and increasing W. James G. Miller's informational stress model: People's efficiency at processing information falls away from ideal on either side of what appears to be an W-optimal load of 10 bits/sec, again seeming to follow Figure 2.6. Richard L. Meier's institutional coping strategies: An increasingly overloaded library is observed to develop fourteen "policies" to cope, strategies that lower C and/or Cpot, and that raise or lower R. The latter implies a search for workable if not optimal W at every stage. Meier generalizes to all organizations, while I note that individuals under informational stress seem to adopt the same "policies"—and in roughly the same order.


    D. Economic and social structures
    While David Warsh in The Idea of Economic Complexity, does not show that there is an optimal quantity or quality of complexity in the economy, he documents the rapid increase in social and economic complexity in modern times and argues that the value of goods and services has increased over the same period in a way that is correlated to their increasing complexity. Frederic L. Pryor in Economic Evolution and Structure uses statistical methods similar to those outlined in Chapter One, developed by Henry Theil, to show increase in the information-processing rate of almost every component of the economy, greater interactivity within the system, and increasing heterogeneity—difference—among economic actors. Although supportive of our theory, neither Warsh nor Pryor report data that would enable us to compute W growth or W-optimality specifically. This would require further study.

George David Birkhoff's Aesthetic Measure (1933). That beauty is somehow mathematical in origin is an idea that goes back to Pythagoras. Birkhoff's contribution was to propose that (degree of) complexity and (degree of) order were properties of all works of art as well as mathematics—properties essential to judging their beauty. I show how Birkhoff's measure of aesthetic value, M, is easily translated into our measure, W. Rudolph Arnheim's Entropy and Art (1971). In this influential work, Arnheim interpreted art as mankind's "answer" to entropy and Second Law of Thermodynamics. Here, order is good. By the end of the book, however, Arnheim speaks of mankind's "need for complexity"—but for complexity of a good kind rather than a trivial or bad kind. He begins to follow Birkhoff, adding an important evolutionary perspective not dissimilar to ours. Morse Peckham's Man's Rage for Chaos (1967) Against Arnheim and others, Peckham, also using biology as a reference, argued that Art owes its every innovation to the acceptance of a higher level of disorder, chaos, and entropy into its media and methods. The real danger is ossification. With our understanding of W we can see how Peckham, Arnheim, and Birkhoff have no argument with each other at all.

    Interlude: why theories of aesthetic value matter
    Few believe that what philosophers have to say about aesthetic value could have much relevance to the understanding of value in the marketplace, the bedroom, the boardroom, or the voting booth. I argue that this view is deeply mistaken, not just because the arts often play a large role in politics and economic development, but because the reasons why product (or idea or candidate) A prevails over product (or idea or candidate) B in the marketplace are not unlike why painting (or song or movie) A is held to be better than painting (or song or movie) B. There is nothing "mere," I argue, about beauty, and why this is so goes back to old and powerful ideas of what the good life consists in at all.

Corroborating Theories , Continued
Frederick Turner's Natural Classicism (1985). For Turner, cultural evolution and biological evolution are cut of the same cloth, information; and at the leading edge of cultural evolution lies art in relation to science. He is interested especially in "reflexivity," the process by which new work, new complexity, is generated out of self-reading, not unlike DNA. Reflexivity gives systems the W-boost they "need" to become autonomous and unpredictable: in some sense alive, and productive of meaning and value. In NonZero (2000), Robert Wright's interest is less in aesthetics than in cultural, economic, and political history, which he casts in evolutionary terms. What characterizes steps forward, he argues, are the new and more complex (and organized) arrangements by which competing parties (and species) come to specialize and/or cooperate to mutual advantage. For Wright, evolution has no moral purpose or direction—no value—without God gifting mankind with consciousness, freedom, and the responsibility to make moral (i.e., positive non-zero-sum) choices. Hope lies in Teilhard de Chardin's dream of the noosphere—the surface of earth itself become a super-complex higher consciousness through global communication technology. Although appreciative of Wright's thesis, I stop short of endorsing Teilhard's vision. More and better life is the only value; and the individual its only site and measure.



This chapter makes a transition from abstract biological and cognitive considerations of value to the experience of value in the richer personal and social-psychological context of everyday life. It posits a finite number of pan-human needs and suggests that it is neither material goods nor energic goods that satisfy most of them, but psychological goods, made of information. I call these goods tokens. Tokens are produced, consumed, exchanged, and circulated much as material goods are in a the monetary economy, but with certain important differences. Presenting this idea with some rigor requires several excursions into moral philosophy, psychology, and social psychology.

Abraham Maslow and the hierarchy of needs
I discuss some of the thinking behind Maslow's well-known hierarchy of (five) basic needs, as well as his idea that the lower of any two needs is "pre-potent" over the higher. We return to a deeper discussion of his theory later in the chapter.

Value and "values"
The existence of the word "values" (in the plural), and the fact we speak of "having" them, suggests to many that there are goods that have such different kinds of value that we ought to have quite different valuational principles for and attitudes towards them. I argue, nonetheless, that value is a unitary phenomenon having to do with the enhancement of life (later I will call it: increasing life's plenitude). All goods are comparable at this level. Hence the continuing validity of the singular "value."

The economy of tokens: preamble
I outline the features of an overlooked economy-entire whose unit goods are tokens. Along with material goods and services of all kinds, tokens embody, convey, and create value in the largest sense. They satisfy needs. In their proliferation and sophistication they increase the range and complexity of social exchange and they add to the complexity-and-organization, W, of individual human consciousness.

I. The Stratigraphy of Needs
Are motivations as manifold as actions? With Maslow, I argue not: there are far fewer motivations than actions, and even fewer needs that motivated actions are directed towards satisfying. Maslow posited five such needs; I posit six:

    The structure
    In place of Maslow's five-need structure (i.e., the needs for physiological health, safety, love-and-belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization), I offer a six-need structure: the needs for survival, security, legitimacy, approval, confidence, and freedom, arranged not in a hierarchy but in a "stratigraphy" of layers of complexity-and-organization. I discuss the overlaps and differences between Maslow's scheme and mine, as well as the connection between need-satisfaction and value defined as increasing W.

    Needs, values, and virtues
    Are needs culturally defined and thus "relative"? I concede they might be, and that our "stratigraphy of needs" might be Western (and perhaps just North American). But I also suggest that a great deal of cultural difference might originate not so much in the needs themselves as in variations of their stratigraphic position and emphasis. If so, it would follow that different cultures might champion different virtues but would recognize all of the others. This seems to be the case, as Aristotle points out.

    The process of growth or ascent
    Maslow theorized that the needs succeed each other in overlapping profiles of emergence, peak, and recession (when satisfied). I propose a structure of succession that is similar but more flexible, and described more fully in Chapter Six. Interesting is how needs emerge over time in maturing children. I propose a schema that has the six needs emerging (in an unexpected order) through the first five or six years of life, thereafter developing only in the degree of complexity-and-organization with which they are satisfied.

II. The Economy of Tokens
To give the reader a feel for how devising, offering, accepting, and trading tokens could constitute an economic system, I sort many familiar tokens into the six strata of need they satisfy. The exercise also gives us a sense of what the needs themselves consist in. Nine "elucidations" follow:

    1. Positive tokens, negative tokens, and performativity
    Tokens can be positive or negative in value, and can delivered in a variety of forms. Performatives are verbal expressions that have their effect by simple virtue of their utterance (e.g., "I promise" or "You're hired."). Most performatives involve the delivery of tokens. But the need to feel that our speech—and speech-like gestures—have external effect at all, good or bad, runs deep: it is tied to our need for security.

    2. Apparent displacements
    The needs keep their place, as it were. But sometimes there's advantage in mis-naming tokens and misdirecting attention (a matter we study further in Chapter Five), as well as to inverting conditionality, as when the satisfaction of a lower need is made conditional on the satisfaction of a higher one. I discuss how democracy depends on just such an inversion: here legitimacy is based upon obtaining sufficient and uncoerced approval from others.

    3. Token bundles
    I describe how tokens are often packaged in "bundles" that address more than one need at a time, and how no token has much value unless the system of exchange that warrants its effectiveness—i.e. that grounds it to lower needs—is in place and functioning smoothly. Several examples are given.

    4. Tokens and signs
    I define "signs" in the psychoeconomy as displays of state-of-need, indications of current satisfaction levels. Although they are not themselves exchanged, they create the bargaining environment and thus determine the range of relative values, or "prices," at which the relevant tokens will be exchanged. I prepare the reader for the deeper discussion of signs I offer in Chapter Five.

    5. Nobility
    I propose that nobility is a display: it is acting as though all one's needs had been met. Recognized across all cultures and difficult to practice, nobility, as a strategy, has several advantages in both the material and token economy . It silences (by example) the less fortunate; it hides exploitable needs; it induces others to raise the value of their offers; it reduces guilt.

    6. Satisfaction, happiness, and pleasure
    In this section I offer some definitions: Satisfaction is W embodied. Happiness is (our experience of) the increase of our satisfaction; sadness the experience of its decrease. Pleasure is the rate of increase of our satisfaction, or the "temporal intensity" of happiness. Pain is the reverse: it is a register of the temporal intensity of satisfaction decrease. It follows that the rich may surpass the poor in satisfaction, but in happiness and pleasure it's an even bet.

    7. Liberty as foundational to freedom
    I explain how in the Lockean tradition liberty is an inalienable human right whereas in the Burkean it is something to be earned. I follow in the tradition of Mill by distinguishing between liberty and freedom. Liberty is freedom operating largely at the level of legitimacy. Thus liberty frames metaphysical or existential freedom, (which lies at the top of the stratigraphy) and founds it. Liberty may be an inalienable human right, I say, but well-founded freedom is the prize, and it must be earned.

    8. Human and social capital
    On becoming adults, all people bring some endowment of strength, social connectedness, knowledge, and intelligence to society at large. Conversely, societies offer their members access to their technologies, languages, laws, and know-how. It is because these two forms of capital must mix in complex ways in order to be mutually reinforcing that the higher reaches of individual satisfaction are usually attained only by roundabout means. I argue that mastery over a given need both indicates and creates the capacity—the capital—for moving up the stratigraphy to well-founded freedom, the sustained enjoyment of which requires that the most complex-and-organized modes of life be undertaken that a given society offers.

    9. The token economy everywhere
    In light of 8 above, I explain why it is inappropriate to valorize either culture or commerce. Both are economic; both are civilizing, educational, and edifying. Indeed, once one sees that there is a psychological economy, one sees it in action everywhere, crossing easily between the two realms, culture and commerce, as well as binding them together.

III. The "Goal of Life"
Having established the framework for doing so, I propose that the goal of life is the same for individuals as for groups: it is to be both satisfied and happy—to experience both W and DW—in the largest degree and for the longest time. In short, the goal of life is more life. To be sure, cultures formulate many other and worthy "goals of life," but I maintain that they are all translatable to this one, properly understood.

IV. And What of Love?
Here I discuss why the need for love is not part of the stratigraphy. It is because love is present throughout: it is a pan-systemic need manifesting itself in the relationship between any two people across all needs. "Loving" names a relationship that allows exchange to be generous in impulse, imprecise in accounting, and long-term in the assessment of fairness. Essential to love, therefore, are trust, forgiveness, and hope. At the level of legitimacy, love is expressed as mercy—that softener of justice. I discuss why economic values, conventionally understood, are often posed as antithetical to love. It is largely because money permits precision in accounting. But, as I argue, money-metered exchanges are often more flexible and generous than ostensibly love-based non-monetary exchanges. Thus the antithesis of love is not money (or "economics") but hate, or indifference to the other, combined with exchange that is addressed to only one need and/or the insistence on immediate fairness or redress of past unfairness.

V. The External and Internal Economies
Following from G. H. Mead and others, I propose that the economy of tokens that exists between people is modeled within each and every individual and versa. The mind is social; society "psychological." Mirroring token exchange between people, within them there is token exchange too, or conversion from one type into another. We all reward and punish ourselves. A degree of self-legitimation is necessary to us all too, but taken very far it leads to secession from, and ultimately conflict with, the larger society.

VI. Token Consumption and Warranting
As information-based psychological goods tokens are consumed entirely, wastelessly. They also expire. We produce, offer, and accept tokens mostly on our own authority. The value of a token is warranted by the our implicit (but sometimes explicit) indication that we would be willing to accept in return, and if judged necessary by the other, tokens of equivalent or greater value but of a lower stratum. A society is healthy to the extent that the warrants of tokens are not tested. This is taken up in more detail in Chapters Five and Seven. •



I. On Signs as Distinct from Tokens
All exchange begins in stage setting. Upon meeting, people "read" each other's states of mind and character, and, knowing they will be read, display "signs" of who they are and how they want to be taken. I discuss how complexity enters: sign displays can be intentional or unintentional as well as truthful or untruthful, while readings of them can be conscious or unconscious as well as veridical or mis-taken. This yields sixteen permutations, only one of which combines intentional truthfulness in the display (i.e. sincerity) with conscious veridicality in the reading (i.e. faithfulness). Few theorists of social communication confront this 16-fold potential complexity. The question I ask is: do ordinary people do so? And if so, how?

II. On the Evolution/Construction of the Self
With G. H. Mead, L. Vygotsky, and others, I argue that the having of a self, a personality, an identity, is essentially an organizational response to the complexity discussed above. Social evolution depends upon efficient token exchange; and this depends, in turn, on consistency, readability, and reliability in the trading partners. This is why we do not present ourselves in full. Indeed, we are incapable of that. Rather, we make and test simplified models of ourselves on each other, settling, in adulthood, on the model—the self, the persona—that is most successful at producing satisfaction. In the process, we "ourselves" come to understand who we are. And find that very difficult to change.

III. On "Force"
Exchanges are usually initiated by one of the parties. With this comes the choice of "opening move" or first offer: What will it be? To what stratum of need will the exchange be addressed and/or kept at? I name the kinds of "force" that such tokens have, each force corresponding to a need. Thus: at the stratum of freedom, tokens have the force of example; at the stratum of confidence they have the force of encouragement; at approval, flattery; at legitimacy, authority; at security, power; and survival, violence. The upper three forces, corresponding to the highest three needs, I group together and call persuasive; the lower three forces, corresponding to the lowest three needs, I call coercive. I show how this schema clarifies many other distinctions we make, such as between custom and law.

    Promises and threats
    Having established the different forces, I explain how both promises and threats can be used persuasively or coercively. What makes promises more pleasant than threats is only the direction on the stratigraphy that they point, i.e., up or down, towards gain or loss. Threats are more motivating. Self-sacrifice is a way to preempt threats and elicit promises. Being "cool" can have similar effects, but can also elicit stronger threats. In general, the lower the stratum one is trading in, the greater is the element of fear. This is why freedom is so deeply associated with the absence of fear and independence from others' threats and promises.


    The moral use of force
    Behind all these forcing strategies lie considerations of how to use force morally. A simple rule applies, one that can be stated in two ways: use minimum force, and start at the top of the stratigraphy. This is because it is both more effective and more moral to attribute higher levels of complexity-and-organization—greater evolvedness—to others, than to do the reverse. It is also more polite (and what is politeness but morality's outermost garb?) to open an exchange presuming the other as little needy as possible. I discuss several examples.

    Remarks on how some practices perpetuate, and on leadership
    Cultural practices are not often freely chosen by individuals. They are grown into. Most insidious are practices that use promise and threat structures to expand their membership and reduce defection. I give some examples. I then explain how, while all leaders are adept at the use of force and all excel at preempting threats and eliciting promises, moral leaders use the rule outlined in the section above. In doing so, they tend to organize the increasingly complex lives of their followers rather than simplify it. They increase R rather than decrease C. The result is greater , W , more life for all.


Go To Chapters 6 - 10.




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