Cultures, like people, can run out of ideas. They can exhaust themselves in the face of events and ideas they can no longer predict, explain or control. When they do, they revert to the repetitive assertion of the simplest and most soothing of their founding ideas. These attempts to ward off the unknown through the ritualized assertion of familiar core beliefs are what anthropologists call a ghost dance. The name is taken from a Sioux Indian ritual dance designed to resurrect ancestors. Sioux warriors believed the dance made them impervious to the bullets of the U.S. Calvary in the 1870s.
What may seem to be a bizarre ritual is in fact a well-documented practice of all cultures, traditional and modern. Many events in contemporary American life can be understood as a ghost dance of denial: ritualistic behavior that people hope will ward off unpleasant social and economic realities…
In our time, the ghost dance can be seen in a celebration of laissez-faire capitalism, radical individualism, and the alienability of all human activity and nature for market consumption.
Clippinger then embarks on a whistle stop tour of new discoveries in science, behavioural economics and complexity theory to suggest we might want to move beyond conventional free market thinking. He doesn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but does suggest we transcend thinking based on each of us acting rationally and selfishly, by recognising that we have evolved as collaborative creatures. He proposes a new conception of the Commons:
The commons is a social regime for managing shared resources and forging a community of shared values and purpose. Unlike markets, which rely upon price as the sole dimension of value, a commons is organized around a richer blend of human needs for identity, community, fame and honor which are indivisible and inalienable, as well as more tangible rewards.
He argues that the internet offers a means of amplifying this kind of collaboration:
Human beings share a common genetic heritage with all forms of life, and we are therefore indivisible and interdependent with other species. Far from evolving as independent, self-actualizing and materialistic actors, human beings emerged as a relatively small and vulnerable species 150,000 years ago because we developed a unique set of social contract algorithms based on language and cooperation. How oddly appropriate: the Internet and related technologies are simply allowing us to give fuller expression to our evolutionary legacy.
It’s a rich and informative article, see if you can find time to read the whole thing.