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Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

UBI = Universal Basic Income, and in 2019 it’s floating around in a meme soup served up by the Yang Campaign. A UBI of $1000/month sounds pretty good to most Americans, citizens or not. The program is geared for citizens, who might be retired in Mexico, or not.

Another way to think of the UBI is in terms of your physical energy expenses under the line item of “avatar” by which we mean your “piece on the board” (Erhard) or “body”. Physicists are able to measure the human body’s energy output limits fairly straightforwardly. Outputting enough joules to toast a piece of toast, in the time a toaster does it, takes an athlete. Lets assume an average of 130 watts per human without worrying if that number is really right. It’s in the ballpark.

Note that watts don’t tie off in some discrete total amount of energy spent. When our physical body dies, it stops doing the basal metabolic rate, which accounts for a percentage of total energy. Just breathing is work. When the body stops working, we might assess the total calories burned from conception until death (maybe kilo calories or C). We already know a normal adult burns about 2K C a day, so multiply that times a lifetime of days. That’s an energy amount. Average over a few billion, remembering that children, being lighter, burn less.

Wattage, though, is a rate of burning energy, a unit of power, or energy per time.

A flickering camp fire will eventually add up to a roaring furnace for some short amount of time. A year of flickering might be as much energy as in some explosion, releasing the pent up mass.

Mass as mass begets gravity, but mass sometimes reverts entirely to its energetic content. A star explodes.

At the one extreme: neutron stars and other such singularities; at the other: randomly propagating light, heading nowhere in particular at max speed.

There’s an all you can eat aspect to a body, in terms of throughput. Restaurants count on such calculable food storage capacity. You’re allowed to walk out full, but not with doggie bags. How long are you allowed to just sit there and eat? Good question. I’m not an expert in the restaurant business, despite my role as a loyal customer. I uphold my end of the bargain (as an eater).

Now when we enter the narrative of history, we tend to lose sight of the avatars and their energy budget. We forget in what sense we’re created equal, in daily requirements.

The point being: Andrew Carnegie, the steel mogul and tycoon, did not, as an avatar, spend hugely more or fewer calories than your average human of his age. He lived his span of years on roughly the number of calories we each do, and exerted himself in the many ways that make our light bulbs shine or dim.

He hiked around Scotland quit a bit, if I’m not mistaken. Alexander Graham Bell was quite athletic, enjoying swimming in his lake in Nova Scotia.

But when we think of Andrew Carnegie, or Henry Ford Sr., or Walt Disney, as players on the world stage, we get caught up the drama of their language games, the workflows they invented and/or helped catalyze.

For sure none of these men were capable, as simply avatars, of expending anywhere close to the amount of energy a steel plant or car plant, or theme park, might need. Thousands upon thousands of avatars got in on those stagings, channeling energy flows far outside those of a human body to take in or put out.

A crane operator is not lifting that container using the human spine, as no spine could.

The energy flows out there, not belonging to avatar processes, human or non-human (birds and bees are light bulbs too), are simply huge, and extra-human in origin.

When we write history, we think about the channeling of immense energy flows a lot of the time. The hydroelectric dam is probably the most obvious such instance, given the convertible currency that is current (exchange it for heat, light, a lot of other things), and where it comes from: gravity.

The evaporation cycle lifts literally tons of water into the gaseous mixture (the atmosphere) which rains it down, filling the streams and rivers and running through, again, our mighty generators.

A few hundred miles away, the electric street cars do their thing, as do elevators, escalators and all manner of appliance, space heater, light bulb.

Green houses offer plant life an indoor diet of delight. Truck loads of biological matter take the green house hydrocarbons to various markets. No one avatar is doing all this work, obviously.

What the avatars need are opportunities to stay coordinated, which means measuring up against various standards. They go outside and play ball games, to stay in shape. They type, writing memos. They keep track of quantities, and referee and judge.

Humans have been especially prized for their autonomous sense of judgement, meaning each is endowed with some kind of will, allowing it to go about its business without constantly importuning some master to dispense a next instruction.

A lot of that goes on, but humans prize their freedom to auto-generate their own behavior, which ends up leading to patterns of adaptation to changing circumstances, in an ever-accelerating feedback cycle. The malleable reprogrammability of the human avatar, is a feature, not a bug, some would say the essence of a divine spark.

Back to the UBI, we could say it’s the basic input you need, to keep alive from day to day. Everything over and above keeping the light bulb burning is world history. In history, people channel energy flows beyond their own body’s needs.

Even in choosing which wines or beers to consume, you influence energy expenditure patterns beyond those of physical consumption. You may store the wine for later. You’re engaged in history.

What we call “the economy” is in many ways “orthogonal” to what we might call “the light bulbs” (the avatars) but not entirely of course. We need to find a role in the economy that keeps our bodies worth feeding and sheltering, is how it seems. But to whom must we prove our worthiness?

In Christianity, we’re taught everyone is a child of God worth supporting, but that’s just one ethical code among many, even among Christians.

I bring up Christianity in particular because of its famous Lord’s Prayer and the line “give us this day, our daily bread”. UBI = “daily bread”. We’re free to account it that way: “that portion of our energy budget expended by the avatar”. It’ll be in terms of calories per day. Even if you drive a heavy truck for a living. The truck is not your avatar. The avatar is your “business mobile” (bizmo) in the sense of a biological organism capable of undertaking the business of daily survival. We engage the will at this point, to give the avatar something to do, besides breath and eat.

Clearly we’re veering into philosophy at this point, and by the sound of it, a dualistic Middle Ages one. I acknowledge the retro aspect, but also embrace the gamification ramifications, of “piece on the board” (spherical) within World Game (American Lit.).

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