Sunday, July 28, 2013

Riding the Dragon We Hatched


Human societies are addicted to their ruling ideas and their received way of life, and they are fanatical in their defence. Hence they are extraordinarily reluctant to reform. “To admit error and cut losses,” said [Barbara] Tuchman, “is rare among individuals, unknown among states.” Instead of changing their minds, leaders redouble their efforts to do what no longer works, wooden-headedly persisting in error until the bitter end.
William Ophuls, 2012

I saw the above quote at Naked Capitalism the other day, was struck by it and am now reading the book it is taken from (Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail). The quote struck me because it echoes my thinking on the state.  As such I felt inspired to repeat myself here in a new-ish formulation, suspecting – for a change – that my Cassandra Compulsion to share with anyone who’ll listen is not the deluded raving of a loon. Ah, sweet, brief relief.

(A quick note on terminology: where Ophuls uses “civilisation” I use “state” or the more generic “system”. For my purposes here, these terms are sufficiently interchangeable. I see the dynamic they designate as a manifestation or surface presentation of Eisensteinian Ascent, or better, a vehicle/vessel for its manifestation and development.)

Civilisation’s “leaders redouble their efforts to do what no longer works” – Einstein’s definition of madness. We should expect nothing less during collapse; how could leaders lead a system and also purposefully and publically bring about its demise? The danger for humanity today is that civilisation – composed of the nation state and corporation as value-extracting dynamics – has become truly global. It has crushed perceived threats wherever they emerged. If a group were able to get a tentative alternative up and running – as visibly as possible so as to attract more people to their cause – the current system would annihilate that alternative with violent thoroughness, as it has done across the centuries of its ascent and now as zenith has tipped into collapse. The more viable, the more hopeful the alternative to it, the more violent is the system’s opposition. It sees alternatives as viruses that could spread if left unchecked. (Don’t we all?)

Once we have woken up to this, we appear to be confronted with an unpalatable, binary choice: 1. Try to survive and develop alternatives with others on behalf of humanity and risk social exclusion or even annihilation. 2. Stay in lockstep with the mainstream and knowingly participate in the self-wrought extinction of our species.

Is there a middle way? Yes and no. Let’s start by grubbing around in some dark stuff:
  1. Living systems – humans, rabbits, spiders, coral reefs, political parties, football clubs, states and so on – are characterised in part by some sort of ‘will’ to survive, however this manifests (living systems theory). A living system like the nation state (which we are concerned with here), with its subsidiary the corporation and its current flavour, capitalism, is no exception. It will therefore do what it must to survive. That its continued survival is a threat to its survival cannot compute.
  2. Leaders are representatives, promoters and defenders of the system they lead. They are thus ‘congenitally’ constrained to act in the interests of that system come what may. If they fail to do so, the system will replace them with someone more loyal. All sorts of gymnastic rationalising is performed to justify whatever behaviours are adopted (mainstream media and academia), something humans do very well indeed, individually and collectively, deliberately and autonomically. Leaders’ lack of freedom in this regard is clearer during times of collapse when decadence and criminality run wild. Even ‘good’ leaders fall in line as wiggle-room evaporates.
  3. Nation states plus corporations etc. represent a global system. One of this system’s defining characteristics is perpetual economic growth, which is perhaps the main reason this system is global; it can’t stop growing. As a defining characteristic, it cannot be relinquished without causing the death of the system. This is a controversial point, but I’m fairly convinced by it. “As a process, civilization resembles a long-running economic bubble. Civilizations convert found (or conquered) ecological wealth into economic goods and population growth.” (W. Ophuls, 2012.) This dynamic is a positive feedback loop. I repeat, its continued survival is a threat to its survival. Quite the Catch 22.
  4. Nation states plus corporations etc. also comprise all those humans born and living in them. In other words, you, me, and almost everyone else on earth are part of the problem, are necessarily dependent on the survival of that which threatens our survival. Our habits of thought and living have been shaped and are sustained by the system we/they constitute.
  5. There is no thus escape. On the one hand, we cannot escape ourselves; wherever we go to conduct experiments in establishing new systems, we bring our habits of thought and living with us. Starting from scratch is impossible. On the other hand and as mentioned above, where radical and successful alternatives do start to bloom despite the odds against them, they can only be perceived as threats to the current dominant system, which has the power to crush them. Lastly, even collapse is not escape. Collapse is terrible and cannot wipe the slate of our conditioning completely clean. The new always emerges from the old. This time, that emergence looks like being very painful and troubled indeed, due to the global nature of the crises.
  6. Because the system is global, its collapse is global too. How rapid it becomes is anyone’s guess, but what is important to bear in mind is how devastating – psychically, physically, spiritually, environmentally and emotionally – it must be. Cultural disorientation will pervade. Indeed, we see it more and more today.
  7. Taken together, all of the above means that present cultural denial about impending or currently unravelling collapse will be / is especially visceral and determined. Expect no meaningful change at all from appointed leaders or from the moral majority any time soon.

But I write none of this to spread despair. We cannot durably prepare ourselves for what is upon us (or rather, what we are generating) unless we appreciate some of the scale of the challenge; knowing all effects is impossible. Hopefulness is important, even naïve hopefulness, as stories like Hans im Glück or those involving an ingénue or fool tell us. Indeed, many groups are ‘foolishly’ engaged in building different aspects of the new and are doing sterling work. Velcrow Ripper even talks of the emergence of a movement of movements and has traced its contours in his wonderful films (I know of and recommend Occupy Love and Fierce Light).

Personally, I do not write this stuff in the belief that all hope is lost. I passionately believe that those of us who see various aspects of the end of this version of civilisation are obliged to add their perspective to the mix. However, this cannot be an act that seeks fame and fortune, in any of their guises. It is an act of service which cannot know what good it is sowing, or what harm.

We will despair. Much of what we attempt, as individuals and groups, will ‘fail’. We cannot know fully what is bathwater and what is baby, nor which parts of what we think we are cutting out are being reintroduced in our shadows, nor the long term effects of our continual experimentation. But a mature approach to this work of renewal should, I feel, keep firmly in mind the points I’ve listed above (and others). To allow a radically different system to emerge from the fertile soil of the old requires, paradoxically, that its very newness be a bloom on the old. Of course, the old must first become fecund ruin for this to happen, but that’s ok: “Systems prepare their own overthrow by a preliminary period of petrification.”  (R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.)

Know thine enemy. Know thyself. It’s not about you. Out of the very contradiction of this trinity, the middle way begins.

23 comments:

Frank Powers said...

"Wherever we go to conduct experiments in establishing new systems, we bring our habits of thought and living with us. Starting from scratch is impossible."

Except when "we" (or at least a big enough minority of "us") learns to do the exact opposite: to not bring our habits of thought (and thus of living) with "us". Put another way, only large-scale "awakening" (in the Buddhist sense of the term) would hopefully effect any change worth talking of. Grow up or perish are our alternatives.

Of course, it's still more likely we'll all perish: growing up is such tedious business, after all, and the System, run by probably psychopathic mental children, is not interested at all in any "grown-ups" showing up and spoiling the fun ... (Plus they/it might be systemically unable to even understand the need to change, as you yourself deduced so nicely above ...)

In other news, we should at long last have some beers or other assorted beverages together again - before we're too old for that shit or accidentally grow up. ;-)

Frank Powers said...

P.S.: Really enjoyed all of your blog posts of late. Really looking forward to THE BOOK!

Malagodi said...

Hubris. Note Cage's "How to improve the world: You will only make matters worse."

Humanity and all its structures are not isolated systems in any sense. A factory is as natural as a rose bush. Each is alive in its own way. Each and all will die in its own way; not of its own accord and not of its own plan, just as it is born.

Stop trying to engineer immortality. Immortality already is, just not the way you want. What makes you think 'we' can design something else? And if we do, Kurtzweil-like, it will be an eternal prison, another hell-hole.

We have been advised over and over again not to try to save our lives, much less our wealth. We have been advised to focus on the unending task of alleviating suffering, most of which is caused by our arrogance, a harsher term for hubris.

Toby said...

Hey FP, glad to see you/read you again. Yes, some beers and a chat would be very nice, I shall drop you a mail. As to leaving habits behind, I think that is partially possible, and partially impossible, but as Stephen points out, there's no forcing this. That said, THE BOOK needs some forcing right now, but I'll fill you in on the details over beer!


Hi Stephen, I agree with you, have used those precise arguments myself over and over again. I don't think I'm trying to engineer anything, but I guess you're right.

What is contribution if not an attempt to effect outcomes (engineer)? Should I be utterly accepting of all things? Should I even ask that question? You are an early adopter of Bitcoin, why? As part of doing the right thing. And you share your thoughts and perspectives. Why? As part of doing the right thing, as a purposeful (not autonomic) contribution to Universe. Otherwise, there is no point in your unique existence. So while it is true that one aspect of my efforts is trying to shape events (engineer outcomes), I fully realise that outcomes cannot be forced. And while one cannot do nothing, I want to contribute deliberately, so I do.

And how can this post be hubris while, in your view, the concrete advice on guaranteed income is not? Seriously, I don't understand. I am aware of no difference in that regard while writing them, but that does not mean there is none...

Florian Popp said...

@Toby

Might be that I am (i.e. my comment is) the one who's presumptous in Malagodi/Stephen's mind - after all, I'm of the opinion that humans can actually change (profoundly) and should "decide" to do so asap.

It may of course be debated if such an undertaking would indeed be possible at all. Then again, sometimes it's just comfortable to abandon all hope and accept everything as "nature" or "destiny", because it absolves you (your-self) from actually doing something (and makes you feel clever). ;-)

This interpretation might of course as well be completely mistaken - if this is the case, I offer my profound excuses to M/S. Ego taking over again. (Yes, I like to be clever, too ...)

Looking forward to your e-mail!

Tao Jonesing said...

The modern state, like its predecessors, was designed to ensure the conquered remained so. It is one thing to conquer, it is another thing to rule. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the conqueror's rule is threatened, they resort to asserting the power of their rule to conquer dissent. This is not "error" on their part. When the lie of their version of "civilization" is exposed, the elites of course resort to the raw exercise of power that established them as elites in the first place.

Am I saying that all states must necessarily be sociopathic? No. I'm just saying that all Western societies are and have been for thousands of years.

Toby said...

Do you think, Tao, that any state can be primarily empathic in its core dynamic? As I am coming to understand the state, one of its defining qualities is sociopathy, or, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. That said, hunter gatherer egalitarianism also broke eggs to keep their particular omelette-making cohesive; they killed rampant alphas (sociopaths?) to protect the group's integrity. Sociopathy, or what we think of as sociopathy, is thus a necessary part of keeping a group cohesive. There's no I in team. But as human social systems grow in complexity and size, that sociopathy becomes more clinical and broad (dehumanisation?), especially as the great unwashed are so replaceable.

What matters (if anything does) is adaptation to new circumstances. If a new vision of how to organise society empathically becomes cohesive and viable, and if it gains in power sufficiently to unseat 'capitalism', it too will be breaking eggs. Would that be sociopathy too? I really don't know. I suspect our definitions contain too much projection to be sufficiently 'objective'.

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? I suspect there can be no final answer to that question. Sociopathy, whatever it is, has a role to play, but, as with all things, there can be too much of it. I guess too much empathy would inhibit action for fear of causing harm.

Toby said...

FP, I think one of the areas your hope opens up to enquiry is the difference between I and we. What is an individual, what is a group? Individual human beings can change their orientation, but this only makes sense within some sort of group dynamic. If the group is very against the change, can that change be sustained, and what does it mean to both individual and group?

And, just as an individual becomes ready for change but that change can be too soon for the group, so a group can be ready for change and one or two individuals very unhappy with it.

How, exactly, individual and group interdepend and interexist is beyond me, and I suspect beyond us all. In other words, nothing is off the table...

Tao Jonesing said...

"Do you think, Tao, that any state can be primarily empathic in its core dynamic?"

Yes.

"As I am coming to understand the state, one of its defining qualities is sociopathy, or, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs."

I understand your understanding of the state, but is the proper purpose of a state to make omelettes?

By the way, I am using the term "sociopathic" in a very specific way that I will try to explain more fully when I have the time. The bottom line is that Western political philosophy is premised on conning the masses to accept their subjugation, that ethics and laws were never intended to chain the elites who create the state to make "omelettes" from which they primarily profit.

I am not against hierarchy, which is inevitable in a group because most people seem to want to follow and not to lead (and many want to just stand there and vibrate). But if you are a leader, is it okay to disdain those who follow you as "weak" and okay to exploit, or should you feel a sense of responsibility towards them? You can have an empathetic hierarchy.

Tao Jonesing said...

"Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? I suspect there can be no final answer to that question."

Look around you, and you will see that there is an answer, which is an emphatic NO! Our entire system is designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many, regardless of their respective needs. Your question is, as a practical matter, completely irrelevant to "breaking eggs."

Tao Jonesing said...

"What matters (if anything does) is adaptation to new circumstances. If a new vision of how to organise society empathically becomes cohesive and viable, and if it gains in power sufficiently to unseat 'capitalism', it too will be breaking eggs. Would that be sociopathy too?"

It depends entirely on whether the new vision is based on actively lying to citizens to con them into being eggs for the breaking. My instinct is that most people who are capable of envisioning a new state either (1) repackage the sociopathy and call it something else (e.g., communism) or (2) are too preoccupied with egalitarianism to realize that most people are not egalitarian and tend to create hierarchies, for whatever reason.

In closing my serial reply to your response to my prior comment, my real point in my original comment is that it is premised on the theory that elites in failing societies act through ignorance or emotion when, in fact, they are merely taking the velvet glove off the iron fist. To ascribe their actions to error or stupidity is the citizen's ultimate act of self-delusion, as the "citizen's" opinion never mattered because the citizen never had a say.

Debra said...

Hi Toby,
A really interesting post.
I particularly liked your reference to the.. DARK materials somewhere in there...
Over the summer, I read an article by Paul Kingsnorth in Orion magazine, called "Dark Ecology", in the January/February edition of the magazine at www.orionmagazine.org
A fellow Brit, Kingsnorth is musing in much the same way that you are, and in a very sophisticated manner, I think. (He teaches the use of scythes for grass cutting, and reflects on the nature of our relationship to our tools, and how THEY fashion US.)
His references include Schumacher, and Illich, both thinkers who are beacons for me.
His suggestions for.. action ?
1)Withdrawing from the fray. With a questing mind. I would say... withdraw in order to be able to REFLECT better, because we collectively need MORE TIME FOR REFLEXION right now.
2) Preserving nonhuman life. Try to reintroduce some "wild" in your world, even if it means letting your garden go.. wild.
3) Getting your hands dirty. (And that means... not spending too much time typing, too...) Doing physical work. You will think that I am nuts, Toby, but over vacation, I was forced to wipe my butt one day because there was no toilet paper. With.. my hand. It was considerable angst to surmount my revulsion and do it, but... it didn't kill me. After all.. I had access to water to wash my hands after so...
4) Insisting that nature has more than UTILITARIAN value, in other words, insisting that it has value just because it.. IS, and not because it is FOR something (and that it true of us, too.
5) Building refuges. PRESERVING. The steam roller is going at breaknet speed, and we need to SLOW DOWN.

That is just a short excerpt.
I will add that I think that we need to realize how much we can do.. PRIVATELY without publicly clamoring for recognition, status, without constantly evangelizing.
What you, and Tao, ascribe to the role of the corporate nation state, I believe can be ascribed to... language itself, in which even our leaders are.. trapped.
In this sense, democracy is the WORST form of government, as our leaders are constantly taking our temperature, and their political course is often extremely erratic, to follow the fashion of the times.
That is evident in France. Not in all political spheres, certainly but in some..
This summer I am taking the time to read "Hamlet". A real eye opener.
Cheers.

Florian Popp said...

What is an individual, what is a group? [...] If the group is very against the change, can that change be sustained, and what does it mean to both individual and group?

The funny thing is, in order to be ruled, the ruled ones have to be individuals, seperate entities that can be subjugated, especially when we posit that the ones desiring to rule (to become an "elite", to subjugate the other) are "sociopathic" or "psychopathic" in the first place and thus, inevitably, individuals as well. The state and society as we know them can only continue to exist in their present form because we are all "individualised": divided and conquered, as the saying goes.

I think we do not even have any sort of cohesive "groups" (i.e. some sort of cohesive collectives with more than just a few shared interests) these days anymore, just heaps of atomised individuals, some of them on top of the hierarchy, the rest scattered somewhere along it.

And, just as an individual becomes ready for change but that change can be too soon for the group, so a group can be ready for change and one or two individuals very unhappy with it.

Again, that "group", from my point of view, is an illusion. It's all just atomised individuals, all the way up and down, paired with means of coercion (money, force: carrot and stick) that keep enough of those individuals invested in the sociopathic scheme that is the state / the economy / society, that it tugs along and does not just collaps.

Then again, you're completely right saying that "Individual human beings can change their orientation, but this only makes sense within some sort of group dynamic". I think that the change in question would need to be a change away (gradually or completely, if that's even possible) from the individual (Ego) and towards a collective orientation (the "common good"; the Group: "society"). A group of like-minded "ex-individuals" (collectivists?) would definitely be recommended or even required for an undertaking like this - a real "collective", not the kind of interest-groups we're sold as the normal mode of human societal organisation.

Interestingly enough, I've been wanting to explore this line of thought in writing for ages now (as you might know), but still shy away from it for fear of the eventual magnitude of such an exploration. Talk about the ego ...

Toby said...

Yo FP! My brief take on this topic looks a little like this:

The ‘individual’ human exists in language. Language is necessarily a group phenomenon. To be able to perceive the concept ‘individual’ and self-identify with it at all requires language acquisition (or assimilation/socialisation by a language (culture), depending on your point of view). Hence the group precedes the individual necessarily and lends it its particular meaning. Without language-based concepts, perception/comprehension of the notions ‘individual’ and ‘group’ cannot occur. That, or we cannot reasonably discuss how they are perceived (if at all) in the absence of language (say by wolves).

The other perspective on this is the individual biological organism (which is a group of trillions of cells made possible by a very complex supporting environment which birthed it) that has a ‘distinct’ boundary we call skin. But emergence and inextricable embeddedness are key aspects of this perspective, and thus the indivudual organism is preceded by the 'group' of environmental ecosystems that make the organism possible in the first place.

Biological and cultural boundaries must both be permeable, otherwise interaction would be impossible. I suggest that cultural boundaries are less permeable than biological, although that is another very complex and wide-ranging discussion (i.e. memes as viruses, food as culture, Infotainment, etc.)! That is, regardless of our hopes for change at individual and group levels, cultural boundaries do a great job of preventing new information from changing behaviours and attitudes.

Toby said...

Wow, Debbie, sounds like quite an adventure. And I think you're right on every point. Funny though that the expression "get our hands dirty" means what it means. I wonder how old it is.

And yes, perhaps language/culture is indeed too steeped in The Corporation / The State / Hierarchical Civilisation to permit functioning democracy. Should something like what we today refer to as anarchic or direct democracy be possible as a viable and durable social form capable of organising billions of souls, there is liekly quite some cultural road to travel before we see it flourish.

Toby said...

Tao, I suspect there is very little between us on this matter. Where I see some potential differences are here:

But if you are a leader, is it okay to disdain those who follow you as "weak" and okay to exploit, or should you feel a sense of responsibility towards them? You can have an empathetic hierarchy.

I suspect an empathic hierachy is only possible over the long term if it emerges from a culture which assumes abundance rather than scarcity, and can thus be faith- rather than fear-based.

And here (though this may be a miscommunication):

Look around you, and you will see that there is an answer, which is an emphatic NO!

I meant this question philosophically rather than practically. That, because of power imbalances, the 'needs' of the few outweight the needs of the many is crystal clear. But, if we were to base our morality on the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few (should such be 'fair') what else would have to change to permit this notion to pervade cultural habits? I can barely begin to imagine even the parameters of this debate...

Florian Popp said...

1)Withdrawing from the fray. With a questing mind. I would say... withdraw in order to be able to REFLECT better, because we collectively need MORE TIME FOR REFLEXION right now.

Possibly that would exactly be what a group/collective wanting to effect change would have to do - and to draw others to leave the fray as well, in growing numbers ...

@Toby: A lot to chew on, and for the time being I think you're right - we might need nothing less than a new, different "culture" (with another set of boundaries) in order to start something new and different. Which directly links to Debbie's statement from above.

Debra said...

On the leaders disdaining those whom they rule...
I just got back from Avignon, where after WW2, Jean Vilar, a man who was the son of a shopkeeper selling women's undies became a top notch actor after the war, after having little purpose in his existence, and hanging around a lot before seeing the light.
Jean built the Avignon theater festival as an experiment in popular education. He was convinced that the working class should have access to the best culture, and determined to give it to them.
And he spent many years pouring all of his soul into the festival...
And in 1968, in the midst of France's peevish revolution, Vilar got labeled an elitist by the very people he was so devoted to.
They thought he was looking down on them.
I have discovered that if you, yourself think you are shit, you will inevitably, at some point, despise the person who tells you that you are not shit because he does not agree with you.
That is the root of voluntary servitude, which most people don't understand.
Now... once somebody like Vilar, who devoted his life to bringing the theater to underprivileged people, gets dumped on for being an elitist, how do you think he/she should/will react ??
Politely smile, and turn the other cheek ?
Vilar was put out by the... common ? public ? popular ? reaction.
Rightly so, I say.
On individual atoms. They exist in opposition to the mass, in our current thought. No individual atoms without the mass, and no mass without the individual atoms. Like in.. "all for one, and one for all".
That is why only singular subjects (and not individuals...) can think (according to my definition, at least).
At this point, I think that we are already much more collective than we would like to think, all the while believing the contrary.
Like.. ants.
I am also currently reading a book by Paul Veyne, an emininent Hellenist. It is called "Did the Greeks believe their myths ?"
It is very exciting for those of us interested in understanding how we believe, and what our beliefs do to us.
Cheers.

Toby said...

I responded to your interesting comment, Debbie, elegantly and sagaciously, and promptly lost my words forever to the Internet. Poo.

I said: true, all true.

Then I added that perhaps institutionalised hiearchies founded on the assumption of insoluble scarcity cannot but generate poor leaders and/or followers (not exclusively, but on the whole).

Then I offered that the opposite (in terms of tendency) would be true of a social system founded on the assumption of abundance. Again and as ever, this is the opposite of promoting wanton consumerism.

I remarked that your observation about the collective (however we define that slippery term) was sound, and recounted the following anecdote I'd recntly heard in a very long documentary about propaganda. Shortly after the collapse of the USSR, US officials invited some Russian officials to the US, so that they might learn about and marvel at US Freedom! The Russians were granted open access all over the shop. After however long it was, a meeting was convened. The results were to be used to promote American Freedom! But the Russians professed admiration for how uniform US society was. How on earth – they wanted to know – did the elites in the US produce such obedient and unthinking citizens? There wasn't an independent thinker to be found anywhere! The restults went unpublished in the mainstream.

Tao Jonesing said...

Toby,

Thanks.

"I suspect an empathic hierachy is only possible over the long term if it emerges from a culture which assumes abundance rather than scarcity, and can thus be faith- rather than fear-based."

There is a point at which faith-based and fear-based become one and the same, and that is where your faith in your leader leads to a the fear of disappointing your leader. The fear is generated internally by the follower and not imposed externally by the leader. Now, I'm being a bit clinical about this and describing loyalty as fear, much the same as a cynical propertarian will describe altruism as selfishness. I don't actually believe that loyalty is fear, and I am only using this equation because you inadvertently invited it.

I would like to say that I'm not speaking in hypotheticals when it comes to leadership and empathic hierarchy. My people don't fear me, they fear disappointing me, not because I condemn them but because I forgive them and take the heat for their failures.

"I meant this question philosophically rather than practically. That, because of power imbalances, the 'needs' of the few outweight the needs of the many is crystal clear. But, if we were to base our morality on the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few (should such be 'fair') what else would have to change to permit this notion to pervade cultural habits? I can barely begin to imagine even the parameters of this debate..."

I understand. Personally, I don't accept "the many v. the few" dialectic, although I often use it to make a point. The reality is that social power is something that is freely given (usually through ignorance or apathy), not forcibly taken. My biggest issue with Russ's pure democracy idea is that it requires active participation by everybody, and I don't think people should be forced to participate if they don't want to.

Toby said...

On pure democracy, I am wary of any insistence of a 'pure' form of anything, since it is basically totalitarian in its driving dynamic. That said, I do have an interest in direct democrarcy because I think history is capable of carrying us (to cast humanity in a totally passive light for a moment) in that direction more or less. Could go the other way of course. How it all turns out is up to the future.

As to fear and faith, I suspect you're right. There's no point trying to do away with things that make us fearful, just as there's no point trying to know everything and hold all 'facts' perfectly in place so as to do away with faith. Because of the ego's need for control and 'facts', faith and fear probably blur as you point out.

My own view on this is that social complexity and specialisation, particulary specialisation, require that leadership roles emerge. People are differently abled and motivated and it matters hardly at all whether this is genetic or environmental, assuming too that particular dichotomy is valid. Where I think there is now and going forward massive wiggle-room is in institutions that are of the state, all of which are too rooted in out-of-date understandings and paradigms. It is there I aim my arguments and speculations.

I should also add that just as we are not chimpanzees though evolved from them, the state too will either evolve into a new form that would not be the state per se, or simply go extinct. Whether or not it would then take civilisation down with it is anyone's guess...

Tao Jonesing said...

"That said, I do have an interest in direct democracy because I think history is capable of carrying us (to cast humanity in a totally passive light for a moment) in that direction more or less."

Direct democracy has always been an illusion. It was in Athens. Is is even more so today. Human beings have been conditioned to be bystanders and critics instead of doers. This is not to say that direct democracy is not possible, but most people are not prepared (or interested) in taking on the responsibility of a direct democracy, hence, my obseravation regarding "pure" democracy. Most people just want to be left alone, and that's okay.

"My own view on this is that social complexity and specialisation, particulary specialisation, require that leadership roles emerge."

Complexity is an illusion created by enforcing the need for specialization by forcing the division of intellectual labor. I believe there have always been leaders, even in simpler times. Some people just care more than others.

"People are differently abled and motivated and it matters hardly at all whether this is genetic or environmental, assuming too that particular dichotomy is valid."

I agree that nature v. nurture is a useless debate, as both are always brought to bear in the development of a particular individual.

"Where I think there is now and going forward massive wiggle-room is in institutions that are of the state, all of which are too rooted in out-of-date understandings and paradigms. It is there I aim my arguments and speculations. "

I understand your point of view. I am probably in a better place to affect social institutions than you are, but I accept that I can accomplish nothing in the face of people trying to protect and further their power. Your emphasis on understandings and paradigms implies a belief that "rationality" can trump the will to power, and that is only true for those who don't possess that particular will. I don't. You don't. But the people in charge do. You can't convince them. Sorry. What passes for our rationality is but the means by which they wield their power over the self-described rationals among us.

Toby said...

Everything is an illusion, but I don't think complexity is an illusion in the same way that something like direct democracy might be. But I do agree with you on direct democracy, my point is that history is tending in that direction, in part at least, because there are also strong currents pushing towards totalitarianism. As for there always having been leaders, I agree there too. What I'm talking about is social forms that turn hierarchical dynamics into rigid and inflexible institutions. Also, the ethnographic record strongly shows that leadership in at least some hunter gatherer groups was/is very different to today's; "The Lamet had no word for chief." (I can't remember the source.) There is more to this than just specialisation and complexity of course, but they do play a leading role imo.

I don't believe that rationality can trump the will to power. My efforts here and my studies/writings generally are just what I do. I don't expect any revolution to occur as a direct result of them. It's just the way I happen to be and I enjoy the process of slowly untangling my thoughts and ideas via writing (which I think of as a contribution to Universe). I also care about people and life generally, because I find it/them beautiful, and because I am empathic 'by nature'. But it's a learning process and changes all the time.

The power dynamic goes beyond the individuals who find themselves in positions of power, as you know. Change happens and sweeps stuff aside. Humanists slowly eroded the power of the Church. Philosophers like Hobbes and Bodin laid down the intellectual framework for the nation state which has become more powerful than kings and emperors could ever have been and all this change is emergent. As I like to say, once there were no humans, now there are. Once there was no life on earth, now there is. Change is the only constant. So I am under no illusions that you or I as 'individuals' will use rational argument to convince leaders to adopt our radical ideas and implement radical change. However, ideas emerge and evolve through people and cause profound chage. Some of those people become historically prominent in that process (e.g. Hobbes), some of them are forgotten. Again, there's no such thing as an individual, me and Hobbes included...