Monday, April 12, 2021

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

We are witnessing in real time the impossibility of totalitarian control.

Governments want us to believe they follow “the science”. They imply this makes their rulings valid and wise and thus beyond dispute. But there is not now, nor has there ever been, only one ‘science’. Such is an immature fantasy. Science is never in total consensus about anything; even the most rigorously produced and unambiguous data can be interpreted in multiple ways. 

But even allowing that One Science is real, there follows the problem of developing wise or clear policy from its decrees. For example, what if science were to definitively prove that TV is bad for humans? What is the scientifically correct policy response to that truth? And how easy would it be to address the finding that the profit motive is primarily destructive to the environment? More generally, what if science were to prove the opposite of what governments need to be true? This simple thought exercise tells us all we need to know: governments cannot follow objective science; they wield The Science in a way that suits their purposes, that delivers only those interpretations of the data that support their ambitions and requirements.

In “following” (whatever that means) “the science” (whatever that means), governments forcefully imply there can be no disagreement with their rulings and guidelines. Even accepting the idea that government should issue laws that cannot ever be disputed, how could such total power be practically implemented? How can all argument be halted? Can totalitarianism accomplish this eery ambition? Can government, or science, or the greatest genius communicator alive, issue constant instructions about how all 7.x billion of us are to behave from moment to moment such that there is no room for confusion or interpretation? And how healthy or desirable would machine humans in a machine system be? No matter how much we might want it to be so, humans are not programmable machines. (And even programmable machines behave like wilful children much of the time!) Life is not a programmable machine.

The more we reach for control, the more we create its opposite. The genie the Powers That Be have released – in their ivory-tower wisdom – is inadvertently exposing the impossibility of top down rule. Lockdown and relentless fear mongering have set people against each other so profoundly that there is now no possible way of agreeing on the best way forward. Each side has scientists. Each side has authorities and data to support their position. How can the ever-growing mountain of that data be correctly interpreted? We’re assessing effects and ramifications of an invisible particle – SARS-CoV-2 – that cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt. And on top of that, even if we could agree on how deadly it is (if it is deadly), how can we agree on what best to do about it? If Sweden or Texas or Florida or South Dakota or wherever achieves herd immunity in the next few days or weeks – if we can even ‘prove’ to everyone’s satisfaction this has occurred – comparing one country to another is deemed unscientific by many. In the absence of comparisons, there can be no healthy scientific debate. We’re thus left with The Science that produces what each government needs it to ‘prove’. 

Which brings us back to totalitarian control. Which is impossible.

Can top-down rule work at all now that debate and discussion can happen between billions of people 24/7? How is that policeable? How can all that chatter be effectively censored? How can humanitys endless talking be orchestrated such that its outcomes are invariably favourable to The Powers That Be? With AI? But how would the AI instructions be implemented, interpreted? By a separate AI system? By robot armies? How would they be controlled? And so on.

All this seems to beg these final questions: Are we being directed towards direct democracy even though we’re not ready for it? Are our amazing communication technologies inexorably herding us towards a challenge most don’t want to face?

And doesn’t history always do this to us?

Friday, April 2, 2021

Civilisation: technics vs. organics?

Identifying dynamics common to all civilisational forms – while firmly rooting civilisation in nature, not outside it – is a very important undertaking in my eyes. I look for properties that are still evident in our thinking and thus in all state forms and institutions, in market ideologies as in corporate and business structures and ambitions generally that were also common across recorded history, albeit with varying degrees of emphasis. I intuit that identifying fundamental civilisational dynamics opens a window onto a healthier path through what I see as the difficult transition from Civilisation 1.9.99 to Civilisation 2.0. Because it is difficult to capture all of this in a single post, I come at it again and again from different angles in hopes of hitting the sweet spot for as many readers as possible. Each of these posts is like a little twist of the kaleidoscope I use to make sense of reality.

We begin this time with three interlocking definitions of qualities I believe to be common to all civilisations forms. They are no doubt familiar to regular visitors. Together they constitute the foundation we then use to examine how technics – used naïvely by civilisation as something of a defence against the unpredictable or ‘valueless’ or ‘wild’ organic world – defines humanity’s civilisational vector, aka recorded history. We also look at how thinking in dichotomies – technics vs. organics, wild vs tame, civilised vs. barbaric – is a fundamental feature of the challenge we face as a species now evolving to Civilisation 2.0 – or devolving to global totalitarianism. The 2.0 path cannot be followed unless we first address the us-and-them thinking (“othering”) that currently mires us in its swamp-like futility.

Conspiracy 

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” – H.L. Mencken

I see conspiracy as a necessary component or tool of civilisation; necessary because civilisation entails the accumulation of power into the hands of a few, which then entails the challenge of keeping large numbers of people on the same mythical page, such that they see themselves as One People. Those few, those powers that be, must therefore make decisions whose consequences cannot be beneficial, indeed most likely must be harmful, to a significant portion of the thousands, millions, or today, billions of people affected by those decisions. Consequently, such decisions must be made in private (while hierarchical structures dominate decision-making processes at this scale). As the Stalinist saying goes, you have to break eggs to make omelettes, and those eggs earmarked for breakage would far rather it were other eggs. Put in less sinister terms, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Ergo, secret planning (conspiring) that leads to the suffering or death of thousands and perhaps millions is a structural necessity of civilisation. See democide and genocide by way of example.

No doubt you’re aware of a less controversial term for the definition above: “realpolitik”. Doubtless many will find my definition too broad, believe it fails to address illegal or unlawful activity. Criminals plotting to syphon off millions from plump pension funds are obviously conspiring to inflict harm. In contradistinction, realpolitik attempts to do what is required to protect the system that protects the many while causing minimal harm. This is an important and helpful distinction but insufficient to render my definition irrelevant. I propose a sliding, necessary-evil scale for conspiring because “conspiracy theory” and other related phrases are pejoratives used to silence criticism of the powerful. Such silencing ought not to be the case. That this pejorative is so loudly and pervasively in force and instantly wielded today to suppress almost all criticism strongly suggests there is much to hide. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Anything that stubbornly refuses fundamental criticism and has the power to carry on refusing and even oppressing critics is in desperate need of exactly that criticism. How can eternal vigilance be remotely possible when analysis critical of the powers that be is verboten?

As made abundantly clear by behavioural economics, humans self-justify their behaviours. Fraudsters might use survival-of-the-fittest reasoning, or argue they know better what to do with the money they steal, or that might makes right, or that morality is for the meek, etc. Being common to all humans, it is reasonable to assert that self-justification also occurs in all governmental institutions, corporations, and everywhere else there are humans. Indeed, I have come to view the state as a legalised protection racket, one that does the bare minimum needed to keep those who suffer most at its hands from rebelling and threatening its bottom line. After millennia of practice, it is now a slick, well advertised, mostly attractive protection racket that today can boast an echo-chamber media that uncritically propagates a sanctioned version of reality in which we are all daily immersed and through which we perceive the world. And yes, I’m arguing this is the case across the world, though to moderately varying degrees. How could it be otherwise?  If we were not socialised and normalised by state-sanctioned propaganda (information) to accept the interpretation of reality that most benefits the state system, there’d be no stability, no state. Further, socialisation and normalisation are requirements for human societies of every stripe. The point is not that this is somehow abhorrent, but that it is hidden even though it is an obvious necessity. Probably because we can’t handle the truth. More of which below.

To repeat, we powerless eggs don’t want to learn how expendable we are in the state’s eyes when new omelettes need to be made. It’s a truth we’d rather ignore. Hence conspiring is a necessary ‘evil’ to keep the system stable.

But power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Corruption is a boiling-frogs process; you don’t really know it’s happening to you, especially when it’s happening to all your peers at more or less the same slow rate, and that’s before we consider peer pressure and self-justification/-deception. The cocktail of power and group-think is heady indeed. So, conspiring is conspiring even when the self-justified ‘good guys’ (superior ones) are doing it for the ‘good of the whole’ (as they see it).

The state (hierarchical) system

For me, the state system (hierarchical, dynastic or institutionalised rulers ruling the ruled) is roughly synonymous with civilisation. For example, the state system includes the market (trade or ritualised exchange, internally and externally) and shares its growth imperative. Better put, all market and state bodies together constitute the hierarchical control systems that, as an interlocking set of parts, perpetuate themselves, and thus society, across great tracts of time, despite often finding themselves in conflict with one another. 

Corporations and states have much in common. This is clear to all who take an analytical look at both. Today they are attempting to fuse yet more tightly – fascia, fascism, muscle. Or, more accurately, they are simply being more open about this natural state of affairs. Both want … the state system wants to keep history’s vector under its practiced control. This is natural; living systems want to survive. Direct democracy – more anarchic systems of governance –, as made potentially viable by technological advance, threatens its bottom line. People’s fears and ignorance support the state system’s bottom line; fear and ignorance blind us to the rich potential direct democracy offers. We are deliberately kept in the dark and fed a highly filtered and infantile version of the truth because the state system prefers us malleable, meek, obedient. Were we otherwise, we would already have redirected history towards more direct democracy and freedom than has been the case, a path that would dissolve the state system.

Money, price and market are essential tools for remotely guiding the behaviour of billions, which is what statecraft is all about. Without them, the rest of the state system’s machinery would be far less effective. Indeed, today it wouldn’t work at all at such vast scale. Together, money, price and market embody the base operating equation that drives civilisation: value = money and property accumulation (power), success = acquiring more stuff than the other guy and using status symbols to advertise that success. While we accept these equations uncritically, we are at the mercy of money and market. Money, price and market necessarily fuse together all institutionalised expressions of power by making them possible in the first place, just as oil makes cars and roads possible. 

State and market cannot be meaningfully separated even though various of their own core dynamics often conflict. The state system is thus that collection of bodies that together perpetuate the system across time. Being hierarchical, it falls primarily to the infamous ‘elite’, as guardians and primary beneficiaries of this system, to keep its complex machinery functional, breaking eggs as required to feed the machine the omelettes it demands.

Propaganda

“It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind. It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace. The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” – Edward Bernays

Propaganda – re-coined as “public relations” by Bernays – is all state-sanctioned (power-sanctioned) information output – perception management, damage limitation, behavioural programming, normalisation etc. This output of course includes how money, market and price are presented and discussed. It includes corporate-news outlets, academia generally, education from kindergarten through university and beyond, entertainment in all its forms, etc. It includes corporate science. In short, it includes all information sanctioned by any manifested power grouping, institutional, corporate or otherwise. This does not make all propaganda false, far from it. It just makes it sanctioned. Whether true, false or subtly misleading, well-meaning or cynical, propaganda need only serve the interests of those propagating it. It is that true and important information persistently hidden from public view that is most instructive about state-system interests and what it feels it needs to control.

Brief summary

The above three definitions are meant to serve as a trinity of interlocking concepts that together take the fear out of the unpalatable idea that powerful people and organisations engage in egg-breaking activities (conspire) as a matter of course. Conspiracy and propaganda are logical consequences of the state system, requirements even. This goes unnoticed through most historical stages but when history stands at pivotal crossroads – this time between, in my view, tyranny and direct democracy – these egg-breaking activities become far more sinister; the desires of the few then gravely outweigh the needs of the many. At such moments, the “eternal vigilance” so necessary to preserve liberty – doubtless an unlearned cultural reflex by this stage – becomes a more urgent need than at any other time and thus all the more radical and revolutionary.

Is the above good or bad? Neither. Tens of thousands of years ago, humanity embarked on a path that led to civilisation. The intended and unintended consequences of that innocent experiment with seed planting somehow led to today’s world.

The infamous question is, can we infantilised many handle the truth? We are cajoled into an infantile ‘adulthood’ devoid of any liminal period or rite of passage that might put us firmly on a spiritual- or moral-growth path. In the absence of such rituals, we are tasked with taking matters into our own hands, both as individuals and collectively. The first stage of this challenge will be clearly understanding its nature by bringing into sharp focus how our normalised thought patterns and perception – systems structure perception – hide most of what we need to see. A pivotal part of that will be dealing with dichotomies more creatively, i.e., becoming less polarised.

To paraphrase Jefferson, we get the system we deserve, the system that is the truest expression of what we are. When we gaze into the mirror of society ‘out there’, what do we learn about ourselves as individuals? Are we currently mature enough, moral enough, free thinking enough to identify and choose more humane leaders capable of building more humane systems? 

As the saying goes, we are the ones we are waiting for. ‘We’ are many. ‘They’ are very few. But we are all The System. The System is us. If we knew what to do to create a wiser system, and if we really wanted to, surely we would do just that. I see pressure building towards that very break-through realisation, towards a profound change of historical direction. As yet, only a small percentage can even hear the call and feel the need. Perhaps that number is growing as the crucible of global lockdown pressures humanity towards radical action. If we do begin the work towards direct democracy, if we recognise that doing so will be like growing up as a species into new possibilities, then we will need to address the themes we now turn to in the remainder of this article. 

Technics vs. organics

I’m drawn again and again in my thinking to how civilisation sees itself as tamed nature, ‘civilised’, refined, and how it views the wild as barbarous, bestial, messy, a pool of worthless resources to be turned into valuable commodities by being fed through civilising machinery. This seems to be civilisation’s defining dichotomy. Today, the ‘value’ of the ‘natural’ world does not compute unless depicted in dollar terms. Even that act of measuring the immeasurable – the earthly wonder of organic reality – is a controlling violence that seeks to tame it into mechanical servitude, to make the wild fit into the boxes bureaucratised civilisation can perceive and digest. Recently of course the science of ecology has done much to address this barren hubris. But there is also the cerebral, patrician appraisal of ‘nature’ as that which much be protected from us useless eaters by means of a Great Reset. “Useless eaters” are “useless” precisely because of how we understand value as a money-measurable thing. The Great Reset aims to house us in retooled, ‘smart’ cities that will ration our ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights’ in accordance with The Science. The Great Reset is mechanically icy, hubristic, pathological. Ecology a vital endeavour still in its infancy.

On the whole, though, the dichotomy between ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ pervades. Everything is measured in money. Efforts to abandon GDP in favour of more nuanced measures of a nation’s wealth disappear down the many memory holes created daily by the endless news tsunami that buries everything in its path, even yesterday’s tsunami. Even ‘re-wilding’ city spaces to make them safer for ‘wildlife’ feels bureaucratic, interfering, oddly incompetent because subordinate to machine thinking, market fundamentals, money. It’s how the state system survives; all its reflexes have evolved to protect those core elements. Without them it would fall apart, cease to be in an eruption of chaotic collapse.

But reality is not mechanical. The system’s need to grow and turn the rest of reality into itself – like a narcissist converting everyone it can into yet another acolyte orbiting its insatiable hunger – has finally met the iron wall of its own demise. Something has got to give. Naturally enough, the powers that be want a Great Reset, a ‘technological leap’ into yet more control, with AI and learning machines telling useless humans where to go and what to do: a machine solution, the graceless brainchild of a defunct worldview, a clunky Athena sprung from the head of a senile Zeus. Technics trumps organics by mechanising the organic bestiality perceived in useless eaters – those input-output bio-units digesting and egesting to no useful end – by slotting us into sockets that will prevent us from doing too much harm. We infants, we accidents of evolution, we viruses on the face of the earth; is meek submission to our machine-assigned destiny the best of our potential?

Do we too see reality this way? Do we eagerly await tighter control of our bestial instincts, of our potential for violence? Do we crave freedom from scary uncertainty? How hopelessly conditioned are we? How much of our spirit, of our love of endless exploration survives? Can we still close our eyes and feel reality as organically beautiful in all its wild splendour?

Were my responses to this flowery rhetoric pessimistic, I wouldn’t be writing these articles. Let’s dissolve some dichotomies and see where it gets us.

Technics is a subset of organics; can we not see a rainforest as a ‘technical’ masterpiece far beyond our comprehension, an accomplishment of slow evolutionary design? ‘Mess’ is a manifestation of ‘order’, both because free will is an organic ordering principle of consciousness whose consequences cannot be known, and because we simply cannot understand reality down to its finest details. We perceive ‘mess’ and ‘order’ into existence by understanding neither. And because we tend to fear what we cannot control, the messy, organic world seems threatening, something to be tamed. This is an artefact of the bloody trials our civilisational vector meted out to us. Increasing control and mastery of our environment – technics vs. organics – proved the solution almost every time, however temporarily. 

But it was never ‘mess’ that needed ‘taming’. It was and remains our immature relationship with fear that needs to be brought to the fore. 

Growing up is the process of embracing fear, of learning to work more creatively with it by recasting it into new understandings. Kept infantile – our servitude and controllability benefit the state system – we remain fearful beings. To the ‘elite’ – structurally tasked with mass population control to keep the system running smoothly –, we non-elite hordes appear as a mob that must be tamed, kept in place. Part of how that is accomplished is via infantilisation, much as pet dogs are reared as perpetual puppies. Raised by the system as perpetual children, we suppress rather than face our fears, then pose as adults throughout our lives. We remain unaware of how our fears control us. Psychologists, propagandists and public-relations experts know them well; our fears are the buttons and levers they operate to keep us in line.

The gate we must pass if we want choose a direct-democracy path towards more freedom and adult responsibility is made of our fears. It opens to reveal that path as we grow up into true adulthood.

Growth as endless change characterises existence, with the unhealthy falling away in favour of the healthy. Physical growth – as economics currently promotes it – is unsustainable, unhealthy. Health is thus reality’s guiding principle even if, in our habituated dysfunction, we can not pick it out from the information overload that surrounds us, or want it, rejoice in it. Nonetheless, the healthier alternatives will prevail. Similarly, the truth must out regardless of how skilfully we deceive ourselves, and how much ‘power’ we wield, or submit to, in doing so.

Growing up is embracing a paradox expressed by Jung decades ago: free will is doing gladly that which we must do. True power is in part the wise and humble acceptance of powerlessness, of unpredictability, and of what the ego – consciousness in the service of fear – sees as tragedy. It is this more mature approach to reality, this structuring principle, that healthily recasts dichotomies and fears alike. 

Why are we so afraid of viruses? They are the very foundation of biological life: constant challenge and mutation. Is it because they are invisible to us and so escape our control? Do we understand them at all? Does our fear of viruses blind us to what they are? Is our fear of them the perfect control mechanism for those afraid of the change and challenge we represent to them? 

Vaccines are a technics we use to passively acquire – ‘without risk’ – the ability to prevail against viruses (claim vaccine salespeople). It is but one technology we prefer over living with danger wisely, over living maturely with the vicissitudes of life. Instead of designing truly healthy living systems and health-oriented institutions that encourage moral responsibility, instead of prioritising the healthiest options we can discern, we choose techno-fixes that benefit the profit motive while weakening us by making our lives easier, safer, less challenging. To repeat the logic developed above; kept infantile we remain polarised – individually and collectively. Our control buttons remain easy to detect and push. Confused and afraid, we are easily seduced by ‘authority figures’ who shepherd us towards the solutions they prefer. We inhabit an us-and-them world powered and patterned by fear. 

Addressing our fears and stepping out of our stagnant comfort zones creates the healthier path out of this historical bifurcation point. Vaccination (technics) acts as a seduction to those too afraid to grow.

Know them by their deeds. Those who seek to shunt the status quo over to a “new normal” pervert common-sense wisdoms to further their graceless ends. The truth that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure becomes the passivity of vaccination described above, while the allopathic medicine that suppresses symptoms rather than encouraging lasting cures is advertised as a comfy safety net for those who prefer short-term ‘cures’ over taking responsibility for their own lives. This is not to say, necessarily, that allopathic medicine and vaccines are entirely cynical at root, but rather that the profit motive – part of what sustains the state system – most certainly corrupts Big Pharma away from promoting the genuine, adult attitude to healthy living that would fatally harm its bottom line.

The wages of health is health; health is its own reward. The wages of money is power to control others in pursuit of ever more power. There is a fundamental difference. In its current design, money is incompatible with health. While money dominates decision making, debt builds and builds but cannot remain unpaid indefinitely (this is the subject of other articles). The longer we wait, the bigger the bill gets and the more disruption and destruction that will follow in its wake.

We are social creatures. Part of health is meaningful contribution to the whole; for humans, health includes being needed in some way. For as long as value is defined by money – and now that we need each other less and less economically and are therefore less likely to be rewarded for our labour with the money that ‘measures’ our ‘value’ – how then can we feel valued, needed? My answer has always been: By deliberately evolving our sense of what value is. Wouldn’t that be the healthiest way forward? We suffer from a paucity of meaningful lives, a gasping thirst to be valued that can only be healthily addressed by re-conceiving value at a deep cultural level. That would take lots of work – by all of us, for all of us. 

The lazier, more convenient option – the Great Reset – won’t work; it stubbornly ignores the organic nature of value, of health, of life. The Great Reset doubles down on the current mechanical paradigm, attempts a kind of debt-equity swap on what we owe ourselves, and thus reality, after decades of refusing to stare bravely into the mirror of civilisation and humbly, courageously inhale the virus-like truths that gazing would unleash.