We can end the Trump mis-administration, but only by giving up a cherished idea – that we need to boss others.
The danger we now face of a sudden lurch into fascism can be averted, but we only have a short time. The danger is that the very things that people instinctively do with problems, the direct government-centered actions that both Right and Left always fall back on, these attempts at control, are spinning us out of control.
Both sides are simply increasing these control-others actions as the only thing they can see to do. People’s reactions are driving us further into Fascist madness, which results in more fear and thus more control imposition; we’re stuck in a devastating feedback loop where the very attempt to solve the problem is making that problem so much worse.
Think of what we’ve discovered about the dangers of pesticides. A field is a highly complex system which humans overwhelm with determinism, in the form of plows and cultivators. We remove all the other kinds of plants and sow just the one kind we want, and then spray all kinds of chemicals on the field to maintain that seeming control.
This doesn’t work long term, and yet doing this has led to amazing productivity. We tend to think of systems as determinative when they aren’t, which creates all kinds of problems over time. We don’t want pests or weeds in our fields, because we get less of what we want out of them; so what problem can there be to using a chemical that rids us of them? Obvious, right?
But we now know so much more than we used to about the unintended consequences of all that imposed ordering; the problems of chemical use, not apparent at first, eventually overwhelm the good that their use does. This widespread use of chemicals, as much as it may have done great harm, was done because the farmer wanted to make more food for more people. The desire to do good by imposing order on a system led to doing a lot of damage.
Once the farmer had to live with the damage that chemicals did – that is, when the unintended consequences of his imposed ordering had swamped the intended good of his choices – he could see that a better approach would be to work with, rather than against, nature, and the organic revolution got started. This movement has done a lot of good; for example, organic foods not only are better for you but are also better tasting, and we’ve discovered why those two things are mutually dependent. Just as this movement toward a more responsible, more natural food supply, at least where it has been applied, has healed a lot of the damage that modern agriculture was doing, so do we now need a politics of hubris, of accepting the limits of what can be done by command.
We need an Organic Politics.
That’s the theme of the time we are in. Both progressives and reactionaries, both left and right, have wanted to do good by their own lights to create a better culture. These farmers in the field that is our culture have tried, and unfortunately succeeded, in imposing deterministic solutions on it. This seems so intuitive, so obviously the right thing to do – ‘There Oughta Be a Law!’ – and was done out of the goodness and decency of different groups of citizens, as their own judgment best informed them. Just as the farmer watching the pests die from spreading DDT cannot immediately see the future where all those chemicals destroy the natural balance upon which he depends, so Left and Right have been blind to the long, slow piling up of unintended consequences that their oh-so-obviously-needed rule-making has created.
Nor can you make them understand. Trascism’s devastation of all that we have built up over these many generations is the political equivalent of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ – a warning that we’ve pushed the culture too hard in our efforts to perfect it, and it’s now spinning out of control. The effort of trying to explain to people on both sides that its their attempts to impose order that have created the disorder that fascism needs for it to grow is one that is beyond my poor ability to explain.
And besides – when people are certain that they are right about what you should do, explaining the dangers of imposed ordering on a non-determinative system like the cultures of sentient beings seems to them a surrender to the problem they’re trying to solve. You become The Enemy.
For example, I can make a much better argument than the Progressives can that the just, caring community they seek is not only a good thing, but the only way we can survive and thrive in the increasingly challenging world we face. But those very arguments, based as they are on Chaos Theory and the powerful discoveries we’ve made over the last forty years of how highly complex systems work, are invisible to those seeking a more powerful State strong enough to stamp out injustice and want. Their desire to do good blinds them to the need for allowing people their own ‘Right to Be Wrong’, and anyone resisting their dogmatic approach becomes as evil as those they’ve set themselves to defeat. Many of these political activists were taught in grade school that we were a ‘volunteer society’, but the lesson didn’t take – and so we’ve become a ‘command society’, leaving them stunned when, as is inevitable, they lose their role as the maker of commandments to those attracted to Governance not by a desire to do good but out of a lust for power.
Right now, if the Left (who are not more or less to blame than the Right, but there is that about reactionary conservatism that precludes thought or introspection) could only understand this one thing – this hard, anti-intuitive idea that you do vast damage when you try to tell others what choices, ideas and actions they should and shouldn’t take – they would find very many citizens on the other side of the political divide who are just as frightened by Trascism as they are, and could create a consensus to remove him from the office he is so disastrously unfit for. But it will require that Progressives give up the one thing they are most addicted to –
Progressives do believe that there should be limits to the power of Governance. That’s the true challenge of this moment – Trump is an accident of history, and well deserves being dumped into history’s wastebasket along with Hitler and Mussolini and Saddam Hussein, but he is if nothing else the pinnacle of all the many unintended consequences of the massive ordering that we all labor under. Not even in the most ruthless dictatorships have there been as many laws and regulations upon a culture, nor have even the worst of them incarcerated as many as we do. Can the Left come to understand that the regulations and laws they are so passionate about passing, all the good-hearted but unwise ordering of other people they’ve come to depend on as the goal of all their efforts, all these laws stifling and limiting us, have resulted in the ascendancy of the Orange Menace?
That the Orangutan is really the predictable result of everything they’ve been trying to do over generations? That the Unintended Consequence is about to sink us? That Trump is just being Trump, and it’s their own chemical spraying of the culture that has given shape to this Silent Spring of a dying nation?
My guess is, no. It’s just too hard, too complex. They know they are right about the things they are demanding we all embrace or avoid; and to make things worse, they are right! And this rightness blinds them to the acid they’ve thrown on the culture. But if they could – if they could –
It would make all the difference. We are being choked by the Good Order that both Right and Left have imposed on us, and this has led to the accession to power of a very dangerous group of people who are determined, and well able, to replace our democracy with dictatorship. This has shocked the Left; and yet the fact that the Right has felt for decades the chains of a liberal dictatorship is invisible to them. And why shouldn’t it be? The idea of a Leftist dictatorship is absurd, at least if you already agree with all the commandments the Left hands down; why worry about how others feel about it? They’re so clearly wrong, and why should we care if they can’t see their own wrongness? After all, aren’t we right about the things we’re trying to do? Yes; the Left is as right as was the DDT-spraying farmer who was trying to feed a hungry world. If the Left could see this, see that all of this is the predictable result of their own choices, and could accept responsibility for the damage they’ve done, it would change the nature of our entire debate about what the hell to do now.
And so I ask you to consider – what do you think are the limits of centralized authority? What actions do you consider are too intrusive into your own life? And then think about people you know on the other side of the political divide – that it’s not enough to consider just what you believe to be too intrusive. What do they feel is too intrusive?
Wisdom comes with realizing that, even if you disagree with the other side about what state actions are too intrusive –
You, and I, and all of us have to live with the results not of where we think the line between ‘me’ and ‘us’ is, but of where other people feel it should be. Our system spins out of control when too many people find the culture too constrictive, no matter what we may think they should agree to. Were the Left able to understand this, and generate their own manifesto about such limits, they would find a lot of people they now think are The Enemy are actually their greatest asset. We must defeat this mad man-child; but to do so, we must first accept our own limitations, and that everyone has the right to be wrong about their own lives.