Trump Was Predictable; How, and Why

Having written that extremists taking over both sides was inevitable, here’s when and how

This is a rant that’s been planned since the start of this blog – though, you know what?  Having written about Slug Control, maybe this should be called a ‘blug’ – Since I started this blug, but wanted first to find the article that spelled it out so clearly, so it could be referred to.  That’s been given up, though, as a lost cause.  The article existed, but I don’t know enough about how to do research of this sort to find it.  It was an op-ed by one of the big names of the 1970’s that appeared in a Sunday edition of the Grey Lady, and you would think that would be easy for even the clunkiest to find; but apparently my clunkitude knows no bounds.  Hell, it was only two posts ago I was all giddy at figuring out how to include a link!

Nevertheless, as one of John Cleese’s Monty Python characters said, ‘adapt, adopt and improve’.

To begin with, a barbershop my dad took me to at around age five or so, in the middle ’50s, in a middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West.  I was struck by the barber telling me that guys should get their hair cut every three weeks, and then the world, he said, would be a better place.  That was when I first realized that people adopt a philosophy that is primarily informed by their own self-interest.  And no, I’m not saying that I would have put it that way at the age of five.  I’m sure I said nothing more brilliant than:

“Gee!”

Still, it stuck with me, and I thought about it a lot growing up, not that I have – old, yes, but not up; and I kept hearing different versions of the same self-informed wisdom from Really Old People (you know, old people, like teenagers and even older!) constantly – that a person’s thinking starts and ends with what makes their own life better, or, as I would have put it as a kid:

“Boy, adults sure are dumb.”  Not sure I didn’t go so far as to add, “… as dirt!”

(It was a different time: The Lone Ranger and Davey Crockett didn’t swear, so we didn’t, either.  Not saying a better time, just different; my first swear word came out of my mouth at age 19.  It was “Hell.”  It was, interestingly (or not), in the Green Room of the Fir Acres Theater at Lewis and Clark College, and Markie Post, of ‘Night Court’ fame, was but one of the hearers who were shocked, not at the word, certainly, but that I said it.  We were playing a card game called Sargeant Major, and . . .  But I digress.)

Then a few years after that, a deeper aspect of the same thing became apparent: Our brains work in ways very different than it seems to us they do.  Much of our intelligence is aimed at inventing justifications for the things we want to do – it’s pretty clear that this, and little else, separates us from the other apes – and which I dubbed, some time around the age of eight or nine, the ‘Yellow Light Syndrome’.  It’s the way people tended to think, a kind of automatic self-excuse-making habit that applies in so much that people do, noticed as a passenger in my parents’ car, back in the uninformed Neolithic, when kids could sit in the front seat of an automobile.

The driver gets close to an intersection when the light turns yellow, and steps on the gas rather than the brake; and, when I give them the fish-eye (I never did have much patience with adults, who I thought of as hopelessly silly, which is at least one of the reasons why, even after more than six decades, I still refuse to become one) they said, more to themselves than to me, “I was too far into the intersection to stop.”

No, you weren’t, you clunk; you just didn’t want to stop.  When I started to drive, this same process happened in me the first time I came to a suddenly-yellow light; but I wanted to be a good driver, so I absolutely refused to go along with this dangerous foolishness, and learned to react by braking, and so never once have run a red light.  Still, it meant a lot to me that I could feel, could sense when this excuse-making process started up within my own brain in any situation, and tried to become instantly distrustful of it.  That started a lifetime process of questioning any impulse, in myself or others, that seemed to be compelled by emotion.

So that’s by way of pointing up my own prejudices.  Other observations that have contributed: The moment in the Kennedy administration at a meeting of church members held to express opinions about the growing conflict in Southeast Asia, with Old People standing up and ranting about ‘godless Comm’nism!’, when I first realized that communism, a clearly failed system, was never going to find support within the United States, but fascism could easily be adopted as a result of mindless fear; the moment when, with bowed head, I first heard the Presbyterian pastor of our lovely Mid-Century Modern church slip into our prayers to a merciful God that He bless and aid our brave soldiers in Killing Commies for Christ; the description in civics classes from the fifth grade on of our system as ‘a voluntary society’; Republicans telling the lie that the War on Poverty was a failure, despite all the studies and statistics that showed the opposite, because they had to lie about its unquestionable success; and, of course, the entire Nixon administration.

That’s the end of the intro – what Walt Kelley’s Howland Owl would have termed ‘the poor parlors.’  For some reason, the pretty skunk lady Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah, though French, never corrected him.  Say la vee, Pogo.

It was after the Nixon nightmare ended, in the administration of the first of what now has become a tradition of Republican Presidents not winning election, and a man who was actually much more athletic and graceful than Chevy Chase portrayed him as – by the by, did you know Chevy’s actual first name was Cornelius?  No, I didn’t, either – it was during the administration of Gerald Ford that a Sunday editorial appeared in the New York Times stating the staggering idea that, at least in terms of policy, the long competition between Liberal and Conservative concepts of governance was over, with Liberalism winning hands down; that though the debate would go on in words, the political struggle continue, yet at least as a theory of how actually to govern, Conservatism was DOA, and all government structures from now on would be quietly Liberal in construction.  It was tightly reasoned and very persuasive; the Great Society, as proposed and passed by LBJ and as perfected in its application by Richard Nixon – as mentally deformed as he was, and as inept at war-making, he was, it will surprise you to learn, a very capable administrator who made the Great Society work – had made great strides at reducing poverty, and at advancing equality and opportunity, and so had laid the groundwork for moving bravely into the future, sweeping all opposition before it on a tide of magnificent success and increasing wealth.  There would still be political parties, still Right and Left, but for the most part, Conservative and Liberal would be labels rather than descriptions; behind the scenes, Liberal policy, which had worked so well, would continue to work for the foreseeable future.

It was all so clear, so unarguable, so persuasive.  And I could see instantly that, though correct as far as it went, it was so frighteningly inadequate.

I was staggered.  It was a moment I still recall, sitting in our simple, knock-together dining room with the paper spread before me, reading this opinion piece as it was carried in our Oregonian.  I could see the future unfolding so clearly, as if the clouds had rolled away revealing in frightening detail the gradually appearing expanse of a horrifying vista.

First, I saw that, to the degree the debate really was over, it meant that good people on both sides would leave politics.  With little more than the details of surrender to be worked out, decent, hard-working, dedicated people who dominated in both parties at that time, the giants of legislative and administrative brilliance, would slowly leave Politics for other fields; after all, brilliant minds want to do brilliant work, and if the job was done, why hang around?  This would leave a vacuum for lesser minds to fill, opening both parties to extremists of Right and Left, and clearing governance of all pretense to respect for my beloved Voluntary Society and the Jeffersonian ideal of liberty.  And so it rapidly evolved, with haters and racists coming to dominate the Right and prim, humorless control freaks the Left, which further drove talent and wisdom from both parties.

I could foresee that the Republican Party would rapidly become enslaved to reactionaries – and, as I argue in a moment, inevitably to fascists.  They would first work to weaken public education and the liberal national news media – because a well-educated, well-informed populace tends toward liberalism, and thus would be a threat to their control.  An urge to control the population would become an inevitable goal of the Republican party; nature abhors a vacuum, and if good men and women of fine character and honest, sincere personality left for other fields now that The War Was Over, the power that Republicans – and, from different impulses, Democrats – still held would now be used for other, more self-informed goals.

And it was clear what those goals would be: Service to the Rich, advancing the power of the Powerful.  That very day in the mid-Seventies when, with horror, I read that opinion piece, was the first time – but far from the last – I saw what would increasingly become the clear purpose of the Republican Party, and many Democrats as well:

Comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

The Democrats too would suffer a slow but steady exodus of talented, dedicated Liberals who desired only to make ours a better Republic based on the free marketplace of ideas, to be replaced with others who wanted only to feather their own nests and strive for power without purpose, and those of such limited vision and so filled with hubris that they really imagined themselves singularly blessed by such wisdom that they could tell the rest of us what to do, in humorless, remorseless detail, sneering at and shaming any so foolish as to imagine themselves fit to decide for themselves the right and the good.  Those talented few who actually wanted to help people would avoid politics and instead just go out and do it, and they did, starting many very successful non-governmental organizations, leaving those who want power only as an end in itself; and without any larger reason behind them, those Democrats still attracted to politics would be purchasable by that same wealth that would purchase the Right.  The barber’s dedication to a philosophy that every man’s hair should be regularly cut would become the politician’s belief that the rich should support their political career for the greater good, no matter their party or political persuasion.

Please note this point: The barber of my childhood really did believe in haircuts; the politician really does believe in what he’s doing, no matter how conveniently self-informed his actions or his dedication to fund-raising from the rich, no matter how transparently useful to those rich his legislation might be.  Self-excusing behavior is part of the very essence of what it means to be human; it was a necessary development of the Mind arising from the Brain, the cause of the rapid evolution of bigger brains that occurred between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago – and all this magnificence you see around you, the powerful culture we’ve developed, our technological brilliance, is but a side-effect of that self-excusing mechanism so vital to that brain growth, central to how ‘mind’ self-arose from the increasing chaos of ‘brain’.  You do this.  I do this.  How then do we criticize this tendency in others or ourselves?  How do we move forward when everyone is so blind to their own emotion-centered thoughts that justify instantly even the most inhuman, brutal, vicious acts?  How can we keep from repeating the horrors of the past, of man’s inhumanity to man?

Jefferson showed us the way: that my rights end at the tip of your nose.  But even he did not rule that way as President.  How then for any of us?  Yet that is our only hope – and a fascist dictatorship of the Right, or a progressive one of the Left, is the inevitable result of abandoning Jefferson’s pledge to grant each other the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff’.  (It’s not my fault his ‘s’s looked like ‘f’s.)

That’s the frightening future I saw so clearly unfolding, now some forty-plus years ago.  And so it has turned out to be.  We are awash in Governance by Command, whether the hob-nailed, steel-jacketed, spike-encrusted Bible held high by the goose-stepping Right, all the better to club us into Holy Obedience, or the shaming, limiting, fettering, three-foot-high speed-bump- and ‘guardrail around the guardrail around the guardrail’-installing Left, both the belt-to-the-butt Daddy Government Rightists and the opposition-shaming Mommy State Left, both doing everything they can to display their usefulness to the One Percent – oh, but their One Percent, their own side’s approved-of and party-financing wealthy – with the rest of us running first to one side and then to the other for relief from the dictation of the opposite parent.

And as for Fascism: First, understand that fascism isn’t a swear-word, but a too-common organizing principal, not a dirty word but a descriptive political term.  Think of it that way, or else become part of what makes it so easy to establish.  Think of traditional monarchy, with the King as leader of government, of party, and of religion, controlling the entire society and granting monopolies that determine commercial success; and then add that the King anoints himself.  That’s fascism – a monarchy without nobility.  It’s important to honestly understand the word as description, because it is, in complexity terms, a random attractor; the fall-back organizing principal of humanity, the vortex self-government may always stray too close to and fall in, the monster always waiting for any civilization that clings like the cowards we tend to be to the Strongman whenever bravery simply costs us too much to display, or is thought rude.

And then understand the impulse to fascism, which is simplicity itself; the thought, including your thought, that if everyone would just shut up and do what I say – or what you say, or Trump says, or God says, or anybody – then we would be safe.  That first impulse that, if indulged, will lead to fascism if unresisted is nothing more than thinking ‘what we need to do about this is, we all must . . .” followed by any words, Hitler’s words, Trump’s words, Jesus’ words, Mohammed’s words, your words, my words.  It really is as simple, as common, and as dangerous as that.  There’s a problem; and ‘we all must’ get behind the solution.  The danger is never that there is a problem – there are always problems.  The danger is never that there is a solution – there are always solutions.

The danger comes in that simple belief – the ‘we all must’.

If I could impart to you any one message, it would be this: Complexity and variety gives life; only The Grave is uniform, only Death is normative, the only thing ‘we all must’ do.  And, yes, even that message, when imposed on others, is deadly.  None of this is easy, but that’s life.

In late grade school and through high school, I was so horrified by my parents’ generation’s World War, with our nation’s noble though late-to-the-dance fight against Hitler and the unspeakable, unendurable revelation of the Holocaust – my mom admitted to me, with shame, that, yes, they knew, that Americans paying attention knew about the camps from the beginning – that I was determined to read all I could about how this thing could have happened, and in one of the most advanced, in many ways one of the most progressive, of all nations.  It’s not the simple, self-glorifying story that Hollywood likes to tell and Americans prefer to believe, of a people gone mad at the Siren call of a hypnotic character, that it could all be blamed on Hitler.  It is, in fact, a natural progression that all political systems are subject to whenever any people becomes too weary, too frightened or too lazy to maintain respect for the rights of their neighbors, even their ‘right to be wrong’ as long as they are only wrong for themselves.

It starts in rural areas, and Religion is important right from the beginning; Religion and Fear.  And a mouthpiece – right away, you have to have a mouthpiece; in early-20th-century Germany, to buy small, local newspapers, the advanced technology of Hitler’s time.  You need to start right off telling lies, and in small rural markets, it’s pretty easy to buy yourself some liars, and plenty of poorly-informed braggarts and bigots.  It doesn’t matter to them what you are selling, as long as there is the opportunity for thugs to enjoy strutting and threatening, and for grievance.

In rural areas, it’s easy to find, and inflate, this sense of often-justified grievance, against the City, against the better educated, against the banker and the lawyer, and the foreigner, the ‘other’.  It’s easy to lie to such people, inflating real grievances – life in the country, on the farm, far from the easy ways of urbanites, is often enough a hard life, where a high interest rate is as frequently crop-destroying as bad weather or locust plague, and that makes it fertile ground to plant imagined complaints.  Always there must be a grain of truth to the complaint, but it need only be a tiny one, no more than a mustard seed.

And what is the mustard seed of our time?  The goodness and decency of the Progressive, which grinds all things exceeding small.  The good and just hearts, refusing to accept that hunger and want should be allowed in the planet’s wealthiest nation, just as they shouldn’t – and then the natural next step, the ‘we all must’.  That simple, decent, good-hearted step is all it takes to push a liberal respect for the Public Good into ‘Hey, I know what you should do!’ do-goodery that does one thing more than any:

Irritate.

Add governance and you get – yes, often, successful answers to real problems.  But for good or ill, it irritates.  It irritates, then pisses off, then infuriates, and more often doesn’t work, a result which the furious drive to do good blinds the really committed Romper Room DoBee to.  And that, in turn, propels conservatism, a respectable approach to governance (even if not one I could ever take) into first reactionary and then fascistic response.  There you are, far away from the world these eggheads live in, hardly a pot to piss in, ‘they’re telling us what kinda pot to piss in?’  It irritates. ‘Why would I feel any identity with this association of scolds you call a culture?’  Thus arise feelings of detachment from the mainstream that provides the fuel for evil people to use, and inflated grievance thus becomes an extractive industry.

Then there is the vital importance to such a movement of the Scandal – but it must be understood that invented scandal is far more important than any real one can possibly be.  In some real story, some complaint with a basis in fact, the story belongs to whoever wants to tell it, to expose it, easier for the well-connected, well-research Big City media to tell than the small, home-town sheet.  The important lesson for the Murdochs of this world: You can’t use a scandal you don’t control.

Invented scandal can be bent, shaped, controlled, exposed just as you want, to the end that best serves your goals, and most importantly can be blamed on anyone you want – best, of course, on those who can least defend themselves.  (Cowardice is as vital a part of far-right political movements as sneering condescension is to the Left, then as now; never pick on anyone who can fight back, never risk yourself being hurt.)  And there’s a tremendous benefit to the building of a wholly-owned media empire, which is so important to any fascist movement, a flack-filled, insincere propaganda arm without which this disease cannot be spread; if a scandal is real, serious journalism will investigate it, but when scandal is invented, the mainstream won’t even notice it – and then your propaganda machine can claim conspiracy, accuse serious journalists of being in service to all those who the growing mass of aggrieved distrust, greatly strengthening the propagandists’ claim to being the only trustable source of news.  Thus does the fake news become the only news the aggrieved ‘true Germans’ (or true Americans) believe or are ever exposed to.  Whether the Nazi press of those ugly times or Fox News today, the same vital message: Listen only to us, hear only us, everyone else lies.

This was, after all, the most powerful tool the Nazi (or the more recent Republican) propaganda machine had.  Yes, there was the power of the Big Lie, made up, then as now, of many smaller lies, repeated over and over, never admitting they are lies no matter how much the ‘lame-stream’ media proves them to be lies, simply repeating them any time you are confronted with the truth.  And yes, the projection; if you are planning on rigging an election, as Nazis did (and Diebold’s modern voting machines do), then the first step, before the rigging, is to accuse the other side of, horrors, rigging! so that when true accounts of Nazi-stuffed ballots (or Republican votes being consistently four or five percent higher in electronic balloting) arise, the press can cling to their favorite, convenient, comforting meme that ‘everyone does it.’

So, yes, the Big Lie and aggressive projection; but the most important, most effective lie is the wholly-owned scandal.  Nazi propaganda accused every opposing politician of scandal after scandal after scandal, repeating each one endlessly, blocking out any refutation, rolling over anyone trying to truth-test them – and completely bewildering serious journalists, who often didn’t hear of these ‘scandals’ until the gullible were up in arms about them.  Thus the effectiveness of the trap – to the already suckered, it’s more proof that only the fascist news sources can be believed, that the fix is in, that the conspiracy of the existing power structure would never allow the ‘scandal’ to be ‘honestly’ examined.  After all, how do serious people investigate a thing that never happened?

Such ‘scandals’ thus don’t have to make any sense at all.  Better if they don’t.  That’s how the popular, widely-supported and elected President Paul von Hindenburg was forced to appoint Hitler as Chancellor; ridiculous scandal after ridiculous scandal was accused of von Hindenburg, until even the big city papers started to call his a ‘scandal-plagued administration’ though each ‘scandal’ was clearly a lie, and then, as is inevitable – for all have sinned, and have feet of clay – one scandal has just enough truth in it to be believed by the many, fatigued and bewildered by the endless accusations.  Thus of the Clintons, as slick as any modern politician must be to appeal to our lazy, ill-informed populus but not more or less honest than we ever allow a politician to be.  As Winston Churchill so presciently said, ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.’  That’s the practical use of the wholly invented scandal told to those anxious to believe it.

Bill Clinton, who deserved well enough his moniker of ‘slick Willie’, was put to this wholly-made-up scandal-mongery when he had been President less than two weeks.  He made a trip to Los Angeles, and while there, he held up LAX for hours – on a Friday, at five o’clock! – while he was getting a haircut from a celebrity hairdresser.  If you were alive at the time and remember those days, you are familiar with this, only the first of many Clinton Presidential scandals, proof of his detachment from the concerns of the common folk, showing his corrupt nature.

Only a few problems with this; even as this story was being repeated on all the news shows and reported on by every newspaper, reporters started noticing, and writing about, oddities in where the story started, and in what travelers actually experienced.  The very first alerts to this ‘scandal’ came out of the California Republican Party offices, three hours before it was supposed to have happened; reporters who were already at LAX, as well as every traveler interviewed, said there were no such delays; Air Force One was parked well off any runway, in a secure area out of anyone’s way, nor was it itself delayed – it was actually waiting, as planned, to pick up a sick child who needed to get to a hospital in the East (which melodramatic touch is actually commonplace, as it was, until Trump, a common practice as old as Presidential air travel); the haircut was also planned as a way to save time, and was being contributed gratis.

But did any of these facts get reported on?  Well, yes – if you read the entire first-day article and the next-day reporting that showed this well-researched ‘scandal’ to be entirely phony.  But in Hitler’s day and ours, the popular press is a money-making venture, and boring old Truth is never as cash-generating as exciting lies. Big-name journalists want to keep being invited to all the wild parties, want to keep their celebrity, and only a few fail to value their reputations for even-handedness more than they value Truth, and thus must cling to any evidence they can find, or invent, that ‘both sides do’ whatever sins are displayed.  Hitler and his backers knew this, as did the Republicans of President Clinton’s time, as does Rupert Murdoch, as have Hillary Clinton’s many silly-scandal-inventors; it really doesn’t matter how absurd the made-up scandal is.  Just repeat and repeat and repeat, and depend on the laziness of reporters, the greed of the owners of media and the gullibility of humanity.

Thus also with Hillary.  A foundation that has done astounding work worldwide to ease the way for charities to become effective, to cut through bureaucratic inertia, to help millions on every continent, became ‘scandal’.  A terrible situation in Libya, caused more than anything by Republican refusal to pay to increase security, a situation a Secretary of State had nothing to do with, became ‘scandal’.  A desire, out of the exhaustion and defensiveness to repeated false accusation, to secure email from assault became ‘scandal’.  Scandal after scandal, all of them invented, all of them absurd, all of them successful; you know that Hillary is corrupt.  You know this, don’t you?  Screw reality – you just know she’s corrupt.  Why wait for Truth to put its pants on?

Works every time.  Worked for Hitler.  Worked for Billo, and Rush, and Rupert.  Works for Trump.  Works.  Every.  Time.

Does that mean that Democracy is doomed?  If the garbage that Rupert et al has been using for decades to destroy America for the sake of enriching themselves, put to no purpose beyond saving the Very Wealthy from paying back into our culture a reasonable fraction of the vast wealth our culture has provided them with, has worked, and always works, then what hope do we have?  Is this always the way Democracy dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Greece.  Is this always the way a Republic dies?  After all, it died in its birthplace, ancient Rome.

Yes, it is.  This is the way self-government always dies.

That’s why our Fondling Fathers gave us this tinkered-together, clattering, messy hybrid, a Democratic Republic, with each part checked and balanced by another.  For example, we think of the Supreme Court as being the final arbiter, but it isn’t; if the Supremes decide something is true that sticks enough in the American craw, even they can be overruled by a Constitutional amendment, though such a thing is very difficult – on purpose.  And then the Supremes get to say what that new amendment means, while the President decides what it does, and on and on.  Every part is checked by another.

But that doesn’t make it proof against fascism.  If one Party decides its own rule is more important than the Nation, and can fool enough fools into foolishness, then such a Party can rule all parts; and if We the People stop caring, and don’t stop them, then there is no hope.  If one Party, through the time-tested sales techniques of the Big Lie, the Invented Scandal, the Propaganda Machine and the Frightened Public, takes over control of the Administration, the Judiciary and both houses of the Legislature, then the Constitution and its highly theoretical limits on the reach of governance become useless paper, fit only for the rich and powerful to wipe their asses on.

That’s fascism.  Not a dirty word.  Not the unacceptable term, never to be uttered in Polite Society.  A system of political organization where one Party controls every part of the State, where there are no boundaries between State, the approved Religion, the Judiciary, and those commercial and wealth interests approved of by and financing that Party, where allegiance is not to the country but to the Great Leader.  It always starts the same way, when the population of the republic becomes so frightened that they willingly give up their rights for the illusion of security; and if the thing they fear is invented or inflated and the security thus imaginary, it elevates and strengthens the very worst of that people, and those least qualified to lead so much as a funeral procession become Pallbearers in Chief.

That there are such people is a given; there will always be vultures.  The trick is not to give them a body to feed upon.  The Jeffersonian idea, which even he was not faithful to, was that a limited State would leave each of us free to decide for ourselves what happiness was and how to pursue it, as long as our pursuit did not limit the rights of anyone else to define and to pursue.  This turns out to be harder than it might seem – telling others what their happiness should be, and how they should pursue it, is just too tempting, and our brains just too good at excusing us for the telling.  We know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And then we know we’re right.  And finally we KNOW we’re right.

And the most dangerous, this: When we’re right about being right.  That’s when we stop listening to the whimpers, the pleas, the cries of the people we’re crushing with our rightness.  That’s fascism.

 

The lungs of all social mammals contain within them a family of bacteria, just a few of the many symbiotic life forms that we depend upon for our existence.  Only this family isn’t there to help us live.  It’s there to help us die.

It’s something that came about because sometimes evolution happens on the level of the herd at the cost of the individual, and because lungs are, by their nature, dangerous.  We take the outside environment into ourselves, in and out, in and out, several times a minute.  We have many protections against the infectious life forms, toxins and other pollutants in that air; but when those protections fail, those lungs can, again, by their very nature, become a threat to those of our species we socialize with, who are, after all, likely to be our own family, our own genetic inheritance, breathing in the air we breathe out.  Therefore it can become an evolutionary benefit, even to our own gene pool, if we as an individual are removed, should we become a threat; and coughing up dangerous bacteria and toxins that have blossomed within our lungs makes us a threat to our own genes being successful through others.

Of course, that’s where predators come in, and why every species needs its predators to keep the species strong by removing the sick and the weak.  But if predation fails in one particular herd to take out one particular vector of disease, the whole herd can fail.  Evolution is remorseless; predation isn’t perfect, and without some fail-safe, having lungs can be just too dangerous.

That’s where this family of bacteria comes in.  The vast majority of lung-equipped individuals will live out their whole lives, and their progeny theirs, and these symbiotic life forms we carry will continue on as usual, reproducing at a very slow rate, never a danger.  But if our lungs become too damaged for too long, these bacteria start to reproduce rapidly and produce toxins so dangerous that we die.  Quickly.  It’s evolution remorselessly acting on the level of the group at the cost of the individual.

And that’s what fascism is to the body politic of all democracies, all republics, and our Republican Democracy.  When the checks don’t check, when the balances get out of balance, fascism is always there, a background, low-level infection that starts reproducing rapidly as indifference and fear and stupidity sicken us, weaken us so much that we die so that Freedom doesn’t.  I’ve said this before in this blug –

We need Freedom. Freedom doesn’t need us.

Another, better Republic will arise from the ashes, to make their own mistakes, to have their own prejudices, to steep in their own fears.

Freedom, then slavery, then freedom, then slavery, an endless cycle that continues on until either we develop a cultural solution to this automatic impulse to self-justification or until our technology becomes so powerful that, in falling, we end the species.  And then the planet will see if the cockroach can evolve a better intelligence.  Ecce homo.

 

 


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The Myth of White Culture

‘Other People’s Babies’ make us stronger; Steve King makes us weaker

It saddens me to discover that one of my favorite quotes is almost undoubtedly false – or ‘apocryphal’ as eddykated pipples like to say about lies when they like the lie or the liar.  Mahatma Gandhi should have said, but didn’t, when getting off a boat to visit England in the 1930’s and being asked what he thought of Western Civilization, that he thought it might be a good idea.

Challenging the popular misconceptions around our American culture sounds like an early ’90’s Saturday Night Live Mike Myers skit – ‘Coffee Talk (“Coaffee Toauk”) with Linda Richman’, when he/she’d become ‘a little verklempt’ and instruct the audience to talk amongst themselves; “I’ll give you a subject: Western Civilization is neither Western nor a Civilization.  Discuss!”

Because, of those two words, neither is true.  Western civilization isn’t all that ‘western’, and ‘civilized’ is an argument with little evidence to support it.

Civilization, to the degree it has ever been in evidence in Europe and, applying guilt by association, the European infestation of the New World, began as the cultures developed in and around the mountain passes of the Himalayas spread into India, the Middle East, around the Mediterranean Sea and northward; and as I have argued elsewhere, that culture that seeded it was itself a development of all the cultures that existed at the beginning of the most recent interglacial period, around ten thousand years ago.  The mongrel culture we know as the Aryans made, of all the cultures those extremely varied individuals came from, a melange of solutions to the dangerous environment they found themselves in as they took advantage of the trade flowing though it, the connections from the developing civilizations in Asia, Africa and Europe; and having made this powerful, practical culture, flowed out into India and the Mediterranean not as a conquering nation but as a powerful idea – the force of useful variety – giving a tremendous boost to the evolving cultures they encountered.

Thus from the very beginning, from the foundation of the Classical worlds of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, ours has been an inheritance with its roots deep in the most ancient cultures of Asia and Africa, influenced even by the earliest American native populations.  At the very earliest moment, it was already a World, more than a Western, culture.

We choose, of course, to ignore the pre-Classical contribution, and so start with the Greek and Roman contributions.  Even here, we err; the advancements those classical European cultures made depended to a very great extent on the cultures they had conquered, including those in Africa and Asia.

This brings us forward to the Renaissance, which would not have happened at all if not for that knowledge available to it from the Islamic cultures that had safeguarded the knowledge those Classical cultures had discovered, and considerably added to it, after the Germanic hordes had destroyed Rome and brought about the Dark Ages in Europe. Especially helpful to European cultural progress was the Moorish culture in Spain, before intolerant Christianity destroyed it.  What we call ‘Arabic numerals’ are called that because they came to us from the Islamic world, though in fact they originated in India; and it took us pasty-fleshed a long time to understand the importance of ‘0’, which lack of understanding shows up in Gregory’s calender in the moronic absence of the year 0 which should have separated BC from AD, and the reason the first year of this century was 2001, not 2000.

Where would Western science have been without the decimal system?  Without algebra – “al Jabr”, Arabic for ‘the re-attachment of separated parts’?  The Arab world first proved that the planet was a sphere, and for centuries, the only place you could study geometry, mathematics, or any science, was in the Middle East.

Most of the racist Ohio Congressman Steve King’s racist fans would not include the Jewish world as part of ‘Western Civilization’.  Little do they know – well, anything, but particularly that this marvelous technological world we’ve made could not have happened without the powerful, transformative contributions of both Hebrew culture and Jewish individuals.  Because of the idiocy of Christianity, expressed through the Middle Ages money-making center known as the Vatican, free enterprise could never have evolved without Jewish lenders; the Pope, in order to protect Church power and wealth, decided that any interest added to loans constituted usury, and was thus not permitted.  Talmudic scholars knew this was wrong, and so Hebrew wealth became the only source of the capital that nascent Capitalism needed.  The Renaissance and the later Industrial Revolution would have been impossible without the development of what would become modern banking, but that development depended on lending, on the ability to use wealth as a resource in creating new industries; without interest, why would anyone lend money?  Throughout the blossoming that was European cultural renewal, the Jewish world was the source of funding that made their persecutors rich.

And on and on.  Gutenberg was only able to print his Bibles because of the Chinese invention of reusable block printing elements.  Glass was first produced in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, as were iron implements; air-dried clay brick appears to have been an ancient Chinese invention, and kiln-baked (vitrified) brick in the Indus Valley; Sumeria (now part of Iraq), as well as India and China, first started making the copper alloy bronze; steel from Anatolia, now Turkey; paper from China; alphabetic writing, and the collecting together of such writing into scrolls and, later, books, from Egypt; astronomy from Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and South America, as well as Greece; libraries from Sumeria and Egypt, with the greatest library of the ancient world, in Alexandria, destroyed by the Romans; it’s hard to find a single pivotal invention or idea of our ‘Western’ culture that wasn’t either discovered or helped in its development by the rest of the planet.

And how could it be otherwise?  Because humans really like sex, every culture on the planet, including ‘ours’, was constantly added to by peoples from other places.  This is hard to believe for uneducated Americans – that we’ve always had Other People’s Babies added to our mix.  So many of the markers we use to make distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ depend on visible cues that are entirely undependable and meaningless.  For example, it seems that symmetry of features is in every culture a marker of beauty, and its absence seen as ugly; this then would seem to have more to do with us as animals than as sentient beings.

Homo Sapiens is clearly a black-skinned species with local variations.  All human beings are brown; since our brains are so powerfully focused on detecting small differences, the shades that Humanity come in seem hugely varied to us, but from the blackest to the whitest to the reddest to the yellowest of us – if you simply put all those colors on a chart of samples, as if selecting paint for your bathroom, you’d easily see they are just different hues of brown.

Skin color, as well as every other physical characteristic, is strongly influenced by ideas of beauty, which in turn are determined by signals of health.  Light-colored skin is dangerous near the Equator because the direct rays of sunlight leads to cancers and other diseases of too-irradiated skin; but as cultures move north, dark skins lead to health problems brought about by too little Vitamin D, which is produced on the skin by sweat and sunlight.

Consider what modern science has discovered about one of the ‘proofs’ of evolution that Victorian England discovered.  A species of light-colored moths that gather on the trunks of trees ‘evolved’ into dark brown moths as the Industrial Revolution turned the bark from light tan to dark as they were covered with soot; it wasn’t until something like fifty years ago that genetic studies discovered that that change was not evolutionary at all.  The genetic makeup of those moths didn’t change – the species had always had light-colored and dark-colored individuals, but the increasing carbon in the air had changed the ratio of light-to-dark as birds increasingly found the light, rather than the dark, moths on their perches.

Let’s try a mind experiment.  Let’s take the darkest Africans we can find and put them on an island in the far North, and the lily-whitest Europeans and put them on a similar island on the Equator.  How many generations would it take for those populations to adjust to their new realities?  In truth, not that many; the signs of ill-health among the dark-skinned in the North or the light-skinned on the Equator would be so immediate and so powerful that our perfectly natural tendency to see health as equating beauty would punish those showing skin problems in every generation by reducing the number of breedings they would produce.  And yet these populations would not change genetically, beyond the normal ‘drift’ of any species of anything.

That explains some of those differences we think mean so much, and don’t – but that’s only a gross effect.  More subtle are the ways cultures develop their own distinct concepts of beauty.  The other thing we could say about our two islands is that, at least assuming we were isolating them, each would, for reasons both vital and insignificant, develop their own ideas of beauty.

Was Helen truly so beautiful, or did her particular facial features become themselves a definition of the desirable which started a selection process where those features became part of the Greek definition of beauty?  Was there something that happened early in the Chinese culture that made that particular color of tan, and the almond-shaped eye, a desideratum?  These sometimes-logical, often-random markers of what one or another culture thinks of as beautiful, or ugly, can rapidly have a determinative effect as power and beauty, or powerlessness and ugliness, come together.  It may be that one culture’s constricted or limited environment shows up as a need to define beauty as having diminutive stature.  It might just as easily be that great height quite accidentally becomes a desired thing.

So what the hell is ‘white’?  Genetic studies show these many European cultures to be as variable as any other, containing markers from the entire planet; whiteness (let’s be honest here; wallpaper-paste-ness) of skin was continuously selected for no matter the source of the genetic contribution to any particular individual in those cultures – but not an evolutionary selection, simply a cultural one as ‘beautiful’ individuals did better than ‘ugly’ ones.  Thus we peckerwood adopted as indications of beauty a whiteness of skin that could be achieved by any genetic contribution given only a few generations to show up; it has been well-established that a light-skinned or dark-skinned Brazilian is just as likely as not to have more of the opposite skin colored individuals in his genetic ancestry as similarly colored.  After all, using height as an example from African, the very tall Watusi are most closely related genetically to some of the many peoples we call ‘pygmies’, while quite distant from others.

I had for many year a very good friend who was born in Yakima, Washington.  Though he was a third-generation American, he had a peculiarly pure genetic history.  That area of the semi-arid West had been settled by immigrants from Germany – assuming I’m remembering correctly, from a small area in Bavaria; his parents, and their parents, were descendants of a group of Germans that had married exclusively with other immigrants from the same area.  Thus he and his five brothers represented a ‘pure’ genetic history going back hundreds of years from one small German area.  And on his wall he had a picture of himself with his exclusively-Bavarian brothers.

It was a fascinating picture, and I’d often look at it in amazement.  There was dark skin, light skin, ruddy skin; every size from quite tall to relatively short; broad shoulders, narrow shoulders, sloped shoulders; black hair, red hair, blond hair, brown hair, straight and long, curled and short, kinky, wavy; fat bodies, muscular bodies, skinny bodies; and he had other pictures going back to his Black Forrest ancestors that show the same wild variation.

Hitler proved the point.  He created select Army units, tall, broad-shouldered, blond, the very epitome of what idiot German researchers falsely thought of as ‘Aryan’, and fully expected they would lead their Army to victory.  They were useless in the field; if you want to select for effective soldiers, you have to accept that every other characteristic will be random and widely variable.

So, again – what the hell does ‘white’ mean?

In America, to be ‘white’ has come to mean to unquestioningly assume privilege, to expect a dominant position to ‘non-white’.  To avoid objective, rational thought in favor of ‘scenario thinking’, whereby the goal – such as proving one’s inherent right to rule – is reached by any means possible, no matter how contorted and illogical the path.  Thus idiocy like “No nation can survive without secure borders” is an unexamined assumption; how did we ever come to create the American Century with borders like sieves for countless generations?  How is it that those few nations that have managed to secure their borders – North Korea comes to mind as an excellent example – are such minor players on the world’s stage?  Conservatives used to fear dictatorship; now they seem to revel in it, and to glorify its characteristics, like ‘secure borders’.

The histories of immigrant cultures and their contributions are well-known, well-researched.  First generations of immigrants strongly tend to be law-abiding and hard-working, usually at menial jobs ‘whites’ won’t do.  Their children powerfully adapt to the American way of life, and are driven to excel in it in any field open to them and to push against their assumed limitations, often developing great wealth and making tremendous contributions; their grandchildren may try to re-discover their roots, but just as often seem to want to forget them – and become as American as anybody.  It’s only in the fourth and fifth generations – when they’ve become as ‘white’ as Steve King, no matter their ancestry – that this strong urge to prove their American-ness becomes the privilege-assuming, arrogant, condescending snideness we know as ‘white’.

And to introduce here an aspect of ‘white’ that infuriates and embarrasses me – to lose the simple, basic, essential ability to clap in time to the damned music!  Jeeze, what a bunch of apes!  Some dreadful polka starts up, the Colorless Clods start clapping immediately, and in two bars they’ve lost the beat!  And this is the Master Race?  Gag me with a spoon!

Here’s a truth you won’t like – beauty, as defined within any particular culture, almost ensures stupidity.  The uncomfortable fact is that, unless a child is strongly influenced to use its brain, it won’t.  Our brains, depending entirely on what you measure and how you define it, use from a third to two-thirds of the energy we take in.  Not thinking very much or very hard thus becomes the norm, a wise conservation of energy that is its own reward.  To be diverted away from this norm, the growing child must encounter some strong influence, some situation that drives it to use and develop its intelligence.  Thus it is not surprising at all that, when you examine the lives of the creative among us, you always find some strong trigger that moves them to think; a disability, a difference, like poverty, or sexuality, or social constrictions – some situation in their upbringing, some difference from the norm, that forces them to use their brains.

Whereas the beautiful are seldom drawn to think.  Why should they?  The people who surround the Rich and Beautiful are always so willing to do as the Beautiful wish; their assumption of privilege is always fulfilled.  What is there to think about?  Why waste the energy?  The Beautiful skate across a world created and maintained by the energies of the Different, the Weird.  ‘Whiteness’ is too often the froth on America’s delicious latte, itself adding no flavor, empty of any meaning, not making any contribution – but always assumed to be there, on top, pretty, mindless, pointless.

So Representative King need not worry about ‘other people’s babies’.  His wealthy backers will take advantage of newcomers’ economic slavery; Wall Street investors will jump at the chance to profit from those babies’ and their babies’ inventiveness and strong work ethic; McDonalds and Burger King will feed them lousy food and employ them at insulting wages; they’ll pay taxes so that King’s true bosses can avoid paying their share; and in only a few short years, these ‘other’ babies will be sitting on a porch in King’s district, with their tee-shirts barely covering their beer bellies, belching at the passing cars, listening to Country&Western music, complaining about ‘other people’s babies’ and voting for idiots like King.

Ecce whiteness.

A Call for Organic Politics

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 –

Bossiness.

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.

Other Versions of the Three Laws

More poetic and precise ways of making the point that you can’t tell people what to do

This idea – that no matter how tempting, no matter how certain you are, no matter even if you are in fact correct, you simply cannot tell others what to do, and that all our dependence on perfecting society through the intrusion of centralized authority into other people’s lives is a mistake that destroys the order upon which society is built – this idea is anti-intuitive. That is to say, it seems so obvious, so natural that if your steps are misaligned, and I can correct your gait, I ought to – I must – help you to see your mistake. And if there are a lot of people moving wrong, there will be joint damage and wasted effort and it will take up the society’s resources, and all the wasted energy, so I have an obligation to society to institute rules that ensure everybody walks straight –

This idea seems, intuitively, true – but in fact is very wrong. The truth is that it takes all our thought and focus and experience to steer our own steps. Not one among us is so wise and all-seeing as to guide the paths of others.  You may well think that you have the wisdom and the calling to command the walk that others take through this terrible, wonderful world. You don’t.

Demanding the Correct Path be kept to will not help others as they find their way through this garden of horror and delight. It can only hinder them, and in hindering, will hinder rather than help society, encouraging anger and resentment that eventually destroys the culture. You have not that wisdom, nor do I, nor does anyone. Your path is yours. My path is mine.

So human intuition is a dangerous guide to how an advanced culture advances further, how it solves the problems those advances create. Since this concept, which the Greeks called ‘hubris’, is in such opposition to ‘reality’ as our top-down-ordering minds so strongly and so wrongly see it that it’s hard to put into words – at least for a non-scientist non-writer like me.

But one can find others who have put it well.

There went out a sower to sow his seed. And it came to pass, as he sowed, that some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up, it was scorched, and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundredfold. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
– The Gospel According to Mark, chapter 4, verses 3 through 9

A word of apology and an appeal for forgiveness is in order at this point, because I’m going to talk about Jesus as a teacher, and though this may give unintended offense, it has long seemed to me that the best way to refer to his teachings (at least as they’ve come down to us and assuming, in order to focus on the teachings without reference to the religious, that what we read is what he taught; there is, after all, much reason to think his words have been changed and added to, but to consider them as life lessons, that really doesn’t matter here) is to give him his most probable name, Joshua, or as some put it, Yeshua ben Yosef – Joshua, son of Joseph. No Hebrew names ended in ‘-us’. ‘Jesus’ as a name is something of an accident, a romantization of Joshua, from the Hebrew ‘Yeshua’ to the Greek ‘Iesoua’ (var) to the Latin ‘Iesus’ to anglicized ‘Jesus’.

I’m sorry if that offends. I’m not a religious man, nor have I any interest in any spiritualistic discussions; I don’t feel opposed to it, it just bores me. The unexamined life holds no attraction; Occam and his razor are the only thing in which I have any ‘faith’, that all measures of reality are provisional and subject to change. Well, that’s me. Whatever is true for you is just as true, and that’s fine.

I’ve always been fascinated with this parable. The accepted interpretation is about spreading the word, a sort of salesman’s tool. But think of how well it describes what actually happens every day to you and to me. As you go through your day, every act, every word, every snarl or snap or laugh, every joke you tell or oath you yell, the choice you make to give a nice word or complement or complaint, all of it, the things you choose to do or not to do – each has an effect on others, on the world around you, on your own mind and attitude. You encounter someone; do you smile? Frown? Ignore? Avoid? Every one of those things, or any other thing you might choose to do or not do –

Every one of those things done or not done is a little swirl of energy that flows out from you to affect the world around you. Probably any particular one means nothing, changes nothing. Probably it affects no-one. Just another little eddy in the vast river of life. But maybe it means a little something, maybe very much, maybe everything.

A stranger asks for a little help. You don’t help, or you do; and maybe that small act of kindness helps that stranger to find an answer not only to that problem of the moment but touches him so deeply that it goes on to change his life, to empower him to find better answers to challenges that had defeated him. Or maybe that refusal to help makes him realize he’d come too much to depend on begging. Either way, maybe – just maybe, we can never tell for sure – that stranger, so deeply changed by your kind act or kick, goes on to change the whole world. Maybe he was Christ returned, or the Buddha, or a brilliant scientist down on his luck who goes on to invent a whole new way to end disease or hunger.

Or maybe he’s Hitler.

Either way, the parable holds true. Whether you would or not, you cast your seeds about you with every word, every step, every choice taken or avoided, every second of every day of your life. You don’t need religion to see this. The science of chaos theory makes clear that this not only can be, but since we live within a highly complex system we call ‘society’, must be true. Nothing you can do – not even by becoming a hermit – can prevent these tiny or enormous whirlpools of energy from spinning out from your actions or inactions, your presence or your absence.

By now you’ve scattered seed enough to feed a world. Is it good seed? Did it grow beautiful flowers, or nourishing fruit, or brambles that scratch and trip and make others’ lives more painful? Or did it simply drop where it fell and blow away? For the vast majority of the seed you sow – you’ll probably never know what grows.

It’s the way the world works, but it’s hidden from us. It isn’t the way the world appears to us. That’s not at all an aspect of the world. It’s an aspect of our intelligence. For complex reasons, the tendency to see patterns, whether they exist or not, to see randomness as purposeful design and design as random behavior, is an almost unavoidable result of the hierarchy we assume must be responsible for the patterns we think we see, just as we see our own minds as being in top-down command of our bodies and our thoughts when mind in fact exists in a complex negotiation within the brain and body.

Assume Joshua understood this. How does he explain? By parable, like all his teachings. But such an anti-intuitive idea is hard to weave into a homely tale. A farmer who wasted such a vitally importance resource would be shunned, ridiculed, attacked. Even in my childhood, that seemed obvious to me, and as I grew up and thought about it, it seemed obvious also that this difficult lesson meant so much more than the Sunday school teacher wanted me to believe.

And then this question; how do we know if what we do is good and right?

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
– The Gospel of Mathew, chapter 12, verses 33 through 37

You have no choice about this. You scatter such seeds about you as you walk through this life, by deeds both kind and cruel, words both wise and foolish. You can only know which is which by seeing what does, or doesn’t, grow; the only guidance we really get is by the tree that grows from our seeds, tasting the fruit of it.

This strikes me as an elegant way of putting what I’m clumsily claiming as the rules all technologically advanced cultures anywhere must obey or perish. But I agree that this interpretation is arguable, even before anyone has a chance to inject their own pet spiritual belief system into it. There’s another way of putting it that I find applicable, although this one carries it’s own, though not religious, uncertainty. That’s the myth of a Ring of Power, as beautifully presented by JRR Tolkien in his trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

Thus Galadriel, queen of the woodland elves and herself the bearer of a great ring. Now those of you more schooled than me in Professor Tolkien’s biography, will instantly yelp. We must remember that the good Professor grew up at the end of the Victorian era in England, when just about every other work of fiction was allegory, usually trying to impose some Christian dogma on the reader, and he was heartily sick of it. Still, he was uniquely dedicated to the idea that a mythology, to be of value, must be internally ‘true’ – that is, no matter what fantastical characters and imaginary world the writer creates, the beings within it must behave in ways the reader can identify as human and believable. His creation of Middle Earth, though not meant as a portrayal of the real world, nonetheless successfully held up a mirror to our life, which is to say, we can identify with behaviors, actions, attitudes as those we and others we know might have.

This was terribly important to him, and he put decades of intense effort into its construction, starting as a young man. This is why his works have their power, their endurance; and its absence from the Harry Potter novels, where seemingly random things and arbitrary actions, serving only the author’s needs of the moment and carrying no overarching logic, creates a mythology that fails, mystifying rather than informing the reader.

Thus Tolkien’s great masterwork succeeds, and by so succeeding – by creating a ‘true’ mythology – cannot fail but to represent the world around us, whether he would or no; not in the allegorical literary tradition, but representational nonetheless. And here I would have you consider –

Does the Dark Lord move by magic? It may be that, in creating his minions, he forms them and commands them by his mystic powers; yet when these forces act upon the other characters in his novels, they do so in purely mechanical ways. His armies attack with entirely physical weapons, and even his most powerful followers use blade and knife. His forces attack with all the tactics and weapons of any Earth-bound invading army. He may use terror as a motivating force, as have many very real generals here in our world, but even if his minions use the knife in the dark, its still a very real knife, no matter the unreal hand that holds it.

And isn’t that just exactly as happens here on Earth? His power motivates his forces; is that really any different than the moral certainty and God-given passion of the Crusades? Is the cruelty of the King of Angmar really of a different sort than that of the Trail of Tears and the smallpox-infested blankets we gave to those First Nation victims on their long forced march?

I put it to you that there is not one iota of difference between Middle Earth and the power of the One Ring to rule and to command great armies, and our world with its police so certain of their power and the obligation of the people to respect and obey that the deaths of the innocent are of little moment, actions to be automatically and instantly defended, the killer to be protected at the cost of whatever lie or cover-up is needed.

And for that reason, I see no difference between the Ring of that world, and the Vote in this; once the Ring is put on, or the Vote taken, the result is the same.  It invests its bearer with the right to rule others, a right not to be challenged, a power not to be resisted, leading, as Galadriel well understood – and as you don’t – only to evil and destruction, no matter how good the wearer. Would you have turned away the offer of the Ring, as she did?

Frankly, if you’ve ever voted for a law that reaches into other people’s lives to impose on them your own sense of right and wrong, to define a victimless crime like drug use or contract between consenting adults or the failure to wear a seat belt, then the clear answer is –

No. No, you would not.

Our politics is divided between those who would impel decency according to their God and those who would do so to save the whale and feed the poor. I admit I find the former cause absurd and the latter admirable, but the end result is exactly the same; men in dark uniform, in the night, with all the majesty of Law on their side, destroying people’s lives because of somebody else’s sense of Right and Wrong.

Galadriel passed the test. You failed. Think of this, now, January 20th, as a mentally unstable buffoon takes control of the forces of the State: The bell tolls for thee.

Still, this too is an argument, as any Tolkien scholar would loudly claim. But I’ve saved the best, most beautiful, most telling example of the Three Rules for last:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Because the forces of good and decency in our nation have failed to understand the vital need to defend the first sentence, they have empowered and unleashed forces that will carry out the rest. Because you know yourself to be Good, the reality of your Despotism eludes you. And so you have ensured the mayhem and destruction that is about to follow.

But worry not; cowards – fascism appeals most to the most cowardly of us – always start with the weak, the poor, the defenseless. So you still have time to sit back, comfortable, well-fed, and simply wither them with your (hidden) scorn.

Good luck with that.

 

And so, good luck to us all.  I say this to you with all the passion I can, as a warning:

Americans need Freedom, but Freedom doesn’t need America.

Three Rules Abbreviated

I attempt brevity – and good luck with that!

I thought I’d try a very brief description of my post on what I consider, doubtless wrongly, are the core observations that must apply to all advanced cultures to enable them to continue advancing.  And then a little hubris.  Not much.  Just a little.  Just a wafer-thin …

Remember, you are free to copy this, use it as you will, even claim it as your own.  That may seem a strange thing to say, but the extreme nature of my insomnia makes it impossible for me to give a damn about it, or in fact damns in general.  This is why, as I try to explain in the first of these demented mutterings, I have comments turned off.  These are thoughts to toss out into the great void.  I must divorce myself from care about what anybody thinks or does with them.  This has to be a one-way conversation; I don’t care because I can’t care, because caring threatens what sleep I do get.  So even if you steal these and copyright them, it’s not a thing I’ll object to.  Such is life.

So –

Three Universal Laws of Advanced Cultures

Law 1:  You Can’t Tell People What to Do

It diminishes true order, which self-arises in highly complex systems, and replaces it with hierarchical ordering, which erodes complexity and diminishes productivity.

Law 2:  You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Even If You are Right

It destroys the sense of self-interest in the health of the community, upon which order and productivity in a complex system depends.  It doesn’t matter if in fact you are right that they should do like all what you say; it’s the telling itself that does the damage.

Law 3:  You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Especially If You are Right

The resentment that grows to replace the sense of self-interest in the community destroys the good that you desire in that community; resentment at being told to do even good things makes those clearly good things seem evil to those resenting them.  The good that people do must be by choice; only evil can be done by force.

And of course I can’t tell you not to tell people what to do – because that would be telling you what to do!  Bwahahahahaaaaa (Evil Laugh pat. pend.)

 

 


The Three Rules that All Advanced Cultures Must Obey

An observation in exosociobiology; a lesson in how to destroy a nation

There are rules that all technological civilizations throughout the Universe, regardless of the nature of the individuals in it, must follow to avoid collapsing into chaos.  Obeying these rules leads to further development.  Ignoring them results, in time, in deterioration of the culture.  Whether we speak of humans, intelligent carrots, intellectual fish, wise bags of gas – it doesn’t matter.  These rules apply everywhere in the Universe, because the Universe works on complexity, and complexity demands these rules be obeyed.

Why?  Because the Universe is a highly complex system, and the cultures of self-aware, intelligent beings are more complex than the Universe.  Such cultures, composed of any kind of being, will act in accord with the observations of complexity.  Complex systems, such as the human brain, cultures of any sort anywhere, and the Universe as a whole, are by definition systems in which order arises out of the interactions of individual units whose actions are limited only by the nature of those individuals.

Here’s the most important aspect of highly complex systems and how they are organized.  Allowed to work out their own relationships over time, the effect of all these local negotiations can be a high degree of order and productivity – but when such a system is subject to hierarchical ordering, even the ‘right’ ordering, both order and productivity fall.  This is always true of all highly complex systems; order and productivity rise or fall by the degree to which such systems are, or aren’t, allowed to work out their own relationships, limited only by the natures of the individual parts therein.

Consider a meadow here on Earth.  All the individual parts of it have evolved to play a role that natural selection has fitted them out for.  It’s in the nature of a fox to chase down and eat smaller animals, like rabbits; it’s in the nature of rabbits to run like crazy from danger.  A particular fox may or may not chase a particular rabbit; a fox won’t spread its wings, fly through the air and swoop down on a rabbit, because that’s not in the nature of a fox.  The order we see in a meadow is created from just such interactions; beings in it have evolved to have a place in that system, and though they can evolve to fit better into that system, they cannot act in ways that are outside of the space they’ve evolved to fit.  A caterpillar can change into a butterfly; it can’t change into an owl.

It’s a bit confusing to apply these observations to the cultures of intelligent beings.  Conservatives tend to see culture as being composed of inherently vicious animals whose viciousness must be limited by laws.  This is untrue.  They see the ‘individuals’ of a human culture as if it was composed of wild animals; but a culture is composed of political units.  It’s in the nature of wild animals to obey only their own interests expressed through instinct.  It’s in the nature of intelligent beings to want to live at ease, to not be harmed by others, and when they feel safe, to extend that same respect to those around them.  I don’t kill others not out of fear of being punished – when people do kill others, it’s always in a situation where the fear of punishment has been overwhelmed by the immediate situation, so punishment is never actually a limiter of behavior.  I don’t kill others because I’m self-interested in living in a culture where nobody else kills me.  Thus the ‘nature’ of the individuals in such a culture is not the animal, but the political unit.

Whatever might be the nature of the individuals in any particular culture, however productive or unproductive, orderly or disorderly that culture may be, that productivity and order has arisen from the interactions of the members of that particular culture.  The global is simply the noise made by the local, multiplied over the whole culture moment by moment and situation after situation.

A gangster culture, such as Russia has, will tend toward disorder and unproductive behaviors because the individuals in it feel but scant connection to others, and express little interest beyond selfish behaviors regardless of impact on others; because of its ugly, vicious history – a people who have never ruled themselves but have always been ruled by a hierarchy – it has never developed a strong sense of community.  A decent culture like ours tends to create an inherent, even if unstated, sense of connection; I don’t steal from others because of my interest in living in a culture where others don’t steal from me.  This idea doesn’t, and never will, apply in all situations; certainly we have members of our culture who don’t feel this connection strongly enough to curb their selfishness, but such exceptions are usually limited to the criminally insane (a very tiny percentage of the population, no matter that you greatly enjoy watching entertainment in which those very few are celebrated), the desperate poor, and the very rich and their corporations.  But the difference between our culture and Russian culture is a question of percentages; most Russians feel antagonistic to the interests of others, whereas most Americans feel supportive of others, even though most of us limit that unstated, hidden support to those we feel are like us.

This leads to a universally true factor in the study of the societies of all advanced cultures in the Universe – that is, in exosociobiology.  Successful cultures work within the limits of complexity – that order and productivity increase with the ability of the individuals in that culture to act in their own interests as defined by the individuals themselves, and decreases when order is imposed on those individuals.  It doesn’t matter if that imposed order is a desirable order; the imposition even of ‘good’ order is as destructive of cultures as ‘bad’ order, and the imposition of order by a dictator is no more damaging than the imposition of democratically ordained order.  It’s the imposition that must be avoided for a technologically advanced culture to continue to advance – and a technological civilization must continue to advance, or it will fail to constructively deal with the unintended consequences of that advancing technology.

Thus the three rules that all technologically advancing cultures in the Universe must obey, if they are not to choke on the results of their technology.  Since I’m personally interested in order and productivity on Planet Earth, I will use ‘people’ as the applicable example.

 

 

Fisher’s First Law of Exosociobiology:

You Can’t Tell People What to Do

This rule confuses almost all Americans.  It’s the evil that has been done by our addiction to violent entertainment, and by our worship of law enforcement.  Since the days of Jack Webb’s Dragnet, Americans have become more and more addicted to the police procedural, to the extent that network evening programming now has little else, and even public broadcasting depends on these centralized-control-worship indulgences.  This has happened because over time more people have felt alienated by the culture and threatened by others; and that alienation has occurred because we have become steadily less a voluntary society and increasingly a command society.  It’s a vicious cycle; we feel disconnected due to choice being replaced by demand, which increases our angst, and that feeling of disconnection results in more pressure to control others, which results in more support for imposing order on others and thus even more personal choice limitations.

This leads to the absurdity that, in a culture in which actual criminality has steadily fallen for hundreds of years, most of us see murders and muggings and fraud day after day, and soak ourselves in degradation and filth.  You yourself might certainly have experienced victimization at the hands of criminals – but statistically, probably not; yet murder and death and robbery are a part of your world every single day of your life.  Gosh, can’t you see it?  Don’t you believe your own eyes?  It’s right there on the Television Machine!  So of course you imagine it to be endemic in the culture; if this is the way you live your life, your memory contains vast criminality, you see it everywhere, and so there’s no way I or anyone else can convince you otherwise.

Thus most Americans, and apparently other ‘advanced’ nationalities, have become convinced by endless repetition that order depends on law.  Questions of criminality are said to be ‘Law and Order’ issues.  This is clearly, unquestionably backwards.  Law has never, can never, and will never create Order; but Order tends to create Law.

How could it be otherwise?  If there is an absence of order in a community, out of what structure would ‘law’ arise?  Before there can be a lawmaker, there must be some kind of social structure in which that law can be created; there must be a king or a priest or some kind of hierarchical structure.  How could Law even be expressed without someone to express it, and a structure to impose it?  Can’t be done.   The very existence of a Law implies both a Lawmaker and a Law Enforcer, which requires an already-existing Order.

We see this when we compare the legal traditions of the West with those of a dictatorship like Russia has always had, or that has been cruelly imposed on North Korea.  Those are both cultures in which order is imposed – but unavoidably, it is a low, vicious, highly unproductive order which grinds the individual to dust, and which produces little of value.  It cannot be otherwise; the more the culture depends on centralized control, the meaner and more unproductive that culture will be.  This is always true, in all places and at all times; I submit that it is true throughout the Universe.  When the parts of a complex, highly random system are allowed to interact with each other limited by their own natures as political units, a very high degree of order and productivity self-arises; that culture will then codify the arisen order as Law, and even if those individuals imagine that the Law the culture creates is the source of Order, in fact Law will be used not to impose order but to formalized the ways that culture deals with criminality.

Laws can’t prevent you from killing me.  If you want to do me harm, there is no ‘Thin Blue Line’ that will stop you from doing so.  But if you do me harm, the culture we live in will begin a process of judgment; thus ‘Law’ is a reaction, not a preventative.  The preventative exists, but it’s internalized (or not) in self-interest; you don’t want to be robbed, so you don’t rob others, even if in your own mind you imagine it’s your fear of punishment that limits your actions.  When emotion or desperate need or addiction or, in the case of the very rich, unbridled greed do motivate criminality, fear of punishment disappears completely.  In fact, in our culture, the very rich have little fear of punishment, and yet the vast majority of even the richest of us are still decent, loving people.

Thus, telling others what to do is in every case destructive of order.  But I know you don’t believe this, which leads to –

Fisher’s Second Law of Exosociobiology:

You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Even If You’re Right

This rule confuses almost all Americans.  Our politics is divided into three roughly equal parts; people we pretend are conservative who want to tell others to do things because God!, people we pretend are liberal who want to tell others what to do because Think of the Children!, and those who, having no interest in telling others what to do, pay no attention to politics.  And that’s pretty much it; Liberty has no naturally occurring support, and the people who most use that word actually mean their own personal freedom to do whatever they want, especially with guns, without fear of repercussion, of being held responsible for their own actions.

Thus the most common, nearly universal American statement is this: “I don’t need Government to tell me what to do, because I know Right from Wrong; but that guy across the street, the lady down the alley, I’m not so sure of them, so Government needs to write rules for them.  And those people who are different from me, with a different religion, or an accent, or speak some other language, or have a different skin color – boy, you’d better keep an eye on them, because they could do anything!”

And the guy across the street, and the lady down the alley, and the people who are different, all think the same thing: I don’t need to be told what to do and what not to do, but those other people . . .

So we get a country where two-thirds of the population vote in law after law, control after control, out of fear of what others might do, and never see the damage that does because they don’t think any of it is aimed at them – they know Right from Wrong, but fear that you have some different definitions, so you need to be watched, to have your choices limited.  And the other third, just as passionately believing that ‘government’ automatically means ‘telling others what to do’ and not wanting to tell anyone anything, assume it all has nothing to do with them and thus don’t participate.

It’s an addiction, a sick dependence, on believing themselves to be right – because their own personal God says they are, or because terrible things might happen, or because, gosh, if we let you make your own decisions you might make a mistake and do something we just know is wrong – and that being right gives them the wisdom to guide or limit other people’s actions.  Every headline, every atrocity, every bad thing that happens, every act of ungodly or simply accidental behavior begets a new law.  I put it to you that every headline in any newspaper in America results in new legislation to attempt, quite uselessly, to prevent such terrible things from ever happening again – none of which actually prevents anything.

And I also put it to you that you can search as much as you care to through the debates that surround such legislation.  These debates never, never anywhere, never on any account involve whether such a problem is in fact best addressed through law; pragmatics are sooo boring.  What little debate we have is limited to deciding whether a problem exists.  We all simply assume, without question, that Law is the appropriate solution to any and all problems.

So our political debates are limited to this and this only; are we right?  Is this in fact a problem?  Is the triggering event really a bad thing?

Consider global warming.  Why do conservatives doubt the clear evidence of it, preferring to twist logic and reality into a pretzel, to invent impossible, insane conspiracy theories?  Because they are as dedicated to every real problem demanding State action as progressives are.  They don’t want new laws and restrictions on their behavior, but assume without questioning that of course if it’s real there must be such laws and restrictions – so it can’t be real!  Problem solved!

And why is the Left so passionate about global warming?  The evidence is beyond debate – but it isn’t the reality of the threat that motivates them.  They know they’re right; so of course there must be law, there must be limits on other people’s behavior.  This is ridiculous; mankind’s disruption of the carbon cycle doesn’t happen on the level of governments.  It isn’t created by only the big things big organizations do – it’s all of us, each of us, making purely local choices every moment of every day.  It happens on the level of granularity of individual actions, individuals making their own good or bad choices, and one of the cardinal rules of complexity is that a highly complex system can only be affected on the level of granularity upon which it has been created – which is the true meaning of the Butterfly Effect.  It isn’t a question that can be dealt with by telling others what to do, it’s entirely a question of what you do, dealt with or avoided by you personally, through your own actions and multiplied by the number of individuals who do, or don’t, individually change, or avoid changing, their own actions.  Government can help or hinder – but a solution will, or won’t, come from you, multiplied by 7 billion other ‘you’s every second of every day.

We can’t stand that truth; we want to solve problems by telling others what they should do.  It’s just too hard and too scary to change ourselves.  We prefer to demand that others change.  So no debate ever includes any assessment of whether or not we really need a new law, whether or not Law is actually appropriate to a given problem, and especially whether the answer might actually be our own acts and not the actions of others.  American politics is entirely limited to belief – is this a problem or isn’t it? – and the side that believes most passionately (or has the most money) wins.  That there will be a law is a given; the only question we ask is ‘who’s right’, but that there will be Law is never challenged.

That leads us to –

Fisher’s Third Law of Exosociobiology:

You Can’t Tell People What to Do, Especially If You are Right

This rule confuses most Americans.  The only American debate is which side is correct that a problem exists; nobody pays any attention to the damage done by forcing others to change their behaviors at the threat of law, of arrest, of imprisonment.  But what happens when you take so much choice away from those individuals who may believe otherwise, to force a behavior, or the avoidance of a behavior, that others may not see the rightness so manifestly obvious to you; who may not believe in your God, or want something different than you do for their children?

I consider the paradigm of this – the example that demonstrates the concept – to be the laws that will punish you for not wearing a seat belt.  That seat belts save lives is clear; only a fool refuses to buckle up.  Yes, you can, if you so desire, imagine situations where the wearing of a seat belt causes problems; but for every such situation, there are literally hundreds where lives were saved.  There are in fact many situations where the wearing of a seat belt has enabled the driver to stay in control of a car, and its lack has caused drivers, by being physically thrown away from the brakes or the steering wheel, to turn a minor skid into an accidental death.

But what happens when the driver is wearing his belt not because he thinks it’s the wise and safe thing to do but because he fears being ticketed?  A person who believes that seat belts are dangerous would be quite wrong, quite foolish – but people have the right to be foolishly wrong.  If such a fool feels he’s being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, especially if he is so stupid as to think he’s being endangered, he won’t feel protected – he’ll feel that society is demanding his endangerment.  This will engender resentment, detachment, a sense of estrangement from society, a sense that our culture is demanding he put his life at risk because of the delusions of others.  He’d be wrong, of course; but does it matter that I think so, or that you think so, or even that clear evidence demonstrates he’s being protected and not endangered?

No, it doesn’t.  Multiply that by intrusive rule after intrusive rule and you get an enormous pool of resentment. People think what they think, believe what it comforts them to believe.  We are not really logical beings, as much as we may want to think we are.  The very best of us, the very wisest, lives yet in an ocean of conflict and emotion tugging us this way and that.  Our personalities are a negotiation of opposing forces, of emotion, experience, assumption and prejudice; every possible position, and many an impossible one, is held by someone.  Inevitably, on some subject and likely on many, you are a fool.  And so am I.

So you can demonstrate all the statistics you want to that prove that the fool should wear his seat belt.  But what statistic demonstrates the damage done?  How many acts of road rage are driven by seat-belt laws?  That’s not so easy to demonstrate.  Again, add all the uncountable rules and regulations, even the wise ones, each one of which discounts and disconnects a few.  It adds up to a lot of disconnection.

That’s the biggest problem with telling others what to do – that it destroys the good that it purports to serve.  More and more people feel more and more disconnected, and anger grows and grows and grows, to the point that a great many people no longer feel that society is worth protecting.  Is there any question that this is why a manifestly incompetent and talentless man is about to become President?  It’s an act of destruction, committed by a Party of the angry, the disconnected, so furious at having their own interests denied and dismissed that they choose, like Samson, to pull the Temple down rather than endure more torment.  I’m sure you don’t believe this – after all, you know that people should wear their seat belts; so you simply will not credit that anyone could possibly resent it, or that it matters if they do.

It matters.  This massive disconnection is now the only thing that matters.  It’s destroying us.

Year by year, law by law, over many decades, instance upon instance, control after control; an abscess of resentment and anger and fear has grown, and you haven’t seen it – because how could anyone resent what your rightness has done?  So decade after decade we have seen the Safety Net frayed, public schools under-financed, bridges decaying, reactionary politics chasing thought and respect from the public debate.  The sense of community on which our Democracy depends has frayed to the breaking point.

And who’s at fault in this?  You.

You, because you know that you’re right.  You, because to you, being right is the only limit to your telling others what to do.  You dismiss the damage done, so deeply do you believe in your own rightness, and thus in your own right to tell others what’s right.

 

But don’t worry.  Your punishment awaits you; the most powerful nation the Earth has ever known is on the verge of being lead into madness by a madman.  Condign (adjective); well-deserved, appropriate, fitting, as in condign punishment – a penalty that is perfectly fitted to the crime.  The snorer who is forced to sleep next to a train track; the pickpocket who loses his hand; every person who voted in all those laws in their hopeless efforts to perfect our union through force watching their country fall into fascism.

 

Stay Calm and Multiply

We will survive by the skin of our teeth; but we may need more teeth

By now, pretty much everyone on the planet knows we have a population crisis; there are too many of us, and as the West’s standard of living comes to all, we will unquestionably outstrip our planet’s resources.  Unquestionably.

So, of course, I’ll question that.

 

Consider the long, growing list of threats to our civilization – threats beyond any particular Orangutan, that is.  The chaotic growth of threats is increasing; every new answer creates new problems as it effects other parts of the system and heightens the complexity of our culture as it continues to add new technologies at an ever-increasing rate.  There’s no way we can keep up with this constantly growing tsunami of unintended consequences.

Except there is a way.  Just as chaotically, individuals keep coming up with answers that gravitate out from them to the greater culture, if their contribution is allowed.

But these solutions arise anywhere and everywhere, just as likely to occur to a well-financed think tank as to someone very peripheral to the mainstream culture – actually more likely to arise among those not working directly on a problem, as researchers’ view becomes ever more narrow as they are trapped by their own certainty that the answer must lie upon the expected path of where they’ve been looking.  That means that every new group that is included and accepted brings with it new possibilities that exceed in their contribution the problems their inclusion might create.  The increasing willingness of our culture to expand out to include the previously marginalized is the most vital thing we are doing – the thing that boosts the problem-solving ability of our culture to a rate equal to that increase of problems we face as we continue to progress technologically.

Because of this powerful, chaotic, complexity-driven increase in the ability of the individual to contribute his or her talents, we look to a future where, within the next generation, we end hunger and curb disease, rebuild the damaged planet, and create a global culture that includes – because complexity says it has to – everyone.

But there is a problem.

Human intelligence, even in its most powerful manifestations, is just not that impressive.  Sorry.  Human beans didn’t develop intelligence to build spaceships.  We developed advanced thought so we could find things to eat and ways to not be eaten (though I will later present a paper suggesting our intelligence is a side effect of our need to explain ourselves to ourselves.)  With thought and culture, we could learn environmental signals that appear only over time and take advantage of them. This lead to our unlikely survival; from discoveries of ancient human remains among the waste-piles of predators, apparently lions find us dee-licious.

Even Einstein was a dope about many things; other people, family, children.  He never really was able to accept the quantum world that came after him, that his amazing insights led to.  Likewise, those original quantum physicists could never accept the discoveries that complexity led to.  And so it goes; each generation making new strides and then resisting those of the next.  Since it is that way, and seems always to have been so, I suggest we accept that it must be that way.

I think it’s just too easy for human brains to get stuck in logical dead-ends.  Chess masters, in studying their game and sharpening their checkmating chops, develop minds that are far more powerful than ours at that specific task, full of many more neural connections than a normal brain – and tend to become hopeless at other tasks, as the British found out in the late ’30’s.  They had a monstrous task to undertake, the breaking of the massively complex Enigma code, a task so huge it forced the birth of the electronic brain.  So they did the logical thing, and roped in all those international chess masters.

And got nowhere fast.  Their massive neural networks were perfected for one thing – chess – and weren’t much use at larger analysis.  They dumped the chess master for clerks, librarians and crossword-puzzle fans.  Gobs of them.

It’s a lack of understanding about what ‘intelligence’ is; we’re far too ready to see it as a thing that chess masters, as well as college professors and Nobel winners, have and display in their convoluted, magical multi-syllabic speech.  Far too often, these are minds not necessarily any sharper than yours (though undoubtedly quicker than mine); the normal mindset of such illustrious thinkers displays an amazing grasp of an area of human thought so advanced and pushed to such an extreme that it’s greatest effect is to absolutely guarantee an inability to see anything one centimeter off the well-trod path they’ve taken.

As for example; we’ve been ‘a few years away’ from curing cancer and cold fusion for several decades now.  And levitating trains.  And full-color photovoltaics.  And the compostable plastic bag.  And flying cars.  And . . .

Consider this very common scene; you have made much progress in your search for The Answer in your pet field, and are so close to a solution.  That’s the problem.  You are certain you are on the right path; but if the next, revealing step were in some logical, determinative progression, wouldn’t you have found it?  Your progress guarantees you will not see the true solution; you will look on the path where it can’t possibly be, like the drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlamp, because that’s where the light is.  The truth for which you seek is so weird, so anti-intuitive, so tangential to your closely-held assumptions that your dedication and focus on the path you took to get where you are guarantees there is no significant chance you will see it, or recognize it if you do.  You are, as Einstein, Planck, Fermi, Hawking, so many great minds were, limited by your history   – you’re trapped by what you know, held to the path you’ve taken and unable to credit anything off that path.

Solution?  More paths.  More travelers.  Less direction.

And such is what we see when we look at the changes that have happened to the Nobel and other science prizes over the last century.  A hundred years ago, breakthroughs were made by single researchers working in small labs; by fifty years ago, it was more likely to be several scientists in a few big labs making a set of serial discoveries that coalesce into a whole; now there are, almost always, teams of thousands, even tens of thousands, all making their own important contributions requiring mention.  When the Large Hadron Collider makes Nobel-worthy discoveries, the lists of significant contributers would fill several books, and will force the Committee to rewrite its rules.

I have made the point in other texts herein that we need a global population of free beings in which every population, no matter how defined, must be able to contribute and participate if our solution-creation mechanism is to be robust enough to ensure our survival.  It’s also true, for the same reason, that we need more people.

How many?

Well, here your faithful corespondent has to confess uncertainty.  I suppose there is some way of working this out.  We’re expected to top out at perhaps ten billion beings, after which the population slowly decreases.  How many do we need to keep up with the task of invention?  I think it has to be more than that; my guess is, at least twice that number.

Why?  Complexity.

Because centralized, controlling organization destroys creativity and order, we will avoid those, instead working toward a culture in which individuals make their own choices about what interests to pursue, what talents to develop.  In the top-down model, individuals are assigned tasks that may not interest them or in which they have no talents, based not on the reality of their abilities but from what the Center thinks its problems are; they will be wrong often enough that such a culture would collapse.

But in the world that works, a very large number of individuals with self-authority to decide their own interests guarantees that people will seek the opportunities that arise.  This process automatically draws them toward areas of stress in the culture.  Problems, in that system, themselves attract workers.  It’s a more natural system; it’s the way evolution works.

That’s the challenge – evolution is a lazy slob that works not by perfecting new approaches but by inventing solutions that are just good enough to give some advantage.  This takes numbers.  Big numbers.  Millions of individuals over millions of years makes for a small, uncertain, sloppy, stumbling change – or not.  The dice get rolled over and over, each individual a throw of the dice when the genes get together followed by constant rolls of the dice every day from that instant until death.

So now we are an advanced and advancing civilization – at least, in the absence of any comparisons, we seem to be.  This man-made progression is more chaotic than we are comfortable knowing.  We want to think that this is a creation of our civilization, our laws, our culture; but it’s very much more based on emotional connections and individuals influencing each other, closer to those of a herd of elk or moose.  This is Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, and it has much more to do with the shape of our society than any law ever will.

That’s the reason I think we need to at least double our projected maximum population.  A planet full of individuals able to make their own decisions on what to invest their energies in is a requirement to avoiding collapse.  But the very same culture will be so empowered individually that having such a world of choice means fewer individuals pursuing any one path.  Science will have to compete with a universe of possibilities; without those choices we can’t have a powerful solution-creation mechanism, but at the same time, that very wealth of possibilities will make it less likely that enough individuals pursue any particular path.  Nor will governments be able to effect this lack without at the same time limiting other choices, which is deadly.

So to have sufficient numbers of scientists – or police, or lawyers, or doctors – that arise from a culture sufficiently empowering of individuals to allow solution creation to keep pace with challenges, we need numbers.  I think we need twenty billions.  Just at a guess.

 

See?  Crazy.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.