The Chaotic View of Politics

An overview of complexity theory as it applies to the trouble we’re in

I’ve just finished a ridiculously lengthy project – I’ll add a picture of it when I can,  a three-legged, shallow dish of padauk and ebony, thoroughly weird and strange; five months of work and I can’t see what the point of it is, though the legs are so thin and supple that it quivers pleasingly – and thought I’d add another shout into the wind.  We have some wonderful storms in the Spring here on the Upper Left Coast, so there’s no shortage of wind to shout uselessly into.

I can’t expect many views, as the biggest reason people read junk on line is for a chance to call the writer names – people mostly read for an opportunity to react and not for comprehension.  I don’t give people that opportunity, as I have Comments turned off, even though I know that isn’t really playing the game, isn’t really fair.  Everything I do is first about sleep, a failing in myself.  I just can’t take the risk of encountering the nastiness so predominant in on-line discussion.  I admit it: in this, at the very least, I’m a wuss.

If I’m right about this, the application of complexity theory as the first consideration in thinking about societies of sentient beings, then the world will work out that way.  These ideas will prevail only if they’re useful to people, not because they are popular or because some better explainer than I am has convinced others of their correctness.  The idea of a politics made healthy by an abandonment of the delusion that Law creates Order needs no champion if it reflects reality.

We The People can fool some of ourselves all of the time, and we can fool all of ourselves some of the time – but we can’t all fool ourselves all of the time. Cultures of sentient beings are shaped by what those beings believe, even though their worlds are shaped by what really is.  Reality has a stubborn way of remaining reality, waiting for enough of us to wake up.  So far, that’s worked out – eventually, after we’ve avoided it as long as possible.

Will it always?  Will Thornton Wilder’s belief that we are a species that constantly saves itself but only just at the very last nick, by “The Skin of their Teeth”?

That choice is always yours, individually, to make.  It doesn’t matter at all what I might think about it.

 

We see our nation as something we design by the laws we pass, a complicated yet deterministic system that our choices control, a top-down ordering wherein the ‘unarguably evil’ nature of human beings is held down out of the fear we impose on others of Implacable Justice, humanity as a Frankenstein monster we must keep chained – oh, but never in the first person.  I must keep you chained; we must keep them chained.  This catastrophically wrong-headed view is entirely understandable; such intelligence as we possess arises naturally from the highly complex system that is the brain, but the demands of our ego structures strongly predisposes us to see ‘I’ as a hierarchy, the Will in charge of the Mind in charge of the Brain in charge of the Body.  This isn’t true; but to perceive the true animal-ness of our human existence, to see that most of what appears to us as Free Will is actually driven by subconscious emotional impulse, is simply too stressful.

Because of the critical importance of maintaining this false view of an interior command structure, we are powerfully driven to see the world around us as just this kind of heirarchy.  We tend to see Society as a centrally-controlled, top-down ordering.  We look upon highly complex systems and see simple, linear, deterministic systems; intricate, perhaps, but always in which some particular action – a law or regulation passed – has a predictable outcome, and if that outcome does not result, then the only possible answer is to make that law more Draconian.  We are hypnotized – sorry, Mr Letterman; HYP-mo-tized – by our certainty that the entire point of politics is to control the choices of others while demanding nobody try to control ours; we are seduced by the comforting delusion that the whole world is no more than a complicated nesting of simple mechanisms which will function only if we find the right set of controls on (other’s) actions lest they make what is clearly (to us) a mistake.  Gosh, if we don’t control other people, they could do anything!  We are choking ourselves with Law and Regulation, an orgy of top-down ordering, a mesh of control mechanisms that have become so fine-grained that only the very rich have freedom of action.

We are blind to this – in fact, we blind ourselves.  But we do this self-blinding only about our own approved-of attempts to control others.  The Left clearly sees that the Right has become entirely focused on controlling the  actions of others, driven into madness by their own Received Wisdom that of course we need to control women’s reproductive organs and the clearly criminal impulses of minorities, of course – because Jehovah!, because if we don’t, people may make choices that aren’t informed by Bronze Age superstitions and ethnocentric prejudices.  (See The Myth of White Culture.)  In their turn, the Left is as blind to the constant application of junk science, to the hopelessness – in fact, the cultural corrosiveness – of their own control attempts; of course we must outlaw the prejudices of the Right, of course we must make them wear seat belts, we must tell them how to flush.

And thus both sides are blind, willingly blind, to the other side’s Right to be Wrong.  Here’s an unwelcome message to both sides: If you don’t think abortion is permissible, don’t have one or cause some unfortunate woman to have that terrible choice to make.  If you think we’re running out of clean water, don’t use so much of it yourself.  If you’re worried about humanity’s interference in the planet’s carbon cycle, as well you should be, look to your own choices and how wasteful they might be.

The entirety of the modern Republican Party, now unarguably fascist, is about forcing all of us to confirm the Right’s tremendous cowardice – they’re terrified of everything, and the sillier and more delusional their fears, the more they cling to them.  First Generation Americans, documented or not, are, and always have been, a huge productive benefit to our nation, harder working, less likely than the rest of us to commit crimes or use communal resources.  And –  Sharia Law?  Are you kidding me?  Do you have any clue at all how stupid that is, how foolish, how delusional?  It would be less so to stand in the middle of a Kansas wheat-field cringing in fear of shark attack.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is being taken over by Progressives.  Some day soon, I suspect I will go ravening through our local Safeway, furiously tearing ‘Gluten Free!’ signs off crackers, pasta, rice – are you kidding me? – ice cream – are you kidding me? -hot dogs – are you kidding me??? – all the things you couldn’t introduce gluten into on a bet or to please your sainted mother.

And so our modern, corrosive politics – two opposite extremes, one with its little-girl panties constantly in a wad, out of their minds with craven fear, the other sneering and contemptuous of any thought but their own, both angry at the other side’s dictatorial impulses and blind to their own, because of course!  That’s the choice we’re left with:  We All Must, because Jehovah! or We Have To, because Think Of the Children!

Let me go on record herein, by saying ‘Screw you both!’

At least modern Democrats are, at least to some degree, resisting the Siren call of their own extremists.  Fascism has succeeded in chasing Conservatism out of the GOP; the Reagan Republican Party is thoroughly dead and rots in the ground.  At least the Democratic Party is trying to push back against their own extremists, the Progressives, though as a practical political matter, I’m not so sure they should be – and most certainly they are fools for using the corrupt methods they automatically reach for.

And yet I would ask you to consider that all this extremism, what has been called the tribalism of modern politics, may be inevitable, may be a sickness we must suffer, a lesson we must learn.  Our tendency to see linearity where it so clearly does not exist may always be with us, curbed only when we are forced to admit that the world doesn’t react well to our consistent attempts to control events and personalities.

It would be good, perhaps, if it didn’t have to be that way, if Science and Learning could inform us.  It would be well that logic and insight guide our actions, not emotion.

Not on this planet.  Not in this solar system.  Sorry.  It is in the nature of human beings – I suspect it is in the nature of sentience – that we race full-speed toward the cliff, swerving only at the last possible moment when we change course and speed on to the next precipice.

 

The lesson of complexity is clear.  The rules by which highly complex systems behave are odd, very odd to us humans so used to seeing simple machines, systems we can control and whose behavior is predictable.  If your cuckoo clock isn’t working, the mechanism may bewilder those not used to repairing clockworks, but any reasonably competent technician can see, by examination and testing, what each part does and how it is connected to other parts, what the sequence of events is that will make it tick.  The cuckoo may have lost feathers and the paint may be chipped, but it’s obvious that feathers and paint chips don’t matter to its workings – it is a linear, predictable, deterministic system.  You see springs, gears, and cogs, and though its mechanism may seem complex, it isn’t.  One part effects another in a linear way; put it back in order, and inputs – the winding of the mainspring – will beget fixed outputs – the hands of the clock moving.

Not so with highly complex systems.  If the cuckoo clock were a highly complex system, examination would tell you little.  Your human prejudice would still be to look for a linear event chain, but that gets you nowhere.  For all you know, were the clock non-linear, it might be the paint chips or the lack of feathers; or it might be something you can’t see at all.

And here is where our strong tendency to see linearity where it isn’t gets us in trouble – like the trouble we’re in now, where we’re going to lose our nation and its primacy for the sake of the fascist yearnings of the filthy rich.  To treat a complex system as a simple one is to collapse that system. To correct a simple system gone wrong, you take large, global steps to fix the central mechanisms.  Do that to a complex one and you will destroy it; both the tremendous order and the great productivity of the highly complex system that is a modern democracy are reduced by each and every attempt we make to force order upon it.  It’s inevitable, unavoidable.

The societies of sentient beings are more complex than the Universe that contains them.  Highly complex systems can, over time, become both highly orderly and highly productive for their constituent parts if, and only if, those parts are free to relate to their neighboring parts constrained by their natures.  All attempts to impose order on such systems from the outside – all attempts, even good-hearted ones, even objectively correct ones – must reduce order and diminish productivity.  This is always true, in all places, at all times.

That, then, is the real danger of our time, the true cause of Trumpist Fascism – that this particular highly complex system is being Law-and-Ordered to death.  There has been, for more than half a century, a continuous lessening of The Voluntary Society, an abandonment of Jefferson’s inailienable rights, for the sake of each side’s ever-more-strident ‘of course we all must’; the Bronze Age delusion of godhood brought down to Earth or the demands of the Enlightened Ones that the rest of us must do the things they themselves can’t be bothered to do.

Thus ends the American Century; not, I hope, with a bang, but at the very least with a pathetic whimper.

 

 

 

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Kiss Your Ass Goodbye

Our economy will tank, and the long American Century will be over

The point of this blug (a blog until I opined on slugs) has been to try to explain my weird view of life and politics as informed by complexity theory, or as near as can be from a non-scientist.  I haven’t added anything to it for months because insomnia has abated markedly in the last year – the result of taking five different meds: Better Living through Chemistry! – and I’ve spent all the time I could on adding to my small body of work as a wood sculptor while my large body deteriorates – which decay adds urgency, if not talent, to my efforts.

What causes me now to add a new piece is the certainty that those same laws of highly complex systems that control things like the societies of (modestly) sentient beings prove – unfortunately with frightening certainty – that our economy is going to be devastated by the Republican tax bill that has just been passed.

We’re not a cuckoo clock; we just play one on TV.

We are the result of a long sequence of emergent properties of chaotic, highly complex systems.  Out of the ‘folding and stretching’ operations of the Universe, Life emerged; seeming an impossibility, it is actually an inevitability given the immense number of constituent parts inter-relating over time.  Life may be a one-in-a-gazillion shot, but when the dice are rolled many gazillions of times over and over for billions of years, the emergent property of the Universe that is Life becomes inevitable.

Life is therefore an emergent property of the Universe; reproducibility and inheritability are emergent properties of Life; evolution is an emergent property of Life’s self-replication; ever-more-powerful brains are an emergent property of evolution; self-awareness – that is, Mind – is an emergent property of brains; and society, culture, is an emergent property of sentient beings’ minds.

But those same laws of complexity command that this emergence of culture as a highly-complex system must be hidden from sentience.  Human intelligence, such as it is, has arisen out of the complexity of the brain, but Mind needs to perceive itself as in hierarchical command of Brain, and Brain of Body – else it tears itself apart when confronted by the cacophony of divergent thoughts, emotions, desires, needs that exists in each of us and drive our actions.  The Mind’s self-arising must be hidden from that brain which gives rise to it, else that very chaos from which it arises becomes too much noise – more input than any mind could live with.  We are strongly prejudiced towards seeing ourselves and the world around us as simple, determinative systems when in fact they are highly complex ones.  This is our next great challenge as a species that has taken over all of nature; the Anthropocene is upon us.   We will eventually recognize and respond intelligently to this new age of human responsibility for all things, or the planet will shake us off and move on to a post-human age.

We keep seeing determinism – governance as a top-down structuring – where in fact there is non-linearity – governance as a force of limited powers within a highly-complex system of local relationships where each individual part is at liberty to relate to those around it limited only by its own nature.  In this nation, we had a good beginning; a declaration that each of us owns our own lives, has the right to act as long as our actions do not limit the same right of others around us, and can define happiness for ourselves.  It’s a declaration that we never have lived up to, and that few now believe; but when we move toward it there is an increase of order and productivity, and less order whenever we move away from it.   That, more than any other thing, is what Trump’s fascist governance proves.

There has always been, and I suspect will always be, at least a third of us who have never accepted this idea of Liberty and have always, and will always, yearn for the false certainty of Authority.  This cowardly clinging to Dear Leader when our society is stressed will appeal to ever more, and they will shake off even the pretense of belief in something as insignificant as Liberty.

And so we have the Republican Party.  It is frighteningly clear that it has shed the costume of republican beliefs to show us its true self as a fascist enterprise.  They will free the obscenely rich of the burdens of paying back into the society any part of the wealth they have extracted from it.  They have, in fact, consistently supported all extractive industries and have become one itself, harvesting all wealth into a tiny minority who live global lives with little interest in what happens to the carcass they are hollowing out and leaving behind, as long as they get theirs.

The Republican extremists do this because they truly believe that the Rich are the great motive, creative force of our nation upon which all depends.  They see all this wealth and power as the true engine of our economy.  Complexity Science proves them wrong – but why should they care?

Consider a clock.  If the clock is slowing down, you rewind the mainspring.  You don’t worry about the cuckoo, the varnish, the numbers on the face – none of those things could affect the deterministic system that is a clock.  All the power is coming from the spring, so once you make sure that all the cogs are working and the gears aligned, you give more power to that central force.

But a nation’s economy is not a clock.  A clock is a simple machine; though its workings are beyond most of us, there is a direct connection between inputs and outputs.  An economy is a highly complex system.  The laws under which such systems operate tell us that the order we see must self-arise from the system itself, and that any attempt to impose ordering, even a right and good ordering, diminishes order and productivity.  This is always true of all highly complex systems.

That’s it in a nutshell.  Simple systems are always a hierarchy; do X, and then Y will happen, order increased by order imposed.  Complex systems get their order from the interactions of the mass of individual parts; impose order and the system wobbles, increase that imposition and the system fails.

And so the Republican decades-long program of tearing apart Democracy.  They cannot help themselves; they see a clockwork universe and try to ‘fix’ it by making the strong stronger and the rich richer, they try to wind the mainspring.

But the rich and powerful are the result, not the cause, of our highly complex economy.  The true power, the real driver of economic activity, is the great mass of people in the middle and lower classes, the activities of the most of us.  Strengthen the top, and the only result is that the top gets stronger without effecting the great mass of us, as tax cut after tax cut has shown.  Strengthen that great mass of people – not the Richest, but the Most – and economic activity increases, as Kennedy, Clinton and Obama proved.

Complexity Theory proves that a highly complex system such as the economies of advanced cultures of sentient beings must be strengthened from the ground up, from the vast numbers of transactions of the multitudes.  Those large organizations and concentrations of wealth that such economies give rise to are the effect, not the source, of economic activity.  Therefore, anything done to directly strengthen such concentrations of wealth must – must – reduce economic activity.  Add to that the weakening of the economic power of those multitudes, and economic activity must – must – suffer a great reduction.

We have a name for such great reductions of economic activity; Depression.

 

So what does the new tax plan do?  It takes $4.5 TRILLION from the true engine of economic activity, plus another $1.5 trillion on the cuff, weakening the very core of the economy.  It gives that 6 trillion dollars to the least productive part of the economy.

For all that will do for us, they might as well burn it.   Where that $6 trillion goes to is not the problem; since our economy is a complex, not a simple, system, the health of the top is of very little importance.  The rich have absolutely no reason to re-invest any of that vast sum in production – they’re not going to make grommets when that great mass of economic activity has been made so much weaker that those consumer goods that use grommets are now beyond the means of ever-more people.  Thus a catastrophic feedback-loop of economic constriction that rapidly collapses the economy.

 

We can expect that weakening of the true motive power of the economy to start very quickly.  As that great mass of the lower- and middle-class begins to understand how this anti-productivity bill will effect them, they will reduce their own spending in order to pay their higher tax bill.  We may get an initial burst as some of the upper-middle-class see less money taken out in tax withholding, but it will not last long as they come to understand the other ways in which their costs go up.  This is, after all, a tax increase for most people, especially the largest group of them, the Working Poor; and the ending of one of the core parts of the (deeply flawed – see Don’t Call It Obamacare) ACA will quickly increase their health costs.

By Spring, at the outside, the writing will be on the wall as our economy falters and fails.  That great mass of economic activity that is the true engine of our – of any – nation will suffer a rapid, and rapidly increasing, decline.  It’s now unavoidable.

Ah, you say, but why would the Super-Rich tank the economy that its own wealth depends on?  Because they too believe that they are the motive force, that their own wealth proves that they, not us, are the significant part, the Cogs and Gears of the Economy, that strengthening them strengthens all.  So it is always; Greed is a powerful intoxicant.  They are drunk with their own power.  Being rich, folks, is no proof against being stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

You are John Galt

Ayn Rand’s failure to achieve objectivity doomed her philosophy, and infests both Republicans and Libertarians with lunacy

For readers whose lives have been blessed by a complete absence of awareness of Ayn Rand’s writings – for Lack of God’s sake, don’t read them! – a brief ‘splanation is in order.  (Thus a running joke I keep telling; that I can be brief about anything.)  Ayn Rand was a Russian-born American writer of repellent romance novels in which she indulged in entirely emotional political observations disguised as ‘objectivity’ that brought the action to a halt while we are expected to stand in awe of her brilliance.  She believed, over her long, tedious life and with consuming passion, in the inalienable right of every man, woman and child on the planet to be completely free to completely agree with every single thought Ayn Rand ever had.  And that pretty much sums up her philosophy; all the rest is merely her personal history warped into small-minded political theory.

She grew up under the domination of an emotionally distant and autocratic father (boy, there’s a rare thing upon our Earth) who she loved with her whole mind and soul.  This love shaped her thinking in ways she entirely failed to understand or appreciate.  Her philosophy of selfishness became a worship of the rich and powerful over every other consideration.

She was a stunningly bad writer.  I was attracted to Libertarian philosophy as a teen, based on things I’d read, and so came to her novels with an already-forming appreciation for the importance of liberty, and of the ‘voluntary society’ as I’d heard described in Civics classes since the fifth grade.  After high school, when I had become friends with several students at an upscale Liberal Arts college near the lower-middle-class neighborhood we lived in, I read ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to understand her ideas at the same time my friends were encountering – well, to be more honest, forced to read – her novels in their Literature classes.

We all had pretty much the same reaction to her thick, foggy, unreal characters with their bizarre motivations and twisted sexuality – never two people making love, always a man taking a woman by force with the woman resisting until she became Overwhelmed by His Masculinity and willingly Gave In to His Domination.  What decent human being would want to be either part of this ugly kind of – well, you can’t really call it ‘love’, can you?  Fine for those warped souls who are into Dominance and Submission, but not much there for human beings.

We all thought this was yucky and not believable at all, so much so that it became a running joke with us.  “I love you, Pamela!  You are my heart, my soul.  You consume my mind.  You are everything to me!  And so I must leave you, and become your mortal enemy!  I must spend my life destroying everything you stand for, until you lie before me, bereft of all that you have achieved!  Because I love you!”  “I hate you, Theodore!  I despise you and everything you stand for.  Therefore I will marry you, and make our lives together an endless chain of worthless accomplishment until we grow to be empty shells of once-human wreckage, until your love for me turns to hate!”  I promise you, if you read her muck – please don’t – you’ll see this mocking is accurate.

I had a lot of trouble finishing Fountainhead – I’m not sure I ever did – because of this very unattractive vision of inhuman human relationships, but more than that, because I had no sympathy for the central character’s motivations.  I had known since an early age that I wanted to be an artist, and had already formed ideas that I have kept all these long years since; that nobody’s concepts had any importance at all except mine in what I should make, what it should ‘mean’, how I would work or what vision I should create – up until I was done, until I had presented it to the world, at which point I had had my chance to speak, and had to shut up.  My artwork would be about me and only about me; but once I’d finished, it had to stand on its own, and then only other people’s ideas mattered.  If one person thought it was wonderful, then it was wonderful; if another thought it was garbage, then it was garbage.  I’d had my chance to speak; if I’d failed to say what was in my mind and heart, so much for me.  Art is a deeply personal experience, belonging entirely to the person having it, and at that point, to hell with the artist.

That might seem, to anyone who has encountered this thick, ugly book, to be pretty much what the architect at the center of the hopeless BDSM apologia that is ‘The Fountainhead’ believes.  Here’s the thing:  He’s an architect!  He imagined that the tall apartment tower he’d designed was his and his alone, and when the people who paid for it to be built had the gall to add balconies to his design, he had the right to burn it down.

This repelled me.  If he wanted, like me, to be the only one whose ideas mattered, he would have been, like me, a sculptor, an individual working alone; or a writer, or painter.  But there simply are some artistic fields that are – that must be, by their very nature – collaborative.  Even writers and composers have publishers, editors, musicians, conductors, people who make contributions to the end result, people who the artist cannot create without depending upon.  The great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who some say was the inspiration for Rand’s Howard Roark, was the kind of arrogant goober that she admired, and he created buildings whose designs will stand forever as monuments to inspired creativity, to the brilliance of his mind – but his buildings won’t, because he didn’t listen to his contractors and builders, and so his roofs leak, his beams sag, his foundations crack and shift.  Richard Wagner was also this kind of dismissive, selfish composer, and wrote some of the greatest music ever heard – but he over-estimated its worth, especially in his endless, moronic Ring cycle, where half an hour of greatness is stretched into nine hours of butt-numbing tedium.

So I was repelled just where I ought to have sympathized.  So much for The Fountainhead; mindless dribble.  So much worse was ‘Atlas Shrugged’.  In it, a man named – well, crap, folks, if you’ve read the thing, you know what happens, and if you haven’t, there’s only one thing I can say, one word of advice –

Don’t.

It’s Ayn Rand at her power-worshiping, dominance-dependent, father-adoring worst.  Hopeless.  But in a strange way, not really her fault.

Rand simply couldn’t understand the basis for her own ideas, for two regrettable but inevitable reasons.  First, she was so lost in her own endless worship of her father, and for any emotionally distant, dominating, abusive male figure, that she was unable to see how deeply it affected her philosophy.  Can you say that you truly understand how your own philosophy has been shaped by emotional need?  I’ve tried; I’ve been aware since childhood that my own deep rejection of authority, as much as I might justify it with logic and reasonable argument, is a reflection of an emotional reaction to anyone who tries to tell me what to do, say, or believe.  There’s no way around it – so admit it, right up front, don’t lie or deny, either to the audience or to yourself.  I try – but if you conclude that the philosophy herein described is merely an outgrowth of that resistance, can I argue?

Ayn Rand didn’t even get that far.  Her father, who must have been a repellent sumbitch, shows up in all her characters; her heroes are like him, her villains his opposite.  As much as she wished to state her philosophy in her works, her message was hopelessly clouded by these sods she couldn’t help but write about.  Thus did they creep into her ideas of the Ideal Community, where men – in her mind, always men – of great wealth and power, Titans of Industry all, should dominate, and where the rest of us should willingly submit to them.  Thus her ideas of ‘liberty’ – that each one of us should be free to find, and kowtow to, our own Dominant Father of wealth, our own John Galt.

Even among her own followers of ‘libertarian’ thinkers, called, snarkily, ‘The Collective’, she maintained this mad exclusivity of the right to think, bizarre in a philosophy that is supposed to be about the importance of the individual.  Members could belong as long as they kept agreeing, as long as they always parroted every word, every thought Rand uttered; challenge her on any idea, even slightly, take a position that was one degree away from hers, and you were out on your ass.  She never could see this was true, never could account for her own sick emotionally-distant-hero-worship and its effect on her thinking.  She was trapped, and so made a hollow, unsuccessful advocate of anything that could remotely be called ‘liberty’.

Even sadder, even more important to understanding Rand’s complete failure to create any useful philosophy out of her rejection of what she called ‘collectivist thinking’ (a rejection I share) and the second of the two important reasons she couldn’t understand her own concepts of libertarianism, was simply that she was born too soon – just a bit too soon.  If she’d been at all open to developments in science that were taking place in the 1950’s, by which time she knew everything she was ever going to know and had completely closed herself off to further introspection, she might have seen the growth of a field of mathematics that explains what she was trying to find in her search for an ideal of society that might have been worth fighting for.

She grew up in a time of determinism, a time when science was the investigation of how this clockwork universe ticked.  Science assumed that there was a way that all things worked, nested simple machines under all of nature, linear mechanisms hidden from our view, and that once these linear processes were understood in detail, we could control all things and perfect our world.  This was Science as she was taught to understand it.  I’ve always found Firesign Theatre’s statement of this inevitably flawed concept the most compelling, in Fudd’s First Law – ‘If you push something hard enough, it will fall over.’  Thus the trap she could not avoid; she truly thought that, if only everyone would learn the joy she felt at giving in to the strong male, society could be perfected, a simple mechanistic world greased by wealth, an orgy of selfishness – with self-interest assumed to mean a slavish worship of the kind of unfeeling masculinity that made her knees weak.

Thus the Atlas who, in her fevered imagination, held up the world; the Captain of Industry who she imagined was responsible for creating the ever-increasing wealth and power of America and the West.  She simply didn’t know enough about those Captains and their weaknesses, accepting as she did the propaganda that surrounded them: Henry Ford displayed his wisdom about industrial processes while hiding his abusive dismissal of the rights of the human beings who made his wealth, and whose inventiveness at every level added greatly to it; the inventive genius of Thomas Edison, who hid so well the actual inventors who really made his breakthroughs that few were aware that it wasn’t really him who ‘learned 88 things that didn’t work’ when trying to find the right filament for ‘his’ light bulb; the cruelty and ruthlessness behind the monopolists who made vast fortunes in railway, steel and oil – these users of other’s creativity, who made great wealth from the blood of others and left them crushed and impoverished, she imagined to be themselves the creative force of human accomplishment – the determiners of her deterministic world.

If she had been more open to new ideas, she might have learned and grown in her thinking – but she never did.  It’s the application to politics, to cultures, of this new understanding of how rare and how common is randomness, how the smallest things shape the largest systems – the science of complexity – that I try, and doubtless fail, to apply in what I call ‘organic politics’, and in my Three Laws of Advanced Civilizations (You can’t tell people what to do; you can’t tell people what to do, even if you are right; you can’t tell people what to do, especially if you are right.)  The linear science of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the deterministic processes she was taught were the basis for all things, whose precise understanding must lead to human greatness, fooled her into thinking too simplistically about the nature of cultures, and the motivations upon which people act within them, the vital complexity of human experience.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ portrayed just such a deterministic world as she grew up in, in which the source of human creativity was imagined to be a small number of powerful men – again, in her world, it was always men – who the rest of us unworthies depended upon for all things, and who we, in our petty delusions of importance, oppressed with our imagined equality; and just as a clock depends on its mainspring, if only we had the insight to yield to and be controlled by these Great Men, ours would be a better world.  In her thick novel, saturated with sickening domination sexuality, a man named John Galt conspires to remove from society all these ‘mainsprings’ upon whom Rand, in her own confused deterministic thinking and bondage-fantasy imaginings, pictures as being vital to the workings of our world.  By taking away these all-important men, Rand’s Galt would prove their necessity, which would – well, I don’t know, result in all of us worshiping them as she does?

I’m not sure where she was going, because I threw the book down at the end of John Galts’s endless rant, a swamp of foggy thinking in an opaque mess of a speech at a party of VIP’s that Galt visited, theoretically to explain why more of these movers and shakers should follow him into exile, but actually to give Rand an opportunity to lecture the rest of us peons on our failure to get all moist at beholding these Gods, as she did.

It was a tangle of weak argument and improbability.  These titans of industry were supposed to be standing around this big room at a party of vast wealth and privilege, dumbstruck by the magnificence of this speech, overawed by the stunning philosophy displayed.  I’ve known some of these powerful; there’s not one chance in hell they’d have let this clod rant on for more than about a minute and a half.  Movers and Shakers aren’t interested in what you or I or the Lord Gawd Awmighty might think or say about anything.  As I read through this clotted glob of speech, I couldn’t for an instant suspend my disbelief; I kept thinking that about now, one of the Rich and Mighty would clock the twerp.  A friend, as an exercise for a sophomore speech class at this college I hung out at, gave a dramatic reading of the speech; it took more than an hour, and not the most impassioned intonation could make what was being said clear.  Oh, yeah, sure; the Powerful Elite is going to stand for that.

As my own writings constantly betray, if you can’t say something succinctly and clearly, if you can’t express your ideas understandably, and have to keep backing up and running at it again and again, it is because you yourself don’t really understand what you are saying.  It’s not that all ideas must be simple ones to be good – far from it; but if you have to keep hacking at them again and again, adding more and more words instead of clarity, then you should give it up as a loss and rethink your message.  We lecture ourselves inside our own brains about what we wish others would understand, and are too willing an audience, too easily persuaded by our own arguments; but if you can’t make a sensible presentation of your ideas in writing, it’s because you’ve too easily skipped over some vital bit of logic, just as she did.  I got to the end of his great speech, this distillation of Randian Objectivism, and threw the book across the room, never to pick it up again – not out of rejection of her argument, but because I was aware that I’d just encountered her most important exposition of her reasoning and yet hadn’t an idea in hell what it was.

The true creators of our world are the poor, the used up, the weird, the desperate.  The rich who control all things are seldom of any creative importance; invariably they are users of other people’s creative genius – though I would at the same time insist that the using is itself an ability of great value.

Consider Microsoft’s Bill Gates; his entire fortune was based on his theft of the operating system known as CP/M (after all these years, I had to look up where that name came from; it stood for ‘Control Program/Monitor.’)  My first programming in personal computers, on the brilliant Eagle II business desktop that I learned to build batch files and a few machine-language programs on, ran on CP/M, and for many years – and wouldn’t I give a lung to still have these! – I had both CP/M and a very early, pre-commercial-release copy of MS-DOS on the old 8-inch floppies, which were very floppy indeed, and knew how to look at their hidden machine language code that both showed the same ‘boilerplate’ that gave credit to the designers of CP/M.

Thus the Gates fortune was based, unarguably, on the stolen work of others; and from there, by practices that John D. Rockefeller would have recognized and admired, he bought out, stole or forced into submission or bankruptcy the efforts of thousands of creative people, holding back rather than moving forward the progress of computing by many years by imposing on us a broken, weak operating system.  It is for these very reasons, as the unavoidable result of just these piratical activities by a man who hardly deserves his reputation, that Windows is today such a mess, so leaky of privacy, so open to viruses.  From the influence of his manipulistic nature, the Internet developed practices so abusive that the user has become the used, the product to be consumed rather than the consumer of the product.

And yet, might it not have to be so?  Since this story is repeated over and over in the development of our advancing technology, might it not have to be that the ability to create is a different skill set than the ability to generate wealth out of that creativity?  Might it be that those two abilities – creativity and business acumen – might be, at least in most individuals, mutually exclusive?  I think about whether I could get up every day and go to work knowing that the jobs of thousands of people, the interests of thousands of stockholders, the continued existence of a world-wide corporation depended on my ability to make the right decisions.  No, I couldn’t; could you?  Doing so depends, I think, on a focus of mind and a domination of personality that cannot exist in a brain that allows itself to wander about and see strange, often illogical connections – and that’s the essence of creativity, to ‘believe six impossible things before breakfast.’

And so our politics is haunted by Rand’s flawed reasoning, the unreal wanderings of a sexually deviant mind (not that I have anything against deviancy, mind) who didn’t know enough about complexity to guide her own thinking about political systems.  We are plagued by her legacy and the warped thinking it has led to, of the wealth-worshiping Republican Party, of the Speaker of the House who cannot see beyond his sycophantic obedience to obscene wealth to even imagine that the poor, the sick, the unfortunate might have any contribution to make that could possibly compare to that of the Kochs, the Rex Tillersons, the Rupert Murdochs of this world.  To his small mind, all these huddled masses with their plebeian yearnings are clogging up the system, and he’s here to scrape them off, to get them out of the way of the John Galts of this world.

The Republican Party may or may not be able to get rid of the ACA, to defund Planned Parenthood, to end government welfare, NPR, regulation of the stock market, to overwhelm resistance to oil pipelines, to allow corporations – ‘people’ in their minds – to foul the air and water, enslave workers, remove any trace of power from the lower classes – and they might actually not give a damn if they do; but certainly, they will reduce the taxes of the rich.  That, they can be depended upon to do.  Your Republican Party; comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

So who is John Galt?  What is the creative force we so desperately depend upon to keep us from drowning in a sea of the waste-product of our technologically advanced, extractive-industry-dependent culture?  It isn’t the rich and powerful; being rich is almost never the result of creativity but rather of knowing how to use the creativity of others to advantage.

No, the rich are not, are never, the force that moves us forward, never Atlas holding up the world; they can shrug all they want, and only their own privilege will suffer, nothing else.  You are John Galt.  So is everyone who solves problems, works to improve lives, educates themselves or others, volunteers, gives, contributes to a food bank, drops their coins in the little box that sits next to the machine that gives change.  Every act of decency, every bit of creativity applied to any thing you do, whether done selfishly or selflessly, each thing done to make your life or someone else’s better, easier, healthier –

That’s how John Galt acts in this world.   You are Atlas, and if you shrug, the world falls.

In ways Ayn Rand could never imagine, every small act of creativity in this non-linear world we live in – these are the things that make our world work, in ways far beyond anything that can be done by the wealthy elite that Ayn Rand, and today’s make-believe Conservatives, could ever imagine.  Be John Galt.  We all depend on it.

 

 


The View from Space

We spin out of control – because we tried to control.

So here we are, sitting in space, looking down on the Earth from the comfy confines of our alien hosts’ ship, and viewing this massive power shift in the civilizations of the planet beneath as our green friends chuckle, in their weird subsonic way, at our bewilderment.

They are used to it, you see.  They have the histories of many civilizations at their suction-cup-covered finger tips.  They know that civilizations of sentient beings are the most complex organisms in the Universe, and so follow the rules of such.  They know that complex systems known as ‘cultures’ can display great peace, calm, civil behaviors as the norm in those that are healthy, stable, and productive for all its members as long as they obey this rule: Order must self-arise from the voluntary interactions of its parts, not from imposed ordering.

They also know that this realization – that trying to act globally to impose Order, no matter how wise the ordering, will always, must always destroy order and collapse the productivity of the system – is always going to be anti-intuitive to any civilization that has grown in its power to the point that the issue becomes important.  It hardly mattered if the Romans or the British Raj understood the dangers of the Unintended Consequence when merely the lives and cultures of the lowly millions were at stake.  They are just so much empire-fluff, History’s dust-bunnies.  Or so the Great Powers thought; deterministic, top-down ordering got them what they wanted, so what matter the blood beneath their wheels?

But as power is spread to more and more of those dust bunnies, comes a different time, a time when technologies bring the lives only lived before by the powerful within the reach, or at least the dreams, of all – when the entire planet has enough wealth that all intelligent beings on it come to want control of their own lives.  Things become very different then, and very dangerous: The mistakes a technologically advancing culture can make are powerful enough to snuff out their civilization, and their populations, entirely.

Klaxa and Quionxilla have seen this happen.  They know they are watching a tipping-point as the system as a whole behaves in predictable, but to those living it out, bewildering ways; that is, the stable patterns will increasingly wobble nearer to instability until a point is reached where new mass behaviors start to emerge, where behaviors previously accepted as generally the ‘norm’ break into many different streams – bifurcation patterns – including many behaviors followed by large minorities of individuals that are far outside the previously acceptable – and invariably violent.

The entire civilization could collapse, and that’s what Klaxa wants because he’s a blood-thirsty sod, and when Great Civilizations fall, they fall hard, killing many as they do and returning that minority that survives to live in the nature that is left, if any.  Quionxilla is a sweetheart – not ‘heart’, exactly, more of a smear of sponge all over the – well, let’s not talk about it, it’s not too pleasant – she’s a sweetwhatever, and she is hoping for the best; that a new norm arises that more effectively meets the needs of that large mass of individuals who tipped it all into chaos in the first place.  She wants the silly, rather ugly flesh-lumps beneath to discover that world of peace, decency and comfort that can only come about when its members quit trying to force these good ends on others and instead act locally, and live them themselves, doing what they can for those around them rather than imposing global commands.

But she’s not expecting it either.  On their version of the Internet, the Universe-Wide-Snotglob, they’re both betting the same way; they’re shorting Mankind.  With Klaxa making a side-bet that the result is an irradiated planet, the slate wiped clean, see what the lower forms can build back up to.  I don’t much like Klaxa, really, but I gotta suck up or he’ll throw me out.

That’s why they’re here just now, inviting me along to view in noble ease and with blissful detachment as the World’s Most Powerful Nation decides it doesn’t want to be that any more, and maybe not this messy Democracy crap either.  Will we hoomans wake up in time?  Will we keep this experiment in self-government going?

They’ve made big bets against.  The race doesn’t always go to the swift, but that’s the safe play; and we’ve shown, as the great Walt Kelley once said, all the wisdom of a back molar.  Very un-swift.

What they are expecting is that among the individual parts of the evolving culture, with its predictable but wrong-minded dependence on control mechanisms, there will grow an increasing sense of unease, of dis-connection.  The particular cause of this for any one individual could be many things, many local conditions, but taken together they emerge as fear, anger and hatred – themselves fairly standard patterns across galaxies.  Beings led by intelligence must arise from beings led by emotion, or some analog of it, and will become overwhelmed by that emotion when under stress.

Self-awareness always arises from a state of ‘nature’, whatever that might mean on any given planet, and inevitably comes to see itself as internally a hierarchy with whatever that being pictures as ‘me’ atop it, ordering the brain and body ‘below’ it.  I propose that idea as an observation in how all intelligence arises anywhere in the Universe; all organic intelligence must evolve in such a way that it believes itself to be a single entity in hierarchical command of all its processes, even though that isn’t, and cannot be true – intelligence can only be a productive, orderly manifestation of a highly complex system in which that order has naturally arisen, not remotely hierarchical but distributed and variable.   Because of this it’s always hard for those beings to resist the urge to see that need for top-down control, that false but needed illusion of internal command structure, in the patterns it sees around it.  Our hosts see culture after culture making just this mistake; that the self-arising Order that brings so much productivity doesn’t behave at all like the simple systems needing top-down ordering that the culture is getting so good at making.

 

That’s why mayhem-loving Klaxa and sweet-natured Quionxilla are here.  They see this Drumpf fellow (they have a tradition in their culture of maintaining family names) as hilariously unhinged, but inevitably unimportant.  He represents little more than the unintended consequence, important only as he represents the disorder that always follows attempts at imposing order.  He is simply the way in which this particular culture spins into deconstructive insanity, himself of no real significance beyond what he represents – the disordering of a culture that had become dangerously dependent on centralized control for the imposition of an order that had become, for too many individuals, constrictive and unresponsive, a false order too removed from the lives of its members as they wanted the freedom to live them.  They’d seen it all before, and it seldom works out well; and again, with Klaxa’s side-bet that the funny little Great Orange Prune will, in his comical flailings and rantings, set off the planet’s primitive nuclear weapons.

In fact, Klaxa expects that, within fifty of our planet’s orbital rotations around its star, he will be able to return to a sphere that is little more than a snowball.  That’s okay with him – he likes snowballs, and expects to profit from this one.  Quionxilla hopes she sees an advanced civilization at peace with itself, with its parts willing to let the other parts be wrong without trying to force rightness on them.  She’d like to see that, so that’s her side-bet.

 

She hasn’t won one of these side-bets yet.  She lives in hope.

 

My bet?  That she loses.  That Klaxa and Quionxilla don’t exist; that I just made them up.  That when we turn our high-powered listening devices upon the Infinite we hear no trace of any other technologically-advanced civilizations because there are none, not anywhere in the Universe.  That it’s an unavoidable consequence of the nature of organic intelligence that it will not, can not see beyond its own dependence on the false assumption of an internal top-down ordering far enough to imagine that others might possibly come to do The Good and Right because it is good and right, and not because they’ve been forced to.  That no matter the kind of being and the nature of its ‘mind’ it is just too seductive to see itself as a unitary, hierarchical intelligence rather than the distributed one it actually must be.  That this always leads to essentially insane beings.  That technology will always arise to put great power and force under the command of that internal insanity; unable to imagine that the world can exist without this mad desire of the powerful to impose order on what it sees, organic intelligence always ends up destroying itself, controlling itself to death.  I bet that the Universe contains only burnt-out shells where creativity once arose, flickering candles whose brightness shone out only for a short time, and died.  That’s my bet.

 

But they won’t let me bet.  They think our money is ridiculous, and dull.  Such, while it lasts, is life.

 

 

Trumpism Uber Alles

What we can expect now that we all suffer from Trump Personality Disorder

There is an ultimate, foundational lesson to America’s swift lurch from ailing democracy to Trascist dictatorship.  It is invisible, unseen, but of such importance in shaping this moment in history that it successfully explains and describes these otherwise bewildering times.

Highly complex systems are those in which huge numbers of variables inter-relate over long time periods. Order in such systems can only arise from within, from the relationships that the parts of the system make with each other, limited only by their own natures.  Such systems can be highly orderly and productive, as ours has been; but both order and productivity will decline with any attempt to impose order on such systems.  They can be highly orderly – but they can’t be ordered.

When complex systems are treated like simple systems, those complex systems collapse into disorder.  There’s no avoiding this; treating a complex system as if it were a simple one, or composed of simple parts, ensures the collapse of that system.  That’s what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and we’re doing it for only the best of reasons – our inherent decency.

The attempts of Left and Right to perfect our culture through the force of Law have been the force that has driven the disorder that we have seen, and will see with increasing speed and violence, focused on either supporting or opposing the Great Orange Pimp – the new GOP.

The central, shaping point of this is that, though Trump as the particular clown show of the moment was not predictable, the conceptual mistakes of our shifting political system over the last half century have been predictable – and I know this because I predicted it.

It was in the cards that the Republicans, having adopted since the Nixon administration increasingly fascist viewpoints and methodologies, would have found some clown to nominate as their fuhrer, their Peerless Leader. Trump may be a hideous joke we’ve played on ourselves, but I think we can consider ourselves lucky that Ted Cruz is such a revolting person; Trump may be a buffoon, but far worse is great evil with intelligence.  Every other candidate was running for President.  Cruz and Trump were bidding for Emperor, which was just what the Republican voters were looking for.

That’s the disorder that I have seen over my lifetime; that good and decent people of all political stripes, out of their own goodness and decency, have come to accept the seductive, dangerous idea that very real problems that they wish to solve because they are good and decent people can be solved – increasingly they believed can only be solved – by the ordering of government.  The good people only saw the laws, the regulating of behaviors, the programs, and went away thinking the problems had been solved.  They didn’t see the problems were still there, that problems like poverty and addiction can only be relieved on the purely local level by the efforts of individuals; and they certainly didn’t see the little pool of resentment, disengagement and finally fury that each new law created.  Speedbump by speedbump, the culture has been limited, contained, curbed; as the robots on MST3K so brilliantly put it, with guard rails around the guard rails.

But the anger was there to see.  The good people were blind to it, because it didn’t make sense to them – we’re right about the ordering, so who that we need to respect can possibly object, because we’re right? – but it was there, the little pool that one law created adding to the little pool of the next, until there were puddles, and ponds, and streams, and rivers, and lakes of it.  Now an ocean of resentment and anger has brought the disconnected to vote for someone that many of them know is not up to the job.  Their anger, their detachment from any sense of community, has led them to the unwise but irresistible conclusion that it’s better to knock the whole structure to the ground rather than support more imposed structure, more external ordering.

So what’s next?

Since Trump is not so much a human being as a collection of automatic, defensive behaviors – as described by psychology as Narcissistic Personality Disorder – there will be a churning of aides and assistants in and out of the White House.  They will be bewildered by his behavior; but eventually, either from study or just by accident, one or another of them will discover how to deal with his disorder.

The key to working with a personality disordered individual is to learn a very odd three-step approach – something you must do, something you must not do, and something you must do.  And you have to do these three things calmly, with both warmth and certainty in your voice.  So many stimuli that you or I might not notice at all are, to the PD, intolerable; their reaction is strongly emotional, and the result is what strikes us as a childish temper tantrum, and it is.  Psychologists call this ‘infantile omnipotence’.

When this happens, an individual with some authority in the sufferer’s life must immediately make a calm, reassuring statement of sympathy not with the things the sufferer has said but to the emotion behind it, such as:

“Nobody likes to be misunderstood.” Or: “Anybody would be angry at being treated that way.”

This has the effect of reassuring the sufferer that his emotions are okay to feel.  Part of what creates a personality disorder is that the sufferer has an emotional reaction far more powerful than the rest of us feel, even as his developmental insufficiency makes it harder for him to deal with even normal emotions.  His lizard brain, which is where our emotions reside, creates a much stronger fight-or-flight reaction than others, and furthermore throws it into a personality much less sure of itself.  The immediate need, therefore, is for reassurance, not that the behavior is acceptable but that the emotions that lead to it are.

The second part of this three-step is very important, but is the hardest for us to understand; there must not be a connector.  No ‘but’ or ‘although’.  The first and the third parts must be assured and unconnected.

The third part has to be stated completely devoid of judgment or criticism.  The infantile behavior must not be permitted.  You have to state quite clearly but non-judgmentally that it’s not acceptable to act out in the infantile manner so automatic to PDs.  The sufferer has attempted to gain control – omnipotence – over others through means of tantrums – infantile behavior.  This cannot be tolerated.  Thus:

“It’s not okay to abuse those around you.”

And so the wise handler will wait until the tantrum is over, but not one second more, and say something like this:

“It’s perfectly understandable that you, or anyone, would be angry at being disrespected.  It’s not okay to abuse the people around you.”

Why no connection – no ‘but’ or ‘although’?  Personality disorders bring with them great difficulty at holding two opposing ideas in mind at once; in fact, both short and long-term memory are damaged by their developmental instability.  The sufferer is in a turmoil of emotion, and that emotion is so strong that it frightens him; that’s the only really significant thing about the tantrum to the sufferer, that his emotions are so strong and so scary.  So first the reassurance that the emotion itself is understandable.  After all, your emotions are things over which you have no control; you only control what you do with them.  Telling the sufferer first that his emotions are okay to feel, and particularly that they are a thing that everyone feels and so are not some foreign, inhuman thing –  which is what they feel like to the PD – is the first order of business.

But if you connect them to the last part – the firm but loving and non-judgmental statement that the emotion is understandable but the behavior is not – that ‘but’ serves in the PD’s tortured mind to erase the comfort of the understanding.  If you connect them with a neutralizing word like ‘although’, the last part wipes from the sufferer’s mind the first.  And all of this in as calm and firm a voice as possible.  The emotion, and by implication the sufferer, is all right.  The behavior is not.  Any connector, any ‘although’s, makes the first part disappear, and the PD feels only judgment and censure, which in the presence of the un-comforted emotional state becomes excruciatingly painful.

Eventually someone in his world will either learn this, or stumble across it.  That would be very bad news for the rest of us.  As long as Trump continues to bumble along in that pressure cooker of a job, his essential unfitness for his position will eventually destroy him.  But put some personality, some intelligence and ability, behind him, someone who knows how to guide him, to use him – and we’re all in trouble.

As for the rest, it’s a story easily foretold.  All fascist governments have been alike in their essentials; the slow erosion of rights, the calls to mindless nationalism, the imputation of disloyalty to any opposition, the manipulation of fear of the ‘other’; racism, sexism, regressive propaganda.  Trump has already done what Hitler did in his first few days as German chancellor – rid the foreign service (in our system, the State Department) of all expertise so he can fill it with his own followers, the ‘true believers’.

And progressives will do all they can to help.  They will make a great noise, take over the opposition – in our case, the Democratic Party – and become the most visible face of the anti-Trump forces.

All in ignorance of the single greatest lesson that Trascism has to teach us – that the American public fears the command, the sneer, the shaming, the condescension, the rules and regulations reaching deep into their lives of the Progressive movement more than they care about the problems Progressives imagine they are solving but aren’t, and more even than the possibilities of inept governance.  Trump may be awful, but his awfulness can be seen and resisted; Progressives simply cannot imagine that the rest of us are not thrilled at their snide bossiness, that anyone would be so lost in evil as not to instantly see their good.  Trump’s dictatorship will be obvious to all, and resistible; but from the relentless, humorless dictation of Progressivism, there is no appeal.  ‘We’re here to help – so give us your lives’.

And please note; this is being said by someone who has great sympathy for the goals of the Left.  In fact, I think that a convincing argument can be made based on complexity that the just, loving, caring, nurturing society the Progressives are striving for is the only way we can survive our technological advancement.  We need that future – we’ll devolve into inhumanity and greed without it.  But we cannot get there on the path Progressives insist we go down – that of giving control of our behavior over to Centralized Authority.  The only difference between them and me is that I know, as they do not, this essential, Complexity Science-driven fact of advanced cultures of sentient beings –

You can’t get to a better society by force of law.

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.)