A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Language As Tool And Trap

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Need For New Foundational Principles


Preamble: Proposing political and economic changes without establishing a new system of ideas (deep social change) becomes only a matter of reallocating the continuing form of existing power relations.  The depth of the changes has to be more than ‘surface’ deep.  A new system must address all the issues, explain and perform better than the old and extend into the future some degree of wisdom.  In this way a new political/social/economic system is like a theory in science – the summation of the best evidence organized by systematic ideation and tested by consensus among those best informed on the matters at hand.  There is no certainty here and the incentives of power, privilege and wealth are always nipping at the heels of the truth, but it is all that we have.

Broadly there are two ways to approach the organization of experience: one is to attempt to put together an understanding event by event; the other is to find some foundational principle or principles from which to evaluate events [1]. Both methods have their failings. In the first case, there is no reason that the events alone will present any accurate picture of what underlies and organizes them, and further, the perception of events can be controlled by those reporting on them since over our many years and achievements there have come to be many more events of substance than it is possible for an individual person to directly perceive.  In the second case “foundational principles” come in all forms from the completely insane, to the distantly removed, to the reasonably veridical; the primary danger is that the selection of such principles will be made to support some pragmatic and ongoing social or power relationship that offers no useful source of broad-based understanding.

It seems obvious that a ‘correct’ summarizing of many events would lead to the structuring of useful broad-based foundational principles; this is the essential process-based principle of science… as well as the essential Consciousness Order human adaptive process. It is also obvious that comprehensive, appropriate foundational principles applied to a cacophony of events could organize them into understandable systems of actions.

The sand in the gears is, of course, methods for establishing the correctness of event evaluation and selection of foundational principles. Science pragmatically ‘solves’ this dilemma with subject-specific training for research, clear expectations of ethical standards and peer review of research studies; and consensus requirements for the formation of foundational scientific theories.  Science process, therefore, can only properly study events for which research rules apply, and these are generally quite strict – mathematically strict.  This doesn’t mean, however, that important understandings based on how science process works can’t be gleaned and applied to the less precise, actually messy, world of daily life.

The sine qua non of human expansion of numbers and influence has been that rather than having to test all of our behaviors against the uncompromising standards of life and death – as do (almost) all the other organisms whose only tool for carrying information to the next generation is evolutionary/genetic process – we humans create “understanding” of events, plan actions tested in ‘what-if’ constructions and prepare optional actions based on ongoing details as they unfold.  This has worked marvelously well, if not too well.  However, as the ‘degrees of freedom’, meaning the limits of error for our actions, have been reduced by our increasing numbers and the incomprehensible power of our technologies, we have to be more and more right about everything…. with the rules of evolutionary process always there, ready to have the last word! [2]

The present methods for evaluating events and constructing foundational principles used in our social, political and economic lives is, and I stray a bit from academic understatement, completely fucked up.  The great masses of people have a very tenuous connection to any information, good or bad, about the most monumental events.  And what information they do get has been massaged (or butchered) to benefit those who control its delivery.  The conclusion that can be drawn, must be drawn, is that attempting to gain understanding by organizing meaning from a summary evaluation of events as they are reported by media is haphazard at best, compromises understanding and impossible at worst.

The acceptance of the normalcy of this condition is madness.  All organisms must have direct and immediate contact with the primary conditions of substantive reality as informational source and guide: not some organisms, not some members of a species and not some members of a society of organisms.  It is a very simple thing. Without a consistent, veridical source of information, behavior becomes erratic and maladaptive.  Humans have adaptations that allow them to put off the consequences of their profligacy for a time, but this only allows the digging of a deeper hole within which to fall.  The conclusion is also simple: humans require a consistent source of information about the relevant facts of their world.  This source must not be filtered through a self-selected, self-interested group since such filtering will distort information for the benefit of the self-selected, eventually leading the whole human enterprise to maladaptation.

The selection of commonly available foundational principles is just as disappointing.  The most obvious list includes the dominant ideologies, religions and, distantly, philosophies.  All of these have arisen through messy historical processes and are presently driven by flagrant self-interest narrowly defined by material wealth and power. And, all of the most widely held principles have come to be based on deceptions and lies.  “Free market” capitalism has nothing to do with functional systems for the exchange and distribution of the earth’s productivity. Christianity, as a political tool, has nothing to do with the community-based values to which it once gave lip-service. Patriotism and nationalism have become weapons of power over the Great Many rather than binding forces for community.  Other, less savory, principles include racism, sexism, other phobic reactions to the various detailed negative, rejective principles taken up by “dog whistle politics” to frighten and restrain: abortion, demonization of egalitarian principles, and general fear of the other.  

Human cognitive processes and cognitive/emotional comfort require foundational principles with which to organize experience, but those most common today, suggested above, are not systematically derived principles; they are codes useful to some power center, propagandized to the general public.  The dangerous truth is that we have no generally acceptable methods to arrive at ecologically sound, veridical foundational principles.  There is only the struggle among competing illusions with their varying degrees of distortion, insanity and militancy to recommend them.

Christian, Jew, Sunni, Shia, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan; capitalism, socialism, communism, conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, monarchism; ‘American’, French, Chinese, on and on; supremacists of all flavors!  These seeming choices no longer have a future in the present world.  They only lead to conflict; and conflict only benefits those who are positioned and willing to parasitize the living world.

Humanity needs foundational principles that incorporate ecological economics, especially ‘ecological footprint’ understanding based on the earth’s regenerative and productive capacity; biodiversity impacts on ecological stability; the increasingly clear understanding of the human condition from social biology, ethology and evolutionary psychology; the common principles of all ‘spiritual’ belief systems rather than the dividing specifics; applications of the principles of scientific and philosophical investigation to social valuing and status systems.  There are more, but these would make a fine beginning.  The dilemma is, of course, as noted above, there is no method or powerful constituency to move toward these principle-forming information sources.

[1] There may appear to be, to some people, at least a third way: a sort of fuzzy thinking gauzing over these two options.  But, the failure to realize, or the active denial, of informational and neurobiological reality does nothing that hasn’t been part of human confusion for thousands of years – it is just the same old story told with what are presented as new characters.  However, the desire to reject the bullying of a narrow scientism is completely understandable; those “scientists” who try to make science knowledge and process even more exclusive, than is the unavoidable consequence of the detailed study of anything, are doing a disservice to everyone (science should have no trade secrets!).  The epistemology of science is not only easily understood, it is the basis of how we come to know those things that are undeniable across all cultures; in other words, those things that are fundamental to our existence. 

It has become fashionable to (often smugly) reject evolutionary principles and even physical laws (especially when they are not understood).  This reflects both the poor quality of education and the misuses of science, by what has become narrow scientism, to bulldoze people with ideologies that empower the few over the many.  This is nothing new; religions have been used in this way for thousands of years; and as long as fuzzy thinking prevails, it will continue.

[2] Exactly the opposite conclusion is often drawn: it has become typical to assume, as humans become more powerful in the world, that there is nothing that cannot be done.  A sort of madness prevails believing that humans are right, the world is wrong and must be remade by us to function as we require. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Teacher’s Dilemma


I recently had a student leave my tutoring program.  He had been making progress in understanding the basic math that would be needed to take on algebra as his next course in math.  I had spent a generous amount of time developing a process and presentation that would work for him, as well as visiting with his math teacher to coordinate strategy.  I don’t know why he quit tutoring; there could be many reasons.  But, my initial speculations turned into a more heavily loaded train of thought about some of the issues facing what we call “education” today.

My best speculation is that Tim (not his real name) left because he did poorly on a test that he and I felt he was prepared for.  If we think about the meaning of this “reason” for quitting and expand it out to its larger meaning, the key fault with present education begins to appear.  I had done my job.  Tim’s teacher was doing her job.  His ‘parental units’ were doing their job (as well as they could in a confusing world – he had more loving support than many other children).  The school was like many others that I had been in – the educational atmosphere was apparent and the teachers seemed attentive and interested.  The math course materials were a little too brightly colored and “attention getting” to suit my tastes, but the material was well selected, presented and the practice work well designed.  So what was the problem?

In a word the problem was Tim!  If we make Tim into “every student”, we begin to get the picture.  He is the product of social learning, personal experiences and the forces behind those experiences.  Tim’s life experience up to the age of 12 years had turned the native inquisitive sponge-like human learner into a creature with a complex, confused and unsatisfying relationship to the doing of learning.

I cannot speculate on the specific process by which this particular Tim came to this condition, but I am confident it was his life experience that has put him at odds with the doing and learning of school.  He is bright, personable, honest, agreeable to making an effort…  and disconnected from the mental state of inquisitive learning.  Again, he was not born this way; we, in the broadest sense, made him this way.

Tim’s life experience has made learning of, at least, tertiary importance – even uncomfortable, rather than desirably challenging.  Here is a metaphorical situation that I think is actually not overstatement:  imagine a physical training program with great equipment, competent instructors, good facilities, a general social acceptance that children should be in the training.  But… because of an unrelated socially sanctioned process many, if not most, of the children have joint injuries that prevent them from manifesting the human potential both possible and expected from the high quality training available.  And further, the joint injuries have become so commonplace that they are not realized as an impediment – the argument is made that many do succeed and so should all; there must be something wrong with the training.  Add to the mix that the conditions that produce the joint injuries are generally not realized as injuring and also have become important to the perceived economic wellbeing of the society as a whole.  And so, improvements in the training must be made without reference to or an understanding of the systemic injuries, except in the very most dramatic cases.

If we saw such a situation with this kind of clarity, it would be obvious that (1) training, and its expected results, would have to take into account the injuries; (2) the children would need to be treated in a way that fully supported their capacities, reduced the injuring conditions and remediated the injuries; and (3), most importantly, clearly and scientifically identified, the conditions that produced the injuries in the first place would have to be prevented.

If this is to be more than a queasy-making story, there must be real identifiable injuries being delivered systematically to our children; what are those injuries?  I think there are several direct sources of injury, but that they all originate from two primary foci: materialism and economic inequity.  And I present the hypothesis that education in this nation will not perform its largest and most desirable social function until, or unless, we return to a balance of material, intellectual and actualization goals across the population, and until there is economic equity in which all people are compensated for their contribution to society and not on the basis of the economic power to extort and steal from the labor of the community.  That, my friends, is the size of the issue.
* * *
Children are not disposed to hopelessness.  But, just take a look at the distance between the lives lived by 90% of the population and the images presented everyday and in every way of how life is “supposed” to be lived.  Pick a movie, TV show, print ad display; they all present a way of life that comes to be the norm of expectation.  And that way of life costs, in America today, more than 100 thousand dollars a year for a small family, possibly much more depending on where one lives.

About 15% to 20% of the population lives within striking distance of that goal.  Many of the children in those families can imagine crossing the divide between where they are growing up and the media based standard; their parents can give them some or most of the economic tools to move toward those goals; and some will get there whether it is ultimately the best thing for them or not.

The children of 70% of the population (the vast majority of the total and almost every child in public school) cannot imagine in realistic terms how to bridge that divide.  They have never been in a million dollar house or a $10,000 a month New York apartment.  They know no one who has an income of $250,000 a year or what kinds of activities have to be done to have such an income (unless it is the often illegal local entrepreneurial activities that support selected parts of the media standard image).

The “joint injury” is that no realistic highly valued goals are societally presented to our children that compete with the volume and constancy of the media presentation – everyone is to be materially rich at the media-based standard or they are some degree of a failure in life.  Children feel this disconnection in parental anxiety, the daily comparison of their living place with the images that enter it, in the magnified comparisons with those around them who gain some singular symbol of the media goal and in a dozen other ways.  The result is confusion, fantasy, sense of family and personal failure and the hopelessness of impossibility.  These are often deep feelings, like the lay of the land rather than the rush of river through it.

Since the nature of language is that one word must follow another, there is plenty of room for misunderstanding the above; let me try to address certain potential misreadings of my intentions.  I am not saying that everyone should be rich as a solution – that is an obvious perpetuation of the injury and the fantasy.  Neither am I saying that everyone should be poor; that would solve only a portion of the problem while creating others.  I am saying that the present economic inequity is injuring the vast majority of our children and significantly reducing their capacity to perform well in the educational system.  This is largely because they have internalized a sense of hopeless disconnection between the media-standard goals, the realistic options presented by society and finally the life goals that are good for mind and body.  The expectations of the education system seem to be supporting that disconnection: the people in education are just as much a part of the societal belief system as anyone else and have the same anxieties at not meeting media defined standards of material success.

The great difference between the performance of American elementary school children and middle and high school young people is a clear measure of injury.  The native condition of a human child is as an information-input sponge; supported in that condition and given the opportunity to manifest their interests in ways valued and found useful by those immediately around them and eventually by society at large, the growing child will become an inquisitive independent adult.  Certainly not everyone will be interested in the same things, and some more interested generally in everything, all in the expected form of a normal distribution.  This is not the picture that we see today.  Elementary school children strike a generally normal distribution of interests and enthusiasm which then drops off precipitously as they begin to leave the society of childhood and enter into the nascent adult world.  This is not only measured in educational research, but is one of the clearest processes seen by those who have taught at all these levels.  Children bring their whole lives to school; from kindergarten to graduate school.  They bring their psychical injuries just as much as they bring their physical ones.
* * * 
Let me present you with another hypothetical situation: you are a business person with a product or service to sell and you wish to get rich (really rich) selling it.  You therefore want (1) to control what people know about your product so that they desire it, (2) limit potential clientele’s interest in or capacity to supply an equivalent of your product on their own, (3) make your product socially acceptable, socially desirable and even prestigious.  You don’t want people to easily ignore, replace, critically evaluate or otherwise demean your product.

Since in a world of millions of products and services, very few enjoy that status of being truly essential or universally desirable, while almost all of them are pretty easily ignored, replaced, subject to critique and many fully demeanable, you have a problem.  If you also own and run the factory that makes your product or employ the people who supply the service, you have the additional problem of workers who can require that they have safe conditions, reasonable hours, living wage appropriate to their contribution and some authority in how the business, to which they devote significant amounts of their time and effort, is run.  All of which produce serious challenges to your getting really rich rather than just making enough to warrant keeping the business going.

What would be the most desirable construction of the population of people likely to consume your product?  Pick one: self-directed, educated, materially satisfied, critical thinkers or socially driven, uncritical, needy people who believe what they are told on TV.  Remember, this choice is for your business and not for the good of society.  I can tell you from my years in business that most business people are not hypocritical with this choice: they want the people who buy their product and lots of them; and it is just too bad that, for most products and services, the self-directed, educated, critical thinkers are not the most sought after clientele.  A similar thing can be said for employees: educated enough to do the work, but not so well informed or socially free to demand a fully equitable share of the profit. (Though most business folks will admit to wanting pliant clients and employees, explanations of why that condition is really good for them can be most inventive.)

In an economically driven society it is this business process that inordinately influences government and the social order, and it is this resolute, even arrogant, state of business need that begins to set the standards of education as it develops more and more social influence with advertising, product placement and general media content, both entertainment and news.  But….

It is not business’ intention to dumb-down the population and to ruin the lives of mis-educated multitudes.  Business leaders would reject such an assertion, as they should.  They only want to get rich from their efforts, just as everyone should.  And so, round and round it goes and where it stops only those who have thought it through knows.

Oh yes, and I wish Tim the best.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Asymmetry


There are two great social/political asymmetries that must be realized to understand present political, economic and social life: they are 1) the asymmetry of constructive action vs. destructive action and 2) the asymmetry of organized, monetized corporate action vs. actions arising from public concerns.

In the first case, constructive action must be comprehensible and orderly; foundations must be constructed before walls, first floors constructed before second floors; ideational systems must be in place, lines of responsibility drawn.  Destructive action can be ad hoc, even intentionally confusing; holes can be knocked in walls by hammers, explosives or heavy equipment; random damage can be as effective as discoverable orderly process if the goal is to take advantage of the destruction with no regard for the form it finally takes.

The second asymmetry is the perfect compliment to the first.  Monetized action can direct money to the organization and equipment for destructive action.  People can be paid to devote their full efforts to performing what are essentially random acts of destruction.  Of course, a well-planned corporate action isn’t random, but if the goal is to take advantage of the consequences of destruction, the planning is about maintaining lines of influence rather than the orderly nature of action.

The forming of coherent action from public concern confronts hugely different problems, and thus the asymmetry.  Returning to the first asymmetry, constructive action requires an orderly, informed and planned (as well as funded) process; exactly the conditions missing from generalized nascent public concern.  Creating effective action from and in the public interest is a constructive process and is easily challenged by random acts. Laying foundations, building the first floor walls can be thwarted by a hundred actions; watering the concrete, knocking down the walls, damaging the machinery, removing the workers, damaging or sabotaging the plans, stealing funds, buying off subcontractors; only the limits of imagination limit the possibilities.

To put this in the present political, economic and social context: the general public concern for issues, such as, economic inequities, social justice, constitutional protections, education, public health, international entanglements and more all require organized coherent action for the majority view to, first, clearly form and then to gain the momentum of many small actions to get the attention of government.  Since all the polling – when these issues are separated from political content – shows national consensus in favor of supporting the public good: more equity, more justice, strong service of protections, more public health, better and more educational possibilities, more transparent international relations and so forth, the failure of positive government response in that consensus must have a substantial cause.

This is where it gets interesting. One might think, by looking for patterns in the actions of forces opposed to these consensus concerns, that the intentions of those opposed could be discovered – a lot of ink and mental energy has been spent in the attempt.  But, such an effort misses the point: random acts of destruction work as well as, or better than, a defined discoverable program. 

Look at the issues presented regularly by the corporate press: creationism vs. evolution, guns, abortion, sexual issues and identities, racial dog-whistle stories, demonizing the poor and a hundred more distractions.  There is no pattern, just the meta-pattern of destruction of consensus formation on issues that would challenge power elite dominance of governmental action.  PETA, Benghazi, concussions in football, godless babykillers, your neighbor has a government pension, eco-terrorists, drugs and thugs, war on Christmas, hating Muslims, Mexicans (fill in the blank): there is no pattern; the intentions of the people driving this train are not to be found in the summary evaluation of these events.  These are random acts of destruction intended to slow and stop the formation of organized constructive public interest action.

Christian or Muslim; black, white or brown; English, Spanish or Chinese; middle income, poor or poorer; sports fan or opera fan; man, woman or other, young or old; these are all differences without a difference.  Common concerns belie all of these differences when the people recognize them. It is the type or class of people who are willing to condemn millions and billions to slavery (of many kinds), penury, sickness and death that are truly different, who need to be clearly identified, and whose behaviors must be either returned to supporting the natural interests of the living planet or eliminated.

But what to do when the economic elite has accumulated so much of the world’s wealth, and when most of humanity has completely lost both the skills and the opportunity to meet their most basic material needs without an economic system that we are told is the property of the elites?

One small beginning – after at least a day away from media of any kind – is to make a list of those issues that most concern you, and then largely ignore so-called liberal or so-called conservative media when they present “hammer and dynamite” stories to distract you from those concerns.  If many of us did this, and, with growing courage, shared our concerns with even those who seemed far removed from us – by those many differences without a difference – we would almost certainly find that we are in general agreement more often than not.

In my travels around this country, mostly in the “foreign lands” of the deep south, I have talked with truck drivers, prison guards, oil field workers and managers, old retired biker riders like myself, small town folks, big city folks, military types, weekend gangstas, lots of waitresses, college students, work ravaged old men and women, skilled and unskilled park attendants, professional biologists and geologists, black and white, brown and “red”, farmers, counter people in a variety of stores and the random assortment of ‘country’ folk who were drawn to talk to a funny-looking old man on a motorcycle.  My overwhelming impression is that the human glue of communion is powerful; left to our own devices, like children, we would be drawn together in, occasionally contentious, common understanding around the big issues of the great masses of humanity.

Such a world would have no place for economic and power elites.  It would not be a utopia – there would still be many opportunities for disagreement and contention – but as long as the values of egalitarianism (the central principle of the US constitution!) and social justice prevailed, understandable, acceptable and lawful solutions would be within our grasp.  The elites, of course, know this, which accounts for the present class-war and the random acts of social, political and economic destruction intended to keep the Great Many in internal conflict.

(to those who come here regularly looking for new content and haven’t found it: I have been working on a book of collected essays; it is finished and will soon be made up as a eBook.  It is called, With Nature’s Consent: the biology of economics, wealth and property.  I will post a notice when it is available.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Picture Puzzles and Future Images


I have always liked puzzles, especially picture puzzles; 500 pieces, 1000 pieces, 5000 pieces (I don’t do them any more, too many other puzzles to put together, but did once): fitting together the interlocking parts, gradually exposing the image, gradually discovering its final form. 

Shapes, patterns and colors are for me a bit of an obsession; I discover/make them out of tile floors, arrangements of trees on a hillside, books on a shelf or papers strewn about my desk.  And I try to arrange, into interlocking motions, the myriad actions of the social, political and economic world using what I assume to be the same tools of observation, pattern recognition, organization and intuition used by my evolutionary forbearers to make child’s play of responding to the most genetically clever instinctual evasions and deceptions of the organisms with whom they lived.

Only today’s patterns, the means used for prediction, are not coming from yearly astronomical cycles, seasonal animal migrations or the instinctual protections and aggressions of our living prey, competitors and neighbors; they are coming from the wildly variable needs and methods of our own species: the ‘picture puzzle’ has a great many pieces indeed.  And to add to the difficulty, the pieces are, many times, cut by design so that large sections of the puzzles can be put together in different ways depending on what the puzzler thinks the picture should look like in the end.  This is an altogether unsatisfactory situation given that finally the image that we construct must fit in as a coherent segment of the larger earthy puzzle.

Facile minds have created, from this overwhelming reality, tidy images of ‘..isms’, ‘..ologies’, ‘..cracies’ and ‘..tions’; really small sections of the larger puzzle hammered together with at least some degree of fit to the pieces; sections that are ultimately arbitrary and that will never fit together when attempting to combine them into a whole image.  The frustrating part of this understanding is that those finally artificial sections must be completely broken up and rearranged for there to be any chance to make the whole image complete.

The damning part is that humans dedicated to what their section of the image is to look like will fight, kill and die for that image. No one is willing, or even can be willing, to stir all of the pieces, of a seemingly finished section of the puzzle, back into the mix and begin again – as one must from time to time with a cardboard puzzle – keeping only those fragments assumed with the greatest certainty to be correct.  In fact, those of our fellows who have suggested such a need with clarity and strength have often had their lives destroyed.

The present, so-called, liberal political model assumes that every segment of the puzzle, no matter how poorly made, has meaningful value and must, therefore, fit into the larger image in some way.  The, so-called, conservative position seems to be that “conservatives” are correct about just about everything and have, as a result, the right and obligation to use every possible means, fair and foul, to sustain their designs, demanding that all the other puzzle segments conform to theirs. 

Looked at from the metaphor of a picture puzzle, both views are incorrectly assembled from a similar set of the available pieces.  In essence, the so-called liberal view tries to include pieces that don’t fit and the so-called conservative view rejects pieces that do fit. The acronym SNAFU seems almost invented to be the appropriate description.

To be clear, it is my view that there is but one final dynamic image that all the pieces can and do construct.  It is only humans who have shaken the puzzle pieces loose, stirred them and therefore must make an attempt to put them back together.  If humans can achieve that, if we can reassemble the sections of the universal puzzle – that we have scrambled, rediscovering patterns, forms and functions that integrate with the whole puzzle – then we will have gone a long way in fully developing the remarkable evolutionary and adaptive tools that define us. And if we do not, then the puzzle pieces that define us will be boxed and put away on a shelf in the evolutionary closet.
* * * 
I have taken to reading the wide range of media as I would examine the individual pieces of a picture puzzle.  Some pieces can be immediately classified by a single element of shape, pattern or color and need not be looked at further (until perhaps later) while others need to be turned round and round, studied and placed for continuing evaluation as the assembly of context grows; too quick a judgment leads to the assembling of false starts.

The main outline of the puzzle currently being constructed is the preeminence of the organizational structures that we have been calling corporations or international corporations, but are really new organizational forms supplanting nation-states: organizational structures ‘freed’ from moral, social or fiduciary responsibility to the human species populating the earth.  And ‘freed’ from even the tiny remaining sense of obligation to the physical world found in the developed nation-states.

This separation requires that the boards of directors, CEOs and the other central functional parts of the leadership of these new entities see themselves as qualitatively different than the rest of humanity and that their belief systems be imbedded in economic ideation utterly unsupported by biophysical Reality.  Assembling the many individual puzzle pieces of (so-called) corporate and nation-state government action with these design principles in mind allows the pieces to fit together very nicely – much too nicely for human comfort.

The relationship of nation-state governance, including actions of social responsibility, to their populations is clearly being driven by these new organizational entities.  The new model is not the simple model of capitalist competition – long since abandoned, really still born from its 18th century intellectual birth – but a monopolistic economic totalitarianism in which the new plutocratic entities attempt to control every aspect of life’s possibilities and withhold them for a price.  Living space, food, water, breathable air, medical care, movement and association, recreation, activities of creation (both intellectual and biological) are all intruded upon to greater or lesser degrees and charged the price of dictated productive activity chosen by and for the benefit of the plutocracy (really the stealing of work and the value of human life).

Such an assembling of a section of the human puzzle will never fit either other sections of the human puzzle or the larger puzzle into which ours must finally mesh.  But, there is no telling that to those who are committed to their own small segment and who can and will see no other.  It is an over simplification, but plainly put, their puzzle construction must be taken from them, stirred and reassembled on principles that include all of the parts of the human puzzle and in recognition of the total puzzle already assembled by the living earth.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Conspiracy Formula: A bit of tongue and a bit of cheek


The argument that conspiracies do not, cannot, exist is foolish; worse than foolish: insane and foolish.  Conspiracies exist everywhere.  The best ones are made up of two people, they easily keep each other in check, often with strong mutual interests and very little persuasion needed.  But, as the numbers involved increase, the requirement for incentives to maintain the silence of conspiracy also increases.  And there is a limit for how many people can be involved without the certainty of exposure.  Most conspiracies collapse because the incentives don’t keep up with the numbers of people who have relevant knowledge, but many conspiracies do pay attention to the needed incentives. 

Clearly this a math problem: how many people; how much incentive; what defines the limits?  Here is my simple minded offering for this under-explored field of inquiry.

‘F’ (amount of fear) plus ‘C’ (compensation) divided by  ‘n’ (number of people needed for an action) = ‘M’ (a constant, the total motivation required to remain silent).  This number might marginally increase if people are added who have moral principles.

(F+C)/n = M

What this means is that if you need 20 people to run a conspiratorial operation, then the level of fear and compensation must be increased over a conspiracy that requires 5 people:

(5 + 10)/5 = 3  ;  (25 + 35)/20 = 3

Another feature demonstrated by the formula is the interchangeability of fear and money: “I will fire you if you tell, and I will also give you a thousand bucks for not telling.”  Then, there is “I’ll fire you and deny you future employment if you tell.” vs. “I’ll give you $20,000 if you don’t tell.” Displayed in formulaic form as example:

(17 + 13)/10 = 3 for the first situation, (27 + 3)/10 = 3 for the second (there is almost always a salary base) and (5 + 25)/10 =3 for the third (there is always an implied threat).

Clearly, there is an upper limit for how many people can be involved before either the amount of fear or the amount of compensation will produce a value that falls below the constant, M, and the conspiracy is exposed.

For the sake of the argument let’s say that the threat of death (it has to be real) is 90 and the threat of death, torture and the death of one’s family is 120.  Monetary compensation becomes progressively less effective as the numbers go up – that is the amounts have to increase exponentially as the measured effect goes up arithmetically – such that the power of $5 million (score of 150) is only marginally more than $4 million (score of 144).  So, in our model, with a constant, M = 3, a conspiracy could contain with efficiency: (120 + 150)/n = 3, gives n=90 as the largest number of people that could contain the conspiracy.

But there is more.  The cost would be $450 million on top of the cost of making the threat of death and dismemberment of hundreds of people a reality.  If the monetary side is removed the conspiracy could include, (120 + 6)/n = 3, n=42, (the 6 represents base salary).  If the threat side were removed, (12 + 150)/n = 3, n=54, (again, always an implied threat) hardly changing the situation for maintaining the conspiracy, but changing greatly the dynamics of the situation.

Leaving the detail, but retaining the concept, of this model; what are the arrangements of threat vs. compensation powers in the real world.  There are 3 major seats of power: commercial/corporate, governmental and criminal.  If we define them conceptually by the ways that they might attempt to hide a conspiracy, we get: (small value F + large value C)/n = M, for commercial; (large value F + small value C)/n = M, for government; and (large potential value F + large potential value C)/n = M, for criminal.  Therefore, if we identify a conspiracy as, (9 + 60)/n =3, n=23, then we would suspect that it was formed out of the commercial sector of power. If the incentives were reversed, we would suspect the government; and if they were more equal, we would suspect criminal origins, especially if the fear and compensation components were large.

But what would we think or say about a discovered conspiracy that clearly originated in governmental offices with the form, (100 + 140)/n = 3, n=80, and another originating in corporate suites, (120 + 90)/n = 3, n=70?  If we followed the conceptual definitions, then they both would be criminally based rather than defined by the room from which they were directed. (A note here: the n value is the maximum number that could contain a conspiracy under the defined circumstances, it is not required for the model that that number are always involved.  Especially grievous actions might want to be protected by over-funding both the threat and the compensation.)

Some real-life examples: Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Bradley – AKA Chelsea – Manning and several others, not so regularly reported on, have exposed conspiracies that originated in government/military offices.  Manning has been tortured (by Geneva standards, if not by the reader's) and his freedom taken from him; this would get a very high F score.  Assange and Snowden, both, have their lives threatened and freedom limited.  Snowden has lost considerable income and Assange has been attacked economically.  In their cases they would get high F and high C scores.  The display of the consequences for breaching the conspiracy curtain is clearly intended to fix very high F scores in the minds of the other members of the conspiracies and it can be assumed that compensations are being quietly discussed by those remaining with damaging knowledge. 

The military, surveillance and “diplomatic” conspiracies exposed clearly increased their n value over what the F and C values could contain to match or be more than M.  It would be expected by the model that the n value would be lowered and that perceived F and C values reconsidered.  Another way of saying this is that the attempts to control and contain information would take on more and more of the criminal model, out of what would appear to conspirators to be necessity – the thought of doing away with the secrecy of conspiracy would not occur as an option (see Gen. Keith Alexander’s responses).

And finally, the model tells us that all conspiracies would tend to move toward the criminal form over time and the inevitable dribble of exposures.  F scores would increase as would C scores and n values decreased as much as possible – fitting the criminal model exactly. The conclusion has to be that, in terms of this model if nothing else (and I think there is plenty else), commercial/corporate, government and criminal enterprises are melting together into a toxic stew that cannot be un-stewed by any presently legal or societally sanctioned actions.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying, nothing wrong with probing the legal system for its possibilities, nothing wrong with whistle-blowers falling below the value of the conspiracy constant M and blowing the whistle – accept that the F scores are increased along with the C scores and the criminality goes up.  It is even possible that a synergy of action could reinvigorate the government sector of power with the will of the people; again, worth a huge try.  But, at the same time I’d be looking at plans for that ark.