A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Riding the Tiger

There are titanic forces at work in our various systems of societal functioning: political system, economic system, the ultra-complex social/religious/political mix.  These are forces driven by all of the characteristics of our species, many in some understandable native form like hunger, but most today manifesting as some pathological representation of species’ designs; the madness of institutional religion is one powerful example. 

In a way, like our understanding of the physical order, our present is the direct consequence of the most recently preceding past; we seem to have moved through our time with a kind of historical determinism.  The great forces, population, new inventions and energy sources, agricultural scarcity and abundance, military technologies, have played on the even greater designs of our biological and consciousness order natures: love, hate, desire, fear, power relations, preventive and preparatory action.   But while looking back seems to present, with enough massaging, a somewhat coherent image of change, our future dims to the most obscure vision even as we try to look only a few hours into what may come.  This should tip us off that our vision of history is actually as dim (or dim witted); we simply have already moved beyond its moment and can pick and choose (and make up) the patterns that give its designs an order of which we approve.  Our present politics, however, claims some immediate power to influence events while only riding them in the classic ancient Indian conundrum, ‘riding a tiger’ – you can’t stay on and you sure as hell can’t get off.

One of the great movements has been the increasing dependence of human communities and individuals on the political and economic systems.  Today a tiny change in the stabilities of these systems fulfills or lashes millions of people who have no options to feed themselves, protect themselves from the kinds of technology supported assaults becoming more and more common, house themselves, even control the space upon which they physically stand. (Note: give this thought more than a moments reflection; it is axiom, biological expectation, that every organism “owns” the space where it lives.  Only humans negate that foundational principle.)

The great movements are all ‘tiger riding,’ once begun they end with either being beaten to death by staying with them or being consumed by the consequences of trying to get off, i.e., redoing the institutions supporting and supported by the movements.  Our present global economic system is such a movement.  It is quite clear that growth economics is over.  We can’t tolerate more growth in population numbers, in consumption, in resource acquisition, in by-product (pollution), in biodiversity reduction, in habitat loss, in damage to ecological free-service systems and more.  On the big geological clock, ‘growth’ can go on for only the next couple of minutes.

The tiger is trying to throw us off and we sort of know that we should jump, but we also know that as we do the tiger will turn and eat us.  

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Reprise: A Response to 9/11/2001 written 9/11/2002

It is difficult -- and a practical impossibility -- for most people to put any of this in perspective: the crashing of planes into the W. T. C., Pentagon and west Pennsylvania earth; the responses of people in various parts of the world; the official actions of the U.S. and other governments and the peculiar importance the anniversary takes on in our largely astronomy disconnected lives.  If one steps back (way back) from the seminal event, it is a tragedy within a world of tragedies.  People have been thoughtlessly brutalized for all manner of causes -- it is a continuous thread in the human experience.  We need no list.  If you cannot come up with an almost unbroken chain of "wrongful" destruction of innocent lives at the level of hundreds or thousands at a time, then you have no education and need to first correct that fault before going on.

It is in the first analysis not a matter of who is right to slaughter and who is not; it is only that there has been a long history of slaughter -- the events of 9/11 are in that tradition.  There are thousands of stories of hardship, pain and suffering associated with the ill treatment of one human by another, and the morning of September 11, 2001 is not special in that way.  That there are many stories does nothing, however, to diminish their importance to those who live and die in them. 

We must not get into a calculus of pain trying to decide which is worse, feeling obliged to leap from a building to escape searing flames or, as you die, watching your whole family die slowly of smallpox.  Such comparisons could be made all day and only the worst of the Nazi medical experimenters could answer such questions of difference.

9/11 was a terrible thing for one bunch of humans to do to another bunch of humans.  Beyond that we get quickly to very shaky ground, and the shakiest of all is that we are in a war with fundamentalist Islam or even at ‘war with terror.’  These quickly become remarkably self-serving consequences.  It is certainly frustrating that the men who did the killing died in the same moment.  We were robbed of our closure, it became elusive and tied to shadowy forms: al Qaeda, bin Laden, Taliban, Afghanistan, terrorists, evil-doers, Axis of Evil, -- a charged language of political purpose not explanation and understanding. 

And so came the next great attack: the co-option and use of the event for political and self-serving purpose.  People’s strained and assaulted sensibilities were further assaulted in the cynical attempt to gather popular opinion behind actions that supported not the public or human good, but the needs of particular individuals in power -- hence Mr. Bush’s trifecta remark, a surprisingly candid admission.  The directing of the raw emotion and fear natural to the occasion into jingoism, renamed patriotism, and focused anger toward people that the state was preparing to attack for less honorable reasons anyway was classic manipulation.  There was just enough truth in the arguments to silence a complacent and complicit opposition. 

Now, another bunch of humans was again brutalized by yet other humans -- this time our bunch was doing the hurting and the killing.  Trying to decide what is fair is a very difficult activity.  We say that if you kill someone and this can be clearly shown, then you must forfeit your life to death or to a tiny cage.  If you know of this as a premeditated act, then you are as guilty as the actual perpetrator and you forfeit the same.  If you know after the fact and don't tell, then you are guilty of various crimes but not the act itself -- and this goes on and on into finer and finer detail. It is the mark of a civilized society to attempt such distinctions.  But in this situation because the first attack made no such attempt and it was politically useful, then the response was equally savage and brutal. 

In the first case a small bunch of people killed a whole bunch of innocent people on 9/11 and then a great huge bunch killed a whole bunch of innocent people and some not so innocent people and a tiny few guilty people, this killing and maiming spread over many months.   If you have trouble in this reading keeping track of who is killing who simply understand that it has been mostly a contest of killing innocents. The crime of 9/11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania was resolved into the crime of Afghanistan and is rapidly working its way toward the amplification of the crime of Iraq and the Middle East. 

And now we are at one full revolution of the earth around the sun from when the planes crashed into the buildings and so many people's suffering began (or in some cases only amplified).  Let us say today that we were attacked and continue to be attacked by ignorance, narrow self-interest, religious distortion, power and economic inequities.  If, on the other hand, we fix on the idea that Islamic fundamentalists attacked ‘us’ and that we must exterminate ‘them,’ if Islamists fix on the idea that they are attacked by American infidels, then we will only exacerbate the primary sources of our troubles and we will, in fact, perpetually feed the wellspring of hatred and distrust. 

Those who see terror as the only weapon to gain their ends need to have events cause them to examine both their ends and their methods.   This means that they need to see three things: 1) that terror is not the weapon that can meet their needs; 2) that diplomacy and other less destructive behaviors can have positive effects; 3) that their ends must be to some degree flexible for any ultimate resolution.  They will not learn these 3 things unless they begin to get some of their most pressing needs met.

Those who seem to possess all the power need to understand that power is a great trap.  Raw power rejects acceptance of others and finally only works when it is used; and when it is used, it distorts all relationships and cannot be recalled.  Clear victories are illusions, made up stories to be told by old man on cold evenings by warm fires, they are not the facts of life.  In life, great powers are great when they moderate their use of raw power, accept the less powerful and do not force the proud and the powerless into desperate acts.  This is the more difficult lesson to learn because those in the blush of their sense of greatness see no reason to learn it. 

As the earth sits in roughly the same bit of universe that it did 365 rotations ago and as we reflect on what will best serve us today, not on how we are aggrieved by yesterday or how we might aggrieve others tomorrow, my hope is that there is enough good sense in the world to recognize that one bunch brutalizing another bunch is essentially the same whichever one is the ‘us’ or the ‘them.’  And I would further hope that the people of this country would show the enlightenment of which many of us are capable and lead the way in this understanding. 

(Note from 9/11/08: The polemics of the present presidential campaign punctuate a history that make this last paragraph read for me like the misguided ramblings of a very foolish person.  In my defense I didn’t yet understand the depth of the Madness of the people behind neo-conservative metaphysics or the persistence of their muse.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Metaphor: Count Your Change

I love metaphors.  This is not the same as, “I love broccoli.”  I do like broccoli and I believe that it is an especially good food, but my heart does not swell when I acquire it.  A metaphor, on the other hand, can fill me with something akin to seeing one of my children drive past me as I ride my bike to school. 

I have been searching for a way to make sensible a very slippery feeling that has plagued me for several years now, since the 2000 election.  I have made money with various activities since that time, selling high-end art, photography, consulting and teaching.   And yet, I have not been attached to any of these things.  Before the election, for many years I did commercial photography, and while I had other significant interests, it was easy to focus real attention there.  After, I have been drawn toward the far horizon, always feeling the need to keep a weather-eye out.  Here is my metaphor: 

I am walking with a group of people in the wild lands over rough and mixed terrain.  I don’t have a good sense of what direction to go in to get back to something; say, back to my car.  The others don’t seem to notice that they don’t know where they are going. I realize that getting my bearings is a first priority, but the others are demanding that I repeatedly count the change in my pocket and do inventories of my daypack.  

I try to explain to them: “Things have changed.  We’ve been lost for too long.  We’ve got to get back, got to pay attention to the distant horizon and find our way.” 

And they say: “Count your change again.  Check off on this form that you have these items.”  

I try, but have no attention.  I want to study the terrain, take compass readings, estimate where we are, figure a line of travel.   No one is interested.  It has been settled.  The solution is to count your change.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Political Incompetence

What is political incompetence?  Is there some level of it that causes us to seek another more damning term?  How about not realizing the essential design of the forces that operate in our present world?  Think of the game of jenga, an orderly structure is gradually disassembled until it falls.  What if one player pulled out blocks based on some idea of how gravity, friction and momentum work utterly unrelated to their actual functioning.  That person would (1) never win, (2) never know why and (3) be no fun at all to play with after the sheer wonderment of the first (very short) game.

In jenga all that happens is about 30 to 40 little wooden blocks fall down.  The present political incompetence is acting to destabilize a complex of power relationships that, if sufficiently perturbed can only be restored (in a new form) by the testing of every raw force available.  If two people armed with shotguns make a deal to play Parcheesi to settle their differences, it is unwise to tip over the board; it may well be that they would see none but the first option rather than try to calmly find another substitute for a shoot out. 

No one in their right mind would attack a nation, make that two nations, that had done nothing to them (invading Afghanistan because of al Qaeda would be equal to invading Italy because of the Italian mafia; actually less well justified since al Qaeda was then primarily a Saudi organization).  No one in their right mind would destabilize or remove governments without some serious consideration of the disruption of power relationships – even by moronic accident.  No one in their right mind would attempt to corner another nation in such a way that it must forego its most vital interests, especially one with a huge army and nuclear weapons. 

There are only two explanations for such things: incompetence or an agenda secret from the people, an agenda secret from the people and that does not include the people in its considerations other than as instruments.  And in a natural irony, the later would be the greatest of incompetence.  I think we need another name for this administration and its secret underbelly.