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

Friday, April 3, 2009

Who Runs America: part two

“The evolutionist must point out that no God is required, no special creation, no intelligent design, just doing everyday on a terribly ordinary little plan: consume sufficient calories and some version of make fertile offspring; this is enough to make 4 billion years of life, billions of species, incomprehensibly complex ecosystems and the most incredible biomechanical creations.  It could certainly “run a country.” 

But this is not what we mean when we say that someone “rules the world.”  Though it, perhaps, should be – at least in part.  What we really are wanting to be clear are the lines of authority and the points from which decisions that influence our lives emanate, especially when the decisions were not on our agendas.  There can be another less laudatory motive in effect here: the pressing of responsibility for our condition onto others, while living an illusion unchallenged by rational reflection. 

There really is no question that an economic and power elite do a vast amount of moving and shaking far in excess of their biological importance: i.e., the few hundred calorie advantage typically afforded the Alpha members of the troop as compensation for their excellent genes and willingness to stand up against danger (but the species is no longer gaining by either superior genes or protection).  And so the real question: are these people part of the community of which we are a part or are they a design feature of the environment in which we live?  Are they uncle Harry, gone crazy and greedy, or are they really the cave bear trying to have us for lunch?  If they are uncle Harry, then we should and must discipline him for violating the mores of the community.  But, if they are the cave bear, then we must kill it since the only choice it offers is to kill us to meet its own need.  

Of course, our situation is not so simple, but still these things need to be said.  Our human expansion into multifarious relationships with the environment and with each other has become more like the complex parts of a large ecosystem than a single species functioning in the environment.   And our relationships have become just as interdependent.  

Just as the caribou and the wolf cannot survive without each other, we have worked ourselves into similar dependent antagonisms.  The difference is that we have a choice – or the appearance of a choice.  We only require a global financial class if we have global finance and we only require global finance if we are hell bent on using up the world productive capacities at ever increasing rates to support a population an order of magnitude greater than any reasonable determination of carrying capacity.  Efficiency of resource use has a variety of measures in biological systems, measures that do not depend on capitalist mechanisms for pricing.  If our primary goal were to gain as much quality in life process for as little material and energy expense as possible, the systems that maximize success would be in reasonable alignment with the major forces in the Living System of Order.  Our present goal of using as much as possible as fast as possible is in diametric opposition to the living order and is madness. 

In one sense then, running the world means to create systems of great sophistication that collect and drive the collection of excess; and to do this from such a narrow perspective that the damaging consequences are ignored, denied and pushed onto others. 

If it is possible for the bulk of humanity to impress on its most acquisitive members that an economic system that functions on a positive feedback loop, forever increasing the speed and amount of movement in it, is so undesirable that we forbid it, then the species – and the remaining other species – have a chance.  But to do this the question of who runs things, and why, will have to be fully explored.

Just as there is inequity in material possessions, emotional/mental stability and spiritual connection to the universe there is inequity in the power to ‘make things happen.’  This has always been so and thus forms the basis for the exceptional Madness of our present condition.  But for most of our history (which really does matter) these variations were part of and moderated by community and its integration into the biophysical environment.  Over only the last few thousand years, the human capacity to make changes in the world has exploded like nothing else in the history of biophysical processes.  Many aspects of human life have been expanded many orders of magnitude (in the manner of an explosion).  It is possible today for a person (or group), by shrewdly manipulating belief and physical force, to control the food and water of millions of other humans, structure the conditions of their safety and appear to dominate their futures.  It is such power that we call “running things,” but the origins and potentials are not explained at all in the recognition of their possession.  

The power to inform and initiate action has always existed in human societies, but today the potential of action far exceeds mobilizing a few hundred people and their stone tools; today the potential for action is literally mind-boggling: billions of newtons of force, trillions of metric tons, millions of animal lives (and their deaths) occurring over the earth as movements in every moment, all human designed and driven.  But while the magnitudes of the forces that can be commanded have increased 100s, 1000s, even billions of times the motives and wisdom for their control have actually diminished in proportion. 

Ordinary human minds driven by ordinary human motives have, by the vicissitudes of talent, need and desire, come into possession of the controls for these great forces.  They are changed by such powers – just as Lord Acton surmised [1].  But not so much by corruption as by the mismatch of human wisdom and the powers attained; more like a baby at the controls of an Abrams tank.  However, none of this is easily fixed. 

While there is no question that actual people are moving the levers of power, they have never been in control of the machine.  They have been feathering their own nests, since that is ultimately all that we really understand how to do, and bringing along a work force, an army, a bureaucracy as needed for each of the little comprehensible steps. 

At various times in our recorded history the machine has become so overgrown and unwieldy that it begins to come apart no matter how fast the levers are pulled.  Like a net thrown over the tiger, madness and audacity serve for a time to guide the action, but finally the machine comes apart. The momentum of our motion, just like in high school physics class, will be conserved and great forces are unpredictably released as the integrity of the motion disintegrates. 

This is the future we are facing, a “future” that has been faced many before us.  It is different this time because we are approaching biological limits on the one hand, and the size and speed of the human machine is so much greater than ever before on the other.  But the same in that those “running the world” have lost control – a control they never really had in the first place.  So we ask the wrong question when we seek to understand by looking for the hidden malignant geniuses: the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Ernst Stavro Blofeld,  Lex Luther, Keyser Söze.  

There is, of course, comfort in the idea that if we could just get Obama to do the right thing….  But these are the wrong questions.  The right ones? Where is the source of the powers that actually control my life?  What are my real choices?  Who runs my life?  What do I want from my life and how can I get it?   How can I discover what is best for me and my community? (One more in this series of essays.) 

[1] Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority.  There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

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