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 26, 2009

Change Your Ways

“If’n you want to live in this town, Mister, you gotta change your ways!” Some version of this admonition has long been common in small town life around the world. ‘Critical mass’ population growth and the related anonymity have led to the different strategy of finding others of similar behavior rather than ‘fitting in’ to the more heterogeneous whole. So, rather than individuals adapting to a community whose contact with reality is broadly and environmentally based, individuals adapt to a community of interest representing a point of view and behaviors that are supported within their communities of interest – behaviors thus extended in their range of possibility well beyond the adaptations associated with a heterogeneous community. It is, then, the various communities of interest that must adapt together to form the larger total community that has in our origins been the point or points of environmental relationship. This strains the human capacity to fit into biophysical reality.

Immediate adaptation is always the primary concern. Only a small percentage of people are so composed by their nature and experience to bring consciousness process to longer term views of fitting into the environmental order. This was a very functional design in small communities. A thousand people could have their Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph or Tolstoy plugged into the universe of experience and possibility while they continued to worry about their numbers of horses, getting just the right colors on a war shirt or bringing in a grain crop. But a convention of funeral directors tend to focus on their issues, Wall Street investors on theirs, war protesters on theirs, the LGBT community on theirs, teachers on theirs, politicians on theirs, and so on. Power relations come to dominate environmental relations, and soon enough only the power relations are seen as “reality.”

Once a critical mass is reached there is no limit to the form of the presentment of the community of interest’s idea or ideology. The process of adaptation takes on the perverse character of a positive feedback system rather than a negative one: success in the community of interest comes with increasingly narrow and strident positioning and is not supported by accommodating and inclusive views. When everyone is essential alike only stark differences in the most dramatic directions make one visible. And in such a situation the deviance of the views is measured from the most recent extreme not from some total community standard.

It is no wonder that genetically nearly identical humans, also with the vast majority of their life experience quite similar, can come to an almost total impasse of understanding. We are ultimately limited by our capacity and experience; when our adaptation, from some real perspective, is to madness, then we believe and act in madness. Our present social and political design is created by and supports the creation of social units that adapt into states of madness [1].

I am not suggesting that we can return to small, environmentally based communities (with all their short comings by our enlightened present standards). I am not suggesting that we should return to them. I am suggesting that we must reconstruct the incentive systems associated with such communities. There is no absolute guide to truth, no prefect way to be an animal in the ecosystem, not even a perfect way to be a species of animal in an ecosystem. There is a process of adaptation that brings much of the organism’s actions into some homeostatic relationship with the biophysical space. The human unit of the ecosystem community was in such a state of dynamic equilibrium; that is, the incentives on individuals were such that the community functioned as an adaptive unit in the environment.

Humans today, in large numbers, believe that they are independent of biophysical reality, that we are special in ways that have defeated biology, chemistry and physics: this is, of course, madness. And the many who believe this have come to it by the incentives that have formed along with our great numbers.

There are only two ways to address the fact that: “If’n we all are to keep living here, we gotta change our ways.” First, such changes will not come from the leaders arrived at by the present incentive system – not from presidents, congressmen, coup formed dictators, corporate types or even most activist leaders. This has to come from millions and millions of people who simply can’t see how to go on as we are going.

Much of the world’s population is, in a way similar to keeping of slaves illiterate of written language and geography, being kept ignorant of economics, politics, business and even their best interests. Vast fortunes are being spent to control the flow of information and to maintain an amorphous emotional state of uncertainty and mild desperation. But the fortunes are only a pittance compared to the amounts that can be sucked out of millions and billions of small transactions driven by the incentives created by such control and fear.

The Great Many are, however, fully formed humans with all the capacities therein. Education, real education, so called grass-roots action, is the only way. People speaking to other people with as much honesty as they can muster, people simply letting their worries and concerns be part of a local social context would begin to change our incentives.

This will happen, this has to happen, because nothing else can happen. The madness and the electronic isolation of our lives, the fear of economic insecurity, of accident, of sickness, can only be kept silent so long. Sure, some will die alone in tiny rooms, silent to the end, but we are, finally, a noisy species.

I am calling for and presaging a great and messy time, a dangerous time, when we begin again to adapt to each other and the immediacies of our world, independent of the institutions of madness that have led us so far toward our destruction. I cannot see clearly how we can do this and yet I know that we will have to; no other action, other than individual and personal defeat, is available. This fact is staring more and more of us in the face everyday.

[1] Madness is here defined as the failure to act and believe with an appreciation of biophysical reality. This comports generally with the psychiatric notion of insanity as the failure to function in reality. In my view the biology, chemistry and physics of the planet is the base reality of living existence and must be the base reality of our actions.

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