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, April 24, 2010

A Human Plan

“If we are to act, if human beings are to organize and act, the individual actions must be relatively simple. This is not just true for the masses, but also has been true for the elites who have, in the many simple acts of excessive accumulation, created a complex and well-defended bulwark against changing their grasp on power and entitlement. Any plan to reform and reconstruct the most damaging designs in our blah blah blah blah.”

I have started any number of essays in this and similar ways. I always know that what I am writing is true, not generally understood and reasonably important. But… it is not what I want or need to say, to others or to myself. I put the chances of making the necessary changes, reduction of consumption, reduction in total human ecological footprint, to avoid most measures of catastrophe at about 5 percent; enough to work for, but not enough to realistically make into a life plan.

What is the most likely to happen is what people should plan for even as they work to make other futures possible. We should be planning for a series of economic and ecological shocks that, at first, lower material living standards for the masses in those places where they are now high and eventually make even what we consider essentials more and more difficult to acquire. The long human expansion is at the beginning of its inevitable retraction [1].

There isn’t a ‘plan to reform and reconstruct the most damaging blah blah.’ There can be no such plan. With the greatest of luck and the highly improbable unifying of much of humanity in meaningful common purpose, we might just pass through the coming changes with only a minor extinction event, the complete reordering of human societies after 2 to 4 generations of drama and trauma, but with much of our human knowledge and technological base intact – without passing through a medieval plague/Mad max period. Or we could truly hit the wall: billions dieing off at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as we fight it out for the last drink of water and delicious cockroach – with broken bottles and atomic weapons. This major extinction event would set the stage for a completely unknown “new beginning”; all bets would be off.

You might say that there is no way to plan for either extreme, or any place in the middle, if that is to be the continuum from which the future must be chosen. That would be correct – almost. There is one plan still available; that has always been and will always be available. It is the one that most humans have used except for the last 200 years or so. They had (We have) the option to try and live the life pressed upon us by our approximately 7 x 1027 atoms (we are each made of thousands of times more atoms than the number of stars in the universe) randomly collected from all over this region of space and modeled into our particular human form by the DNA molecules among them. We are, each and everyone, a living thing made up as a species with both physical and behavioral designs; like almost every member of every species in the history of life, we can try to be what we all potentially are: a fully functioning member of our species.

Discovering what this is was once as ordinary as being born; today it is a life’s work. And as a life’s work, it supercedes most of the madness that moves and mystifies most of humanity. Success becomes living in purpose and the practice of specieshood everyday. The greatest enemy of living in specieshood is not global climate change, peak oil, nuclear terrorism or any of these and more real and terrible dangers. It is the loss of connection to the daily events of the natural world, including the ‘world’ within our own bodies, and the loss of human community as the organizing, adapting and sustaining human unit [2].

But the social world (now the social/economic/political world) has betrayed us. In a procession of tiny uncomprehending steps we have disconnected our adaptive actions from the natural world substituting, in each tiny iteration, culturally derived content for an ecologically based bit of information. Today only volcanoes, hurricanes and the like attract our attention. Most people cannot name and give a human use for a single plant that grows wild in their neighborhood, do not know where the food they eat comes from or where and how they might find a sip of clean water should the faucet go dry. The very lives of our cells are at the mercy of a social system that is only marginally aware of and responsive to the biophysical realities upon which life depends.

Humans try to believe the social world. It has, in almost all of our history, been the grounding design for our wildly active and untethered intelligence and consciousness. For hundreds of thousands of years that social world was the complex extension of the ecology in which we lived. And we are, each and everyone, born into the world with that relationship as a biological expectation. Being guided by the community was being guided and adaptively responding to the full force and power the natural world.

Our present societies leave the greatest part of life out of the equations that describe trajectories and destine outcomes; and so, creates a terrible tension. Each human contains the full potential and history of life on earth in their person. Each and everyone ‘knows’ through the collected force of their fifty thousand billion living cells, each cell adding its tiny contribution to fighting to stay alive, that their life is important. When the social order in which their lives are embedded tells them that they do not matter, humans try to believe society’s design; and thus the tension. Their very bodies name the lie of the surrounding social world.

We are faced, then, with a great and terrible choice: a society disconnected from the fructifying sources of earthly life or the biology of the body and mind formed by 6 million years of hominid evolution. Our present dominating societies have ten thousand years of history marking the progress of the loss of connection with a guiding and informing environment, and the increasingly eccentric expressions of human behaviors: bizarre beliefs and practices, strange body coverings and the actual manifestation of the most remarkable imaginings; and these things occurring simultaneously with an increasing comprehension of material science, natural philosophy, mathematics, the physical sciences, biology and even some little touch of comprehension of our own nature and capacities.

Human beings, our societies and institutions have been disconnecting from the grounding source of our species’ nature for about 500 generations; disconnecting from the evolved experience that goes back even beyond our present species through the hominids of our origin and through our primate ancestors that set the primate patterns for sociability, infant raising, and other deeply formed behavioral designs. Just as one doesn’t need to know the vitamins to recognize the deficiency of one, to realize that something is missing, absent behavioral opportunities and expressions can lead to sensations of insufficiency. People have, from the very beginning, questioned the loss of a deeply felt experience not yet attained, and questioned how something not yet experienced could be known to be missing. The thought traditions that most directly deal with these sensations are Taoism and Buddhism supported by Vedic materials. I cannot recommend anything called religion – this is another way to give up specieshood – but the understandings of those who, long ago, recognized the loss of connection and who struggled to recover what they perceived as missing is an essential study for all who feel that need to reconnect to the evolved nature of the species.

We, personally and individually, are faced with this choice: to unquestioningly accept the standards and directions of society or to recognize society as the present iteration of an increasingly arbitrary existence. We can choose to live within the social framework realizing that we function in it as one might swim in the ocean or climb a mountain, an adaptation to necessary conditions, even as we engage the true existence of rediscovering the specieshood from which we were redirected from the first moments of postpartum life.

Such a goal and way of life doesn’t necessarily become “navel gazing”, though it can especially when the society is strongly rejecting of the effort. More importantly it can be empowering to engage the social ills that are so apparent today, engage them from a place of perspective. But with these personal and community goals one’s quality of life is not held hostage by the society’s Madness and a life of depth and satisfaction can be lived even if we lose the world that most humans find essential.

But at another level, if more and more people began to understand and explore this way – something that I see in conversation that many people recognize almost immediately as having value – then the more the fight for ecological integrity, changing consumption patterns, maintaining biodiversity and the other planet wide goals are supported by individual actions in the environment rather than diminished. But what is essential to understand is that this way is not intended to save our world from the increasingly damaging consequences of our excesses, it is intended to give each person the opportunity to be a complete human being with purpose and joy in life regardless of social and institutional madness; though this just might be the only thing that can save us.

[1] Our human numbers and consumption will continue to go up for at least another generation, but the signs of decline are clear; the most obvious are that we are using the productive capacity of the earth beyond replenishment levels and that every corrective action we take is exacerbating the failings of some other system that begs correction, all driven by our massive excesses. Those who reject these ideas using the fact that warnings from Malthus to Ehrlich and others, of coming ecological catastrophes, have not yet materialized are missing two vital points: one is that catastrophes have occurred, but we, in the first world, using our economic and military power, have been able to deflect them onto the third world and, two, that these warnings by prescient people are more like earthquake predictions: the conditions are clear, but the moment unknown. Los Angeles still requires ‘earthquake proof’ construction standards even without a date certain for ‘the big one.’

If we look at bases of the arguments that reject what the world’s most respected scientists and philosophers see as the most likely future, they are: that humans are exceptional and not, therefore, under the same rules as other life on the earth; all problems in the past have been solved by technology and so will these problems; there is really no problem in the first place other than trouble makers who are jealous of successful people; not every data analysis supports an unambiguous unitary prediction: These are actually a listing of logical error types of the sort that are most commonly used to distort and misrepresent reasonable and responsible decision-making processes.

[2] Community is a very difficult project these days. It is possible, with our powers of communication, to live in a community unbounded by time or distance. I can listen to Alfred Whitehead read his books in my mind-built study, ask him questions and hunt for the dead answers. Or write a note of question to Herman Daly over the Internet with an expectation of getting a living answer. And I can meet the local ones I love in person. If we truly understand them, communities are within our reach.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Responsibility Doesn’t Go Away, part three

The billions of daily actions that are required for humans and their organizations to exist are tied to individual actors by concepts and expectations of responsibility: the action and the actor are identified together as responsibility. Such a model requires a motive force, an engine, to begin and sustain movement. The motive strongly colors the ultimate form and, thus, the consequences of an action. The source of the action is a major determiner of motive; thus, a responsibility passed from one actor to another is changed in its affect.

One can give bread to the poor (the action) from moral duty to a proselytizing religion, from a generalized secular sense of social responsibility, as a paid job supported by community taxation or as a job with the “purpose” of clearing old inventory to make space for new. The primary action, while apparently the same, is actually quite different in its social consequences depending on the source of responsibility and attending motive(s).

These are subtleties that we as communities and societies have ceased to be effectively cognizant of and, if aware, are unable to bring into place as considerations in our decisions. It matters whether responsibility is seen as based in individuals, in communities, in leaders or in institutions, but it matters even more where responsibilities ultimately reside even as they are parceled out, rejected from this quarter, gathered up by that quarter: ultimately, responsibility for the conditions of a people can only reside with the people themselves – even if they are completely unprepared for and incapable of assuming the forms and levels of the required responsibilities [1].

In small communities, of the sort within which most of our evolution took place, the structures of responsibility were adaptively designed by the Consciousness System of Order. The evolved, and therefore instinctual, primate pattern of social organization was primary, but modified by the communities stories about the correct ways of living, relating and performing the many actions that sustained and invigorated life in a particular environment. The social structures of responsibilities were like the air, they surrounded and were “breathed in” with every moment of the living day.

There was no need for a critical component of thought about these matters. Certainly many questions occurred to the visionary, but they tended to be practical ones. Who was responsible for specific household work, for protecting the community or for negotiating with the forest spirits were not matters of debate or precipitous change.

Today, individuals are still working out their relationships with the societal whole, but the responsibilities of life have been hugely changed from originating community life. One of the changes, along with many others, is a lack of clarity. While we still have the same individual needs of the human animal, they must be met in an environment utterly unlike our origins. But I must point out again, this does not change the final residence of responsibility – even if it cannot be performed.

Look back to the first essay in this series for a listing of responsibilities and their primary actors and back to the second essay for the listing of societal agents and how they are failing to meet responsibilities. These lists are obviously not exhaustive, but are intended to give a flavor and general sense of how, to me, these things can be usefully thought about.

Our societies today require things in the big numbers, even public opinion and action. Thousands, millions and even billions of people need, for our present design, to act in similar ways and need to believe in common ideas. And yet these millions and billions don’t have a common base of experience to bring them to common actions and beliefs; so, either a common experiential base has to be created or the millions must be removed from the responsibilities that set the conditions of life. Matters of economics, war and peace, industry and commerce, political relations and so forth must be removed from public concern. The masses, so long as they stay within their own parochial concerns of, ‘if Joe is being good to Josephine’, they will be ignored accept in their collective macroeconomic functioning.

This is a perversion of old principles of Leadership. Leadership is to focus the attention of responsible participants, not to take responsibilities to itself and away from those whose primacy is historical, biological and essential. But it is easy to see the forces that push in this direction. In a world that makes major technical and social changes in tens of years not hundreds or thousands, a world that contains billions of people in thousands of different cultures, a world that offers instant communication and almost instant travel and a world with the ability to concentrate unimaginable power into the actions of a single individual; it is impossible not to come to a conclusion that an elite community gathered from all over the world should lead by taking major responsibilities to itself and away from the masses.

This is in process and is turning historically understandable political divisions and labels on their heads. Conservatism (in America) claims to be about supporting individual freedom while supporting the concentrating of power in corporate totalitarian institutions. Socialism, the supposed enemy of personal freedom, would return responsibility for many of the purloined actions to the masses, and would thus increase both responsibility and freedom, at least, of one kind (thus the great danger it presents to corporatism).

The complexity of our (the general public’s) responsibilities has become so great that they simply cannot be adequately handled as the world’s societies are presently configured. A first response to this fact is to pass them on to those who may be able to meet the responsibilities. But to whom should they be passed? There is an obvious answer: to government, to business and to religion; to institutionalize the responsibilities that are just too hard to keep. They will be given to specialists, and then they will be privatized and owned, and therefore in the manner of things become the proprietary tools of a select few.

We have watched, some of us in horror, as these castoff responsibilities have been turned government/corporations/religion into an incipient fascist police state of the Brave New World. Honest conservatives (not corporate shills) decry the welfare state for exactly the same reasons that progressives are trying to make the nation more socialist; both are trying to pry responsibilities primary to human life out of the institutions that have assumed and necessarily perverted them. It is clear to everyone from the craziest militia member to the most wild-eyed anarchist that responsibilities for our lives must be taken at the level of our lives; what makes these extremes so dangerous is the madness of their method, not necessarily their motive.

We can have a legitimate argument about which parts of the dominating institutions must give up control over responsibilities that reside in the people; where and which responsibilities are to be institutionalized for the purpose of giving them form and order, but we should not be giving them up, but only putting them out on loan [2]. The fact is that almost all responsibilities reside in the people, can only reside in the people. When they are given away or taken from the people their loss removes from the people their essential status as members of the species and the inherent value there in.

Reclaiming the rights of personhood (specieshood) requires the reclaiming of the responsibilities, and the giving up of the ‘rights’ of narrow self-interest. There is no science of human responsibility, but science is a major tool for collecting the information needed in making the decisions required of responsible action. Our society is largely untrained in responsible life. We have learned to look to institutions for guidance in matters that are fully and in reality our responsibility. We need to return to a messier time and process, even though it will be initially dangerous, painful and disrupting. If lost in the wilderness with only one day’s food and water, the shortest route out, even if the most difficult, may be necessary.

People, in communities, can make good decisions, i.e., can and must take on responsibilities greatly in excess of their individual knowledge. By combining the perceptions of those whose natural habits are conservative and cautious with those who tend toward liberal inclusive habits, and along with the group knowledge of possibility and factual information, groups very often produce plans of action that not only have sound structural foundation, but also the understanding and commitment of the group. Such heuristic methods of decision making have been in the human kit for a hundred thousand years; when we add in science and philosophy as tools, small human communities could certainly function as the primary units in a world built out from them.

Such changes are unimaginable in the sense of how to get to them from our present dysfunctional design, but the first step is always to imagine them. The responsibilities for human lives must return to the human many. Institutionalizing responsibilities has only created an elite who, from their perspective, sees billions of human animals directed from ‘above’; an elite that, for its own ends, crushes attempts to take back responsibilities and return them to the people. But the people, when acting with some unison, can take them back simply be demanding them; this is a first-order responsibility.

[1] Whole societies also can be unprepared for the responsibilities that they face and go on a bender, like an episodic drunk alone on an otherwise empty island. Cyclically and with industry he collects the materials, ferments the brew and then drinks to oblivion, neglecting the elements of a life integrated into reality. The whole industrial world is on a bender.

[2] This was the intention of the Founders of US constitutional government. And the history thereof demonstrates the danger that responsibilities loaned can be responsibilities subsumed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Responsibility Doesn’t Go Away, part two

I take it as both a strength and a weakness that I try to get to the heart of the thing, to the central place from which the rest can be both seen in relationship and understood in function. My beginning is always the natural world – I am willing, even happy, to take this as a beginning, even though I know that it too has a process history of some kind. But, I don’t question the lion’s role on the savanna or the zebra’s. How they came to be is fascinating, but the mysteries there are as comprehensible as the working of a geared clock is a mystery: one knows the spring, gear tooth counts, balance wheel and jeweled bearings do it all while not knowing necessarily the details for that particular timepiece.

But humans add a new dimension to these puzzles, not the least because of our capacity, so nearly exercised, to kill off the world that grew us up – and that I am one.

Many of the human attempts to answer these questions have led to even greater efforts to destroy the fabric from which the answers must be assembled: our religions and most other institutional belief systems have become such utter madness and are part and parcel of our rush to make our world uninhabitable – first as fully functioning members of our species and secondly as a living thing. That this is happening is an incredible mystery.

For example, the Christian fundamentalism that denies the details of scientific discovery (as well as basic functioning biology): claiming a six thousand year old earth with specially created species, one of which is made specially to dominate all the rest of existence, though also as the sycophant of a God who demands the adoration of this creature and tortures and kills them in great numbers when they screw up knowingly or unknowingly: now this is right out of an insane asylum! – though it does give evidence for the needs of our species. We cannot be left to our own devices (literally: we cannot be left to our own devices), but must have constant and important contact with the biophysical Reality or we quickly wobble out of control.

Real walking, real food gathering, real real… We must make real the essential needs of the living thing so that our flights of imagination have some rudder, some keel, for guidance and stability. In the reality of the present only the epistemology of science as fact gatherer and philosophy as summarizing instrument offer an adaptable reality base. The other option is for Reality to come unbidden like a drive-by shooting.

This leads me to who is responsible.

Responsibility is made up of two parts, the various mixtures of which account for its variety of meanings: one is the task or action to be preformed and the other is the assignment of that function to a member or sector of society. Usually, for a function to rise to the level of a responsibility it must be important to the society, and importance is very often associated with activities that have a strong connection to Reality. This, of course, is not always the case and many examples of social responsibilities can be given that are purely driven by social constructs having little relationship to the underlying biophysical world. That said, basic physical and biological needs drive our most obvious responsibilities: sustenance, safety and protection, community order, accurate information upon which to act, need for effective adaptability underlie the responsibilities for education, protection of the weak, honesty, being informed, supplying the basic needs for life as well as the conditions of order, consistency and personal growth.

While every member of a community has a stake in all these responsibilities, we are so complex a creature that assignment of specific responsibilities for action has been essential, not just in “modern” times, but for hundreds of thousands of years.

Who in the society is not meeting their responsibilities?

The general public – In their immediate lives the general public is the most successful structure in the society – people tend for the most part to ‘take care of business.’ But the maintenance of society has always demanded more. This is not a matter of fair or not; it is a matter of fact. Less than half know enough to be responsible decision makers; actually the numbers are closer to a quarter that have a reasonable command of history, current events and a willingness to examine issues beyond simple ideologies [1].

The education establishment – schools are seen as failing to educate our children. The public’s lack of knowledge can be blamed on, to a large extent correctly, our schools. Though it is a much more complicated situation.

Government, broadly – government is so varied that that which we like we tend to see as ‘us’ doing good and that which we don’t like we tend to see as ‘government’ doing bad. U.S. constitutional government is to be the central clearinghouse for institutional responsibility, but it has been almost totally compromised in that role. What that means is that it is no longer a representation of the people’s will and needs, but most of its dominant members work their responsibilities for the business elite, the international business elite at that, even as they give lip-service to public interests.

The political establishment – this is separate from government, but supplies its players. A quite distorted structure has adapted here; a reasonably knowledgeable and often thoughtful group of people have made it their business to appeal to an uninformed electorate in such a way that they actively and consciously attempt to misinform the public for political advantage. This is a monumental breach of responsibility.

The Press – Actually formerly, the Press; now ‘the media.’ The Press was to report on the events of the world beyond our personal lives and has had its ups and downs, but the expectation has been – the responsibility is – that reporters consciously worked at recognizing their bias and reported as factually as they could. It was therefore possible, when several independent sources were available, to get some bit of perspective – it was expected. Directly lying was considered bad form. ‘The media’ has different values.

Entertainment and the Arts – the responsibility of the Arts has always been to interpret the complexities of life and offer guidance in how to think about, participate in and gain perspective on, life’s beauty, joy and vicissitudes. This has always depended on bringing specially gifted and perseverant people into this service. The Arts in general have been folded into ‘the media.’

Business and commerce – our perspective is mixed here; if business has only the responsibility to make a profit in a capitalistic survivalist world, then we get one answer. If business is to be part of the society with responsibilities to social process and life in general we get quite a different conclusion. Segments of business have been meeting the very narrow “responsibilities” of profit, but have been abject failures at true social responsibility.

Religion – just what religion is to be responsible to and who is to serve as the locus of religious responsibility is very unclear. And yet, we traditionally see religion at the very center of moral responsibility. Religion has taken on more and more the narrow business model with similar results.

Secular social and special-interest organizations – like business, these entities can be looked at as having very narrow interests and responsibilities, such as funding medical care for children in need, setting up scholarships or for influencing zoning of a neighborhood, or they can be seen as part of the whole process of society and life.

The picture here is of many disarticulated segments of a whole complex social system functioning with increasingly narrow and truncated goals, and the individuals in them seeing their responsibilities in terms of those goals. Segments of society that formerly served as functional units of the whole are acting as their own system, denying the whole system the fulfilling of their specialized responsibilities and being denied the fulfilled responsibilities of other segments. This requires that these subsystems create their own need meeting designs that often conflict in both form and function with the other subsystems forced into the same behaviors. The responsibilities do not go away just because they are not being met.

Business becomes its own religion, creates its own police and armed forces, institutionalizes its own arts and entertainments, designs its own Press and begins to isolate its own population. Religion becomes a business and adds in the other functions. Each subsystem claims the needfulness and superiority of its responsibility meeting methods. Business tries to dominate governance. Religion tries to dominate business. The Arts and entertainment are absorbed into commerce. And all this, as unmet responsibilities are rearranged, attempted and played for advantage.

With the exception of the elites, all of the segments of society are populated by people with some level of shared membership in the general public. The failures of responsibility in the various sectors come from the failure of the people to maintain the vigilance necessary for so complex a task as a modern representative democracy. There can be no other primary source of failure.

This begs the question of the possibility of maintaining, over the everyday, long-run, experience of life such a level of vigilance; and if it is possible, what would be required since the present design seems not to be working. The excuses are multifarious: institutional dishonesty, media control of experience, requirements of daily life and work, poor quality of education, materialist culture and even our distorted understanding of “human nature”; but they only verify that it is in the people that both the failure and the solution resides.

Intellectual bases are forming in the public for the people’s ideas and values, bases with a wide cacophonous variety of formulations. The people must at the same time begin to take on the responsibilities that they have let slip away, responsibilities taken by dysfunctional segments of society – and costing us dearly. The base that I personally endorse is what is called ‘The Left’, though not in total. This must become a period of reformation; it is our responsibility to speak up and test our understandings, courage and actions, and use that effort to learn and to demand that the other segments of society meet their responsibilities as well.

I find again that I am not done: the role of leadership, the drive for privatization of responsibilities, heuristics as decision-making tool and other topics for the next one.

[1] However, it is the stability supplied by the general public that sustains us even through terrible breaches of responsibility by other parts of society. But social stability is eroded by the failures of our institutions like rocks by trickling streams.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Responsibility Doesn’t Go Away

It is an axiomatic notion: for a thing to be done, someone (or something) must do it [1]. A simple extension of this notion is that someone is responsible for, in the sense of ‘should perform,’ the action. Try this example: in a family the father has certain responsibilities determined by the social system of expectations and the natural needs of living things. If the father is either absent or otherwise fails to meet the expectations of responsibility, then the responsibilities cannot be simply ignored, but must devolve to some other. The mother may take on all or most of them, or the mother and children adapt to supply the needs through some pattern of sharing. If the responsibilities are not met in some fashion or other, the family fails and ceases to exist as a communion.

In the case of a family in a given society it is relatively easy to produce a ‘handbook’ of responsibilities for the various members [2]. But, the society at large has responsibilities for it to function as well. These responsibilities, while generally clear, are not so easy to assign, especially in the present state of social, economic and political deterioration; once some assignment of first responsibility is made, it becomes even more difficult to follow the devolution of responsibilities to others if responsibilities are not met, or sufficiently met (or ‘met’ in a pathological way), by their original proprietors. As with the example of family, failure to meet these social requirements result necessarily in the destruction of the society.

Here are a number of the responsibilities and their original proprietors as I have analyzed them (it must be remembered that these must be met by someone, even if not met by the original proprietor – it does no good to only complain that they are not met):

1) A reasonably accurate accounting needs to be contained within the general public of the history, processes and rules of the society. There can be disagreements, and should be, but these also need to be subject to recognized process, understanding and documentation. – This is the responsibility of the general public to acquire and maintain, as well as that of the practitioners of education, but first and foremost, the general public.

2) Current events and issues need to be understood in their most basic and undisputed details, and then further considered and debated in light of and by the processes in the first responsibility. – Aspects of this responsibility belong to the public and other aspects to the fourth estate, a free and unfettered press.

3) An economic system must be designed and maintained that supports the essential commerce of the society and that functions to maintain social order, stability and safety. – The representatives of the people, that the people, in their application of #s 1 and 2, have selected to debate and perform in a body of sufficient size and talent that this and other community decisions can be made.

4) A system of commerce must be created and maintained, following the economic designs above, that supports and funds the other responsibilities rather than offending them. – Primarily a business community, but must ultimately be overseen by the general public.

5) Systems of laws must be made and maintained that respond to the changing conditions of life as the society changes both its actual condition and its understandings of the world. – The people’s representatives and a judiciary selected by the people, though ultimately the people are responsible, through the application of #s 1 and 2, for the overseeing of these functions.

6) Threats from without and within must have a counter force in the form of national armed forces and police forces. This responsibility is for the protection and safety of the people. – The military, police and other public safety institutions.

7) The weak and infirm of the society have to be considered in ways that enhance and do not diminish the society. – Some publicly sanctioned and funded welfare system.

8) The society must afford all of its citizens the opportunities for the essential human goals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. All the activities of the society, as it confronts the events and actions of both its own citizens and those of institutions and other nations, must be judged by this responsibility. – The people’s representatives and the general public.

As we look at these responsibilities and those who are first in line to take them on, two observations stand out for me: one is that all the other responsibilities depend on the first two, and secondly, that the general public is failing to meet those two responsibilities. The questions are then: to whom do these unmet responsibilities devolve and how are they being met?

Let it be clear at the outset, the society will fail unless all and more of these responsibilities are met in some way. The form of failure may not be so clear as, say, the walls of our buildings crumbling and people dying in the streets; failure can also come in the form of changes in society’s principles so drastic that ‘we’ are no longer the social order that we intend to be and think we are.

It may be that these concepts seem naïve in this context; it may seem that societies simply do not function nor can we expect them to function with the support of a knowledgeable body politic. This is a reasonable response to the failure of the general public to take responsibility for their own lives; we have ceased to have a knowledgeable public as an expectation. But who is the responsibility for the public’s knowledge of history, mores, laws and current events to devolve to? How and in what form can a society survive if the people in it know little about its form or function?

Our dilemma is doubly schizophrenic. We decide many issues by asking the people to vote in a straight ‘majority rules’ model; and yet the assumption is that the public is deeply ignorant of history, government, law, the content and consequences of what they are voting on and the major issues that impact the nation and their lives. Secondly, we do not trust (and I believe rightfully so) anyone or any institution to take over the full responsibility for the major decisions upon which the public is asked to decide; and yet we have been giving up that responsibility to the absolutely worst possible institutions: business and corporate players.

No matter how bad government gets, at least those that have to stand for elective office must show some performance of the public good. Corporations need only use the brute force of economic power, like the most Draconian of tyrants.

But I am getting ahead of myself. In a properly functioning democracy it is the essential responsibility of the citizen to be adequately educated in the history, functioning and issues of the society. When the people fail to meet that responsibility to whom does that responsibility devolve and with what consequences? The next essay will tackle this complex and thorny question.

[1] Physical and living processes are either inherent in the thing itself, e.g., the properties of an electron, or contained in physical design, e.g., information contained in the structure of DNA translatable into a phenotypic representation; there is not a ‘someone.’ In human action this ‘process in design’ is a powerful force, but is often ignored in favor of seeing the action arising from an individual or individuals acting in communities of interest. I will continue with that conventional understanding for as long as is practical here.

[2] I venture to guess that the ability to realize and state those responsibilities would correlate positively with the success of children in school, the stability of families and other measures of human success.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

This Time ‘We’ Are The Indians

I have read many essays and papers looking for either that one essay filled with explanation, solution and hope or a constellation of essays and papers capable of compilation into those same virtues.  There are many that nibble at the edges, but not one that is the Salk vaccine for our systemic polio.  I know that there are hundreds of pure geniuses and thousands of really smart motivated people trying to answer the questions of our time, as well as trying to produce prescriptions for present and future actions.

If all this effort could be brought together, it should be possible to design a plan for how to effectively address the major, and even minor, issues of our time.  Unless… unless we, the Great Many, are not what matter, but are more and more in the way of the future, in the way of ‘manifest destiny’ as seen by the plutocrats and oligarchs who increasingly rule this nation and world.  We would be then the “aboriginal Americans” and our issues, our troubles would be being delivered by the corporate invaders.  We seek solutions, but as in the conflict of the Indians and European settlers, what was good for the settlers was definitely not good for the Indians and vice versa.  There was just no way to compromise the clash of ‘realities.’  That is more and more seeming to be the true design of our present difficulties: there is not a compromise position waiting as yet undiscovered, no solution that is eluding us.

Ultimately, the invaders took what they wanted. The Indians were given no satisfactory option; their last big push at solution to their dilemma was the Ghost Dance, a pure fantasy Indian fundamentalism based on the insanity that the invaders could be disappeared if ‘the people’ only acted correctly: the victims having only the power to use their helplessness, and so tried to remake the helplessness into a source of power.  And we have seen what happens when we use our helplessness alone to stand against the press of mad power.

The present situation is, however, not at all the same in all ways. Even if the Great Many are to be the Indians and the people suckling on the Corporate Oligarchy are the Europeans (or the Borg of Star Trek), and it certainly is looking like that is the model, the only way for it to work is for the Great Many to believe that they are helpless.  The Indians didn’t believed themselves helpless, even when ultimately they were.  We often believe ourselves helpless when ultimately we are not!

I have no way of knowing (which is its own issue) whether the symphony of events making up the social presentation of life and “culture” comes from some coordinated plan or is just the economic process run amok, but it is clear that the flood of information into and onto the Great Many is: largely untrue, fear producing, emotionally addictive, power draining, action stopping and, did I say, untrue.  A most flagrant example, clearly tipping the oligarchic hand for those able to listen, was the admonition to “go shopping” after the 9/11/2001 incidents.  The (slightly) more subtle, “this changes everything,” really meant; ‘This makes it possible to be more open about the invasions and evasions of public rights and responsibilities that have been in progress for sometime.’

If we are to be the Indians, then we have to believe ourselves small and helpless, otherwise our great numbers and the fact that it is the Great Many that makes the whole thing go could at any moment overwhelm the corporate oligarchy.  Think about it; what is the message from the media? Is it that each and everyone is powerful? Or is it that you will be crushed by the economy if you don’t have a credit score in the 700s?  Is it that you should organize with like-minded people to live a fully satisfying life? Or is it that there are serial killers on every other street, gangs rule the neighborhoods, be afraid?  Is it to use your resources wisely and live for the human and community pleasures of life? Or is it that ‘success’ is money, possessions and uncommitted sex with a hot bod, regardless of how you get them?  And all attainable only by full admission and commitment to the individualist and materialist religion.

Another message is that the oligarchs are really us, that we have the same interests and that ‘we’ are to aspire to be ‘them.’  And since we have the same interests ‘we’, who are not them, should do what is good for the ‘we’, who are them. This is, of course, madness.  If we are the same, then why are we to aspire to be them.  Why would all of the variety of the Great Many want to live the narrow description of the corporate princelings?

But as I said, our present situation is not a few disorganized, weakly armed, bands of ‘us’ facing the ‘white eyes’ who are like the stars of the sky.’  There are about 300 million of ‘us’ and a few million of ‘them,’ the oligarchs.  We are the stars of the sky.  We also actually control everything.  Rest assured that all but the most disinterested of the oligarchs know that (or rest disturbed!). 

What we are, however, is disorganized: we have the wealth collectively, we have the numbers, we have the real levers of action; we do not have the education, we do not have the organization, we do not have the leadership and we lack many of the intermediate tools of organization, control and coercion.  By this I mean that we don’t control police functions or many economic tools, our main power is the withholding of our support for the present order.  If we do this individually, the effect is insignificant; done in large numbers the effect is devastatingly powerful.

The Indians did not have this option, even though sometimes they tried to use it by refusing to be part of the reservation system, and so were simply allowed, in many cases, to die in foodless winter camps hounded by the army and the settlers; or were hunted down and killed in major and minor massacres.  If the Great Many could decide to hold a general strike, it would not be like a few starving Indians refusing to be driven onto a reservation and easily ignored. 

What would be required for the Great Many to regain control of their lives and destinies? That is what is at stake.  That is what is missing.  We would need what we do not have: knowledge of our real power, organization, leadership, some intermediate forms of power (mainly through organization that could use our collected wealth), a single important focusing common interest and the communication and courage to use our ultimate weapon: the in-mass refusal to give our support to the oligarchy.

The oligarchy has come to believe that the amassing of wealth and the manifestations of power seen in actions of those subordinate to them give them the advantages of the conqueror.  We can see this displayed more and more everyday as it becomes increasingly impossible to hide flagrant assumptions and abuses of power:  the granting of nearly unlimited personhood to corporations, the willful violation of antitrust laws in corporate mergers, the direct writing of legislation by the corporations intended to be regulated by those same laws, the seamless movement of members of the oligarchy between corporations and government, the obvious and unchallenged lying (obvious to those who read and remember) of just about everyone in power, the clear “ownership” of political leaders by corporate interests and on and on we could go [1].

The oligarchs are only in control because the Great Many have been doing as they are told, and believing what they are told.  While I can find no rule in physics or psychology to support it, it seems to me that people will eventually reject identifiable lying even if there is nothing else to take its place. The people of the Soviet Union, in large numbers, came to understand that nothing they were told could be believed. This is both empowering and disempowering: empowering since it is not the lie that is acted on, but disempowering because the information necessary for action is not clear.  As the Russian people became more and more demoralized, the Soviet Union became weaker and weaker – a hollow shell and eventually the international criminal enterprise it is today [2]

This is the direction in which the US is heading.  While some might say that we are already there, I don’t think so quite yet, though we are close.  If the population becomes less educated and less critical in their collective thinking, if laws and rules are passed and enforced that further limit popular organization and expression (the de facto impossibility of third parties, for example), we will be left with only the general refusal to give our work and skills to the corporate state as a means of expression.

There are many people who believe in God and Country, who have been conned into rooting for the home team, people who are being fooled by wedge issue strategies.  Others continue to believe that they are just one lucky move away from becoming a junior associate princeling themselves.  Still others would rather ‘go along to get along,’ ‘watching their Ps and Qs’ and generally clichéing their ‘making no waves’ way of life through life.  As the dishonesty becomes unavoidable, confidence is shattered – like the standing buildings after a big earthquake, there is serious structural damage.

Whether the Great We realizes in time, that we must restore the oligarchs to their true role as our servants, will decide our fate.  There is no question that they will not give up the status of princeling without a fight.  All the complexity really does come down to the Indians (the people) versus the settlers (the oligarchs), but this time the people have all the power if they but realize it.  Had the Indians been able, in the beginning, to organize the many different tribes, the invaders could have been pushed into the sea.  But they were divided by many competing interests.  In most cases the invaders’ numbers were bolstered by members of competing tribes; but having no loyalties, the invaders would then turn on their previous supporters using new helpers bought by some new disingenuous promise.  This proceeded until the invaders had the power to frontally overwhelm all who rose against them.

Piecemeal controls have lost their possibility; the oligarchs too entrenched.  Only a general strike can put the elites in their place and make clear who holds the ultimate power.  And that tool is within our power.  If we are lucky and have the right leaders, such a strike, properly followed up with political action, could reset the clock on the entropy of our democratic system; though it could also speed us along on our way to a criminal state.  But, doing nothing will guarantee a victory for the corporate invaders and our enslavement on the national reservation that was also once our own land.
[1] Violation of Constitutional war powers of congress, bribery of public officials by lobbyists, ignoring clearly demonstrated public will in favor of corporate interests, supporting and profiting from the actual extortion and theft of public moneys in the various “bank bailouts,” executive branch threatening of independent agencies (especially in the Bush administration), weakening of usury and bankruptcy laws, removal of consumer and environmental protections, war crimes that violate both our own and international law and again this could go on and on.

[2] A national state-established criminal organization is one that exists for its own maintenance and parasitizes the captive population; there are and have been many such states.