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, June 5, 2010

The Simple, the Complex and the Devastating – The Complex

What are the beliefs and policies that are the major guiding and motivating forces today? Where do they reside in the society, and how are they given impetus? These are critical questions; and must be answered before sense can be made of and effective actions created for our present difficulties [1]. We are all too ready to assume that what we believe personally, and institutionally, is the right and only way; and that those who oppose us actually have the same understandings that we do, but are perverse in their beliefs, desires and doings.

This is, of course, nonsense; with the exception that almost everyone believes himself or herself correct and so we all really do believe the ‘same thing’. But getting past that little bit of sophistry, it is clear that groups of humans have whole and internally consistent organizational systems that are complete mysteries to other groups of humans.

When groups are not required by either time or space to have more than passing relationships, such differences can be seen for what they are, adaptations to ecological and social structures, often with long histories, and can be easily gotten around with mutual adaptations at the points of contact. But when the human groups are embedded within the same larger system, when they live side by side or in deep mutual dependency; social aspirations, prescriptions and prejudices need to be understood across the human divides. Today we all have come to live side by side and in deep mutual dependency – even if many don’t yet understand or believe it.

We are still living in an Us v. Them paradigm that prevents the ‘us’ from recognizing and understanding the beliefs and values of ‘them’; yet even worse, prevents ‘us’ from realizing our own beliefs and values as instrumental and not absolute. That paradigm, all too often, is part of the design of the mental shelving on which we store and from which we obtain our ideas and values; it dissolves in various concentrations into all of our thoughts and actions. It poisons those thoughts and actions as radiation poisons, unseen and unfelt, until the consequences become unavoidable.

The whole structure of our social, economic and political world is in flux, and has been for sometime, as the Us v. Them paradigm bubbles up increasingly in unprepared for ways; and, as already said, colors all the other forces driving the increasing disintegration of the human capacity to organize and function as a single species in the biosphere.

It should be remembered that what makes this especially devastating is not that Us v. Them is wrong – given the space and resources for true independence, Us and Them is a reasonable adaptation – but that there can be no ‘Them’ anymore without the exponential growth of power for domination. The only way around this is to convert Them to Us and Us to Them. For all the words spilled supporting such a goal, it is still at least one major worldwide tragedy away from serious consideration.

With this as a background condition, like strong and gusty winds, what are the other beliefs and values that are flapped around and whipped up to noisy fluttering in our present world? As with a hurricane, it is not so much the wind that is to be feared; it is the pieces of metal siding and tree limbs being blown by it that get you.

* * *

Whether master or slave, elite or wage slave, people, all people, are looking for guidance to bring order to their lives. Such guidance is not inherent in the body and mind, though both body and mind create some of the conditions of the need, but is supplied ultimately by the environmental order; that order can be of greater or lesser quality and coherence. The place to begin is to look at the variety into which humans are born and within which they grow up. The human entity is not, however, a blank slate, but more a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ slate; we still take our most basic guidance from our biology.

But people can only take on the sets of guiding behaviors and principles that are available to them: the extant social world of expectations and certainties is determining. This world is also always in the process of adapting to the changing forces within which it resides and, crucially, the changes made on Reality by its own actions [2].

This last has a long history in biological evolution – the organism evolves to function more efficiently in a given biophysical space and in the process modifies that space so that it, and every other organism in the system, must evolve adaptively to the changing conditions. Since every organism is evolving, the whole system is in slow symphonic adaptive change. Purely physical environmental change continually prods the system, but even when the physical environment is almost consistent for geologically long times, adaptive patterns of change move through the ecosystems like the interactive harmonies of bells ringing each other.

Today human communities – the active unit of our species – have become like a radioactive element; they periodically disintegrate from the random disorder of their designs. This greatly accelerates the process of change while not – complementarily – giving increased direction for adaptive process, i.e., adaptive patterns become increasingly random; but none-the-less must be taken as social reality and used as the guiding principles of individual and community life (and still require an internal consistency that gives the appearance of systematic order) [3].

So while labeling and listing our beliefs, values and understandings is useful, without first being clear that this is not an exercise is determining who is right and who is wrong such a list is not a benefit, but only a prelude to more conflict. We need to see ourselves with considerably more honesty than we are presently able to bring to our social reality.

But today, there is no reason to tell the truth if you don’t have to, especially if it weakens your position. People receiving information have no way to independently check on what is said and so ALL presentments can be contradicted or denied with impunity. When only the opinion of a majority or significant minority matters, and that opinion is a function of what people are told – and importantly, when told what they wish to believe – then truth is not what matters; being in control of the telling does matter.

We need a reason to have veridical relationships with each other and with the biophysical world. It seems that such veridicality only comes from immediacy; which leads to the next essay: The Devastating.

[1] I am not going to make a list, though will unavoidably hint at elements of the one I am forming. It is time that we all begin to do the metacognitive work of seeing our underlying structures.

[2] This opens whole cans of solipsism and nihilism, but finally is not especially dangerous on its own.

[3] The increasingly rapid changes in political parties and forces, the rise of gangs as social structure, the extreme separation of the elites from everyone else and hundreds of other similar processes are example.


Anonymous said...

I like the way you express your ideas. This is a time for incisive-creative-synthesising; consciousness building, communication. I get the sense that your experiences and insights should be carried forward as we 6.5 billion seek an ecological (or acquiesce to an apocalyptic) century.

James Keye said...

All we can do is carry on. Those who can must speak up. We are the species, the species must be in integration with living and physical process. How to do that cannot be left to the shortsighted.