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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Wealth Wars

I hate that this essay has to be written.  I hate what it says.  I don’t want to believe it and hate that I do believe it, even in the face of all my desires for my children, for all children, and myself. 

In the long years of our human history there has been a constant theme from the earliest days, and in all lands, of what we call civilization.  It is the formation of an elite that gathers to itself the wealth created by the many people and adapts and manufactures the stories and conditions that allow them to maintain their power over the many.  Our history is the history of the struggles of these elites to dominate the masses and each other [who the elites are is considered at the end of this essay in an addendum]. 

For almost all of these last 8 thousand years there has been a great deal of room on the earth for the powerful to expand their influence – even if there were other humans and other species living simply on the land, they were easily removed.  Throughout this time there has been one primary process cutting through and across all and every complexity: the powerful take what they want without scruple. 

Looking back in history these conclusions seem obvious, but we are loath to see our present world in these terms.  Each period of time in history seems to see its own solutions as better and more nuanced than the crude power plays, wars and ego-driven cruelties of the past.  

But we can no longer enjoy that conceit.  The times, they are a-changin’!  There is no place left to go and the attention of the elites has of necessity turned fully to the form of the relationship that they wish to have with what they consider to be the captive populations that produce their wealth and whose sycophancy sustains their power.  The Great Many must be completely managed, in the new paradigm, for the elites to live on in the style to which they have become accustom and as the world goes through the unprecedented changes driven by human impact.  The consequences of the coming troubles are to be delivered onto the masses, not the elites. 

To that end a segment of the wealthy elite have declared war on the rest of humanity – not so much directly, rather on an ‘as needed’ basis.  It is a preemptive war; a war to prevent the masses from coming to a coherent understanding of the destruction that the elites have wrought on individual well-being, the social order and physical world in the process of accumulating and advancing their grip on power.  The second great movement of the war is to develop (through infrastructure, private or governmental, the distinction is of no consequence to the elites, law and common practice) the physical, coercive and information-control powers to dominate the masses as they respond reflexively to their worsening condition – even if they can’t organize effectively due to the first wave of the assault. 

This is not to say that clear lines can be drawn between the elite and the masses.  There are people who live in the domain of the elite and generally share their values and attitudes, but who retain a sense of the species relationship to the living earth. They are, however, beholding to the same processes that maintain the militant class-warring elites; and if they remain uncertain of their allegiance for too long, their potential for amelioration will disappear.  In general they cannot be considered in our understanding for the possibilities for our future. 

And there are those whose allegiance is to a bastardized version of elite values.  It is a typical human error: they see the mansion and other physical accoutrements of the elite lifestyle and assume it to be just a toss of the dice away; and so support their understanding of elite needs, fed to them by propagandists (who are them) bought by the elites for the purpose. 

Given the forces working to subvert our understanding, we must struggle to take a cold-eyed look at the events and their meanings that surround us.  There are first some simple tests to make. 1) Are the economic elites applying their vast economic resources to improve the lives of the people who have created that wealth: the miners, the forest and field workers, the mechanics, the day laborers, construction workers and on and on for hundreds of thousands of jobs from which the wealthy take, from each and every one, some percentage?  2) What are the most agreed-on projections for the future of human activity and impact on the earth and what are the responses to those projections by the economic elite?  3) Are there any meaningful (measured by success) efforts to use the vast accumulations of wealth to educate and inform (and reform) the world’s “civilized” peoples, to protect indigenous people and to support our understanding of the needs of the earth’s biophysical systems?  4) Is there any reasonable evidence that “we” are all in this thing together? 

The answers to these questions are uniformly negative.  There is a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages for productive work.  The rate at which both real and phantom wealth is collecting at the top is increasing.  Unemployment has been increasing, which means increasing by design as a way of reducing wages.  The elite publicly reject and deny the projections for human suffering and ecological damage and have spent huge sums, far in excess of philanthropy, to confuse and weaken mass opinion.  Elite preoccupation has been the domination of land and people for economic gain. 

No other conclusion will be possible a 100 years, 200 years, in an objective future than that the elites were, at the beginning of the 21st century, conducting a war on the rest of the humanity and the environment, trying to get as much of what they considered wealth as possible and to protect their status in a dangerous world. 

As a military commander would study maps, evaluate forces, allocate supplies, estimate the opposition and generally try to develop both factual detail and fact-based intuitive comprehensions of the situation, so we (in this case meaning those who wish to appreciate the strategic position of the great mass of human beings in the world) must determine the nature of the field upon which we are to struggle, what and who we are struggling for and against (even if it is sometimes ourselves), what talents and tools are required, what are our primary advantages, what are our primary disadvantages and how are we to maximize the former and minimize the latter. 

It is to the advantage of an opposition to remain invisible or at least shape shifting.  If the entities (people, organizations or processes) that are afflicting the Great Many can be clear to themselves what their goals are, control the arena of “action” and maintain order in their own ranks while at the same time keeping the rest of us, their targets, squabbling among ourselves, confused about the origin of our difficulties and disorganized, then the game is over.  We must actively begin the process of seeing through the feints and deceptions. 

Advantages and disadvantages 

The Elites’ advantages:


-institutional control of governance and media

-influence on sources of deadly force

-clarity of purpose

-small numbers that allow for conspiring communications and groups

-emotional distance from those who are harmed by their actions

-confidence in their privilege and superiority

-core groups of the elite are fully aware of the war, its terms and conditions 


-small numbers, requiring large numbers of the masses to serve their interests

-the constant attention needed to keep the masses misinformed and controlled

-lack of connection to biophysical Reality

-the inherent dishonesty that must be maintained in the relationship with the masses

-dependence on fragile systems often based in illusion 

The Masses’ advantages:

-vast numbers (both advantage and disadvantage)

-actual hands-on relationship with all of the tools of production, security and militarism

-capacity to withhold all behaviors and services that function the society

-capacity to outlast the elite in a direct contest of austerity

-capacity to physically overwhelm all protections that the elite might employ 


-vast numbers

-fear of disorder and system breakdown

-confusion of purpose

-lack of education and organization

-lack of infrastructure that could force consideration of interests

-Immediate biological needs are met by existing, and elite controlled, economic systems

-the masses are largely unaware that there is an organized assault on them 

In summary, the elite has power, wealth and control, as well as organization of purpose supported almost exclusively by the illusions that they hold about themselves and different illusions that they depend on perpetuating in the masses.  They are few in number so would be helpless without the support of a significant percentage of the masses; they are obsessively aware of this fact.  They are willing to visit unlimited suffering and death on people and ecosystems to maintain and grow their power. 

The elite cannot exist without the masses; there would be no productive activity to extract wealth from.  There would be no one to work for them and no one to adore and cater to them. 

The masses have the actual power in the form of all, literally all, direct productive activities, all food and water gathering, construction, transportation, manufacturing, etc.  But they have almost no national or global organizational strength.  The moment the masses realize that they can still do all the jobs that need be done and discard the illusions forced on them by the social and media power of the elite will be the moment when the elites sue for peace in the culture war; it will also be the moment when the masses realize with whom they have been at war. 

The masses can exist without the elite.  What they cannot do is live like elites and be without the elites.  May it not be a lesson too late for the learning. 

[Addendum] Who comprises the elite is not the major interest of this essay.  They are, however, people who find themselves in possession of what those around them value and are willing to use that momentary excess and advantage for themselves and against others; they are, in other words, people who would be considered anti-social and in need of guidance and watching in an egalitarian community.  All communities have had them and managed them as just one of the wide and complex varieties of human types that give  texture and adaptive strength.  The “civilized” world, with its large populations and great capacity to make wealth, has offered opportunity for such people to gather outside of the moderating influences of a heterogeneous community and to see their avariciousness as virtue, drawing many others into excess and loss of specieshood. 

First of all the elite are people who wish to be wealthy and powerful and who are willing to do what is required to be so.  This is certainly not everyone – the world is littered with the “remains” of those who were supposed to ‘attain these heights,’ but in some combination of not wanting and being unwilling were pushed aside; the profligate sons and daughters of great wealth are but one form of example; unwealthy writers of philosophical essays another. 

A major ingredient of power (and less obviously wealth) is convincing the main body of the population that its apparent possessor actually has it, and that the form of power and, by implication, the possessor are to be deferred to.  A telling example comes from an observation of chimpanzees in the wild.  A rather small and unimposing adult male discovered that a large metal can, when dragged violently through the forest and slapped, so impressed his community that he was treated with the deference due a dominate male – and so was, for a time, the alpha member of his group, until they saw through the ruse.  

Those of us without much power are seldom aware of the obsession with which the powerful watch for even the smallest opportunities to enhance the impression of their authority.  The corollary for wealth is the obsession with even the smallest opportunity for gain (the wife of a billionaire I knew always took all of the condiments from the table when eating out). 

*Obsession is a major symptom of mental illness.  The elite are obsessed.  The elite have, at least, one major symptom of mental illness.  

*Mental illness is disqualifying for responsible leadership.  The elite have symptoms of mental illness.  It is unwise to allow the elite into positions of authority. 

These two arguments set the stage for much of the behavior of the core elites; they must control reality if they are to fulfill their obsessions.  And so one of the reasons for the multi-millennial obsession with “human reality” defeating nature’s Reality.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Consciousness Order and Belief

Everyone has to act.  We all have to do things.  And since we are not simply directed in our every move by omnipotent outside agencies, our actions are generated by processes within us. Where does what we do come from and how are we to judge the quality of our actions? 

My concerns here are for the behaviors that we normally think of as involving judgment, that contain elements of the correct and incorrect or right and wrong, and not the most basic things we do arising out of reflex or primary biological need – though what we accept of our biological needs is certainly part of my concern. 

I propose a relatively simple model: a motive makes a demand, some information based intermediary forms the possible actions, a valuing system measures and we create an action in the world. Or to put it even more simply for social, political and economic actions: motive appeals to belief and belief generates behavior. 

Motive is very complex as it integrates biological drives from the purely hormonal, through instinctual to the instinct-like propensities that are biologically almost formless, awaiting specific learning to give direction.  While these are all important, for this little exercise motive will not be worked to the bone. 

And behavior is an essential element in this circle of process.  It can be almost anything; it can ‘mean’ almost anything.  It is behavior that moves this wheel along and vast studies can be made of it.  But I will leave the behavior itself largely unexamined. 

It is the bridge between motive and behavior that interests me.  Belief: the process that organizes the motive into possibilities using information in such a way that an action is produced [1].  Belief is a fruit of the Consciousness System of Order (CSO).  It is the new thing in the universe.  Its function is to fill a space that did not exist before the human brain allowed it to exist: the direct link between motive and behavior can be broken in the human brain and left formless for a time to be compared with tens, even hundreds, of related options.  But such a process is slow, too slow and too exhausting for much of our behavior [2]

Other animals solve the problem of speed of action by directly linking the motive with the action and accepting the evolutionary time scale of adaptation to make changes – “belief” for them is an evolution-tested part of their genetics.  The acceptance of the rigidity of genetically driven behavior is easy since there is no other option in the Living System of Order (LSO). 

The new system of order, that developed out of the increasing success of hominid learning “experiments”, gradually removed the limitations of genetic control, replacing these controls with environmental consistency as the limiting and controlling agency.  Eventually the confluence of neural development, social communication complexity and language began to form a super-organismic structure of Story that existed outside of the brain, that lasted in time and did not die with the individual, that could be spread with the speed of a running man. Belief had entered the world.  Belief could now intervene between motive and behavior.  And belief could be changed at any point in the cycle of life with a change of Story. 

When Story was immediately and intimately connected to and drawn from the environment it was naturally veridical regardless of the details of its content; there needed to be no “rules” about how Story was created. The dominating forces of the environment controlled the substantive effects of Story.  Ghosts could prowl the lake margins at night with the result that people approached them (the margins and the ghosts) with great care.  It was not the ghosts that mattered, but the motivating and organizing power of the story to effect adaptive behavior. 

The environment did not lie; there was no such concept.  Specific organisms might attempt to deceive, but their deceptions were no more than a minor additional complexity to the human mind. Belief formed in a veridical world.  There was no force to press for powers of discernment for truth; for detail, yes, but not for truth.  We are still much like that today, though the recognition of truth has become a most vital skill. 

With such a history it is natural that we still take what we believe to be essentially the same as what is true.  Of course, this never was so.  Many different beliefs could guide us to behaviors that were adaptively functional and successful.  What mattered was behavioral success, not what was believed to accomplish it.  The truth relationship was between the environment and the behavior, belief was only a tool. 

Today the world of information that we have formed around ourselves is not veridical.  It is a better assumption today that everything that one takes in as information and, therefore that one believes, is false.  But, of course, that is impossible.  Motive, belief, behavior!  If all information is false, if everything believed is wrong, then there can be no action.  However, such a desperate annihilation of present belief is a necessary first step. 

We must discover and institute new sources of veridical information, and this time with veridicality of Story also.  In the past there was no way to accomplish informationally accurate stories even as the consequences of the Stories was to adapt behavior to Reality: the parts that had to be accurate in detail were, but those parts that functioned better with exaggeration or wholesale manufacture of powerful mythic forms did so.  But today we grow our stories without a base in Reality.  They grow one from another: the distortion in the first becomes the absolute truth of the second, the misperception and mistranslation of the third is the whole strength and basis of the fourth.  Reality only intrudes in the terrible moments of pandemic or natural and manmade disaster and then only long enough to provide a new source for baseless beliefs. 

The point is that we will not find a basis for veridical belief thrust upon us by the environment, not without the complete destruction of our present world – and then it would only be a return to the veridicality of environmental force on a marginal human presence.  No, we must use the powers of imagination and adaptation conferred on us by the mighty Consciousness System of Order to find our way. 

This means that we must begin with the tools presently in our experience that are specifically designed and proven effective at most closely approximating Reality.  These would be the processes of scientific discovery and the studies of logic and reason that make up epistemology.  I say ‘begin’ with these tools because they, in their present form, are severely limited in appropriate application.  But we must pull back toward the limits of understanding that veridical information would support and work out from there. 

We have a hundred thousand years of history ‘going along to get along’ with our habits of adapting beliefs as the intermediary structure between motive force and behavior; it has gotten us to our present quandary.  It has run its course. 

The CSO has the capacity to imagine new options and to implement them though not without pain and not as quickly as needed – or perhaps not even at all if the status quo crushes new ideas, communication and the ‘rights of assembly.’  Because, quite candidly, the changes required would demolish the mythic Story of elite superiority and privilege.  Radical changes in the economic and political orders would be complimented with similar changes in social arrangements and religious belief and practice. 

I have a list of some of the most important changes in the form and substance of our beliefs that would be required in another essay.  The list is reproduced here following this essay.  

The next one is devoted to attempting to the continuing effort to understand our situation and options should we make, or be presented with, the opportunity to begin the changes. 

[1] It needs to be noted that there are positive ‘in-actions’ that are equivalent to action, like waiting and meditating.  Think of a house cat poised at the hole of a pocket gopher, absolutely still save for the tip of its tail twitching to bleed off the spring tight energy of waiting.  There are also in-actions that are a paralysis of competing beliefs or incompatibility of motive, belief and possible action. 

[2] There is no question but that incipient forms of these processes can be seen in the big brained animals, animals that have replaced some instinctual limitations with instrumental learning allowing the organism to fit more exactly into specific environments.  This is still, in most cases, primarily an instinctual process; the learning is usually associated with defined periods of development.  It is just too dangerous (non-adaptive) for a species to give up the hard won and proven veridicality of evolutionary process.

Understandings and beliefs needed to stabilize the earthly living space: 

1) Humans are animals that must integrate their behaviors into ecological processes (even if they can get away with not paying attention to ecological reality for some extended period of time).  As animals we have behaviors characteristic of our species that, so long as we were sufficiently connected to the natural environment in which they evolved, took care for themselves, but which today take special attention to understand, support and mitigate as we confront the “unnatural” world we have created. 

2) Nothing can be owned by anything, all claims of property and ownership are relationships in which one party is arbitrarily devalued based on short-term power imbalances – always the result of the failures of full system integration (usually because we are driven by desire for ‘gain’ dependent on limited understanding).  This doesn’t mean that human political and economic systems don’t have to address the use of space and material, but our ways of thinking about them must change. 

3) Wealth accumulation is an aberrant behavior – a form of psychopathology. Emotionally healthy people strive for sufficient material wealth to be safe in Reality and realize the damaging effect that excess has on both environment and specieshood.  The concepts of property and wealth accumulation are among the most dangerous ideas and behaviors of humans. 

4) The measure of normal in the world must be from places and processes that are uninfluenced by human action (except where humans are fully integrated into the relevant ecologies).  Finding such places today is difficult, but they can be reasonably well modeled still. 

5) There are no normal or natural human behaviors, group or individual, of any scale remaining in the human repertoire.  I wish that you would read that statement a couple of times.  Normal, that is the behaviors and feelings of specieshood, has to be rediscovered with focused intention.  All references to “normal and natural” that depend on present behaviors are seriously suspect.  Since most of the information we receive from the world is created by some human with an agenda to influence us in some way, we must become careful of what we subject ourselves to, when and how.  Just as we are learning to eat with a mind to additives and nutrients, actively avoiding some and selecting other foods, so we must also be careful of our perceptual diet. 

6) Humans are a community-based organism.  We are individual only with the support of a community.  It is ironic that as we have come to depend on more and more others, some of us have taken to trying to see themselves as more and more individual and independent – to the point of proclaiming absolute ‘individualism.’  The absurdity of this is obvious if you simply imagine them without the millions of people that they depend on (yet deny and reject – see #2) as supporting cast. 

7) Our understandings of and relationships to health, illness and death have become terribly distorted.  A biological body is not evolved to continue functioning for much more that the average live expectancy of the species.  The devotion of individual people to their own ‘individualism’ gives the impression that there is something there to ‘live long and prosper.’  But that is only appropriate in a community design where living long and prospering supports the community.  Healing individuals and defeating death (for a time) to the detriment of the species is madness. 

8) Our spiritual understandings and habits are the distorted products of the pre-scientific forest life made to serve the interests of kings and other authoritarians.  We need to recognize the incredible creation that is the Consciousness System of Order, its immense power to support our relationship with reality and its devastatingly dangerous power to distort it.  Our connections to the universe are vital and, if given the opportunity to do so in Reality, can grow into forms and in ways of being that we cannot guess.