Saturday, October 24, 2009

Preface: Keep on Keeping On

In the late 1940s I started wondering why we acted the way we did. In the 1950s I put in my time in the Army and then in the Civil service and wasn't reassured by either. By the 1960s, after I got a Ph.D. and worked in industry again, I was sure that we had collectively lost our sanity.
Ever since then I have been figuring out why we evolved the way we did, and what we are evolving into.

By the early 21st century I had gotten far enough that I was sure we were approaching the "Decline and Fall of Western Civilization" so I wasn't too surprised when the economy of Western Civilization crashed in 2008 and Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States.

Obama's inaugural address restored my hope that we would continue to evolve, and that we would reach a global society that was egalitarian and ecologically responsible. More specifically, I revived my hope that the future would be something like the Utopia I had described in a novel that I published on the web. I had put some of the arguments for that expectation on a blog .

Obama is so charismatic a speaker that I had even hoped, for a while, that we could reach that Utopia without first going through the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. I am beginning to suspect, however, that we will not be that lucky.

The right-wing elite (i.e, the most senior corporate bureaucrats) have come to realize that the equality Obama believes in would not just be a matter of fancy rhetoric they could tolerate, but it might actually happen. That would eliminate the basis of their elite status, which is having more money than they need to survive, and essentially destroy their identity.

This is because they can only get significant amounts of money by defrauding each other; because the industrial activity that provided wealth to the previous generation has relocated to other countries. The only thing the right-wing has left is fraud, and they are defending that desperately.

The senior government bureaucrats (the left-wing elite) have the titles and functions of government for their status symbols; and if they can drag out the economic crisis long enough they will outlast the right-wing elite and be the only game in town.

The right-wing elite perceives Obama's charisma as the left's primary weapon, so they are focused on doing everything in their power to destroy him. They are so convinced that he will destroy them that they are willing to risk the destruction of Western Civilization. If I were Obama I would be careful to avoid assasins.

At the same time Obama has alienated the left-wing establishment elite by not being enthusiastic enough about their special interests. During recent years, while the left has been out of power, it has survived by becoming attached to special issues like environmentalism or anti-imperialism. Unlike past generations of the left, the contemporary left does not favor a general upward-mobility of the non-elite (Toynbee's "proletariat") because that would cause the elite government bureaucrats to be relatively downwardly-mobile. This is why contemporary left-wing intellectuals identify with the government bureaucratic elite and their power to regulate, rather than with the upward mobility of the non-elite lower-middle and working classes.

The Left supports Obama's ideals with their rhetoric, but their active political support will be weak unless it coincides with their more specific interests. The only positive feature is that those specific interests, like environmentalism, are at least directed toward species survival.

However, the Utopia I envisioned requires both egalitarianism and environmental responsibility.

The net result may well be that there is little incentive to create a significant change in the way we think about the things we do. Even Obama thinks that we do not need to change the basis of our economic infrastructure, only make minor regulatory reforms. But that does not take sufficient consideration of our recent evolutionary history. Without significant change the following will happen:

The financial industry will resume the risky behavior that resulted in the financial crash of 2008 because there is no more effective way to make a fast profit when it works, and it will work for a while before it collapses again. When it does they expect to be able to walk away from the wreckage whole by blaming the result on the regulators.

The military-industrial complex will promote military action against the Moslem Jihadists and the Bolivarian populist movements because other kinds of manufacturing have gone overseas and the majority of Americans will have stopped consuming as many "tchotchkes" or status symbols. The only kind of consumption the military-industrial complex can create by itself is the consumption of military supplies.

Worst of all the Chinese will have to stop buying our bonds because the American proletariat won't have the spare money to buy the tchotchkes that are made in China. The corporate bureaucrats will have dissipated it in gambling on derivatives because that gambling will be the "fast money" they need to maintain their status.

This will result in an economic system that remains out of control, and a collapse leading to a Decline and Fall will be inevitable. There is little we can do to make the structural changes that would prevent these things from happening.

The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization is not necessarily bad for our species if you look at it on an evolutionary timescale.
While it will produce a global anarchy which might last a few decades, it will not be fatal to our species. We will eventually reorganize ourselves and, following the Toynbee sequence, resume our evolution toward some kind of Utopia.
The austerity required by the decades of economic collapse will encourage environmental responsibility. We may make or remake evolutionary errors, but I have faith in the ability of our species to recover from them. After all, we almost recovered from the Neolithic transition this time, and we are even more likely to succeed next time.

But while we can have some confidence in the long-term evolution of our species, the immediate future is never certain. We can understand that a Utopia must be egalitarian and ecologically responsible without being creative enough to figure out what kind of infrastructure will allow a global population to manage itself that way.

We can see, by watching our politicians respond to the contemporary crisis, how little they are motivated by the common good. The people who run our infrastructure, corporate and government alike, operate on the basis of: "I'm all right Jack, f..k you".

So there is not much hope in just passively waiting for evolution to drag us into the future, willy-nilly. We may get to a Utopia whether or not we know what we are doing, but the more we ignore reality the longer and more painful it will be for most of us.

There is a way that an individual can mitigate the pain.

In the research I did to find out what we were doing as a species I also found out what certain individuals were doing that made them have a significant, and significantly positive, effect on the evolutionary history of our species.
There were individuals like Jesus and Mohammed and Gautama Buddha who expressed themselves in terms of religion. There were individuals like Mozart, and Bernard Shaw, and Steve Jobs who expressed themselves in terms of art or technology. In effect, they were accidentally taking the next evolutionary step that was too difficult for the rest of us.

I looked for the thing that happened that made them behave the way they did, and discovered that it involved getting close to death. I used a familiar phrase to characterize the process: "Death and Transfiguration".

With that in mind, I looked carefully at the way our species had been behaving in the last few millenia and found that we have been consistently, if not always efficiently, evolving in the direction of Utopia. When I added in the idea of a "death and transfiguration" process, I found I could create a model that explained not only our past evolution, but reasonable expectations for the future.

I even found a way of evolving that didn't involve death.

What we now have the choice of doing, and what those of us who can should be doing, is evolving individually; both to make it more likely that we can survive the post-crash anarchy and that we can be part of the "creative minority" (in Toynbee's sense) that creates the post-industrial civilization that will characterize the next era of human social evolution.

The trick is in the title of the old gospel song: "Keep On Keeping On".

The point of the rest of this discussion will be to provide a scientific way of explaining (1) how we evolved into the present state of affairs and (2) how individuals can evolve such that they are not constrained by the beliefs of the people surrounding them. In order to do this we will also have to explain the errors in the contemporary theories of physics and evolution that seem to produce paradoxes.

This may be difficult for some people to accept, but the future will be difficult for those people to accept anyway, so it doesn't matter.

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