A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Language As Tool And Trap

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More on Conservatism and Liberalism

Preamble: Focus on the details of current events without some general principles to organize our thinking leads only to greater confusion and less clarity.  Assad, ISIS (ISIL), Sunni, Shia, rebels, insurgents: even when honestly attempted, these are still descriptions of a stirred ant-nest.  The same can be said for fracking, carbon tax, sequestration, climate deniers… or for any other of the contentious concerns that profligate humans have stirred up.  We are certainly complex, but we are still only an animal born of the evolutionary processes by which every other organism has come to the world; and we are understandable when we can see our actions from an appropriate perspective. 

Broadly, there are two forms of what is conflated together as politically conservative.  It is no accident that such a conflation has occurred; one form is parasitizing the other.  Historically, political conservatism may be understood from its dictionary definition: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

This form of conservatism has a long and essential history in the human social process. The tension between traditional attitudes and values (implying those values that have been adaptively efficacious) and new attitudes and values (implying those values that are in the process of adapting to changing environmental and social conditions) is the primary means by which effective human action is arrived at.  Those people who are constitutionally conservative, in principled opposition with those people are constitutionally liberal [1], serve the body of the community by keeping the focus on what has worked well in the past (a good, but imperfect, predictor of what will work in the future) while novel solutions to new situations and problems are being presented and tested – solutions that may lead to success or to failure. 

Obviously, this only works in a community structure where these two ways of generating responses are realized as equally valuable by the community as a whole, a generally conservative position in itself.  Novel approaches are allowed their opportunities within the framework of established principles.  Long working designs are not discarded easily; new designs for actions (beliefs, attitudes and values) must prove themselves and are given the chance to do so.

However, such a benign presentation should not hide the fact there can be considerable tension between these quite different ways of looking at the world. New attitudes challenge tradition; new forms of action advantage new constituencies and often disadvantage established ones.  The leveling force is the main body of the community and its “conservative” position that all factions have a say, that new situations sometimes call for novel solutions and that proof of new options be given a chance, but in the context of established “reality.”

This has worked very well over much of human history to both allow for adaptive change and to keep the pace and variety of change within the comprehensions of the community.  Seen with perspective, neither the conservative or the liberal position is correct, nor should they be; the function of such a design is to keep the human community well adapted to the surrounding world as that world changes.

There are two elements that have come to torture this design, essentially, beyond recognition, and are presaged in the above: the advantage shifting of change and the effect of the rate of change on the comprehensions of the community.  The leveling force of the community depends on change not disrupting too dramatically established hierarchies of influence and not occurring so rapidly that efficacious adaptive responses cannot form.  And so, because human populations and technical development have been increasing exponentially, the leveling force of native community conservatism has been lost from the adaptive process. [2]

We have certainly not stopped adapting, but have, for a few thousand years, been changing faster and faster with greater and greater disruption of hierarchical structures and community comprehensions of our place in the world. This leads to a distortion of the natural conservative position and the natural liberal position; both of them entrenching into their own sub-communities.

When people with no real dedication to either the principled conservative position or the principled liberal position, but with only advantage seeking as a goal, pursue their interests in an environment largely free of a comprehending community, they are free to pick and choose those aspects of the adaptive process from which they can gain.  And while both conservatism and liberalism offer advantage seekers opportunities, it is the natural conservatism of the community (even in its lack of real comprehension – especially in its lack of comprehension) to which advantage seekers most often appeal.

Remember, conservatism is about continuity, maintaining hierarchy and seemingly successful adaptive designs.  Liberalism is about novel and almost always untried solutions to real problems that, many times, the community has not yet clearly identified.  And when changes in physical and social environments are coming faster than can be incorporated into the community’s adaptive processes, advantage seekers can offer the community simplified “think-tank comprehensions” about which the community can become “conservative,” thereby favoring those who present themselves as like-minded.

These advantage seekers are the second form of what has, today, been conflated with the principled conservative position.  This has gone so far as to redefine conservative in such a way that the principled conservative position (which would reject raw advantage seeking) is increasingly denied as a worthy value.  Imagine, as in a sci-fi film, a human body being invaded by an alien form and taken over while continuing to have the appearance of the original person. [3]

Of course, the advantage seekers have not avoided liberalism, leaving it to remain in its original principled form.  Novelty creation has been co-opted, offering the ordinary as “new, bigger and better.” The “individual” effort of novel solution-seeking has been perverted as the “freedom to seek personal advantage,” free of biophysical and social restraints: the Libertarian infantilization of community values.  But, these are only local co-optations, liberalism’s evidence based problem recognition and solution seeking may meet the advantage seekers goals in technical pursuits, but not in social and political realms.  “Liberal” education and devotion to evidence based, scientific process, understanding do not serve well the advantage seeker; too many questions are created for which the “new” conservatism has only, fairly obviously, self-serving answers. (see Conservatism’s Yellow Brick Road for more on this issue,)

[1] Of course, these broad habits of process don’t exist in a pure form within a person; each person contains elements of both, and could not live in the world successfully otherwise. The difference is that, on balance, one person will generally approach daily events by calling on socially agreed behaviors and attitudes while another person will see each event as potentially unique, calling for specially discovered behaviors and values.  Intelligence in the first case is used to justify the existing models even as they fit less well and intelligence in the second case is used to fit new solutions to events.

[2] Once community is effectively removed as a central principle of design, only advantage seeking is left as an ordering principle.  It must be clear in attempting to use advantage seeking as a way to defeat advantage seeking, it is this model that has been used to replace the force of the community, that it will always be turned against any resurgence of community principles.  Community values and advantage seeking are antithetical.

[3] If we follow this analogy more fully, it is clear that for such a total takeover the very DNA of the original person would have to be selectively denied expression or rewritten along with existing learned motivational designs.  Similarly, the basic biological designs of human community must be crippled for advantage seeking to replace human communion.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The RFM (Reality Free Media)

If you are trying to think about the world around you as a system that can be rationalized – if only you could figure out the rules, if only you could find the right reporters/commentators to explain events – then you have missed the point.  The reports and essays that appear everyday at Common Dreams, Mother Jones, Counter Punch and their kin – or The Drudge Report, World Net Daily, Breitbart, etc. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Daily Mail, etc. are the same only different!) [1] – are like descriptions of a sporting event (thus the easy metaphor of politics as sports); and sports are intentionally made-up systems of rules for orderly functioning within a defined context separate from a larger reality. 

A pawn is not allowed ‘to take’ a piece directly in front of it – there is no natural reason for that! Killing the most effective player on the other team is ‘not allowed’ in American football – though it is understood that attempts at incapacitating him are acceptable within certain limits!  In almost all places in the world human lives are pressed into equally arbitrary systems that vary in their force of application from social discomfort to murder.

What we face today are sports-like rules dominating the public space and argued over as if they are really to be followed. Violations of these rules are regularly committed and denied (or attributed to the ‘other team’).  The actual Reality of biophysical processes are increasingly being damaged by direct, knowing human action and unknowingly by the summed activity of our consuming billions.  Our “game” is being rained out and we are denying that we are even getting wet.  We throw up our “explanations” and “understandings” of events as though they were umbrellas sufficient to reject the reality of the gathering waters.

But they are no more than arguments over the rules: “You tried to move your knight one up and one over!”  “Your guy jumped off side.”  “You don’t get another pitch; the third strike has been called.”  “Your credit score is too low to be acceptable for the job.” “You are the wrong religion.” And the rain comes down; the water is getting waist deep.  What will the rules matter when you are swimming for your life?

Of course, there have to be rules.  Knowing what to do and how to respond are essential requirements of the living condition.  But, the source of the rules, increasingly for the human species, must be given the greatest scrutiny; taking a set of rules as given only makes sense – and survivability – when the context is clearly recognized as the game being played. Unfortunately, human cognitive process has no natural device or structure for such distinctions: the greatest numbers of us accept the rules of the game that we grow up with as natural and necessary reality.

But clearly, life is not arbitrary: life does not perform equally well in any arbitrary system.  Remove any organism from the primary conditions of the Living Order and its organized substance rapidly loses the ordered configurations of life.  Remove most organisms from the conditions to which they are evolved and their behaviors will fail to keep them alive.  Deny a species veridical sources of information from the primary environment to which it must adapt and it will decline and disappear.  These statements are beyond argument for every organism on the earth other than the human species; I contend that they are also completely true for humans as well:

Only with a caveat: the human Conscious System of Order has produced arbitrary behavioral constructions that consign the destructive consequences of our actions to other species, economically weaker humans or to future generations of all life.  It is these arbitrary behavioral constructions (games) that most of us call unquestioned reality. 

The other species, organized into ecosystems, have buffered our human profligacies by adapting in their own ways to stay alive, thus continuing to supply ecological “free” services; economically weak humans perform similarly, often finding ways to serve the arbitrary realities of those more economically and technologically dominant.  In this way some concessions to biophysical reality are wrung from our actions.  This, however, can only go on for a short time (in evolutionary terms).  Any rational consideration of the present world makes clear that we are in the end game.

The major reporting of world events seen in newspapers, on the internet and on other forms of media are only sideshows: in the center rings are human profligacy, environmental disruption and imminent necessity of major and rapid changes to how humans live in the world.

It is only the presentation of these ideas in as many forms and forums as possible that will first allow and then drive the essentially arbitrary process of human rule-making toward greater contact with biophysical necessity.

[1] I am not suggesting an exact equivalency between the “progressive” media and the reactionary media, in general “progressive” media is making an effort to rationalize events while reactionary media is functioning on the agenda (most often hidden) of the oligarchic and plutocratic elites, but both are largely devoid of meaningful contact with the larger reality.  (The elite agenda is one of the major elements in skewing the public narrative, but the “progressive” media generates its own reality-free system anyway.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blowing Reality Bubbles Is No Child’s Game

The level of discourse within which we typically attempt to understand our world is the product of cultural habit and biological adaptations to, what were in our evolution, consistently important causal and correlative environmental events: the human generated informational environment of today has only the most tenuous relationship to that history.  In other words, our capacity to generate changes to the conditions that immediately surround us has not only modified physical surroundings by many orders of magnitude on many dimensions, but has constructed changes in the probabilities and importance of events to the point that our responses to those events, and understandings of them, have become essentially arbitrary.  The arbitrary and the random have become the “solid” ground upon which we judge and guide our present and our future.

But we are not biologically equipped to recognize the arbitrary and the random.  Our cognitive machinery will produce a cobbled-together order out of almost any disorder as the only option; and an “order” so created will almost certainly be maladaptive even as it seems to take on the quality of being essential for the functioning of social systems.  A social system driven by arbitrary order, like a poorly made machine, will, quickly in biological time, tear itself apart through its own operation.  Human history is a record of social systems self-destructing more and more rapidly, and with increasing consequences, as the systems are based on more arbitrary and random elements and fewer environmental/biophysical realities.

We have reached the point where a few billions of people value financialized activities more than the actual, hands on, production of food, cleaning of our environmental wastes, delivery of potable water, construction of protective dwellings, socialization and education of children, equitable distribution of resources or other primary productive activities.  And billions more wish to join more closely with that madness, to be “freed” from having to consider activities that are in their essence the basic biological activities that directly sustain life itself.

One need only ask themselves what would this Planet of Life be like ‘if every animal and every plant were “freed” from having to live within the restraints of its biological condition’ to realize the absurdly arbitrary standards that “civilized” humanity have come to.  The scientific details of climate change, evaluations of industrial pollution, measurements of ecosystem degradation, descriptions of and choices among political/economic processes, are all symptoms of this larger and ultimately simpler understanding.  The essence of life on earth is in the direct living of its possibilities by each organism, the taking and giving that maintains the precarious balance of those possibilities.  An organism that takes too little and gives too much quickly disappears; equally, an organism that takes too much and gives back too little destroys the conditions that sustain it: it is this simple calculus that has guided evolutionary processes through the many billions of iterations of the living organism.

That an ape evolved an adaptation allowing it to put off the consequences of living outside the basic evolutionary paradigm does not change the calculus.  The consequences are put off onto other organisms and the biophysical systems that sustain the Living Order.  The ultimate consequence can never be avoided: biophysical systems and ecosystems will simplify as their integrity is challenged, removing the ordered and stable conditions required by complex life.  That such a process takes thousands of years is no argument against this form of change; it is the expected time line.

The ape we are lives within the sophistry of our own manufacture: a product of the arbitrary, the random and the unavoidable biological nature of a nervous system that creates order whether it exists or not.  And we come to depend on that manufactured order, not only for the sense of safety that any order supplies, but for the most basic biological needs. We largely ignore the actual origin of need meeting, conflating and assuming that the needs are met as the ‘natural’ consequence of political and economic choices rather than from organic growth, biophysical soil production, wetland water filtration, hydrological cycle, carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle and so forth.  So, we ignore the actual origins and focus our attention on the arbitrary order that seems, but, of course, is not, more immediate.

It must be a key understanding that our organism will produce an ordered mental/social structure from our experiences.  If those experiences are closely connected to biophysical Reality, our ordering systems will align our behaviors with the sustaining Reality, quite independently of how we might ‘think about’ or describe the reasons for that alignment.  If our experiences are disconnected from biophysical Reality, our behaviors will come from the arbitrary ordering of random experiences regardless of how well we might ‘think about’ scientifically sound biophysical principles.

This means, quite simply, that much of humanity must change drastically how it lives out daily experience if our behaviors, as a species, are to comport with the most foundational of biological/evolutionary principle: neither take too little or too much and neither give too much or too little.  The functioning of this principle requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms. 

Essentially all maladaptations are traceable to the disconnection of daily experience from biophysical Reality, traceable to some localized ‘bubble’ reality quickly forming and popping.  The human adaptation of Consciousness Order is admirably suited to the creation of such “reality” bubbles.  Religions, economic forms, political systems, social systems, all have become primarily represented by ‘reality bubbles,’ self-referenced systems with little connection to biophysical Reality.  No amount of “right thinking” or scientific clarity can overcome the maladaptive consequences of living in such ‘bubbles’ of experience.

Humanity needs a revolution.  It must be the most revolutionary of revolutions; a reordering of the present experience of life.  Such changes will only come with a heavy price, since we are so far away from where we must eventually be; most of humanity will cling to maladaptive order to the bitter and brutal end.  And it is even possible, even likely should such a revolution actually begin, that its very brutality would so sour the well-spring of human feeling that the result would not be worth the price.  This, however, cannot be a reason not to try; the other option is for our maladaptive behaviors to run their course to an even more bitter and brutal end.

The beginning can be only of the weakest and most unsatisfactory sort: a local, gradual change in how some people think about their lives.  As they change the way they think about and value the activities of their experience, then their experiences will also change.  And these changed experiences will change, even more, how they think and value.  It is the great and only hope that such thinking and understanding have always existed in some small percentage of humanity; some people have always seen through the bubble realities and struggled to maintain some meaningful connection with the substantial world of earth and life.  Added to that hope is that even many of those people who live within the bubbles of maladaptation feel a sense of ill-ease and unrightness; creating a admittedly weak readiness for something different.

Of course, in powerful opposition to increasingly Reality-based conceptions and actions will come from those who benefit from the details of bubble realities – each such bubble reality has its own constituency: the temple priests, the obscenely wealthy, the warmongers, the power-mad, the sadists, the psychopaths and sociopaths – the true dregs of society and community: they of the velvet lie, the arcane theft, the concealed knife, the openly pointed gun and the threat of atomic annihilation.  These are the champions of sophistry, of solipsism. 

These are the people who must ultimately be repatriated as human beings, defeated and reformed or destroyed.  There is no glossing over this bit of reality bubble: the Great Many, if they were not essential to the various so-called elites, would be thoughtlessly destroyed by them – and where they are not essential, have been and will continue to be destroyed in the most sadistic ways (un)imaginable.  And yet we recoil in horror at the thought that the Great Many might have to control or remove the so-called elite (a truly parasitic and pathological lot) in order that humanity might continue to live on in a world of biological stability and health.  Keep this thought in mind as we proceed.

The most important thought up to this point is: “The functioning of this principle (evolutionary principle of Reality-based adaptation) requires intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of biophysical Reality: the kind of connection enjoyed (and suffered) by every organism on earth with the exception of a majority of humans and their several ‘servant’ organisms.”  Humans must live in “natural” communities that have intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection to the events and processes of Biophysical Reality.  Such an arrangement would not make living a utopia, but would only make living possible.

Our species would have to take a great deal less from, and give back a great deal more to, the biophysical systems that sustain life in the thin fecund layer covering much of the surface of this planet.  Take no solace in the thought that if we do not do this voluntarily, that the evolutionary process will do it, only with greater pain.  There is only voluntarily: unless we make this revolutionary change by our own actions, the momentum of human exertions on the delicate and finite living space will almost certainly reduce its capacity to sustain complex life to a level that will leave only a few, if any, mammals and birds, drastically change the composition of the atmosphere and the oceans and make a comparative waste-land of what is now millions of species organized into complex life sustaining ecosystems.

Our species, all of us, must come, very soon, to live with a material simplicity largely unimaginable by the 2 billion or so people of the industrial nations; a simplicity that meets the condition of intimate, immediate, constant and effective connection with the actual processes and conditions of the planetary surface.  And in the process of adapting to a materially simple life, the wealthy peoples must supply the substance by which the poorest peoples are given the most basic material support to develop local sustainable, need-meeting systems appropriate to a materially simple, but informationally complex world.

This doesn’t mean that all people would have to live in wickiups, chickees or tipis, though some might find living in the great out-of-doors pleasant.  Quite a bit of present technology would remain and even expand, though at a somewhat less frenetic pace since resources would move more slowly and in reduced amounts through human industrial and research systems.  Energy systems could easily be localized and reduced in scale, communication systems could expand in scope and importance.

I am imagining a world of tiny houses and large gardens organized into communities numbered and size-scaled by the principles of face-to-face communication and effective walking distances.  Industrial production would be scaled to be served by public transportation from one or several communities, and would be part of the commons as worker run cooperatives.  Educational institutions, health institutions and most governing would function on a similar model.
* * * 
From the perspective of the present collection of bubble realities, how to accomplish such changes is impossible to imagine with any actual detail of action.  There are no institutions designed to collect the wealth of the rich and organize its salutary uses among the billions of the most destitute; our institutions are structured to steal the labor of the poor and concentrate it in the hands of the most pathologically greedy, and to protect that collected wealth from being used for the benefit of humanity.  In fact, the primary ‘bubble reality’ is grown from the almost complete ascendency of the economic/power elite in their long and committed struggle with the essential basis of the species, the very numerous ‘average’ human animal upon which the elite depends for all that they have.

What makes this time so different, however, is that human action, especially as led by the power elites, is not just impacting other humans with marginal consequences on a few other species, but is changing the chemical composition the earth’s living space, modifying the basic energy exchanges among land, sea and air and endangering all of life….  Sorry, didn’t mean to burst your bubble!