Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is a staple of motivational speakers. The premise is that thoughts determine outcomes. If you can visualize a better future, and conceive of the steps you need to take to reach it, a potential future magically pops into existence.

In reality, change requires more than positive thinking. There is a feedback loop between thinking and acting. If we think differently, we must also act differently, and only by acting differently can we hope to achieve something new. In turn, new achievements lead to new experiences, which may cause us to think even more differently, revise our plan, try acting even more differently, and so on.

One of the issues we face in addressing massive, overwhelmingly complex problems such as, just to rattle off a few, climate change, economic inequality and social and political dysfunction, is that it is hard for us even to conceive of a better way of doing things. Not knowing what to do is bad enough; not knowing what to think is even worse!

When no easy answers present themselves, one principle that can be applied is that we must begin with what is simple and directly in front of us. Small actions and real efforts serve a greater purpose than much talk and no action. From small beginnings bigger things may grow.

And what is directly in front of all of us is the way we treat others.

One unintended consequence of our current mode of living is that it has warped and perverted our interpersonal interactions. In order to be able to afford to simply inhabit the planet and satisfy our basic needs, we are required to play all sorts of contrived roles. Specifically, we are forced deal with each other according to arbitrary rules that are forced upon us.

As employees we are expected to readily lie to customers to protect our employers’ profits. As salespeople we are expected to sell things we know better than to ever want to buy. Then there is a whole category of people who work as enforcers, and are specifically paid to disregard all humane considerations and to dole out punishments without any allowance for dire personal circumstances. Vast social and financial hierarchies reward psychopathic behavior (which is regarded as professionalism) while punishing altruism and compassion (which is regarded as weakness or corruption).

Co-workers arbitrarily thrown together by managerial whim often spend more time with each other than with their own families, trapped in a world of stunted, superficial relationships that gradually erode their humanity. Parents often have no choice but to pay strangers to raise their children for them. These strangers work for a wage rather than out of love for the children, and when their contract ends, so does the bond between the child and caregiver, undermining the child’s faith in humanity. When parents do get to see their children, they are often tired and distracted, conditioning the children to treat them no better than they treat the strangers who take care of them the rest of the time.

Growing up with a constant deficit of sensitivity, sincerity, security and warmth, once they reach adulthood these children expect their relationships to be either manipulative and abusive, or regulated by contract. Their humanity becomes reduced to a set of selfish and materialistic drives. Their misshapen psyches are balanced on a knife’s edge between a morbid fear of exclusion, which drives them toward mimicry and conformism, and an unnatural, hypertrophied competitive drive that destroys their instinct for spontaneous cooperation.

When you take a step back from it all and look at it, the impression is one of a society-wide mental disorder.

But this is a syndrome that we know how to treat, at first individually, then as groups. How this can be done is explained in the following final excerpt from 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future.

The Rule of 150

And now we arrive at the rationale for the title of this book. It relates to Dunbar’s number: 150, the approximate maximum group size within which people are able to maintain context in their relationships. The reframing of context is the all-important enabler necessary for the establishment of a new reconciling force, which is at the heart of what is necessary for real change. It is a matter of scale: attempts to reconnect people with each other and the environment, and to recontextualize their decision-making, will fail whenever this limit is exceeded.

In applying knowledge of Dunbar’s number, we can say that there is a Rule of 150 that should apply as an organizing principle to the way we structure our systems of human interaction. We should seek to orient ourselves around what is natural in our evolutionary makeup: we are a social species, we work well as small communities, and our strength is in working together.

Counter to the emphasis on the collective that follows naturally from the Rule of 150, our current profit-oriented culture promotes the success of the individual, creating a dynamic where the incentive is for people to become silos, set apart in competition, and defined by their individual economic wealth. This creates a vibration of self-protection and insecurity, which fosters isolationism and selfishness, culminating in the cult of the individual that we see celebrated in our modern culture. This situation has brought about much that is degenerate in the modern world.

But there is no need to lament this situation; we can alter it. Built into our DNA is the impulse for something better, based around the welfare and fulfillment of the collective. There is a natural human tendency to want to help others, to create a nurturing environment for our families and safety and security for our communities. Also, in most of us, there is an aspirational impulse for virtue, albeit it is often buried deep and is but a dim flicker.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a theory of human motivation. It defines five broad categories of need, usually shown as a pyramid with the most basic need at the bottom, this being the need for the satisfaction of our physical requirements for air, food, water, shelter and sleep, while the most aspirational need of self-actualization, relating to morality, creativity and acceptance, is placed at the very top.

In order of importance, these human needs are ranked as follows:

1. Physiological needs: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion.

2. Safety needs: security of body, of resources, of morality, of the family, of health, of property.

3. Love and belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy.

4. Esteem: self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others.

5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts.

The human mind is complex, with many parallel processes happening within it at the same time, and so the satisfaction of one level of need is not necessarily a prerequisite for the fulfillment of another. But it can be loosely said that if the basic needs are met, there is greater potential for energy and effort to be devoted to addressing the others.

The significance of this theory in relation to the Rule of 150 is that belonging to a stable and supportive community provides a context for the attainment of higher aims. Such a context is necessary for us to undertake serious reform of our approach to the environment and to each other.

One of the fundamental weaknesses of the profit motive system is that it is inherently subversive of efforts to provide unconditional security and safety. This weakness manifests to different degrees; even employment in a private enterprise within a market economy can provide a measure security. But, to use the United States as an example, the fact that tens of millions are medicated (and self-medicated) for anxiety and feel the need to protect themselves with apocalyptic levels of weaponry tells us that they have an issue with insecurity. For all the material progress delivered by capitalism, observations of the cultural trends that have accompanied it suggest that there has not been a similar advancement in inner peace or fulfillment.

When people belong to a group bound together by more than mere superficialities, there is a range of mechanisms that are supportive of their human needs. It goes without saying that security must ultimately come from within, and that things such as self-esteem cannot be generated by external circumstances only. But if we understand the importance of providing a stable context in which people can find their footing in life, there is a much greater chance of positive outcomes. Parents looking to create a nurturing environment for their children, for example, are far more likely to succeed when they to have a stable income and roots within a community. Zero-hours contracts, where an employer need not guarantee employees any minimum hours of work or wages, are not consistent with this!

The Rule of 150 also means that groups must be kept small enough to remain functional and effective. When people know each other and interact regularly, there is a constant flow of subtle feedbacks, beyond words, that helps to build the fabric of a shared culture. One knows when one is in harmony with the vibration of the group or not. A verbalized thought resonates, either hanging and falling flat, or comes back amplified through body language and subtly introduced comments. The edges of each individual’s radical tendencies are constrained. Through shared experience over time, and knowledge and understanding of the other group members, a true center of gravity is created for the group to reconcile their actions.

When groups operate on this level, the need for an overt democratic process, with activities such as campaigning and voting, is mostly absent. Day-to-day discussion, consensus-based decisions made at spontaneous or scheduled meetings, and a general understanding that all are heading in the same direction, are far superior in generating forward momentum and unity. As has often been said about the process of voting, it is but “two wolves and a lamb deciding who is going to be eaten for lunch.”

The process of consensus-based decision-making is generally what occurs in a well-run medium-size business, if it has engaged employees and a positive company culture. Not all have to get along and agree, but because working there implies a certain level of performance, or a way of doing things, things generally progress in the right direction. Of course, this requires good management and a stable business environment.

Taking this microcosm of proven effectiveness and applying it to a broader context is not easy. Many of the institutions of modern life require scale. Government, while being responsible for much that is broken about our current model, is necessary for facilitating such things as the construction and operation of water treatment plants, hospitals, schools, roads and public transport systems. These require large-scale and complex inputs and cannot be executed by a small group in isolation. Scale and specialization are necessary.

The challenge is therefore to address the scourge of large scale, in terms of all the loss of context and nuance that it brings, but to retain the capacity to organize and operate collectively to address bigger needs and issues.

This is a tall order!

What we can say as a starting point, though, is that none of the current methods of operating are supportive of the Rule of 150. The trend is toward centralization, depersonalization of the processes of life, and control by rules. The Transpacific Partnership Agreement for example, which is being negotiated at the time of this writing, seeks to elevate the rights of corporations above the level of national law. Transnational businesses are being given a near-untouchable status that will prevent their regulation within a local context, which might otherwise be used to provide some system of ensuring that their activities are appropriate. This can only produce more destruction of the social fabric of society and the concomitant desecration of the environment.

If we are to embark on a journey toward something that can be considered more democratic, in the real sense, where it is not an “us” and “them” system of the leaders and the led, where there is real hope for better outcomes, we must ask ourselves in all situations: “How does this fit in with respect to the Rule of 150?”

This question must become paramount, as decisions must be made by people who maintain relationships with each other and who are engaged in their local context. It is the mechanism by which we may establish a new reconciling force to supplant the profit motive system – a crack through which the light may come in, to borrow a phrase from Leonard Cohen.

Decisions made on a financial basis only, by organizations structured around the management of finance, must be made subordinate to something that is better, more resilient and emerges on its own.

The application of this principle is twofold:

1. On a personal level we can ask ourselves: who are my 150 people?

2. On an organizational level, we can restructure our systems of interaction so that they are based around groups of 150 people.

As individuals, we can reach out to those who form part of our network of belonging, seeking to strengthen the bonds within it. And, as citizens, we can seek to reform our public institutions, making them smaller and more personal. Our inner realm needs to expand, while our outer realm contracts, until the two can meet.


Walter said...

I see you read my first book. I call it "informed tribalism."

StevieFinn said...

Very good - the cracks appear to be multiplying, perhaps we shall therefore receive more light.

over the hill and down the other side said...

RE: Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. This theory has always seemed to me to be the product of a past era when there was a belief that endless prosperity was going to lead (inevitably!), to an improved humanity. This improvement was going to be led by the "right thinking" prosperous! So far as I know, there has not been research that supported this theory...

But just looking around--are wealthy people any more compassionate, kinder, "developed", than poor people? Why do so many systems for spiritual development demand that the aspirant become "poor" as a precondition for consciousness growth?

forrest said...

People are continually faced with situations that seem to fit a "Prisoners' Dilemma" pattern. Computer simulations of such situations show: that cooperation is a successful strategy when the (ai) players get repeated interactions with the same, identifiable partners -- but when a trial is based on single interactions or anonymous partners, the dynamics go all to hell, towards cheating and betrayals. Your rule of 150, and the role of gossip networks in tight communities, seem consistent with that.

As to 'positive thinking,' I've found that renewed hope can be extremely theraputic... but of course, when every political "hope" we're offered turns out to be another evil old white man, whether in blackface or in drag, that's bound to end in disillusion.

As a heuristic method, hope definitely beats resignation. (If nothing else, it keeps us in the game.)

Cortes said...

In Pulse, Orlando , Florida, why would I sacrifice my life for others?

Would you?

Whyawannaknow said...


"In Pulse, Orlando , Florida, why would I sacrifice my life for others?

Would you?"

Yes. I would. By now, even the average USA consumer should have an inkling that the best response to such a situation is to turn towards the attacker (s) en masse, and gang pile them- Rather than die individually while failing to escape.

I have no illusions about the probability that as the first to turn towards such a situation, I would be least likely to survive. But, I really don't give a shit any more. I am old, cranky and don't have much of a future in our present paradigm any how.

Can we now exclude such extreme outlier events from this comment stream, and concentrate on correctly responding to the much more prevalent day to day grind of dieing slowly for the glory of the invisible hand?

NowhereMan said...

Counter to the emphasis on the collective that follows naturally from the Rule of 150, our current profit-oriented culture promotes the success of the individual, creating a dynamic where the incentive is for people to become silos, set apart in competition, and defined by their individual economic wealth. This creates a vibration of self-protection and insecurity, which fosters isolationism and selfishness, culminating in the cult of the individual that we see celebrated in our modern culture. This situation has brought about much that is degenerate in the modern world.

That's the money paragraph right there. I'd only add that rather than the word 'much' I'd substitute the phrase 'damn near all'. Of course the hyper-rich realize this full well already. That's why they stick together - usually behind closed doors - like the gang of rapacious thieves they are. It's only us poor saps who foolishly imagine that every stroke of good luck we experience is due to our own individual "hard work, sterling character, and dogged perserverance." The rich guffaw at our folly, even as they encourage it.

Unknown said...

In retrospect, I saw this Rule of 150 at work in the Army many years ago. The standard strength for an infantry company was around 150 men, maybe a little less. Your immediate "family" was your platoon and your extended "family" was the company. You knew your platoon mates very well, like brothers, and everybody knew everyone else in the company at least to the point that if you encountered them in town, you recognized them and knew their last name. At next level up, the battalion, that familiarity pretty much broke down.

DeVaul said...

While returning from taking my daughter and her friend out for bumper car rides, I noticed something very strange on my street. Someone -- presumably a man -- had painted over his pick-up truck, which used to have a white leaf pattern over black on it, to solid military green. Attached to his truck was a camper, also painted over in military green and another one parked in the driveway.

I stopped to get a better look. The front license plate decal indicated clearly to me that he was a militiaman or a survivalist, along with some other stenciled symbols in black on the sides of his vehicles and trailers, which I did not know, but they looked menacing. His bed mattresses and other furniture was all piled up outside on the curb, and it was clear that he was preparing to leave for the forest. Some people call it "bugging out". It was a strange sight to see on my street, which is mostly a mixed race neighborhood.

I could see he was leaving and not coming back. His supplies were all loaded and he was ready to roll, but I wondered where he would be going to. I also wondered if he was a member of group or just a loner. If he is still here this weekend, I may ask him and find out what his plans are and why he is leaving. But mostly, I want to know if he has a support group of some kind, or if he is just going out alone. He might have some interesting things to say. Then again, he may start ranting about religion or who knows what.

Still, just seeing one person on my street act differently has made me wonder if there are others nearby, and whether their group is one that I might want to join. I once belonged to a Deaf group that was about 20-30 strong, but then it dispersed and I found myself alone again. Finding a group to belong to is not easy nowadays.

Marty from North Dakota said...

I am a libertarian capitalist. My family is first through 100th. 101 is close friends with a relationship lasting years. 102 is my business family. Acquaintances are many but fleeting. Not exactly a silo, more like a well rounded life of service and satisfaction for strangers; love, joy, service and satisfaction for those close to me.

Rob Schneider said...

The "abundance" theory, it seems to me, is a form of black magic. Sure, you might be able to "manifest abundance," but it will come at a cost to others and that's what black magic is all about. Adherents think it's "spiritual," but that's because they think anything that can't be explained by science is spiritual. Real spirituality, in my opinion, has everything to do with kindness and compassion and nothing to do with "manifesting abundance" for personal gain.

John Doyle said...

How would Maslow react when confronted by the notion that we are ordained for a full on civilization collapse? Since this cannot be avoided except by dying early, and there is almost no place to escape to get away - the whole planet will be affected, there will be no grounds for optimism, no valid Dunbar number except short term and we will be part of a great population crash. Fun times ahead!