Tuesday, February 09, 2016

A positive reconciling force

This is an excerpt from the latest title to be published by Club Orlov Press: 150-Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future by Rob O'Grady, available as both paperback and Kindle e-book via Amazon.com. This is a key passage that does nothing less than define a new modus vivendi that allows us to get past selfish motivations and the blind pursuit of ever more ephemeral profits, and to empower ourselves to build something much more solid that amplifies the energy of personal relationships. And now, without further ado, Rob O'Grady:

On the most basic level, human fallibility is regulated in two ways. The first is through fear, which motivates us to avoid negative outcomes. The second is through aspiration, which motivates us to achieve positive outcomes. A person may refrain from stealing to avoid prison; another out of respect for others’ property and a belief in the value of harmonious living. One day we may work because we need the money; the next because we want to contribute to something useful and worthwhile. Aspects of both our baser and our better nature are always at work, and both the carrot and the stick are needed in any system for organizing people.

One of the great strengths of the profit motive-driven system is that this carrot-and-stick dynamic is well-defined and robust. But this strength is also a weakness, for it contains a serious flaw: only a limited few can do well in chasing the carrot of profit, while the remainder of the population, along with the environment, get the stick and become collateral damage. Anyone who can’t make a profit is denied access to resources and is subjected to the depravity of war, poverty, bondage and defilement.

I therefore propose an alternative carrot-and-stick mechanism, which is predicated on one important imperative: people must be firmly reconnected with the consequences of their actions. As chance would have it, there is a remarkable transformation happening in our culture at present, which is enabling this exact thing. While many of us are not yet aware of its significance, I believe that it has huge potential.

The new ubiquity of mobile computing coupled with widespread internet access has made us potentially visible to the world in nearly all contexts—even in our bedrooms. We are becoming acutely aware of the dangers inherent in a situation in which privacy is disappearing, and of powerful entities with sinister, self-serving agendas that are able to monitor our every move. But there is also a very positive potential developing, and we should not lose sight of it.

In a world where all of our actions can to be recorded on video at any time, and the resultant video distributed for all to see in perpetuity, a brief descent into the red mist of anger may make us the star in an online viral hit, while a moment of ill-advised conduct may land us on the evening news. The world has become smaller and the channels of communication much broader. The filters of the establishment media and the limitations of the physical published word no longer apply, and almost anywhere we go we can be called to account using electronic evidence that can be distributed for all to see. The actions of a shoplifter may be caught on CCTV and posted to YouTube; a public official taking a bribe may be covertly filmed and shamed on Facebook; mendacious establishment narratives can be swiftly discredited by anyone with a phone, an internet connection and a more enlightened point of view. Thus, the “stick” of public scrutiny is evolving into something imbued with new power and vitality. This is happening naturally, without overt direction—and that is a hallmark of something that is resilient and robust. It may in due course provide an emergent new context for the development of a more moral society.

While views of morality can differ, the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—is something that almost all of us accept as natural and right. Applying it implies being considerate of others ahead of one’s own narrow interests—while expecting others to reciprocate. It is this very dynamic that I propose as a new reconciling force for our society. It is the ideal of selfless service—an ethic that embodies what must become the aspirational part of a new carrot-and-stick regime to live by. In a world where selfishness seems to reign supreme, this may sound like a utopian dream, but I contend that it is eminently achievable. Despite our current situation, almost all of us are able to relate to idea of a fair deal for others. The creation of the correct social context is all that is required for this reconciling force to become operative.




Rangi said...

Hi Dmitry. I'm glad this book is at such an accessible price (unlike the Japanese translation of Reinventing Collapse). Have you considered making the paperback available outside of the US? I will certainly get the Kindle version in any case. Thanks

Alex said...

There are societies that greatly esteem being selfless. Read up on the Eskimos for instance. Someone can be considered a great man for how much they give away.

I think most if not all pre-civ societies worked this way.

I have seen this in informal groups of people here in the dear old usa. For instance, you have a swapmeet. The people all know each other. No rough stuff can happen because you always have many pairs of eyes on you. If someone's table starts to fall over, you jump in and catch it. Or anything like that, people help each other. I used to hustle caricature drawings in a smallish town square, and one day a homeless guy came up and told me, "we've been watching you and you are OK. We've got your back".

What would this be called? Communalism maybe? All systems called communism have involved coercion. But people will spontaneously form these networks-of-favors.

Helix said...

Re: "While views of morality can differ, the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—is something that almost all of us accept as natural and right. Applying it implies being considerate of others ahead of one’s own narrow interests—while expecting others to reciprocate."

That "almost all of us" is the problematic bit. It acknowledges that there are some among us who do not accept this either natural or right. And so, despite at least 3000 years of the golden rule, the world is still chock full of war, oppression, and treachery.

In fact, among that remainder, the golden rule can be and is used as a weapon. The predators in this group understand that this rule binds others in ways that they themselves are not bound. That there things that "almost all of us" will not willingly do, while they themselves have no problem with them. Worse yet, the golden rule prevents others from seeing them for what they are. The "expecting others to reciprocate" part is inoperative in such cases.

This accrues as an advantage to them. The are free to prey upon "almost all of us" -- undetected in the beginning -- and are far more likely to attain positions of power than those of us bound by the Golden Rule. And thus we are back to the age-old dilemma of society and government: in order to protect the interests of the people, it is necessary to have an authority with coercive power over them. And how does society prevent the predators from attaining those positions of authority and coercive power?

Jayhawk said...

I'm not so sure. Legislators are routinely filmed saying and doing corrupt and/or stupid things and are reelected at an 85% rate with 90% margins. Media reports with an obvious bias that which is observably untrue and is believed by more viewers than not.

Unknown said...

A great man suggested doing something along these lines around 2,000 years ago.
And he was executed for it.

don said...

Helix's comment is very poignant. The sociopaths will prey on the naive and gullible. What I see is that many people have so much faith in our institutions, that they give blind obedience to them. The savvy sociopaths end up at the top of those organizations, whether it is churches, corporations, or government, and abuse all of us.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Don, Helix, you need to read the rest of the book, or you'll miss the point. There is a whole section on the way groups can deal with "inherent negativity." There is a way. It's not easy, but it works.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Very interesting and hope giving. I keep telling the people who I do little trades with that we have to 'bank on each other.' It echoes David Brin's concept of the Transparent Society. Thanks for facilitating this book, it is now on the iPad!

Helix said...

Dmitry: I will be happy to read this book at some point. At the moment, though, my reading list is rather long and, as I am still working, it may take me a while to get to it. Perhaps you could be so kind as to post a summary if this fits in with your posting schedule?

By the way, this is a topic that Andrew Bard Schmookler deals with to some extent in "The Parable of the Tribes." While I thought that book was profound overall, in this aspect I was not convinced by Schmookler's ideas. Perhaps Mr. O'Grady's thoughts will be more convincing.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Helix, I haven't read the book yet either, but I have some ideas. First of all, I imagine that the focus of the book is on groups of 150 people or less.
As a side note, the author of the book The Sociopath Next Door claimed that one out of 25 people is a sociopath. That means that a group of 150 people would have six sociopaths in it. If the group votes its members in then they can perhaps keep the sociopath count down. But if the group maintains its number through birth and death then invariably, it will end up with sociopaths, assuming that sociopaths are not the product of bad parenting. So small communities need mechanisms for dealing with sociopaths.
Small isolated groups in the past dealt with bad behavior by banishing the bad actors or killing them outright. Banishment in most cases would have been marginally better than outright killing since survival in an environment devoid of other people is difficult. The banished person could seek out other communities but isolated communities did not welcome strangers. They might kill the stranger outright or simply enslave him or admit him to the group with some sort of subhuman status.
Another reason sociopathic behavior is difficult in a small group is that everyone knows everyone so the sociopath will have to keep on his or her toes to avoid being found out and banished. Small groups under 150 population also tend to have very flat social structures. To do serious damage, sociopaths need some sort of hierarchical organization where they can gain positions of power.
If the small group is embedded in a larger society, it still has the option to toss out bad actors. The bad actor then simply moves on and melts back into the general population pool.
So, I guess what I am proposing is that as long as a small community keeps its organization egalitarian and non-hierarchical with no power positions, the sociopath will have a hard time gaining traction.
Finally, I would like to suggest that the reason we continue to have sociopaths is that they must offer survival advantages to the group under certain circumstances. Perhaps they are useful if the group is under attack from the outside or in other stressful situations.

blogee said...

at Helix who noted a Golden Rule as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"...
There is more than 1 Golden Rule. Another, that seems more workable and wise, is:

Do not do to others what you yourself, would find distasteful" [There are translational variations of this.}

Here is another First Principle candidate:

Unfairness leads to chaos.

Anonymous said...

Wolfgang, thanks for your input,it is very insightful and well thought out. Your insight on keeping an organization small and being egalitarian and nonhierarchical with no power positions is key. It's also easier to have good and caring leadership in a small group, caring people (with a desire for leadership) have a hard time in a larger groups because the citizenry tend to gravitate to eloquent and charming personalities no how evil they might be. . I believe it much easier for a sociopath to hide his evil actions (in a large group) cause someone can to his dirty work. Many sociopaths that have a desire for power and control are very charismatic and manipulative .

I have read the book and found it to be very interesting. Something that I found very interesting and the anti-capitalistic theme of the book made me think of the situation and lifestyle differences between native peoples and the immigrants when they first arrived. The immigrants when they arrived lived like they wanted to dominate the land and the landscape and the native peoples seemed to live in harmony without tilling and deforesting. It seemed like the native peoples were aware of the limits of the land's ability to provide for them and was content with that. The immigrants did not, they desired more and seemed like they were never content and always wanted more and demanded (or didn't want to change their lifestyle) more than nature could provide naturally for them. Also, it makes me think about paying a tax to the hierarchy changes the way we do things, the way we think we have to produce more than what we need cause the king, or dictator or however is in power is always extracting your wealth.

The course of civilization has in my opinion, has be led down a darker path due to the apathy and the trusting nature of the general populace. This apathy and lack of wisdom seems to be general theme of us sheep, and arrogance and brute force seems to be the model for most leaders since the dawn of the nation state.