Tuesday, April 12, 2016

150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future – Serialisation Part 2

[Update: Since none of you got the right answer, here is a hint.

Q: What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?

A: The profit motive.

Please make a mental note.]

When we find ourselves in need of a miracle there is a simple formula that can be applied: “Don’t panic, take stock, and do the next logical thing.” If we apply this formula, hold our course and maintain a positive outlook, the white knight of providence may intercede on our behalf.

That is not to say that the relationship between action and consequence can be avoided. There is no magic wand for the absolution of a life of feckless excess. In the case of our collective consumption binge, we have brought about the sixth mass-extinction event (to add to the previous ones, which are evident in the Earth’s geologic record), we have created a shambolic financial system of gross imbalance, and we have allowed our culture to degrade so far that a figure as flawed as that of Donald Trump has been allowed to become a credible candidate for the position of the world’s supposedly most powerful person. It would be a long way back to some semblance of a reasonable equilibrium.

But we should not give up hope. If we work through our collective karma, we might find that there is the potential for regeneration.

As far as stoic perseverance in the face of testing circumstances is concerned, we are doing this part quite well. Panic levels are low. We have taken on board recent information about the extraordinary warming of our planet, the impending financial collapse and the degeneration of our systems of government into a total farce, and have just kept going. An eerie feeling of normalcy is being maintained without much effort.

However, we seem to be falling short in “taking stock.” There isn’t much coherent thought, and the range of responses includes wilful ignorance, the formulation of well-meaning but intellectually unsound and contradictory concepts such as “sustainable development,” a general feeling of “sentimental hopefulness” that things will carry on as they have, and a “fearful lethargy” brought on by the feeling that there is nothing we can do.

Given our failure to effectively take stock of where we are at, there has been little progress in applying part three of our formula: “doing the next logical thing”.

In this second instalment of the serialisation of 150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future, we present an extract which establishes a framework for evaluating where we are from an alternative perspective. We suggest that, based on this framework, new possibilities for action might be discerned.

The title of Chapter 2 is

An Alternative Frame of Reference

Those who have been trained as engineers or scientists are predisposed to investigate problems starting from first principles: to establish what is known at the most basic level – just the facts, so to speak – and then build a conclusion based on logic. When we attempt to analyze our current system using such a method, we must first backtrack quite far, dispensing with received certainties imparted to us through various official channels which may or may not have a basis in fact. Instead, we must seek to see things from a fresh perspective, outside of the prism of ordinary thinking. And to do this systematically, we first need to establish an alternative frame of reference.

Newton’s Third Law

The laws of physics may seem an unlikely place to start when approaching an analysis of our system of economics, but Newton’s third law describes a dynamic that is universal in all systems, not just mechanical:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

This law characterizes a system in which there are three forces at work: the action, the reaction, and the organizing principle according to which this dynamic is resolved, which is the conservation of energy. This triadic interplay exists in all dynamic systems, and while in some systems it may seem chaotic, there will always be an organizing principle that reconciles the conflict between an initial impulse and its eventual negation. Its application is straightforward in the analysis of physical systems, where the organizing principles are the laws of physics, but, interestingly, it is also applicable to psychology and group dynamics, where the organizing principle may be some framework of identity, social convention or externally applied set of rules.

Let us call this organizing principle the “reconciling force.”

The Tao and Physics

The Taoist symbol of yin and yang also provides a useful context. While the introduction of a symbol from the realm of metaphysics may seem like an unusual departure in a discussion of sustainability and economics, this symbol is useful for conveying knowledge at the level of fundamentals and helpful in our aim to understand the significance of the incentive structure behind our current system.

In the symbol of the Tao, the two fields – one black, the other white – represent the pair of opposites, and ordinarily this is about as much as people would see: two opposing forces working against each other, yin and yang, action and reaction, masculine and feminine. Less obvious, but perfectly intuitive once you put your mind to it, and essential to the emergent significance of the symbol, is that it also represents a third force: the harmony that is manifested in the entire symbol, where yin and yang are held in balance, in equal proportions, which represents the organizing principle, or the reconciling force. In Taoist philosophy, without black there could be no white, and for both to exist they must be held in eternal balance by the action of the unknowable Tao.

The dynamic of action, reaction and reconciliation is also evident in the structure of an atom, where there are also three elements present: the positively-charged protons and the negatively-charged electrons interact to form stable elements, facilitated by the presence of neutrally-charged neutrons. In this example, the neutrons are the reconciling force, and from this simple triadic template comes all matter in the universe.

An Example from our Everyday Lives

Extending this triadic dynamic to human interaction, we can observe that in any situation where there is a process of initiation and negation, the same type of system is at work. Any effort to make a change in any direction always meets with a response in the form of opposition. This conflict is resolved according to the predominant organizing principle in effect at the time. Here again there are three forces at work: action, reaction and reconciliation.

One example of such a system that most of us can relate to in a human context is marriage: when two people make a commitment to share their lives together, there is an organizing principle that holds them together, whether they are aware of this or not. It is the glue that sustains the relationship, and the reference point from which a couple can resolve its differences. Be it a complex web of mutual dependence, a sense of responsibility before children and other family members or, in the worst case, a vain sense of social propriety, it is the reconciling force of their relationship.

Often the force that initially catalyzes a relationship is sexual attraction, which is a powerful and ubiquitous force of nature. But usually it is not an enduring force due to the propensity for sexual attraction to become less of a motivator when faced with more everyday stressors, like the need to keep the kitchen sink clear of dirty dishes and maintaining general household order.

Another common reconciling force in a marriage (often taking over gradually as sexual attraction fades) is the welfare of the children, where the parents meet each other halfway to reconcile their conflicting individual needs for the benefit of the whole family. The welfare of the children then becomes the predominant organizing principle.

And even in a dysfunctional marriage – for example, where the motivating force of the welfare of the children has lost its intensity – the reconciling force may be the fear of separation. Each person is afraid of becoming poorer should they part ways, or of the separation being too shameful or too difficult. In this case, the organizing principle isn’t anything particularly positive, but it does keep the two together. On the other hand, in a healthy marriage there is usually some positive ideal or shared system of belief that is the reconciling force, such as an abiding friendship underpinned by acceptance, loyalty and love.

In order to effectively take stock of our current situation it would seem important that we try and understand the workings of this dynamic in our society at present. The fundamental questions are these:

1. What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?

2. What are the effects of this reconciling force?

3. If there were to be a new reconciling force, what would it be?

And it is here that I wish to make a bold statement: It would take little more than effectively answering these three questions for our lives to change for the better, for that which follows from such a basic understanding becomes inevitable.

150 Strong: A Pathway to a Different Future by Rob O'Grady is available on Amazon and published by Club Orlov Press.


Patrick said...

A wise and useful post. I've asked myself this question in recent years; is there nothing this country/nation/population can agree on anymore as being a common good, which should be supported and funded without constant debate, or subject to change depending on who is in the White House, Congress, or the Supreme Court? Like clean water, or preserving wild places untouched by drilling, mining, or ORVs for future generations? Where I live, the roads are in an embarrassingly dangerous condition, and though some of us believe that the days of "Happy Motoring" (James Kunstler) are numbered, even the larger culture of car-obsessed drivers can't agree that roads and bridges should be maintained in a safe condition, and that this will not somehow happen magically without shelling out some considerable amount of money. What madness is this?

forrest said...

Where a common old European image features a knight playing chess with Death, the oldest Chinese game is what we call 'go' -- where a typical game ends with both sides sharing the board, the score determined mainly by whose side has more territory. Since small go boards (used as a primitive abacus?) are found in old Chinese palace sites, the game could well be old enough to have inspired the development of Taoism.
The main difficulty with organizing efforts to 'solve' a problem is that every long-term organization has a defensive team and an offensive team -- playing against each other, of course. Whatever the group's nominal mission might be, some people want to be out in front doing it (or at least starring in great photo ops) while others want to prevent all action lest it lead to trouble for themselves (ie, running out of problem to 'solve'?).

Zoltar said...

Given the manifest lack of consensus in America regarding social issues, spirituality, acceptable behavior, education, or anything else, I can see only a shared desire for unsustainable affluence – nurtured and goaded, of course, by enormous marketing agencies – as the reconciling force in this country today.

The effects of this force are to distract us from addressing the aforementioned issues as we scramble to maintain this impossible level of consumption.

The new reconciling force would need to be a shared conception of the necessary response to the existential threat of catastrophic environmental collapse.

Theophrastus said...

My answer to question 1: coercion.

Compound F said...

1. growth
2. habitat destruction
3. de-growth

My donkey said...

Speaking of balancing opposites and human interaction, what about telling the truth versus lying?

Does the incidence of lying fluctuate around some optimal equilibrium in a population? And if so, do you think that equilibrium is shifting these days? Have you noticed a greater percentage of bullshitters in our society lately?

In a population where no one had ever lied, a liar would have a huge advantage; in evolutionary terms, lying would be "selected for". Conversely, in a population where everyone always lied (in effect, reversing the definitions of true and false), then truth-telling would provide a selective advantage – for a while.

And what if only half the people lied all the time... or all the people lied half the time? Would that be chaos? Would it be more chaotic or less chaotic than half the people lying half the time? And if you answer these questions truthfully, how can I tell you're not lying?

"The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." - Jean Giraudoux

My donkey said...

1. What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?
Money is the major reconciler. Or rather, money-power (moneypower), as it's a sort of continuum, like spacetime or matterenergy.

2. What are the effects of this reconciling force?
Addiction to moneypower

3. If there were to be a new reconciling force, what would it be?
Personal spacetime, and the effects would be addiction to spacetime

forrest said...

Inertia isn't exactly 'a force' unless you try to oppose it... but the forces that keep everything coasting as is, the universal forces are:
1) the belief that this is how Real People live,
and that
2) any change would be catastrophic.

Unlike the ancient Egyptians, we don't have religion and the desert to keep people's minds safely contained; but we have tv. Mostly we don't have guards to keep us from escaping; but since the 60's nobody believes there's anyplace to go. We (most of us) have alcohol (and tv) and what love we can scrape up between friends & family. The tv mainly provides:
1) Role models we can't possibly emulate
2) scapegoats to hate and fear.

The main effect of all this is that "Most [people] live lives of quiet desperation," and would be scared shitless to try to change those lives. The collolary is that everything is badly screwed up and is continued in that condition, or as Bob Dylan put it: "The pump don't work cause the vandals took the handle."

A new reconciling force would probably need to originate in some religious practice offering a modicum of hope. (Everybody getting so drunk/sick/medicated that we turn our bars into 12-step meeting sites?) But that's only when we hit bottom on our current reconciling forces...

NowhereMan said...

Taken further, the marriage example is the perfect example of the primary reconciling force, for what else is life on the planet earth ideally, other than the marriage of a mass of highly differentiated individuals with each other and their environment at all levels of inclusion; local, regional, national, and global? And therein lies the rub. That reconciling force is NOT being applied these days, as the pursuit of profit and personal gain (primarily, but certainly not solely, due to the pernicious effects of global capitalism), has convinced a large swath of the current global population that their fates are NOT linked to the fates of their fellow human beings, and in many cases, the fate of the natural environment in which they live either. This is a MAJOR problem, to say the least, especially since those that feel that way exercise most of the power in the world today!

I'm as open to suggestions as to how that problem can be remedied as anyone else, but absent an actual, undeniable, mass extinction event unfolding before our very eyes (at which time our time will have likely already run out), I'm at a loss to imagine how that will be. That's why climate change is such a daunting foe. It presents us with the kind of problem (subtle and delayed effects that accelerate exponentially) that we're least evolved to deal with. Humans are pretty damn good in first response type scenarios involving clear and present dangers, but present us with long term problems with less than certain outcomes that involve very real sacrifices to be made in the short term to realize very tenuous long term gains that will only be recognized as "catastrophe avoidance" in the end, and you begin to realize what we're up against. And nothing we're seeing on the world stage currently indicates any reason for hope that we're even remotely up to the challenge.

Robert Magill said...

1. What is the major reconciling force that governs our system of politics and economics today?
There is none.
2. What are the effects of this reconciling force?
See above.
3. If there were to be a new reconciling force, what would it be?
The Tao of equality between the sexes. A yin/yang depiction could not be drawn showing male and female as equal opposites as one side would stand alone in the symbol.
Only when this basic Tao is rebalanced is any hope of a reconciling force possible.

Alex said...

Mom: Good Los Angeles Jews, Mom's dad died and things went all to shit, yield was Mom with 5 of us and Mom's sister, childless AFAIK.

Dad: Uncle Jim and I think a sister, as good WASPS they wanted as little as possible to do with us.

Us: 5 us us. None have kids. Not only that, but one sis infertile, another sis with no married to a Hispanic who'd have had a mess of kids otherwise, pretty much all of us didn't want to bring children into this world of povery.

I call this population crash, what else could it be?

pyrrhus said...

The Oligarchs decide what will be done in our declining society, and they have decided that the US will continue spending trillions that we don't have every year so that every pressure group can be accommodated and bought....The media oligarchs make sure that propaganda is aired 24/7, so no major public movement can form. Trump's self financed campaign is the sole exception to this rule, and I dare you to name a better man who has been President or even a candidate in the last 25 years....In any event, the Oligarchs will eventually have looted the country down to bedrock, and will retire to their Greek Islands, or whatever, leaving only rubble behind them.

NowhereMan said...

@ Alex: Population crash will come when your example is typical of ALL families. As bad as what you've described sounds, it's certainly not "unthinkable," even here in the first world. Now, imagine the same circumstances with NO government social safety net to catch the weakest links, then imagine a global military hegemon bombing you and yours indiscriminately with no notice or apology, and you have imagined your plight in the current third world, and very soon the tail end of the first world here in the US.

AND THEN, just for fun, imagine you and yours 20-30 years down the road (if you're lucky) when the "third world" has been mostly extinguished, and you and yours are the last one's standing between "humanity" and the rapidly rising waterline. Jews, Gentiles, Palestinians, Mammals, Reptiles, Insects, whatever...

The truly tragic thing about humanity is that we are ALREADY WELL into triage time, and we still refuse to acknowledge it.

The EVEN MORE tragic thing about humanity is that we've drug so many species down with us while at the same time continuing to believe and act as if WE ARE THE SUPERIOR SPECIES.

Anonymous said...

Maybe looking at the answer to #1 - the reconciling force - we are also trying to name the primary motivator/incentive in our current system I think. This makes the correct answer of the "profit motive" more obvious or at least easier to identify.

The effects of this reconciling force are both positive and negative, but overall, the effects to the environment and human happiness and survival are negative and unsustainable.

A new reconciling force? For me personally, it would be a community that abides that sustains everyone in the community and the natural community in which they live to evolve and regenerate their natural cycles in balance with each other indefinitely.

Compound F said...

Yeah, alright, but growth and profit have been synonymous. my assumption is you'd have to make a weird, special and short-lived case that profit can exist without growth in the long-term, however painful this is to state. Please correct me, if possible, because so much depends upon it.

?Dir_ScornByGd said...

1. ?Major reconciling force today? If I may restate the question based on the marriage example, I'd say, "What is the glue holding our society together?"
Answer: It depends on the country.
In the US, it's a dim memory of how's it's always gone, inertia, and a collective worldview dictated by mass media.
In Ukraine/Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan/Libya... there is none. Rather there's an active negative force, evil, blowing society apart.
In Germany/Sweden it's the jackboots forcing refugees down their throat.
What about Russia, Dmitry? Isn't it simply jackboots dictating every detail of citizens' lives?
2. ?Effects of this force? In the US, it creates a rudderless people. We have a foggy idea of what we should be doing based half on dim memories and half on strong admonishments from media. We've lost strong tradition, we've lost religious guidance. Without these anchors, people will follow charisma.
3. What would a new force be? It would have to be more powerful than mass media. Man thirsts for God, a voice of direction from above, and media fills that role today. A Quetzalcoatl type great teacher or an antichrist, anyone with great charisma can lead a people without tradition or religion.