Friday, August 10, 2012

The present state of the human condition on this planet is a sorry mess.

I lament the level of human suffering, the immensity of the catalogue of abuses, cruelty, dishonesty, fraud, crime, violence, starvation, genocide, corruption, incompetence...

This mess torments me. It did not grow on trees or, like a noxious weed, in our fields and gardens. It did not emerge from some forsaken womb. Nor did it hit us like a meteor from outer space or a seismic undercurrent…

No. This mess is the creation of human minds.

We created it. All of us. Together. Whether we like it or not, this is the tangible harvest of our collective imaginations, our creativity and ingenuity. It is an achievement of the ways we, the human family, think and act.

Most of the concepts and ideas that drive our current state of affairs were formulated during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. My generation [those born between the two great wars] were then “in charge” of the state and progress of human affairs. The foundation for what we have today was laid down during “our watch,” so I feel a special sense of collective as well as personal accountability for the mess: accountable not only to my own children and grandchildren, but to all future generations. 

I have been thinking and writing about change most of my adult life. I witnessed and experienced The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius, The Greening of America and The Aquarian Conspiracy. Undeniably, this mess confirms that none of these regenerational ideas led to any significant change in the human condition. None of them caused a genuine change in the way that, collectively, human beings think and act.

I am utterly convinced that I know what fundamental changes we must make to turn things around, but I am also tormented by my failure, thus far, to articulate my ideas in a way that moves people to act instead of acknowledging or saluting what I say or write and then continue doing what they have always done before.

Specifically, what needs to change is the way we think because the way we think – our dogma, doctrines, concepts, opinions and beliefs about what works and what does not work – is what produced this mess in the first place. And if our ideas about what works created the mess, then more of the same ways of thinking can only mean more of the same mess!

The fact, I deduce, is that, mentally, we enslave ourselves to our paradigms, to our ways of thinking about ourselves and our world. We are blinded by them. Worse yet, we are blind to the fact that we are blind.

Nevertheless, we will not solve our problems unless and until we first change our ways of thinking.  

Nowhere is this self-imposed slavery more obvious than in the way we think about interpersonal conflicts: They are horrible, nasty and to be avoided if at all possible. And if they cannot be avoided, then we must engage in a process of determining who is “right” and who is “wrong,” and which is “good” and which is “bad” in order to resolve the conflict.

Mentally, we are stuck in an “either/or” dynamic or syllogism. First, we experience diversity, differences and disagreements with other people; ultimately, we wind up engaging in disputes that must be resolved by considering comparative legal rights and obligations. Routinely, we wind up in lawsuits and litigation which clearly exposes our obsession with win/lose strategies and zero sum equations. 

Seeing our conflicts as implicating us in disputes and lawsuits – indeed, violence and wars if the conflict involves larger groups or nations – is something that is deeply ingrained in us, historically and culturally. It is called the adversarial mind set.

But today we are living in a reality much different from that which existed during the centuries over which the adversarial paradigm was formulated. Our new reality is a very complex world of overwhelming variety, differences and diversity. In such a complex reality, involvement in progressively more complex conflicts is one of the new facts of life. We experience them every day in practically everything that we do, both inside, here and outside, there.

Interpersonal conflicts are the inevitable consequence of the fact that we are each unique as individuals and have different and divergent views and interests in any given situation. We will have to learn to think of them in a different way: an interpersonal conflict is a signal that two or more human beings have incompatible or dissonant needs that need to be harmonized.

Conflicts have enormous potential for synergy if we but choose to think about the incompatibilities we observe in terms of their complementarities – as opportunities for “both/and” thinking. And they are desirable and helpful if we can tap their potential as catalysts for change.

The first change we must make is to change the way we think about and respond to conflicts.

The second change is to change the way we think about complexity in our affairs.

The third change is to change the way we think about change itself.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery… free [y]our minds…”                                            
  Bob Marley

In my heart and mind, I still hold these truths to be self evident:
·               that all men are created equal,
·        that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
·               that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

And, today, among these rights there are several others: sodality; peace; order; security from abuse; education; justice; freedom from fear; clean air and water; wholesome food; competent health care; honorable work; honest and proficient government… for, without these we can no longer safeguard our search for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And I still agree that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

The fundamental quandary underlying this depressing mess is the fact that our systems of government are dysfunctional.

We have a legal system committed to a sporting theory of justice: Trial by Battle. That is why the process takes so long and costs so much. And the adversarial mentality and system guarantee that one of the first casualties in the process is truth: That is why the criminal justice system convicts so many innocents and absolves such a huge number of criminals. Absent truth, whither justice? 

The sad but conspicuous fact is that, today, crime does pay.

We continue to try to control what has become an extremely complex and global economic system by doing the least possible. Laissez faire: trust the market place; let competition and the self interest and judgment of the capitalists – meaning greed – and invisible hands do the rest... thereby ensuring that we totally disregard the radical complexification of human affairs over the past 250 years.

Perhaps free market economies and capitalism were sound strategies for the 18th century but, as Wall Street and Detroit have unequivocally now demonstrated, they are bankrupt concepts for the 21st.

Our majority-rule, representative and, supposedly, republican and democratic – but, actually, oligarchic and autocratic – political system hinges on the preposterous presumption that 51 fools are capable of more intelligent decisions than 50 sages. And that the most important priority for an elected official is to raise and spend huge sums of money to get re-elected and stay in power to serve partisan interests.

The consequences are self evident: our political systems are lacking in wisdom.

We don’t have an education system. We have an inculcation system which evaluates achievement by a student’s ability to regurgitate, on demand, whatever dogma, doctrine, concept, opinion or belief was pumped into her/his heart and mind. Whither, then, imaginative, creative, intelligent thinking?

And its purpose is to inculcate a way of thinking that will secure the continuation of the status quo... that is, to defend the way we now think about our legal, economic and political systems and institutions so that we can continue doing what we have always done.

We are only fooling ourselves if we infer we have subdued the monsters and crisis that have plagued us over the past 5 years or so.

No problems have been resolved. We have addressed some questions and, as we habitually do, postponed dealing with the problems by throwing huge sums of money at the symptoms – money that we do not have and which we leave as a burden to our children and grandchildren.

We have not yet begun dealing with the real issues.  Nothing very much has changed in the way that we manage our personal and societal affairs; in our concepts, opinions and beliefs about what works and what does not work; in our doctrines concerning our legal, economic, political and educational institutions and systems; in our dogma regarding adversarial justice, capitalism, competition, information privacy and representative democracy… Steady as she goes!

The money that we throw at these symptoms only extends the lives of our institutions and their ability to continue doing what they have always done. But, as Albert Einstein observed, to continue doing what we have always done but expect different results is, quintessentially, a definition of insanity.

The real and most fundamental issue that we must now face – the issue which, so far, we always manage to avoid dealing with – is the simple truth that our Forms of Government are anachronisms.

The ways that we structure our organizations, the processes that we use to make collective decisions, and the strategies we deploy to implement the decisions that we make… these are obsolete relics from a vanished reality; a reality in which exchanges of information between people [except when face-to-face] were written with quill pens on pieces of parchment which travelled at the speed of horses and sails.

If the governments instituted among Men have failed to secure our unalienable rights... if they have ceased to be competent, honest, intelligent, effective and wise servants of the people and have become, instead, their abusers and the servants of special interests... then the time has come for the governed to withhold their consent.

Yes, a revolution! We have had them before! But, this time, a revolution inside, here – revolutionizing the way we think.

But not a paradigm shift. Not learning to think outside the box!  Not a better paradigm nor a superior box, either. Of course, there are some paradigms and boxes that are better than others, but our primary dilemma arises from the fact that we think in paradigms! We build boxes around our ideas and concepts and lock ourselves inside. Better boxes are nevertheless boxes!

My plea is that we begin to think in models.

The difference between a paradigm and a model is that the parameters and boundaries of a paradigm are, by definition, fixed and not negotiable: they are closed. That is why we call them boxes. The parameters of a model are always flexible and negotiable: they are open and always receptive to new information and perspectives.

Essentially, I mean thinking with open minds rather than closed minds: surely, there can be no disagreement over that?

Also, models must be designed on a foundation of systemic thinking – that is, with whole systems perspectives. It is time to confess what we have known for a very long time but have refused to let go: the myths and cult of individualism… of the doctrine that people are sovereign, independent and separate from each other.

We are not. Each human being is a component part of other, more comprehensive, human systems:– immediate family, extended family, neighbourhood, city, etc... and our systems of government also are, first and foremost, interconnected systems rather than isolated or disconnected entities.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”
 John Donne

In my mind, three questions arise.

Question Number One:  
What does the human body [the human system] have that no social system or organization [governmental, institutional or corporate] has?

A real time decision making and control system operating with full and transparent access to all relevant and necessary information.

Think about it: how your own body functions. Indeed, how you absorb and interpret even the thoughts and words you are reading this very moment.

Each of us has a real time decision making system [the brain] and a real time control system [the nervous system] at work managing our every thought, word and action.

And the brain and nervous system have continuous and instantaneous access to all the data and information that the whole body collects moment by moment.

Or, consider the automobile that you drive. You have a real time decision making system [you, the driver] and real time control systems [steering wheel, accelerator, brakes, suspension, computer controlled mechanisms, etc.] working with constantly updated information about the road conditions, etc. You could not possibly drive your car without them!

Try to imagine what a catastrophe you and your car would be if you had to drive with a time delayed, after-the-fact, reactive control system operating without all necessary and relevant information... so that the command to brake and turn right came, at best, hours after the point in time when you had to make the turn. And, even then, based only on partial, incomplete or censored information!

Yet, that is the way in which, in fact, our governments, institutions and corporations manage their affairs… and ours, too!

For the first time in recorded human history, information and communication technology offers the potential to create real-time + transparent-information decision and control systems for our social organizations and institutions!

“Information is the currency of democracy.”
                                                         Thomas Jefferson

Today, society is an extremely complex system – indeed, a system of complex systems. Only a complex, real-time + transparent-information decision and control system can manage the complexity of such a complex system: The complexity of the control system must match the complexity of the system controlled. This is the key that opens the door to mastering the complexity of our daily affairs.

Imagine a legal, economic or political system, or any organization or institution, with real time decision making and control functions and systems and instantaneous access to all relevant information…

Question Number Two:  
What would be undesirable about a surveillance society [a system in which huge quantities of accurate, reliable data is constantly being collected and maintained so that, as a practical matter, all information about each person and events is accurately recorded, organized, accessible and transferable] if, at the same time, the government system were totally transparent, accountable, responsible, participative, libertarian, open, fair, just, compassionate, effective, efficient... and secure against abuse?

We are not quite there yet. But considering how far we have progressed in the past 25 years or so, it seems reasonable to anticipate that within 25 years we will have sufficiently reliable and accurate communications and information technology to achieve it.

Question Number Three: 
How do we secure such a system against abuse?

Abusers require privacy and anonymity in order to conceal what they do and their identities; without secrecy they cannot function, they cannot abuse. So, one of the first things we must do is to abandon the idea of information secrecy or privacy itself: any potential or actual abuser would then be quickly and easily discovered and identified.

A sane thought for us to consider at this stage in the evolution of human affairs, would be to truly take to heart Buckminster Fuller’s poignant observation that, without exception, all human beings share an inescapable reality: all of us are interdependent, interrelated, interactive and interconnected passengers on “Spaceship Earth.”

Thus it is clear what we must do: that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

If, in 2012, the Forms of Government instituted in 1776 have become destructive of our equality, secur[ity] and rights, then the time has come to abolish them and to replace them with new Forms of Government equal to the task of managing the massive, rapid changes and monumental complexity and conflicts of the reality in which we live today.

Yes, government of, by and for the people but not necessarily, therefore, representative democracy as we now know it. Instead, participative democracy!

In other words, a new form of government: a Just Society for today.

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