It’s scary being right
By Mike Meyer
Few things are more frightening or, in this case, more depressing than being right. The scary part is neither good nor bad but simply facing the reality of major things changing as they were projected to change. Major change is scary even for people who are positive on change. The depressing part is not having been able to determine the ways in which these changes would work out in the real world and seeing systems that would have to collapse as a result of these changes doing so in the most mindless and disgusting way imaginable.
Profound changes are difficult and people fail in the face of change that is beyond their ability to handle. Full paradigmatic change is the most dramatic and traumatic outside of geologic or environmental change. We are experiencing the type of shift in reality that happens only a few times in history. The current shift may be on the order of the rise of agriculture and establishment of cities and it is beginning to be discussed at the same level as evolution of human language. See Jeremy Lent’s The Patterning Instinct for a very clear outline of this type of historical development.
So this is a big one and we’ve known this for a number of years but it is a little too abstract for most people to deal with comfortably. While this is a planet wide process those of us resident in the US are in a very difficult place right now as members of the lead culture with the farthest to fall as the social structures we were founded on transform to something else.
While we get to ride this giant dirigible down (let’s hope not in flames) everyone else on the planet has even less of an illusion of control than those of us who are supposed to be able to exert some political direction over this nation state. And that’s the part of the problem that has become very visible to many people.
The hope has always been that people, being more or less reasonable, will manage to figure out that the old languages are so far out of sync with the reality that we are seeing that they will be open to change. Amazingly enough this seems to be mostly true of the most educated parts of the postindustrial world. This is also true of groups of people with a good grip on some systems of traditional philosophy or cultural systems that they can process change. After all this has been studied since we have had this type of language and definitely since we have specialized urban life.
But, unfortunately, this is not the total population even in the most advanced and educated post industrial states. And this is tearing human societies apart at a speed that we have never dealt with in the roughly ten thousand years of what is now called, geologically, the anthropocene. Very large paradigm shifts up to now have been relatively slow as languages changed and concepts spread through human migration. The last very large one was the scientific revolution at the beginning of our current world and it took a couple of centuries to work itself out. Unfortunately the process was also fairly bloody with religious wars and the sequence of revolutions that created the world and the classic national structure that is now coming apart.
Everything that I have been able to see and understand suggests that we should be able to do this even at this speed and with much less violence than the last big shift. But I could be wrong. It is not at all clear what will come from this. I think there is good chance that we will see a steady evolution away from large, populace nations such as the US, Russian, China, and India to regional metropolitan administrative centers. This has been happening for much of the twentieth century with a majority of our species now living in urban complexes for the first time in history.
The biggest question is whether the efficiencies of these very large states can be maintained with anything like a wealthy and empowered population. The rise of China as the dominant nation state based on minimal political empowerment to the bulk of the population suggests that is one very clear future. The effort to maintain the pretense of semi democratic government in these large regional states seems to be failing quickly with the descent into old fashioned feudal style authoritarianism. That is a short term stage in collapse as this type of state structure is inherently unstable and prone to continuous warfare. So the futures is by no means clear except it is going to be different for large parts of the planet’s population. Smaller, well structured states with strong commitment to the welfare of their citizens are in the best position to suffer less violent change but, I would think, only if they can maintain fairly strong regional alliances against the convulsive collapse of the old large states.
The whole point of paradigmatic change is that language and perception of the universe we are part of and the social organizations that we have developed based on those perceptions no longer work. They stop working because the metaphors that underpin our view of ourselves and the world have already changed in ways that make us aware of the failure of these metaphors. This stresses language because people begin to function with new and different metaphors that accelerate changes in language causing the breakdown of communication between social groups. Sound familiar?
Needless to say this type of paradigmatic stress quickly fractures social trust between naturally opposing groups who change at different rates. What are usually referred to as conservative people have, for many reasons, difficulty accepting change. We know that people prone to be labelled conservative are much more paranoid and struggle to maintain things as they have always known them. In working political systems with overarching principals this provides a framework of trust that mitigates these tensions. Unfortunately rapid language (social) change can destroy this causing extreme paranoia exacerbated by simple failure to understand what each group is talking about that provides feedback to further paranoia and anger as more and more change appears in incomprehensible forms to the people least adept at handling this.
All of this makes for wonderfully interesting thought experiments and exciting opportunities to anticipate change. The trouble is once this type of change hits something like critical mass it begins to seriously disrupt everyday life. And there is always the place that hits it hardest and first in a way that can’t be ignored.
I’ve been trying to figure out what this will mean because America hit criticl mass politically in late 2016. We all know this and the fact that many of us have been anticipating this doesn’t lessen the fear and depression in watching projections become reality. That is a whole different situation from a safe, intellectual discussion. Suddenly a couple hundred million people are struggling to figure out how part of the population went crazy. Much of what those crazy people are saying suddenly doesn’t even make sense. Slowly people are realizing that the old terms and arguments are now mostly irrelevant because the whole game is changing month by month. But there is no good way to fix this without it working out is some natural way. And that may not be very nice at all for many of us.
How about an example? My current concern is the rate of this happening. Obviously the minority group that is behind, if not responsible for, Trump and the collection that have gathered around him is more and more lost in a world that they don’t like and can’t seem to understand. To put this in plain old Americanese these are the folks who didn’t get the memo on new language training. Put a little more realistically they preferred to listen to like minded folks who were saying that you don’t need to pay attention because . . . The words following ‘because’ don’t really matter because they equal “I’m scared, angry, and I don’t want to listen because I can’t handle change this big.” To the rest of us this comes out as “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, Noise.”
A really amazing example is Rudy Giuliani. The confusion that he creates is profound. I think we would all like to see it as funny but it isn’t. Have you wondered why he makes no sense? For that matter Trump makes little sense when he is off script but he is obviously speaking a language that some elements of our society think they understand. Rudy doesn’t seem to realize that he is no longer speaking to people who accept his world view. In fact many of us, I think, would find it impossible to even describe his world view. Or for that matter Trump’s.
This tells us two things. The elements and the worlds that those two elements inhabit are moving apart at a rate that limits communication to very concrete things. Weather, food, crazy drivers going to work. The need to use metaphorical explanations almost immediately collapses because the basic understanding is no longer there.
In fact we could, until the last year, talk about money and sports with a common language. Those are no longer understandable. The general realization that racism is endemic to this culture and must be eliminated is a new metaphor fostering new language for those that understand it. Money is still there but cryptocurrencies and completely decentralized contracts in virtual ledgers is another language, literally.
It’s possible that Rudy Giuliani is just senile. For that matter there is much discussion of Trump’s obvious personality and mental problems. This really doesn’t help and that appears to be better understood now instinctively. The reality is more basic and far more difficult to handle. These people live in a world that is becoming historical with a language that has strange and antiquated meanings. In living human experience we don’t have any clues about how to deal with this. It’s just very strange and very scary. At the day to day level things that should work simply don’t work anymore.
This is commonly talked about in terms of politeness, truth, social responsibility and all those things that seem to have suddenly gone away in our world. Truth is a real problem. How did we lose truth? Well there have always been people who lie constantly and some who get away with it. But what has changed is that many of us, the majority now are finding a new way of saying “truth” and that doesn’t translate well to the old way. Even worse if you are dealing with perennial liars. But that is a specific problem that can be fixed. The translation problem is going to be with us for many years as the new metaphors and language become normal.
My own naïve hope was that America would be able to lead this translation to a new world language, literally, and in a way that wouldn’t kill us all.
I still think that will happen but I don’t think this country will survive it. We need to look elsewhere and I don’t know where that is.
It’s scary being right.