Our Future is No Longer Simply Success or Failure
by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ May 14, 2021
Are we doomed or are we on the road to utopia? Damned or saved? Irrationally optimistic or cynically pessimistic? In times of constant brutal change and paradigmatic shift, the news is often shocking but includes amazing technical and medical advances. Which will it be?
In these times there is a constant clamor for good news. This opens the opportunity for writers, critics, and commentators to claim that things aren’t really so bad, just look at the good things happening. Almost inevitably this relies on longer-term trends and changes because any given day seems to be a shit sandwich.
Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature is the 21st century model for this. With all the horrors of war, slavery, exploitation, and oppression human life has improved tremendously over the last hundred fifty years. The rise of science as the primary source of knowledge combined with education and the growth of planetary wealth, however poorly distributed, has reduced death rates and grinding poverty for the mass population.
These trends have held firm for many decades but are hard to merge with the steady resurgence of willful ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and the steady slide of traditional religions into malignancy. At the same time, postmodern cultures have become more diverse and committed to human rights while many metropolitan regions have become models of post-nation-state administration by leading these social changes.
But this goes only so far. Every day that you don’t die is a blessing but that doesn’t eliminate the precarity of modern life in cultures or subsections of cultures on the wrong side of the paradigm shift. This, again, emphasizes the problem of our default dyadic predisposition.
We are driven by desire and revulsion. Passion is not produced by rational analysis and diversity. Passion may be imposed on rational outcomes but they cease, then, to be rational. Value is a direct correlate of passion to us. To act we must be passionate and that means we no room for doubt. This is destroying us and I do not see a cure.
Our preference is for an apocalypse. We are psychologically and epigenetically products of our environments so we identify attitudes and beliefs that define both our environments and ourselves. Any attempt to change those defining, paradigmatic ideas is a violent threat to those who are weakly rational.
Internalization of their social environment without rational controls produces passionate emotion. This happens to all of us however rational at some threshold point. Scientists often become passionate in defense of their theories and research but the threshold to emotional reaction is specifically denied by the scientific method. That is the power of the scientific method as that paradigm ultimately blocks emotional response while working to channel passion to objective analysis. Emotion is never a virtue in that paradigm.
That is the reason for the denial of science by those people unable to override emotion with rationality. From that perspective, the essence of life is emotional reaction and commitment to arbitrary defining ideas not to diversity and rationality.
Our proclivity to dyadic thinking is no longer an evolutionary benefit. Our survival now depends on defining social success and cultural virtue in diversity and rationality. This is a direct result of our success on this planet.
Our hereditary predisposition to dyadic thinking and using that to define exclusionary groups now define our self-destructiveness. The underlying cause is our reliance on passion as a simplistic, and emotional, virtue. We see this in the rising irrationality of those parts of our population lured to reject science and reinforcing emotions as the only criteria of good.
In many cultures, the rejection of minorities of any kind is most violent among those most frightened of the complexity of diversity. This descends quickly into racism and extreme ethnocentrism justified by threats to the purity of their defining characteristics whatever those may be.
To those firmly in this evolutionary dead-end colors must be dyadic. There is only black and white or red and blue. Grey is not emotional and that is often used as a justification for racial or ideological purity. Diversity is, of course, the complete opposite of grey. It is a rainbow defined by its complexity. That is what these people must reject as the ultimate threat to a world that is no longer possible except in rigid isolation.
This is seen in the tendency for the subset of efforts to emphasize the positive. No matter how carefully this is done, and Pinker’s book is very careful, it is immediately attacked from both sides and becomes weaponized. There are only two colors and everything must be categorized as one or the other.
But we no longer have that option. On a planet increasingly defined and challenged by hyperobjects with no simple solutions or even explanations understandable by a significant part of the population, complexity is the gate to long-term survival. Anything that presents dyadic descriptions is the true threat.
While Pinker’s work is scientific and careful it is distorted to support dyadic thought. More commonly efforts to suggest the good over the bad in our world are problematic. A recent example in Medium by Concoda, shows how the effort to avoid this complexity produces more conflict.
This is not specifically an issue of truth, falsehood, or informational distortion but the failure of dyadic thought in the midst of our civilizational collapse. We have great success in science, technology, and philosophy and great failure in ethics, environmental sustainability, economics human well-being.
Within any of those broad areas, there are a diverse array of successes and failures. These are no longer simplifiable to dyadic forms. To attempt to do that is a symptom of the evolutionary trap that we have built for ourselves.
The great irony is that this must be presented as a dyadic division between species survival and potential failure. To motivate people to change requires a dyadic solution where no such solution exists and no such group division is viable.
Biological evolution itself is incredibly complex. We must become infinitely more complex to have hope of understanding our path forward.