by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ November 21, 2020
The distressing problem within the array of unsolvable problems overwhelming us in 2020 is how obvious lies and bullshit so completely fool so many people. Millions of people actually voted for Trump after four years of outrage near-total failure at maintaining a functioning government.
While this is my most distressing problem, I know it is also for many other people. Our only hope in even a critically crippled representative governmental system is our fellow citizens. If great numbers of those people can be bamboozled easily that many of them can become incapable of identifying reality from illusion, we have no hope.
Obviously, this incredibly complex in analysis but disaster is what results. Death is simple, no matter how complex the process by which you kill yourself.
The most haunting images are those of the nurse in South Dakota, a Trumpistan state, dealing with abuse and threats from people dying from COVID who refuse to believe it is real. That a hoax is killing them leads to demands for the magic cure that they are being denied.
I’m sorry, but the human suffering of these people completely unable to understand what is happening and that they are part of the cause as they are told to call their families to say goodbye is something I will live with always. We allowed this to happen?
These people will fight to the death, literally, to deny reality and blame others, as they have been taught, for whatever is happening to them. This is a foundational and horrifying problem. The massive environmental disasters that we have caused are hyperobjects at the edge of our ability to grasp and manage that require us to learn very complex science and internalize the processes that must be changed planetwide to prevent collapse.
That doesn’t mean everyone must become a climate scientist or have a sophisticated command of many philosophical or logical systems. Still, we need to have a rudimentary understanding and learned skills at judging the validity of these systems. That must be a shared understanding of the reality that we all inhabit as the 21st century sweeps over us.
It has slowly become clearer that we have a fundamental problem with how we see education, information, and public knowledge. Four years of an uncontrollable liar in this nation's highest office has made this impossible to ignore. We cannot go on like this, living on the knife-edge of mass social irrationality and inevitable death and destruction. We must change.
The essence of the problem is that we assume that all human beings can understand everything that anyone understands. While that is an ethically sound and altruistic assumption about potential, it is implemented as a conclusion against all evidence.
A similar assumption is made in economics. All humans are rational and always act in their own self-interest. At least in that field, there is a movement to fudge the rational self-interest to avoid formulaic disasters. This is new and radical.
But in human societies, we advocate democratic forms of government as the fairest and just predicated on everyone being a rational decision-maker in matters of public policy and elections. Yet, we know that many, if not most people, are irrational and incapable of logical consistency.
The seventy million US citizens who voted for Trump are a clear example. To be precise, some are rational and acting in their own self-interest as a racist, white supremacist, or dedicated to personal gain at the expense of all. Others are symptomatically insane, while more are rational but criminal for a variety of reasons.
In the modern, 18th century form, citizens were defined as the dominant race, rationally based on asset and land ownership. Still, nations such as the US forced major decisions to be made in carefully selected elite groups. Examples are the US senate that was the product of lower groups at the state level and not chosen by the population. Needless to say, the Electoral College was a crude means of suggesting a democratic choice of the president while not actually providing that and protecting the total opposite in slaveholding states.
These racist and hierarchical systems are obvious as they have come to disastrous grief in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The proven superior members of these august bodies are prone to the same irrationality, greed, and criminal selfishness. When you realize that the guardians of judgment are themselves racist and bat shit crazy at the same levels as their constituents, what do you do?
I think the assumptions are dangerously wrong in a highly networked and stressed world with proliferating complex and nonlinear problems, i.e., hyperobjects to deal with for our continued survival.
The Enlightenment concept of humanity as equal in potential created republics under the assumption that the popular mass could be controlled by their betters to allow a limited political voice. This was based on a concept of universal rationality requiring only average intellectual abilities and knowledge. That Athens had both invented democracy and came to grief with was well know. The 18th-century republic was very much loaded to the wise ruling elite as a type of Chinese scholar-official. The great unwashed and other than white Christians were given no say at all.
The Athenian democratic experiment, much like the semi-mythical New England Town Hall version, worked only in relatively small numbers. But the balance in population was even more critical than they thought. A homogenous population could work but came to grief with too many people as there was no way to bring everyone together to discuss and vote.
The bastardized democratic republic of the US founders and European parliamentary traditions keep things simple for the masses who had the power to vote in a representative from a limited list of those qualified by ‘party.’ These systems have serious problems but have worked better than the US royal president and aristocratic Senate dominating the House of Representatives' as rabble.
But the House become the more rational and the Senate ever more corrupt and vested in an elite locked in by race and wealth. This produced the increasing attacks on voting rights to load the deck in avoiding change and reduced the mediating force of mass voting. The effect of the percentage of crazies in the mass population should have been mediated enough to be safe, but it is now holding by a thread. It may have survived the 2020 US election but at a scary and narrow margin.
We face the reality that destroys the assumption of the popular ability to make critical decisions by people with inadequate knowledge and critically suspect logical tools. The genuine threat remaining is through greed and manipulation of the vestigial failing structures maintained by the racist elite.
But these are system architecture issues that cannot fix themselves. The structural corruption makes that impossible, and the level of general irrationality applies across the entire population. It is not simply a political problem.
I’ve suggested this before, but we need to admit the old representative government's failure on the US model and possibly on the parliamentary model also as it seems prone to the same problem of broad irrationality up to social psychosis. This is being driven by the hyperobjects that threaten us and are at the edges of understanding.
Our problems requiring widespread and long-term action are not at an elementary or even high school level. This has produced the reactionary mass movement to neofascists and other opportunists selling snake oil. We need qualifications to make public decisions even as a single voting member of a large population. If you cannot understand the problems and react by denying they exist, you are committing mass suicide. But we now know that networking will facilitate those challenged people in quickly finding someone to help them with an easy solution that sees greedy rewards readily to hand.
But how do we do this? Who assigns the status to vote on something more than a local issue. What issues need certification of knowledge to be able to make decisions? The American model's twisted egalitarianism seems loaded to fail in a world of hyperobject problems and failing it is.
The traditional approach to this is educational and by testing. That is well-worn means of voter suppression that is rampant again. Who creates the test, who scores it, and who decides disputes? Those in power will gladly do these things to lock in their dominance.
I consistently suggest we will need to use AI for this once the complexity of humanly distorted biased data models is figured out. That is in the works but not safe for prime time yet.
But running a voter certification system for different levels of decision making is a final stage. How do we educate people for their role as democratic citizens? There are models.
Within Buddhism, there is a robust tradition of expedient teaching with diverse tools to achieve a unified final knowledge. This is a common classical tradition in all realms of knowledge lost in the west with late Roman Christianity that opted for rigid teaching with no options. That tradition is directly responsible for the Enlightenment egalitarianism in attitude toward people's capability to act rationality that became, not surprisingly, a religious assumption.
We are dealing with this now as it allows no way to structure diversity into a broadly shared body of knowledge essential for 21st-century problem-solving. It is a zero-sum environment as only one group may dominate an electorate. There are only winners and losers and no ranking to allow anything but violent change.
Perhaps the development of expedient teachings could help build models and standards defining how different abilities are taught citizenship in different ways on the road to, not enlightenment, but planetary responsibility. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, this is called Expedient Teachings (upaya-kaushalya).
This is most likely known in the West at the many roads to the top of the mountain tradition in Buddhist spirituality. More accurately, it places great value on the teacher's skill to teach a particular student in the most efficient way for that student. This may, an essential point, allow teachings that appear wrong or contradictory to what is taught at higher or more sophisticated spiritual training levels.
The original attribution of this to the historical Buddha who said that the highest truth level is taught first as the light at the top of the mountain. In fact, many people could not understand this highest teaching, so expedient teachings are used to reach those at all levels.
The hardest aspect of this route to public knowledge is the risk of opportunists taking advantage of one type of expedient teaching to claim it as, itself, the final goal. This creates the potential for cult following and a distorted population under the influence of a misused expedient. The same problem we have but with no means of correction.
The critical point for Buddhist teaching is to remember that reaching the highest level of knowledge returns to a pure mind that needs no tools. The expedient tools are of no intrinsic value and are simply helpful maps to illustrate a path that is only an expedient path temporarily needed. The story used to explain this is using a boat to get to the other shore. When you get there, you no longer need the boat to continue your journey. But if you try to keep the boat you will burden yourself and fail to reach your true goal.
But how good this relates to the political, social, and cultural mess presenting itself as a failed political system? Much of the current problem in the US is the worship of expedient tools invented by the 18th century Enlightenment founders to achieve mass well being. The tools became, somehow the end and not the means.
We need to reevaluate our simple assumption about what people are capable of doing and expecting them to reach the same high goals regardless of their abilities or the tools they have at their disposal. While this worked largely for decades in representative governments, it is getting harder, and the results are becoming dangerously inadequate.
Using the concept of expedient teachings is not a quick fix but an illustration of an alternative and, I think, more realistic model. The expedient teachings' ranking is not that of lower or higher value but as alternative routes to the best level of well-being, knowledge, and happiness.
Perhaps this could lead to both greater diversity and greater collaboration. But an ultimate goal needs to be agreed upon and shared at a planetary level. The viciousness of greed and bigotry is blocking even the visualization of such goals. Life on this planet cannot be a zero-sum game. We must respect different ways of living and teaching but these all must accept the ultimate goal of sustainable life and universal wellbeing.
In a sense, this plays to the strength of open markets and social diversity. We need to put away the weapons used to demand that only one tool can reach our goals. But all routes need to evolve toward the higher goals, and the diversity of those routes must allow for some bad examples with the openness to learn and change.
Rather than spending energy denying other expedient teachings, we should remember that mistakes are often the best teachers. That seems to have been lost with the demand that only my approach is true and yours is a lie.