The Answer is Not a Hammer

There are people who can science things and people who are only hammers

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by Mike Meyer

Get use to it. This is the new reality in the final years of the modern world. We are experiencing the breakup of the Western materialist civilization. No wonder things are screwed up.

Most people don’t approach the current scandals, problems, and dilemmas at the scale of civilizational change, but it actually helps to deal with this massive shit show. There is no need to say that this is stressful. We definitely need any means possible to reduce anxiety and remain on an even keel. But it is all a matter of perspective.

Most of the problems we are facing, and this applies around the planet, are based on layers of change that have destroyed old ways of thinking while not neatly replacing those with new, improved, and easy to understand models.

We are in a situation much like a parent, late Christmas Eve, finally opening the box with the new bicycle and discovering the absence of any instructions. Our normal approach is, well, I know what a bicycle looks like, what the hell.

Two hours later in the small hours with a semi completed bicycle and a number of unidentified parts on the floor, things are not so good. I know as I was once in that situation. In my case that was just before the internet became available and there was nowhere to go for help early Christmas morning. This is a very relevant piece for our current situation. We now have tools to help us if we ask the right questions.

If we look a bit more closely at this what do we find? We have a situation that we understand that has time constraints. We need to keep the bicycle hidden in its box for cultural reasons, an eight year old girl expects Santa Claus to bring the bicycle and does not like disruption of the expected sequence of events. Tears would result.

The nature of along with the component parts of a bicycle is known but the new bicycles are far more complex. Building one from parts is not well known. The correct tools are needed but only partially available. The absence of instructions is a failure farther back in the supply chain and has no immediate remedy. This is the ‘Oh, shit!’ stage. I had an uncle who rebuilt old bicycles when I was a kid but he is long gone and all of my friends do not have any relevant skills.

We’re just going to have to science the shit out of this thing (reference The Martian). That means doing a rethink of what the parts are that we have, particularly those didn’t go anywhere, and determining their purpose based on form.

A careful analysis of the partially constructed bicycle, along with the parts on the floor, suggests a specific sequence in fitting the parts together. That sequence had not been followed.

A very normal human activity is to make a couple of quick assumptions about a task, and then to start screwing things together until something doesn’t fit. See the above referenced ‘Oh, shit!’ stage. This is clearly an example of the Fast Thinking part of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

By moving to Thinking Slow I was ‘sciencing’ the problem. In my case, years ago, I realized I needed to deconstruct the bicycle and then carefully study the parts to see where the should go and in what sequence.

Luckily that worked and the bicycle was under the tree a few hours later. I did need a long nap in the afternoon but that has its own tradition. So what does this tell us about our messes today?

We are facing cultural requirements creating pressures that must be met but with a new set of demands, time constraints, no instructions, and a limited set of tools to use. So what do we do?

We have been and are making assumptions based on irrelevant, old information, have begun screwing things together haphazardly, and have hit problems that mean what we are doing won’t work. And there are all of these parts still laying on the floor. The answer is not a hammer.

This requires Slow Thinking. We are in a new situation and need to question all assumptions. The rules for society and economics have been seriously changed by conditions specifically technology, population growth, and urban life . We also have a time limit as a major condition change is that we are dealing with the planetary climate that is becoming rapidly less suitable for us. That we caused it means we have to fix it or live (die) with the consequences.

We obviously put things together in a way that wasn’t correct and we kept doing it when we should have stopped. Now we are going to spend a long, uncomfortable time undoing things we that had done. And that is gong to override all the other things that we were doing and would like to do.

We need to deconstruct human society (society, economics, and political process) take a very careful look at the pieces and then determine the logic, sequence, and end product that will work on the planet that we now have. That’s a bit hard because we have changed it so much that it doesn’t work the way it did. We now know we also need to take care of all sentient and other life forms, and science the hell out of managing our entire biosphere.

Oh, shit! That means we need to reconstruct our entire civilization because almost nothing is working right and it is only going to get a lot worse if we don’t figure it out now. And a hammer is not the answer.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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