by Mike Meyer
I write rather a lot about a range of things that I think are important and on which I hope to be able to encourage new thought. If you are into goals and objectives those are really mine. While I am old enough to be considered old I’ve spent my life working to be able to always try to think new. As the rate of change accelerates and diversity expands exponentially that is getting harder. Things that we would rather not think become inescapable.
The reality of people, society, and the general difficulties of dealing with change is what I’ve spent most of my life thinking about. I enjoy it and it is exciting particularly as totally new and original situations cause amazement and surprise. Age has the benefit of allowing you to like people in general even when the are being stupid. You know that most of the time most of them mean well.
This small essay is different. It is as much for me as it is for you. I think that what is happening (and that is complex) is moving beyond the ability of most, if not all, of us to find a successful path through. Stated simply I think we really need to pause. We must start thinking of things that we thought were safe and settled. I’m not sure if that will actually help. But we need to try.
Those of you that read my things know that I have spent years working on revolutionary change including paradigmatic shifts that causes effective cultural redirection. I also try to deal with this in the real world although my background was as much academic as corporate.
I don’t think we can just pause and talk about things in generalities and abstractions as we need to be real and practical. Particularly as things get more and more complex the devil, as they say, is even more in the details. The very nature of complexity and chaos is fractal and on an infinite range of scales.
For the last four or five years I’ve been worried that we may be seriously screwed. Now that is a theme that goes back as long as people have had language. Generational change has traditionally been seen as down hill. The loss of common sense as been going on as long as there has been a term for common sense. I, personally, have called doom more than once. This is usually in discussing a particular political unit, specific people, or situation.
What worries me now is both the sense that I have that we are pretty well out of answers and that a lot of other people are suddenly abandoning normal human obfuscation and asking, what the hell do we do? What possible, practical solutions do we have? This is way worse than we thought. This is shown, not by the question being asked, as by people not asking what we should do because there is nothing that can be imagined to fix what is broken even if we could agree on that.
The difficulty with complexity is that it is complex. Homo sapiens don’t handle complexity well just as we don’t instinctively understand geometric change. We also prefer to think ‘fast’ rather than slow and that includes a heavy portion of emotional reaction. That feels normal and right to us. We even recognize that as a big and growing problem but we don’t really think we can change so we prefer to not think about it at all. But now we must.
So what is happening? We know, even if we don’t want to think about it too much, that we have major problems that could mean the end of human civilization at the deep end of the pool, the collapse of the United States and/or Great Britain somewhere in the middle, and the nearly complete screw up of national societies and governments at the shallow end of the pool.
I’ve tried to discuss this somewhat humorously at times but it is getting harder to do that. These things (the whole range of human social, political, and economic problems increasingly darkened by climate disaster) seem suddenly to have moved from, maybe these things are real, to not only are these real but I don’t know what to say next. I can’t even think of a way to fix these things without thinking about doing things that I can’t see myself or anyone else here thinking about doing.
That is scary. We skipped the normal stage of discussing an emerging set of options that would, possibly, be part of a solution while complaining more and more loudly about the problems around us. This gap has mostly been attributed to the radical polarization of political society in America and Great Britain, to keep this to the closest and most troubled cultures.
The range of functioning positions seems to be “there is no problem and I refuse to see any even if there are” to “there is no hope as we can not solve this in the time remaining to us if we can’t even get a clear plurality for defining things”. The problem is that there is nothing in between these positions. Those that say just wait it takes time and we will work it out are ignoring the climatological clock that will, in all likelihood, quickly begin eliminating our options, our time, and probably a lot of us.
Let me try to make this clearer. Using the American political disaster as an example, up until the last four weeks the post November election positive was that, while it was limited, the election of many new and diverse people to the House of Representatives was very promising. Perhaps the old system was still viable and Trump would be contained and the criminal Republican gang could at least be constrained until the 2020 election when real change could begin. This was a new short lived middle position. Things were, again, possible. It didn’t last long.
That is now moving quickly to a new universe where Trump is understood to be a Russian agent. The only question is if he is a knowing Russian agent working to implement Putin’s orders for the destruction of the US or simply the classic “useful fool” who doesn’t really understand what he is doing.
Many of us understood these were the options two years ago but that required a good bit of knowledge about the old USSR, Russia under Putin and his KGB background, and the willingness to wade through much boring detail on Donald Trump. Now this is being addressed directly in main stream media. But there is not a word on what to do except, maybe, impeach him but no one really thinks that will work, somehow.
My point is that this reality could suddenly no longer be ignored. It is not a matter of detailed or provable fact as this information was widely available in 2016 and earlier but of the acceptable topics of formal national discussion. The only change is attributed to Mueller’s careful indictments of key people confirming only what was known. How could this be? That is the unstated question. No one seriously thought of this in the conservative national political circles. Where all the information on Trump and Russia was known it was completely ignored.
There was no conspiracy against Trump in fact exactly the opposite. The FBI, we now know, was doing their job to thwart foreign influence by trying to protect Trump and his administration. But they stumbled on information that they didn’t want to have and it kept happening. They even refused to followup on things.
All of us who were talking about this as a strong possibility were not part of the national political media. I think this is no longer a question in most people’s minds and thy are now coming to terms with what it actually means but no the assumption is exactly the opposite of what it has been and this will, in all likelihood, be proven in trials or hearing testimony. The only question now is if what is proven will be worse than Trump being a useful fool.
The nasty catch is that the general discussion has been whether it is better to let Trump go until 2020 or to impeach him. The political view that things could be contained by leaving him sit with no support is gone if the guy is an active spy or an actual Manchurian Candidate to quote the old movie.
In the movies these situations are taken care of in the final shoot out at the end. That is not a real option. Our Constitution has been breached, how do we deal with this? People are not ready to say or to even think about that. But can we not act? We are already on the other side and cannot go back and unknow that this is, in all likelihood, the reality.
Whether Trump is consciously acting as a Russian agent or is simply a dupe, is the open question. He is guilty in the public mind but it is beyond to grasp what to do. Being a dupe seems less bad but only slightly. We really don’t want to know but that knowing has already happened. These are the things that trigger sudden changes in loyalty, as was seen in the final turn on Nixon, but we have never had it this bad.
The hard core left to Trump and the Republicans will never accept anything as real but that doesn’t matter. We all understand that those people are, effectively, irrational. We don’t want to know that, also. How do we unknow it? There is now a very fundamental doubt in our minds about the whole concept of representative government and the danger of a segment of our fellow citizens. If that seems a sudden jump I suggest you think about how you feel now.
While the mainstream media has taken a sudden turn on a critical point of Trump’s guilt they are ignoring equally critical questions. Should the Republican Party be shut down and its leadership indicted for organized crime? The Republican Senate leadership is obviously complicit in national and international crimes. It appears that Devin Nunes may be offered as the sacrificial lamb. Is that adequate? Will his symbolic blood cleanse the others?
In merry old England specifically a similar disaster created by another manipulated UK election playing on fear and emotion in an effort to halt change and the new paradigm has created a similar hopeless situation. Time has run out and there are no answers for Brexit. That was obviously ill conceived and pushed through on emotion and apathy. In the same way as America there are irrational supporters who will refuse all alternatives. Their decisions were based on fear and bigotry, the preferred tool to block change.
The only answer would seem to have another referendum to reconsider. But this is very much like impeachment in America. It doesn’t change the problem that has made people irrational. In fact it may only worsen a terrible situation. And this is also distracting people from the climate reality that may destroy some or all human civilization (back at the deep end of the pool).
Climate change driven disasters that we know will flood most of the planet’s coastal cities, drive millions and maybe a billion people ultimately into refugee status, with a steady worsening of agriculture and then the appearance of new human uninhabitable zones is going faster than originally estimated. We have solid data that shows we have less than twenty years to get carbon increase in reverse to try to avoid worsening of a bad situation that will extend well beyond our grandchildren’s time. Also, obviously, that deadline is, pardon the pun, dead on arrival.
No one wants to think about this in hopes someone else will magically fix it. Wrong. It is the greatest threat in human history that is understandable and happening now. A major comet strike would be worse but that is only a statistical chance. Humans don’t do statistics well at all. The problem really is short term thinking, ignorance, and greed. For some people it is magical thinking. Our human foibles may well kill us.
Our process of political decision making does not work in the situations that we now have. Trying to get a majority of the population to understand, analyze, and then vote to correct complex problems with no readily apparent solutions has, to my knowledge, never happened. People will listen to manipulators, ignore the problem, or elect an idiot who simply promises to make it all go away magically. None of those options is viable or even vaguely acceptable.
To summarize, we have clear and scientifically defined disasters driven by carbon release in the atmosphere that we can no longer hope to avoid because we have done nothing for twenty years. In the original nations that fostered representative government the people have been unable to understand the situation and have allowed the election of disastrous and incompetent people or an equally disastrous referendum. The only acceptable option is to have the same people vote again to end the existing economy in which they all work and to remove the people that promised them magical action that would make all the problems disappear. That seems impossible when stated bluntly. But that is what must happen.
Without going into details on climate change it doesn’t take much to see that the changes required to stave off even worse disasters are not going to be painless. The point is being made already about the unreasonable expectations for the US House of Representatives proposal for a Green New Deal. It tries but there is no objective analysis that sees converting to full renewable energy in a large, post industrial nation without a major reduction in power utilization. That means rationing of consumer goods also.
How bad this needs to be is dependent on detailed analysis and a whole range of trade offs in future human suffering balanced against contemporary loss of luxury. But the contemporary loss is only avoidable with massive future suffering for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Only magical thinking says otherwise and that carries a very big future bill that our children and great grandchildren must pay.
Great grandchildren are so far away who cares? A small personal note, we now have a great grandson soon to be one year old. Zander will still be in his prime at the turn of the 22nd century. His generation may live much longer. They may, depending on what we do. It is now very personal for my wife and I and our children and theirs. As life expectancy increases we will be held hostage by a larger and larger ‘now’. We will personally hold responsibility for a larger group of personal hostages that we give to fortune.
How will a majority be put together that is dedicated to removing your car(s), rationing fossil fuels, limiting growth to sustainable levels on a timeline that requires full conversion to be completed in twenty years? New jobs will be limited. This will require Universal Basic Income starting in the next ten years. Where will that money come from in a limited economy except from excess wealth held by the oligarchs? Economic growth will demand more energy but that way is death.
Yes, that is what must be done in essence. I don’t know anyone outside of politics who thinks that can be done while having our cake and continuing to eat it. If the enemy were a giant monster ravishing each nation in turn we could probably get people to contribute everything they have to prevent disaster. The climate monster is much bigger but complex and invisible except for storms, rising seas, temperature change, droughts. But we have those anyway. No, not on the scale that will stagger us as a species. But the reaction continues until we make failure to support climate control a felony. And we will do that when things are bad enough. But by then they will be guaranteed to be so much worse in years to come.
What does this mean for how we govern ourselves? No one wants to hear this or think about it. What the hell, we’ll just muddle through. The British made an art of muddling through with their empire but that was long ago and only the people they subjugated paid the price.
This is why the deeply disturbing feeling that representative democracy has exceeded its sell by date is growing in many places. This is the traditional justification for authoritarianism but that is the result of shoddy thinking. We cannot allow the confirmation of public action by the people who make up the planet’s population to be removed and destroyed.
The concept of the dictator is also from Athens, the original home of democracy. Meetings of all citizens is not an effective response to an invasion or even a natural emergency. The best decisions must be made as fast as possible to save as many people as possible. That was the emergency role of a dictator who could manage in times of crisis when commitment and speed meant life or death of the communities’ citizens.
We know that dictators are very hard to remove once they gain complete power. Even idiots such as Donald Trump work desperately for more power to preserve the power they have. The Athenians sought to appoint the most honest and dedicated citizens to the position of dictator in times of emergency. Sometimes it works. But often the “emergency” gets extended indefinitely. A game trying to be played by Trump because someone told him he could do that.
My answer to this is to work to off load administration of our governments to our increasingly intelligent Machine Learning Systems. The role of human auditor of those decisions would then be incredibly important but the rule of law would be dispassionate and unemotional. Emotion should be applied sparingly by humans but not as means of rule. But we are not technically ready for that yet.
Perhaps we need to reduce the role of politics in our communities. Managers with technical support and AI automation manage and politicians deal with human complaints and requests for help but not with strategic or even tactical direction of a society. That would be handled by very large data analysis and modeling systems. Communities would have counsels or human boards of representation at the local government level. These would report to the management organizations that operate on the regional and planetary level. At least until we can automate a continually larger part of the administrative activity.
Perhaps this is a type of corporatist rule but with absolute laws and rights to protect all identities and communities that are are not threats to others. But it is both Great Britain and America that have run aground and may not be able to restore anything like what worked before. We are the parents of the representative republic and we may have to realize when it needs major changes. This is a brutal learning experience but maybe one that can help us survive.
The rules have obviously changed. What was possible and even laudable no longer seems to work. We need to find a new path through this trouble we have created.
I said that these things were not nice to think or speak of but we really have no choice.