Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Mass Psychology of Rapid Global Transformation

The Recovering Bureaucrat is now taking a look at the question of the best possible way to address our rapidly changing political economy.  Just as our current assumptions are inadequate to provide adequate leadership for what is coming, so too our assessment of how humans are confronting a world seeming to spin out of control is too simplistic.

Where are we, and what will it take to regain sure footing in the weeks and months ahead?

The predictable decision by the majority Democrats who control California’s government to spend billions of borrowed dollars on the illogical and indefensible high speed rail project is an example of the the temporary insanity that has occupied the minds of the conventional power establishment.

The Recovering Bureaucrat suspects that this flight from reality will continue until we run out of every tactic for avoidance and denial.  After all, the evidence is that this madness has been gripping the minds of leaders across the globe for several years now, floating on a huge current of fear and paralysis that occupies many if not most of the citizenry of these nations. 

We are dealing with a concurrence of events the likes of which no human being has ever witnessed, and the indications are overwhelming that the rate of technological, social, and political economic change is accelerating, leaving us no time to catch our collective breaths and make sober-minded and wise decisions about how to proceed.  If that isn’t a legitimate source of fear, then the RB has no idea what might be.  It’s very difficult to blame people for wanting to pretend that what is happening isn’t.

Jonah Goldberg’s latest book The Tyranny of Cliches only hints at the mechanisms that hold the convention of denial in place.  In a certain way, it is highly unfortunate that this global breakdown had to occur on the Baby Boomers’ watch, for we are the generation that, in birthing a new level of consciousness, turned our collective backs on reason (“Eurocentric white men’s weapon of psychological oppression”) and turned emotion into the vehicle of collective decision-making.  We promoted the goofy slogan of “if it feels good, do it.”  We championed the silly construct of “self-esteem” as a desirable norm.  We decided that the only way to stop oppression was to oppress the oppressors, and developed an entire argot (political correctness) to cover up our own complicity in oppression.

So now, as the breakdown of the Industrial Age comes into full expression, we are stuck with only our feelings by which to fashion a strategy to deal with it.  Unfortunately, we are about to find out how useless this is.  “Feelings” are what fuels the otherwise inexplicable commitment by not only the Left but by major transnational corporations to indulge in the “green” fantasy of a fossil fuel-free “sustainable” political economy.  (Well, it may simply be that the corporations are just being willing to profit off some sucker’s folly.)  This is why the Left no longer has a defensible philosophy of governance, relying instead on increasingly overwrought appeals to people’s sympathies.

President Obama’s reelection campaign is an exemplar of this intellectual vacuity.  Having laid out his programs over the past 3½ years with nothing but a sea of red ink to show for it (although in fairness we must acknowledge the increased profits of its favored corporations), the President can hardly defend his record rationally.  Therefore we are subjected to emotional appeals to our lowest self-interest, cunningly and effectively disguised as elements of an imagined communitarian strain in American history.  The demagoguery on the “Affordable” Care Act alone demonstrates the point; the other is the now infamous “you didn’t build that” gaffe.

None of this is intended as a brief for Mitt Romney or the national Republican Party.  Although their instincts to oppose the Church of the All Powerful State championed by the President are noble, their inability to fashion a new platform based upon our founding principles puts them at a very real risk of losing the White House again in November.  After all, the same weird elements of Boomeritis afflict them as much as they do the Left.

It’s not as if the evidence of the breakdown is obscure.  It’s widespread and increasingly obvious to anyone with a functioning brain.  The struggles of the Europeans to maintain the unsustainable Eurozone alone should suffice to demonstrate the depth of the problem.  The pesky refusal of employment rates to rise there or here in the U. S. are another exemplar.  The low rates of capital formation are a third.  And there is, of course, the increasingly serious problem of sovereign debt and money printing in the old Industrial sector. 

But what characterizes all of these problems is the utter lack of imaginative solutions informed by the very real and substantial advances being generated by the technology and Information sectors globally.  The very dynamics that have brought the world economy to this sorry pass are also generating amazing new technologies and discoveries that have the genuine potential to unleash a wave of wealth creation that will dwarf that of the postwar boom.

None of this seems to matter to the establishment, or for that matter, the average voter.  Our leaders are, almost unanimously, committed to defending a world now long gone and unrevivable.  They sadly remind the Recovering Bureaucrat of the European leadership in the decade leading up to World War I: fanatically committed to a demonstrably stupid and destructive fantasy about the world they preferred in the face the factual impossibility of their ever achieving their aims.  And for various reasons, the populations they led were willing to let them.

But even then humanity was planting the seeds that eventually yielded a far better world than the Kaiser, Czar Nicholas, Emperor Franz Josef, King Edward, and the rest could ever have imagined.  And even now a new world is gestating that will, in the fullness of time, produce a superior political economy and the educated populace to sustain it.

It is a feature of our humanity, apparently, to unconsciously map our interpretation of the past onto our assumptions about the future.  We navigate via the rearview mirror, as it were.  It is also likely that our interpretation of that past will be more negative than positive; thus we are more likely to fear the future rather than welcome it.  These two tendencies are true of us individually as well as collectively. 

Further, they are emotion-based rather than rational, and one can never argue with an emotion.  If one feels threatened, regardless of the actual imminence of the threat, it is unlikely that others can talk one out of the fear.  Emotion generates pre-patterned thought which often has the effect of reinforcing the original emotion.  And since emotions are generated in a different part of the brain than where thoughts arise, the two processes are even physically disconnected. 

This is why, at least at this stage of human evolution, we seem more likely to be ruled by our fears rather than by our aspirations.  Fear is an emotion; aspirations are thoughts.  In addition, we have very little understanding of how emotions impact us collectively, so deflecting or transforming mass emotions is even more difficult than doing it for an individual.

This is one of the reasons the Recovering Bureaucrat thought that that 2008 Obama slogan of “Hope and Change” was spectacularly silly and would come back to haunt the President when, as was inevitable, the emotional high fizzled away.

As much as our inner and outer world have evolved in the century since the outbreak of World War I, we are still only at the very beginning of our exploration of inner space.  The discoveries of Freud, Jung, and their successors have offered us valuable insights into individual psychological development, but even today few of us undertake the individual therapeutic disciplines necessary to master those dynamics.  Even rarer is the attempt to explore and master our collective inner space; that opportunity awaits later generations.

There are tantalizing green shoots of new ideas and deeper social analysis showing up here and there in the Advanced Sector, although not, understandably, in the MSM.  There is a compelling, if tentative, exploration of an integral approach to understanding human affairs.  This method seeks comprehension of the human condition that includes both interior and exterior domains of thought in their evolutionary trajectories.  In other words, following the famous dictum attributed to Einstein that "the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them,” the integral approach aims to transcend apparent discord to discover the common ground that generated apparent opposites in the first place.

(Those with an appreciation of the history of thought will be instantly reminded of Nicholas of Cusa’s fifteenth century exploration of the doctrine of “coincidence of opposites” in his De Docta Ignorantia.  We humans have been wrestling with contradiction and paradox for a long time!) 

It requires a generosity of spirit and the willingness to submit one’s individual ego to the greater good to be willing to look for unities in seeming contradictions.  The various attempts in our political realm to achieve this, such as the Rise of the Center, the Moderate Party, the No Labels movement, the Independent Voter Network, and Americans Elect, all fall short of their desired goals because they fail this integral test.  The instincts that drive the people behind them are powerful, and maybe with greater awareness of the playing field one of them will take off.

But until then we must endure our fundamental human psychology.  It may be that the wisest use of our time is in examining these fundamentals, available to each of us 24/7 whenever we choose to look inward.  Mastering these is essential to the leaders of the future.  Our world is transforming at an increasingly obvious non-linear rate; keeping up with it requires an expansion of consciousness that is capable of containing the new and discontinuous features of tomorrow, while monitoring our unwillingness to do so and our assumptions about what is happening.

Ultimately we can see that the way the world is unfolding, and the way we are handling it, are worthy of our love and devotion.  We have, with God’s blessing, created a world capable of sustaining the lives of more than six billion of us, each of whom has the real potential of living a longer and wealthier life than our grandparents.  This is a remarkable achievement.

And it is not going to end here.  The Recovering Bureaucrat calls on all adventurous citizens to undertake the task of rising above the contradictions of our politics, focus on the structures of our individual and collective psychologies, and stand firm for the principles established by the Founders as the best way forward.  Humanity deserves the best, but only we can make that happen.  Don’t be sidetracked by the silly political dramas of the presidential campaigns.  Focus on the essentials and find allies wherever you can. 

The old ways are dead; it is up to us to create the new.

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