Humanity at a crossroads
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Have you ever wondered why it appears, at least to a lot of us, that our leaders are completely clueless? In most cases this is just a gut instinct, a feeling or a reaction. They look like marionettes in a puppet circus and the circus is our current human civilization. Well, you may be having such feelings because you’re probably right on: they are indeed clueless! And the worst part of it is that they are leading us all. But leading us where to, you may wonder. Have you ever seen pictures of lemmings going off the cliff? Sometimes I wonder what goes through those lemmings’ minds the short instant when they see the edge of the cliff and realize that all them guys right behind them are just forging ahead in lockstep … Oh, not that again!
To top it off, in most cases our leaders aren’t even aware that they are clueless, themselves. And yet, all the power or at least seeming power that they wield … it’s just plain awesome. Could this be a recipe for Dante’s inferno? But all in all, my heart goes out to them; read on and you will see why I say this.
Back in 1969, Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull identified the symptoms, which they talked about in their bestselling book called The Peter Principle. And this simply states that “in a [organizational] hierarchy, employees will rise [be promoted] until they reach their first level of incompetence.” So if we follow this precept, then all our leaders, regardless of which organization, whether large or small, have in fact reached their level of incompetence. And, do we expect them to perform flawlessly or at least in a competent manner? … Let’s get serious.
“In a hierarchy, employees will be promoted until they reach their first level of incompetence.”
Unfortunately, The Peter Principle tells us about the symptoms but not the cause or a least I know not of anyone who has stated it as such. However, in their book they hint at another extremely important issue but only by default and in fact it was never, if I recall correctly, tackled head on. They problem is not only reaching one’s level of incompetence but much worse yet, the problem is hierarchy, itself. Incidentally, ever since humanity has existed and especially since the agricultural revolution of about ten thousand years ago, humanity has always aggregated itself into hierarchies. Since this is a fact of “human life” we assume that it is natural law, but maybe it is not.
But don’t believe what I am saying. Just think about your own personal experiences. If some of the things that I say resonate in you, then perhaps you could pick up the idea and run with it as well.
There is another element that we need to throw into the mix and this is called causality; otherwise known as “cause and effect.” Over the past several millennia, causality has worked fairly well for humanity. Just look around you.
Humanity has achieved quite a lot using this deterministic approach towards our forms of organization, which are basically hierarchical.
However, what happens when we move at dizzying speed towards a world of utter complexity; the world of quanta, if you will. For the astute pattern recognition observer, the answer might be obvious. What happens is what is happening now, all around the world. I am tempted to call it chaos. But that is also an overly simplistic answer. In fact, we should throw the proverbial Keep It Simply Stupid (KISS) principle out the window because that is the worse tool that you can use in this evermore complex world or ours in which you will not find easy answers or solutions that neither you nor I could even comprehend.
Humanity is immersed in endless world wide crises, to wit: wars, hunger, famine, disease, environmental destruction, pollution, killing off the oceans, oil energy depletion, large planetary disappearance of living species, financial and economic crises, overpopulation, crime, violence, etc. What? You say that you didn’t know … did you not get the memo?
And here is where our deemed leaders, which is to say the hierarchical organizations that use causality as their “only” tool to solve problems, come in. Their results are patently obvious … Haven’t you ever heard of the medical treatment that actually kills off the patient? Yes, that’s right.
These mechanisms are a sure way to kill off the patient, a.k.a. humanity. And I don’t mean some sinister cabal bent on Armageddon. Nope, that answer would also be a) too simplistic and b) also based on causality; that is to say that if we identify such cabal and neutralize them, then things will automatically turn out for the better. Sorry Dorothy, no they won’t!
It is funny how I keep coming back to the imagery of the movie (I have not read the book) of The Wizard of Oz. I am referring to the scene when Toto, Dorothy’s small dog, rolls back the curtain and we find out that the big ole bad monster of Oz was only a somewhat clueless flimflam salesman that yells: “Do not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain.” (video clip)
In order to conciliate all the contradictions that surrounds us daily we have to resort to cognitive dissonance; I love the way that sounds … it’s sooo intellectual … LOL. But it actually implies that we are an irrational bunch and therefore, quite capable of adapting, when we “hold two [or more] conflicting [opposing] ideas as true.” And in today’s world we simply have to or else we could truly go berserk.
For example, take the way in which the sanctimonious so called powers that be (PTB) take society to war for the most asinine reasons and we accept it. Well, truth-be-told, even if we don’t like it or condone it, it will make no difference because it will happen, no matter what. And it will happen not only because a clueless bunch, which thinks that they have everything under their control and because they wish it. Instead, it will/could happen because of the emergent properties of the complex system/society in which we live.
It’s also quite interesting to see that as the world hurries itself into an incomprehensible blob, humanity’s response is to turn completely tribal. I mean look at the United Nations. It used to be that the reason for their existence was to prevent war. The blue-helmets or UN Peace Keeping Force was a welcomed sight in any conflict because it meant that there was an arbiter for peace. Now the UN has changed its tune and the first thing it does is vouch for war right off the bat; no questions asked. On many occasions doing exactly what the Nuremberg Trials sanctioned against, after the end of WWII, i.e. an unprovoked attack and invasion of a sovereign country. Let’s go bomb them into a democracy! … It’s humorous in a macabre sort of way.
The venerated author George Orwell comes to mind in his seminal novel 1984. I mean … I like the fact that he warned us, but good grief … even he couldn’t have dreamed that they would use his book a “how-to” manual. In his novel Orwell talks about the concept of “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” and this is precisely what the secretary of defense said that it would happen with regards to The War on Terror.
In Orwell’s novel the world is divided into three factions called Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania. One day Eurasia and Eastasia are friends and have always been friends and they have always been fighting Oceania. The next day all history is erased and now Eurasia has always been friends with Oceania; and they have always been fighting Eastasia, etc.
Speaking about complex systems and a possible reaction to it, we could look into Arthur’s Clarke 3001 The Final Odyssey; the final book of the trilogy, as an example. The story goes something like this:
Frank Poole is one of the astronauts’ killed by the wicked HAL 9000 computer aboard the spaceship Discovery One, while orbiting one of the moons of Jupiter back in 2001. Poole was cast out into space and of course he became a block of ice orbiting Jupiter. One thousand years later, a scout ship finds him and best of all, with their current level of technology they bring him back to life. Although Poole was at the top of his game in 2001, a thousand years later, well … he is not, to say the least.
Nevertheless, he is an engineer at heart and he wants to know how everything works. So he is always asking questions about the marvels that he sees in the 31th Century. OK, so he volunteers to go on another spaceship mission to Jupiter because there is something wrong with the Monoliths … or something to that effect. He notices that on this ship, which is so much more advanced and you guess it “complex,” the people running the ship seem almost “clueless” as to its functioning. When he confronts them about this, they tell him that this ship is so complex that no one really knows how it works. They rely on the ship’s computers to tell them what, when, where and how to know or do something. Poole realizes that their knowledge is very shallow. However, they are experts at finding out stuff, sort of like a detective … that’s it.
We have embraced complexity without compunction, for we do love our gadgets. Perhaps this is our destiny. However, we cannot fall prey to the man-with-a-hammer-syndrome, a.k.a. “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”
You can see huge patterns of change in the structure of society. You can also see that these are occurring ever more rapidly and apparently without control or direction. The Internet or nervous planetary system is giving Gaia consciousness and perhaps soon, awareness. On the other hand the individual, that is, us, are gaining enormous power.
One term that I heard recently is called The Empire of One. Vaguely it means that a single individual could act a business empire all by him or herself. By means of the Internet one could outsource just about anything to tackle on massive projects that are owned and run by a single individual.
You see, large organizations are like giant mammoths which move very slowly and have great difficulty changing direction. Yes, they wield an enormous power but that power becomes blunt when used inappropriately, a.k.a. a day late and a dollar short!
It is no wonder that as a means to keep themselves in the game, large corporations need to gobble up tons of smaller companies; euphemistically called Mergers and Acquisitions or M&A’s.
It is the empowerment of the individual and more importantly the individual’s increasing awareness of this new found power that will shake things up in a big way; perhaps foreboding the end of the Nation State. And why should we be surprised? Go ask the feudal landlords of yore if they thought that the inventions of the industrial revolution would wreck havoc to their status quo. I will use two Sci-Fi samples to illustrate this point.
The first case comes from a 1992 futuristic cyberpunk nihilistic thriller. If memory serves me, there were individuals who were untouchables. They rode three wheeled motorcycles; you know the ones with the side cart. And they had a nuclear bomb in it which was wire-rigged to their heartbeat. If their heartbeat stopped then the city in which they lived, went as well.
In this episode a disgruntled physics grad student takes a university hostage. He built a cold fusion nuclear bomb and was ready to set it off, unless the government agreed to his demands. He said that the technology was so simple that he envisioned a world where just about anybody could build a nuclear weapon.
He also argued that perhaps this was the reason why we had not detected any radio transmissions from other planets in the cosmos. He said that those potential alien civilizations probably reached such evolutionary stage and then they killed themselves off.
If you have read up to here so far, you may be wondering … How do we fix the problem? I am sorry to tell you that I am just as “clueless” as the next guy. I have no recipes for a solution. What I have described here are simply societal patterns that I see. Sure I can make suggestions, but in truth, to me these overall systems in which we live are simply overwhelming. Hopefully, I will continue writing a couple more articles about this subject matter.