Sunday, October 19, 2014

Part II: About the R Word, and Institution Substitution

  In the first part of this piece I proposed the idea that social process is operating in a feedback loop to create increasing numbers of socially, physically and economically disadvantaged people whose inherent human potential is being stifled. I suggested that the solution to this problem does not lie in getting different or better (depending how you define that) people in leadership roles, but rather in restructuring the system so the process is less prone to falling under the control of a small number of pathological wealth accumulators.

  This is a fairly easy idea to understand. I work at a hospital where the goal is to increase patient wellness and avoid harm. We could do this by trying to employ only perfect healthcare workers who never make a mistake. But of course this would be silly. So we do it by structuring the system  and implementing processes that make it harder for people to make mistakes. (or at least that's what we're supposed to be doing). The same is true of society in general. If the goodness of society depends on the goodness of a few in control, then we're screwed. There just aren't enough saints to go around. Yet remarkably people keep coming back  to this idea---let's just get us in control (whoever us is) and we'll make the system run right. When has this ever worked?

   The people who designed the system we have in the U.S. made observations about the system they left behind in Europe. They tried to prevent abuses they witnessed there by setting up a system with more balanced distribution of power. It worked to do that for a couple of hundred years, but it had a fatal flaw, one which they had no way of doing anything about because they had no technology to conquer distance. So like all structures in large populations, it was hierarchical. And the process was to send resources and information up and down through the hierarchy. Such a system is vulnerable to control by wealth accumulators who position themselves in the hierarchy. Gradually they have been doing this, using their wealth to circumvent checks on their power, and turning the ocean liner of society slowly back in the other direction. And the process of increasing wealth and power for a few and nothing for most, sails on.

   The outcome of this process is inevitably disasterous.  At some point the number of angry, disaffected people with nothing left to lose reaches critical mass and everything blows up. There is a) protracted bloodshed, massive suffering, oppression and loss of life for everyone. or b) the most ruthless people with the biggest weapons subdue everyone else, who end up living in a state of tyranny worse than the first. What will not happen is that a wise and capable bunch of new rulers will  meet in the town square and make equitable laws for the happiness of all.

   This is one kind of Revolution and it is inevitable, if current processes continue. We can speed it up by withdrawing from participation in a system that is no longer relevant, giving free rein to the wealth accumulators. Or we can slow it down by continuing the valiant battle against them one issue at a time: that wage, this corporation, that pipeline, this campaign against that disease or terrible law, that fight for fair treatment, a senator here, a congress person there, get out the vote for the leader who will save us. These fights take tremendous energy and should not be belittled, but they fundamentally do not change things. The gears of the machine grind on.

   Many have suggested that the solution lies in restructuring to make the system more horizontal, decentralized and local. This can be accomplished because we now have the technology to do it. The Digital Revolution makes this second kind of Revolution possible. But the problem is that this kind of Revolution cannot be crafted in the midst of upheaval. And it will take a long time to evolve.

   Though I sometimes say I'm not going to vote, because it's just a choice between bad and worse, I will vote, and I will support those fighting on each front to slow the tightening death grip of the wealth accumulators. I will do this because we need to buy time. But if this is all we do we are doomed. We need to do something else, and we need to do it with urgency, as if the  Revolution will happen tomorrow.

   If this idea appeals to you, then there is a place for you as a creator of the society of the future. But you will have to pledge to do some work, and maybe spend some cash on something that appears to bear no immediate fruit. You will have to spend some brain space thinking about complicated system ideas  and you will have to share these ideas with others. You will need to identify your neighbors and your neighborhood, because these will be your collaborators and you will have to work with them even if you don't particularly like them. You may have to stop by a trash can and dump your prejudices in it.

   The seeds of the social institutions of the future are already in place. You may already be nurturing one of them. And there is truly something for everyone's interest, from growing food to business to defending the people's rights. There are jobs for right wing people and jobs for left wing people and jobs for people who don't even like to think about politics. There are jobs for anarchists and jobs for socialists and jobs for religious people. But the key thing is to get working. Because the Revolution is inevitable and if we have no institutions in place to take over for the ones that come tumbling down, it will be an unmitigated disaster.






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