Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Have We Lost the Ability to Adapt to Rapidly Changing Circumstances?

Successful adaptation requires a willingness to accept the risks of experimentation, innovation, flexibility and failure.
The idea that the pace of change in technology, the economy and society is accelerating is increasingly self-evident. That this acceleration exceeds our built-in ability to adapt to change is the thesis of the influential 1970 book Future Shock: as the pace of change accelerates, we can no longer process the transformative circumstances and enter a sort of brain-freeze/shut-down mode.
I discussed this most recently in Future Shock and the Greening of America (June 19, 2015) and Present Shock and the Loss of History and Context (May 22, 2013).
My insightful Facebook friend/correspondent A.A. recently proposed another reason why we're failing to adapt to rapid, systemic change: we have grown too accustomed to affluence and comfort and have consequently lost the tools and values required to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.
Here is an excerpt of A.A.'s Facebook post: "My own theory is easy postwar affluence leached intelligence from the US population. That is to say, the survival pressures that normally select for the smart and realistic were no longer operating."
The word intelligence is of course loaded, but A.A.'s commentary defines this as smart and realistic--in other words, practical intelligence that enables successful adaptation.
This calls to mind one of the key elements of natural selection: that the ability to adapt successfully boils down to recognizing and conserving/ encouraging advantageous traits and eliminating /discouraging disadvantageous traits.
Here is Charles Darwin's definition of natural selection: "This preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection."
Two other quotes attributed to Darwin shed light on the role of intelligence in this process:
“Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.”
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
In summary: our ability to adapt successfully is based on enabling a wide range of variations and weeding out those that are injurious. Entrenched interests--self-serving fiefdoms and elites--have zero interest in the risky process of adaptation: their goal is to preserve their status quo power and income. If this requires sacrifices and risk, they push the sacrifices and risk onto others.
Successful adaptation requires a willingness to accept the risks of experimentation, innovation, flexibility and failure. As A.A. observed, decades of easy affluence leached out the pay-offs to accepting risk and sacrifice. Easy affluence nurtures a counter-productive sense of entitlement: affluence should be automatic, risks should be near-zero, and nobody should have to sacrifice or take risks to get their share of affluence.
In effect, the skills, moxie and values required for fast, successful adaptation had little selective advantage in the decades of easy affluence. And as easy affluence gave way to rising wealth and income inequality, access to cheap credit was widely viewed as the easy solution to the end of earned affluence based on savings.
This reliance on easy credit further leached the system of adaptive traits, and incentivized a mal-adaptive dependence on credit as the "solution" to every structural obsolescence.
The decline of selective pressures and the decay of adaptive resilience has parsed the populace into three categories:
1. Those who still believe the Status Quo narratives of credential-based meritocracy, a democratic, functioning central state, and a marketplace that can seamlessly solve whatever the central state cannot.
Those in this class are finding the gulf between these narratives and reality is widening to the breaking point.
2. Those who are losing faith in the Status Quo narrative but are resigned to its eventual messy demise.
Those in this class indulge in dystopian visions of the future, a world view that compellingly combines resignation, powerlessness, distraction and entertainment.
3. Those who understand the Status Quo is unsustainable and toxic and who see its demise as enormously positive and a huge opportunity for the planet, communities, families and individuals.
This is the group which understands that obsolete systems cannot survive the encounter with emerging realities, and that the only way to adapt successfully is to let a thousand flowers bloom and nurture what works for all participants and eliminate what is mal-adaptive and injurious to the interests of the many.
The status quo benefits the few at the expense of the many; it is exploitive, rapacious, increasingly fragile and morally indefensible. It is optimized for a specific type of cheap-energy/ cheap-credit /growth-must-be-permanent affluence--an era that is fading into history, whether we like it or not.
Those who cling to this status quo are clinging to a toxic collection of mal-adaptive values, incentives and traits that will only hasten the collapse of the current unsustainable arrangement.


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Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Are We Fiddling While Rome Burns?

Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities.
It turns out Nero wasn't fiddling as Rome burned--he was 60 km away at the time. Did Nero Really Fiddle While Rome Burned?
The story has become short-hand for making light of a catastrophe, either out of self-interest (one theory had Nero clearing a site he desired for a palace with the fire) or out of a mad detachment from reality.
Are we fiddling while Rome burns? I would say yes--because we're not solving any of the structural problems that are dooming the status quo. Instead, we're allowing a corrupt, corporate mainstream media to distract us with fake "Russians hacked our election" hysteria, false "cultural war" mania, and a laughably Orwellian frenzy over fake news which magically avoids mentioning the propaganda narrativespushed 24/7 by the mainstream media--narratives that are the acme of fake news.
The media is only half the problem, of course; the audience doesn't want to hear about structural problems that can only be fixed by disrupting the status quo. If we don't accept that the financial system we inhabit is imploding, maybe all the problems will go away.
The system is coughing up blood and we still want to believe it is "recovering" from a cold.
Here's a short list of structural problems we should be tackling:
1. Soaring inequality and the institutionalization of economic privilege.Systemic economic privilege doesn't exist in a vacuum--it's enforced by a centralized hierarchy, a dynamic I describe in my book Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege. Systemic inequality doesn't just undermine the economy--it also undermines the social and political orders.
2. The central state (government) has one default setting: endless expansion into every nook and cranny of daily life. There are no mechanisms for contraction and no institutional memory of government reducing its control of every aspect of life.
As I explain in my book Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change, this concentration of power attracts concentrations of wealth which then buy the machinery of governance: democracy is reduced to an auction that excludes the bottom 99.9%.
3. Finance has detached from the real-world economy, distorting every function via financialization, which concentrates income and wealth in the hands of the few. As I have often explained in the blog (and in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform), if we don't change the way we create and distribute credit-money, we change nothing.
4. Our educational system is obsolete but the the current system is incapable of transformation for structural reasons. These include high sunk costs, bureaucratic sclerosis, self-serving fiefdoms that fear disruption of their gravy trains, a lack of understanding of the emerging economy, a dysfunctional centralized hierarchy and the state-funded exploitive machinery of student-loan debt.
I explain all this and present a model that would cut costs by 90% in my book The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy.
5. The economy and thus our society (i.e. our mode of production) are changing beneath our feet in dramatic ways. Highly centralized hierarchies (government, corporations) are the wrong unit size and structure to manage this transformation to the benefit of all rather than to the benefit of the few.
I present a decentralized non-state, non-corporate, non-financialized model in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology & Creating Jobs for All.
For individuals navigating these disruptive forces, I wrote an overview guide to the emerging economy, Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.
Solutions abound, but they require the retirement of obsolete systems that defend entrenched interests and soul-crushing inequalities. The world is changing rapidly, and centralized systems that worked well in the past are failing because they are optimized for a world that no longer exists.
The status quo is coughing up blood, and the situation is dire. Denial won't fix what's broken, and neither will magical thinking (the economy is "recovering," symbolic gestures and virtue-signaling will fix everything, etc.) Clinging to the absurd hope that the status quo just has a nagging cold will only increase the disorder when the system breaks down.


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Beware the "The Cultural Civil War" Narrative: You're Being Played

There is always common ground for those who dare to seek it.
Remember the "Russians hacked our election!" hysteria--or have you already forgotten? That entire narrative collapsed under a deluge of factual evidence that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) data release was an insider job, and a compelling lack of evidence of any other Russian hacking.
That failed narrative has now been replaced with a new mass hysteria: "a new cultural Civil War is inevitable." In this narrative, America has succumbed to us-versus-them divisions divided by all-or-nothing ideological bright lines.
Snap out of it, America: you're being played, just as you were played by the absurd "Russia hacked the election" mania.
The core strategy here is the destruction of any common ground: once the delusion that there is no common ground left has been cemented by relentless mainstream and social media hysteria/ propaganda, the populace fragments into echo-chamber fiefdoms of ideological conformity that are easily manipulated by the political-financial power structure.
Once the populace has been fragmented into ideologically divisive camps, controlling the resulting mass of warring mobs is easy. Rather than recognize the commonality of their powerlessness and impoverishment, the fragmented fiefdoms are easily turned on each other:
From the point of view of each fragmented fiefdom, , the problem isn't structural, i.e. the dominance of extreme concentrations of wealth and power; the "problem" is the other cultural-ideological fiefdoms.
Once the masses accept this false division and the destruction of common ground, their power to reverse the extreme concentrations of wealth and power is shattered. The play is as old as civilization itself: conjure up extremists (paying them when necessary), goad the formation of opposing extremists, then convince the populace that these extremists have been normalized, i.e. your friends and neighbors already belong to one or the other.
This normalization then sets up the relentless demands to choose a side-- the classic techniques of misdirection and false choice.
Just as you're sold a triple-bacon cheeseburger or a hybrid auto, you're being sold a completely fabricated cultural civil war. There have always been extremists on every edge of the ideological spectrum, just as there have always been religious zealots.
In a healthy society, these fringe pools of self-reinforcing fanaticism are given their proper place: they are outliers, representing self-reinforcing black holes of confirmation bias of a few.
In times of social, political and financial stress, such groups pop up like mushrooms. In times of media saturation, a relative handful can gain enormous exposure and importance because the danger they pose sells adverts and attracts eyeballs/viewers.
Add a little fragmentation, virtue-signaling, demands for ideological conformity and voila, you get a deeply fragmented and deranged populace that is incapable of recognizing the dire straits it is in or recognizing the structural sources of its impoverishment and powerlessness.
In other words, you get an easily mallable populace at false war with itself.
There is always common ground for those who dare to seek it. The Powers That Be are blowing up the bridges as fast as they can, whipping up fear and hatred of the Other, fanning the flames of extremism and claiming extremists are now normalized and everywhere.
All of this is false. Would you buy an entirely manipulated cultural civil war if it was advertised as such? If not, then don't buy into the false (but oh so useful to the ruling elites) narrative of an "inevitable cultural Civil War."



If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

We Need a Social Revolution

Governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.
In the conventional view, there are two kinds of revolutions: political and technological. Political revolutions may be peaceful or violent, and technological revolutions may transform civilizations gradually or rather abruptly—for example, revolutionary advances in the technology of warfare.
In this view, the engines of revolution are the state--government in all its layers and manifestations—and the corporate economy.
In a political revolution, a new political party or faction gains converts to its narrative, and this new force replaces the existing political order, either via peaceful means or violent revolution.
Technological revolutions arise from many sources but end up being managed by the state and private sector, which each influence and control the other in varying degrees.
Conventional history focuses on top-down political revolutions of the violent “regime change” variety: the American Revolution (1776), the French Revolution (1789), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Chinese Revolution (1949), and so on.
Technology has its own revolutionary hierarchy; the advances of the Industrial Revolutions I, II, III and now IV, have typically originated with inventors and proto-industrialists who relied on private capital and banking to fund large-scale buildouts of new industries: rail, steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, the Internet, etc.
The state may direct and fund technological revolutions as politically motivated projects, for example the Manhattan project to develop nuclear weapons and the Space Race to the Moon in the 1960s.
These revolutions share a similar structure: a small cadre leads a large-scale project based on a strict hierarchy in which the revolution is pushed down the social pyramid by the few at the top to the many below. Even when political and industrial advances are accepted voluntarily by the masses, the leadership and structure of the controlling mechanisms are hierarchical: political power, elected or not, is concentrated in the hands of a few at the top. Corporations are commercial autocracies; leadership is highly concentrated and orders are imposed on the bottom 99% of employees with military-like authority.
Social Revolutions Are Not Top-Down
But there is another class of revolution that does not share this hierarchical structure, nor does it manifest in the large-scale, top-down power-pyramids of the state and private corporations: social revolutions are bottoms-up affairs, lacking centralized leadership and hierarchical control mechanisms.
Social revolutions eventually influence the state and private sector, but they do not require the permission, funding or leadership of these hierarchies; as a rule, social revolutions drag the state and corporate sectors forward, kicking and screaming, as the social fabric and values of the populace change and the state and corporate sector cling to the status quo.
Examples of recent social revolutions include the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the gay rights movement. The leadership of the state resisted each revolution, and was essentially forced to adapt to the new social order as it became mainstream.
Once corporations figured out ways to profit from the transformed social order, they quickly introduced new products and fresh marketing: all-Caucasian advertising, for example, gave way to targeted ethnic advertising and mixed-race national advert campaigns.
When social revolutions are suppressed by the state, they may spark a political revolution as the socially oppressed come to see the overthrow of the autocratic political order as a necessary step towards liberation.
In other cases, social revolutions may have little immediate impact on the political stage. Faith-based social secular movements--for example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century-- were not overtly political; their eventual political impact (temperance, woman’s rights and support for the abolition of slavery) may manifest decades later.
In summary: social revolutions may generate political waves, but they need not be overtly political to do so, nor do they rely on political, financial or technological hierarchies to transform society.
The Decline of Social Groups and the Erosion of the Social Order
Robert Putman’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, documented the decline of social connections and what we might calling belonging in American society with reams of data. This erosion of social bonds is not limited to social groups such as bowling leagues; it is secular, spanning every social type of connection from family picnics to community and neighborhood groups.
If we extend Putnam’s findings to the core human bonds of family and friendships, we find the same fraying of social ties; people have fewer close friends, are more isolated and lonely, and family relationships are increasingly superficial or characterized by alienation.
The factors feeding this broad-based decline of connectedness and social capital are many: the nation’s economic mode of production has changed, requiring two incomes where one once sufficed, and globalization has increased both the demands on those with jobs and the number of adults who have fallen out of the work force.
This winner-takes-most economy has been accompanied by the rise of political divisiveness, a brand of politics that fosters us-versus-them disunity and the erosion of common ground in favor of demonized opponents and all-or-nothing loyalty to one party or cause.
The technological revolutions of broadcast television and radio homogenized the mainstream media even as they provided superficial substitutes for social engagement. The technologies of social media, mobile telephony and narrowcast echo-chambers of uniform opinion have created even more addictive forms of distraction that are not just shredding social connectedness—they’re destroying our ability to form and nurture social bonds, even within the family.
This dynamic was explored in a recent essay in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?
Any careful observer of present-day family life would add that the addictive draw of mobile telephony has also damaged the parents’ generation and the family unit itself.
Cui Bono: To Whose Benefit?
Longtime readers know I often begin an inquiry with the time-tested question: cui bono, to whose benefit? Who has benefited from the erosion of the social fabric and social capital, from the politics of divisiveness and the mass addiction to the technologies of superficial connectedness?
While we can take note of soaring corporate profits, and draw a causal connection between these profits and the modern-day “always connected to work” lifestyle of high-productivity corporate employees, it’s difficult to argue that corporations have benefited directly from the loss of social capital that characterizes American life.
Rather, it seems that the corporation’s relentless pursuit of narrowly defined self-interest, i.e. maximizing profits by whatever means are available, has laid waste to boundaries between work and home life as collateral damage.
In a similar fashion, purveyors of smartphones and the software and content that render them so addictive don’t necessarily benefit directly from the destruction of intimate, authentic social bonds, but they certainly have prospered from the feeding of the smartphone addiction. Once again, the loss of authentic social connectedness is collateral damage.
While it seems quite clear that political groups have fueled divisiveness to their own benefit, does the state (government in all its forms) benefit from the fraying of the social order? It’s difficult to discern a direct benefit to the state, though it might be argued that a fractured populace is easier to control.
But the erosion of the social order has gone beyond fracture into disintegration, and it’s hard to see how class wars and social disunity benefit the state, which ultimately relies on some measure of social unity for its authority, which flows from the consent of the governed.
It's Time To Take Our Future Back
In Part 2: Rescuing Our Future, we focus on the self-evident truth that governments and corporations cannot restore social connectedness and balance to our lives.Only a social revolution that is self-organizing from the bottom-up can do that.
And we detail out the specific steps each of us can and should take to develop the values and skills required to form and maintain authentic social wealth—the wealth of friendship, of social gatherings, of belonging.
It takes courage and independence to swim against the toxic tides of our economy and society. The good news is that true wealth is within reach of everyone. The steps we each need take are clear; it's just a matter of having the will to invest the time and effort.
Do you have it?
Click here to read the report  (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)
Check out both of my new books, Inequality and the Collapse of Privilege($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print) and Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform($3.95 Kindle, $8.95 print, $5.95 audiobook) For more, please visit the OTM essentials website.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, David E. ($50), for your stupendously generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.
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