Strategic Knowledge for a Good Revolution

In the previous post I listed in no particular order some chunks of knowledge that could help people become revolutionaries. These were:

Human nature is not fixed. Perfection is an illusion. Utility theory is grossly simplistic. Not everyone is greedy all the time. It is natural for people to cooperate in almost all situations. Cooperation can be taught. The specific things we fear have been learned and therefore can be unlearned. We can learn to limit anger and many people can learn to eliminate anger from their lives. Thinking requires feelings. Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking. Repetition is very effective. Propaganda works. Truth has an advantage. People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. Information leaks always. Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Force and threats are counterproductive. Altruism exists. Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. We must take care of ourselves. In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”

We are talking about helping people get new knowledge that will encourage them to accept the goals and the methods of the revolution and work to change our present system into a better one closer to our goals.

Here are some more things people must know: It is possible to change the system. Even if democracy has been co-opted it is still possible to change the system. Individuals must change for the system to change. Cynicism, hopelessness, depression prevent action.

What prevents a revolution from occurring? Many people believe there is no need for a revolution, that everything is just fine with the present system as it is. Many people are afraid of a revolution, that a revolution would only make things worse, that a revolution must be violent. Many believe the propaganda that the present system is the best of all possible systems and thus it shouldn’t be changed, since if it’s already the best possible, any change will make it worse. Some may believe that a revolution might be needed, might be good, but it’s too big a task. Many will not have an opinion because they are too busy running their lives — working, raising their children, trying to get more things — a house, cars. Many people have little or no understanding of the system they live in and thus they have only a limited  conception of what a revolution might be.

This shows again that different people will need to acquire different kinds and amounts of new information if they are to support or join the revolution we want to have. But we are still focusing here on new knowledge that will be helpful to almost everybody.

Our goal is to put the chunks of knowledge listed above in an order that would make it easier to understand. But first we need to categorize these chunks of knowledge. To categorize them we need to analyze them some more. We need to connect them to see how they are related so we can determine which ones must be known first.

Human nature is not fixed. This is a big subject with many implications for helping people change. Most people believe there is such a thing as a fixed human nature. And from this they conclude that fundamental change in our social systems is impossible. They associate a fixed human nature with the idea that human behavior is completely genetically determined. It is not. Present day results from psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, and sociology show that human behavior has a large cultural component, both genes and environment interact and are interdependent and are inseparable throughout development from childhood to adulthood and in learning throughout life. (Read “Not by Genes Alone” by Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd.) So this has to do with both individual matters (psychology and neuroscience) as well as with cultural matters. It is really all about the inseparability of genes and environment as well as the inseparability of individual and community. So this chunk of knowledge depends on many others.

Perfection is an illusion. I’ve talked about this before. This idea would be better stated as: There are no perfect systems. Or: Nothing is perfect. It’s also been stated as: Perfection is the enemy of the good enough. Or I would say: Perfection is the enemy of the better. Seeking perfection can drive people nuts. Perfectionists are never satisfied with their work. More seriously, there are zillions of possible economic and political systems so how could we say one is perfect unless we could examine all of the other zillions possible. How could we define a perfect system anyway. If we had a perfect system, how would we know it. So forget perfection, it will be enough work to get to a better system. Also the idea of perfection is used to dismiss attempts to improve a social system. If you propose a better system critics will point out imperfections in it and criticize your proposed system since it does not correct the problems the critic has pointed out. The critic is assuming perfection is possible or necessary or that you are claiming perfection even if you are not. So perfection is a trap. To seek perfection wastes a lot of time and sets you up for being called utopian. It is fundamental to understand this if we want to change the present system. Seeking perfection holds back social change. Seeking perfection is counterproductive.

 Utility theory is grossly simplistic. This is another big subject. It is important to understand this because utility theory has been used to justify many harmful behaviors. Classical economic theories are based on utility theory. Even warfare is sometimes justified on the basis of utility theory. (Read “The Behavioral Origins of War” by D. Scott Bennett and Allan C. Stam.) It is important to understand how people actually think and decide and accept or reject new knowledge if we want to guide them in acquiring the new knowledge they will need to understand and accept our revolutionary goals and methods and if we want them to support and join us. Utility theory is a grossly simplistic distortion of how we think and decide. This is mostly based on neuroscience and psychology: How people think and make decisions. (Read “The Feeling of What Happens” by Antonio Damasio; “The Emotional Brain” by Joseph Ledoux.) (Here are some video courses: “Memory and the Human Lifespan” by Steve Joordens; “Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality” by Robert Sapolsky; “Understanding the Brain” by Jeanette Norden; “The Neuroscience of Everyday Life” by Sam Wang all available from The Teaching Company.)  This is fundamental to understanding how propaganda works. It is also inseparably related to how emotions and feelings work.

Not everyone is greedy all the time. Many people say that the cause of our economic problems is greed. There are too many greedy people but especially the rich. “Greed is good” explained a character in a movie. This was his summary of classical economics. Each individual should work to maximize his own utility and the magical invisible hand will make sure the resulting system takes care of everyone’s needs. Wrong! The invisible hand is unfair in its distribution of human necessities. But this tells us how we come to have so many greedy people. The theory says be greedy. Try to get as much as possible for yourself. Don’t be concerned about anyone but yourself; the invisible hand will look out for them. What a stupid idea! It’s amazing that huge numbers of people can believe such nonsense, or claim to believe it. The important point here is that greed, like many other human behaviors, is variable over cultures and times. Greed is mostly learned. We have genes that push us to get the necessities for human survival like enough food and water. But this is not greed. Greed goes way beyond that. Greed is grotesque, a perversion, a sickness, it’s disgusting. Yet greed is glorified in our present culture, in our present economic and political system. The good news is that it is learned. We are taught to be greedy. Our culture teaches us. Since it is learned it can be unlearned. We can have socially just systems with little or no greed. We need to understand greed so we can help people unlearn it. Greed is a personal, individual behavior that in our present system causes great harm to the vast majority of humanity. But it is importantly social behavior since what the greedy person takes — way in excess of his actual needs — the rest of us cannot have in a world with 7 billion people and limited resources. And it is social behavior also because our present culture promotes it, teaches it, pushes it. We will reach our revolutionary goals faster the faster we can reduce or eliminate greed from our culture. And there are many ways we could reduce or eliminate greed. Some of these ways may be very easy.

It is natural for people to cooperate in almost all situations. Cooperation can be taught. Cooperation does not get nearly the attention it deserves. Cooperation is everywhere. The desire to cooperate, to live together, to work together is one of the most fundamental human characteristics. Yet our economic theory emphasizes greed, conflict, fighting, force, physical violence towards other people, and war — in general, non-cooperation — while in actuality the operation of our system is fundamentally based on cooperation. A well-functioning organization, a well-functioning corporation, indeed any well-functioning system requires cooperation among and between all its parts. (Read “ Working with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman). Goleman reviews massive amounts of research which emphasize the benefits of cooperation in the internal activities of corporations. Our absurd economic theories make us blind to what is all around us every day, in every way, in our lives. Even sports is cooperation. Sports is competition. Competition is activities constrained by rules all participants accept. A game can involve any number of individuals. Usually a game is played by two individuals or two teams of individuals to see which individual or which team can do something better. And games are almost always observed by others who do not participate in the action but observe and cheer good performance. So it is cooperation in that the individuals are doing some things together in accordance with rules they all agree on. And within each team there must be cooperation so that the team as a whole can do what it is supposed to do well. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflict is fighting. Many people confuse competition and conflict but they are very different concepts. Our present system glorifies conflict while most people are blind to all the cooperation that occurs within the system and which is inseparable from it. So in order to make the revolution we want we must recognize and understand the fundamental role of cooperation in everything we do. Cooperation is learned. Conflict is learned. So they can be unlearned too. We want to reduce conflict — actual physical fighting and wars. We have to reduce or eliminate the glorification of conflict. But competition seems to be very useful. We surely enjoy it in sports. And competition between corporations, as competition between sports teams, may be a mechanism for finding new and better ways to do things, more and better ways to produce the physical things we need and maybe some of the non physical things like new knowledge, science, music, art, literature. Or maybe not. Competition is not the only way to improve things. Everything does not have to be done through competition. Our present system seems to have enshrined competition as the one and only way. The present system seems to confuse competition with conflict too in that many of the rules and laws that seemed to work reasonably well for us have been abandoned so that economic competition is turned into conflict and actual damage is done to some of the participants — looting by banks and individual corporate managers for example — not to mention the actual wars that still occur. A good competition has clear rules that everyone participating understands and agrees to. So we must understand the truth about cooperation, competition, and conflict, their actual roles in our societies and cultures, and that all three can be changed in individuals and in organizations.

The specific things we fear have been learned and therefore can be unlearned. (Read “The Emotional Brain” by Joseph LeDoux). We can learn to limit anger and many people can learn to eliminate anger from their lives.  (Read “Emotional Awareness” and “Emotions Revealed” by Paul Ekman.) (Read “Destructive Emotions: A scientific Dialog with the Dalai Lama” by Daniel Goleman.) These are important because they are used effectively to distort our thinking. These emotions and others such as hatred, disgust, and grief are very effective tools of propaganda. Not only propaganda but also in everyday life. Many people use these emotions, especially fear and anger, to intimidate other people. When we experience strong fear or anger our attention, our whole body and brain are focused on the object of our fear or anger. The emotions actually are the physical changes occurring in our body and brain as they are prepared for some action in response to the object of our fear or anger. In the case of fear we are preparing either to attack or run away. In the case of anger we are preparing to fight. If we discover a snake near us, some people will experience fear and run away, others will experience fear and try to kill it, and some people will experience little or no fear and simply go around it. If we become angry at another person, we may be ready to push them out of our way, punch them, or shout at them, or threaten them — all while displaying the particular facial expression of anger. While all this is happening, we can hardly think of anything else. Thus our thinking is interrupted or distorted while the emotional bodily changes are taking place. Not only during the emotional event is our thinking distorted, but also for some time afterward our thinking is still distorted because as part of the immediate emotional response cortisol and adrenalin are released into our bloodstream and these keep us in a heightened state of attention for any other things that might frighten us or anger us. These distortions of our normal thinking are what makes us so susceptible to propaganda. Just after we have been frightened, angered, disgusted, and  horrified by talk of the evilness of Saddam Hussein — how he used poison gas against his own people, that he had rape chambers, how he is making nuclear weapons that he wants to use to kill us all —  we are told that he must be eliminated. We still have thoughts of rape chambers and nuclear bombs killing us and all those we love circulating in our brains, and we are still angry and frightened, which make us want to do something, anything, while we easily accept that we must invade Iraq to eliminate these dangers, these threats. It’s easy. It works. It’s a simple recipe. This recipe is used over and over throughout history to start wars. It’s the same recipe when fear and anger are used in everyday human interactions. But there is another factor which makes it worse. That is fear or anger, but especially anger in one person communicating with another person is very likely to induce anger in the second person. And if the second person reacts with fear or anger at a similar or higher level we can easily get a feedback loop which turns a conversation into a possibly violent argument. In such a case, even if it doesn’t escalate, we have a dialog between two people both of whom are full of fear and anger. So the thinking of each is distorted. Each can seem, and be, quite irrational. In everyday life fear or anger can be used to intimidate another person. In some relationships — marriage, partnerships, friendships, jobs — sometimes one person dominates another. We have all seen it in some married couples we know. Either the wife dominates the husband or the husband dominates the wife. These situations can lead to physical abuse. In a discussion about something one or the other or both of them together are to do — for example shall we go to a movie tonight — one spouse may use fear to get the other to agree. The fear can be in the form of an indirect threat such as if you don’t agree, I’ll be unhappy, angry, sad, or no sex tonight, or … all the way up to … I’ll leave. The second person, accepting the fear suggested by the first, agrees to do what the dominating person wants. The second person has been intimidated. This kind of thinking for both spouses is not very good. This kind of thinking I call thinking with fear and anger. We don’t have to think this way. Zillions of people would lead much happier lives if they did not think with fear and anger. Fear and anger are often used by those in authoritarian hierarchies — managers in corporations, politicians, leaders in general. For example, vote for Obama or you will get a horrible republican nutcase for president. This is clearly using fear to try to get people to do what you want. This is thinking with fear. In the military it is explicit: Obey orders or you will be punished. In hierarchical organizations it is: Do as your bosses or leaders want or you will be punished, or you will not be promoted, or you will not get a raise. Either you will not be benefited or you will be harmed in some way. I guess this is reward and punishment. This is one way to get people to do what you want. Are there better ways? For many relationships there are better ways. But maybe the ways our corporations and other organizations are presently structured — as hierarchical authoritarian — maybe not. It is important that we understand the negative emotions  fear, anger, hatred, disgust because when they are used improperly, when they are too strong, when they are focused on the wrong objects, they lead directly to irrational arguments, conflicts, fighting, and war. But individuals can relearn the proper objects of these emotions and they can learn to limit the amount of emotion so that it is appropriate to the objective situation. Organizations can learn too. Both will operate better —- both will do what they do in more effective ways.

Analyzing these chunks of knowledge useful for revolutionaries is more than I can comfortably fit in one post. So the remainder of the list (below) will be done in the next few posts.

Thinking requires feelings. Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking. Repetition is very effective. Propaganda works. Truth has an advantage. People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. Information leaks always. Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Force and threats are counterproductive. Altruism exists. Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. We must take care of ourselves. In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We are almost never alone. Conflict and competition are not the same. Competition is a form of cooperation. Conflicts exist but they can be limited. Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. We can influence social change. From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse (or better). Depression is dangerous, even deadly and anyone with even a little depression should seek professional help. Mania is dangerous. Authority is dangerous. Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. Complex systems must be changed very carefully one step at a time. Complex systems can sometimes do very unexpected things. There are almost always unintended consequences when a change is made to a complex system. Some knowledge speeds up the evolution, the changes, in a society or culture. Freedom of speech should speed up the evolution of a culture. Freedom of behavior consistent with nonviolence should speed up cultural evolution. Both of these allow for increased spreading of new knowledge. Secrecy limits cultural evolution. There are many chunks of knowledge that if spread to enough people could significantly speed up the changing of our present system to a socially just system. Big changes can occur quickly. Some ideas, some chunks of knowledge, can spread very fast throughout a whole population, especially if the population has been prepared by being supplied with the intermediate knowledge required so that the new or radical idea makes sense. The foundation is already there and when the new idea is heard even once the reaction in the vast majority of people is “Yes!, Yes! That’s exactly right. That is what we must do.”

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