Speeding up Cultural Evolution

In previous posts I have discussed deficiencies in human thinking as described in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. The discovery and explanation of these deficiencies can reinforce pessimism. We might conclude that human thinking is so messed up that we are doomed to failures, confusions, mistakes that it’s a wonder we ever do anything right. Our economic theories are mostly crap; our democracy has been captured by the 1%; wars continue. Our understanding of human thought and behavior is wrong. Why bother to try to change or improve anything. Since our thinking is full of errors, confusions, illusions, delusions, conceits, and unwarranted optimism we would be foolish to try to fix anything that isn’t working or is working poorly.

If unwarranted optimism is bad, unwarranted pessimism is much worse since unwarranted pessimism leads to inaction, depression, and even death.

So how can we be optimistic after reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow”? We can be optimistic because we can see it as part of the larger process of cultural evolution. Groups of humans more or less working together — families, tribes, clubs, associations, corporations, towns, cities, states, nations, all organizations — change and evolve their social and individual behaviors by discovering, generating, assimilating new ideas through doing science and art and other social and individual activities. We invent new things, we make inspiring movies and videos, we speak and write stories and novels and poetry, we create images, symbols, illustrations and paintings. This is the process of change and evolution of human groups and of human cultures in general. Evolution is more than just change. Evolution builds on what came before. Change could be anything. The way cultures change is by building on what they already have. Thus cultures change through evolution.

Kahneman provides scientific facts about mistakes in human thinking he and other psychologists discovered by doing psychological experiments on groups of people living mostly in the last half of the twentieth century. Some of the mistakes in thinking he described may result from the physical structure of the human body and brain. Examples might be certain optical illusions and the fact that our memories do not store all the information about an event that we have at time of the event (see the cold hand experiment — Kahneman p. 381-383). A person might think that if a deficiency results from such structural factors that the error is then inherent to the nature of humans. But humans are adaptable. I am not saying that we can learn to store in our memories all the relevant information for the cold hand experiment (although I suspect we could with training), or that we can train our sensory systems to avoid sensory illusions. But we can, if are aware of dangerous situations, if we learn the categories of situations in which mistakes sometimes or often occur, then we can work around them, we can avoid them by thinking in a different way. As Kahneman said:

“The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2. This is how you will proceed when you next encounter the Muller-Lyer illusion. When you see lines with fins pointing in different directions, you will recognize the situation as one in which you should not trust your impressions of length. …” — Kahneman p. 417.   

So Kahneman discovers and spreads the word about deficiencies in human thinking. This is not bad news. It’s good news. Now we know more about mistakes we often make and so we can correct these mistakes, work around them, or otherwise avoid them. This is progress. This is cultural evolution at work.

Most importantly, this new knowledge, as it spreads through the human population, will speed up cultural evolution since cultural evolution depends on human creativity which depends on human thinking, human choices, human decisions. So if we can learn to think better, learn to make better choices, learn to make better decisions, this will help us create new useful and beautiful things, help us create more humane and just social arrangements, improve our own individual behavior both with respect to ourselves (improved physical and mental health) and it will improve our behavior with respect to others.

There are many other things which have speeded up and which will speed up cultural evolution in the future besides just improving our thinking. Some are: cooperation, competition, care for others, maximal individual freedom, democracy, art, science, engineering, many human inventions such as writing, printing, mechanized farming and transport, mass education, computers, expansion of interpersonal communications (cell phones, the internet).

And for the future, to speed up cultural evolution, very shortly after now, maybe directed non-violent revolution — a pushed non-violent evolution towards a world whose economic and political systems will more justly distribute the goods produced by humans as a whole so that each individual person has the basic human necessities in order to live and thrive. These include food, clothing, shelter, education, health, maximal individual freedom consistent with the freedom and well-being of others, all in accord with the earth’s limited resources and preserving other life on earth.

This is not impossible. We can adopt this goal and work toward it. We will modify our economic and political systems carefully, one step at a time, always with the goal in mind, evaluating each step (did it get us closer to the goal, did it cause harm, did it have any unintended consequences). Then repeat, repeat, repeat. This is trial and error. But trial and error is mostly all we have here or in any other human activity. The grand, glorious theories have failed. Forget them. Maybe take some parts of them, some smallish principles, and see if we can use them to modify our present systems and move us closer to our just distribution goal. Since this is a non-violent evolution we must build upon what we know now. If some idea from our present systems would seem to bring us closer to our goal, use it, try it out, test it to see if it actually does work to bring us closer to our goal.

But look for new ideas too. Especially those which look likely to speed up our directed revolution.

Perhaps the very idea that there is some grand and glorious theory that can explain, model, and predict human economic behavior is itself a monstrous example of the Illusion of Validity. See Kahneman, chapter 20, “The Illusion of Validity”.

The very idea that such theories exist, or must exist, or could exist if only we could find them leads to a lot of wasted time and mental energy. Worse this idea is pernicious for at least two reasons. First is that the current candidates for grand theory are so wrong that they cause serious harm in the real world. Second, when people glom onto one such theory as the correct theory, the one and only true way, they cut themselves off from the possibility of change, and they try to cut everybody else off from the possibility of change and improvement too.

These are reasons why the revolution must not glom onto any grand economic type theories. Discard them all: Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, etc. (What other “ism”’s are there?). At most take pieces, smallish parts, maybe certain principles, certain ideas from any of them which look like they might make sense, might work in a new pragmatic framework that is being evolved carefully from our present system, and then adopt provisionally, check, test, evaluate, to determine if this old idea might actually work in our new evolving system to actually bring us closer to our just-distribution system.

Down with Grand Theories. The only test for any modification of our systems, any policy change, any new law, should not be does it conform to some theory, but rather it should be: Does it bring our systems closer to our just-distribution goals.

Revolution as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Can we predict the future? Sure we can. But the question is how often are our predictions right. How successful are we when we predict the future? One principle seems clear: Near term predictions are more likely to be correct than longer term predictions. Weather models are good out to about 5 or 7 days. We can predict eclipses and orbits of the planets for hundreds of years very accurately. But here too as the time into the future increases, the predictions become less accurate.

What about social stuff? Some things are harder to predict than others. Will the US continue to exist in 2020? Most likely, almost surely, yes, in one form or another. Will it exist in 2100? Surely nobody knows or can know. Are human activities causing global warming? Very likely yes. Will present trends continue through 2100? We really don’t know. If they do, it is very likely bad things will happen. Notice that some of these statements are not very specific. More specific situations are less likely to occur than less specific situations. Certainly some bad things will happen in 2100 no matter what else happens. Certainly some good things will happen in 2100 too. So it is easy to make correct predictions if the predictions are general enough. The particular is harder to predict accurately than the general.

Sometimes global properties of collections of things can be accurately predicted even though the actions of the specific things in the collection cannot each be predicted. The random motions of molecules in a confined gas give rise to simple relations between the gas temperature and its pressure even though we can’t possibly know what each molecule is doing. Macroeconomics is based on a similar idea. So there may be some hope of making accurate predictions regarding the behavior of collections of people.

On the other hand, Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” says:

“The often used image of the ‘march of history’ implies order and direction. Marches, unlike strolls or walks, are not random. We think that we should be able to explain the past by focusing on either large social movements and cultural and technological developments or the intentions and abilities of a few great men. The idea that large historical events are determined by luck is profoundly shocking, although it is demonstrably true. It is hard to think of the history of the twentieth century, including its large social movements, without bringing in the role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. But there was a moment in time, just before an egg was fertilized, when there was a fifty-fifty chance that the embryo that became Hitler could have been a female. Compounding the three events, there was a probability of one-eighth of a twentieth century without any of the three great villains and it is impossible to argue that history would have been roughly the same in their absence. The fertilization of these three eggs had momentous consequences, and it makes a joke of the idea that long-term developments are predictable.” — Kahneman p. 218.

So what does all this have to do with the revolution? The idea is that if we can change enough people’s minds about certain things — in particular about our economic and political systems —  then this will change their behavior towards these systems and they will change these systems so that the systems work towards the human goals of fair and just distribution of the human necessities to all people. And we have said that if most people can come to understand, accept, and use the new scientific knowledge about how human thinking actually works, as described in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (and elsewhere), then they will improve their own thinking and thus be less susceptible to propaganda, more open to change, more able to see the need for change, and more able to make the changes needed.

So this is a kind of social prediction. Does Kahneman’s comment make this prediction an absurd joke? No it does not because we are not counting on just the simple random diffusion of ideas. We are going to push the ideas for the changes to our economic and political systems that we want, and we are going to push the ideas that will help people think better, help people make better choices and decisions. Simple diffusion might get us there, but a real goal directed revolution where we spread the revolutionary goals and ideas, and where we also spread ideas that support and encourage and facilitate the acceptance and use of the revolutionary ideas, is much more likely to get us there, to get us to better systems, systems that more justly distribute the earth’s limited resources and the produce of human cooperative work to all people. And the changes will happen faster.

Rather than a passive diffusion of new ideas, the revolution is an active process of spreading not only new ideas but also new and better methods of generating, spreading, and getting people to accept and use new ideas. We want to identify and spread new ideas that speed up the generation, spread, acceptance, and use of new ideas. This is one thing improving human thinking does. This is why Kahneman’s book is relevant to how to make a revolution.

The revolution is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ideas Diffuse

We are looking at the possibilities for the revolution that may result from understanding some deficiencies in human thinking as described in the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. The basic idea is simple and to some people obvious: If we understand biases, errors, mistakes in human thinking then we should be able to fix or avoid them. Let’s not waste time by getting into the “strange loop” (See Douglass R. Hofstadter’s “I am a Strange Loop”) of whether we are trapped since if human thinking is defective, how can we think our way out of it using our defective thinking? The answer is simply that human thinking is not perfect (nothing is) but it is useful, it works for us in many situations. Besides what else do we have?

I have argued that as human culture evolves, we will incorporate the scientific knowledge about these deficiencies in almost everybody’s minds and thus almost everyone will be able to avoid many or all of the errors and mistakes described by Kahneman. This is how cultural evolution works. New scientific knowledge is discovered. If the new knowledge is sufficiently useful to individual people then it should diffuse to almost everybody in some period of time. New knowledge can also be pushed by our social institutions — schools, churches, corporations, governments, any groups or organizations, as well as by individuals. And to better make a revolution, we should push this new knowledge, since for one thing, it will make propaganda less effective.

Simple. A nice, simple, coherent story. Just the kind of thing System 2 likes and sometimes accepts too quickly. We all know simple explanations can be wrong. There is nothing new about that. But I don’t think this explanation is wrong. Besides I’m going to elaborate this explanation, I’m going to make it less simple. And I am not just relying on my intuition or anyone else’s.

So, let’s look at a specific example. I ended an earlier post with the claim that some day there will be no more stock pickers. This is an example of the above type of argument. Research for more than 50 years has shown that stock pickers cannot consistently beat the stock market averages.

“Although professionals are able to extract a considerable amount of wealth from amateurs, few stock pickers, if any, have the skill to beat the market consistently, year after year. Professional investors, including fund managers, fail a basic test of skill: persistent achievement. The diagnostic for the existence of any skill is the consistency of individual differences in achievement. The logic is simple: if individual differences in any one year are due entirely to luck, the ranking of investors and funds will vary erratically and the year-to-year correlation will be zero. The persistence of individual differences is the measure by which we confirm the existence of skill among golfers, car salespeople, orthodontists, or speedy toll collectors on the turnpike.” — Kahneman p. 214.   

Yet, after 50 years of scientific research showing that trying to pick stocks is a waste of time and money —-

“… Typically at least two out of every three mutual funds underperform the overall market in any given year.” Kahneman p. 215.

—- there are still large numbers of mutual fund managers and individuals who think they have a skill to pick stocks and are still trying to do it. What’s going on here? Doesn’t useful knowledge diffuse? In the above formulation I said “in some period of time”. OK, so there is a fudge factor. Just wait. 50 years isn’t long enough.

This is too simple. It doesn’t really explain anything. Why is 50 years not enough time for the stock picking idea to die out? Kahneman has some relevant comments:

“The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration; it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the [financial] industry. Facts which challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them. …” Kahneman p. 216.

“Finally, the illusion of validity and skill are supported by a powerful professional culture. We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers. Given the professional culture of the financial community, it is not surprising that large numbers of individuals in that world believe themselves to be among the chosen few who can do what they believe others cannot.” Kahneman p. 217.

OK, here it is: Facts which challenge basic assumptions are not absorbed.

And the more a new fact is perceived to challenge a person’s livelihood or self-esteem, the more quickly and completely and silently is that fact ignored by individuals and by groups. So the reason stock picking isn’t dead yet is because the idea that stock picking is useless has been prevented from entering the financial community by those in that community. Maybe our cultures are collections of cults. Cults deliberately try to isolate their members from outside influences. They don’t want any new ideas coming in and changing things.

The sea of human ideas is not uniform enough so that any idea can diffuse anywhere. There are partial barriers, compartments enclosed by semi permeable membranes that ideas have to cross. An idea — in order to get into the mind of any individual person and stay there and be used by that person — has to fit in with the ideas that are already there. If a new idea contradicts an idea already there, much mental work will need to be done for it to fit in. So the idea that stock picking is useless will have a very hard time getting accepted into the minds of stock pickers.

Is the idea that useful knowledge will diffuse to almost everybody itself useless? No, because in addition to passive diffusion, there is also active diffusion. Ideas can be pushed deliberately through human communication, education by social institutions, organizations, and individuals.

Ideas don’t exist in isolation. They move around together. So multiple ideas have to be spread together or in some sequence where the earlier ideas prepare the way for later ones. Stock picking may only fade away when our present broader financial systems are changed drastically because of their failures and the great harm they have caused and are causing to our societies. We must help to modify the cults of our present financial systems. We must decrease cultish thinking in general — any systems of ideas that close themselves off from new scientific knowledge. To make a revolution, we will have to push many new ideas at once.

One curious consequence of Kahneman’s book may be a reluctance of people to study and try to understand and use the discoveries about human thinking described in the book because it can be demoralizing to contemplate all the many ways all of us so often get things so completely wrong. Who would want to risk commenting on these mistakes in human thinking and in the process make some of the mistakes being commented upon? I am probably one such person. But we need to try to understand and use this new knowledge. Otherwise, why did Kahneman (and other psychologists) do all this work?

 

How to improve your thinking

We are examining the question of whether humans can improve their thinking on the basis of the scientific facts presented by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. On page 472 he said “… I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely …” But this is already a significant improvement. Kahneman learned to recognize such situations the hard way — maybe the hardest way — by devoting his life to the scientific discovery and description of these situations “in which errors are likely”. We do not have to do nearly as much work as Kahneman did in order to recognize these situations because we can learn them either on our own (start by reading Kahneman’s book) or we can learn them through our education processes — in one way or another, at least to some extent, we can learn which situations are dangerous and which ones are not Then when we recognize such dangerous situations, when we “recognize the signs that [we] are in a cognitive minefield, slow down and ask for reinforcement from System 2.”  In other words, slow down and think slow. Kahneman (and other psychologists) did the discovery work. All we have to do is to learn the results and use them in our thinking. Thus we improve our thinking. As I said, this is already a significant improvement in our thinking.

It can be very discouraging now to see the mistakes, fallacies, and general ignorance displayed by economists, financial players, politicians, decision makers of all types — all of us. We make decisions, choices, little ones and big ones, every day of our lives, minute by minute. One could read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and despair. I reject that. Every fallacy, every mistake, every error in thinking identified and described at least opens up the possibility of fixing it or avoiding it. By learning and understanding the limits of our real human thinking now, we can improve it, we can get rid of some of the limits now and in the not too distant future. Some day there will be no more stock pickers (chapter 20, The Illusion of Validity).

And by the way, we can improve our thinking too if we stop using war memes — “cognitive minefield”.

Is System 1 educable?

Maybe I am “prone to overconfidence” — most of us are — but there are many reasons that the extensive fact based scientific knowledge about how our thinking actually works, and sometimes makes mistakes, as described by Daniel Kahneman in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, can be used by us to improve our thinking, our choices, and our decision making.

Why do we acquire new knowledge? To use it. How will we use this new knowledge about how we humans actually think? First we must use it in any theories that depend upon how we think. Any such theories must be modified to take account of this new knowledge — particularly economic theories, sociobiological theories, but really all social theories.

In practice, education will be changed to reflect these new facts, interpersonal communication will be changed, mass communication will be changed, art and science will be changed. This assumes that these new scientifically established facts will diffuse, will be spread far and wide, through most of our cultures, to almost all people. This will take time, but it will happen because this knowledge is useful. People who acquire this knowledge will think better. Their choices and decisions will better correspond to reality. They will get more of what they want. They will want more of what is good for them because they will better know what is good for them. They will be happier, healthier, and live longer than people who continue to think and communicate and choose and decide crudely and poorly.

Groups, organizations, societies, and cultures that acquire and use this new knowledge will be more effective, more efficient, more likely to attain their goals.

Daniel Kahneman is a proper scientist. He and other psychologists conjecture, test, validate, and methodically record and report the results psychological experiments. This is their job, this is how they see their jobs as scientists. They do not project to the future. But we can project to the future on the basis of sound principles of cultural, societal evolution. One such principle is: Knowledge — useful information — spreads through human communication. It will spread on its own through diffusion, person to person. And it will spread faster if those who have it deliberately spread it to more people.

So we can’t expect Kahneman, in concluding his book, in the quotes from yesterday (repeated below), to be as confident as I am here. Indeed there is an overconfidence mistake we often make. And most of us, on many occasions, are “prone to be overconfident”. But many of us are sometimes depressed, even overdepressed. This is a serious mistake too since it leads to inaction and sometimes death.

“What can be done about biases? How can we improve judgments and decisions, both our own and those of the institutions that we serve and that serve us? The short answer is that little can be achieved without a considerable investment of effort. As I know from experience, System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to my age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely: “This number will be an anchor …,” “The decision could change if the problem is reframed …” And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own.”  — Kahneman p. 417.

“The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2. … We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available, and cognitive illusions are generally more difficult  to recognize than perceptual illusions.” — Kahneman p. 417.

Kahneman says above “System 1 is not educable”. System 1 itself may not be educable but at least some of what it works on may be. Part of what System 1 works on is associative memory. This is information we acquire through learning and experience. Part of it consists of heuristics — rules of thumb, little rules, little associations, little connections we have learned and which we use automatically via System 1. Since this is all information we have learned one way or another, it may very well be able to be improved. Indeed Kahneman gives examples of vast improvements in the associations, the heuristics of System 1 in his chapter 22 “Expert Intuition: When can we trust it?” So experts can improve their associations and heuristics that System 1 operates on, and although not everyone can become an expert in everything, most people do become more or less expert in some few areas. So Kahneman’s own chapter 22 demonstrates that the quality of at least some of the information that System 1 works on can be improved. So System 1 can give better answers for us if we improve the information it works on.

When can we trust an expert’s intuition? Kahneman worked with another scholar, Gary Klein, on this question:

“At the end of our journey, Gary Klein and I agreed on a general answer to our initial question: When can you trust an experienced professional who claims to have an intuition? Our conclusion was that for the most part it is possible to distinguish intuitions that are likely to be valid from those that are likely to be bogus. As in the judgment of whether a work of art is genuine or a fake, you will usually do better by focusing on its provenance than by looking at the piece itself. If the environment is sufficiently regular and if the judge has had a chance to learn its regularities, the associative machinery will recognize situations and generate quick and accurate predictions and decisions. You can trust someone’s intuitions if these conditions are met.” — Kahneman p. 242.

The environment must be sufficiently regular and the expert must have learned its regularities.

The environment must be sufficiently regular and the expert must have learned its regularities.

“… [Some] experts may not know the limits of their expertise. … [they] … do have intuitive skills in some of their tasks, but they have not learned to identify the situations and  the tasks in which intuition will betray them. The unrecognized limits of professional skill help explain why experts are often overconfident.” — Kahneman p. 242.

So we need to learn to evaluate our own intuitions by asking ourselves: Is the environment, the subject matter (stock prices, psychological evaluations, politics, chess, medical diagnosis, etc.) sufficiently regular and if it is, have I really learned its regularities.

Can people learn these things? Can we learn how and when and where to be skeptical about System 1’s answers? Of course we can.

Changing people’s minds non-violently

The revolution is and must be about changing people’s minds non-violently. Even when in wars threats and force and violence are used the aim is still to change people’s minds.  Threats and force and violence are not very efficient in changing people’s minds. One of the most important changes we want to see people make in themselves is for people to see that force and violence are poor ways of changing people’s minds. So if we used threats and force and violence to try to change people’s minds we would be doing the opposite of what we want since we would be teaching, through our own actions, that force and violence are acceptable ways to try to change people’s minds. And we would be less effective than we could be.

If we must not use violence etc. what can we do to change people’s minds. First, we cannot change someone else’s mind. We must communicate with them to help them change their own minds. There are well established methods for doing this. All the non-violent and non-threatening methods of education are ways we help one another change our minds. There is also a practical and very successful counseling/negotiating/educating practice called non-violent communication — read the book “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. Every communication between two people changes both of their minds, more or less, sometimes very little or for a short period of time, and sometimes very much and permanently, and everything in between.

When people are communicating with one another they are passing ideas, information back and forth, each to and from the other. They are thinking. They are using System 1 and System 2 as described in Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. System 1 includes our intuitions, our sensory perceptions processing, language comprehension, feelings — automatic and instantaneous mental activities almost always not conscious. System 2 includes our calculations, ruminations, conscious choices, conscious decisions, etc. System 1 is Kahneman’s fast thinking; System 2 is slow thinking. System 1 and System 2 work together. System 1 is based on associations, connections, similarities, metaphors. System 2 does calculations, elaborate comparisons, what we call logical thinking (reasoning). System 2 is lazy. If System 1 offers an immediate answer to some question or problem, System 2 might do nothing more than accept it. System 1 works on information associated immediately with the question or problem. For System 1, what it sees in its limited automatic way, is all it has to work with. This Kahneman calls “What You See Is All There Is” — WYSIATI. System 2 is likely to try to give an answer if System 1 does not come up with one. But if System 1 has a quick answer, System 2, being lazy, may just accept it without question, without further thought. Many mistakes in thinking occur because System 1, being limited by its WYSIATI, gives a poor answer, and System 2, being generally lazy, doesn’t bother to check System 1’s answer. It is true that most of the time System 1’s answer is OK, it works well for most everyday activities, and so it’s fine that System 2 does not check these System 1 answers. Also there are many System 1 answers that System 2 is never aware of, that System 2 has no access to, so it couldn’t possibly check them. Also since system 2 is slow compared to System 1, System 2 would be hopelessly bogged down if it tried to check very many of System 1’s answers.

So this is the dilemma. System 1 is automatic and fast but is limited by WYSIATI and can be very wrong; while System 2 is slow and lazy and doesn’t have enough time to check very many of System 1’s answers.

Kahneman has documented numerous specific ways in which System 1 and System 2 get things wrong, numerous ways in which humans make mistakes in thinking. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a big book both scientifically and by size (499 pages, 38 chapters, 2 appendices). On the basis of this immense collection of scientific facts can we do anything to help humans make fewer mistakes in thinking? And if we could, would we speed up the non-violent revolution most of us want?

Daniel Kahneman does not seem to be optimistic:

“What can be done about biases? How can we improve judgments and decisions, both our own and those of the institutions that we serve and that serve us? The short answer is that little can be achieved without a considerable investment of effort. As I know from experience, System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to my age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely: “This number will be an anchor …,” “The decision could change if the problem is reframed …” And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own.”  — Kahneman p. 417.

“The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2. … We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available, and cognitive illusions are generally more difficult  to recognize than perceptual illusions.” — Kahneman p. 417.

Maybe I am “prone to overconfidence” but …(to be continued).

On “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

 

I have just finished reading Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. It has many implications for how to make a revolution. The book is based on research Kahneman has done with Amos Tversky and others and on the work of other psychologists and a few economists. He mentions an area of study called behavioral economics but the book is based on psychological experiments.

The most well-known impact of the research described in this book is, or should be, on the simplistic economic theories that are now widely accepted. The book shows their assumptions, their axioms, are wrong, not at all based on how humans actually behave, contradicting how humans actually behave. Not only are much of the mathematics behind these theories wrong (see Steve Keen’s writings), but the assumptions about human behavior these theories start with are proved wrong by the psychological experiments described in this book. Economics, as we have known it is, or should be, dead, dead, dead. To make a revolution we must first stop using false theories. We must spread the word and discredit economists and any others who continue to rely on false theories.

Beyond this there are many implications for how the revolution should be carried out. People think differently depending on how questions are asked or how problems are stated. These effects are called framing. Here is a simple example. If you are about to have a dangerous heart operation and you ask what are your odds, it matters a lot to both you and to doctors (and almost everyone else) how the answer is made. One way to say it is: You have a 5% chance of dying. Another way to say it is: You have a 95% chance of making it. Framing matters. Heart surgeons who tell their patients “You have a 95% chance of surviving” instead of “You have a 5% chance of dying” will have more customers.

People generally are “loss averse” — they are much more unhappy about the idea of losing something they already have than they would be happy about gaining the same thing or something of equal value. We would like to convince the 1% that they would be better off if they were somewhat less rich in a more just and stable and productive system. We will have to overcome their loss aversion. We will have to convince them that the value for them of living in a system which distributes the productions of society more fairly in a stable and more productive system is way, way more than the value for them of the income or wealth they will lose. The same goes for those who will have different roles or jobs in a changed economic/political system.

Kahneman describes two systems for thinking which he calls system 1 and system 2. System 1 is the fast system, system 2 is the slow one. System 1 is roughly our intuitions. It works automatically and instantaneously. It works with our associative memory. If someone asks you if you like chocolate you immediately know the answer through system 1. If someone asks you what is 17 X 24, you must use system 2 because system 1 has no answer. System 2 is generally lazy. So, at times when system 1 does have an answer, system 2 will accept it even if it is wrong. Most often system 1 is right since its associations and rules of thumb work well enough for us in most of our daily activities. But system 1 doesn’t evaluate itself and it can only work with the information it has, with the information it can get by association immediately. So it is limited to working with this information. Kahneman characterizes this by the phrase “What You See Is All There Is” —WYSIATI. What system 1 “sees” in any situation is all that System 1 has to work with. System 1 is automatic and instantaneous so it doesn’t have time to ruminate, make comparisons, calculate. Besides these are what system 2 does. The interactions between system 1 and system 2 are where many mistakes in thinking occur. And we recently had a president (Bush II) who was proud to say he relied on his intuition, his gut, in making decisions. Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is relevant to the present sorry state of our world. If you want to begin to understand us and our cultures, our economic and political systems, and how we might change them for the better, read this book.

“You can go now”

It’s not easy to try to think and write about revolutions in the abstract when one is happening right now. So for now I give up trying to be general purpose. I’ll use daily events that strike me as having important consequences for the long-term, for revolutions in general.

What strikes me yesterday and today are the two videos of the pepper spray incident at UC Davis and the one of the chancellor leaving her office walking down a sidewalk lined by almost totally silent students — the silence of shame.

There is great power in these videos and many others of other police over reactions. Somehow this power must be taken into account. I think of the power of the video of Rodney King being beaten by LA police. That seems so long ago. These videos are powerful and meaningful and transmit and IMPLANT so many memes. They go way beyond written words.

Besides the “chancellor walk” video, the pepper spray video really stirred up my feelings. First the pepper spraying itself:  The students were sprayed as if they were ants and roaches being sprayed with RAID.  Is this how our self-described betters, superiors, masters think of us? The 1%, the mayors, the chancellors, the “leaders” think of us? For many of them we know the answer. They look down on us, they think they are better people than we are, more deserving than us. They believe their wealth proves they are better. We are nuisances, insects to be sprayed into submission.

And all the world can see it now in videos on U tube and on the internet forever. (And securely backed up by the NSA in Utah or wherever).

And then there was displayed for the whole world to see the immense power of the shame meme. “Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you, Shame on you. Shame on You. Shame on You. Shame on you.  …” Let every revolutionary note well: This is one of the most powerful ideas we have. Our moral sense. Our feelings of what’s right. Our feelings of fairness and justice. These feelings have been evolved in us because we are social creatures. We live and work together in groups — from loving couples to families, to towns and cities, and corporations, and nations. The 1% believe that all people are always selfish and greedy. They are wrong. Yes some people may be always selfish and greedy. But most people are only sometimes selfish or greedy. The rest of the time they live and work well cooperatively with others. The revolution needs to use this truth, and that is what is happening with all the occupys, all the general assemblies. This meme — that most people most of the time are not selfish and greedy but instead want to cooperate, want to work together, want to help others — this meme must be spread far and wide. The 1%, not recognizing this truth, are destroying their own creations, the corporations, by their encouragement of the selfish greed of the executives and managers. They call it the “agency” problem. It is a lie to say that we cannot live in peace and work together with one another.

You could see it in the faces of some of the police. They were ashamed of what they were doing, of what they had done. This is so powerful. We can defeat them with words. Just words. But powerful words: The universal moral sense of humanity, those fundamental feelings of fairness and generosity, those desires to help and cooperate with others to help make things better for everyone. These are what make us human. Shame them and encourage them to change. Show them how to change. Help them change. Show people by our own examples of how it could be.

“Who’s University? Our University. Who’s University? Our University. … “ I am not an academic, but this got to me. I spent many years studying at and working as a researcher at UCLA. I know why we have Universities. Universities gathered and protected and passed on to us huge amounts of knowledge discovered and produced in antiquity. Euclid, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and many, many more not only Greeks. Universities exist to seek and discover and preserve new truths, new knowledge and pass it all on to succeeding generations of students and to all of humanity. To seek, to work for a University degree should be considered to be one of the most noble things one can do in life. Yet what is our present system doing? It is systematically making it more and more difficult to get a university degree because it can only see a University as one more thing to privatize, one more thing to squeeze out more profits from, and it sees students as potential debt slaves. It is not enough to say education should be free. No, rather, people should be paid, as if it were work, because it is work, to go to school — any school from kindergarten through graduate school — just as researchers and any other people who work are paid. Humanity needs more knowledge about everything. Our societies and cultures need this to continue human progress.

Who’s University? Our University. Humanity’s University.

And our dysfunctional system sprays noxious chemicals on University students as if they were ants and roaches and seeks from them only profits.

We have a lot of work to do. But as the University of California at Davis students said to the police “You can go now.”, we, all of us, the 99% plus the 1%, will someday say to the 1%: “You can go now.”

Building on what has come before.

In the previous few posts, at the end of the list of chunks of new knowledge, I wrote:

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.”

Can we analyze this? It sounds great. If we could organize the stages of our revolution so that each stage ended with an epiphany, a kind of revelation in a large number of new people, a revelation of some significant revolutionary truths, that would cause them to accept, support, or actively work for the revolution, then it would seem that the revolution would be very well underway. In the previous posts I was trying to analyze chunks of knowledge, information useful for making a revolution. I was asking what would be a good order to spread these chunks of knowledge, these facts, these truths, these opinions to a big chunk of the population.

The revolution might be more or less continuous. That is progress might be more or less steady. Or it could be like Steven Jay Gould’s punctuated equilibrium in biological evolution — periods where nothing much seems to be happening, separated — punctuated — by, very short periods of great change. And we must anticipate periods of reversal, where there are system changes that take us farther away from our goals.

Since the revolution occurs in people’s minds, the revolution can be progressing during periods of apparent stasis and even reversal. And of course the revolution does not have to proceed through punctuated euphoric revelations either. There may be none. But there will probably be some.

If there are any euphoric revelations — where some significant revolutionary idea/s spread almost instantaneously to a large portion of the population — this will generate a lot of enthusiasm for the revolution. We must keep this new enthusiasm focused toward our revolutionary goals and methods. Mass enthusiasm can be dangerous. Charlatans and those not working towards our revolutionary goals might lead people in wrong directions. But this will be less likely if many or most people have previously inoculated themselves against propaganda and self serving authoritarians/leaders through the methods of improving their thinking we discussed in the previous posts.

So, given that the revolution must occur in people’s minds, how do we see any progress, any changes in our systems? The changes in people’s minds precede changes in their behavior. The changes in behavior will affect the operation of the system directly and indirectly. The changes in people’s minds must be translated into changes in the structures of our economic/political systems. This might happen through changes in laws. It might happen through changes in customs if a large enough number of people change their behavior in consistent ways. For example, if enough bankers, traders etc., change their minds, if they realized that arbitrary credit/money creation is the cause of booms and busts, then maybe they would restrain their indefinite creation of credit/money. This seems very unlikely. More likely more laws and rules would have to be made and enforced. If enough people in general realized that running up big debts on credit cards is unwise (or to be very blunt — costly, foolish, crazy, stupid (or maybe it is none of these things if the person knows the banks will never be able to collect since he has no or little money or property)), then maybe more and more people stop using credit cards and they just fade away. There are many ways in which changes in the individual behaviors of enough people will change the system, will change its structure.

The more basic question: How do we stage the revolution? What do we do first? Then what do we do next? It may be ridiculous to try to plan ahead like this. What we do second may be impossible to decide until the first stage is done. So then the question really becomes: At any point in time, what should we do next? Or: What should we do now? Since the revolution is changing people’s minds toward the revolutionary goals and methods, and since any individual person can only build on what they already know at any point in time, different people will need different new knowledge at any point in time. We must send out multiple messages at any one time. Depending on the specific knowledge an individual person has at any time, only some of our messages will make sense to that person. We can try to direct specific knowledge to specific groups such as bankers, traders, economists, the rich, workers, students, scientists, etc. But we can’t be sure that everyone in a specific group gets our message. And some people in other groups will get messages not specifically directed toward them. This is one reason all our messages must be consistent with our goals and methods. Some politicians make the mistake of sending inconsistent messages to different groups. They may say one thing to one group and the opposite to another group. Information leaks, always. So some people at least will see that the politician is lying. We must be as transparent and truthful and consistent and science based as we can be regarding our goals and methods and in all our activities. Consistent messages are easier to accept than inconsistent ones. Consistent messages will spread farther and faster.

How are we going to spread our revolutionary messages? Now in developed countries there are mass media on the one hand and everything else on the other. The everything else includes person to person conversation unmediated — the people communicating are physically close enough to each other that they can hear and see each other directly. Each can hear the words and see the facial and bodily expressions of the other. There are cell phones. There is the internet with typed words and some videos. Different individuals select different methods of getting information about the society and cuilture, the operations of the political and economic systems. Some watch TV, some listen to the radio, some read newspapers, some read books, some read internet blogs. Individuals select their sources of information.

Some blogs are already more or less dedicated to spreading revolutionary ideas, although they may not see it that way. These are critique blogs. They comment on particular areas of our society — politics, economics, banking, the law, civil rights, particular ideologies, etc. In so far as they point out deficiencies in their area of concern, they are spreading maybe the first revolutionary idea — namely that things are so bad, so out of whack, so dysfunctional, so harmful that drastic changes are needed; a revolution is needed.

So our challenge is to determine which of these methods of communication to use where and when to develop and spread our revolutionary ideas.

It is very interesting that direct person to person communication — the most complete form of human to human communication — unmediated communication — is being used by OWS (Occupy Wall Street) and the other Occupys in their general assemblies. And the repetition instead of electric amplification reinforces the information, the messages, into the minds of those hearing and repeating the messages. This is amazing. Obviously it can’t scale directly to a group of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. Rather it seems to be scaling like bacterial colonies as new Occupys spring up in other cities like a new bacterial colony can start from a single bacterium wafted through the air.

Within any one Occupy the direct person to person communication with repetition may be a very good way to reach strong consensus. And if the different Occupys have essentially the same goals for changing our systems — towards social justice — there may be little difference in their resulting actions. There may be differences as to what to do first. But maybe that doesn’t matter too much. Try something. Try many different things. Keep trying. This may be a good strategy. Notice I don’t say “the best” strategy because we can waste much time and energy about what the best strategy is when there are many possibilities that as far as we can tell now are likely to be more or less equally good.

Maybe the same applies to our question of which revolutionary knowledge to send out to which people when. Maybe a good strategy is to just send it all out to as many people as possible whatever their class or role in our culture through as many communication channels as we can. For every person we should have revolutionary information that will make sense to them and all our messages must be true and consistent with our goals and methods, with social justice — a fair distribution of the products and services we make from the earth’s limited resources, sustainably, non-violently.

How to Spread Revolutionary Knowledge

There isn’t any one right order. There are many that will work very well. In a complex evolving culture we can spread our revolutionary concepts, knowledge, information in many possible ways. We can’t know for sure how well any particular way will work. We can only rely on general principles — about how ideas and information spread through a culture.

So let’s go back to the original list and first put related chunks of information together.

There are a number of these chunks related to cooperation. Let’s group them under the heading of Cooperation:

It is natural for people to cooperate in almost all situations.

Cooperation can be taught.

Conflict and competition are not the same.

Competition is a form of cooperation.

Conflicts exist but they can be limited.

Next let’s group things having to do with fear and anger:

The specific things we fear have been learned and therefore can be unlearned.

We can learn to control anger and many people can learn to eliminate anger from their lives.

Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars.

Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools.

Learning:

Almost everybody can learn new things at any age.

Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught.

We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others.

Thinking:

Thinking requires feelings.

Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking.

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

Force and threats are counter productive.

Some big statements:

Human nature is not fixed.

Perfection is an illusion.

Utility theory is grossly simplistic.

Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit.

Propaganda:

Repetition is very effective.

Propaganda works.

Truth has an advantage.

Sense of Justice:

People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning.

Influence and Control:

The superrich run things, or think they do.

No one controls anything.

At most we can have some influence.

Information leaks always.

Individuality:

Most people are not stupid.

We must take care of ourselves.

From the day you are born till you ride in the hearse there is nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse.

Sociality:

Not everyone is greedy all the time.

Altruism exists.

In everything we do we are helped by others.

We are almost never alone.

Complex Systems:

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.

Evolution:

Everything evolves, only faster or slower.

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 ideas make sense.

OK, so we have somewhat chunked the items on the list. Next we want to put these bigger chunks in some pragmatic teaching/learning order. It would seem that chunks like Thinking and Learning should come earlier on the list. Economics is mostly BS should come later, along with the other “Big Statements” since they require an understanding of Evolution. So should complex Systems and Evolution. Cooperation should occur near the middle. Fear and Anger should be near Thinking, probably before it. Propaganda should come just after Thinking.

There are other considerations besides ease of learning that must be considered in trying to determine a good strategic order for spreading our revolutionary ideas. For example the Economics is mostly BS meme maybe should be spread early because there is already a huge amount of information circulating in the population to that effect. We must remember that not everyone needs to understand all the details supporting the validity of some chunk of knowledge in order to accept and use that chunk of knowledge. You may not need to know and understand all the neurological details of how excessive fear and anger degrades your thinking in order to learn to influence your use of fear and anger. You don’t need to know all the details of how a car works in order to drive one.

Maybe the “Occupy” movements will prepare a large chunk of the population for learning about how propaganda works, or how our democracy does not presently work well, or how the powers that be can corrupt and co-opt popular movements. So then the population has been prepared for different revolutionary knowledge to go on top of what they have just learned from these Occupy movements.

So for now, I’ll leave the subject of the strategic spreading of our revolutionary knowledge. 

Strategic Knowledge part 5

We finish with our list.

In everything we do we are helped by others. We learn and create only by building on the knowledge, the work, of others. We learn our language from our mother and other people. We learn how to interact with other people. We learn almost everything we know from other people. On rare occasions we may discover something new. We may create original art or music. In every case we are building on what we have already learned from others. We are immersed in our cultures and can only combine, rearrange, add to, make implications from things, ideas, knowledge, and information already in our cultures. Very little of what any individual does throughout life is original to her or him. Almost everything we do has been done before by others. Issac Newton, who gave an excellent explanation of gravity and the motions of the planets around the sun, said “I stand on the shoulders of giants”. We all do. We depend on the knowledge and the creations of all those who came before us and we depend on the knowledge and creations of the rest of humanity living today. We freely inherit and use the things built by previous generations — the buildings, the roads, the power plants, the dams, the factories, the cleared land, the irrigation systems, the art, the music, the literature, the sciences, the engineering and on and on —- we get all this for free because of the cooperative work of billions of other people, living and dead.

And some managers of large corporations and some government officials have the arrogance to claim that their contributions to society are so great, so valuable, so important that they should have incomes hundreds and hundreds of times the incomes of the people who actually work to produce useful and necessary physical things or who work to discover and create new knowledge and information for the benefit of all of us.

Considering the interconnectedness, the interdependencies of the activities of all seven billion living people, the contribution of any one individual are almost always insignificant. Maybe J. S. Bach, maybe Michael Jackson, maybe Philip Glass, maybe Albert Einstein, maybe Kurt Godel, maybe Gandhi, —  (feel free to nominate a few others) — have as individuals made significant contributions. But no bankers, no corporate leaders, no government leaders should be on any list of significant contributors to the well-being of humanity.

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. Each of these has been discussed in the analysis of cooperation in the post Strategic Knowledge for a Good Revolution.

Thinking with too much fear, anger, or hatred can lead to wars. This has been discussed in the analysis of thinking and feelings and in the analysis of emotions in the post Strategic Knowledge part 2.

 Everything evolves. Everything changes only slower or faster. Every human starts as a single cell. That cell develops if all goes well into a healthy baby in about nine months. That development is a step by step process. That first cel divides into two cells; they divide; and so on. As the cell divisions continues the cells differentiate; they are set to perform different functions. The development proceeds as an interaction between the cells with their genetic instructions and their environment, the mother’s womb. The dividing and differentiating cells get nutrients and energy from this environment. Development continues after birth. The baby learns its mother’s language (almost always). It learns how to interact with other people. The baby, then child, then adolescent, then adult absorbs, learns more and more knowledge and information from the culture it is raised in. This development process is a kind of evolution: each stage can only be built on the previous stages, on what has already been built. The development can always go in various directions depending on the interaction between the individual and the individual’s environment. Societies evolve, cultures evolve. Cultures accumulate things and knowledge and information that was created or discovered in earlier stages, and can only build upon, discover, or create based on what has come before. So they also can go in various directions depending on their interactions with their environments. The earth evolves, planets evolve, stars evolve, the universe is evolving. Even a rock evolves, only usually very slowly compared to us, unless the rock is broken up by us or maybe an earthquake.

One consequence of this is that it is silly for economists to try to find static theories or even equilibrium theories. Any realistic theory must account for change, possibly drastic change, i.e., it must be dynamic; and it must take account of the fact that our societies and cultures and political systems are evolving. The discovery of new knowledge, new methods for doing old things better, brings productivity improvements. Huge productivity improvements have been occurring for more than 200 years, yet there is no or very little place for productivity improvements in economic theories. It is very important to understand that our cultures evolve, our real economic and political systems evolve. To ignore these facts is to ignore large chunks of reality.

We can influence social change. The 99% can and do surely influence social change. We (the 99%) accept and use their (the 1%) money/credit/banking system which is the root cause of business cycles — the booms and busts that have been occurring for the past 200 years (or 5000 years if you read David Graeber’s book “Debt: The First 5000 Years.) The money/credit/banking system is also the scheme which allows the 1% to get richer and richer while the 99% get poorer and poorer. We (the 99%) do not have to use this crooked system. See also previous posts on Control and Influence in the post Strategic Knowledge part 3..

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. Mental health is good and valuable and important if we want to make a revolution. Mental health means thinking better. It means not thinking with fear, anger, hatred, violence. It means not thinking in terms of caricatures of other people. (Read “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, M. D.) It is important for revolutionaries to think better and it is important for the process of changing people’s minds, so that they accept the goals and methods of the revolution, since if we teach them how to think better first, then they will be less susceptible to the propaganda of neo-liberalism, they will be less susceptible to the propaganda for wars and violence, they will more easily understand, accept, and appreciate the usefulness of, the value of, the beauty of our revolutionary goals and methods.

I recently read an interesting, yet unsatisfying, book called “A First Rate Madness” by Nassir Ghamei, in which the he argues that in times of crisis we need leaders that are “abnormal”, a little mad. He cites William Tecumseh Sherman, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, all according to him more or less mad. He looked for symptoms of bipolar disorder — what used to be called manic-depression. He classifies these people as abnormal. He claims that people like Neville Chamberlain and General McClelland were normal people who are fine for normal (I guess peaceful) times, but unfit to handle crises. This all bothers me as being too simplistic. He seems to assume that history just happens and people, leaders simply respond. Is he maybe saying that it takes crazy leaders to start wars? If Roosevelt, Churchill, and Hitler had all been “normal”, might WWII been avoided? Churchill, Hitler, and Kennedy all had regular injections of amphetamines and all three had serious periods of depression and periods of mania. I’m not ready to celebrate mad leaders. If Hitler hadn’t constantly been pumped up with amphetamines might he have seen realistically that his war was lost and given it up one or two years before it actually ended?

What’s this got to do with the revolution we need? Only that we want people to work on their mental health, to develop good thinking practices and stay at or near some sweet spot between depression and mania.

We have already discussed that depression prevents action, and that a real danger of the present deteriorating system, with overwhelming bad news, is to cause people to become hopeless and depressed, and thus unable to help us change the system. We must avoid depression as well as we must avoid mania as we see some successes.

Ideologies can be, and probably most are, traps. Limiting your thinking is limiting yourself. We have already discussed this in Strategic Knowledge part 3.

Fear, anger, hatred, disgust are effective propaganda tools. We have already discussed this in Strategic Knowledge part 2, Propaganda.

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. We have discussed this in the post The Structure of Organizations.

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 simply because it limits the spread of new information, new knowledge. 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. Some examples are the knowledge of how to think better such as not thinking with excessive fear and anger or any excessive emotion; and not thinking in terms of personalities, in terms of the estimated goodness or badness of the person rather than listening to what the person actually says and does. 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 ideas make 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.”

OK, we have analyzed the items on our strategic list. Now can we put the list into some kind of order that will speed up their learning by enough people so we can make the revolution we want?

Strategic knowledge part 4

We continue with our list of strategic information.

Information leaks, always. No ideology can be 100% sealed off from the rest of the world. No secrecy regime can absolutely prevent leaks of information. No encryption system is 100% secure. The algorithms may be unbreakable with present day computers in a time less than billions of years. But mistakes by humans (or machines) cannot be prevented. They will occur with some positive probability. Simple mistakes can result in information being sent unencrypted; the identity of the encryptor is revealed; then keys and future communications are revealed. Nothing is perfect. Information leaks, always.

The importance of these facts is not just that revolutionaries cannot count on being able to hide from government agencies and corporations. The importance really goes the other way: Governments and corporations cannot hide what they do for very long; and ideologies cannot prevent the leaking in of information which is critical of, contrary to, and ultimately destructive of the ideology. Just as there are no closed systems — a closed system has no energy, resources, or information either coming into it or going out of it — except the whole universe, there can be no completely, 100% closed ideologies. So no matter how dreary, tyrannical, repressive, authoritarian an ideology, or governments, or corporations try to be, they cannot control the information coming in or the information going out. We always have hope of being able to change the system by spreading new information to people.

And as a practical matter it is completely absurd for any person or any group to think they could prevent the creation of new ideas or significantly limit the circulation of existing ideas among seven billion people. Modern technologies — world-wide travel, world-wide internet, world-wide cell phones — are speeding up the circulation of existing ideas as well as the creation of new ideas. Information not only always leaks, it often pours.

Most people are not stupid. Almost everybody can learn new things at any age. I know someone who used to say “My keys are not lost. I just don’t know where they are.” I would say “If you don’t know where your keys are, they are lost.” But what she meant was “My keys are not lost in the sense that they are gone forever. I know they are here somewhere. I just have to find them.” Similarly almost everybody can learn new things at any age. Most people just do not know that they can. They go with the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well we can teach old dogs and we can teach almost all people new things regardless of their age. Some things like sports and playing musical instruments are easier to learn when a person is young. And the people who are the very best at these almost always start learning these physical procedures when they are very young. But older people can learn these things too if their body will still allow it. But mental things — new ideas, concepts — can be learned by older people, in many cases, more easily than by younger people because older people may have had more experience, more accumulated knowledge, on top of which new ideas and concepts can easily be accepted. This assumes their brains are healthy, that their brains have not deteriorated as in Alzheimer’s disease, and that they do not have beliefs which shut their minds to accepting new knowledge — for example being an adherent to a restrictive ideology or believing “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

This is important for the revolution because, as we have said, to make a revolution is to change people’s minds. If enough older people can’t change their minds to accept the revolutionary goals and methods, then the revolution will take longer than if most of them could. This has been long recognized. Many scientific revolutions were not complete until the old guard died off. (Read “ The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas S. Kuhn.) If enough adults can’t change their minds and accept new revolutionary knowledge, then the revolution will have to wait for new generations to accept the new knowledge.  

Force and threats are counterproductive. This has been analyzed in the post The Strategic Advantage of Non-violence.

Altruism exists. This simple fact wasted a lot of minds. The assumptions of classical economics  and utility theory were so strongly held that some people wasted huge amounts of time and mental energy trying to prove that altruism does not exist or that it is really just some special case of utility theory. Altruism exists. (Read the book “The Heart of Altruism” by Kristen Renwick Monroe.) This book shows beyond any reasonable doubt that there are some people who are willing to put their own lives at risk in order to help others. It is hard to understand what all the fuss is/was all about. It is obvious altruism exists. Almost all of us are altruistic at various times in our lives! Let’s start at the beginning. Consider childbirth. Many women have died during childbirth. I’m sure we could find some women who refused to have children for this reason. And most women are/were aware of this risk of death. The very fact that seven billion of us exist right now proves that almost all women were willing to accept this risk for the benefit of their unborn children. We even assume altruism by soldiers who die to save their buddies or who die for their countries. Everything we do has risks. Therefore any time we do anything to help others we are being altruistic. The existence of altruism is a fake problem. Most people in many, many situations throughout their lives cooperate with, work together with, and help other people without thinking about — much less calculating — benefits, losses, gains, or profits. They do it because they want to, because it’s more enjoyable, because they believe it is just a better way to live, at least in those situations where they do cooperate or help one another. People do not always cooperate. They do not always work together. People do not always help others. People are not always altruistic. But most people often are.

Altruism can be taught. Generosity is taught. Excessive selfishness is taught. These and many other human behaviors relevant for getting along with others, relevant to a fair and just distribution of human necessities — can be taught. They can be taught in that people can be shown how to recognize situations where more, or less, of these behaviors is better. The amounts of and the situations that are appropriate for all these behaviors vary from culture to culture. This proves they are mostly taught by our cultures. Thus in any particular culture we can change them.

We must take care of ourselves. Our body and brain warn us of various human needs — when we need food, water, when it’s too hot or too cold, of dangers, when we need sleep, when we need to be with other people. We actually take care of all these needs with the help of other people. nobody lives their whole life alone. Even hermits had to have been helped by other people from birth up until the time they become crazy enough to wander off into the mountains or desert to live alone. So if you want to think of a person taking care of his or her individual human needs as a form of selfishness, go ahead. But as I have just said this “selfishness” is almost always accomplished with the help of other people.

You may have noticed that many of the things we are talking about seem to be variations on a single theme — that we are social creatures — that almost everything we do, we do with other people. We are social creatures. But most emphatically this is not to deny the importance of individual autonomy, maximal individual freedom consistent with non-violence. (This does not apply to governments and corporations.) We must have both individuality and sociality. Neither can be allowed to dominate, or smother, or try to control or limit the other. The social groups we are a part of strongly influence individuals’ behavior. And of course individuals’ behavior strongly influence our social groups. Each continually influences the other through billions of feedback loops. Our cultures influence us. We influence our cultures. We don’t want our cultures to repress our individuality, our autonomy, our freedoms, our creativity, our development in any ways we may choose to go, all consistent with not harming others and our physical world, consistent with peace and non-violence. Nor do we want individuals or groups trying to bend our cultures, constrain our cultures in ways that prevent or limit maximal individual development for each individual person. We don’t want to have some individuals privileged over others or groups privileged over individuals.

The above may be too abstract. I am trying to think about and talk about in a general way that we must avoid two extremes. One is where the culture, the system works in some sense but it restricts individual freedom and individual development for the sake of a smooth running, or efficient operation of the system. The other is where individual freedom is given so much importance that violence is allowed against others and/or necessary resources are diverted from huge numbers of people. We want a system where there is both maximal personal individual freedom and where there is a just distribution of human necessities so that almost all individual people truly have an opportunity to develop themselves maximally all with non-violence and consistent with the limited earth’s resources.

For many people this will seem impossible. But that’s because they can think only in terms of our present very crude economic and political systems. But when you think about all the feedback loops between individuals and their groups, their cultures, we have to try to get to such a balance.

Let me put it more crudely. We don’t want a well running, efficient, stable system where almost all the people are well fed zombies. And we don’t want a system which seems to work fine for a small minority of people but in which there are all kinds of wars and violence and some people are grotesquely rich and others are starving  and the earth’s resources are being used up as if there were no tomorrow.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

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.”

Strategic Knowledge part 3

We are going through a list of facts, ideas, chunks of information that in so far as these are spread to and accepted by a large enough number of people, we will have made a revolution, we will have modified the goals of enough people, so that the goals of our political/economic system will be to provide a socially just distribution of the earth’s limited resources. Our goal here is to analyze these chunks of information so that we can determine which ones should be spread to whom first, etc. We want to develop a good strategy for spreading these ideas.

People have a strong sense of, a feeling for, justice, fairness which can be increased or decreased by learning. We have a strong sense of injustice, of unfairness, of cheaters, of freeloaders — people who are not doing their fair share in some cooperative human activity. This sense of injustice is a feeling we have when we discover someone cheating. We don’t like it. We will make various efforts, we will work to get the person to stop cheating and to do what he or she can to cooperate, to play, to work, by the rules. In extreme cases if the person won’t cooperate, we may force them to leave the game or the group. Almost everyone has this feeling. This feeling developed in humans through our evolution perhaps partially biological and partly cultural. That is, it may be partly coded in our genes and partly learned as we are raised in our culture. It doesn’t matter very much how we have come to have this feeling of injustice. Even if it is mostly genetic It, like most other behavioral traits, can be modified during individual development — it can be strengthened or weakened and it can be applied in different circumstances. From an evolutionary point of view we almost have to have it. Since we are a species in which cooperation is essential for our individual survival, we will have developed mechanisms to encourage cooperation and we will have developed mechanisms to discourage non-cooperation. So we have this feeling of injustice and thus the feeling for justice. We want justice in our dealings with other people. We don’t like cheating. We don’t like people who don’t do their fair share when they are able to, and we don’t like people who take way more than their fair share of what the group produces.

Since almost all people have this sense of justice, most people will easily agree with the goals of the revolution: Move towards a system which provides social justice — a system that provides basic human needs for every person, where basic human needs are food, clothes, shelter, health care, as much education as anyone wants,  the opportunity to work with others, peace, and maximal individual freedom consistent with non-violence — and all this compatible with protecting and sustaining the natural world.

And if the sense of justice is not strong enough in some people we can teach it.

Most economic talk and theorizing is total bullshit. First most economic theories start with false assumptions so we cannot rely on any of their conclusions. A large part of economics depends on utility theory as an explanation of human decision-making. And we have discussed how utility theory is not at all a correct description of human decision-making. In addition there are clear errors in the mathematics used in classical theories. The aggregate supply/demand curves do not follow from the individual supply/demand curves. (Read “Debunking Economics” by Steve Keen.) And modern economists still refer to these incorrect aggregate supply/demand curves. This is still taught to economics students.

And Milton Friedman said assumptions don’t matter. This has led economists to waste time and energy generating theories from absurd assumptions. (Google “Black-Scholes”, “Efficient Markets”. There are many others.) Then other people apply these absurd theories to decide how to invest or gamble with their and other people’s money.

Finally there is real world proof that economics is mostly useless: Consider the recent crash (2008) and following Great Recession, preceded by the housing/finance bubble, and then go back in history. There are booms and crashes at irregular intervals as far back as 5000 years ago. All a surprise to economists. All not predicted by economic theories. (Read “Debt: The First 5000 Years” by David Graeber.)

People need to understand that economic theories are almost totally wrong because there is great resistance to change by many people who believe in some of these invalid theories. Those who adhere to these theories limit their thinking to their particular theory. They refuse to consider any political/economic system outside their theories. They are trapped by their own ideologies. And they would like to trap the rest of us too. So it is critical that if we are to have the revolution we want we must not be limited in our thoughts by any of these economic ideologies. Management consultants used to say “Think outside the box.” It is critical for us to think outside of any and all economic theories. They are traps, they are “closed boxes”, they do not accept any information outside their theory, they are epistemically closed.

The superrich run things, or think they do. No one controls anything. At most we can have some influence. We see that our politicians, our representatives, our senators have almost all been bought and paid for by bankers, banks and other large corporations, the rich or the super rich. The rich and super rich contribute so much money to the politicians for their campaigns, and that money is used to buy advertisements from the corporate controlled (influenced) mass media that influence the people voting so they effectively have no real choices. It doesn’t matter who wins an election, the parties are essentially the same, we get the same results, the same policies, the same law changes to make the poor and middle class poorer (the 99%) and the rich (the 1%) richer.

So do the rich run things? Are the rich in control? Well they surely influence things. But they do not control everything. They cannot control everything. They cannot control our thoughts. They cannot control our communications with one another. They can monitor Facebook all they want. Information wants to be free. Information leaks, always.

They cannot control our behavior. This has been obvious for a long time. They pass unjust laws like alcohol prohibition and anti drug laws. We (the 99%) mostly ignore those laws. They themselves (the 1%) also pretty much ignore any laws they care to. There is not much respect for laws anymore. The whole system — laws/police/courts/punishment/fines/prisons — seems to be nothing but a cruel joke to harass, intimidate, control, the poor and middle class (the 99%) by the rich (the 1%). They can’t control us. They can only influence us in so far as we let them, only in so far as we buy into and accept the present system.

Many people have already been forced out of the system. The poor are only marginally in the system. The working poor are contributing by their work. Some of the non working poor are also contributing by their community activities, some by developing themselves in various ways such as education, developing artistic abilities. But many have been pushed to the edge of or out of the system — those who have no interest in educating themselves, those who may have an interest in developing themselves but who don’t have enough money and support to do so, those who see no prospects for “success” —  a steady job, enough money to marry and raise a family reasonably comfortably. We could go on and on here. The point is the system works well only for the rich and the upper levels of the middle class. And those for whom the system is not working have less and less incentive to participate in it. The system itself, in its deterioration, in its unpredictable future course, is promoting revolution. The system is pushing people to reject the system. If the 1% think they are controlling the 99%, they are seriously mistaken. They and the system they think they run are forcing people out, are forcing people to be way less than they could be. “Be all that you can be” says the military. Yeah. Right. The 1% don’t control shit. They don’t even know what they are doing. We must help them see that a socially just system will be better for almost everyone, even for most of them.

The present system is uncontrollable. The present system cannot be understood by any one individual. The same is true for any similarly complex system. The most we can hope to do is change our systems to ones that are more understandable and more controllable. The super rich do not run things. Nobody does.

It is important to understand this because if you believe the super rich run things, control everything, then you might believe change is impossible, that you are powerless, and you are less likely to work for a revolution. The truth is change is inevitable. Unexpected, unintended change is inevitable. But we can influence it. We must.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

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.”

Strategic Knowledge part 2

We are going through a list of facts — chunks of knowledge — that will help people understand that we can make a non-violent revolution to transform our economic and political systems into more socially just systems. We are analyzing these facts to see where they come from, to see how they are related, to see what other information they depend on, so that we may put them in an order that will most easily allow their spread to a large enough chunk of the whole population. We analyzed some in the previous post. Here are swveral more from the remainder of the list.

Thinking requires feelings. Excessive amounts of feelings degrade thinking. We talked about the emotions fear, anger, hatred, disgust, and grief above. Emotions are changes occurring in your body in certain situations. In fear your heart beats faster, your blood is circulated to your muscles, your muscles tense, cortisol and adrenalin are secreted into your blood stream. This is the emotion — the actual bodily changes. The feeling associated with the emotion is your experience, your awareness, your sensing of these bodily changes. The feelings are inside you. Some of your emotional responses can be seen by other people since tensing of muscles can be seen by others, in particular your facial muscles, since each emotion has a unique pattern of facial muscles tensing and relaxing. (Read “Emotions Revealed” by Paul Ekman.) Your feelings can’t be seen by others. But they can be inferred from your facial and other bodily expressions. Feelings are stored away with all our memories. Some amount of the feelings we experience during some memorable episode are stored away with the other information about that episode such as where it was, when it was, who you were with, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes (if any), the pain (if any). The feelings stored away with a memory are recalled along with the other information when that memory is used in thinking. For example if you are in a restaurant looking at the desert menu and you see pumpkin pie listed and when you were a child you once ate too much pumpkin pie and got sick, you might have very bad feelings regarding pumpkin pie, and thus you decide not to have pumpkin pie for desert. So you used your feelings about pumpkin pie, stored in your memory from long ago, in the process of thinking about what desert you might want, and you decided not to have pumpkin pie. Your feelings helped you decide. Your feelings were necessary for your thinking. When a person has damage to particular areas of their brain that connect feelings and thinking, they cannot make decisions. They can go round and round considering all the possibilities, but they cannot decide, they cannot “make up their minds”. This is especially true for social decisions like whom to marry, whom to trust. (Read “Looking for Spinoza” by Antonio Damasio. One person with such brain damage spent more than a half hour trying to decide which of two possible appointment times was better.)

OK, thinking requires feelings. So what’s the big deal? There are several reasons why this is important to understand. The fundamental reason is that it explains many distortions of thinking, poor thinking, that lead to irrational and inappropriate behaviors. Another reason is that it used to be thought that the best thinking should be totally detached from emotions and feelings. And some people still try to eliminate all feelings from thinking. To actually do that would degrade their thinking. The amount, the intensity, of feelings associated with some thought can be too much or too little. The feelings associated with one thought can spill over and affect another thought. And there are phobias. Some people regularly have fears of some things way out of proportion to the actual danger: fear of spiders, fear of snakes, fear of heights, fear of closed spaces, fear of open spaces, some people are afraid to leave their house or apartment. There are many others. (Read “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, M.D. The whole book is about the multiple ways people use distorted and unrealistic thinking about themselves and the world.)

We need to understand how good thinking and poor thinking actually work so we can teach ourselves and others how to think better. Then our choices, our decisions, will be better. We will be more effective in our actions, in everything we do. We will be less susceptible to propaganda.

I have said that thinking with fear and anger degrades thinking; yet here I say feelings are essential for thinking well. The degradation of thinking comes because the amount or intensity of the feelings is wrong, or the feelings are associated with the wrong object. Anger toward one person often spills over to nearby people. So thinking with fear or anger really means having too much fear or anger or it’s directed at the wrong object.  

Repetition is very effective. Repetition is how we memorize things  — basic facts like 3 X 8 = 24 or Columbus is the capitol of Ohio. These are facts — chunks of knowledge, chunks of information we use in our lives to make decisions, to do whatever we do. We learn and remember these chunks of information by hearing them spoken or seeing them written over and over during our education in schools as well as everywhere else. We also learn and memorize chunks of information that are less basic, more speculative, incomplete, somewhat useful, misleading or just wrong. Some examples: people are selfish; people are greedy; buy low, sell high; speed kills; follow your gut; look before you leap, etc. There are thousands of facts, factoids, rules of thumb, aphorisms, etc. that we have learned, memorized, through hearing or reading them over and over again. Repetition is the process by which we learn, store, memorize these chunks of information, treat them as knowledge, and use them in thinking and making decisions in our daily lives. Most of the information we accept and use as knowledge we get this way. Only sometimes do we carefully assess the usefulness, the truth, the consistency, of new information we accept and use.  

Propaganda works. Propaganda works by repetition, by excessive generation of fear, anger, hatred, disgust, contempt, by demonizing individuals and groups, by simplistic thinking — thinking in terms of absolutes and binaries such as good and evil and rejecting gradations in between the absolutes. Another form of simplistic thinking propaganda uses is focusing on people rather than issues and policies — the advantages and disadvantages of proposed changes to our systems. The person becomes a symbol for the policy. The character of the person is substituted for the policy. Propagandists then glorify or demonize specific people rather than discuss the proposals the glorified or demonized people make. We can call this thinking in terms of people. It goes along with thinking in terms of excessive fear and anger.

Propaganda is made easier by mass media — which send information from a very limited number of sources to millions of viewers or listeners such as TV and radio. But propaganda can be sent through any media. One possible advantage of the internet as the medium of information spreading is the large number of possible sources should be harder for a small number of people to attempt to control. But on the receiving end, which sources will people listen to? If we group people by their main sources of information will we have millions of groups, or thousands, or hundreds, or three (like we had when there were only 3 TV networks)?

Propaganda also occurs in person-to-person conversations. Just talk to someone who has been propagandized by one of the TV so-called news channels.  The propagandaness (the essence of propaganda) is still there: distorted thinking, simplistic thinking, thinking with excessive fear and anger, thinking in terms of caricatures of people. There is no question that propaganda works. It clearly leads people to support war, promote war, go to war. It easily convinces people to vote against their own interests.

So should the revolution use propaganda? The answer has to be no for several reasons. It’s like violence. Implicit in our goals of social justice is the goal of eliminating or continually reducing violence in our societies and cultures. We also surely want to reduce propaganda as I have characterized it. We want to eliminate distorted thinking, simplistic thinking, thinking with excessive fear and anger, thinking in terms of caricatures of people. We want more and more people to see and understand how our social systems can be improved, to bring them closer to our goals of social justice. It would be absurd to try to teach and spread methods of better thinking by using distorted and simplistic thinking. As with violence, if we try to use propaganda to make a revolution, then we will not be successful, we will have changed very little.

Another reason we must teach, promote, and spread better thinking is to undo the neoliberal propagandistic thinking that has led to the present neoliberal dominance. How do we get our Democracy back? One way might be to teach better thinking — thinking without excessive or mis-directed fear and anger, etc. — so that a large enough number of people have learned to recognize propaganda and therefore reject it. This is not impossible. All it requires is spreading the necessary knowledge to enough people. Part of the revolutionary program, part of the revolutionary strategy, must be to spread the knowledge of how to avoid propagandistic thinking to as many people as possible, and ultimately to almost everybody in the world.

Truth has an advantage. This may seem to be an odd assertion. It used to be thought that all a scholar or scientist had to do was to discover the truth, publish it, and our societies and cultures would accept it and act accordingly, and all would be well. It’s not that simple. Philosophers still argue about what truth is. Truth is or was one of those absolutes that modernists or post-modernists rejected. Absolutes seem to be quasi mathematical concepts. They may not actually apply to everyday human activities. Some have embraced this idea to claim then that truth does not matter. And from that they have concluded that anything goes — lies and tricks are OK in trying to convince people about something — maybe even Milton Friedman’s stupid assertion that the assumptions of an economic theory don’t matter comes from this mindset. Absolute truth may not matter, but relative truth surely does matter. Relative truth is how accurate a theory is or how well it works, or how useful it is in making predictions. Relative truth is how well some rule of thumb, some fact, some factoid, some statement, some rule, some knowledge, some information actually works in the world for people using the information. And we have systematic ways of checking, testing, finding out how well some theory, statement, fact, idea, etc. works. It is called the scientific method. Some theories, statements, facts, ideas work better than others. By the methods of science we find out which are better or worse than others. Truth matters.

The remainder of the list is below. I’ll look at some of these in the next post.

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.”

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.”

Strategic Advantage of Non-Violence

A nonviolent revolution has strategic advantages over one that relies on force or violence. This is because violence and force are blunt instruments. They are crude. They are imprecise. And they can cause a lot of collateral damage. Remember our purpose is to change people’s minds. The thinking behind using force or threats of force is that it will show the opponent that it is in his best interests to accede to our demands — that the violence is so costly to him that it would be better to give up and agree to whatever it is that we want. Or the threat of force, even though not strictly violence itself, is a threat to use violence, and thus cause the opponent to make the same calculation and give us what we want.

Notice first that this relies on the same discredited utility theory which we now know is not a very good model of human behavior. Thus we have no way of knowing whether our use of force or threat to use force will produce the results we desire in the opponent. He may under react, from our point of view, and not do the calculation we expect, and therefore not agree to our demands. He may not believe our threat is real especially if we have previously announced that we want to be nonviolent. Or he may over react with force or violence or threats. If we react similarly then we and our opponent are now beginning a deadly escalation spiral to war.

Of course we can change the minds, and thus the behaviors, of our opponents if we kill enough of them. But as I said, this is a blunt instrument. We have changed their minds by destroying them. And nobody “wins” a war. Both sides lose — a lot — in lives lost and things, property, wasted or destroyed. There are better ways. Much better ways.

We must change people’s minds one by one or often many at a time. We change people’s minds one at a time when we have a dialog, a conversation, with another person. The mass media — a one way communication vehicle — changes many minds at one time. Now with the internet we can have many dialogs and we can all become broadcasters. There is a lot going on between the extremes of one to one conversations and the mass media broadcasting.

Advertisers want to send their advertising messages to the people they think are most likely to want their products. So they will send different messages to different groups of people. We can do the same. This is not a blunt instrument.

We must send different messages to different groups of people. And different messages to the same groups at different times. This is so because to help a person gain new knowledge we must know what knowledge that person has already so that we can build upon it. We can’t teach second graders about compound interest. And we can’t teach most adults about tranched collateralized debt obligations without first teaching them about a lot of other things. So if we are to help people to change their minds — to get them to accept the goals and methods of the revolution we want — we must prepare them step by step by giving them new knowledge that will take them, step by step, from wherever they are now to our desired final state where they freely, without being forced or pressured, understand and accept, the goals and methods of the revolution. And they integrate this new knowledge with whatever they started with so as to provide a consistent a guide for their new behaviors. This is what we do when we formally teach children and adults in schools, except maybe at times we use too much pressure. To make a revolution is an education process!

Some groups which will require specific new knowledge are all those identifiable groups which have different roles in our present system: academics, teachers, scientists, police, military low-level, military high level, military middle level, small business owners, low-level business managers, high level business managers, workers in largest corps, in middle corps, in small businesses, government workers at all levels, politicians, judges, children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, older adults, those retired, women, men, gays, minorities, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.

There are some new ideas, information, knowledge that many people already have, but that must be spread to almost all the rest of the population regardless of their present roles. Some of these are the goals of the revolution. Some people who think we need a revolution or want a revolution may have only a limited goal for the revolution such as removing the dictator or the oligarchs or whoever they blame for the present poor conditions. If you just remove one or a few people and do not change the underlying system you are likely just to get a new dictator or new oligarchs who likely are not better than the last ones. So you really haven’t made a revolution. Our societies, our cultures are complex systems and if they are not working well it is not due just to the incompetence or evilness of one or a few individuals. A system problem requires a system solution, a change to a new system. So the goal of any revolution must be much more than just replacing one or a few people in power.

OK, so then what is the goal? A better system, yes. (We have already ruled out perfect systems because there are no perfect systems.) But what does better mean? I think the following is a good goal or set of goals that almost everyone can agree on. I would like to live in a society, in a culture, in a system that provides for, satisfies, the basic human needs of every living person compatible with the earth’s limited natural resources without degrading or destroying the natural environment. I consider the following to be basic human needs: clean water, nutritious food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, maximal individual freedom, and peace. This has been called social justice or peace and social justice. Some will say that such a system is not possible within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources. We can’t know whether it is possible or not, unless we try. So, considering this, it would be enough if the new system had the goal of working towards social justice. This goal is clearly different from the goal or goals of the present system. One goal of the present system is to allow certain individuals — not all individuals — to acquire, control, and allocate as much of the world’s things — resources, property, money — as they possibly can irrespective of any harm this may cause for the vast majority of other individuals and irrespective of any harm, degradation, destruction of the natural world. So don’t try to claim that the present system has a goal of social justice. It plainly does not.

So we need to spread the goals of social justice to most of those who do not have them already.

Also we need to spread the methods of the revolution to almost everyone. The most important of these is nonviolence, but there are many other specific positive methods to be described and discussed later.

What are some other chunks of knowledge we want to help people acquire so that they will have prepared themselves to embrace the goals and methods of the revolution? I will first list some in the order that they come to mind and later I will try to organize them in a way they might be taught.

OK here’s a list: 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 too. 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.”

The above list is not complete and of course there could be many variations on it. Next let’s see if we can put the items in this list in some kind of strategic order to make it easy for us and for others to acquire these new chunks of information, this new knowledge, and thus make a revolution.

There can be non-violent revolutions

“Do not hope or pray for revolution my friends.  Down that road lies terrible risk and poor odds.  Instead, pray for wisdom and change by our elected and appointed officials, that they choose the path of sanity rather than compounding insanity.

The time to do the right thing is running out.”

 — Karl Denninger in a post on 12 OCT 11 titled “OWS: The risks Facing America Today”

My intention is starting this blog was to avoid getting into discussions about current events because I wanted to be general purpose, applicable to all revolutions. In particular I didn’t want to talk about OWS because I don’t know enough about them and in no way do I want to try to second guess them. They seem to be unique. They are evolving. I think we should let them be and see what happens unless we want to directly participate with them.

Karl Denniger’s quote above suggests he sees revolutions as inevitably leading to violence. And many historical revolutions have been violent. But others have not been violent. Scientific revolutions (Thomas S. Kuhn “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”) have not been violent. The women’s liberation and the environmental movements though still on-going have not been violent. The anti slavery movement was mostly non-violent. More recently the neo-liberal revolution has been non-violent in its methods of conversion of people in the developed countries even though its results in the rest of the world have been numerous wars.

So there can be non-violent revolutions.

The Structure of Organizations

We can think of the structure of an organization is a description, diagram, or map of its information flows. We can think of individual people as their information. But this is maybe too abstract; it is at least unusual. So to be more concrete let’s say the structure of an organization is: all its people, all its things (tools, buildings, equipment (what are technically called artifacts)), all its information, all information flows among its parts, all energy flows, all resource flows. All individuals and all organizations interact with things (including other individuals and organizations) outside themselves. They get energy and information and other resources from outside, and they may give out energy, information, and resources. So boundaries of organizations are fuzzy. A closed system is one in which no energy or information or resources comes in or goes out. But the only known closed system is the universe as a whole, in the sense of everything that exists. So the systems we are interested in (organizations and individuals) are not closed systems.

Information in organizations can be classified in various ways. Organizations have various goals. GM wants to design and make and sell cars, make enough money to pay employees, make profit to pay taxes and shareholders, and it wants to continue to exist. If it didn’t want to continue to exist it probably wouldn’t now exist. A model airplane club wants to give enjoyment to its members through flying model airplanes; it wants to have meetings, collect dues to pay for the club’s expenses or maybe there are no expenses. It also wants to continue to exist or it wouldn’t.

All the parts of an organization need information about what they do or are supposed to do. They need information about all the other parts they interact with. They also need energy and other resources in the right amounts to do their part effectively. The information a part has or receives or sends out to other parts cannot be perfect. It can always be better or it can be worse regarding the operation of the part. The same applies to the organization interacting with outside individuals and organizations. Better information, more accurate information, more complete information means better operation, more efficient operation of all the parts. If two individuals have the same or similar roles in an organization the one with better information can do his or her job better than the person with worse, less accurate, less complete information. The goodness, the quality of the information circulating in an organization matters to the success of the organization. Truth matters to individuals and organizations. Or it should matter if they want to do whatever they do well.

An organization will cease to exist if enough of its parts stop cooperating. People can quit a company and it may not be able to hire replacements. Some division may fail to perform its function and the whole structure may collapse. A bank may make too many high leverage loans and go bankrupt. One bank can be the trigger for the collapse of many others. Members of the model airplane club may lose their interest and the club dissolves.

So an organization can fail if some critical part fails or if a large enough number degrade their performance sufficiently. Either of these can happen because of inappropriate distribution of information and other resources. An organization (system) can fail if some of its parts work against one another. If you keep driving with one foot on the brakes and one on the gas pedal you will soon wear out your brakes, the car may crash and be destroyed, and you may be injured or die.

There are many ways a system or organization can fail or operate poorly. When we have such a failing or poorly operating human organization, we can make a revolution, change the system, if we can identify the causes of failure, (non functioning parts, poorly functioning parts, too much or too little resources going to parts, or the wrong kinds of resources, incorrect information going to some or all parts, parts working against one another, etc.), and correct the cause or causes.

To correct the cause or causes means we have to change the system. We have to fix some or all of whatever is not working well. Most often it is only a small part of a system that needs to be changed. In complex systems it is sensible to change only one or at most a few things at a time. But sometimes one or more whole subsystem needs to be replaced like some of the wild and chaotic parts of the world’s present banking and money systems.

One perhaps extreme way to change a failing system is to cause it to fail faster or abruptly or completely. For life critical systems this is dangerous. But often in failing human systems, most people may not recognize that the system must be changed. The only way to get some people to change may seem to be to cause an abrupt deterioration short of total collapse so they can then see clearly that the system is so non functional or just so plain bad that it must be replaced. In some cases a system, or large parts of it, may be on such a path to collapse that revolutionaries need do nothing. Those running the system, those who think they are benefitting from the system are so blind, are such true believers in the system, that they are unable to foresee the collapse. This may be the case with the world’s present nations/global trading/banking/corporation system. It almost collapsed in 2008 and nothing serious has been done to significantly change it.  Toward the end of World War II the war system continued to destroy people and property in many countries long after it was obviously hopeless. So in some cases the revolutionary task is to try to prevent a collapse, to divert a system away from the path to destruction. In either case it can be very dangerous.

Human organizations, human systems, have a kind of inertia. They tend to continue the way they are. They can be hard to change. They tend to resist change. There are many reasons for this inertia. One reason is the necessity for some rules, information, habits of thought whose purpose is to preserve the organization or system. Without such rules there would be no stability, no permanence, no continuity. On the other hand, the world is dynamic. The environment changes and is changed by human organizations and the environment of human organizations is mostly other human organizations except for example when an earthquake and tsunami destroys a nuclear power plant. So human organizations don’t want to change but they must because the world around them, which they are a part of, changes. Even though this is obvious, most people think statically — we mostly think of human organizations as fixed. We say human nature never changes. We say there will always be war. We say there is one fixed economic system that should never be changed. We think it is possible to find some truth, some principles, some rules, that once found, can be used forever. And we are surprised when such beloved principles no longer work.

Human thinking, especially about human organizations, human systems, is seriously deficient. Even human nature is not fixed. Human nature depends on our culture and so it too changes as culture changes. But many people assume a fixed human nature solely determined by genes. So it can take much work to change people’s minds about some very important things like war, economics, and political systems.

Identifying and Tracking the Spread of Memes in Social Networks

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has put out a request for proposals for software/algorithms that would be able to identify and track in social networks like facebook — or the internet in general — memes of interest to the US government including the military services. (Search for “Social Media in Strategic Communication” or the SMISC program.) The algorithms should be able to identify communities of people with the same interests; it should be able to identify propaganda efforts of adversaries, etc. They actually used the word “Memes”! To do this they will need a working definition of meme — a definition that can be implemented in software. This definition must be in the form of a mathematical algorithm. I have developed such a definition. This definition identifies and defines a meme and automatically, over time, tracks its evolution. The algorithm is easy to implement but it might require excessive computational resources in its raw form. This is probably true of many algorithms that aim to work over all the information on the internet, phone network, etc. They won’t want to identify every possible meme. They couldn’t anyway since the number is way too big. The request gave one example of the sort of thing they want to identify and track and that was rumors on a social media network of the location of some important person (probably Mubarak) where the rumors led to spreading the meme to storm that location. This was all detected by human observers who then spread contrary information about this person’s location, and storming of his location was averted.

So they want (at first) to identify and track the spread of memes relevant to military and police activities. They want memes having to do with violence and threats of violence. Of course, later, the threats of violence can be abstracted so far away from actual violence that political opponents could become adversaries. Or anyone not adhering to a specific body of beliefs — an ideology — could become an adversary in the minds of the adherents of that ideology. This is likely an inherent problem with such algorithms. They can be used for other purposes than those for which they were originally designed. And they cannot be easily controlled because these algorithms can be developed by anyone with just a little of the right mathematical background. 

In addition to determining who has heard or expressed a meme of interest, it will be necessary to assess the operational status of the meme in the mind of the individual. Having a meme in your mind is one thing; doing something with it is another. How strong is the belief in the meme. In general (but not always) the stronger the belief, the more likely the meme leads the individual to actions. The amount and type of emotion and feeling associated with a meme is some measure of the importance of the meme to the individual and thus also some measure of its probability of leading to action. Here is one place where it gets complicated. We can see the emotion (bodily movements) in face to face (more completely, body to body) interactions. Picking up typed words off the internet leaves all these direct observations out; the only emotions we can pick up are those that are expressed by typed words (forget emoticons; they aren’t used enough to make a difference), and of course typed words can express emotions — otherwise novels wouldn’t work. But most internet users are not describing their emotions as in a novel. And real people go through different moods. Some people have predominant moods that are there almost all the time: Some people are shy or subdued, others are agitated with anger close to the surface almost always, and so on. And of course anger about one thing spills over into anger about subsequent things. So estimating the amount and type of emotion associated with the expression of a meme by an individual at a particular time and place via typed words on the internet is not easy. So the measures of the type and amount of emotion and their corresponding internal feelings will be approximate. And how all this contributes to making a decision to actually do something is not known in detail.  But part of the content of a meme in a mind is the amounts and types of emotion it has associated with it in that person’s mind.  The outside informational content of a meme and the inside emotional/feelings content define the meme instance in that person’s mind. We can imagine a multidimensional metric space of memes. The types and amounts of the various emotions would be a multidimensional subspace; the subspace of outside informational content would be also multidimensional but would be defined via a linguistic semantic analysis.

A meme can be defined as a radial category of its instances in a population of people. All the instances of a meme would be within a certain distance from the category founder and/or within a small distance from another instance. Memes defined by such categories would also form a metric space which would evolve over time. Thus we could get the velocity of evolution for a particular meme.

A community is a group of people communicating and cooperating together for one or more goals. We can define communities in terms of the memes of the members of that community. It is much more than a group of people having memes in common. There must also be structural memes that keep the community together and cause it to continue.

The government would like proposals to develop the details of all this. Such algorithms and software would be useful for people in general for the same purposes the government says it wants them, namely, to detect propaganda, to detect and track incitements to violence, and to effectively counter these memetically. These tools will be useful for anyone wishing to spread their beliefs, really any beliefs — memes — throughout a population. Think targeted advertising. So others besides the government will develop such tools, if they haven’t done it already.

What does this mean for the revolution most people will want? The understanding provided by such tools will also help our progressive revolution to be more effective, since what we want is to spread the memes for our goals and methods: nonviolence, human necessities for every human person, nondestructive and supportive interactions with our earthly living and nonliving physical environment — social justice.

And it suggests that some people in the government are beginning to see the value of memetic science. And they are going to pay people to work on it. As scientific investigation of memetics grows, the appreciation of the value of our memetic nonviolent revolution will also grow. Although the value of nonviolence is appreciated by some people, most people are still trapped by the idea that force and violence are the only ways to get effective long-lasting change in individuals and societies. They do not understand what force does, or what they think it does, or what they want it to do, which is to change memes in people’s minds in order to change their behavior. Memes determine behavior. Those who use force don’t see this step in the process. They simply think force changes behavior. Through the scientific investigation of memetics, people will understand that lasting behavior change requires prior meme change, and they will understand all the various ways in which people change their operational memes, and then they will realize that force, coercion, threats, and violence are only a few — and not very effective — ways to get people to change their memes, to change their minds. They will see that our nonviolent revolution is not only possible, but is a much better way, and that a revolution must be nonviolent if its goals include getting to a mostly non-coercive, non-violent society.

The Kool-Aid System

The politicians, the rich, the oligarchs have drunk the Kool-aid of the present neoliberal system. The system is killing itself and it can’t stop. The present economic/political system is trapped in a destructive degenerating downward feedback loop that is concentrating all the wealth in fewer and fewer people and making the remaining 99% of the people poorer and poorer. The wealth is hoarded for the supposed benefit of the few. It is not used, or invested, for the benefit of the whole system, all of the people.

What is the future of such a feedback loop? Can it go on until one person owns everything? Then effectively nobody would own anything. The property system will have been destroyed. The idea of property, of ownership, will have morphed into an absurdity. The 99% will have to rent everything they need.

The system is destroying itself. Why is it doing this? Because the system is epistemically closed. It refuses to look outside itself for ways to change or improve itself. It believes it is the one-and-only-true-way. It is blind to reality. It refuses to see what it is doing to itself and to humanity. This is the kool-aid that is killing it.

Those of us who can see that the system is failing, is destroying itself must do something. We must convince those invested in the system, those whose well-being depends on the continued functioning of the system that the present course is leading to disaster or at least prolonged degeneration and misery for billions of people. But wait! Whose well-being depends on the continued functioning of the system? That’s all of us. The system feeds us — in so far as we are fed. So we can’t just let it collapse. And it would not make sense to try to destroy it. We must change it, carefully, step-by-step, so that the distribution of human necessities to all people is more just. This step-by-step process could take a long time with many steps, and perhaps many steps that have to be reversed, or maybe much progress could be made relatively quickly.

The present system is very complicated. It is not at all easy to understand how it works. Actually nobody understands how it works completely, or even very well how it works. Individual people understand their jobs, more or less. And both in their jobs and outside their jobs they must interact with the rest of the system which they do not understand very well. Our present educational systems teach people, train people mostly for specific jobs. The system might operate better and could be changed for the better if more people could educate themselves to better understand how our various systems and subsystems work so that they could work in government or corporate positions to operate, monitor, and suggest improvements for the systems they have become experts in.

At present there are many subsystems that people are expected to use and make decisions about that they do not understand at all, or very little, or poorly. And they do not understand the consequences of their use of these systems. Here are some examples. Most people do not understand compound interest. Yet they are expected to use credit cards, get mortgages for a house, buy a car on credit. Most people have no clue how our various governments work or even what they do or are supposed to do, or actually do, yet they are supposed to vote for their representatives, and all the various government officials. They must decide between candidates some of whom want to raise taxes, lower taxes, regulate banks and corporations, deregulate banks and corporations, start a war, stop a war, acquire weapons, sell weapons to foreign countries, etc. And I don’t just mean ordinary people don’t understand these things. Most politicians, most of our experts do not understand these things. Politicians do not understand banking so how can they decide which regulations there should be? They can’t. Worse, most bankers, most traders, most people who work in the financial industry do not understand how the whole system works! They may all, or most of them, know how to make money in their area of specialization — mortgage originators, brokers, appraisers, financial consultants, traders, inventors of so-called securities, lawyers, judges, building contractors, academics, economists, and even federal reserve chairmen. None of them understands how the whole system works. They are surprised when the system crashes. Or the few who do see a crash coming act surprised or they do not know for sure when or if a crash is coming. The only ones who are right in their predictions are those few who always predict that a crash is just around the corner. They are exactly right, just like the stopped clock that has the correct time twice a day, when the crash occurs.  So for a start, if we want a system that works well for people, either we must simplify the systems we create, the systems we allow ourselves to evolve into, or, people must educate themselves so as to understand and properly use more complex systems. If we want to have complex systems we will need to assure that people educate themselves as to how to use them. A well operating system needs to assure that all the parts have the information necessary to interact with the rest of the system. If we continue to have a money-and-pay-for-work system we need to pay people to educate themselves.

Whose minds do we have to change? Since the rich right now, the oligarchs, have such overwhelming influence on the media and all three branches of the US government does this mean we have to change their minds first? Not necessarily. But it might be easier. Or do we have to change the academics minds first, the scientists, those who can first understand that the present system is drastically inefficient, nonfunctional with respect to satisfying everyone’s basic human needs?

The neoliberal revolution changed the minds of business owners first, the rich, then academics and politicians, then judges. When did they change the minds of media owners and journalists? When did they change the minds of religious leaders? It may be painful and discouraging to think through the process, looking at all the steps that the neoliberal revolution went through to attain its present dominance. But it is important to do so since this is one of the more recent revolutions, it is nonviolent in its methods (though not in its results). Its actions being recent history can be analyzed in detail, and finally, we might want to emulate its methods. We can debate whether war is one of its methods. If war is, then of course its methods are violent. But its direct methods of changing minds in the US (and some other countries) — through direct spreading of its memes to the uninformed rich through conferences, seminars, informal discussions, then through the establishment of think tanks, then through the infiltration of academia, then through lobbying and campaign contributions to politicians, and finally to its present practice of completely buying and paying for congresspersons, the president, government officials at all levels — these methods are non-violent. None of this is violent in itself. And by now, the ideas of this ideology, its memes have been spread to and accepted by most of the population in the US and other developed countries and to developing countries like China and India. So we need a worldwide counter-revolution that must be at least as non-violent as the original.

Since money, especially in the form of buying and owning the media and governments and government politicians and officials, is the root of all this at present, maybe the most feasible way is to change the minds of enough rich to displace this destructive neoliberalism ideology.  How do we change enough of their minds? Not all of them are as stupid as the media propagandists would suggest. They could see and understand the flaws in the present system. But are they all too busy doing their thing of making ever more money to have time to think about or do anything about the present deteriorating system?

How to organize the revolution? How about a revolution corporation. Even a for-profit or non-profit. The purpose would be to spread the goals and methods of the revolution. How does the Revolution Corporation (RevCorp) make money? Donations of course. But also services like sales of informational materials, teaching, training, instructional services to those who can pay, free to those who cannot. One big advantage would be to use the present system to change the system. This would have the advantage of showing we are serious, that we don’t want to destroy, that we want to work within the law, that we are not inherently against markets or whatever the latest buzzword is even though we want drastic changes. We could even go public at some point. It would give us more power since corporations have more power than individuals. We would do all (or most) of the things that think tanks do, although we must do much more. We would not pretend to be “objective” with no program. Our program would be to develop and promote — spread — the goals of the revolution. Our messages — the information, the memes we spread — will be as truthful and science based as we can make them and we will at all times clearly state our goals and methods, and of course our methods and messages will be consistent with and based on our goals. We will give grants and have other relationships to other groups, individuals, organizations for work toward our revolutionary goals.

There are multiple ways to organize the revolution. It need not be, and almost surely will not be in the form of a single organization. Most likely it will be in the form of zillions of individuals in many, many organizations all with the basic goals of social justice. Social justice covers most everything we need. Surely peace and maximal individual freedom are parts of social justice too.