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.”