It’s not hopeless

We were examining some self-limiting beliefs. We were asking how people can get rid of such beliefs. One such belief is that “It is hopeless”. This is closely related to the belief that “It is impossible”. The difference is that the first refers more to a state of mind of the speaker while the later seems to be more a statement about the external world, the real world. But both say something about mental states and something about the real world. So what is hope? First it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling we have when we are in a particular mental state, a particular state of mind. We are in this mental state when we assess, we estimate, we guess, we have the opinion that something is possible, that something, some situation, some state of the world, which is not the present state, which may be unlikely, could still occur, could still happen. We believe it is possible. We have sayings like “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” So to say something is hopeless is to believe it is not possible.

How do we know what is possible? In our present context, how do we know what other systems besides our present system are possible? We are trying to counter the opinion, the belief, that our present system is the “best possible”. So this opinion allows that there may be other systems but they are not as good as our present system, or if there were other systems as good as or better than our present one, we couldn’t get there from here. They might say “There might theoretically be better systems than ours, but they wouldn’t work for us. Human nature would prevent them from working.”

Many times people with these kinds of opinions are imagining some kind of system vastly different from our present system but they can’t imagine how it would work. Often they can’t imagine how our present system works because they really do not understand how it actually does work to do all the things it does. Some economists might claim that they understand how our present system works, but they don’t, since they only may understand fragmentally how their models work. But their models are too far removed from reality. Actually no single person can understand in detail how our vast and interconnected human world works.

The real problem with “It is hopeless” and “It is impossible” is in the minds of those who believe this way. They lack knowledge, imagination, or both. Anthropology shows that there are and have been cultures including economic systems that seem to work as well as our present system. It is legitimate to point out that the scale of our present world culture is vastly greater than all past systems. But the existence of different systems proves different systems are possible and some of them might be better than our own in many ways.

There are more immediate ways to see that better systems than our present one are possible. First look at our immediate past. Second imagine our immediate future. In many ways the capitalist/financial systems we had 50 or so years ago were better than what we have now. And given the glaring and obvious-to-all problems with our present systems who can honestly say that no improvements can be made to our present systems. So if we can see even just a few improvements to our present system, then the present system is not the best one and it is not the best possible one either.

Those who have maximum doom and gloom, those who see catastrophe just ahead, already admit by their gloomy predictions, that great changes are possible. It is just that they are imagining negative changes rather than positive ones. It is true that complex systems on their own are more likely to deteriorate than improve. But they are not “on their own”. We can change them. We do it all the time with every new law passed.

It is not hopeless. It is not impossible. We can change our systems one step at a time to build better systems, incrementally, evolutionarily, cautiously, safely, non-violently.

You want another proof significant change is possible? Here is one: The system we had around 1970 was changed incrementally, evolutionarily, non-violently into the system we have today. The trouble is this revolutionary change (to neoliberalism) was not cautious enough in some matters. We changed some things that were working well which shouldn’t have been changed. There were bad unforeseen consequences. (There are always unforeseen consequences, and some can be good.) And some of the changes were deliberately made to improve the welfare of some classes and individuals at the expense of others — to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It can be argued that this revolution was not completely non-violent since wars were ongoing, and there was a lot of violence in our domestic (US) society. But there was no direct force, coercion, violence used to change the laws that morphed the capitalist/financial/political systems of 1970 into the systems and institutions we have now.

Hopelessness is a mental state similar to depression. Your imagination is focused on all the negative things that could happen. Your imagination does not consider good possibilities. Depression leads to inaction, more depression, and death if it isn’t turned around. The hopelessness/depression process is a self reinforcing process, a negative downward spiral. It can be hard to stop the downward spiral by yourself. If you can’t get out of your depression by yourself, you should get help from a doctor or a therapist.

So how do we help people to get out of their hopelessness about our economic and political systems? First we can spread the knowledge and information presented above and any other rational arguments showing the unrealistic nature of the hopelessness mental state. If that is not enough, then we help them focus on their own mental state and help them understand that maybe they need professional help if their hopelessness continues for more than a month or six weeks. If their hopelessness comes and goes, during some time when they are not overwhelmed by hopelessness, we help them focus on their own mental state, help them understand it, help them recognize triggers which bring it on, go over the facts and arguments presented above, and see if this is effective in avoiding hopelessness/depression.

So the revolution must provide therapy? Well, in a sense yes. This may seem odd. But as we have been saying over and over, the revolution is about helping people change their minds about some very important things. This is what therapists do, advertisers do. To believe that our present systems are unchangeable is a serious error in thinking. It is as serious an error for us as a group — humanity as a group — as it is for an individual to believe that their life is no longer worth living.

Our task as progressives, as revolutionaries is to help people (including ourselves) make the changes in our own thinking so that enough of us change our actions, our real life behaviors, so that through politics, through our jobs, through what we say, what we write, through our art, through our interpersonal relations, how and what we communicate to all our friends and associates, how we organize ourselves into all the groups we assemble into — till enough change has occurred in enough individuals, in what we know, what we believe, and how we think, that it will be correct to say that we have changed the whole system into a better one, one that is closer to our goals of social justice.

We must not get hung up on apparent obstacles like the fact that our present political/electoral/representational system has been captured by the 1%. Yes it is an obstacle. I don’t have a detailed answer to remove or go around this obstacle. Perhaps no one does. But that does not mean we can’t remove it or go around it. All this means is we must work on it, keep working on it, try stuff, try again. And we will make progress.

Our formal democracy seems at present to be pretty much blocked for us. But in all societies there is an informal democracy of communication and cooperation which is much more important and which is the foundation of the formal democracy. Societies don’t work very well without it.  Our system depends heavily on this now worldwide communication and cooperation system. We vote with our actions.

When the US was formed there was no way a democracy could be implemented except through delegation to representatives who could gather together in one distant physical place to make decisions and pass laws applicable to the whole group. That is no longer necessary.

Today there are many other possibilities. It is not hopeless.


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?