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.

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 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.”