Visit the companion blog, Keye Commentary, devoted to more general topics.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Language As Tool And Trap

Here is another compulsive act of futility, another linguistic construction project to add a few more walls to our mental prison: efforts at explanation and clarity so often end up being just as confining as the originating confusions.
Language is a trap – and yet it is the pivotal means by which we expand our options beyond the limitations of the Living System of Order.  Almost any arrangement of words, that meet the basic requirements of syntactical order, can be imbued with behavioral/biological consequences; even non-sense collections of language-like sounds can be so infused given sufficient reinforced repetition.  One need only listen to a random selection of AM radio or eavesdrop on conversations in a coffee shop to realize the arbitrariness with which our language constructs the walls, fences and ditches of our understanding.

The first great danger is that we will assume that language can define the full expanse of our reality; the second great danger is that we will assume that it cannot inform our understanding at all, leaving us, in all appearances, without any device or devices to take on the challenges so obviously before us: the challenges are real beyond language, demanding solutions beyond rhetoric and yet we are left only with language as the means to bring together a sufficiency of organized action to meet them.

And thus, I find myself at a computer keyboard pushing buttons in the essentially vain (both senses) effort to pour the abstraction of Consciousness Order waters onto the concrete reality of Living Order fires: pouring imaginary confetti mixed with imaginary brickbats onto an imaginary parade of war heroes and zombies; it feels a bit like trying to teach algebra to a puppy (that actually knows as much algebra and calculus as it will ever need already. Just watch it catch a Frisbee!).

Well, clearly we humans don’t know all that we need to know.  And this is in main-part because we are trying to know about how to live in the world by how we think about the world.  To put it as bluntly as possible: thinking and its tool, language, did not evolve/adapt to replace living, only to supplement the primary informational impacts of living.  Thinking and language have long since run out beyond the cliff edge like the cartoon coyote (Roadrunner cartoons… an essential metaphor for modern life) and are “running” and “climbing” on the air, suspended only by the ignorance of falling.

So much for my display of angst!  What is to be done?

First and foremost, nothing.  There are 7 billion people on the earth and only some few millions are ready to take on the problem in a meaningful way.  Another several million, the power elites, are positioned to take over, or have taken over, the present distortions for their personal benefit; they have no interest in weakening the vast ignorance rooted in the impunity with which they live.  Hundreds of millions of people might, given a reasonable opportunity, adopt and adapt to ways of life more compatible with the Living Order, but this would require large changes in the metaphors that organize our lives; that is, adopting metaphors that use thinking and language to give up thinking and language as our first organizing principles, but the primary means to control the metaphors is, not without intention, firmly in the hands of the power elites.

Second and second-most, a lot.  There is so much to do!  Getting living right for yourself is the necessary step for getting living right for the larger community; and to do that it is necessary to figuratively (and perhaps literally) step out of the existing communities of experience and expectation (present metaphors).  This is especially true for the organizing functions of status systems.

We, humans, are a primate-pattern animal.  Our social systems come out of the genetics of primate community structure (this is an obvious conclusion of chimp, gorilla and baboon ethology).  Does your computer ever need a hug? Does a Mercedes ‘feel’ better about itself than a Kia?  Does a kitchen appliance blush with pride at a compliment?  The reality is that our primary nature is as a status-based community animal.  Social status systems evolved to organize the community for effective functioning in the ecology; motives of status are as much a part of us as fingers and thumbs.

But social systems have come to be given detail by the metaphors assigned by our stories about ourselves; this is the consequence of our Consciousness Order, a layer of activity laid over the form of our biology like a coat of paint, capable of obscuring inherent form while in no way changing it.

A focus on the details of the many injustices, inequities, crimes and maladaptive misbehaviors that surround us can offer no relief without an underlying change in how we view social status.  In a monumental perversity, we have come to accord high-value status to those who steal the most from the Great Many. 

In a community of equity (not the same as everyone having equal amounts of all production regardless of contribution) and transparency, it is obvious to all participants who is contributing, what and how much; it is also clear who is stealing or attempting to steal from the contributions of others.  It is natural in such a community to have social patterns of status built on cooperation and contributions to social stability and sustenance as well as on displays of power, bravery and possessions.

We will not, of course, as a society or as a species, make such changes; our imaginings are more real than the reality within which and to which we must readapt if we are to continue being a part of the Living Order.  But, that the large collections of us will not recognize and adopt salutary status systems is no reason not to create, value and live in such status systems either personally or within ad hoc communities.

As much as we may wish to avoid the recognition, our situation is simplicity itself.  The world’s billions and the world’s dominating elites cannot and will not lead collected humanity toward ways of living within the limits of ecological necessity [1]; in fact, the world’s billions will collectively demand an unattainable bit more for each and everyone (many with justification and some without) and the power elites will demand continued access to vast excess, imperiously condemning everyone else to servitude and deprivation. 

All that is actually left for those who see the world with some depth and clarity is to construct their own social systems using the larger dominating structures as the “eco-social-systems” within, or upon, which they must live.  This is not the most desirable choice – it is simply the only choice. 

I’m not suggesting lives of quiet desperation, rather lives of deliberate and proud social difference; an active as well as passive rejection of social status systems that give support and value to the theft of labor and the other social contributions made by the vast majority of humanity.  What we call being ‘rich’ can be seen as the crime it is, and more importantly, those who are rich can be socially condemned as accessories before or after the fact as we would anyone else who is part of a criminal conspiracy [2]. 

Most of society is so marinated in the madness of material accumulation, so devoted to the status system and social/economic organizing designs of money wealth, that freeing one’s self from the powerful web of influences is difficult.   Rejecting what “everyone else” believes to be true requires both excellent reasons and personal strength.   I can’t speak to personal strength – that is guided and attained in many ways – but the excellent reasons are piling up fast. 

These reasons are broadly of two types: the failures of our specieshood, that is, the alienation of our biology, with the resulting physical and mental illnesses, by our socially created distortions of reality, and, secondly, the destruction of environment endangering the whole living enterprise as it is presently functioning.  The former creates a creature uprooted from the living earth and arrogant in its powers of destruction and the latter sets the stage for the future of the extant ecological order.

[1] There must be a structural ‘engine’ of change of sufficient range and scope integrated into the existing social order, an ‘engine’ capable of responding to the relevant informational inputs that presage both the necessity and direction of change; there is no such ‘engine.’  The democratic, egalitarian social council of elders – the archetype of decision making for the human community – is a completely compromised design in the present world.  We are left with only raw evolutionary biology as the inevitable uncompromising change machine.

[2] Many social systems have engaged in actions that were eventually realized as immoral and criminal.  Piracy and robbery have often been considered “normal” economic activity by peoples living on trade routes.  Chattel slavery was considered perfectly correct by most Americans only a few generations ago.  The economic and political elites of today are like the slave owners of the past in their attitudes toward those over which they have power; they are like the pirates of the recent past who considered their robberies and murders as the “natural right” of people “smart” enough to get away with them.  How to accomplish such a transition of attitude without the excesses of the French Revolution will be one of the conundrums of the near future.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Freewill is an Adaptation

The essential objection to the existence of freewill is the same as the objection to any seemingly non-material “entity” for which no basis in known matter/energy relations can be found or convincingly surmised.  The consideration of the issue can begin from either of two stances: that the personal experience of freewill is sufficient to strongly suggest its reality independent of a matter/energy explanation or that the freewill experience is the product of discernable matter/energy relations and not actually ‘freewill’ as it is commonly thought of.  Since humans have been operating from the first stance for a measured time of 5000 years, and most likely before, while producing the same paradoxes over and over again, the second stance must be given serious consideration.
* * * 
Variability in human behavior, without regard to its origin, is the source of our success on the earth.  Imagine an animal like a rabbit increasing in population by an exponent.  The behaviors of the rabbits would not also increase in variety by the exponent, but would remain almost fixed (I say ‘almost fixed’ since there would be weak performance variability and a small increase in variability based on genetic variety).  It is the fixed behaviors of rabbits that limit their populations to clearly defined habitats and numbers per hectare – only by changing their behavior could they increase in number under consistent macro-environmental conditions (I say macro-environment because the immediate environment would be greatly affected by large changes in rabbit numbers, precisely because their behaviors are fixed).

For an animal to add variety to its behavioral repertoire, actual mechanisms must be acting – and posited in explanation (this is one of the paradoxes: that an animal must explain itself to itself with the tools that the explanations are explaining!).  The explanations that humans use are imagination, innovation and freewill.

What we perceive as and have formalized in the language as personal freewill is a design of brain process with the overall adaptive consequence of increasing variability in human behavior.  This must be true regardless of the processes that underlie what we call freewill. Looked as a whole, a group of animals has a volume of behavior; most of the behavior is ‘of a type’ typical of the group, practiced and weakly variable (weak variability from random variations of performance contrasted with strong variability from matter/energy systems adapted to produce variable responses).  However, in humans there is a component of strong variability in our behavior such that when a “snap shot” of behavior structure is taken at one time it will be noticeably different from one taken at another time – the amount of difference is most often highly correlated with the amount of time between looks.

The human process of storing experience over time and distance and combining these experiences by either a “purposeful” or random action, both in the single brain and, powerfully, in the social construction of group-based Story, is the basis of our strong variability.  The essential question is: are the combinations of imagination purposefully arrived at, as we most often feel that they are, or are they random combinations derived from the probability structure created by the local environment, current social structure, nature of language and the vicissitudes of personal experience; and then selected from by an adaptive process within the present Story playing against the recognition (as comprehended in Story) of present needs?

That this is ‘a mouthful’ is a clue to the understanding (misunderstanding) of our variability as the product of ‘freewill.’  There was, in our evolution and in our general history, no adaptive advantage to correctly identifying the functional nature of our Consciousness Order variability-producing processes; if anything, advantage goes to the illusion that we were exercising choice and organizing experiences into meaningful reality-based behaviors. 

So long as Biophysical Reality served as an essential arbiter in the adaptive process, the Stories that humans told themselves about what was driving the process mattered little: it doesn’t matter whether a sailor thinks that the wind is coming from a giant waving a fan or from high and low pressure areas so long as the mainsails and jibs are properly set, and there is nothing in the two ‘understandings’ to improve the sailor’s skills, one over the other.  Except… in the big picture, when the sailor needs to have some knowledge of the whole sea, now and tomorrow; when the actions of sailors begin to influence the wind, then illusions become a danger.

As difficult as it may seem, it is becoming essential that we understand how our adaptive processes actually function.  Among our biggest errors of understanding are freewill and agency.  While it is not necessary for every behavior and behavioral change to be deeply analyzed by every human actor, it is becoming vital that we find a way to see collective actions in veridical terms.  This means, in part, that those “in charge” of ideas, and the collective actions generated, be competent to perform such analysis.  Only when the Story that we tell about ourselves includes such a need will it happen; our present Story sends some of the most incompetent people ‘imaginable’ to lead us.

This is what we need to understand about freewill and human variability, and to have structured into a comprehensible and comprehensive Story: freewill is one of several ways of naming Consciousness System of Order activities that provide an adaptive advantage for our species, primarily by increasing the variety of behaviors available to us from which actual conditions “select”.  Imagination and innovation are closely related others.  When a situation produces a variety of options through the human process of imagining, the typical understanding is that we use our ‘freewill’, supported by reason, to make a choice.  There is nothing wrong with this illusion – just as there is nothing wrong with the illusion of color when we see certain wavelengths of light.  But it is an illusion and we must be ready to realize it as such when its limitations endanger us.

Of course, this is difficult for us.  The ‘feeling’ that we are evaluating and deciding is very strong.  But, just as we can’t directly experience ultraviolet light as a perceptual form (only indirectly as sunburn and eye damage), we can’t experience the underlying reality of randomness.  We have no reason to.  Randomness will take care of itself and offers no guide to specific behaviors.  We are about finding patterns that we can use to advantage.

Because we can’t experience randomness directly, we are denied the intuitive capacity to realize the primary source of all movement—and the design of the processes that form to construct ordered systems from randomness.  Our only immediate intuition is to search for a non-random source of agency since we can’t recognize the deeper processes of order. 

Another example may be helpful.  In our evolutionary history our hominid forebears faced dangers, actually relatively simple ones and not so many as we tend to speculate from our present “safe” world.  Daily dangers were, primarily, tainted food and water, poisonous plants, dangerous large animals, poisonous small animals.  There were larger scale dangers such as unpredictable weather events and starvation, but these were very rare and did not figure strongly as designers of detailed evolutionary consequences.  As a result of these dangers, today, we have responses to smells, tastes, situations (e.g., heights) and certain animals that seem instinctual or nearly so.  These responses continue to serve us, but only on the margins of our lives; our greatest dangers come from chemicals that we cannot smell or taste, radioactive elements for which we have no sensory tools, situations that we routinely misestimate (e.g., auto travel) and geopolitical and geo-economic behaviors that condemn billions of people to the greatest suffering in the history of humanity.

The point is that our primary tools for sensing the world and for understanding it derive from an evolutionary history of adapting to very different realities from those that we face today.  The tools of our thought processes are more like the male peacock’s tail than the crisp formulas of physics.  The design of science process is a constant and vigilant struggle against many of these processes of thought.  Belief in our own agency with its “freewill” is just such an evolutionary product; a product that we can no longer afford to appeal to uncritically.

This is not to say that we must deny the use of the ‘freewill process’.  Just as we can successfully use the language and idea of color and still understand, when needed, that visible light is a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum, we can feel that we are deciding and choosing with reason.  However, we need to be ready to realize the deeper reality that this is a process for increasing options in behavior and not a reality of agency.  In this way we have the potential to design yet another way to extract a new level of order from randomness to meet our present dilemmas, a change that can only be made by realizing the true nature and potential of the Consciousness System of Order.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Self-referencing and the CSO (part three of three parts)

The ways in which we presently accept and gather the information used in our actions presents four major concerns: (1) the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the primary referencing sources that inform most of humanity’s actions today and the essential survival information available from biophysical Reality; (2) the unrealized imprudence and recklessness of making an imagined reality the basis for action in Reality; (3) the rejection of presently available lifestyle choices for ways of life that would more naturally gravitate toward and accept biophysically based referencing as having supremacy over self-referencing; and (4) the seemingly absolute, even monumental, supremacy of our present self-referenced reality defining what we call “personal success” and even in remaining alive within its structures [1].

Before we can understand how the distortions and dysfunctions of self-referencing in the Consciousness System of Order (CSO) works, or doesn’t work, it is necessary to understand how referencing functions in the Living System of Order (LSO): A reference is that to which we refer in formulating an action, and by ‘we’ I mean the thing acting; this could be anything that responds to energy from a pebble to a vulture to a human.  The referencing conditions are the context within which the action takes place – but more than context – the source of all the pertinent information, and primary forces, that informs the action [2].

Referencing in the Living  System of Order:
To what do living things refer when formulating an action?  The answer will be the basis for the referencing system of living things.  Broadly the answer is: (1) genetically formed physical and behavioral options as (2) potentiated by environmental events and processes: genetically mediated behaviors, like reflexes, instincts and behavioral patterns are triggered by environmental events.  Animals with large brains add a level of complexity by being able to refine genetically derived patterns based on learning specific responses to environmental details that present in evolutionarily unaddressable time-frames, are inconsistent within evolutionary time-frames or insufficiently energetic to drive evolutionary change, but still are usefully exploited to survival advantage; these learned references are still made to environmental processes and events.

Referencing in the Consciousness System of Order:
In the broadest strokes, the first and primary characteristic of the CSO is that it captures the complex learning which is characteristic of large brained animals and stores it in various forms that frees the learning from being locked in the singular brain that experienced the learning in the first place.  It does this though the communication systems of humans, communication systems that not only allow the learned event to be processed as a Story framed in the communication system, but also can attach motivational elements to Story to make them more memorable: more possible, efficient and desirable to be repeated and more dominating as a referencing source.  Different versions of Story begin to compete as the basis for action.  The success of the individual in the community becomes a combination of the effectiveness of actions in the ecology and the attachment to and support of a version of Story that is valued by the community.

In the originating and must functional form, the community Story is a specialized adaptive mechanism that rapidly adjusts, with incredibly sensitive fine tuning, the whole community’s behavior to the deep subtleties of local and regional ecologies.  Humans become the behavioral chameleon, but without the chameleon’s limitation of only being able to change within a genetically coded range of pattern; human possibility is essentially endless.

“Endless possibility” restrained and retained within strict ecological boundaries produces increasing refinements of detail.  It produces art, religion [3], music, refinements of language, poetry,  science, human diversity and social complexity, all functioning as integrated responses to climate, local biodiversity, the ecologically mediated sources of essential materials and foods, landscape and general habitat.

“Endless possibility” unrestrained and unbounded by any guiding design other that its own most previous iteration is a formula for chaos, the origin of madness.  Distinctions dissolve and form with only the basis supplied by Story rather than Story responding to distinctions pressed forward by ecological Reality [4].  Without a referencing structure attached to biophysical Reality, Story can no longer adjust behaviors into environmentally adaptive responses; it hasn’t done this for a very long time.  And it leads people to believe that they have created their own world separate from and better than the ecological world of the earth’s narrow living space; that it is the created world to which we have a true allegiance and to which we must make our adjustments.

This last is, of course, true; we must form our behavior compatibly with the social, economic and political realities that have immediate impact on us, but it is also required that we have mechanisms to make those social, economic and political realities comport with the biophysical designs of the big kauna Reality delivered up by the chemistry and physics of earth’s physical and biological processes.  That we could create a Story that the biophysical processes of the earth are secondary to our economic processes is proof enough of the incomprehensible dangers of self-referencing delivered up by the CSO.

The three primary systems of order, Physical System of Order (PSO), Living System of Order (LSO) and Consciousness System of Order (CSO) function on different order giving principles.  The ordering principles of the PSO are distributed through all of matter/energy as physical properties and forces of interaction. The ordering principles of the LSO are a specific set of principles from the PSO unique to the surface of the living earth and the new centralized information handling and storage system of the DNA/protein nexus.  The nature and capacities of the DNA/protein nexus set the limits for what life can be and create the structure for the possibilities for life within those limits.  What cannot happen within the design of DNA selection, storage and implementation as protein construction cannot be part of life.

The ordering principles of the CSO are more challenging still.  As with the LSO, the PSO is the base.  The LSO with its genetic implications and limitations is substrate.  And just as the central organizing principle of the LSO is unimaginable given only the PSO principles as a reference, so the CSO principles are unimaginable as direct consequences of the functioning of PSO and LSO principles.  Information that existed as only uncaptured and uncapturable byproducts of PSO and LSO processes, information that was not information at all since it had no form, other than the fleeting occurrence as part of some more ‘earthy’ event, no device capable of realizing it and no place for it to be gathered; this nebulous effluvium ‘leaking’ inauspiciously from biophysical events has been turned into a new source of information for the CSO, and the CSO turned into a new way to organize the events and processes of the world.

The self-referencing consequence of CSO processes has carried us to the brink.  And in a natural irony only CSO processes that can create the Story that will reconnect us to the biophysical reality from which comes the humorless decisions of survival.  In the companion essay to this one, Changing the Story (in three parts) I try to offer suggestions.

[1] This is like playing a game in which the rules are made inviolable by the other players and no one is allowed to leave the field of play.  Stepping back with perspective may make it clear that the rules are artificial constructions, that the playing field is artificially bounded and that other rules could adapt the game more satisfactorily to the increasing demands of the surrounding conditions, but the constant, unrestrained application of the rules in the moment makes change appear impossible.

[2] ‘Pertinent’ has two quite different meanings in this context. In the non-CSO situations pertinent refers to the energies that have a direct physical influence and the energies that can be perceived by sense organs and thus, through nervous system activation, activate actions disproportionate to their base energy levels. For the CSO, pertinent can refer to these same cases as well as to relationships, both real and imagined, to the content of Story and thus activate actions without reference to actual biophysical relationships.

[3] Not religion as we think of that behavior today – in fact, there is no single word or readily available concept in my understanding of our present language that really circumscribes my idea of what “religion” was in its formative origins.  The best I can come up with is that it was a Story-based device that motivated the community to non-intuitive adaptive necessities of the ecology.  The behavior of religion was a Story guided adaptive continuity with the ecology, the community and individual behavior.

[4] As I’ve intimated in this and other essays, ecological Reality can be considered trivial from the point of view of the present Story and the conditions of life generated by it.  Getting a job, making enough money; dealing with banks, healthcare and family; economic and political actions that seem so potentially dangerous; what is a river minnow, a mountain top or a change in some ‘parts per million or billion’, or whatever, compared to letting my family down by not having a big Christmas? 

I can only answer that that big Christmas would not be so much fun without safe or adequate food, clean water and oxygen in unpolluted air.  We, humans, have become fully capable of tipping over the ecological balances that allow complex life to exist.  The only thing that stops people from understanding this reality is that our present self-referenced Story says that the earth is infinite and also that God will protect us – along with a supporting cast of other illusions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Changing the Story, Part Three

The combination of themes #3 and #7 from the previous two essays are pivotal to the functioning of our present Story and so I am addressing them in some detail.

(3) Belief in agency (human agency and supernatural agency) rather than events being moved by the immediate and direct action of preceding events and the statistical properties of randomness.

(7) The belief that humans are individual self-reliant units of action: each person is seen as a fully independent actor making from the world’s opportunities what they can (moved properly by acquisitiveness).  Success and failure are equally earned only by the amount and quality of effort.  Circular reasoning is generally applied: success (by the standards of #4 and 6) equals effort; failure equals sloth.

Agency is both one of the most powerful themes and one of the least thought about or realized.  The human world seems to operate on pure agency: we imagine something, study the possibilities, design a method, gather the requirements both informational and material, execute the details of the plan and produce the result; looks like agency through and through.  But what if this is not how things really happen?

When agency is combined with #7 – individual self-reliant units of action – an image of how the world should, and must, work is formed: an every ‘man’ for himself image.  When selected bits for story are gathered and the missing pieces rationalized, it is a powerful and compelling narrative.  Woven together with God given rights, human exceptionalism, the practical and social utility of material possessions and the attractiveness of personal superiority, the narrative begins to concretize into an unbreachable bulwark against criticism or the concerns of those who have not attained equal levels of impunity over the masses and nature.

The trouble, of course, is that the narrative and its supporting structures are just wrong in every detail, but most importantly and least obviously in its most basic assumption of agency.  But, if agency is not the explanation, then why does it seem to be?  There are several reasons, a central one being a fallacy of inductive reasoning: only recognizing the class of cases that support such a view.  Another failure of reasoning comes from the uncritical acceptance of the independence of action.

Viewed from the perspective of distance it is clear that the conditions of a society, the state of technological development and the general process of idea formation combine together to produce the possibility of particular changes, ideas and “discoveries.”  Any look at the history of new ideas finds several people discovering the same thing independently within, often, only months of each other [1].  And for those who have made an impression on recorded history, there are certainly many more who would have produced the discovery (possibly in even better form) in a few additional months or years.  This is clearly the case with scientific and technological developments and there is no reason that the process should be any different for commercial enterprises.

In this revised Story theme the society sets the tone, the technology and intellectual environment supplies the tools and the population supplies the people.  The people who find themselves in a position to reap the greatest benefits realize that theirs is the good fortune bestowed on them by accidents of birth, genetic good luck, being passed over by disease, abusive treatment or other debilitation and generally being in the right place at the right time.  A plot-line in this alternative theme would be that while the desire for success and the effort expended for it can be seen as personal virtues, and that a person can take pride in them, such positive qualities belong not to the person alone, but to the supporting community as well (that personal action is nothing without the community within which it occurs is so obvious that it is often missed – does a man alone on a desert island printing a million dollars make a noise!?).

A subplot would be that the person in the focus of success recognizes the supporting structures and accepts the benefits with humility making sure that the larger community is compensated for its contributions.  In this Story millionaires/billionaires would be immoral thieves stealing from the community, taking vastly more than their actual contribution to either the community or its economic system; stealing from the only source available, the compensations that should rightfully be made to others for their contributions supporting community. It is understood, in this subplot, that all productive action arises from the whole community through its supporting infrastructure: physical, intellectual and emotional.

In this new Story, agency is a short-hand for the summary of history and present state creating a focus for action into which walks a single person, group or community.  This only appears to be a more difficult idea because it is not well formed in our present Story, but is still an important part of the Story of many other societies and has been a central part of the Story of ourselves from our past. Very particular historical trends have led us US of Americans to the peculiar design of our present Story.

Self-reliant individualism is just as fragile an idea when removed from the protection of its dominating story; and for many of the same reasons (it is expected that a society’s Story would be broadly internally supporting).  The origin and metaphor for such an idea can be seen with great clarity and emotional affect driving from eastern New Mexico into west Texas (especially effective from the seat of a motorcycle – an ‘individual and self-reliant’ form of travel):

The “empty” plains, cactus meadows, mesas and arroyos gradually give way to fields, clearly carved from the native soil.  The fields surround isolated stands of various farm buildings, which in turn surround a house, usually at the end of a narrow gravel track, well off from the paved farm road.  It is easy to see why the inhabitants of that house would feel that they had “done it all themselves.”  The present Story doesn’t count the laborer, the subduing of the Kiowa, the education and inculcating of work ethic and so much more. 

The farmer can look at the fields of Sorghum, seeing in the distance the raw scrub country of the Llano Estacado, and feel a pride both justified and unjustified.  With his work-rough hands, sunburned skin and eyes, his various injuries and suffering all summarized in the miles of red fields that represent not only his labor, but the money that will pay the loans, the workers and suppliers; all of ‘it’ on his and his family’s shoulders: it is easy to not see the army of others that made it possible, easy to see the payments made to bankers, taxes, to farm laborers, to services, insurance, suppliers and others as payment more than enough, easy to ignore the debt to the larger community that, frankly, cannot be seen from the front porch or the seat of the tractor.

But this farmer is no more individual, no more self-reliant, than a baby in the womb; it is a self-serving illusion.  Acting in self-interest is not self-reliance.  He or she is surrounded by literally millions of people without whom all that is taken pride in would be impossible.  And in an ethic of this part of the country – “charity from no one and a helping hand to all (unless you are not sufficient like me)” – an argument can be even be made to the farmer that those millions are owed a compensation for their contribution. 

The first on the list is the governing structure that enforces contracts, guarantees certain economic protections, combines the taxes of multitudes to improve roads, to make towns possible, to create a climate of safety so that the doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, auto parts store, gas station and a hundred other businesses are just 15 miles down that improved road.  At the other end of the continuum of contributors is the meat marketer and meat-eater that buys the beef feed by the sorghum from the nearly endless and lovely red fields. And less obvious, but just as vital, is the social stability created by education, communication, challenges to bigotry and a broad social expectation for the acceptance of others as honest brokers.

An interesting and vital twist to the present Story is that the farmer has some justification for believing the theme of individual self-reliance; the farmer doesn’t have to be crazy to have that crazy idea.  The great danger comes when investment bankers, politicians and the like try to cloak themselves and their actions in that part of the story.  They have to be insane to believe that they are individual, self-reliant or anything other that a cog in a machine from which they have found a way to steal [2].
* * *  
The other themes in our present story can be similarly treated, but I will only briefly rewrite them in forms for the Story that I am proposing as more appropriate to reality.

(1) Humans are a species with exceptional qualities, but so are all the others; our adaptations are just more powerful and therefore more dangerous than most.  We must actively arrange our lives, communities, societies and productions to function compatibly with ecological reality.

(2) Human life has no special permission for our activities.  The mystery and beauty of earth, life and universe require no imagined supernatural entity to give them validation.  That we have come to exist by the billions-to-one chance motion of planet and molecule is more awe-inspiring and spiritually engaging than an imagining distilled out of our own needfulness and lack of understanding.

(4) Humans create hierarchies of value as a way of organizing behavior.  It is natural, but unjustified, to assume that one’s own community and ways of being are superior to others.  But since each community (ethic group, racial identification, etc.) considers itself to be superior to another that, with equal justification, considers itself superior, then the table is set for either conflict or laughter.

(5) It is in the biology of humans to follow, in general terms, the evolved primate patterns of social organization (it is this fact that makes ape and monkey social behavior seem so familiar to us).  However, this normal part of our biology needs to be tempered by the incredible power of our numbers and technology.  We need to be aware that our biology can be easily fooled now that we are out of the woods and that a small consistent percentage of people will attempt to dominate others by methods fair and foul.

(6) The biology of humans makes easily identifiable differences the basis for worth and value; that is why all societies develop “badges” of various kinds.  The bases of worth and value are determinative of the motivational structure – the incentive system – of the society.  Material possession as raison d'ĂȘtre is characteristic of a degenerate social order and must be struggled against as it continually presses forward its form of easily identified difference.
* * *    
With these 5 new themes, with some distillation of the above argument to replace the present #3 and #7,  with the process of plot and subplot filling in the holes as elements of the themes are made into narrative,  then a new Story structure would form. I leave it to the reader to tease out how these new themes would address and modify our actions on the specific issues that we face today.

[1] Chuang Tzu and Socrates, Newton and Leibniz; Darwin and Wallace; Marx and Henry George; Michelson, Lorentz, Poincare, Einstein, Planck, Minkowski; the list of mutual and multiple discoverers/uncoverers would be endless.

[2] I do not intend hyperbole. It is true insanity to consistently believe and act in denial or violation of reality – regardless of whether those around you are also so acting.