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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Changing the Story, Part Two

In what follows I have taken the 7 major themes of the Story that we tell ourselves about ourselves, here in the US of America, from the previous essay and suggested plots and subplots that have been developed from each of them; then attached identifiable issues from present experience to the plot-lines.  There can be, and should be, questions about the correctness of the assignments: that there is considerable crossover among the categories implies that some refinement is necessary, but for now these will do to begin the process.

It is important to remember that the full themes are not to be seen as the collected structural parts of a coherent narrative, but as a reservoir of elements from which bits and pieces can be selected.  This seems pretty clear as one reads through them.  Very often aspects of one theme will contradict aspects of another or one theme will lead to quite different subplots for the same issues – a little like the Christian Bible.

(1) Belief in the human right and responsibility to dominate the earth  (without any consideration of any need to integrate actions into the material and energy economies of natural cycles).  This belief, combined with #4, takes on the special form of ‘American Exceptionalism’

Plots and subplots: Whatever can be said to “improve” human life takes precedence over other interests. Human beliefs trump all other realities.  The “way of life” currently lived is necessary and natural.

Specific issues in today’s world: land-property and mineral rights; manifest destiny; extractive industries; factory farming; road building; damming of rivers; climate change issues and denial; oil/gas drilling; pipeline construction; mineral/energy exploration; imperialism (combines with #4); war and military growth (competition for domination); space programs; soil loss and degradation; energy generation (hydroelectric, gas and coal fired, nuclear, all solar based forms); life-style standards that exceed the earth’s productive capacity; environmental degradation and biodiversity loss; 6th extinction event; GMOs.

(2) Belief that human life is specially anointed by a non-material superior entity that (who) created the universe and then created humans as its (his) material representative. (another, slightly less metaphysical, form of this belief is that humans are the culmination of the evolutionary process – what evolution was proceeding toward from the beginning.)

Plots and subplots: humans are responsible to the prescriptions and values of an entity beyond earthly concerns; humans are both supreme on the earth and a servant of God; humans who have all the right God-given values are “good”, those who deviate from those values are variously “evil;” God judges human action by his rules, revealed to and reported by a Select Order, rather than arriving at behaviors that comport with ecological reality through an adaptation process.

Specific issues in today’s world: abortion; religious “liberty”; “marriage” issues; all manner of social behavioral prescription and proscription; drug use; religious fundamentalism; population growth/control; religious belief conflicts and controversies; challenge of atheism.

(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.

Plots and subplots: An agent, a conscious intelligence, must be the source of all organized, “non-random”, actions; if an event seems to be purposeful, then an agent must be directing it.  Humans are to be the controlling agents for a large set of earthly actions and some supernatural intelligence must be the controlling agency for all other actions.

Specific issues in today’s world: meaning of freedom and liberty; socialism-communism as inherent evil; early childhood, public and university education; affirmative action; healthcare, health insurance, medical issues (epidemics, life extension), exotic medical procedures; rejection of evolution and “materialist” science.

(4) Acting on a “natural” hierarchy based on how much a living thing is like one’s self and one’s community: some humans are more “human”, more worthwhile, than others.  Some can be considered as having the same worth as animals, and animals are valued (and feared) in relation to how much they display human-like appearance and behavior.

Plots and subplots: humans who are worth less than others can be treated by different standards; some humans can be effectively enslaved, often seen as for their own good; defective nature of those who differ from assumed social and sexual norms.

Specific issues in today’s world: immigration; racism and bigotry; inferiority and subjugation of women; social injustice, LGBT issues; nationalism; patriotism; animal suffering; human rights issues; militarization of domestic police forces; class warfare; stop and frisk (and its many cousins); gender based pay rates; women’s healthcare.

(5) The human leader principle: another, more CSO based, system of valuing (while still tied to primate group dynamic principles) is based on accumulations of power-related objects and behaviors: defined in the US American society as wealth and charisma. Ultimately, this has to do with the biology of leadership and its adaptation from primate social evolution into human communities. (Charisma is interesting in this context, not a mystical quality, but the product of display of confidence and the ability to rapidly read others and appear to be like them – a specialized form of imitation, magnified in effect by attractiveness. Confidence without empathic connection is considered boorish, empathic connection without confidence is considered weakness and attractiveness without the other two is considered frivolous.)

Plots and subplots: leaders have the right, and are expected, to tell others what to do; their success by social standards demonstrates their special status.  Leaders have special qualities and special knowledge that make their decisions superior to others.  The human need for a social organizing principle.

Specific issues in today’s world: pop culture devotion; celebrity fetish; pop culture demonization; cult and cult-like identification; authoritarianism; the Tea Party; megachurches; being the “good German”; my country right or wrong.

(6) The accumulation of material possessions is the measure of worth and value: wealth and power trump all other human achievements justifying much that would be called sin or crime without the actual attainment of wealth.

Plots and subplots: the human worth of a person can be seen in their material possessions and lifestyle.  A rich criminal must be taken seriously, but a poor laborer not at all; ‘getting ahead’ is a valid reason for devaluing other people.

Specific issues in today’s world: corporate power and corporate personhood; shame from poverty, pride from wealth; concentration of economic power; corporate criminality; international trade; internet access; national debt; multi-tiered justice (sic) system.

(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.

Plots and subplots: a person has the right to all they accumulate by their own effort; Private property is a central value; no one has a responsibility to any other person, to community or to the ecology; the have-nots just don’t work hard enough or want to work hard enough; acting in self-interest operates the ‘invisible hand’ to improve everyone’s life.

Specific issues in today’s world: wealth inequity; welfare; corporate welfare; tax policy/progressive taxation, taxes as theft; poverty; plutocracy; free market ideology; the shift of greed from deadly sin to virtue; banking power; social safety net; social security; marginalizing the middle class; smothering the poor; guns, ‘stand-your-ground’ laws; response to human needs (biological need, social need and actualization need); institutional surveillance/privacy loss (competes with #5); homelessness; unemployment and under employment; prison policy and more.

(N) There are a number of specific issues that don’t seem to me to fit neatly into any of the categories, although several themes may speak to aspects of them, the above themes don’t clarify, define or organize action for them except, perhaps, only by denying, rejecting or being inadequate for their consideration as issues. This accounts in part for our ambiguity toward them: institutional secrecy, terrorism, eco-terrorism, financial terrorism, failing infrastructure, loss of reserve currency status for the dollar, return to a multipolar world/loss of US hegemony, education in an environment of controversy, need for a reliable epistemology, cloning animals (and possibly humans), genetic control and eugenics for humans, economic collapse, ecological collapse.

If your favorite issue is not included or wrongly placed, you too can play the fun game of taxonomy.
* * *    
If you unconsciously and uncritically accept the Story and its themes, then trying to correct a plot or subplot that you recognize as destructive, or otherwise unfortunate, is difficult, if not impossible.  And many of the subplots are becoming clearer and clearer in their consequences to “real life,” but arguments surrounding the subplots are still being framed by the dominant Story.

Real issues with no clear category are especially difficult to think about or act on appropriately. Many issues can and do cross categories.  This is naturally the result of issues having more than one consequence, the filling in of ‘empty spaces’ to rationalize a narrative and the artificial nature of categories in general. In particular themes 2 and 3 are brought to the service of actions created in the other themes as a justification. Some issues have a positive relation to the underlying assumptions of a category and some have a negative relation.

Several of the issue/category relations result in paradoxes – as one might expect – when the natural fit with the category contradicts the underlying assumption of the category: for example, theme #3 assumes agency, but the natural fit with insurance must also recognize that insurance is structured on actuarial data based on statistical probability.

What we face is an array of real issues that must be acted on and a collection of Story elements to which we appeal for guidance in forming the actions; and the Story fails to address the Reality of the issues.  We either attempt the utterly impossible, change the issues to match the Story, or we attempt the supremely difficult, work backward from the issues to remake the Story more appropriate and responsive.

There are two lines of development in human thought to which we can appeal.  The first is the 3 to 4 thousand year history of philosophical discourse on how best to live: the world’s religions have produced a reasonably consistent underlying framework of values; secular moral philosophers have produced a complementary body of values that in large measure agree with summary religious values (combining points of agreement and tossing the outlying prescriptions).  The second is the increasing, science process driven, understanding of sociobiology/evolutionary psychology and the overall ecological processes by which life organizes and survives in the hostility of the universe.  Humanity, and the rest of life as presently organized, is approaching the moment when the present Story (and especially the Story as manifest in the US of America) will utterly cease any relevance to the issues that irrevocably control our fate.

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