Unmanageable complexity and human inadequacy


Reality as a failed state

So maybe what we have today are not problems, but meta-problems.

It is very useful to confirm our understanding with others, to meet with fellow humans – preferably face-to-face – strength flows from this.

However, disquiet remains – no pre-catastrophic change of course seems in any way likely. What we might call ‘Fabian’ environmentalism has failed.

Occasionally a scientist will be so overcome with horror that he will make a radical public pronouncement – like the drunken uncle at a wedding, he may well be saying what everyone knows to be true, pulling the skeletons out of the family closet for all to see, but, well, it just doesn’t do to say that sort of thing out loud at a formal function.

This is all a little bit strange.
We understand the problems. We also, pretty much, understand the solutions. But their real-world application is a whole unpickable, integrated clusterfuck.

I believe part of the meta-problem is this: people no longer inhabit a single reality.

Collectively, there is no longer a single cultural arena of dialogue.

What many techno-scientists fail to understand – and thus find most frustrating – about dealing with climate change deniers is that the denier has no real interest in engaging at the scientist’s level of reality.

The point, for the climate denier, is not that the truth should be sought with open-minded sincerity – it is that he has declared the independence of his corner of reality from control by the overarching, techno-scientific consensus reality. He has withdrawn from the reality forced upon him and has retreated to a more comfortable, human-sized bubble.

In these terms, the denier’s retreat from consensus reality approximates the role of the cellular insurgents in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the American occupying force: this overarching behemoth I rebel against may well represent something larger, more free, more wealthy, more democratic, or more in touch with objective reality, but it has been imposed upon me (or I feel it has), so I am going to withdraw from it into illogic, emotion and superstition and from there I am going to declare war upon it.

So, from this point of view, we can meaningfully refer to deniers, birthers, Tea Partiers and so forth as “reality insurgents”, [red: existential secessionista’s] and thus usefully apply the principles of 4GW to their activities – notably, they are clearly operating on a faster OODA loop than the defenders of mainstream reality, and thus able to respond more quickly, with greater innovation, than the sclerotic bureaucracy of institutionalised reality. [Open source bazaars – media-effective denial memes spread virally through community far quicker than effective strategies of rebuttal do.]

(n.b. There is a problematic tendency with a certain type of intellect – the scientist, the technocrat – which assumes that, because it is prepared to organise and change on the basis of dry statistics and data, then, if only everyone else could be exposed to the same data, there would be instant consensus for change. In fact, of course, the majority of human beings do not work like this.

Indeed, there is a positive, indeed, cognitively vital, aspect to intuitive thinking, and the realm of myths, narratives, paradigms of meaning, purpose and significance underlies even the worldview of the technocrat-scientist. Without an ability to engage with and understand the deep psyche, the techno-scientist is doomed to repeat his statistics into the ether without meaningful effect.)

The deniers are operating from a different ontological platform – an emotional reading of reality where there are forces wishing to control them and restrict their personal power and agency, and there are the forces of freedom, which is the side they believe they are on.

They are wrong, of course, but it is important to demonstrate to them that they are wrong on the level they are operating from – not by citing more climate statistics at them, but by demonstrating that the forces they are serving are actually the most vicious extant representatives of the control they profess to hate.

And all this is but one example of the ways in which the traditional ideological blocs of the Cold War have fragmented into complex multipartite civil reality wars.

Reality, you might say, as failed state; its interior collapsing into permanent conflict under the convergent pressures of deviant globalisation, its coasts predated upon by new mutant forms of memetic pirates.

Each individual also carries reality-divisions inside their own head: [red: reconstructionista’s haha]

As a general point, there is a fundamental dissassociation endemic to industrialised humans that results in some deleterious, and, at this critical juncture, very dangerous outcomes. We necessarily develop many internal veils and compartments in order to buffer the fundamental ethical, environmental and cognitive dissonances industrialised existence presents us with.

The clearest example, though, and perhaps the major reality-distinction in most people’s minds, is between their immediate, everyday life and the magic fantasy world that exists in the media-realm.

This is part of the reason why voting is always such a let down – you mark your piece of paper and walk out and feel cheated, somehow, of the promised connection with the Other world.

Is it any wonder that we don’t, really, expect anything to ever come of the political process? Can we even imagine what it would feel like to organise ourselves around beliefs, ideas, a particular narrative of reality any more?

This is just one example of the divisions within ourselves: We dimly recognise the scale of the environmental crises, and then waste moments of our lives fretting about whether our local recycling scheme accepts plastic bottles. We wish to be delivered from our lust for foreign holidays – but, like St Augustine, not too soon. We hope for people in the public eye to speak the truth, then laugh at their naivety when they fail to anticipate how unrealistic, how gauche doing so makes them seem.

This is a fertile region to mine for effective change – in the mediated nature of our relationship with each other, in our increasing mutual reality-drift away from one another, and in our own divided, disassociated minds, incapable of actually connecting together the realities we know, the facts and ideas we come to believe in, and the image of power and government which hangs before us in our mind’s eye.

I can only offer these leads – the power of unflinching awareness, of looking directly at the crisis we find ourselves in; the natural centrifugal tendency of human consciousness, when it is given the necessary time and space, free from distraction and negative stimulus; our minds’ ability to re-coalesce, despite ourselves, into unified singularity; and, perhaps most importantly, the remediating power of joining together in reality with other human beings: of connecting the ideas, the facts, the data, the lonely realities discovered in the long watches of the night lit only by the ghostly lantern-light of a laptop, with the immediate, pulsing, reviving, hope-giving reality of mutual conviviality and of shared human presence.

[comment: we have seen the emergence of massive, global-spanniong social media; places where people can socialize. Now maybe we can also the same for educational media – platforms where fact is pushed in favor of fiction, by virtue of popularizing the scientific method. Crowdsourcing post-truthyness affirmative action. Suffrage for what’s really real. ]