I will preface this analysis with a bold conjecture:
Society needs the shit kicked out of it. There may not be much left afterward.
A bold conjecture, aimed squarely at broad-based ignorance. Ignorance to the reality of living in captivity. Ignorance to a world at the mercy of systems. Ignorance to freedom being an illusion, and the inability to concede it.
I write under the assertion of my own ignorance; knowing that I can speculate and postulate until I go blue in the face, but in the end, I can’t actually prove anything. The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I will be dead at some point in the future. Everything else is variable on forces which I either (a) do not, or (b) think I understand. Every word of the hundred thousand I have written to date is presumptuous.
Ruin will accost those whom take their knowledge seriously.
Analytical ammunition is becoming increasingly sparse, so I’m going to use steel-capped boots instead. This piece has been in the pipeline for an excruciatingly long time on account of philosophical constraints. A system can only be objectively analysed from the outside looking in. Living within these frameworks, it is therefore impossible to be objective in my analysis. I have attempted to curb this bias by adopting the perspective of an Architect who designed the systems as opposed to a constituent who is subjected to them. Inferences made herein should be taken as comments made by a reasonably competent speculator who is cognisant of his own speculation.
At this point, I will distinguish neutral systems from human systems. Neutral covers such things as the solar system – defined naturally, operating impassively, bounded by and subject to objective physical laws. Human encompasses any system established by humanity whose justification is prompted by a value judgement. This analysis critiques the latter.
A system, defined in the sphere of information technology, is a coagulation of people, procedures, rules, data, hardware and software, structured with some degree of planning, to the end of achieving a goal. Systems allow me to write this entry, requisition information, hold intercontinental conversations in real time and get to work every morning.
Human systems are based on a comparable premise, though they are infinitely more complex lending to emotion, which instigates behavioural effects, arbitrary self-perpetuating outcomes, intricate feedback loops and irrational dysfunction. A simple example that conveys this complexity is human interaction. Hypothetically, I could bump into any one of six point seven billion people at random. Take this across the individuals on this planet, and there are some 44,890,000,000,000,000,000 unique possible permutations. Add hoards of paradoxical procedures into the mix with these six point seven billion volatile ‘components,’ and you have the beginnings of a system your average deity wouldn’t understand.
We often talk of systems, but do we understand their true nature? Neutral systems are a function of the natural order; human systems are attempts to subvert the natural order by artificial substitution. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with the natural order, but for the fact it is amoral. Morality, being a defining characteristic of human existence, is superimposed upon man-made systems to instil validity. Here we have the key to a system’s longevity. So long as a critical mass of agents within a system believes it is ‘right,’ it is self-sustaining. Should there be a large enough revolt against the system, such that agents question its integrity and renounce system behaviour, then it will disintegrate. If tomorrow, everyone decided currency was ridiculous, worthless paper, then the financial system would inevitably collapse. A system persists on the goodwill of those it controls.
The central objective of human systems is just that – to control; although we don’t like the idea of being controlled, so find it more comfortable to couch it as ‘order’ rather than ‘control.’ By definition, the term ‘systematic’ denotes organisation and order, therefore it is implicit from the negative that systems exist to prevent chaos. For surely, if we were left to our own devices, then chaos is the state that would prevail.
Why? Because man is an emotional, irrational creature that is largely unreconciled with his own mortality. At the base level, this necessarily creates motive energy for animal gratification which entails the unbridled pursuit of pleasure, agnostic to peripheral ramifications.
There’s a reason gratuitous sex and violence rake in billions of dollars at theatres. Entertainment, being removed from reality, is not subject to the rules and conventions of real life; which is why almost anything, irrespective of depravity, can be portrayed using the medium. Wanton productions appeal to raw instinct and allow for a diluted vicarious or second-hand experience, and they’re often as close as we can get to fulfilling those animal impulses without negative consequence.
It is fair to say if there was absolutely nothing defining consequences (i.e. not laws, morals, conventions, nor conscience) to prevent you from doing whatever you wished; then, well, you’d do whatever you wished. This is the premise of unrefined humanity and its fundamental flaw. But of course, were the world to operate under such a premise (i.e. absolute, unconstrained freedom) in pure form, it would be utter pandemonium. Can you imagine what the world would be like if the entire human population roamed this planet restrained by nothing save their own instinctive desires?
We solved this problem by developing and implementing systems. Systems control the human premise. By ingeniously creating rules and consequences, defining pleasure, and hence directing energy, the beast of humanity is kept well shackled.
The Four Pillars & the Triad of Affliction
Modern civilisation is supported upon four pillars. They are the four central systems which govern humanity:
- § Political systems, designed to manage power
- § Economic systems, designed to allocate resources
- § Legal systems, designed to administer ‘justice’
- § Social systems, designed to structure behaviour
These abominations didn’t come into existence by happenstance – rather, they were born out of necessity. Systems cannot exist without premises. Strong-form premises, likewise, underpin a strong and enduring system.
The four pillars can be viewed as a global interlocking coping mechanism for humanity’s mortal flaws -collectively, the systems’ premises. In essence, the three comorbid flaws which predicate the need for systems (and from which systems derive sustaining authority) are (1) man’s inherent fear, (2) his ignorance, and (3) his greed.
- § The policies, processes and punishments enshrined by the legal system serve to mollify fear for both person and property.
- § The frameworks, relationships, and exchange of the economic system allow greed to be pursued in a more orderly fashion.
- § The political system mitigates the damage people can inflict upon themselves by replacing divergent and volatile individual ignorance with a synergistically moderated collective ignorance.
- § The conventions set by the social system are authoritative doctrine -they are the glue that binds the whole superstructure together.
Analysis now moves to depth on each of the four pillars.
Politics is the most ineffectual of the systems for reasons of marionette and motive, which rear their heads routinely wherever power is implicated. Given the political system is an ‘umbrella’ system enveloping multiple styles, the critical focus will be on Representative Democracy, because it is held to be the most efficacious political system. An arrow’s worth is measured by the strength of the armour it pierces.
Representative Democracy is often invoked as the solution to the concentration of power in an autocracy, oligarchy or monarchy; under which individual choice is frustrated. Although ‘fairness’ is indeed a foreign concept to such methods of rule, Democracy, the lesser among evils, does not fare much better in that regard. In a conventional two-party system, such as Australia, or the United States, choice is an illusion. It is a binary selection, often between a left-wing and a right-wing political party. All or nothing. Black or white. Two schools of thought, it is a bleak dichotomy. You can’t pick and choose the best policies from across the spectrum of parties. Glaring absurdity exists in such a system. Indeed, objective reality is black and white, but human perception of that reality is not. Relativities are everywhere, yet democracy is founded on absolutes. Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal.
Majority rule, a requirement under most forms of representative democracy, exacerbates the system’s failure. On the one hand, if you do not identify with the majority, you are technically not represented, as the majority forms government and exercises power. On the other hand, contingent upon the strength of the opposition, the majority’s liberty to exercise power is moderated and diluted. In simple terms, it is a lose/lose situation.
Majority rule and binary selection relate specifically to the design of Representative Democracy. Exogenous to design, the real tribulation is with the actors: politicians and constituents.
In the world of representative democracy, a politician is simply a marionette. It is utterly obtuse to assume, even for a moment, that a politician is capable of exercising untainted principle in their role. By virtue of the preselection process, deals are made, promises given, and interests assured.
A politician is a marionette serving all manner of interests outside those presented to the populace. These interests are generally motivated by self-advancement over the ‘greater good.’ It isn’t possible to ascend to the position of a governmental leader without cutting deals and forging alliances in the process. A political party is subject to the same basic hierarchical and political framework that underlies a commercial organisation. You’ll occasionally get a charismatic and inspiring leader, but they do not rise to the top on merit alone. People often forget the game that must be played, and by a country mile, that game is not a clean one. There is no such thing as a straight politician who acts solely on their own ideals and accord. Look backstage and you’ll often find more than a few puppeteers. Generally speaking, politicians are stylised idiots who tend toward following popular opinion to anchor their support. Policy and action are executed on the grounds of what is most popular, rather than what is most right.
Making matters worse is the preposterous tendency people have to make idols of political figures. Every morning on my way to work, I pass a large black and white effigy of Barack Obama plastered on the side of a building. Above it, the inscription “second coming.” That image encapsulates precisely what is frightening about modern politics. Cleary, the prevailing global conditions (worldwide economic fear pandemic) have created a need for a ‘hero’ who’ll save the world from the self-inflicted woe it has plunged itself into. It may come as a newsflash to some, but he’s not Captain Planet, he’s just another man.
Following from this is the disturbing revelation of democracy’s very foundation: ‘power to the people.’ In this case, equity and logic become diametrically opposing forces, and the former is enshrined at the expense of the latter. The benefit is stability – where a system is perceived as fair (i.e. everyone gets one vote), then it is unlikely to be challenged. The cost is the functional failure that arises when the constituency exercising voting power is largely discombobulated and ignorant.
Arguments could be made against this conclusion of a broadly ignorant constituency, but the writing is on the wall. Objective evidence is all around. We do not live in the Athenian age from whenst democracy originated. Some blasphemous proportion of Australia’s populace, for example, does not know the country has a constitution, much less the purpose it serves. Prior to 2008′s economic mayhem, the key ‘political’ issues of public fixation were interest rates and the price of fuel.
Evidently, the public is largely unconcerned with fundamental real issues which carry profound long term consequences; it prefers to focus narrowly and myopically on where it has a vested interest, and on a selection of peripheral issues that are in vogue. Whether this is the fault of the public or the media is a matter of opinion, but it does not change the fact that debate rages on industrial relations policy and alcohol excise while the insidious effects of Affluenza, moral decay and ignorance are infect a caustic rot upon humanity itself.
Never mind the issue of irreconcilable sovereign pride that will eventually cause another world war if left unchecked, I’m going to vote for whoever saves Moby Dick and decriminalises Marijuana.
The machination of Government is inordinately complex, Diplomatic affairs, social equity, economic stability, subsystem efficacy. It is charged with responsibilities the vast majority of us do not understand with any degree of adequacy. Yet representative democracy apportions power with zero consideration to commonsense and who is best placed to exercise it. I am making a value judgement defensible on grounds of basic reason – just as you don’t get into a car driven by a drunkard, you don’t put power in the hands of the ignorant.
So, were we to evaluate representative democracy against its mandate of managing power in an optimal manner, there is only one assessment: Fail. Democracy is an inefficient system because people are too ignorant to know what’s good for them. Give people rights and they will abuse them. Politicians are marionettes unduly influenced by ulterior causes and motives. Governments instigate change for its own sake, and will ‘fix’ things that aren’t broken, squandering resources for negligible benefit. Power is in the custody of a herd whose subjective mode of perspective is implicitly assumed to be objectively correct.
I daresay the purpose would be better handled by an oligopoly where power was concentrated in the hands of a small group of compassionate masterminds such as a council of enlightened elders who know what they’re doing, than a popular regime with charisma and fashionable policies. I say this because experiential wisdom is not hereditary. Only a person who has made a mistake, and/or has had to live through the consequences of that mistake will possess the necessary experiential wisdom to call a spade a spade should there be a recurrence. Each new temporary installation of a government is like assigning a rookie to a role more befitting of a Commander. The system is run by mavericks.
Before delving into economic systems, a myth must first be dispelled. Money does not make the world go round. What makes the world go round is the motive power of the billions of runners hitting the allegorical treadmill to pursue it.
An economic system’s general mandate is to allocate scarce resources. This is admittedly a textbook definition, but it really is that simple. Resource allocation is the primary function, everything else is secondary. Money’s existence is accidental, and it is a product of the economic system. Resource allocation is tediously boring on face value, so I will take the more glamorous route by approach it indirectly through the concept of money.
Money is the grand facilitator, for its power as a universal medium for exchange and store of value. In a world where most everything can be bought for a price, money reigns supreme. Not only does it allow us to obtain goods and services we desire, it can ‘purchase’ virtually anything. Bribes can be used to buy freedom, amnesty and power. Information and knowledge can be paid for. Longevity can be prolonged for an outlay, and physical appearance altered. Money can put out a contract kill.
It isn’t hard to see why the majority of us lust after money so passionately – save an antidote to death, it can buy pretty much anything. Thereby, in effect, it replaces 99% of desires with just one. Contemplate that substitution for a moment. Instead of expending time and physical/mental effort on pursuing our every material need and want, we can just chase the dollar. Whoever invented the device of currency is pure genius personified.
Having established that crucial link between money and ‘gratification,’ we can move forward. Metaphorically, if we were to consider the human species donkeys, money would be the carrot, and social isolation is the stick. The presence of an incentivising reward (carrot) and threat of isolation (stick) harmonise, making exertion voluntary, thus mobilising the resource of people (i.e. labour) without the need for forced slavery.
We now have a likeness of a contemporary economic system called ‘Market Capitalism’ where the resources of land, labour, capital and entrepreneurial skill are allocated toward production of goods and services with relative efficiency on the basis of profit/utility maximisation, and the means of production are privately controlled.
As a standalone system existing without recourse to other systems, Market Capitalism would be highly capable (relative to the other options presently available). But in coexistence with a social system underpinned by morals such as ‘fairness,’ Capitalism fails. Recourse to other systems inevitably arise due to externalities and moral hazard, thereby creating a need for intervention.
In any situation where a morally indifferent (or indeed depraved) individual has potential for gain, and the risk of loss is shouldered by someone else; suboptimal and exploitative behaviour will be engaged. Government intervenes through regulation and legislation in an attempt to assuage this opportunist. It also acts as the executor of social conscience by direct intervention, levying taxes and redistributing resources in defiance of the profit motive. Provisioning of welfare payments and public education are two such examples.
Crossing back to the political system momentarily, the reason my political slant leans toward the right is purely economic. As the situation currently stands, you cannot give precedence to social issues over economic ones. Though this may seem absurd and even sadistic, the underlying logic borders on infallible.
Irrespective how progressive the social policies of a political party, they cannot be implemented optimally in an environment of economic despair. We live in a capitalist system whose lifeblood is prosperity. Sound economic policy is designed to maximise growth and productivity whilst controlling inflationary pressures. It this task is properly managed, profits expand, companies invest, jobs are created, national income rises, the standard of living increases and the government’s gross tax take goes up. More tax means more funds to spend on health, education and redistributative welfare. This analysis will later illustrate the social system’s dependence on a stable economy from a more unconventional angle.
Returning to critique, the inherent problem is not so much the theories based upon cumulative confirmatory data, but the behaviours they instigate and the actions they underpin. A lot of people thought it was safe to invest in RMBS because residential property prices in the United States have historically observed a structural uptrend. These data points supported the theory that house prices ‘never’ go down, and if they did decline, it would be slight and/or temporary. Failing to question amounts to ignorance, which is unsurprisingly one of the strongest root causes for economic systems’ failure. Sovereign regulation of interest rates is a prime example.
Interest rates are the monetary policy instrument Central Banks uses to control inflation and economic activity. When spending is excessive, it results in inflation (specifically, demand-pull), which can wreak havoc (Zimbabwe). As inflationary pressures mount, the Central Bank seeks to control them by raising the rate, hence reducing the supply of cash in the financial system as the commercial banks park more money in the now higher-yielding Government securities, which are risk-free, theoretically backed by the government’s power to tax.
However, in an environment of rising interest rates, the financial burden on indebted individuals increases, and belts must be tightened, which often means a downward adjustment to material living standards. The media and the populace cry foul, and the short-term social ramifications create a political problem for the government. Because a layperson reacts negatively and blames the government when interest rates rise, the government’s ability to use this instrument as swift and decisive dampener is hindered by politics. It is not a popular policy. To the extent government intervention that is supposed to plug the economic system’s holes is driven by short-term political motivation, interventions will never address problems in the most optimal manner. Ignorance is inherent from the inability to acknowledge that short term pain is a necessary evil to maintain stability in the long run, which ultimately has a far greater bearing on quality of life.
Lending to my dearth of inspiration on the legal system, I credit many of these thoughts to a rainy afternoon café conversation with Ava, my charming muse.
Purportedly, the legal system exists to protect individual liberties, administer justice, and punish where necessary. What those liberties are, how justice is defined, and both what constitutes ‘fair’ punishment and what warrants it are all encircled by a fugue of subjectivity.
The tradition, procedure, verbosity, formalities and institutions of law are, at their crux, a human construct to give us illusory confidence we understand something which we, in reality, cannot. This is the central premise upon which I base my argument that the legal system is a (very bad) joke.
Issue must also be taken with the legal system because extortion runs rife, because litigation is increasingly used as a weapon, because innocent defendants can be ordered to pay compensation for damage that arose from the litigant’s own stupidity, because of the blatant inconsistency and misalignment between law and justice, and the list goes on. Fundamentally, the body of law and the mechanisms that overlay its application are completely unreflective of impartial justice. To understand why this is so, we need to delve into the intricacies of the system.
Firstly, laws themselves are often distorted, some to the point where their spirit is negative justice. A prime example is progressive taxation; a law which imposes greater proportionate penalty upon advancement and progress. Such a regulation is the epitome of negative justice. The mafia leaves you alone if you’re a small fish, but the more successful you are, the bigger a slice of your take they’ll racketeer.
Second, we have the troublesome nature of precedent. As a modus operandi, precedent is effectively a judge hanging his or her hat on a historical judgement. Were I to be ruling on a case, and had an instinctive leaning to one side, chances are the precedent case I base my judgement on will be subconsciously influenced by that initial prejudice. In a scenario where there are two opposing precedents with differing outcomes, generally subjective interpretation means either can be rationalised. Thus, although it may appear an impartial judgement has been made on the strength of a comparable precedent, but in reality, it is a matter of skewed selection: if I look hard enough at a cloud, I can make out any number of different animals. The second angle of precedent is that it reduces efficacy and removes a critical element of accountability by implicitly absolving the judge of responsibility for their decision. Logically, we take greater care walking an uncharted path than a well-tread one for which we have a map.
With respect to the legal system’s fatal flaw – it is a fusing of hubris and illusory understanding. For the purpose of this exercise, we step back and assess why a legal system exists. There are two relevant facets, that of law and order, and that of justice. Justice entails fairness, but fairness eludes definition without a moral yardstick to measure it by. We do not possess a yardstick unless you invoke some very strong assumptions asserting validity of religion or ethical idealism. It follows that objective morality is intrinsically paradoxical. Nowhere in the legal system is this fact acknowledged. Rather, the system is founded upon an explicit denial of this truth.
At best, we can cautiously define morality as allowing man to pursue his desires freely, subject to not harming another man or otherwise inhibiting another’s pursuit. Evidently even this simple definition is a stretch because it requires a line to be drawn to distinguish what constitutes harm. If we cannot so much as lean on this basic notion, How can we depend on those capriciously concocted complex cocktails of morality that the legal system promulgates?
Judiciary is too far displaced from reality, negatively affecting the sensibility of their reasoning, interpretation, and thus their judgements. This is where the issue of speciality and the social system’s definition of roles cross paths with the legal system. Insofar as a Judge is a specialist who is validated upon that specialisation, he or she drapes themselves with a cape of ethical supremacy.
At the core, the legal system and its practitioners take themselves too seriously, which leads to a cognitive bias of colossal proportion. Reading through judgements, it never ceases to amaze me how a matter as straightforward as a property dispute can be convoluted to the point where it reads with more density and nonsensicality than a sermon delivered by a pathological occultist.
I find it difficult to reconcile both why and how practitioners of complex systems such as finance, government and law delude themselves into believing they ‘know.’ Judgements are incomprehensible because not even the judges who write them truly understand the essence of what they’re harping on about. True morality, for example, cannot be grasped by the human mind. Judges often forget this and are content substituting precedent, their intuition and subjective interpretation in place of acknowledging human objectivity is a misnomer. I believe there is black and white, but no man or woman has the faculty to see in absolutes. Our capacity is only for the tones of grey.
This illusory understanding is one of many biases that influence actors in the legal system. Among the more obvious are the profit and status motives that drive attorneys, and the scourge of corruption. Courts are also theatres for prejudice, the most fundamental bias, and one often overlooked. Certain principles underpin the proper administration of justice: the punishment should fit the crime, and equitability should be pivotal.
Of the two principles, equitability is the more critical failure. Inequitable punishment isn’t as grave a concern as inequitable procedure. Where the legal system fails is by allowing the worth of one person to diverge from another on unjust grounds. Outcomes, whether it be verdict or sentence, are unduly influenced by extraneous attributes of the ‘accused’ and ‘victim’ Age, gender, ethnicity. Skewed values impose themselves on a process that is supposedly impartial. Both Judge and Jury are guilty of this deplorable infraction.
Picture two cases where a teenager has assaulted a person in their forties. In the first case, the assailant is an eighteen year old male, and the victim, a forty-four year old female. The second case is identical, save for a reversal of genders, such that the assailant is an eighteen year old female, and the victim, a forty-four year old male.
Despite the principles and circumstances being indistinguishable between the two cases, assuming contingent evidence, there is a higher probability of both (a) a guilty verdict, and (b) a more severe sentence for the male assailant in the first case. Neither judges nor jurors are beyond reproach where prejudice is concerned. The legal system fails because the hands that administer justice are not clean: they are soiled by socially ingrained prejudices and preconception.
Though it is an exceptionally complicated animal, the social system can be distilled into four key modules: hierarchy, convention, role and socialisation. Together, they constitute the superstructure: the foundation stone upon which modern humanity is built. The superstructure governs the way we interact with each other and defines how society operates. Hierarchy can be viewed as a product of role and convention, and will be omitted as it is somewhat ancillary for the purposes of this analysis. Closer inspection of the other three is warranted; they are the sticking points on which all else rests.
In a roundabout way, the social system is what proffers freedom: the freedom to choose a path in life, the freedom to pursue happiness, the freedom to be. But this freedom comes at a price – it is tempered by hidden constraint: you must play by the system’s rules.
Unlike ordinary rules, which are inflexible, social rules or conventions bridge the gap in the domain between rigid law and free will: they are very much optional. In matters of law, our behaviour is bound on pain of punishment. In matters of free will, our behaviour is wholly at our own liberty. But matters of convention reside in a state of flux, somewhere in the middle – what I call ‘stigmatically inhibited choice.’
Elucidating, a breach of a social convention isn’t the same as breaking the law. There are negative consequences, but they are not physical penalties like a fine or prison sentence. Breaches of convention trigger social consequences, most commonly a reduction in external esteem, exclusion, and shame.
Conventions can be described as generally accepted dogma that are universally observed despite their apparent lack of rationale. Some conventions, such as the wearing of business attire, truly have no practical purpose, whilst others, namely those relating to conduct, serve to lubricate the social machinery. By themselves, conventions are largely absurd; however, to the extent they influence how people think and behave, directing thought and action along specific lines, they are invaluable to the superstructure maintaining its stranglehold.
Picture a large one-way arterial with a dozen lanes. If everyone drives in the same direction, traffic flows smoothly and the system accomplishes its purpose (gets people to where they are going). Conversely, if drivers did their own thing, collisions would cause chaos, traffic would not move, and the system would collapse. The social system is no different, conventions and broad obedience toward them are necessary to sustain its operation.
Operating within the confines of a system which is blind itself, the constituency suffers from collective blindness. Collective blindness is why people accept social convention and systems without question. Primitive man learned if something was safe to eat by observing other animals – if they ate it and didn’t perish, it was supposedly safe for consumption. Similarly, modern man observes a behaviour and an effect, but tends to oversimplify and misunderstand causality. He obeys conventions not because they are objectively rational, but because they are observed on a large scale, and thus appear objectively rational.
History has proven that whenever the human beast is coerced to obey, more often than not, an insurrection will ensue. The solution to this problem lies in effecting indirect coercion using society itself rather than directing coercion from a central source. In this way, there is no escape and no outlet to direct a rebellion against. You can have an uprising against a dictator or government, but society cannot revolt upon itself. Socialisation is the instrument through which indirect coercion is effected.
To proffer a measure of context, socialisation is fundamental to the past, present and future development of humanity because interaction underpins the transference and refinement of knowledge, and is by definition requisite to forming relationships and fulfilling emotional needs. With respect to the contemporary notion of humanism, socialisation is necessarily a dimension; for in absence of our ability to socialise, we would be little more than lucid automatons.
However, socialisation is among the world’s most horribly misunderstood concepts. It has an unimaginable sinister side – powerful, silent and lethal. By the device of socialisation, a universal thinking regime is indoctrinated. It discourages and prevents you from anchoring your identity on how you think.
Socialisation, in any milieu that would be deemed ‘normal,’ requires one to adopt averaged or expected behaviours. We are afflicted with an imperative to socialise, to feel we ‘belong.’ To do so, we need to fit in – which is, curiously, the very antithesis of the uniqueness imperative. Such a blatant contradiction is reconciled through ‘arbitrary artificial convergence.’ In simple terms, because ‘belonging’ is based on commonality and groupings, we create the common ground, then gravitate toward and converge upon it. A highly nebulous concept, but it can be seen everywhere. Two strangers meet at a party, they connect by discussing football. Sharing a beer with a group of people is a social ritual. Commiseration and gossip in the workplace. All relate to forced convergence to a specious mean; they have no logical meaning or purpose, yet by their being ‘average,’ serve as fountains of belongingness. By indulging in what the ‘average’ person does, it is very difficult to feel isolated or lonely.
Critically, the outcomes of socialisation permeate virtually all aspects of modern existence. Do you follow football because you passionately enjoy it? Do you go out to clubs because it gives you fulfilment in life? Do you find success in your career vindicates your self esteem?
It is not possible to say these things are not socially motivated. This is precisely why I’m clubbed to death, why sport bores me to the point of tears, and why I cannot define myself by my occupation.
The most pejorative thing I have to say about the social system regards the product of socialisation. The averaging that is caused by socialisation doesn’t just promote ‘average’ socially condition behaviours, it promotes ‘average’ perspective and ‘average’ thinking. It advocates: “here’s a road map and instruction manual for life, follow it, work hard enough and you’ll be fulfilled.” It will have you believe you are a free agent in control of your own destiny, when in reality you are little more than a captive pawn.
Mapping the treacherous terrain of life is no easy feat, and if your Cartography isn’t up to scratch, it is far easier to pick up a map from the shelf than plot your own. Thus it isn’t surprising to see people are broadly willing to subject their characters to the undignified process of this ‘dirty averaging.’
Society, by virtue of its need to reflect operational commonality, dulls the extremes in order to produce a comfortable, moderated outcome, which has closer affinity with/to the status quo. We, the actors of society, are lazy, which fits perfectly with status quo existence. If you want to feel those warm and fuzzy feelings of belongingness and fulfilment, why bother thinking on your own accord when you can yield to the temptation of an off-the-shelf product and seek that average?
Averaging is impossible to avoid so long as you live within society. Despite my contempt for all the socially defined measures of fulfilment, I am still subject to some of them and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Resistance is futile. Even the sharpest of blades will inevitably be blunted when placed in a moving chamber of grindstones.
Though we cannot evade averaging completely, fighting the average or being an anomaly is a different story. All that is required to be an anomaly is a conscious realisation that you are living under the confines of a system and a concomitant refusal to surrender your mind to the way it directs you to think.
Historically, evolution didn’t take too kindly to anomalies. Once upon a time, natural selection was charged with eliminating unsavoury (or survival adverse) traits from the gene pool, in what we all know from high school science as ‘survival of the fittest.’ This process has been removed from nature’s domain and placed into human hands. The faceless troll that is the social mindset determines and dictates to us those characteristics which are held to be favourable. Now the case is ‘survival of the finessed.’ Choose not to demonstrate these indoctrinated characteristics, choose not to assimilate, and you will face the consequences.
Fortunately, the anathema that is the social mindset isn’t as efficient as mother nature, which is just as well considering it seeks to promote an artificial and corrupt order. As such, the penalty for diverging is social isolation rather than death. By this grace, anomalies persist, preventing the snowballing effect of socialisation from avalanching.
General definitions posit that an anomaly’s value has to do with scarcity. In Philately for example, the postage stamp bearing a fault is worth immeasurably more than specimens from correctly printed runs.
From a theoretical standpoint however, anomalies are valuable for a very different reason. Whenever we are testing a hypothesis, there is a tendency to accumulate supportive observations that validate or confirm the underlying conjecture. For example, I theorise that Muzzas have intelligence quotients below ninety. Given I reside within walking distance of Chapel Street, I could saunter down any given Saturday evening and assemble empirical data directly by asking said Muzzas which language is spoken in Corsica.
I could spend many months gathering data which confirms my hypothesis and possibly pick up the habit of calling all men ‘bro’ in the process. For every Muzza that replies “Italian,” jeers, grunts or attempts to ‘deck’ me, my conjecture gains incremental validity. However, to the extent my sample size will never converge completely upon the entire population of Muzzas, I cannot objectively confirm my hypothesis.
On the other hand, it would take but one Muzza who knew that Corsica is actually a French territory, to invalidate my theory. This is the power of the anomaly – like the overused example of Neo in The Matrix, it only takes one.
Everyone believes they are somehow different from the rest – on some level. Validation and identity is partially based upon an internal assurance of uniqueness. Whether or not this uniqueness is illusory is beside the point; if you cannot somehow differentiate yourself from the next person, then you are nobody. Without a shred of uniqueness to hold on to, you are just part of the soup that is humanity. In an identity sense, it is the equivalent of death.
Hence, the struggle for uniqueness. Often, in the course of this struggle, a trap is succumbed to, whereby the subject intentionally focuses upon being anomalous or emphasising certain angles of anomaly in an effort to stand out. This is not the true meaning of anomaly. The realm definition for human anomaly in social systems is cognitive deviation and espousing reality without censoring oneself to be sympathetic to averages.
Following this line of reasoning, we establish that in a pragmatic sense, an anomaly’s inherent value is its ability to threaten the system’s stability. Cognitive deviation entails an aversion to following system-consistent thinking. Challenging the system is a derivative of this aversion, dissonance creates an impetus for change, and defiance promotes destabilisation.
One could mount the argument that human systems are organic and gradually improve and refine themselves as they ‘learn’ from their mistakes. Evolutionary or incremental change best characterises this phenomenon. In a life context, we could compare this to going to school each day. However, just as anomalies in life, those random occurrences and chance meetings, cause abrupt quantum leaps in understanding, destabilisation brought about by system anomalies is the trigger of explosive development. Instances where anomalies have caused system instability are a precursor to reformation and improvement. The Second World War and its impact on the German and Japanese economies being a case in point. Looking back, we can credit much of civilisation’s advancement to destabilisation caused by anomalous events, ideas and people.
However, anomalies are not the only cause for destabilisation. Systems are human constructs, and are unstable by design. Instability stems from humanity’s inherent irrationality and need for constant change. In an invariable and rational world, systems would be stable, but we live in a state far from it.
At the time of writing, the world is in the midst of the most profound financial crisis since the Great Depression. It is the first time in over seventy years that the integrity of the entire financial system has been called into question. This is system instability at its finest.
Each time the ruin of an ineffective system is averted, the consequences of eventual catastrophic failure become correspondingly more destructive. Let’s say I began constructing a tower from dominoes, and I make repetitive, infinitesimally small errors as I position each domino. Eventually, the cumulative impact of these small errors will cause the tower to sway. To fix this, I reposition a few of the dominoes ever so slightly, thus stabilising the tower, and allowing me to resume building higher.
The trouble with this strategy is that I don’t know how many more levels I can build before it collapses. The only way I can have confidence the tower will remain sturdy is if I start again, and take care to position each domino with greater precision.
Insofar as human systems go, they are never perfect, but the new tower will be stable at elevated heights where the old one would have toppled.
Myopia prevents structural rebuilds and creates a predisposition to cosmetic tinkering. If you can stabilise and save a shonky system, and it holds for long enough for it to become someone else’s problem, you’ll be a hero. If you instigate radical, unsettling change, you’ll be reviled.
No one will admit the system is a failure so long as there is some, any, plausible saving grace.
It explains why a concerted effort is being made to stabilise the system at all costs, and authorities will sooner apply massive patches to mend the decaying fabric than to allow it to disintegrate and weave a new one from stronger textile.
So why intervene, to the point of idiocy, to save the financial system? Some of the measures instituted to date have gone against the grain of logic, and in isolation, couldn’t possibly be deemed rational by a purist, pragmatic bystander. The reason lies within the linkages between systems and their co-dependence.
Think of what typically happens in an economic recession – consumer spending hits a wall, production is curtailed, business investment grinds to a halt, costs cut and employees are made redundant to ensure businesses remain as going concerns. The rate of unemployment spikes, strain on the welfare system increases and government budgets go into deficit.
That’s the very basic anatomy of a recession. Economically, the consequences of a recession are undoubtedly ominous. But they are not the critical issue. Over long periods, the economy, being a cyclical beast, self-corrects as imbalances are resolved. The real problem of a severe recession such as that which faces much of the world today is the domino effect it has on the social system.
Unemployment is a statistic that measures the state of the labour market, and is a principal indicator of the health of an economy. When unemployment spikes upward, in simple terms, it means people are losing their jobs. Automatically, we recognise the impact this has on material wellbeing – it is obvious. What we don’t correctly quantify is the psychological impact of unemployment.
In a severe recession, the sharp rise in unemployment creates ‘mass demoralisation.’ As previously discussed, modern social systems rely heavily on specialisation and role being a fundamental element of identity. Picture yourself as someone who derives validation from your job and career; and suddenly finding you’ve had the rug swept from beneath you. You are no longer a programmer or accountant. You are unemployed, and by virtue of the economic climate, unemployable. What goes through your mind?
Demoralisation occurs as a result of one of the major arteries feeding your identity being severed. The instinctive knowledge that we are not our jobs should afford a degree of protection from psychological break. However, the sheer potency of ‘job = identity’ consciousness I encounter daily is worrisome. I daresay a proportion of the newly redundant interpret it as failure, and the demoralisation is amplified to the extent they have dependents or are supporting a family.
Extreme demoralisation (‘life is too hard’) increases the individual’s apathetic propensity, which can (and often does) lead to crime and suicide. It isn’t difficult to see the inherent linkage – in a world that defines itself by the self, social and material esteems that flow from role and employment, shocks to the economic system will inevitably ricochet. When a powerful enough sustained shock hits the superstructure, the risk of deterioration in the integrity of complementary critical systems (legal, political) increases exponentially – a precursor to war.
Socialisation provides the means necessary to mobilise countries into war. Without something pushing collective consciousness, you can’t have a war. Political wars are motivated by ideological notions infused into a large collective consciousness, either forcibly or by choice.
When a war can be instigated by the idea one group is superior to others on an arbitrary characteristic, then it is obvious the tenets supporting the social superstructure are largely unintelligent. Let’s look at work as a conceptual example. Work is a crucial component of the social system; it defines roles, facilitates status/wealth accumulation, has spawned all manner of conventions, and is the domain of hierarchy.
Relating these aspects, there are only two reasons why people work. One is money, the other is validation. There is absolutely no rational basis for physical or mental exertion in the absence of these two motivators. Take money out of the equation, and irrespective of how much someone ‘loves’ their job, they will only continue to work if their identity is anchored to their occupation. Sever the chain from the anchor and the boat will drift.
A substantive premise underpinning the modern social order is the fundamental relationship between exertion and reward. We take for granted the supposition that if we do something well, our effort will be duly rewarded. This association is absolutely fallacious.
Given a situation involving direct work where there is a fixed correspondence between input and output, and no exogenous moderators, the association will hold.
Say my ‘job’ involved carrying buckets of water between the village well and a farm. Walking at a normal pace, let’s say I can move 100 litres per hour. However, if I increase my walk speed by 20%, I will transport those same hundred litres in 48 minutes, or alternatively, move 120 litres per hour. This is a 1:1 correspondence between input and output.
Exertion in most professional occupations is rewarded on basis of time (i.e. perceived exertion), in preference to output (the measurable product of exertion). Back to our example, there is no incentive to walk faster if I am paid $20 for each hour I move buckets of water. All I have to do is maintain an acceptable average output (in this case, 100 litres per hour). However, if I was paid $20 for each 100 litres of water I moved, then I’d earn $24 an hour (20% more) by walking 20% faster. It is this transparent relationship between exertion and reward that drives efficiency and innovation. Under such an arrangement, I could use a wheelie bin to move 1000 litres in an hour, and get ten times the reward.
But the world is not that simple. In a brief vignette, some months ago, I heard a piece of ‘advice.’ If one worked an extra hour each day, there was, in a matter of speaking, no end to what one could achieve. This got me thinking.
In a contemporary context, the chain of ‘logic’ whose links are longer hours, (equating to) higher exertion, greater devotion and, eventually, increased reward/success (however you want to define the term) is not logical at all.
In the real world, the farmer is more likely to reward the man who has spent sixteen hours a day moving buckets of water for the last ten years for his devotion, than the wheelie-bin pusher for his innovation. Why is this so? It comes back to the age-old battle between employer and employee, and who ‘owns’ efficiency. Today’s corporations annex ownership of their employees’ innovation by convention, under the rationale ‘it’s what we pay you for.’ The system owns your mind.
Too many fail to realise hard work is often inconsequential to the outcome. You could dwell on a problem for weeks, and the answer could hit you unexpectedly while you’re in the shower. In reality, the correlation between projection and return is at best specious and at worst non-existent. There are always factors beyond influence.
Say I worked as a quality controller, and my job was to divide yellow and purple blocks coming off a conveyor belt into two boxes, one for purple, one for yellow. I can only work as fast as the conveyor belt moves. Concentrating harder on the conveyor belt is not going to make me faster or more efficient. But the collective consciousness will have you believe otherwise.
Let’s say we’ve just approached someone who might be partner material. In absence of pleasantries, the first pragmatic question is “Are you single?” The second is almost always “What do you do for a living?” Here we see the insidiousness of roles: those occupational categories with which we label ourselves. Role carries significant weight in the equation of impression. Reasoning backward, impression is important to man because he is a social creature, who has a psychological need for social esteem and validation. Therefore, a role is crucial, we devote much of our lives to pursuing them, and they install themselves as elements of our identity. Advancement within a role becomes the life fixation otherwise known as a career, and from this flows not only our material livelihood, but often our social connections, and most always our pride. Role yields the two prime ranking measures, money and status.
Specialists are impressive, and the attachment to pride stems from our yearning to be master of some proficiency, no matter how small or odd. We live in a world we will never master, nor grasp conceptually. To justify one’s uniqueness, it is necessary to believe there is something specific which differentiates you from everyone else. Specialising and attempting to master a role is a common way this is accomplished.
With respect to functional potency, specialty is the jewel in the crown – sheer architectural brilliance. By ushering agents into specialised roles, we drastically reduce the incidence of generalists with a broad enough perspective to understand whatever system, much less all of them. These ‘roles’ are the architectural beauty of the grand system, for they bestow the illusion of importance upon agents. To be a barrister in the legal system, a banker in the financial system, a teacher in the education system, a minister in the political system, et cetera. We are coerced to anchor our identity in our role, and in doing so, we define and resign ourselves as a component of the system.
We have now established conceptual paradox of freedom with reference to the social system: it gives with the right hand but takes with the left. At liberty to pursue whatever you wish, but bound by the tendrils of the system.
Expanding upon this contradiction, to understand how and why people accept and maintain the social systems that affect them, social psychologists have developed system justification theory. According to system justification theory, people not only want to hold favourable attitudes about themselves (ego-justification) and their own groups (group-justification), but they also want to hold favourable attitudes about the overarching social order (system-justification).
Our self-image and identity are defined by the social system. Hence the social order is accepted and defended because if you do not believe the social order is just and the system correct, then you cannot hold yourself in any social esteem because your identity is premised on that system. “Support the system that supports you.”
Systems do not work. They cannot by definition. They attempt to overlay artificial reason upon an abstract world. The paradox is that they are inescapable – without systems, humanity is reduced to nothing. Systems persist because humanity is too weak to walk without crutches. There can be no reconciliation with human systems when life is understood in true context, as a protracted collision course with death. Systems serve to bring a measure of order to chaos and define meaning where none exists. Their dominance, scale, mystic complexity and ubiquity allow us to feel we are a functional part of something greater, rather than a feeble, briefly animated piece of organic matter.
Speculations on how to resolve the system’s fundamental problems are often best formulated by taking the status quo, and introducing a suitably interesting modifier. Imagine, for instance, that we were to remove all objects of superfluous external projection and differentiation, and invoke standards by which everyone wears the same outfit (let’s make it friar robes), drives the same vehicle, lives in a generic house, whose size is proportionate to number of inhabitants, remove demographic classing between suburbs and otherwise eliminate all observable differentiators. How differently would society function? Could you live in a global monastery where the degree of exhibited difference is zero? What would happen if competition were removed completely? If property rights were eliminated? If intemperance and excess didn’t exist? If all power was decentralised and civilisation re-established itself as small autonomous collectives?
In critiquing systems, I don’t doubt for a moment that man’s boundless desire must be reigned in or somehow controlled, but there are other means to accomplish this end. As a side-effect, modern systems, through the imposition of goals, also have the ability to capture idle time and engage massive quantities of mental capacity that could be put to more enlightened use elsewhere. Power, possession, morality and affiliation are the four fundamental goals through which the four key systems draw power.
My prime apprehension is the validity and the blind acceptance of these goals, both of which systems endorse. Systems promote passive, nonchalant existence and have created a world of mindless zombies who merely exist, flogging dead horses, oblivious to the fact. Whilst we may think we are living with clarity, this logic is both backward and tragic. We are flying blind. ‘Progress’ – where you get to in so many endeavours in life, is hollow and worthless. It really doesn’t make any difference if you flog a dead horse for a minute versus an hour. Illumination, and true freedom of existence comes from realising the horse is actually dead, and finding a live one to flog instead.