Friday, October 3, 2014

Thinking Effectively About Culture

I've really struggled to talk to a lot of my friends and family about our culture in an effective way, and that's made it hard to convey why I want to create or be part of something different.  One or just a few conversations are not much time to discuss such rich topics. I needed a lot of quiet time for introspection and reflection before I even began to really change how I felt, and I had to read lots of essays or parts of books repeatedly.

I've also struggled with what kind of writings or interviews to share with interested friends - most people have limits on how many deeply held beliefs they're willing to challenge at one time, and I'm just happy when that limit is above 0.

One author I've followed, Ian Welsh, has written a lot on culture and power, including how power is manifested in finance, war, propaganda, and so on. He just collected several short essays together that summarize pretty well what I believe, so I'm sharing them here. Of course, there's lots of interesting stuff not covered, but I thought it was worth sharing. If you read them, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts whether you agree or not (especially if not). A few other resources are at the bottom.

I will be starting a new series on technology and its effect on society.  Before I do so I want to take readers through some of my previous writing on ideology and character, and how they help form the societies we live in.  Taking the time to read these articles (a short book’s worth), should vastly improve your understanding of the world and the articles to come.  It should be worth your time even if you read the articles when they were published, as at the time they lacked both context and commentary, and were not collated to be read together so that the connections were obvious.
Baseline Predictions for the Next 60 Years

While not an article about ideology, this is an article about where our current ideology and character are going to take us: to the brink of disaster and possibly beyond, while continuing to impoverish and disempower larger and larger segments of the human race.  This might be a slightly optimistic piece: there’s some reason to believe our actions in the world’s oceans could destroy the oxygen cycle, and if so, events will be much, much worse.
What an Ideology Is, and Why We Need a New One
Too many people think ideologies are some airy-fairy nonsense and that they are pragmatic men and women operating on common sense and facts.  Such people are amongst the greatest of all fools: our entire society is based on interlocking ideologies; the primary of which are neo-liberalism, capitalism, human rights and socialism.  It is not obvious, nor was it obvious to most societies that have ever existed, for example, that food should be distributed based on money; nor that ideas could be property.  How we organize things; our particular ideas about markets, their role and who should lead us, are ideological.  If we want to change society, we need to be able to control markets so they aren’t producing a world that makes us sick, unhappy, and, in increasing numbers, dead.
How to Create a Viable Ideology
We may look at current trends and realize that if we don’t reverse them, and reverse them fast, billions will suffer or die; but creating an ideology which can reverse them requires us to understand what makes an ideology viable and powerful.  An ideology which does not create believers willing to die; and to kill, on its behalf, will lose to those that do.  An ideology which cannot prevent people from selling out; from betraying, will definitely lose in the current world, where there is so much money available at the top to simply buy out (for billions) those who create something new, so that something new can be turned into nothing but a monetization scheme.
Our Theory of Human Nature Predicts Our Policies
The ideas of an ideology determine how our society is run, and of those ideas, none is more important than what we think human nature is.
A Theory of Human Nature Suited to Prosperity and Freedom
If we are trying to create a prosperous, free world, our policies must be based in a theory of human nature that is both true enough and which leads to policies which create widespread affluence and human freedom.
Character Is Destiny
Ideology and character are intertwined.  Character determines what we do and what we don’t do, and how we do it.  The character of large numbers of people determines the destinies of nations and of the world itself.  If we want to make the world better (or worse), we must change our own character.  Those who fail to understand how character arises will never change the world except accidentally.
How Everyday Life Creates Our Character
and, as noted, our destiny.  I always laugh at radicals who want more schooling, because schooling is where people learn to sit down, shut up, give the approved answers and do what they’re told.  Working life, as an adult, continues this process of learned powerlessness and acquiescence and even in our consumptive and political lives we continue the trend: choosing from choices offered to us, rather than producing what we actually need.
How Everyday Life Creates Sociopathic Corporate Leaders
Those who lead our corporations control most of our lives, even more than the government, because they set the terms by which we live, die, and can afford the good things in life. Our daily life is prescribed by them, from how we work to what we eat, to what we entertain ourselves with.  We need, therefore, to understand the character traits our leaders are chosen for, and how that choosing works.  If we can’t learn to create and choose better leaders, we will never have a better world.
The Difference Between Ethics and Morals
If we want an ideology that tells us how to create a better world, and people with the character to create that world, we must understand what sort of people they should be.  Key to doing this is the understanding of how they treat other people: the people they know, and more importantly, the people they don’t.
The Fundamental Feedback Loop for a Better World
The shortest article on this list, this is also one of the most important and speaks directly to how money directs behaviour and to matters of choosing our leaders.
Living in a Rich Society
It’s been so long since parts of the West were truly prosperous that people forget what it’s like, and forget that it creates a different type of person than a scarcity society.
Late 19th and Early 20th Century Intellectual Roots
Lived experience creates character, character feeds into ideology. It’s worth looking at how various themes of the Victorian era were created by those who lived through that time and the time that came before.
What Confucius Teaches Those Who Want a Better World
Amongst those who have created powerful ideologies Confucius is in the first rank, Confucianism having been the most important ideology of the most populous and advanced region of the world for most of the last two thousand or more years.  Confucius was very aware of what he was trying to do, had a theory of human nature, and a theory of character and we would be fools not to learn from him.
A few other writings I've enjoyed recently:
  • A Tale Rewritten: An essay by John Michael Greer where he rewrites Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as if Frodo had turned down the journey to destroy the ring, as an analogy for our society's collective failure to deal with the systemic challenges to our way of life. Pretty incisive.
  • Sex at Dawn: A book describing how sex is treated very differently in many other cultures around the world and in the distant past; Specifically: it's not just about pleasure or procreation, but also about creating large numbers of intense social bonds. It demonstrates that polyamory is actually the most natural human condition, and that this is really effective in rearing emotionally healthy children when you have group or community child rearing. It's also effective in group decision making, as people tend to look after the group rather than themselves when they have so many and such deep emotional/sexual ties with others. There are so many upsides to changing how we think of marriage and child rearing - the book and conversations with new friends from Earthaven have really changed how I think about the kind of family I want to have, how I want to relate to my lover, and much more.
I included Sex at Dawn in the list because I think it's important to show what alternatives to our culture could look like - we're not just stuck trying to make small changes to the culture we have; if we rethink enough, we can live much more happily, healthfully, and securely - secure from violence, hunger, loneliness, 'lesser of two evils' thinking, and more. Be wary: a friend of mine gave the book to a married couple, and one partner loved it and the other felt very threatened. It challenges a lot of ideas at once. If you're the sort of person who finds this exhilarating, I definitely recommend the book!

There's more to what I'm working to understand than just this cultural change: it's also important that we learn to relate to the natural environment, to the things we physically depend on for our way of life, in a healthier way. But this 'healthy culture' thread is a major component, so I hope you find these essays worth your time.