THE CHALLENGES OF CHANGE
By Roland Watson
Now that we understand the preconditions for accomplishing social change, we can move on to consider the different hurdles or challenges that lie in our path. For example, the seeds of many problems have only just been planted. They are germinating now, and may well lead to a much more difficult environment in the future, characterized by even greater ecological destruction and civil conflict.
Also, there is no way to anticipate just how bad it will get, or how much time we have left. What this implies that we must get to work now, while we are still able, before an even greater deterioration, or even a collapse, occurs.
A related issue is that real change will inevitably take decades, and perhaps even centuries. However, it is quite possible that we do not have anywhere near this much time.
There are many different problems, or challenges, related to designing and implementing social solutions. One group of problems, which I will call "general," has to do with issues arising from the human condition.
The first of these challenges is: Are solutions even possible? If humans are in many ways uncontrollable, what is the point in trying to do anything? Why not just let us get on with it, with our selfishness and chauvinism, and see what results?
Besides the fact that this is a defeatist point of view, it is also determinist since it implies that we have no say over our circumstances. But, we do have free will. We can appeal to our reason, through education, and make the right choices, or at least better, more ethical choices, voluntarily.
This, however, is the second hurdle. In a world controlled by form, is real education even possible? Can the formed educate their young to be free? For that matter, can a tiger in a zoo teach its young how to live in the wild? Indeed, for people, even if we can still learn, will our institutions allow it?
As I have described, behavioral form is an addiction. Being determined is easier than using your will to be free. People nowadays are told that they know everything about life, and they want to believe it, so they do. How do you persuade them that they do not, that they actually know very little, and that much of what they think they know is wrong?
An essential question here is: Can we unlearn things? I believe we can, but it takes discipline, time, and a relief from the brainwashing to allow objectivity to develop. But, where do you get that relief? For instance, if you live in the Middle East, the hate is always there. And, if you live in the U.S., so is the TV, and the compulsion to watch it.
The second option, to educate the young, is perhaps more promising. You can use your reason to understand what has happened to you in your life. Then, you can educate your children about your experience. Or, you can encourage them to learn from someone else. Give them to a tiger who is still wild!
Hopefully, they will learn from this. But, of course, they have free will of their own. They could easily discount, or ignore, your attempts at education. For example, in areas with a history of conflict, they might choose to pick up the torch and continue the fight.
In these types of places, how many generations will it take before real education occurs, before people voluntarily change their behavior and choose peace over war? After all, the conflict in the Middle East is already three thousand years old.
A flaw with reason?
This also reflects an issue with reason. My argument for social solutions assumes that people can be educated, and that once educated we will choose rational actions, in other words, actions leading to justice and freedom. But, is this really the case? Many people act like sheep. They may even be genetically programmed to be this way.
They don't want to think, and they appear not to mind being a slave. They are not at all interested in learning about the costs, and the strengths and weaknesses, and probabilities of success, of various social alternatives, much less deciding among them. Their position is: let someone else do it. Let someone else decide.
There have been a number of cases in recent years where people chose, seemingly with their reason, in democratic elections, to give away their freedom of choice to religious autocracies. Their democracies were imperfect, but rather than work to improve them, to make the governments more answerable to the public, they chose instead to give up their say to their religious leaders, over whom they have no real control.
This was a great demonstration of trust, and insofar as trust is driven by reason, their actions were evidence of it. But, it was by no means certain that this reasonable decision would improve their circumstances, that it would lead to more freedom and justice.
On the other hand, an alternative explanation is that these people did not use their reason. They were influenced, formed, by their religious leaders, so their votes were not the product of free will at all. This begs the question: if reason is so ephemeral, so susceptible to the influence of form, can it ever be utilized effectively, or even trusted?
Also, another issue - which I have already mentioned - is that what is viewed as reasonable changes with the times. Slavery was once considered reasonable. Much of what we think is reasonable now may well be viewed differently in the future.
Modern society as a cult
Related to all of this is the issue of scale, of just how great the problems we face really are. For example, I would argue that behavioral form in the modern world has risen to the level of brainwashing. Modern values now constitute a cult, and to which a large portion of the human population belongs.
Cults are strong. They last. And the reason for this is the brainwashing: the physical changes that take place inside the brain to neural networks, and which through social conditioning are repeated from one generation to the next. Moreover, what we have learned from smaller, more typical cults, is that the only real solution is to intervene and deprogram the members, one by one. But, how is this even possible, given the massive population that has signed onto the modern world?
The answer is that those people, and we too are many, who reject modern values, need to act as deprogrammers to help those people who as yet do not. According to Wikipedia, there are five steps in the standard method of cult deprogramming. Everyone who is not a slave of the modern industrial paradigm needs to help those who are. The five steps are:
- The figure of authority - the cult leader - needs to be discredited. For the modern world cult, this includes both institutional leaders and their values.
- This is done by highlighting the contradictions between the ideology and the reality of the situation. We can begin with the ideas that technology is actually making things better; that never-ending economic growth is possible, and that it will lead to an equal and common prosperity; and that we can continue to destroy the natural world without personally suffering the consequences.
- The cult follower then needs to be pushed to the breaking point. When the follower begins to listen to the deprogrammer, this is when reality starts to take precedence over ideology.
- The follower needs to speak out: to engage in self-expression. He or she needs to open up, and voice complaints against the cult.
- Finally, the follower needs to change his or her self-identification. This is when the follower begins to identify with the deprogrammers, and starts to think of him- or herself as an opponent of the cult, rather than a member of it.
Will voluntary action be enough?
Another general problem is whether voluntary action is itself doomed to failure. For instance, the communist revolution of Karl Marx's proletariat, or working class, failed. Ultimately, the "proles," as a group, were not willing or able to act voluntarily, or in unison, and were unable to create and sustain a just social order.
There is a famous quote from Margaret Mead which highlights the common failure of mass action. She said that real change occurs not through mass action, but through the efforts of small groups of individuals who are committed to a cause. Only these people will have the drive to maintain their commitment throughout the entire course of the struggle, and in the face of probable, serious setbacks. Large groups may initially support the cause, but most people will soon tire of the effort, or get discouraged, or distracted.
Of course, you might say that this would make it easier. You only need a small group, not an entire movement. But in fact, all of the challenges of accomplishing a global system change remain in place. It is actually more difficult for a small group to overcome them than for a large population.
Returning to our need to deprogram the modern world cult, do we have sufficient people to voluntarily assist with the process, such that it succeeds?
What's our goal?
A final general problem is: is it even possible to design a just society? Again, some people are by inclination lions, and others sheep. How can you design a society that will stop the lions from preying on the sheep?
Even more, although there are only small differences in our innate ability, there are, and always will be, great differences in the jobs that we hold. Without some equitable system of labor allocation, such as job rotation, this will always lead to resentment and unrest from the people who end up with the menial jobs.
In addition, in concept, a just state, considered in geometric terms, would be a long, low rectangle - or collection of low rectangles. Power would be widely distributed. No one individual or group would be able to accumulate too much.
In practice, though, all of our institutions, beginning with our government, are set up as high pyramids. Power is greatly concentrated, and hence readily subject to abuse. Furthermore, a pyramid, any social organization with a pyramidal structure, is inherently unfair. The people at the base of the pyramid work just as hard as those at the top, if not harder, but enjoy none of the advantages. The rewards that the pyramid generates, such as great income for a corporation, are reserved for and distributed only to a few individuals at the top.
However, and here is another paradox, in modern society, with the competition that exists between and among institutions, power needs to be concentrated. Time and again, history has shown that groups led by committee, or consensus, where many people have to agree before the group can act, are no match for a group - an organization - that has a strong and decisive leader.
This article focused on the general hurdles that we must overcome, if we are to achieve positive social change. In the next, I will discuss some specifics.
© Roland Watson 2014