The year it all linked up18 December 2015:
"Only connect." When EM Forster urged us to "live in fragments no longer" it was a hope for the future, not a curse.
But it is not a bad epitaph for a year when globalisation bit back and the biggest news stories tumbled into each other, growing like a malign crystal.
Migration and terror. Borders and bombs........
..............EM Forster's creed is a wise one if the politicians and their policies are connected, but for now it is only the problems that seem joined up.<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35113676>
Davos: Chief executives ‘more pessimistic’ about growth19 January 2016:
"There's no question that business leaders' confidence in both the global economy and their own company growth prospects has taken a knock," said Dennis Nally, global chairman of PwC.
"No matter what the business size, the threats it faces are becoming more complex, crossing the borders of geopolitical, regulation, cyber security, societal developments, people and reputation," he said.<http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35357506>
So What's the Problem?Is it our culture, our language, our logic, our belief systems, our greed, our stupidity?
Is it an external conspiracy by Socialists, Capitalists, Bankers, Politicians, Generals, the Public, the Elite -or some other unknown evil force?
Is it all of the above, none of the above -or is it something else?
How (where) can we find it?
Industrialization?Much of modern life and infrastructure is the result of the industrialization process. No longer do families work as a single integrated self-employed economic unit as part of their living condition. Instead, work has become separated from living and individuals usually have jobs outside the family unit (or are being educated to take their place in the system)
Industrialization has also ultimately encouraged the migration away from rural areas into towns -and thus helped undermine multiple (Aristocratic) "land-based" economies in favour of a single (Bourgeois) "money-based" economy.
However, The industrialization process has not developed uniformly. Local conditions have had a great influence on it.
The energy source has also provided important influences:
Early (British) industrialization on the basis of waterwheels (and wooden constructions) initially meant a shift to remote rural areas where hydro-power was available. The need to create factories in virgin areas lead to a Paternalistic phase where workers were relatively well treated after repatriation to rural areas.
The rise of steam (coal and iron) lead to a move back into areas where there was space to build factories and raw materials (including coal) and manufactured goods could easily be transported in and out.
Apparently came out of a "rebound" in the colonization process -when Indian textiles became a serious competitor for British textiles.
As a result, The British Industrial Revolution seems largely based around the textile industry -plus the machinery, communication and transport systems required by it.
The existence of trained hand weavers and other artisans meant, in some cases, poverty through the loss of employment for artisans -forcing almost everybody without independent means into the horrible working conditions prevalent in the factories.
The resulting social reaction lead to the rise of Unionism and Socialism -as workers banded together to oppose the economic might of the factory owners.
Although apparently not realised at the time (or even later) the redistribution of income brought about by socialist ideals was possibly essential to avoid the social paradox of low wages for workers while high levels of income are generally required for the customers. Naturally, the cheapness of industrial production helps to alleviate this problem -but ultimately mass production relies on mass consumption.
Cleverly described in Alistair Cooke's America industrialization took on a different form in the US.
A tradition of Revolution against the British, Hunting and Trapping -and Homesteading in hostile environment (where the genocide of the natives was not yet complete) made the gun an important tool for survival.
In 1794 Eli Whitney, at the age of 27, invented the cotton gin -a machine for separating cotton from its seeds -but this did not bring him economic success.
However, his development of interchangeable gun parts ( around 1801) allowed relatively unskilled workers to produce large numbers of weapons quickly and at lower cost -as well as making repair and replacement of parts infinitely easier. So, while industrialization in the US did not bring poverty as in Britain -it did undermine the value of skilled artisans -who were (luckily for the US) anyhow, not in large supply at the time.
Weapons, agricultural machinery and the necessary communications and transport systems seem to be the main focus of American industrialization (including of course the iron and steel works required for construction of these things).
The relative emptiness of an ethnically cleansed sub-continent meant that not only was industrialization essential for developing agriculture -the lack of skilled artisans also prevented the rise of the social problems caused by industrialization in Britain.
The size of the American internal market -plus the rising wealth of its limited supply of workers -would also initially reduce (for a while) the problems of the need to continually expand mass markets to consume the rising flood of goods.
British Socialism would not be an essential part of the system in the US.
Market Imperialism?The US?
I'm tempted to say the complex problems we face today have something to do with the rise of global consumerism -as a result of the rising flood of manufactured goods. This seems to have really got off the ground on a national level in the US (together with the Prohibition and the Mafia) in the 1920's.
Certainly, it would seem that the affluent 1920's lead to the 1930's Depression -from which the US economy only really recovered as a result of WWII.
WWII appears to have created the conditions for the growth of American power -based on a mythology of "Democratic Freedom" as an ideological and economic system -while actually relying on conflict for the practical, economic process of expanding markets: Fighting global Communism, Fighting Drugs, Fighting Terrorism, etc., etc.....
After WWII, the American (national) consumerist revolution went global (providing both the tools and the need for hegemony).
The destruction and regeneration of the defeated nations (in the image of America) after WWII has clearly paid off -both politically and economically. Unfortunately, it also seems to have lead to an addition to the profits of conflict.
With the end of Prohibition -the Mafia also had to "legitimize" itself. The impact of organized crime on organized business is (by its nature) difficult to estimate.
Before the rise of the US in WWII, the British were the major global super-power
That success was largely built on the stability that came through exploitation of conflict in other countries. A home war is devastating -but an overseas war can only mean profit. A lesson that the US seems to have learned well.
The rise of the modern state seems to be also woven into the fabric of conflict:
Financing wars, raising taxes, centralizing and improving the bureaucratic system (for taxation), the "democratic" control of spending, increased generation of wealth (increased taxation), provision of education (skilled labour for competitive tasks), etc...
Colonialism?The loss of the overland trading routes between East and West lead to a search for sea routes -and the discovery of a global world -rather than a flat disck from which one can fall if one travels too far.
The discovery of a global world, apparently caused confusion as to which is east and which is west. "India" was discovered in "America" by Columbus -and the world has never quite recovered since.
The mutual interactions between the exploring seafarers and the indigenous people does not seem to have been beneficial to the indigenous populations. Interference in domestic disputes -as a tool for gaining western allies -and the apparent feelings of superiority by the marauding invaders with their more advanced weapons of war -lead to a system of colonial conquest and exploitation taking over from a tradition of relatively peaceful trading between equals over the land routes.
The need to fund long distance exploration (and make a profit) speeded up the rise of banking and credit -and the development of sophisticated economic tools such as insurance, trading in debt and futures and the rise of large scale companies to spread the investment over more people.
The colonization process seems to have also blurred the distinction between "war" and "trade" -such that each became part of the other -rather than trade being a substitute for war.
If the colonization of much of the world by the western powers has had a powerful impact upon the rest of the world -it has also had a powerful (and perhaps not always positive) effect on the western powers themselves.
The colonization of America by British commercial enterprises presumably contributed greatly to the varied nature of the American colonies.
It was this variety in the character of the assorted colonies that made a federate state the only possible way to forge some form of unity between the various colonies when they became states.
However important the question of slavery may appear -the American Civil war was essentially a question of state rights -which culminated in the victory of the urban north over the rural south. The 1920's consolidated this victory economically -but on a political level, the fundamental underlying questions are a continuing source of a bitter conflict between Democrats and Republicans until this day.
Perhaps too, the memory of the original colonies has persisted (in modified form, as a result of the colonization process elsewhere) to manifest itself in modern global (commercial) corporations -which are in many ways as powerful (or perhaps even more powerful) than the nation states that once spawned them.
So, in America we have the commercial corporation (initially) acting as a governmental system -and later spawning self-governing (neo-colonial) commercial enterprises answerable only to their shareholders.
In India, it seems the abuses of the commercial trading companies fueled the colonization process -in an attempt to limit these abuses through control by the British government.
Once the Government takes over, the administrative system and its funding through taxation -it would have a natural tendency to behave like a commercial system: With a (ruling) bureaucratic system organizing the funding which would be backed up by military might, also funded through taxation. A perfect, self-perpetuating system.
The Romans, The Greeks, The Persians, The Mongols?
Obviously, its a very old problem
The Nation State:A basically, a feudal system run like a public owned company -while retaining much of the original feudal values in its (unconscious) basic aims.
Now possibly being supplanted by globalized commercial corporations (also publicly owned?)
The Problem?In one (literal) sense, the problem is the complexity of Civilisation (living in Cities):
In theory (at least) a true Democracy is only possible when all the participants are equal, similar and independent. Then they are free to make decisions that are equally well informed, non-partisan -and (perhaps within a small community) for the common good.The Civis:
This is possible only within a society based on a land ownership and (non-monitory) homesteading -with economic equality.
Rural non-monitory independence (based on self-production of essential goods) can be structurally Anarchic (bottom up organization)
Because of economic independence -a powerful money based economy (of trade and exchange) cannot develop.
City living cannot permit economic independence: Intensive land use apparently prohibits agriculture on even subsistence levels.
The city (or town) demands an economic inter-dependance which needs to be money based for practical reasons (difficulties of storing and exchanging goods directly).
The inter-dependance undermines the independence required to make free choices. Conflicts of personal interests are difficult to avoid -because economic inter-dependance requires specialization in supplying the needs of others. Only through specialization does one generate the differentiation (the haves this -the haves that -and the haves not) that force economic exchange.
The more integrated the world becomes through global media, the more difficult it probably becomes for people (even those living in rural areas) to appreciate the fundamental differences between town and country.
Perhaps the two main (related) differences being:
Time: The natural rhythms of daylight and seasons in the country -as opposed to the artificial rhythms of the town.
The Physical nature of life in the country -as opposed to the intellectual nature of life in a city (Mind/Body Split)
Are cities the new countries?
"When we talk about countries, it's often about what separates us, language and culture. But when you talk about cities, we face very similar challenges."
They are the upsides and downsides of immense concentrations of people living in a small space, often two sides of the same coin.
Complexity and Paradox:
The diversity inherent within cities (and essential to economic exchange) leads to conflicts of interest that if unchecked will undermine the unity of the City and destroy it from within.Romantic and Classic:
Anarchy would seem to be impossible within a "civilized" city.
The greater the potential for conflict through contrasting self-interests -the greater the need for restraint, respect for others and for well organized institutions that can structure and control the conflicts productively for the common good.
This adds an extra (governmental) level to the existing complexity -and of course, another layer of self-interest (the interests of the governing bodies).
Unfortunately, the greater the need for an organizing meta-system -the greater is the risk of the organizational system abusing its power.
An unresolved cultural conflict between:
- (Barbarian) Romantic Individualism (based on intuition and personal freedom)
- (Civilized) Classical Control and Restraint (based on rules and higher ideals of organization)
The Great Paradox:The Nation State has inherited the barbaric tradition of the struggle for power (both within and between states). This is the basis for geopolitical theory and practice.
However, both the means and the spoils of power in the Nation State are rooted in the wealth generated through complex economic interactions (within and between states) that can easily be destroyed by armed conflict.
A (possibly genetically related) social group acting as an independent socio-economic or cultural entity.
Group identities may well be valuable tools for survival in a hostile world. However, they have little place in a socio-economic system based on the commercial exploitation of individual needs and fears.
The British Class System may have functioned effectively earlier -but has little value (other than providing quaint lifestyle choices) in the context of monolithic global bourgeois economic culture.
Despite the fact that modern corporations are in themselves a form of tribalism -the general association of tribes with pre-colonial ignorance makes tribalism unpopular as a potential substitute for the nation state.
The idea of "The Great Illusion" (peace through trade) seems to break down through inter-tribal rivalries.Success is Disaster:
The war is then no longer between individual Nation States -but between tribal "power-blocks -with the conflicts becoming constant wars of attrition -nibbling away at either weak or uncommitted states in order to incorporate them into ones own tribe.
It is a law of physics that "Every action leads to a Reaction". Novelists and playwrights have known this since the dawn of history -but socially and culturally it seems to have been forgotten.External:
Every social, economic or even technical change leads to other changes in various parts of a complex, interconnected, system. In turn, each of these changes cause ripples which spread through the system in various ways. Sometimes these ripples cancel each other out -while other may reinforce each other to resonate disastrously within the system.
In such a way, a system can destroy itself from within, simply by developing its own destructive forces naturally as part of its daily existence.
In practice, the treatment of effluence is as important as the processing of nutrients: Indeed, if the system is complex enough -what is waste product for one part of the system is raw material for another part. But equilibrium must be maintained.
Presumably, as long as the systems within each tribe are not destroyed by an internally created disaster, inter-tribal rivalries can continue indefinitely (unless, of course, this system of rivalries constitutes its own system of destructive internal paradoxes).
Final Notes:Mea Culpa:
This is not a "Conspiracy Theory" that blames certain groups for consciously undermining world peace and human happiness.
It is a theory which blames abstract "forces" of which we ourselves are part of.
These notes are an attempt to define the "problem" -the "solution" may be more difficult, or even impossible....
To a certain extent, the "problem" lies in"
- Human nature (our desires and fears),
- Our paradoxical social origination (a confused mixture of individualism and collectivism)
- Our poor conceptual models and our apparent inability to understand complex dynamic interactions
Culture and Logic:
The (binary) logic of the "Law of Excluded Middle" (something is either true or false -but never both) makes it very difficult for western culture to deal with paradox and the integration of opposites.Abstraction and Distraction:
If oppositions cannot be resolved -then a conflict must inevitably force one side to triumph over the other.
In other cultures, opposites do not lead to irreconcilable conflicts -but are merely the two sides of the same coin. Only under these systems of logic is it possible to see opposition not in terms of conflict but in terms of balance and harmony: "Aesthetics" -perhaps congruent with the original Classical Greek concept -which we may have tragically misunderstood.
Problem analysis and solution is a tricky business. One can never be sure if ones basic assumptions are correct. There are often many false starts and red herrings that need to be circumscribed or carefully worked through. This takes time and energy and can be very frustrating.Education:
Abstraction can be useful -but it can also be misleading -sometimes one can get so lost in the higher reaches of abstractions that ones thinking no longer has any relationship with the real world one is trying to understand.
Distraction is a popular tool of for those who practice the magic art of manipulating people. Whenever the magician moves their right hand, one should look carefully at their left hand.
Propaganda is a dangerous distraction because it can take a long time to discover where exactly the truth lies -and sometimes this may not even be relevant any more: The whole controversy may be a red herring.
Games (simulations) can be a useful way of exploring the nature of the world around us, without experiencing the full threat of its dangers. But, being abstractions we can get lost by giving the game more importance than that which it simulates.
The Two Culture Problem:
The cultural divide between Arts and Sciences signaled by C.P. Snow (and Leon Bagrit) may appear to have been bridged if one looks superficially at the use of computers within the arts and humanities.
However, on the level of a real dialogue between the two as considered essential by Bagrit, I believe the division is even greater than ever before.
The real problems of education are going to center on the need to develop people capable of living the fullest possible lives in an age of plenty. We shall have to produce men and women who are able to understand the significance of the past, who are in the stream of current ideas and can make use of them, and who have the quality of imagination that is capable of foreseeing and welcoming the future.........
......I suggest we shall find it impossible to consider anybody as adequately educated if he or she does not understand at least some science. neither shall we be able to recognize as an educated man, a technician or a scientist, however distinguished, who has failed to develop a substantial interest in the humanities and the arts, or who shows no evidence of being aware of the significance of society and his part in it. We ought, in other words, to be making a determined effort to produce better balanced people.......
"The Age of Automation" (Leon Bagrit's 1964 BBC Reith Lectures)
It is my personal experience (as an artist/programmer) that the above "Two Culture Problem" and the commercialization of the education system -has lead to a disastrous approach to automation which is the direct opposite to that considered essential by Bagrit if the dangers of automation were not to surpass its advantages.
.............I could attempt an explanation, if not a definition, by saying that it is a concept through which a machine system is caused to operate with maximum efficiency by means of adequate measurement, observation and control of its behaviour. It involves a detailed and continuous knowledge of the functioning of the system, so that the best corrective actions can be applied immediately they become necessary.In practice, the division between "letters" and "numbers" -and the apparent desire of commercial companies to exploit an ignorant public -has lead to the the above "three 'Cs'" being virtually absent from the general education -which has focused largely on how to use the machine as a passive consumer and not as an active programmer.
Automation in this true sense is brought to full fruition only through exploration of its three major elements, communication, computation, and control -the three 'Cs'. I believe there is a great need to make sure that some, at any rate, of the implications to our society of the three 'Cs' in combination are recognized and understood. That is the purpose of these lectures.........
"The Age of Automation" (Leon Bagrit's 1964 BBC Reith Lectures)
I believe the cultural implications of this cannot be understood -because the men of letters do not wish to consider them and risk changing the status quo.
As a result, any social understanding of the role of formal systems in both art and society has been virtually removed from our consciousness -such that we are are (as global consumers) incapable of evaluating populist claims and global propaganda: Resulting in the social disasters predicted by Bagrit.
These dangerous and difficult times will occur much more frequently in the future and this during a period when the complexity of science and technology is growing in an unprecedented fashion. In these circumstances a wrong decision could have far reaching and dangerous consequences........
"The Age of Automation" (Leon Bagrit's 1964 BBC Reith Lectures)
One disastrous effect of the commercialization of the education system is the pressure put upon academics to perform.
The pressures of the academic career structure and the way it is funded:
-Does not leave time for reflectionThe tautology of the funding, education and research programme can lead to a system with an apparently logical internal structure -which may be totally irrelevant to the real-world outside the tautology.
-Does not allow a researcher to be sidetracked into potentially rewarding but not directly relevant areas
-Perhaps worst of all, excludes non-academics from the academic dialogue.
-------------------------------------------------------------------Do not confuse the Moon with the Finger that points at the Moon!