Amusing Ourselves to Death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman conveyed a dystopian vision based on how a particular medium for communication powerfully shapes the the kinds of messages that can be delivered through it. He outlined how different mediums have an inherent carrying capacity because they allow only certain kinds of information to pass through them as a conduit. For instance; smoke signals are not equipped to effectively convey mathematics or philosophy. When our culture was far more literate and books were the bread and butter of reason and discourse, he argued we were better equipped to parse fact from fancy, understand with more depths the communication pouring from all corners of the culture and as a consequence, more able to recognize and thereby exert more control over our destiny. The age of enlightenment may have been born on the backbone of the printing press. Neil warned that mediums such as radio and television were potential steps in a trail of tears toward an idiocracy. He suggested if we didn’t tend to the preservation of depth perception in our cultural psyche we would get lost in a breadth of knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep and be unable to form effective visions to deal with population level problems. The hint that we also may be vulnerable and exploited by virtue of a power elite who can move the cultural economy of ideas toward supporting an elitist dystopia by printing ideological currency made of sound bites.
George Orwell’s vision of dystopia in “1984” was predicated largely on the use of technology to control the messaging and thereby the populace, and the use of surveillance and other force as mechanisms to further the social tentacles of compliance. Alternatively, Aldous Huxley’s “Animal Farm” presented a vision of dystopia by virtue of more emphasis on controlling the narrative by crafting a silky membrane of sticky sweet egalitarian ideology that actually propelled an elite class to the top by virtue of words that didn’t equate to deeds. This abstract magic show stratified a hierarchy that produced so-called equals that were more equal than others.
In addition to Postman’s points about the carrying capacity of a medium to negatively affect a cultural capacity to deal effectively with understanding the essential roots of sustainability in the context of complex systems, we also must recognize our current growing preoccupation with the mundane and our obsession with ideological mindsets is also a reflection of the dystopian drivers expressed in these works. Our behavioral climate appears to be steered by people of complex analytical capacity who are also empathetically bankrupt. Evidence for this is in the massive suffering and impoverished disconnection people have from their full potential in the wake of our de facto social policies. Not the ones we speak of claim or promise, but the ones brought to life through behaviors. We currently have the best of all dystopian fundamentals in play on our global social landscape – a dystopian utopia. The machine is driven by masses of useful idiots who serve as batteries that power an elite class of those who flatulate through silk shorts made on the backs of the very people who shore up the system. This global slight of hand seems to be either the crafty intention of backhanded malicious social puppeteers or perhaps the result of our collective ineptitude.
The values we express in mass are steered at least in part by powerful undercurrents of some very thoughtful backstage hands that have global implications. In the U.S. for example there is a Faustian bargain between politics and special interests. This is in direct opposition to the tenants of a representative government ostensibly charged with the task of representing the interests of the whole populace and not the very special interests. These special interests are now an essential part of being propelled into representative office. Republic in the U.S. has become a one word oxymoron. The erosion of sustainable systemic mechanisms that feed more immediate gratifications attracts sociopaths to politics like moths to a camp fire and blooms of corruption spread under a banner that is blithely called democracy. The corruption has now metastasized to craft such blatant systemic pathological duplicities as the military industrial complex which grinds the young to bloody dirt for dollars and exports continual war to fatten the bank accounts of the latest crop of “daddy warbucks”. This misery machinery sails on waves and winds of now endless wars such as the “war on terrorism” and its beta predecessor “the war on drugs” which has spawned a litter of parasitic oppressive daughters like the “prison industrial complex” and organized crime.
Myopic social rudder twirlers like bankers, politicians and big business have also spawned ideas of classic Orwellian doublespeak caliber. Words like tolerance are now often used to forge the greatest of oppressions and discrimination is relegated to a pejorative rather than an admirable capacity to inductively reason based on well established trends and patterns. Thought crushing fanatics form a propagandistic gauntlet that slices at anyone wanting to explore more depth around a taboo topic than the monochrome tip of the ideological spear that is already thrust into the cultural heart of people affords. To dig deeper one must pass through razor sharp ideological teeth before any possibility of gaining additional perspective. If that defensive line is breached it often comes at the expense of the livelihood and reputation of those who dare seek the real truth. This often renders the value of any greater discoveries dead in seminal form which preserves our self-induced poverty as if it were a sacred cultural value – which it just may be.
The cultural play that now emanates outward to the world stage is far more powerfully shaped by shadowy script writers and prop makers than it is by the thick veneer of actors who dutifully legitimize all of these backstage machinations. One might call these string pullers the authors of the real zombie apocalypse because of how successfully they have appropriated the lives of billions in a choreographed dance in service of their own free range prison. A resounding bravo is in order if the goal of the crafters of global relational economics was intended to put Machiavelli to shame with the depths of its real life suffering of so many for the hedonistic depravity of so few.
The predictions, implications and the current realities of Postman, Huxley, and Orwell can be negated if we recognize at a grass roots level that complex systems like our global social climate are emergent entities based on fundamentally simple principles that pervade the relational dynamic of the whole system. We are not as well reasoned as we so often want to think of ourselves. We are emotional creatures with shallow abstract vision driven as easily by the neurotransmitters and hormones pouring out of bacterial infection in our gut as we are by these falsely sacred cultural ideological anchors we tout as our axioms with such foolish certainty.
We are capable of only the simplest of abstract vision that breaks down quite rapidly as soon as the fog of complexity rears more than a few hairs of its head above the murky water line. Consequently, even the most intellectual of us is marginally able to effectively plumb the depths of the inherent fog of systems. The message we need to embrace to change the whole system by necessity must be plain because of our limited faculties. As fortune would have it, the answer is quite plain. We are not human knowings, we are human beings – our experience is driven by the values present in an interdependent global community. What we need is a firm recognition of how our cultural values translate to experience.
Our success depends on everyone realizing their fullest potential and aligning that potential at our shared experience of life. “The community principle” proposed here is not some foreign concept. It is written directly into our biology. Our heart must do something of nourishing value in the context of the community, and it depends on the other organs for the same thing. A correct cultivation of the relational dynamics in cells, organs, individuals in the context of our species, and our species as a whole in relation to all other species operating by this same community principle would render the greatest experience of life within our grasp. Channels of nourishing value must be open and flowing, all organs must get what they need to operate at their potential, not more, not less, and give what they have for the rest of the community to sustain and optimize the whole living process.
When we see through this lens we recognize that real wealth is a give-give proposition and not a give-take or cease-take one. With the community principle lens we then have the vision we need to address real issues at all levels of society.
With a community principle lens, we would no longer tolerate the blossoming violent angst that grows from seeds of apathy in communities throughout the world because we would know that it is ultimately the source of our own poverty. We would recognize that unrealized potential might be the reason there is yet no cure for cancer. We would see the suffering of others as part of our own poverty and have a mindset inclined toward selfish altruism so we live in a safer more nourished world. We would no longer execute business models based on getting the most while giving the least or achieving monopolies to squeeze the most from the populace. Countries would be diplomatically and behaviorally inclined to contribute to the global community.
Is this a utopian ideal? No. Not at all. There is no suggestion that we can control everything, but the degree to which we simultaneously can and don’t is the degree to which we own every bit of dystopian blood that courses through our veins. It has never been any different.