Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | November 9, 2014

Fine Pickles

Why am I so apologetic about the fact that I’m helping solve the world’s problems? Why don’t more people believe that they can actually help solve them? Why don’t more people act in full knowledge that they are doing exactly that? Are these qualms and this disbelief based on rational, realistic thinking, or do they stem from exactly the opposite?

Thinking it through reveals an interesting dilemma.

(What follows assumes that we believe that the world has problems. Some believe that the problems are illusionary. If so, they need to explain why the illusion itself is not a problem or admit that it’s a huge problem. Very few of them believe that the illusion itself isn’t a problem, i.e., that it’s OK to be under the illusion that problems exist even though they don’t. Those few live in a very different world than I do. This piece is not addressed to them.)

The dilemma becomes clear by thinking retrospectively. When all is said and done, at the “end of the world,” whatever that might be, any intelligent, well-informed person looking back from the very last moment when anyone can look back will see that either the world’s problems were solved or they weren’t.

(It doesn’t matter how you qualify that as long as you qualify even-handedly. At whatever level to whatever degree in whatever arena given whatever definition of “world’s problems” and “solved” you choose, at that final point, either it happened or it didn’t.)

If the world’s problems were solved, then:

  1. People, somewhere — at least one — thought of solutions. Even if solutions presented themselves “accidentally”, people recognized them as solutions.
  2. Given that they fixed the problems of the world, they were pretty smart solutions.
  3. Given that they were smart solutions, they were smart people to think of them or recognize them.
  4. Given that they were smart people, they knew (most likely) that these solutions would fix the problems of the world even before they actually fixed the problems of the world.
  5. Given that smart people knew that their solutions would fix the problems of the world, they were not only justified to say so, when they did say so the likelihood that they were right was high. And, since their solutions did in fact fix the problems of the world, they were in fact right.

On the other hand, if the world’s problems were never solved, then it doesn’t matter much what smart or stupid people did or didn’t do. Best case scenario: “at least they didn’t make it worse.”

Now, think how societies invariably treat anyone who claims to have solved a major problem, let alone the problems of the world. Recall your history. What kind of general reception did any and every society give its shakers and movers — I do not mean its sanctioned, endorsed “shining stars” here — who proposed serious change that promised to significantly affect that society? Default societal disbelief and ensuing resistance has been strong and consistent for as long as the historical record shows. Beyond a narrow comfort zone that clings to a core status quo, societies always view important solutions as potential threats.

(Again, it doesn’t matter how you qualify that. Nor does it matter what you construe “society” to mean. What I’m saying holds from small groups to international conglomerates — any cohesion of people that self-identifies as a cohesion forms a “society” for my purposes here. “Society” refers to any of them, all of them discretely, or all of them together. I’m giving criticism a huge target here. Fire away.)

There are two possible explanations for society’s staunch resistance-cum-opposition to anyone who claims to have solutions to the world’s problems.

  1. The world’s problems cannot be solved, so everyone who thinks of “solutions” is mistaken, deluded, or lying. So, society is right to refuse to believe anyone claiming to have solutions.
  2. The world’s problems can be solved, so society is mistaken, deluded, or lying when it resists or rejects solutions before it’s even tried them. So, society is wrong to refuse to believe anyone claiming to have solutions.

Either way, right or wrong, society refuses to believe anyone claiming to have solutions. Always and until further resistance is untenable or becomes the lesser of evils. Whenever a society finally did accept a solution, it was only after considerable effort that overcame this resistance, or else enough time passed that resistance died — usually because the resisters died. Or both. Many solutions were in fact rejected for centuries until resistance finally failed. We can safely assume that many more solutions were never accepted because they simply succumbed to overwhelming skepticism.

If the world’s problems cannot be solved, then mistaken, deluded, or false solutions are moot. They will fail if we try them, and trying them is the quickest, surest way to prove that they are mistaken, deluded, or false. Society refuses to try, preferring instead to argue about them hypothetically, which in practice means interminably. Witness thousands of years of gyrations and conflicts in politics, religion, and philosophy, the fields that should have produced solutions to the world’s problems long ago. The one human pursuit that actually does try hypotheses instead of gumming them to death is science. But in our unfathomable idiocy posing as wisdom, we construed science to focus primarily on physical concerns, claiming that human aspects of serious problems are too complex and subjective to address scientifically. Hogwash. But I digress.

If the world’s problems can be solved, then society’s error, delusion, or lies to the contrary are likewise moot. They will fail. Trying the solutions is the quickest way to prove that society is mistaken, deluded, or false. Society refuses to try, preferring instead to argue about solutions hypothetically, which in practice means interminably.

Of course, mistaken, deluded, or false solutions might not be moot in terms of expense and risk. Trying them could be costly and might make matters worse, not better. By the same token, though, the benefits realized by trying them might prove well worth the costs, making matters better, not worse. Being an argument before the fact, which means an argument from relative ignorance, either conclusion is just as likely. It’s a wash, but society invariably pretends that it’s not, that costs and risks outweigh the prospect of benefits and rewards as a foregone conclusion. Poppycock.

Do you see a pervasive theme here?

This puts society in quite a pickle, actually. If it rightly refuses to believe anyone claiming to have solutions, since the problems of the world will never be solved, then the best it can ever offer is slow, marginal improvements over long periods of time that will finally fall short of solving much if anything. And in fact, as we all can see, that is exactly what society has delivered so far. So then, society is clearly not smart enough to think of solutions to the world’s problems, it rightly says so, and its perennial failure to solve them attests to this.

If we hope that there might actually be solutions to the world’s problems, why would we choose to listen to a society that resists any attempt to solve them, tells us that they will likely not be solved — “not in our lifetimes” is one of my favorites — and offers only a feeble consolation prize of marginally better after a long time, when instead we could listen to smart people who claim to have smart solutions? By any measure, society resembles an admitted loser. Sure, just because someone calls himself a “winner” doesn’t make him a winner. But the chances of finding winners among those who claim to be winners is probably far greater than self-confessed loser societies turning out to be winners in spite of themselves. Wouldn’t we be more likely to find smart solutions by listening to smart people who claim to have them than by listening to societies that claim there are none?

On the other hand, if society is wrong and the problems of the world will eventually be solved by smart solutions devised by smart people who managed to overcome the inevitable resistance that society will indubitably mount against them, why the fuck would we listen to society?

So then, whether society is right or wrong about solutions to the problems of the world, it’s very difficult to see why we’d listen to it and accept its overweening, skeptical, anti-progressive resistance to solving the world’s problems. If I were society, I’d see that as a terrible dilemma and figure out how to get my constituents to listen to me, even though if they’re smart they won’t. As someone who wants society to change, I see the dilemma as an incredible vulnerability in society’s chronically anti-progressive, resistant stance. An interesting dilemma.

No matter which way you turn, society does the same thing: resist change. That can’t be an accident, and it cannot be rational. It’s a bent, a bias, a predisposition, a proclivity, an obsession, anything but a sound position achieved by reason based on evidence. That’s the kind of societies we have, ones that in their fiber eschew reason and evidence — distrust-consumed, dehumanizing, authoritarian ones.

This is not new to any of us. We already know this, unless we’ve had no experience instigating significant change in groups of people, on any scale you choose from teams to organizations to communities to states and multinationals, in any field or social sector. Change agents meet resistance, even from others who claim the same ideals, principles, and goals, simply because real change threatens the precarious balance that many regard as tolerable or “good enough.” “Good enough” is always a foe of “better”.

What might be new, though, is the recognition that, essentially and truly, society does not want anything to change significantly.

Don’t listen to the propaganda. Watch what happens. Watch what is done. Watch what is prevented and precluded before it even gets a chance. Watch what actually results. You know what the real intentions are because, adjusted for interference, the pattern of actual outcomes reflect intentions accurately. It doesn’t matter what people say they meant. That works for accidents and anomalies. Over the long run, having accounted for constraints and interference and exceptional factors, what happens is what we wanted to happen.

This is especially true for the rich, whose constraints and interference are minimal. Just one example. Poverty remains because we don’t want to eradicate it — no other reason. Period. Just three months of income from the richest 100 people on Earth would end global poverty, according to a recent Oxfam report. Can you even call that “belt-tightening”? Punishment just too cruel and unusual for the worst 100 lunatics on Earth to manage? No. They don’t want to. And we don’t want to make them. Poverty continues because we want it to. Period.

This poses another interesting dilemma: trying to change the apparently unchangeable. It’s material for a whole other article, but I’ll say this much.

There are ways to do this, and we already know them. In fact, we’re already smart enough. We’ve already figured out the solutions and we already have the power to implement them. We just haven’t realized it yet — especially not collectively. A big reason why we’re still clueless is that we were trained to avoid realizing it. Just like domestic abusers condition family members to distrust themselves and each other, precluding coherence that could stand up to their oppression, we were similarly conditioned by our authoritarian socialization. I’m not kidding.

The solutions lie on the other side of a wall that sequesters us and prevents us from finding them, one that we were warned against breaching. The name of the wall is Taboo.

When we’re fed up enough to defy taboo and abandon concern for it — not just rejecting taboos, but rejecting taboo itself, rejecting that anything is “taboo” — we’ll jump the wall and find solutions popping up like so many dandelions. They’re already there. And then we’ll start dismantling the wall.

Every person who ever emancipated himself came to this seminal revelation. The door to liberation is in our mind, and the taboo is the lock we must break to open it. Taboos aren’t there for our protection, but for our entrapment. Those who stacked them stone on stone to build a wall for our “protection” won’t take them down, and they won’t give us back our freedom. What we say doesn’t matter to them. Knowing that we still listen is all they care about, and the taboo is their gauge. Observe taboo and they’ll give you approval and more, and you’ll remain trapped. Stop listening and just watch how they scramble.

We can’t ask for our freedom back. We don’t even need to “take back” our freedom. It wasn’t taken from us, and we didn’t give it up. We were lied to and we believed it, “manacled” with “shackles” of the mind no more formidable than the Emperor’s new clothes. The pickle of dependence on our exploiters isn’t a pickle at all, but as truly a crock of bullshit as anything ever was. We must renounce the lie, disengage, and resume what we never in fact lost. A great example is Frederick Douglass. Read about his epiphany here.

It’s great outside the taboo wall. When you’re ready, I’ll see you out here. Then we can get to work.

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