Oct 20 2016
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Quite the contrary, I believe in self-organization. If you interpret me as a conspiracy theorist, I have failed to communicate my message. In the absence of any evidence, I reject a belief system suggesting that a secret society of few humans have successfully teamed up during an evil plan to gain political control over the rest of mankind. Anything near this is incomprehensible for me.
In our diverse world it is becoming easier to impose non-existing patterns upon the reality. All it takes is to search for pieces of evidence and to put them together creatively to create a pattern that seems very unlikely to be random, although it is. Not that I fully trust science, but this practice is at best the work of art, not even science.
Conspiracy theorists should somewhat quantitatively prove that randomness has not resulted their discovered patterns and that some intelligent design has caused them. In fact most of such claims of conspiracy fail to address how difficult it is for conspirators to predict and control a chaotic system such as the modern human society secretly flawlessly.
So let us relax for a moment and feel blessed that there is no evil conspiracy group ruling us since the 18th century, no one out there wants to poison us by spreading chemtrails, and that September 11 was not an inside job. For a moment let us be all on the other end of the spectrum, albeitmore naive and assume that all of our powerful figures and politicians are ultimately transparent and innocent, and none of their agenda is hidden from us. And if there is sometimes, there will be found a whistle blower somewhere to reveal them and restore our ever-lasting freedom. Does it still mean that evil outcomes should not be expected out of innocent intentions?
Not at all, sadly.
There is a simple physical experiment called “sand pile experiment”, during which grains of sands are dropped one by one on a conical pile of sands and as a resulted effect once in a while there is a sudden avalanche caused by only one of them. Kudos to Scandinavia, the Danish experiment was repeated by Norwegians on piles of rice back in 90s. These were the first physical experiments to domenstrate a phenomenon called “self-organized criticality” which is an “emergent property”:
“Emergence: The larger entities that arise through interactions among smaller entities can show properties the smaller entities do not exhibit.”
The occurance of an avalanche is an emergent property for the sand pile. The occurance of avalanche seems quite random and unpredictable both for local grains of sands as well as the experimenter. But if you ask the local sands somewhere in the pile, what they would make out of their horrible experience of an avalanche and who possibly caused it, they would probably blame one or few sands somewhere on top of the pile. In fact no single grain of sand can and has control over the behavior of the pile of sands as a whole system. Even the experimenter who is running the show and is God-like to the grains of sands by having a whole picture, will fail to predict when and how the next avalanche will take place.
We humans are the sands in the very complicated self-organized sand pile of our civilzation. Based on our limited view of our local neighberhood we tend to believe that there must be a designer behind every human phenomenon around us. We tend to assign wars, revolutions, discoveries and breakthroughs to certain leaders and public figures. It is a believable story but it has usually been very very simplified for our little brains fo make some sense out of the complicated reality. Our civilization is much more collective and complex than it is portrayed in our history books in human understandable narratives.
Beware that now I may sound like a conspirist again, but we all grew up in a simplified and misled culture, that is by the way shaped randomly by our collective society and not really few powerful folks. When a big social phenomenon surprises our society, we start to point our fingers to some other humans eventually. Somewhere out there has to be someone who has planned the event. Political events are the behavioral effects of our collective civilization, but since we can’t comprehend that, we naturally tend to believe that there should be people like us behind all of them; their minds should be like our minds, and that they must exhibit a team work behavior in a way we are used to, to be able to pull off such huge projects.
Is it actually possible for a group of folks, who have successfully understood, modelled and controlled a super complicated network of interactions such as our society? Probably not. Not in that naive form. Such secret societies of few who have successfully teamed up against the rest of us with God-like predictive abilities and flawless conrolling power do not have to be an explanation for the political evil we observe day by day. Illuminati is doesn’t exist. But if it does, I tell you, it’s in fact me! And is you. And is all of us combined.
The complex nature of our society and its political, technological, or socioeconomical aspects can be seen in various lights. So one can elaborate on emergent properties of us human sands in many different ways. Here I want to bring a simple anthropological evidence. The conclusion may be a bit bitter and scary but will set you free from thinking in terms of naive conspiracy theories, and yet gives you a heads-up to be prepared for unwanted avalanches that we may face sooner than later:
We humans are the building blocks of a complex and hierarchical society and we have achieved the current complex state of our civilization with the communication between each other, and in fact with the help of some unique features of our human brains.
In the past dozens of millenia we have transformed our lives from tribal animals into interconnected socioeconomic beings in a technological society. Meanwhile our brains has not changed much and we have arguably become slightly dumber even. Our brains, including the brains of our powerful decision makers, celebrities and politicians with a broad range of influence, is still tribal. Our brains grew from 0.5 to 1.5 kg from three million years ago to some fifty thousand years ago, so two third of that brain, one kilogram, consists of programs that were shaped during our tribal life on the ground. Our bodies and brains have not changed much since then, but our collective environment has, drastically. We tend to think that we do things for logic and reason, though we only do them for the sake of our survival, and in our very own unqiue human way.
The red button
Back in the tribal times the “red button” did not exist. Simbolically put, if Eve and Adam would push a botton, at most a fruit would fall off a tree. Now there are bottons around us that if we push we could somwhat blow up things out of your sight; lives can be affected by a minor task of us. Now we can simply make changes by pushing a like button, ordering an item from a restaurant menu, buying a share from stock market, or deploying a code.
We do it all for the sake of our survival, indeed with our kindness and affection towards our local tribe. The people for which we naturally have capacity to care, are only a couple of hundred people who are around us, socially or geographically. We can never affectively reach out to seven billion people out there, and not in fact to zillions of animals and beings. Nature has simply not given us the empathic tools to do so. Despite that, in order to increase the power of our influence, we have redefined our environment and hacked the natural resources around us. Just like any other animal we do it for our survival with disregard to other beings. The difference is though we do it beyond our natural habit, systematically and technologically.
This already started from the first man who made a tool; the manifestation of grabbing and touching an object, using it, and leaving it NOT unchanged. Animals don’t do that. They either eat or kill the thing and destroy it permanently, or they let it be. We grabbed things around us with our hands and left them changed, still in our service. We made the first tools and then tools made more tools and that escalated. And well with an ultimate disregard to the nature and things that we touched, or things that we touched touched, we set up this advanced system. And now the complexity has reached a level that the mentioned disregard may come back to ourselves.
We tend to put our animalistic tribal behavior in a divine and holistic light. We are proud that we have made judiciary systems and rules, democracies and beurrocracies, technologies and computational systems to be soft and civilized and avoid the downsides of our wild tribal behavior. But are we still not let by apes like ourselves? Is the wild animalistic behavior limited to third world dictatorships and underdevelopped tyrannies, or to the ancient kings and emperors?
Now check this out. Apes and ravens are extremely social animals. As a group they sometimes team up to attack an isolated victim who did not play with the rules or to project a group failure onto that individual. When you see that for example 160 republicans (about the natural size of a human tribe) in a group act stop supporting Donald Trump, do you expect some of them to be brave enough and admit that this was not a calculated act independent from the truth of Donald Trump, and that was simply a tribal act of mimicing a group to conform? When you see such an animalistic behavior in such high levels or power hierarchy, do you really need to believe in conspiracy theories to explain evil? Let us not our problems on to the political parties or even broadly politicians. These are normal people like me and you. This is not about political parties or the individuals. It is about all of us and how rapidly and blindly we scaled up. This is what Hannah Arendt argues introducing the term “The Banality of Evil”.
Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism (empathy) accordingly has been going on in waves since the prehistoric times and in each round the wave collapsed and taught us a new lesson on how to scale. Ever since we united in bigger groups than a tribe, an external force was required, after a collapse, to teach us how to scale in numbers while being in peace with each other. Depending on the size of the human populations we learned that we need to synchronize with music or stone idols, we need to invent language or religion, and that we need to set rules, judiciary systems and bureaucracies. The problem with our age is that we have never experienced the connectivity to this level, ever before. This is historically is not a good sign cause we don’t know what kind of collapse we will get after this and sadly it does not seem that predicting a collapse is enough to take measures to stop it. We need to see it with our eyes to reverse some of the aggresive and self-destructive aspects of our scaling.
Getting connected from a tribal to a global level, from a couple of hundreds to a few billions, is in fact a scale-up of a 7 to 8 orders of magnitude. Yet our amygdala has remained the same size as a hundred thousand years ago. What do we expect from such dynamics except for a catastrophic apocalypse? How can we theoretically see any other sustainable horizon in the near future when the scale-up is still going on and no one is trying to adjust it or advance it a bit more mindfully?
You see, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a fatalist to warn others that The Doomsday’s Clock might be ticking. You don’t need to spot and blame some concious master minds or group for every disaster that comes along our way. The evil is not always one of us. It is bigger than us. It is our emergent property.
To put it intuitively, this video sums up the politics of our era. One doesn’t need to know more than this about politics: Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism, empathy, accordingly.
We are not completely helpless though. There are solutions ahead of us. We can in fact take advantage of our destructive connectivity and design a data-driven system for functional empathy to avoid its collapse. This is not what we are doing. Nothing but a “technological self-conciousness” (interprete it in anyway you wish) can possibly save us from an exponential over-exhaustion of our limited resources and an apocalyptic breakdown.
Should we do something about that, or should we let the system collapse and wait for a new order to rise from its ashes? What’s right to do?