The Great American Chasm
An opening or a closing?
By Mike Meyer
If we try to take a broader look at the problems we have, what do we see? In the Western world an emotionally distraught landscape with the majority of people, dependent on country or region, anxious but also excited by the daily technological leaps occurring and the human potential being made available. We also have a minority that is sliding into a feudal world view convinced they are threatened and about to lose their rightful place in society. At the same time this group is being manipulated by traditional political opportunists who seek power from fear.
The majority is only tenuously inclusive with very significant groups of traditionally oppressed minorities sharing the new anxieties on top of the hard reality they know as ordinary life. Yet they are seeing opportunities in all the changes that are new with a willingness of the traditionally privileged parts of the majority to acknowledge past sins and Begin to call out recalcitrants.
While this seems broadly accurate the division between these two groups is not tied to traditional class differences. This is not a break between the rich and poor but one between the more educated and the less educated. We really no longer have fully uneducated people as a class. Instead we have a large inadequately educated group as a minority, the functionally educated as a majority, and the critically aware as another minority. The later are typically, but not exclusively, graduate degree people at 15%.
It is an urban versus rural break but that is difficult because there are so few rural people. It seems to be most often a break between old economic areas, the rust belt, that have slid steadily downward over the last fifty years through complacency turning to fear and then anger versus the metropole population more strongly linked by technology.
Given the strong element of racism being used to define the minority group it seems to be, more accurately, a diversity versus homogeneity break. A major change is the breakup of the middle class into the new precariat class with a gap between that group and richer business and professional groups.
This confuses things as the traditional political position of the middle class was split, in America, between democratic socialism and economic conservatism with no hard line. The former based in FDR’s New Deal that created the great middle class peak of the middle and late 20th century while the later was predominately small business and professionals as small businesses. The later group were, logically, more financially conservative and traditional but realized the benefits to small business provided by FDR hybrid socialism.
The small business economic conservative position has mostly disappeared replaced by a range of positions between precariat, insecure gig workers and, for lack of a better term, more successful gig workers blending into a new professional class.
This is a complete realignment of political lines with wealth less a factor in the traditional sense of hard poverty versus middle class complacency. The primary issue now is the grossly distorted asset allocation in the few predatory capitalist countries, with America as the worst case, and insecurity stemming from threats to socialist protections, neoliberal trade imbalances and automation in post capitalist countries. This is all the result of the rapidly changing capitalist economic paradigm transitioning to a new post scarcity and robotic/AI production model.
The realization of the universal impact of climate change is finally beginning to act as a major catalyst for this insecurity but only among the more educated pro diversity population. As ignorance and complacency meet escalating climate disasters it will become clear that the old economic system is the cause and must be completely changed. The rising wave of anxiety now will, at some point in the very near future, collapse into a hard anger at those who have lied and denied reality to feed their own greed.
That creates a point of collision between the inadequately educated who have been frightened by imaginary conspiracies and programmed to reject all knowledge as illegitimate. While educated at high school and some college level they seem to lack critical capabilities to evaluate information on anything but an emotional level.
The collision is still pending but will shape a period of economic and political change that we can barely imagine but must anticipate. The most logical route through this cataclysm is automation and AI based management of resources and people. But that requires resources and creativity in stable societies.
As many studies have seen in attempting to understand the polarization of America, it is a break between the traditionally conservative versus the predominantly progressive, the old versus the young, and the less educated versus the more educated. This is very much a break between the old and young in terms of openness to change and creative innovation.
A very important factor of this break is the means of education on the failure of the old system and the architecture of the new cultural structure that is now emerging. Again, using America as an example, the concept of education has been used to equal intelligence and/or capability without saying it. Education means formal education tied, in America, to racial privilege and university degrees as cultural credentials.
That definition is also in transition and is increasingly inaccurate. Education for the two youngest American (and post industrial) generations now in adulthood, includes formal education but increasingly on demand information. In a fully networked world the ability to learn skills as needed eliminates much formal education but it requires a much higher degree of critical analysis to extract value from massive amounts of unverified information. That is a creative ability to build knowledge from raw information.
In this change using the word education as a criteria for grouping people by abilities is increasingly inappropriate. My expectation is that educational levels will become increasingly difficult to identify based on institutional enrollment. The new credential for this is the ability to monetize information processing and skill learning marking those who are critically innovative from those who are only passively receptive.
People who require long periods of traditional education to develop skills will have less value in society. With AI based automation these are the primary people that will be eliminated from the work force. Their role will not be part of economic production although they may be valuable in unique and individual ways. Education for them will be the way to fill their time and occupy themselves enjoyably but only at the successful implementation of a basic universal income.
In terms of anxiety and social polarization these are the people most at risk, as many of them understand, but will generally have the least creativity to find a satisfying role for themselves. This has resulted in their manipulation by fascist opportunists, such as Trump, the Republican Party leadership, and the Fox News propaganda infrastructure, able to play on their fears and to focus them on racist and xenophobic hate. This is a new and significant class of people who need a different type of education and social support.
At the highest level is the immensely wealthy versus everyone else. This is not really an issue of poor versus rich as it is of the vastly wasteful versus everyone who has been exploited by a failed economic system. This is the problem of massive distortions in resource distribution. The old assumption that great wealth is the result of great ability was always predominantly false but is now only a thin propaganda trope. In reality these people are divided between the majority and minority by the same factors as everyone else.
Those that are intelligent and working to understand the paradigmatic changes happening will be part of the majority. Some of the immensely wealthy are clearly part of the problem due to their cultural attitudes of racism, xenophobia, insecurity, greed, and/or intellectual inability.
The confusing result of this is a widening gap between people who see the world as if it were 1953 versus those who are already seeing the world as it will be in 2033. The first group is locked in the past while the majority are struggling to grasp the massive and rapid changes rapid changes that are now both inevitable and essential for survival. Given the rate of paradigm shift that we are in this means the gap is widening daily.
As there is no value in maintaining the world of 1953 and most of the last sixty years were spent actively escaping from that reality, it is taking great effort to whip the minority group into a frenzy for something they mostly don’t remember. The result is a great deal of propaganda and the need to destroy both history and current reality with any shared standard of truth and morality as collateral damage.
This does not make much sense as a political movement except as an extreme conservatism with no policies except endless repetition. The use of racism and xenophobia as the focus of this movement makes sense in the absence of any other policies. What else can they advocate? More wealth to the vastly wealthy? Yes, but that is already producing sharp reaction as the new Democratic Socialist and Progressives members in Congress are showing.
Hence the tremendous emphasis on creation of emergencies based on immigrants and other races, denial of the obvious reality of the climate change disaster, and symbolic attacks on women’s reproductive rights. Mostly these are things that have been manufactured for years as issues for people with growing anxiety and no grasp of the changing world. None of this makes anything but very tenuous sense as seen by the absence of these ‘issues’ in other parts of the planet except as copy cat issue created by scattered fascist opportunists.
The reality is that there are no valid alternative policies that are worth the effort of the angry minority. The majority, while obviously only vaguely coordinated, does agree on prioritizing climate change, converting to a sustainable and more equitable economy, full acceptance of diversity and evolving identity, movement to some sort of universal basic income, reduction of military spending, free or very economical higher education, and elimination of educational debt crippling two generations.
This is, overall, an issue of expanding universal rights and giving people a voice in their own management. None of these are obscure or even controversial. Only the planetary battle to prevent collapse due to human caused climate change is unique and new threat.
The lack of any true policy or goal for the angry minority does not make any sense so what is happening?
Ironically this may be an issue of real diversity. I wonder if we are in the early stages of species differentiation? We have a divergent population moving to reject the majority population’s emerging new paradigmatic reality.
We are all dealing with the shift to a fully networked planet of virtual societies based in urban regions. What does it take to cause a punctuation to human equilibrium? Is this why our common languages are breaking down so completely? Words can have what appear to be completely opposite meanings from the majority society to the minority.
I keep returning to the realization of evolutionary change for our species. That often results in differentiation as populations diverge because of environmental differences. While birds react to their environment based on isolation from other population groups, sentient beings choose and select their environment for a great range of reasons. As we have already seen a minority population has isolated itself from both the majority and the majority reality.
Evolutionary differentiation can be triggered by chosen environmental changes. Perhaps we are struggling to evolve and will diverge for some generations. The model of paradigm change could be seen as a form of sentient evolution. But that makes the potential for conflict greater and, possibly, more extreme.
The radical polarization of our society may be a precursor of much greater diversity and change rather than a simple political or social form disagreement. In that case no wonder the breakdown of communication and the, apparent, difficulty of understanding across the chasm is so disturbing.
There is also a very large robot in the room and, even more disturbing, that robot may be sentient and partially human. We are only beginning to hit problems with what will certainly be both our cyborg future and our acceptance of management by AI systems.
As I have discussed in several instances in the past, it is very hard to deny what appears to be an inherent limit that makes it impossible for us, as a species, to mentally grasp complex nonlinear processes let alone manage them. Unfortunately the challenge of chaotic systems is exactly the challenge that we are facing now at the planetary level. We are inadequate to that challenge.
The result is that a significant minority of the population has selected routes of guaranteed failure for our survival and cannot seem to understand the inevitability of that outcome. This is not a factor of inability, then, as evolutionary selection that is being made without conscious direction.
We can see the likelihood of such mistakes in the absence of extant other species within our sentient hominid line. The two closest, Homo neanderthalensis and Home denisovan survived only as they merged with Homo sapiens twenty to forty thousand years ago. This is becoming clearer with recent research on the genetic markers that we carry from these species.
But it would appear that we don’t have the time to wait for biology to select our new form. We have already taken this in hand with automation by building tools that perform in the ways that we can not. The development of Artificial Intelligence in all forms focuses specifically on the limits we have to store and analyze data. While not generally discussed these new forms of us work without emotion and, we hope, without bias as we seem constitutionally unable to escape that problem with our present mental form.
Maybe our efforts to stop this differentiation are wrong. Maybe we now need more diversity and not less.