We Don’t Need Another Hero
We don’t need another hero
We don’t need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome *
Existence precedes essence, but essence is about quality
Arguably, Albert Camus had the only real way to think about the connection between life today and in the future. It starts by acknowledging how lucky we are to be alive and have our family and friends; how lucky we are now to live in a world with more options than at any time in history. The corollary is that if you want today’s life to continue into the future you must then assume things can easily get worse. Our luck could run out.
If Camus’ view is valid, our primary task, individually and collectively, is to anticipate what could make our future worse and how. E.O. Wilson may have best captured the root zeitgeist of our anticipatory challenge when he said,
‘We have Paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology.’ (2009)
The poignant irony in Wilson’s comment is that, if we have “god-like technology” — and we do, indeed — then why are we not using it to consciously improve our archaic medieval institutions and move them forward into the 21st century?
Money makes the world go round
Societies build institutions as systems to manage the operation and maintenance of necessary large-scale societal activities. As is normal with any governance system, over time institutions and those benefiting from them develop inertia.
Historically, this institutional inertia results in the beneficiaries of the status quo resisting change until they can calculate how to avoid any negative impact on their personal situation. Simply put, it is an emotional response that generally takes precedence over a societal need for institutional change.
The consequences of this status quo inertia can range from simple commentary to overwrought processes to ideological conflict, which are the worst. The ideological struggle between communism and representative democracies is a classic example. That is because any rational assessment of the core communist tenets revealed an edifice devoid of practical reality. While framed as an ideological political conflict, this was really a proxy for an economic conflict. Worse, it is a framing still used today to inflame emotions and preempt discussions about status quo economic inertia.
But let’s be real. Every country is a mix of capitalism and socialism, with the only difference being the percentage or ratio of each in a given country at a given time. So today’s stirring of emotions is the status quo equivalent of a medieval witch hunt.
What goes around comes around
The point is that status quo inertia underlies virtually every major issue in the world today. The situation in the Middle East, for example, is plagued with political and religious inertia. None of the parties are willing to alter the status quo to accept needed practical changes.
More generally, any rational observer knows that such status quo inertia invariably harms citizens and leads to some kind of repression. This in turn invariably precipitates systemic change, often violently. Said differently, the only constant throughout the cosmos is change. Inertia is dangerous.
The current global immigration and refugee situation is another example of status quo inertia preying upon primitive emotions. The fact is, outside indigenous Rift Valley inhabitants, everyone everywhere is technically an immigrant or refugee. Nevertheless, whether referencing economics, religion, race, or ethnicity, the need to maintain the status quo is invoked to inflame emotions.
This migratory issue is made all the more absurd when you realize that virtually everything — money, information, technology, goods, and services — can freely move around the world, except humans. Yet, historically, people have always voted with their feet.
Open the pod bay doors, Hal
While historically such status quo institutional inertia afforded power, wealth and privilege to a few, it was always at the expense of society as a whole. Likewise, today there are endless corporate, religious and ideological attempts to encourage status quo inertia in most of our governmental institutions. It has become an agonizing and frustrating ritual.
Historically, of course, none of these inertial efforts succeed for long. Rather, all they tend to succeed in doing is to push talent and innovations into other countries. That is, until the inertial forces realize the evolutionary cost associated with maintaining the status quo (e.g., communist countries).
But now, in the 21st century, this status quo institutional inertia is clearly a counterproductive waste of human talent and innovative potential. It is retarding our collective evolution.
In this context, the obsession with advancing ever more lethal technologies is beyond disconcerting. It epitomizes the toxic mix of primitive emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technologies.
Here, the operative status quo institutional inertial assumption seems to be that an infinite technological arms-race will magically end well. That intimidation and threats of mutual annihilation are rational behaviors and accidents, miscalculations or hubris can be prevented or preempted. It all defies imagination.
When you reach a fork in the road, take it
Arguably, representative political systems reflect state-of-the-art institutions. Unfortunately, they are also quintessential medieval institutions designed to overcome the arbitrary and capricious behavior of religious and secular aristocracies. That these systems still constitute the state-of the-art today reflects status quo inertia on a grand scale. Simply put, we are all in the grips of arrested political system evolution.
Of course, inasmuch as money and power have always had a synergistic relationship with status quo institutional inertia, today’s inertia should come as no surprise. But, election campaigns funded by special interests focused primarily on emotional appeals, are now an absurdly disturbing and counterproductive anachronism. Indeed, politically, our present U.S. inertial status quo situation is now seen globally as increasingly resulting in utter dysfunctionality.
The fact is, this epoch is intensively interconnected and evolving at a breathtaking pace, especially technologically. That reactive crisis management has become the political norm is bad enough.
But, as Camus would warn, the real problems lie ahead. As we natives become increasingly restless, and technology becomes cheaper, ever more portable, stealthy and lethal the number of crises are certain to accumulate toward something that is systemically unmanageable.
There must be some way outta here, said the joker to the thief
This brings us full circle. We need to face the facts. We have entered new era. It is an era where the gravitational center is the nexus of collective knowledge and ubiquitous technology, not pseudo-representatives operating in medieval institutions.
Thus, as with virtually all past periods of epochal change, status quo inertia that preys upon primitive emotions is the primary obstacle.
If, as Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the massage, then the Internet is about dramatically reducing knowledge asymmetry. (Full disclosure, this is what my company provides.) These “augmented knowledge systems” should enable us all, both individually and collectively, to become significantly more knowledgeable about the substantive dimensions of any consequential issue facing society. This does not imply less diversity of opinions. Rather, it offers an institutional environment better equipped to condition emotions toward a more rational assessment of our future options.
Technologically, it is easy to envision an institutional evolution whereby there are no career representatives, only domain and issue specific networks of thought leaders. Said differently, the past era of emotional institutional attachment to faux political heroes needs to end.
In an institutional sense, we do not need another hero. Collectively we must give all we have intellectually and rise to the challenge of creating a better tomorrow. To create something new and better.
* Songwriters: GRAHAM HAMILTON LYLE, TERRY BRITTEN
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
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