Defending the Con

When a con-man is found out, his first defenders are almost inevitably his victims. No one wants to admit to themselves that they are gullible, that they’ve been conned, that they’ve been fooled. It takes a mountain of evidence to break down a person’s ego, and even then you will find defenders among their victims.

There are some institutions out there that are particularly attractive to con-men—to sociopaths generally—and the most attractive institution of them all is elected office. Especially in a government that has power over the economy. When you hand governments a great deal of power over people’s lives and reward politicians for sociopathic behaviors, you should expect to find a great many sociopaths there. Worse, even those who aren’t sociopaths will act like sociopaths because of the incentive structures of elected office.

Of course, many will deny that we primarily elect sociopaths or those who are willing to act like sociopaths to keep office (and power). These are the victims of the con-man defending the con-man. The real problem is that you’ve been fooled all your life, and it’s too embarrassing and shameful to admit you’ve been fooled all your life by a much of sociopaths using you for their own self-aggrandizement.

Why So Much Sexual Harassment?

Is there really more sexual harassment happening now than in the past? That seems very unlikely. We see murder, rape, and other violent crimes going down over the long-run, and with ever-increasing awareness of sexual harassment and more widespread feminist attitudes, it’s likely sexual harassment has been following the same pattern.

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Men shouldn’t be treating women as mere means to reach the ends of their sexual desires. Treating people as means to an end is the worst kind of dehumanization. But people with power are used to treating people that way, and when you combine that with the high priority most men give sex, you have a formula for the creation of institutional sexual abuse in places like Hollywood and government.

The reason you are hearing so much about sexual harassment–and worse–from Hollywood executives and politicians is that these people have a great deal of power over other people. A Hollywood career means fame, fortune, and a bigger voice for your favorite causes. An actress could easily justify making millions, having a long-term career, and doing much good in the world in exchange for a single night with someone like Harvey Weinstein. And, obviously, many women did. It’s likely that Weinstein discovered that there were women willing to sleep with him to get a part, and then, realizing he could get women to sleep with him to get a part, he starting expecting it. It’s not much of a leap from expecting it in the sense of expecting actresses to sleep with him to get a part to expecting women to sleep with him whenever he demanded it. Which leads to the rape accusations.

Politicians are typically the kind of people who want to have control over other people. Why else would they be attracted to that kind of power position? More, people who are attracted to power positions simply for the power are also more likely to do underhanded things to get that power–certainly more so than someone who may think they ought to run for office because they sincerely want to accomplish certain things. Such do-gooders don’t stand a change against a plotting sociopath. Which is why legislatures are full of sociopaths–likely at overwhelmingly higher percentages than one finds in the general population. Such people are also likely to abuse their positions. Since they love to control people, and they expect that people should and ought to be controlled by them, this will extend to their sex lives. Since they interact with the world almost exclusively through coercion (legislation), they think all interactions ought to be through coercion–when this extends to sex, that’s sexual harassment and rape.

The purge of sexual harassers at these levels of power is a good thing. It’s likely a pressure-release on the increasing resentment our society is feeling towards the powerful. With ever-increasing regulations (don’t believe the lies of “deregualtion”), ever-increasingly powerful and intrusive bureaucracies in practically every aspect of life (making us all feel powerless), and ever-increasing self-righteous politically correct preaching from people in Hollywood, politicians, and government-schools-brainwashed college children, it’s not surprising that people are feeling increasing resentment and are lashing out more and more. President Trump is a result of that lashing-out, a “two can play at this game” reaction, handing the Left the mirror image of themselves, as perceived by the general population.

This purge of the powerful isn’t over. Black Lives Matter has brought our attention to the systematic abuses of African-Americans by the powerful (through the police), and now we are seeing the degree to which there has been systematic abuses of women by the powerful as well. The problem is that few are recognizing that these powerful are big-government supporters of every stripe (don’t fool yourself that the Republicans favor small government–they’re almost as bad at the Democrats on many things, and worse than them on others).

Those who run our biggest cities where African-Americans are most abused are big-government supporters whose rhetoric almost always puts them on the side of African-Americans (never mind their policies have actively destroyed African’ American families and lives and jobs). And those who have proven to be most abusive toward women (or men, in some cases like Kevin Spacey) have often been those most vocal about being on the side of women and feminism. Everyone in Hollywood knew about Weistein, yet nobody was feminist enough to do anything about it.

I don’t suppose anyone should be surprised at the hypocrisy of the powerful. That’s one of their ways to get and maintain their power. But we need to stop making excuses for those in “our tribe” who are behaving badly. When you make excuses for someone’s abusive behavior toward those weaker than them–especially a politician–just because you agree with a few of their political positions, you are showing your (complete lack of) character.

A Brief History of Western Ideas from an Emergent Complexity Perspective

I. Introduction

Complex systems theory shows that the more elements there are in a given system, the more complex the system’s behavior. New rules evolve that govern the behavior of the system, helping to coordinate activities and make the system work in a better and more complex manner. Further, when complex systems contain different hierarchical levels, such systems act in even more complex ways – fluid hierarchies increase complexity of behavior, while rigid hierarchies and flattened hierarchies decrease the complexity of a system’s behavior. This is true in quantum systems giving rise to chemical/Newtonian physical systems, to chemical systems giving rise to life, to neurons in the brain giving rise to thought and intelligence in animals, including humans, and even to the interactions of human societies.

Claire Graves, Don Beck, and Christopher Cowan theorize that both human thought and human societies develop in a particular way, and in a hierarchical fashion. If we start with animal survivalism, we move into tribalism, and from tribalism into a heroic culture (i.e. Achilles, and the Greek and Roman gods), from heroic culture into aristocratic/theocratic culture, from aristocratic culture to capitalist/scientific culture, from scientific culture into statist culture, and even now a move from all of these into ideas of world confederacy, and even into more complex, more holistic ideas. Thought also follows these patterns: mere survivalism leading to tribalistic thinking leading to conquering, heroic leaders leading to belief in order, law, regulations, and discipline to build character (typically “religious” thinking) leading to belief in the virtue of competition and progress and knowledge leading to egalitarian thinking leading to time-bound, hierarchical, pluralistic thinking leading to holistic thinking. The thinking always precedes the social development, but the thinking itself cannot jump levels any more than can societies, or than biology can leap suddenly out of quantum physics, skipping the chemical level. In other words, to move from tribalism to a culture led by heroic conquering leaders, we have to have people who begin to think in the new way while the culture itself remains in the old form of organization. It is this phenomenon I wish to investigate here, so we can understand why different thinkers were thinking as they were, and what value they have for the present day, and in the future.

We have to recognize, too, that each culture contains elements of the levels below, including people who continue to think this way. The first thing that we should note is that to say a culture or a person is in one of the lower levels is not to say that it or they are inferior to a higher level. We need the lower levels to help hold up the higher levels – this is how nested hierarchies such as emergent reality and evolving cultures can exist at all. If we take capitalist, scientific culture, for example, we can see that it can and should continue to have religious elements to it, that it will continue to have heroic people, such as athletes, in it, and that it will continue to have tribalistic elements in it –- primarily as families, friends and clubs. This is most important to point out to those levels that most tend toward communitarian thinking, including tribalism, religious thinking, and secular egalitarian statism, which evolve in reaction to the more individualistic levels (heroic, capitalist/scientific), since the heroic and the capitalist levels consider the communitarian levels below them to still be important. Further, higher level communitarian thinking also tends to reject lower level communitarian thinking -– secular egalitarian thinking tends to consider religious thinking as ignorant and something that is best done away with (consider the French attitude toward religion now, starting with the French Revolution). In the worst cases, communitarian thinking is racist and exclusionary -– tribes exclude other tribes, religions exclude other religions, communists must eliminate all non-communists or anyone else who does not fit into the world they are trying to create. So it is important that we be aware of this danger, and do what we can to avoid and prevent it.

Overall, the communitarian forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, community-minded and, thus, order-oriented, interested in stability, ethics, faith and truth, are fundamentally religious in outlook, centralized and rigidly hierarchical (today, bureaucratic), and have a belief that time is circular, or eternal, and that it will become this way at the end of history, where all progress will end. The individualistic forms of thinking and social organization tend to be, regardless of the level of complexity, individualistic, libertarian, able to deal with change and chaos, pragmatic, fact- and science-oriented, decentralized, and embracing of time and change, having a fundamental belief in some sort of continual progress. As stated above, the communitarians tend to dislike the individualists, but the individualists tend to work to protect the immediately lower level of communitarian thinking and society, while seeing emergent levels of communitarianism as a threat.

We need to move beyond this way of thinking, and into more complex ways of thinking. The way to do this is to understand all the levels, what their values are, and integrate them. That will get us into the next level of thinking and social organization. And from there, we must next understand everything as being part of a single, dynamic system – more than just pluralist, but unified as well, with unity in its variety. In doing so, we must not forget that lower levels simply cannot understand the ideas of higher levels -– for example, someone who is a religious thinker would find egalitarian thinking, especially late egalitarian thinking, like postmodernism, to be completely incomprehensible –- confusing nonsense in the extreme. To get such a person to the level of the postmoderns, one would have to get that person to first be thinking as a capitalist/scientific thinker, and then move the person into early egalitarian thinking before moving them into postmodernism. Part of the role of the integrationist and holistic thinkers is to help to move all people and cultures into more complex levels, and to integrate the elements of lower complexity into an even more complex whole.

II. The Levels and their Thinkers

All of this is necessary in order to understand the evolution of thought and the history of ideas in their proper context –- past and present. It seems that tribalism is associated with pre-literate times, and that the first writing evolved during heroic culture – the oldest story we have is Gilgamesh, and it is a story of heroism. With Homer, we have a heroic thinker in a heroic time. Achilles is an archetypical hero of this sort.

The movement from heroic culture into the next level begins in the Greek culture with the pre-Socratics, who are beginning to think in more orderly, purposeful ways while living in heroic culture -– this is typically seen as the beginnings of the movement from archaic into median culture. We have with the Greek tragedies an art form designed to move Greek culture safely and non-violently into the next level –- each tragedy starts with a heroic individual who must be destroyed in order for a new level of organization to come into being. The Greek tragedies are art forms that indicate that the culture is going through an emergence into a new level of complexity. Tragedies are how a culture gets safely initiated into a new level of complexity. This is why Nietzsche identified tragedy as being simultaneously Dionysian and Apollonian –- Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus identifies Dionysus as the god associated with the madness of initiation and Apollo as the god associated with the madness of prophesy -– and Greek tragedies aided in the initiation ritual into a new level of complexity of thinking while prophesying what that new level would be like. Sophocles prophesies the emergence of the emergent median way of Greek thinking, while Shakespeare prophesies the emergence of the scientific/capitalist age to come, though he was writing during a time when Medieval/religious thinking was still going strong. After the initiation into the new level of thinking in ancient Greece, we get both Plato and Aristotle arising as the greatest thinkers within this level of complexity.

But emergence into new levels of complexity is not certain. In the West, we get a backward movement with the rise of the Romans –- the Roman Republic and Empire was a heroic culture, and was exemplified by people such as Julius Caesar (consider how similar in character he is to Achilles). With the rise of Christianity, we see the Roman Empire moving into the next level –- Jesus was a religious thinker during a heroic time. The Christian Romans and Christian medieval Europe was clearly organized in a rigid religious hierarchy, with the hierarchical Catholic Church and the hierarchical forms of government in serfdom, monarchy, and aristocracy, all supported by the Church. The Christian thinkers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas found such a strong connection with Plato and Aristotle, respectively, because they recognized in them thinkers on the same level of complexity.

The Renaissance helped move Europe into the next level of complexity –- the capitalist/scientific level. We see in Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo some of the first, transitionary scientific thinkers. And the work of Machiavelli and Shakespeare both helped set the stage for capitalism and science. Newton and Descartes moved the West even more into this realm of complexity – and the height of such thinking occurs in people such as Voltaire, John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and the American Transcendentalists such as Emerson and Thoreau. All material and scientific progress occurred precisely because this level of thinking and social organization arose. We also see the abolition of slavery for the first time in human history precisely during this time (it is no coincidence that slavery still exists in regions of the world that have yet to enter this level of complexity). The United States’ form of government is the exemplary of the form of government that arises in and through this way of thinking – which makes it all the more ironic that it was the last of the Western countries to abolish slavery. That is, until you realize that the American South was one of the last places in the West where religious/authority thinking remained (and still remains) strongest. Because the next level was forced on them, the South has taken over a century to recover and get caught up with the rest of the United States -– becoming scientific/capitalist just as the Northeast has become egalitarian in its world view. But the religious way of thinking is still strong -– which is why the creationism-evolution (and its latest variant, Intelligent Design) debate still goes strong in the United States, particularly in Southern and Midwestern states.

With Rousseau, we get the first of the egalitarian thinkers –- and it is his ideas that led, more than anyone else’s, to the French Revolution, which was the first example of the modern State (while it is true that the idea of independent nations arose with the Enlightenment, after the Renaissance, the peculiar institution of the modern State as typically found in Europe arose with the French Revolution). It was based on secularism and egalitarianism, and this example, along with the ideas of Marx, led to the rise of the Soviet Union and other communist states, which combined this way of thinking with religious/authority thinking, while tending to throw in a heroic leader for good measure. Nazi Germany was yet another example of this kind of state, though they combined it with tribalist ideas, leading to the atrocities of WWII. Of course, the Soviet Union’s avoidance of tribalism did not prevent them from killing even more people – the difference simply being that the U.S.S.R was more personal in its murders, while the Nazis liked to kill people in groups. But both are based on the same way of thinking, and were reactions against Enlightenment thinking. This helps us to understand why people who think this way tend to support communist and fascist dictatorships, and cannot see the difference between them and democratic republics (in an egalitarian world, all forms of government are equal –- equally bad, and equally good). Further, the tendency to see people of lower levels -– especially those still stuck in tribal or heroic thinking and societies –- as victims, and modern-day environmentalism are also based on this way of thinking, and the latter is distinguished by the idea of nature as unchanging –- notions of the eternal, the end of history, etc. being part of communitarian thinking, both religious and secular. This is why much secular communitarian thinking, like environmentalism and communism, closely resemble religious thinking. But these are not the only forms of egalitarian thinking. Darwin introduced an even more fundamental form of egalitarianism when he suggested that humans evolved from apes, and that all animals were fundamentally related to one another. Thus, humans and animals were put on the same plane of existence – and it is this that creationists object to. The hierarchy between humans and animals, placing humans in a place definitively above animals, was flattened by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Among the more recent thinkers in this more recent egalitarian tradition include Heidegger (who was, not coincidentally, a Nazi), Sartre (a communist), and various Marxist and postmodern thinkers, including Derrida. Some of these latter, the postmoderns, have come in toward the end of egalitarian, statist thinking, and have thus begun the move into the next level of thinking. This is perhaps because they claim a great deal of influence from Nietzsche, who was perhaps the first thinker in this tradition, in reaction to the German State and socialism. Since most of the philosophers and theorists influenced by Nietzsche have in fact been egalitarian, statist thinkers, they have mostly misunderstood Nietzsche’s ideas. One can understand clearly levels below oneself, but there is difficulty in understanding levels above oneself, unless one is trying to move into that next level oneself. As for societal organization, since this next level of thinking is new, there seems to be but a few societies based on this thinking, including the present-day United States and Great Britain, having gone through a lot of statist thinking, while retaining the essential form of the previous level, making it possible to be more pluralistic and hierarchical and inclusive), with organizations like the U.N., the W.T.O., and the World Bank acting to coordinate the world’s governments in a very loose confederacy. Perhaps because the U.S. and Britain were more solidly democratic republics than other Western countries, which attempted to create egalitarian States, this new form of more complex thinking appears to be most common in these two places, and less so in continental Europe. It is all-inclusive, and considers all the lower levels to be important constituents of society as a whole. It believes that there is a basic human nature, and that humans can nonetheless adapt and evolve in extremely complex ways -– that we have instincts, but also highly plastic brains, which allow us to have highly complex ways of thinking. Further, this new level of thinking has so far occurred less often among philosophers, and more often among scientists, such as Victor Turner, E.O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Jeff Hawkins, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Ilya Prigogine.

The next level, the holistic level, is very new, and includes very few thinkers in it – the only one I know of being the poet-philosopher Frederick Turner. We have yet to see what possible form of social organization will come out of such thinking. Even though we have learned that other communitarian forms of social and government organization have been dictatorial every time, it seems likely, since this is a much more complex level of thinking, that it will be some sort of world federalist democratic republican form of government, where individuals are encouraged to be communitarian thinkers, while the government does not get in the way of people self-organizing into communities of their choice.

III. Implications for Understanding Philosophy and Philosophers

As we can see, there can end up some overlap in thinkers. Just because an egalitarian, communitarian thinker comes along, that does not mean that capitalist/scientific thinkers go away – and most scientists and business people are in fact still thinking this way. And not just the average person, but philosophers and scholars as well. Most of the clergy of the Catholic Church are clearly thinkers in the religious tradition – as well they should be. The Pope should only be a religious thinker, and should not have moved into the capitalist/scientific way of thinking (even if his thinking begins to play on the borderlands, his thinking should mostly be firmly rooted in religious thinking). Do we really want a Pope who is interested in profit? And certainly we should not have a Pope who is a secular humanist. Yet, it has profited the Church considerably to integrate in scientific understandings of the universe, rather than continuing to oppose them. Thus, the Church performs its proper role in maintaining truly religious thinking – and in maintaining it in its best traditions, rather than its worst (which we should have learned from, and learned to avoid, by now).

I am certain, in making these identifications, that I have stepped on some toes regarding peoples’ favorite thinkers and philosophers. We do not like to think that Plato and Aristotle are less complex thinkers than some people are nowadays – or even are less complex thinkers than, say, Machiavelli. Such objections will undoubtedly be made, but they are made precisely because of two errors in thinking: 1) we project our own thinking on the thinkers of the past, and read our own complexities into those past thinkers, and 2) there are inevitably those who themselves think at the level of, say, Plato and Aristotle, and thus consider, say, Machiavelli, to be a highly complex thinker, precisely because their own thinking is only just now becoming as complex as Machiavelli’s was. For these people, someone like Derrida is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible in what they are trying to communicate.

The important thing we must remember is this: Plato is not a thinker. Aristotle is not a thinker. Machiavelli is not a thinker. They were thinkers. They were thinkers of their time, place, and complexity. This does not mean they do not have their values now, in our more complex times, because those levels of thinking still exist, are still relevant, are the base on which higher levels of complexity are built. Machiavelli could not have thought what he thought had Plato and Aristotle not thought what they thought. Machiavelli could not have moved us into a culture and society of capitalism and science from the Platonic/Aristotlean world view without this world view to move from. And each of these thinkers provide excellent basic models from which to build new, more complex self-similar levels. But we must not mistake any of these thinkers from the past for who they are not. They are not present-day thinkers, thinking in present-day complexities – they are thinkers from the past, thinking in their own levels of complexity. Oftentimes we forget this when we talk about them or read them. When we read them, we must remember that, and we must remember that we read into them, we don’t read them for what they meant at the times when they were writing. We interpret them over and over (individually and socially) into the present, making and keeping them relevant for today and the future. The same must be remembered of present-day thinkers. Should I be read in the future, you must remember not to mistake me for someone else. I am a thinker now; I will have been a thinker at some future time. And my thoughts will be relevant for the hierarchical level of thinking I am presently in, which will exist as a lower level in the nested hierarchy of some future level of complexity. I will seem relevant to future scholars who think at my present level of complexity; a mere source and spur of thinking for future thinkers, who will recognize too the relative simplicity of my thoughts compared to theirs, though it occurs as a spur to each higher level that is self-similar to my own.

There are a few things we must remember when considering the history of ideas in this way: 1) each higher level of complexity necessarily needs the lower levels on which to build and rest, while the lower levels do not need the higher levels in the least (this does not mean, however, that within a person, the lower levels are not affected by their own higher levels – family for a tribal thinker is different than family for religious thinker, which is different than family for a capitalist/scientific thinker, or even an egalitarian thinker, though the family unit remains at the same level of complexity-thinking for each) , 2) each level has its own values, benefits, and shortcomings, and 3) there is no upper limit of complexity. Let us consider these in order.

In this model, each of the levels must be traversed in order to reach upper levels. In this, Marx was correct in identifying different levels societies go through, and in realizing one must necessarily go through each lower level to reach upper levels. For example, countries like Germany and France have extensive welfare states that are based on the egalitarian world view. Since these welfare states were built on a solid foundation of capitalism, they have lasted quite a long time without extensive or severe human rights violations (though when Germany adopted a different version of this level in Nazism, they clearly did commit severe human rights violations, as has egalitarian France in is former colonies). If those welfare states are currently on the decline, as they indeed are, it is because those societies have for the most part rejected the levels below them – they are knocking the foundation out from under themselves. But this is a different problem from level-jumping. When the egalitarian/communitarian world view was imposed on an aristocratic society in Russia, we got Soviet-style communism, and thus a mixture of aristocracy and communitarianism, without a capitalist/scientific level (the Soviet rejection of science can be most clearly seen in their acceptance of Lysenko’s biological theories). Thus, a true egalitarian/communitarian society was not reached, while places like France and Germany came closest to accomplishing such a goal. However, one of the problems with each of these levels up to the egalitarian world view is that each also tries to reject the other levels, and the egalitarian world view seems most keen on getting rid of both the capitalist/scientific and religious world views (mostly just capitalism and religion, since it does have its own brand of science in systems science, relativism and probablistic science). When lower levels are rejected, the effect is, as said above, to try to kick the foundation out from under oneself. One of the benefits of those levels above the communitarian level is the recognition of the value of each of the levels, and even the holistic integration of them all. The reason we need the lower levels is the same reason we need lower levels of reality. Atoms give rise to chemicals which give rise to cells which give rise to complex organisms, one of which is humans, with our complex thinking. We can destroy cells without destroying chemicals, and we can destroy chemicals without destroying atoms, but we cannot destroy an atom while keeping the chemical around. The atom, though at the lowest level of complexity, is the vital foundation of each of the emergent levels above it. In the same way, the noosphere, the sphere of emergent human thought, contains the biosphere within it, since the biosphere can get along just fine without humans or human thought, while humans cannot get along without the biosphere (this idea is Ken Wilbur’s, from A Theory of Everything, 98). The relationship may in fact be a more complex feedback loop than even Wilbur admits, since one could also point out that other organisms that are clearly less complex than the biosphere as a whole could also be wiped out, without any real effect on the biosphere as a whole. The important thing here is that human thought is more complex than biology, including the entire biosphere. And more complex levels contain less complex levels, not vice versa. Thus, nature is a part of us even more than we are a part of nature. But I have gone through this to point out that levels of human complexity are also nested hierarchies, self-similar to the nested hierarchies of nature itself. Like atoms to molecules, the higher levels require the lower levels to exist at all.

Thus, we have to remember too that each level has its benefits –- as well as its shortcomings. The lowest level is the level of pure existence. We cannot deny our needs for food, drink, sleep, and sex if we are to survive as a species. But this is what animals do, and we are more than mere animals in our cognitive abilities and social organization. Thus, the first fully human level is tribal. This is the level of family and family ritual and, in the present day West, athletic teams. However, this level is fundamentally racist –- anything non-self is considered bad by those who stay in this level. The next level, the heroic, is associated with Homer’s heroes, the Greek and Roman gods, and Roman emperors. Here we also find athletic superstars. However, this level is extremely egocentric and can be very destructive (again, consider our athletic superstars). The next level is authoritarian and theocratic. What we now think of as religion -– exemplified by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. –- with its emphasis on giving life meaning, direction, and purpose, and a world that is well-ordered by God. However, these codes are so strictly enforced that they result in things like the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. The backlash to such extreme measures gave rise to the next level, the capitalist/scientific level, which “seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms” (Wilbur, 10), is rational, believes that the world is knowable through science, gave rise to immense material gains through capitalism, abolished slavery, and developed ideas of human rights. However, due to the fact that this level needed lots of resources, there was perceived exploitation of lower classes both within and without capitalist societies, and Newtonian physics was coming up against quite a few contradictions, both of which led to the next level. The egalitarian/communitarian level insists on the equality of all people, sees the world as a system, and encourages ecological thinking and pluralism. However, this level, even more than the rest, seems determined to destroy every level below it. This is in part due to its opposition to hierarchy and its extreme form of equality. As we can see, each of these levels comes with its own set of benefits –- benefits which we need to both acknowledge and embrace. We need stronger families, a healthy sense of self, lives with meaning, direction, and purpose, but with material well-being and a scientific understanding of the world and how its works, and respect for all people regardless of religion, race, or color. Family, heroism, religion, science, economic and ecological thinking, and pluralism all have their place. And should.

Teleological thinking is something humans commonly engage in. In fact, one could go so far as to identify it as one of the human universals. Thus, we should not be surprised if and when people use it with a model such as this. There is no highest level in this model. The holistic level, the highest level of thinking we currently have, is not the highest. Whatever the next level will look like will have to wait until the integrative and even the holistic levels become realized more in social organization. We cannot know exactly what it will look like, only that it will have a family resemblance to the other individualistic levels, since it comes after the communitarian level of holism. And there will be a communitarian level after it, etc. This is another reason why we should not mistake thinkers from the past for being more complex thinkers than they were. It is unlikely that a higher-level thinker will in fact mistake a lower-level thinker for thinking as he or she does, but there are those who may be on the same level as a past thinker, who may mistakenly think, just because he is in a more complex culture, that his thinking is also necessarily of the most complex form, and therefore think that a past thinker –- say, Plato, who is an aristocratic thinker –- is, say, a holistic thinker. This is particularly true among those who think that holism is necessarily the highest form of thinking possible (it is not –- it is only one more rung on the emergent ladder).

Thus, if we take the integrative and holistic approaches, we can begin to see the importance of knowing thinkers from each of the levels of complexity. Plato and Aristotle have their places in helping to give our lives meaning and direction, and to provide an ethical basis for action. They can inform the way we think these issues even today – since it is a level that is necessary for us to live meaningful, ethical lives. The next level, the capitalist/scientific level, allowed us to individualize those ethics, to consider the origins of ethics and the justification for them, and develop ideas of individual rights and personal responsibility. At the same time, the pluralism of the egalitarian level allows us to apply those ethics to more and more people in our ever-expanding tribe. This is admittedly a utilitarian approach to understanding the great thinkers of the past – but if we are honest with ourselves, we are already utilitarian with them, studying them to write essays and to develop our own philosophies for our own times. In the latter case, we have to know where we’ve been in order to know what’s already been done, and what still needs to be done. And for the integrationist and holistic world views, knowing each level is vital to understanding how each level should relate to each other, and be used to develop more complex levels of thinking and social organization. As we become more and more self-aware (the dictum to “know yourself” applied in a larger and larger sense), we will come to understand how important it is to integrate the levels and to appreciate and affirm each level for the benefits they bestow –- for both the development of new levels, and scholarship to understand each of the levels, particularly in how they relate to one another, and lead into new levels.

Another way we can come to understand these levels is suggested by Ken Wilbur: I-we-it-its. He talks about how we need to integrate all these aspects together –- but we can also come to understand each of the levels through these four aspects. The tribalist level contains none of these in any real sense. There is not yet a real sense of individual identity, or the difference between individual and group – and technology is very primitive, and is not seen as really separate from the tribe. With the development of heroic culture, we get “I” culture. With the development of the authoritarian culture of Plato and Aristotle, Christianity and Islam, we get “we” culture. With the development of capitalist/scientific culture, we get “it” culture. And with the development of egalitarian culture, we get “its” culture (with systems theory, etc.). Wilbur argues that I-we-it also corresponds to beauty(aesthetics)-ethics-truth. Thus we can begin to understand what is happening when Aristotle says ethics aims at to kalon, which can be translated as either “the beautiful” or “the good,” since Aristotle has an ethical “we” philosophy that is also strongly “I”. Also, we can begin to understand John Keats’ equation: “beauty is truth –- truth, beauty,” since Keats is an individualist living in scientific culture (romanticism was an attempt to recover aspects of heroic culture). And we can also begin, with more integrationist thinking, to understand that beauty, the good, and truth are all one and the same thing – and with the systems science of “its,” we can also begin to really understand for the first time how deeply embedded all of these are in time. And if we include the idea developed by J. T. Fraser of time as a nested hierarchy, we can begin to understand more and more deeply how everything is related.

IV. Conclusion

Obviously these ideas need to be further expanded -– but that is the topic of a full-length book, not an essay introducing the idea. With the idea of emergent complexity that contains the lower levels in a nested hierarchy, we can include too the I-we-it-its as well. We get a new idea of “I” when we move into the “we” of the authoritarian level, and a new idea of each as we move into both the “it” and “its” levels as well. And each of these aspects will change as we move into the intregrationist and holistic levels –- change, while at the same time containing their original meanings. The “I” investigated by Homer and Socrates influenced Freud, but the “I” developed by Freud is clearly of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the “we” developed by Plato and Aristotle influenced Heidegger, but the “we” of Heidegger is clearly of a different kind as well –- influencing the “we” of postmodernism, including its worst aspects, such as political correctness. And while the ancient Greeks did have science and technology, it is clear that the science and technology of the scientific culture is of a different kind, emergent and more complex. And the highly complex systems science that has since developed and become more dominant had its origins in some of the thoughts of Goethe, and even Aristotle.

One might ask, “If Aristotle were alive today, would he still be an authority thinker?” Naturally, this is impossible to say. That may have been his natural disposition to such an extent that it would still be his disposition today. However, it is also just as likely that Aristotle, being the genius he was, and the most complex thinker of his day, would be among the most complex thinkers of today. There is nothing in Aristotle that makes him inherently incapable of our level of complex thinking –- what made him incapable of it was his living and thinking in the time and culture in which he actually lived. In fact, every person living today, no matter what level they may currently be in, can also think in each of these levels –- though if they are at a lower level, they would of course have to move through each level, in order. Level jumps in complexity of thought are just as impossible as atoms skipping molecules to create life.

Excellence and Democracy

There are two kinds of equality: equality of outcomes and equality under the law. To get equality of outcomes, you have to have inequality under the law–you will have to treat everyone differently. After all, because people are inherently unequal in interests, intelligence, drive, etc., if people are living where the rules are equally applied, there will be inequality of outcomes.

The problem is that, much like with the two different ways one can be powerful, people confuse the two different kinds of equality.

“Everybody keeps calling for Excellence — excellence not just in schooling, throughout society. But as soon as somebody or something stands out as Excellent, the other shout goes up: ‘Elitism!’ And whatever produced that thing, whoever praises that result, is promptly put down. ‘Standing out’ is undemocratic” – Jacques Barzun

The problem, then, is that the pursuit of excellence is made increasingly difficult, as I’ve already observed. If we believe that equality means equality of outcomes, then democracy will inevitably drag everyone down into the mud. That’s why it’s so important that people understand that not all kinds of equality will result in equal outcomes. And, more, equality of outcome isn’t at all fair for that very reason.

Equality under the law, where people are literally treated the same through the rules of that culture/social systems/civil society, will result in unequal outcomes, but everyone will be treated the same. It also has the benefit of rewarding excellence rather than causing resentment toward it.

Government and Power Laws

The United States government was created out of a brilliant compromise. The founders took advantage of factions in and among the states, and used them to create a (mostly)  stable, peaceful system. The small states were concerned that the larger states, with larger populations, would take advantage of the smaller states –- so a Senate was created, wherein minorities had complete equality with majorities. The larger states, however, justly thought that majorities should rule in a democracy –- so a House of Representatives that represented population percentages was created. The electoral college –- a brilliant development that is poorly understood or appreciated –- was created to ensure that, with the election of Senators, the states would be the ones represented (we made a grave error in allowing for the direct election of Senators in the early part of the 20th Century, as it made the Federal government less federal, and more national), and with the election of the President, the smaller states would again be more fairly represented. The tenth amendment to the Constitution also made it clear that any powers not given explicitly to the federal government by the Constitution would fall to the states and to the individual citizens, respectively.

The government of the United States was further divided up among the states, which were to have more effect on the lives of the citizens than the federal government. The benefit of having stronger state governments was that each state could set up its own rules, and the citizens of that state could then choose to live in the state that most suited them. The states were further divided up into counties, and into town and city governments. There was a hierarchy of political power, with those governments closest to the people having the most power, and those farthest away having the least. Those with the most power would be the individuals, and whatever organizations they volunteered to join. The founding fathers of the United States stumbled upon the concept of power laws centuries before they were formulated in contemporary chaos theory.

What are power laws? Imagine that you are piling up sand one grain at a time. With the addition of each grain, there will be some stability, but quite often there will be avalanches. The vast majority of avalanches will be small ones –- one-grain avalanches. Many will be just a few grains. There will be fewer small avalanches, fewer still medium-sized avalanches, and only very rarely will there be very large ones, with an entire side of the sand pile collapsing.

As it turns out, there are many things which obey power laws –- all of them systems of some sort. Extinctions follow power laws –- there are many single-species extinctions, a few extinctions that take out several interrelated species, fewer that take out many species, and the rarest of all: mass extinctions. The same is true if we look at the economy. We have many small businesses, fewer medium-sized businesses, and fewest megacorporations. The lifetimes of corporations in an economy also follow power laws: many last only a short time, some last decades, very few last generations.

The United States government too was set up to follow power laws. The individuals have the most power, and have the most effect on their own lives; families too have power, but less overall than individuals (though they affect the place and position of those individuals); voluntary organizations, such as churches, have less power and effect; city governments have less still; county governments even less; state governments less than even county governments; and finally, the federal government was designed to have the least effect of all, with the Senate and the House of Representatives designed to be fighting all the time with each other, so they could not get much done (during the Presidency of George W. Bush, they were getting along altogether too well –- though we got a glimpse of the founders’ intentions when Presidents Clinton and Obama had to govern with a Republican Congress, during which time, very little was accomplished, and we also incidentally had some of the strongest economic growth in American history).

So it seems the government of the United States of America was set up according to the laws that govern nature –- particularly the growth of complex systems in nature. That is the very reason of its success. So why is it that, when the United States goes about helping countries set up new governments, that we do not encourage them to have a system similar to our own government?

Take the situation in Iraq. And let’s ignore for a moment whether or not the U.S. should have been there or engaged in nation-building in the first place. Given that nation-building was going to take place, it could have been a perfect place for an American-style government. There are several factions we wanted to get along. These sections –- the Kurds, the Arab Sunnis, and the Shi’ites –- could have been  divided up into equal sections –- perhaps five each. These would then be different-sized states, which could elect two senators each. That way they would have thirty senators, and each of the groups would have equal representation, without any group having more power than the other. The minorities would be protected. However, we don’t want a tyranny of the minority any more than we want a tyranny of the majority (the danger inherent in true democracies). So those states would also be subdivided according to population –- so that there would be a House of Representatives. This would allow for majority representation. Thus, there would be two houses of Congress, designed to protect the majority from the minority, and the minority from the majority. If we did this, we could have an executive branch similar to ours, wherein the President has very little actual power, and also a strong judicial branch to balance them all out. Further, each group would also get autonomy within their states, which should have more power overall than the federal government.

The key is to take advantage of the factions in the country, so that they work together to make the country safe and strong. And each state could set itself up slightly differently from the other states. Shi’ites who wanted stronger religious influence on them from government could live in the state that set itself up that way. Shi’ites who were more liberal, could live in the more liberal state. And the Sunnis and the Shi’ites could live in peace, separately together, as would the Arabs and the Kurds. This system would have worked best precisely because it takes advantage of factions. Parliamentary systems rely too much on coalition-building, and as such cannot work as well in a situation such as we find in Iraq. As we have mostly discovered.

There is another place that could take advantage of such a form of government, and it is Afghanistan. In fact, in any country in the world where there are battling factions, this form of government would work best. It would work best because it is precisely the form of government that most accurately matches the way the world itself works, the way nature solves internal tensions — according to power laws. Thus, it is in fact the most natural form of government. So why do we not encourage other governments to set up governments similar to ours? Perhaps we have been reading too many philosophers in the Franco-German tradition, and have forgotten about the Scottish philosophers, who our founding fathers were reading.

We should be reading less Marx, Heidegger, and Derrida, and reading more Locke, Hume, and Adam Smith. The former seek to make everyone the same; the latter realize we are not all the same, and seek to take advantage of that to create better forms of government. The former think if we can just get everyone to love one another in brotherhood, everything will be fine; the latter realize you can’t get everyone to love one another, but you can set up a system wherein those factions learn to get along, because it is to the advantage of each individual to do so. And now we not only have Locke, Hume, and Adam Smith, but we also have the new science of chaos theory and power laws to back them up.

The U.S. has weakened as it has moved away from the natural system set up by our founding fathers. Power has centralized more and more in Washington — and this was aided in no small part by the direct election of Senators (which distributed power down from the states). It is no coincidence that as power was distributed down that it was also distributed up, creating an increasingly dualistic form of government rather than a complex one. This dualism has resulted in an increasingly dualistic politics, with ever-deepening divisions — not of ideology, but simply of tribal loyalties, since there is practically no difference between Republicans and Democrats in what they actually do when in power. This is deeply destabilizing. And we are starting to reap the consequences.

Mutual Benefit or Power?

“The desire for an increase of wealth can be satisfied through exchange, which is the only method possible in a capitalist economy, or by violence and petition as in a militarist society, where the strong acquire by force, the weak by petitioning.” – Ludwig von Mises

These are the two choices. Each can gain through mutual exchange of value for value, or the powerful can gain through force. People seem to prefer the latter over the former. Why? Because we evolved to understand the world as a zero sum game. That is, in order for one to gain, that means another loses. Those who hate the rich think they only way they could have gained that much is by taking from others, making them poor.

But that’s not at all what happens. At least, not in a market economy.

In a market economy, mutual exchange means that both parties gain from the exchange. That is, it’s a positive sum game. The economy grows with every mutual exchange. The poor are better off by exchanging something they value less for something they value more. And the difference between the rich and the poor is simply that the rich engage in more mutual exchanges than do the middle class, who engage in more mutual exchanges than the poor. Of course, another difference–and this is a major difference–is that the rich and the middle class also save and invest their money. The more you can delay spending, the more money you are bound to have.

Saving is dangerous when the society is dominated by zero sum games–when the powerful prey on the weak, and the weak are left to beg. If you save in such a society, the powerful can come along and simply take what you’ve saved. So what do you do with your money? You spend it on experiences (parties with your friends and families), clothes, hair and nails, and anything you can show off but won’t really miss if someone steals it (cheap and flashy, and nothing sentimental). If you see these kinds of behaviors, that means the people are in a society where they are prey to the powerful. That society may be local or it may be an entire country–what matters is the people are trapped there.

We are increasingly a begging society. We beg for some of our taxes back. We beg the insurance companies to cover us. We beg the government for welfare, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so on. Businesses beg the government for more regulations to kill off their competition, for licensing to prevent new competition, and for subsidies. The only time we’re not begging is when we’re shopping at the store. Then we are on an equal footing  because each party wants to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange where both parties increase the value of what they have when they engage in the exchange.

In nature, there are systems that degrade and fall apart, and there are systems that grow, that become more than the sum of their parts. We can have a power-based entropic system, or we can have a complexity-based emergent system of growth and increasing wealth. Nature provides us with two options.

You have to ask yourself: what kind of society do you really want?

Do you want a society where the powerful prey on the weak, where the gang with the most guns get to dictate what you have and where you live and what business you can do, where you have to pay protection to ensure that something bad doesn’t happen to all your nice stuff? Whether it’s an inner city gang, the mafia, or a democratically elected government, there are altogether too many institutions out there engaged in this kind of predator-prey, master-slave relationship.

Or do you want a society where people engage in mutual exchange, where both parties are better off for the exchange? Where people engage in voluntary interactions, seeing who they want to see, doing whatever is peaceful, creating things of value to others? Whether it’s a business, working artists and writers, or scientists and inventors, there are altogether too few institutions out there engaged in this kind of mutually beneficial, voluntary relationships. There are many, but not enough–they are being replaced more and more with the predatory powerful.

The more predatory power-based people and institutions we have, the worse off we are. We become poorer, less trusting, more entrenched, more envious, more angry, more stressed and anxious. Do you feel these things in our societies today? The more power-based people and institutions we have, the more powerless we all feel. What you are feeling right now, that something is not quite right in society any more, is precisely this feeling of powerlessness.

But you don’t have to feel that way. It’s time to take the power back.