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The shared human enterprise is multidimensional. Its various dimensions don’t exist in mutual isolation. Each dimension implicates all others. Human efforts and developments within the various dimensions need to articulate with human efforts and developments in all others. Politics can’t be considered without considering economics, and economics can’t be considered without considering technological developments. None can be considered without considering the production and dissemination of ideas and values and understandings and techniques (and the emotional reactions to them), in short, of human cognitions (including emotions).

The evolution of our social institutional and technological landscape is the overarching theme of human history. Wealth is produced and distributed, ideas created and disseminated, wars sparked and fought, buildings designed and built, political forms and processes developed, all due to and through and as an expression and producer of our ever changing social institutional and technological context.

Technological developments pose both opportunities and challenges. They provide new ways, new tools with which, to produce wealth and address problems. But they also create new problems of their own.

The Economist magazine recently provided a glimpse into the immediate future, by exploring some cutting-edge technologies of the present (see Perhaps the most striking aspect of the package of new technologies changing the face of manufacturing is the 3-D printer:

3-D printing is one aspect of the larger phenomenon of “digital manufacturing,” which in turn is one aspect of the larger phenomenon of what can be called an “information technological revolution.” We all are aware of it, but we don’t always incorporate that awareness into our more generalized understandings and strategies. The fact is that the rapid developments in information technologies (i.e., the set of technological innovations that includes computers, the internet, and mobile communications devices that now are hand-held communications and information processing instruments) is transforming our world, and will continue to do so, in dazzlingly dramatic ways.

The impact of this IT Revolution isn’t just that everyone has or soon will have an i-phone, hooked into a global network of thought and information access. It is also that the more generalized processes of conceptualization, communication, creation, development, production and distribution of cognitive material and all of its products is undergoing a major paradigm shift that has deep structural implications that will ripple and reverberate throughout the social institutional and technological landscape in acceleratingly transformative ways.

We’ve seen the first salvos of the political implications in “The Arab Spring” and other geopolitical events and transformations in recent years, with autocratic governmental control of information flows (and thus of populations in general) being eroded by the IT Revolution. We’ve seen it in our own political system, with political organizing and fund-raising and networking enhanced by new tools which favor those who most rapidly become most adept at their utilization (see, e.g., A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?). We’ve seen it in science and scholarship, starting with the development of “Chaos Theory” in the early days of modern computers, and growing from there into an accelerating transformation of our understanding of the nature of the world of which we are a part (including the evolutionary ecology of the social institutional and technological landscape itself; see the essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts).

Now we are seeing it in how we create, produce, and distribute the material manifestations of human existence, the machines and commodities and, in general, the “stuff” of our lives.

What does this all mean for those of us who are most consciously engaged in the human enterprise, who are committed to working with others similarly committed to do the best we can in service to humanity? It means we need to start thinking in new ways, ready to utilize new tools. We need to develop new paradigms that incorporate all of this massive information, these massive changes in the processes that comprise our shared existence, this threshold through which we are passing, and address the future not just as an economic challenge narrowly conceived (as some do), and not just as a technological challenge narrowly conceived (as others do), and not just as a political challenge narrowly conceived (as still others do), and not just as a scientific or scholarly challenge narrowly conceived (as still others more do), but as an integrated challenge incorporating all of these together.

One of the lagging components of the paradigm shift we are undergoing (perhaps always the lagging component in all historical paradigm shifts) is the intentional or organic integration of its various parts for maximum human benefit (see, for instance, American Universities: Two Dimensions on which to Improve, for a discussion of the need to better integrate and articulate the products of our scholarship across disciplines). This is where the crucial challenge lies: How do we gather together these various threads of thought and innovation, and synthesize and channel them most effectively for human benefit?

One of the common threads emerging from the IT Revolution is coherent decentralization. Our ability to publish, network, and organize (social media and the blogosphere), to be vigilant (see Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization), to raise funds (see Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”), and political and economic collaboration in general (see Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed). But it’s not just augmented multi-lateral communications in play, but simultaneously augmented information processing (e.g., the data analysis function of computer technology), and now, the direct translation of information into its physical manifestations (i.e., production and construction). 3-D printers enable anyone anywhere to manipulate the design of an object digitally, integrating mass production and custom design into a single technology, and to manufacture that object remotely, for anyone else anywhere else, on demand.

One of the central implications of our current technological trajectory is that the demand for human labor will be increasingly a demand for highly trained, technically proficient, information-intensive labor. Humans will be more and more relegated to doing the tasks for which humans have –and will long have– a unique comparative advantage over any devices we can invent, and that is in our highest levels of cognitive functioning, in our imaginations and creativity, in our unique human consciousness. Increasingly, developing that consciousness as something more than a set of mechanical skills that can be sold on the labor market will not only be what feeds our souls, but also what imbues us with what will increasingly be the only asset for which there will be a future demand on that same labor market: Brilliant, imaginative, inventive, creative minds.

There will never be a shortage of opportunities for minds thus developed, but there will increasingly be a shortage of opportunities for everyone else. In a society and world where we haven’t yet met the challenge of educating our children sufficiently to meet the needs of the past century, meeting the challenge of educating our children sufficiently to meet the needs of this imminent and in many ways already present future poses an urgent, imperative challenge to us as a society.

This is nothing less than a revolution in the speed and agility of our technologically augmented collective consciousness, and in the speed and agility of our ability to translate that consciousness into action and objects, into wealth and welfare, into opportunity and the accelerating realization of human potential. But it also poses daunting challenges, challenges in how we prepare people to contribute to and participate in this production of wealth, and how we cope with the inequities and inhumanities that will result to the extent of our failure to do so.

There is so much dazzling new cognitive material currently flourishing in our shared cognitive landscape, a garden of possibilities bearing rich new fruits to be picked. But it is through their constant cross-fertilization, through the interweaving of their various vines, that the richest and most abundant fruits will be produced. The future is hanging low on the boughs of human consciousness, of imagination and innovation. We need to stop waiting for its fruits to fall on us of their own accord, and reach up and grap them with conscious intent and design, because, by doing so, we increase their value and quantity. When it comes to human consciousness and all of its products, it is through the act and intentionality of harvesting it that we most effectively cultivate it.

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(Continued from Can Wisdom & Compassion Go Viral? Part I, which addresses the question, in general, of our conscious role in the evolution of human consciousness.)

In a series of posts over the past few days (The Dance of ConsciousnessThe Algorithms of Complexity, Transcendental Politics), I’ve explored the connection between, on the one hand, “the evolutionary ecology” paradigm (found in a series of essays linked to in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts) encompassing not just the biosphere as we normally think of it, but also the anthrosphere subsystems of it (i.e., our cognitive, social institutional and technological landscape), and, on the other, the social movement that I’ve been conceptualizing and advocating which seeks to most robustly produce and spread the memes and “emes” (i.e., the cognitions and emotions) of imaginative reason and compassionate goodwill. Combined, they form aspects of a single paradigm, a set of memes articulated into coherent unity by other memes which identify organizing principles.

Though I enjoy a steady flow of visitors to my windswept cave in these virtual mountains, and hundreds of folks who have registered on Colorado Confluence and “liked” my Colorado Confluence Facebook page, still, this blog is just one marginal eccentric’s voice lost in a cacophony of virtual noise. There is nothing other than the judgment of readers, and their active communication of that judgment, to commend (or condemn) me to others. I am not an accredited source of wisdom, nor even a recognized pundit called upon to share my insights on talk shows generally more focused on the relatively superficial and transient (which is not to say necessarily trivial or unimportant).

There are many ways to promote reason and goodwill that have nothing to do with Colorado Confluence. Certainly, every kind word and gesture, every calming voice, every act of forgiveness and tolerance, every compelling argument gently delivered, every reminder of our humanity to those most inclined to forget it, is such service of the highest order. It is always the most essential and, ironically, often the most difficult to achieve.

But what I hope I have done here is to provide one well-conceived and precisely articulated framework through which to focus and organize such efforts. I am certain that it is not the only such attempt, nor is it necessarily the best such attempt, but it is one of the relatively few contributions to a meta-dialogue that we too infrequently have, and too meagerly invest in. Those most engaged in our shared endeavor of life on Earth are also most focused on the issues of the day, leaving relatively unattended by a combination of too little time and too little interest (and perhaps too little belief in our ability) the deeper questions of what we can do to affect for the better our long-term evolution as a civilization.

There is nothing new about such attempts, but previous ones have generally acquired much baggage along the way, or were conceived in cauldrons of assumptions and beliefs that doomed them to the dust heap of history. This may well meet the same fate, but it is one of a smaller subset of such attempts which consciously strives not to: It is an attempt to reach farther and deeper into “the suchness,” to assume less but accommodate more, and to focus on the process of discovery and realization rather than to fetishize and ideologically enshrine its products.

History is strewn with the successes and failures of imaginative intellectuals with too much time on their hands (or an obsession that drove them to spend more time than they had), and the best bet right now is that I’m just another who won’t even rise to the ranks of a forgotten footnote. But ideas beget ideas, and well-reasoned, imaginative discourse generates more well-reasoned, imaginative discourse. The value of the ideas expressed on this blog may well be the ideas they spark in others, the swirls and eddies they contribute to in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, themselves mere catalysts that are forgotten by all but their author.

But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished here, proud of the coherently eclectic, humbly ambitious, richly informed, frequently insightful, occasionally psychedelic yet assiduously realistic and practical vision of the underlying nature of our existence, what we are capable of, and how we can most robustly and effectively navigate the former to realize the latter.

So I’m going to ask those of you who agree to some extent, who believe that the ideas published on this blog make a valuable contribution to our shared discourse and our shared endeavor, to help me to broadcast them more widely. The internet has provided us with an amazing tool to amplify both noise and signal, one which can utilize the logic of chain letters and pyramid schemes not merely to enrich a few enterprising con artists, but rather to enrich, even if only marginally, our collective consciousness.

We all know about entertaining videos and clever compositions (such as the college application essay that included, among other things, “full contact origami”) going “viral,” something that has occurred throughout human history (as I explained in Can Wisdom & Compassion Go Viral? Part I) in the forms of rumors and religions, techniques and motifs, stories and strategies. The wheel has rolled across the planet many times over, probably originating with a prehistoric potter seeking symmetry rather than transportation. The floods, the phalluses and fertility figurines, the flutes and fletched arrows; the games, the gadgets, the gods and guns. Memes and paradigms have been going viral throughout human history. It is incumbent on us to strive to spread “eases” rather than diseases, and to foment epidemics of marginally increased wisdom and humanity.

The internet has given us greater power to do so, and greater responsibility to help others cut through the noise to find the signal. If you believe that there is something here of value, please help others to discover it too. By your even minimal and occasional assistance, I gain only the gratification not only of doing what I do well, but also of inspiring others to increase its reach and effect, in what I hope may become rippling waves through our shared cognitive landscape.

Please, repost and share what you find on Colorado Confluence, new and old, as liberally as your conscience permits, and encourage others to do the same. Follow me (steveharveyHD28) on Twitter (which I use almost exclusively to link to posts on Colorado Confluence), and retweet my tweets. Recommend Colorado Confluence to friends (by going to the Colorado Confluence Facebook page, for instance, and clicking the “suggest to friends” icon in the upper right margin, then selecting some or all of your friends to recommend it to), and encourage them to recommend it to theirs. Help me to create or contribute to a grass roots movement that aspires to something beyond immediate political advantage and looks beyond the false certainties we all are so often seduced by, yet not removed from the ultimate political struggle of discovering and realizing the fullest extent of our humanity.

Let’s once again transform the world in ways few have yet begun to imagine possible, but many will some day take for granted.

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The dynamics I described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change applies as much to emotions as to cognitions, as we all know: Kindness and unkindness, love and hate, generosity and selfishness, forgiveness and anger, are all highly contagious, spreading robustly in conflicting, resonating, self-amplifying currents of benevolence and belligerence. The world is full of flame wars and love fests, shouts of “get a room!” and “cage match!” On scales both large and small we cultivate either mutual goodwill or mutual antagonism with every word and gesture.

Indeed, the dynamical, ever-changing social institutional and technological landscape described in the essays in the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts is as much a function of this emotional contagion as it is of the cognitive contagion on which I routinely focus. The two are intertwined, at times mutually reinforcing and at times mutually disrupting, bad attitudes undermining good ideas, and kind emotions concealing callous cognitions. I had discussed this several times, in a different context, in several of the essays in the second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts, such as The Foundational Progressive Agenda, The Politics of Anger, The Politics of Kindness, The Power of “Walking the Walk”, The Battle of Good v. Evil, Within & Without, and The Battle of Good v. Evil, Part 2.

In fact, I began to identify the interplay of the substance of our political positions and the form by which they are advocated, in The Basic Political Ideological Grid. But, as I began to indicate in that essay, their integration is more along the pattern described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, two reverberating currents intertwined in complex ways.

I have sometimes written (drawing on the work of economist Robert Frank, among others) that our emotions are our primordial social institutional material, the commitment mechanism that bound us together before we created governments and markets and enforceable contracts; the protoplasm of “norms” diffusely enforced through mutual social approval and disapproval. But even as we have rationalized our society through the ever-increasing domain of hierarchies, markets, (fully developed) norms, and ideologies, this emotional protoplasm is still flowing through that mass of latter developments, of cognitive social institutional material.

Political discourse is commonly more emotional than rational, and, as a consequence, more ideological than methodological (see Ideology v. Methodology). That’s because ideology is the handmaiden of emotion, while methodology is the handmaiden of reason. Since reason has always played, and continues to play, only a marginal instantaneous role in human cognitions and human history (though, somewhat paradoxically, a major long-term role), the dynamics described in The Fractal Geometry of Social Change are of a more emotional than rational nature, at least in real time.

And the emotional content counts, as much or more than the rational content. There are those on the left who argue that we need to be angrier, to be more like The Tea Party, which used anger so successfully. But I argue that that is a recipe for becoming The Tea Party, not for countering it, because it is the anger, more than anything else, that makes The Tea Party the scourge that it is. Of course, those who argue in favor of angrier politics are not opposed to the emotional content of The Tea Party, but only the substantive content. They are already adherents of The Politics of Anger, and are spreading the same emotional gospel with a set of alternative substantive hymns.

The robustness of The Tea Party, therefore, is not only to be measured by how many substantive adherents it has attracted, but also by how many people it has inspired to anchor their own politics in anger, because the virus of anger is as much a part of its message as the virus of extreme individualism, the latter carried by the former, or perhaps the former by the latter; it’s always hard to tell.

I could rewrite The Fractal Geometry of Social Change referring to emotional hues and shades rather than cognitive hues and shades, keeping all the rest intact, and it would serve the purpose well. But the final draft would have to combine the two, the emotional and the cognitive, for, to play on Richard Dawkins’ previous play on words, we are not just a story of genes and memes, but also of emes, all braided and blended in complex and mutually reverberating ways.

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Social institutions, technologies, and ideologies and conceptual frameworks are comprised of memes (cognitions) linked together into coherent bundles according to organizing principles called “paradigms.” For instance, a government or economy is comprised of the memes which define the roles of all actors in the system, the rules and processes involved, and the underlying principles which inform and guide it (the paradigm). This is true of informal as well as formal institutions, across levels of organization, including everything from religions and industries to popular beliefs and customs of all kinds.

Memes and paradigms are in constant flux, evolving by several interrelated mechanisms. At core, as in biological evolution, is the variable reproductive success of the underlying memes. Memes, like genes, are packets of information which reproduce (are communicated), mutate (change in the various minds of those to whom they are communicated), differentially thrive (sometimes in direct competition, and sometimes due merely to contextual circumstances), and thus evolve (those mutations that are more reproductively successful proliferate while those that are less so fade away). Memes and sets of memes can also be combined in novel ways through intentional human effort to innovate, producing new memes and sets of memes from the consciously mediated synthesis of existing ones.

The relative reproductive success of memes is driven by a combination of reflexive and reflective individual human responses. Motivating these responses are psychological and emotional predispositions, general utility, and localized utility, blended into both rote and strategic interactions. The localized utility of certain memes and sets of memes can coalesce into social institutional power (often originated by, and implicitly underwritten by, access to physical force), allowing the imposition of paradigms that yield differentiated costs and benefits to those organized under them.

The evolution of technological memes and sets of memes, for instance, is driven at one level by general utility (see The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology), from which individuals involved in their creation, production and utilization draw localized utility, and, when combined with facilitating organizational memes, can give differentiated power to those groups of people with differentiated access to them or ability to utilize them for maximum benefit. The evolution of popular beliefs, on the other hand, is driven more by identifiable and inherent psychological and emotional predispositions, in a process of adaptation to and articulation with memes and paradigms evolving under the lathe of utility (which in turn adapt to and articulate with memes and paradigms evolving under the lathe of psychological and emotional predispositions).

Social institutions (including social institutional purposive systems that program human behavioral phenomena, or social institutional “technologies,” but excluding other technologies that program natural phenomena) coalesce around organizational adaptations to technologies of all kinds, as well as in both haphazard (decentralized, organic, and cumulative) and intentional (centralized, purposive, and punctuated) response to collective action and (to a lesser extent) time horizon problems (see Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems; in brief, collective action problems are situations in which individual rational self-interested behavior leads to worse outcomes for everyone involved than could be achieved through mutual commitment to cooperative action, and time horizon problems occur when the discounting of future costs and benefits leads to a sub-optimal short-sightedness in rational self-interested individual and collective behavior).

Separating out social institutions from non-social-institutional technologies (i.e., what we normally think of when we think of “technologies”), we can discern four social institutional modalities: Hierarchies, markets, norms, and ideologies. Hierarchies are authority structures comprised of formal rules centrally enforced by means of explicit rewards and punishments. Markets are mutually beneficial systems of exchange, in which one’s share of the benefits of collective action is determined by the market value of their contribution to it. Norms are unwritten rules diffusely and informally enforced through the social approval and disapproval of others. And ideologies are internalized beliefs and values enforced through self-policing and auto-sanctioned by cognitive dissonance (in the form of self-inflicted feelings of guilt or shame).

Actual social institutions and social institutional paradigms are comprised of blends and hybrids of these modalities, articulated with technologies, responding to a combination of the organizational demands and opportunities presented by technologies, related and independent collective action and time horizon problems, and the demands and opportunities posed by the diffuse organic psychological and emotional reflexive reactions to all of these other changes.

The various social sciences, with differing focal points but considerable overlap, examine the dynamics of the various aspects and various overlapping and cross-cutting organizing principles (“paradigms”) of this social institutional landscape. Though differing disciplines and schools within disciplines often utilize superficially conflicting or incompatible theoretical lenses, much of the perceived mutual exclusivity of perspectives evaporates when these perspectives are combined under the umbrella of a comprehensive social systems paradigm such as the one I am describing here (much as string theory in physics reconciles quantum mechanics and relativity).

Paradigms shift when a new guiding principle is used, or an old guiding principle is used in a new way, in the social institutional as well as social theoretical context. Changing physical power sources, for instance (such as the advent of the steam engine or electrification), creates rippling new challenges and opportunities, a need to adapt architecturally, organizationally, and economically to the new principle. The change from monarchy to popular sovereignty that occurred during the 17th-19th centuries in several Western European and Western European derived nations reversed the principal-agent relationship between government and populace (transforming the government from principal to agent, and the populace from agent to principal), accompanied by continuing cascades of social institutional and ideological accommodations and adaptations. (Interestingly, the political ideology in the United States today that is rooted in 18th century American Revolutionary ideology is based largely on the anachronistic rejection of government as principal and populace as agent that motivated the American Revolution).

Revolutions (whether political, technological, economic, or cultural) are essentially just such paradigm shifts, in science catalyzed by an accumulation of anomalies within an existing paradigm; in technology by limits imposed by existing technologies combined with “opportunity niches” provided by the current technological and economic landscape (see The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology); in politics by the limits imposed by the current regime on certain empowered or ready-to-be-self-empowered interest groups and the opportunities they perceive (e.g., American Independence, African American Civil Rights, various post-colonial national independence movements); and in culture by the diffuse organic adaptations and adjustments that ripple through the institutional landscape as a result of these other changes, involving a combination of aesthetics (fine arts, music, cuisine, etc.), entertainments and public celebrations, and psychologically and emotionally motivated cognitive adaptations and reactions.

There are two types of processes that memes can undergo during their residence in a human mind: 1) They can be implicitly accepted intact and modified only unconsciously and unintentionally (if at all), or 2) they can be worked on, in conjunction with and through utilization of other memes, critiqued, evaluated, intentionally modified, synthesized, and/or woven into a larger cognitive framework. Technological memes as discussed by Brian Arthur in The Nature of Technology, for instance, undergo the second process.

Sometimes and to some extent these clash with sets of memes associated primarily with the first process, memes that are reproduced as elements of authoritative traditions, taken as “gospel.” Sometimes and to some extent the two types of meme processes articulate with one another in mutually reinforcing and synergistic ways. And these two interactions can occur simultaneously between the same two sets of memes. It can be argued, for instance, that though the memes of the Medieval Catholic Church and the early products of modern science were often and most obviously in conflict with one another, they were also in some ways mutually reinforcing, the monotheism at the heart of Catholicism providing a coherent “creation” for science to explore.

The conflicts themselves can generate or invigorate particular social institutional innovations. The rise in popularity of home schooling in the United States, for instance, emerges to a large extent from the aversion of some religious fundamentalists to the secularized secondary socialization provided by public schools. 

The social institutional landscape has a nested and overlapping dynamical fractal structure, with some small subset of memes shared almost universally by global humanity, and the rest by smaller swathes of humanity of every magnitude down to the individual level. Transnational linguistic groups, national or regional cultures, international professional communities, afficianados of theater or a local sports team, local peer groups and families, these and almost unlimited other such groupings can share meme-sets ranging from specialized shared knowledge to particular opinions or judgments, rumors or observations or shared jokes rustling through them like a breeze through tall grass.

Some are highly contagious, articulating well with human psychological predispositions or existing internal cognitive landscapes, spreading far and wide. Some become obsolete, dated by the flow of events or by the duration of attention spans, and contract again into oblivion after “lives” ranging from the very local and fleeting to the very widespread and long enduring.

Individual internal cognitive landscapes are comprised of a unique intersection of these differentially distributed memes, most, though shared in essence, slightly modified in the individual mind by the already existing cognitive landscape of metaphorical frames and narratives into which they fit themselves. And all of this is in constant flux at all levels, new memes emerging, spreading out in branching and expanding tentacles, which themselves are branching and expanding recursively, shrinking back, billions doing so simultaneously, converging into new coherent sets of memes which take on lives of their own.

If we imagine each meme as a color, and each variation as a shade of that color, then we would have billions of distinct colors and trillions of distinct shades flowing in diverse expanding and contracting fractal patterns through the mind of humanity, interacting in almost unlimited unique and creative ways as they converge in particular minds and groups of minds, each individual human being defined, in conjunction with their unique set of genes, by their unique set of memes organized into simultaneously shared and individuated metaphorical frames and narratives. This is the graphic of our social institutional landscape: mind-bogglingly complex, flowing and dynamic, throbbing with a life of its own, shot through with the transient borders and categories imposed by our imaginations, borders and categories which themselves are artifacts of the mind in constant flux on varying time scales. (See The Fractal Geometry of Social Change for a continuation of this theme).

Precise analyses of various kinds -political, economic, and cultural- can be organized under this paradigmatic umbrella, articulating with one another in new and more robust ways. In future posts, I will frequently explore specific historical developments, current events, and political, economic, and social issues in the light of the framework outlined above (as I have in fact done in many previous posts). Much is gained by creating an accommodating and encompassing analytical language through which to explore and examine the complex and subtle dynamics of the world in which we live.

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