In his masterpiece, Nineteen Eight-Four, the writer George Orwell stated, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Though his work revolves predominately around the nature and structure of totalitarian society I don’t believe that Mr. Orwell was necessarily writing solely about control in the sense of openly oppressive and all powerful regimes incorporating all facets of society under the final authority of a single government or party. Such a system is appears to be the final stage, the final manifestation of a process which has its roots long before and if we have learned anything from our history it is that such methods are inherently dangerous and difficult to maintain. Instead I believe the crux of Orwell’s statement revolves around the false sense of freedom perceived by his citizens as the true nature of their enslavement. And in this light it appears Mr. Orwell was in fact warning of something much deeper, more difficult to counter or even perceive in a “free” society, and infinitely more dangerous: the control of the discourse and the gradual erosion of free thought which accompanies it.
At this point, we cannot say for certain whether this form of enslavement truly exists within our society, yet it is something we can subconsciously feel in the back of our minds and in our hearts every time we turn on the television, read a newspaper or periodical, surf the Internet, or simply try to hold a real conversation with one of our less enlightened peers. The echo chamber is all around us. It dominates our senses, alters our thoughts and ideas, speaks to our emotions, and hopes to satisfy us with just enough knowledge to be contented but not enough to become dangerous. In this world of revolving doors, a military-industrial complex, multi-billion dollar lobbying, corporate-controlled mass media, and an academia dominated by economic incentives over social good and the pursuit of knowledge, our discourse is clearly dominated by our established structures, false incentives, and society’s elite. These individuals are a small and non-representative portion of society who hold strong political, academic, and financial pedigrees and believe that they alone possess the knowledge and wisdom necessary to lead humanity into the future. They use buzzwords to satisfy our intellectual appetites like homeland security, terrorism, economic stimulus, fiscal austerity, liberal democracy, neoliberal economics, neoconservative (or “compassionate conservative”) politics, national interest, freedom, fascism, and communism while hoping we will not grow smart or motivated enough to fully investigate their true meaning. And through their efforts they have moved our collective discourse into a decidedly narrow and confined segment of human thought.
So what is there for us to do? How do we regain control of our collective thoughts and bring our society back to a level of real, constructive intellectual and operational discourse? How do we break the echo chamber that has confined our collective minds? While the process is easier discussed than accomplished, I do feel that we are finally starting to move in the right direction. Thanks to the gift of technology we have more access to information than ever before and many of us are finally willing to go through the intellectual pains of obeying rule number 1: always check your sources. We have real intellectual and ideological movements springing up such as Occupy, the Zeitgeist Movement, 9/11 Truth, the Venus Project, and various other real and imagined human communities which are finally beginning to ask the tough questions to those in power. And we have more and more people waking up to the cold reality that our current civilization is drifting farther away from a sustainable and equitable course. In that spirit, I propose these humble idea as a potential outline for further courses of action comprised of four distinct steps and two intangibles which I feel may or may not help to guide us a bit as we regain control of our society’s discourse and move on towards the next evolution in the human species. As always, I am likely to be very wrong with these ideas and therefore will leave it up to others to critique my work and develop a better, more operational and comprehensive outline in time. In the end, we are all in this together and it is only our collective toil and responsibility that can lead us properly into the future.
Before evolutionary action, we must have evolutionary ideas. And while our discourse may appear revolutionary to some in our society, particularly those in power and with the most invested in the current order, I feel that reaction is solely a product a product of an echo chamber grown arrogantly and destructively out of balance. Evolution is the continuation of achievement and discovery moving the species forward into new levels of existence and reality through the passage of time. Revolution is the violent breaking down of old orders creating chaos and uncertainty in the place of progress. In this time, we must focus on making the former our priority.
Before you begin a discourse, you need others with whom to discuss your ideas. Thanks to the wonders of technology, they need not be your geographical neighbors although it tends to get very rough and lonely trying to change the world by staring at a computer without real human interaction. Regardless of the tools however, connections must be made, ideas exchanged, and meetings organized. Luckily at this time, we appear to be well on our way to establishing the beginnings of a truly global and transformational intellectual community. Resistance movements have sprung up all over our society and have begun questioning the very nature of our economic and political state of affairs such the corporate control of government and media, the principles of monetary economics, and the utility of military force and contemporary perceptions of security. And through the continued discussion and developing intellectual counter-establishment we are finally seeing more and more people from all walks of life waking up to the simple truths that something just isn’t right with our society anymore. If we want to get started on figuring out what that something is, we must continue to come together and keep talking. And through that process, great care must be taken to focus not simply on community as a means of intellectual resistance to but at a means of intellectual inclusiveness where all ideas and outlooks are accepted and equally challenged. It’s easy to build a community of resistors, but what we will need is a community of intellectual connectors.
Once a community is established, the next step is to slowly bring it into the mainstream where it can attract greater recognition. This does not mean simply aligning with one established political party or another even if that includes a third party or alternative candidate. In order to be successful, the discourse must remain separate and distinct yet complimentary to politics gaining strength from ideas rather than political ideologies or figureheads. Instead of devolving into politics, the community must focus on access both in terms of sources of information (leading to facts and understanding) and a means of broadcasting its ideas, concepts, and discussions for further societal review. Direct access to mainstream media, think tanks, and academic establishments is likely to be shaky at best simply because these organizations are burdened by the inertia of the current discourse and the false incentives of the long-established and narrow confines created by their own echo chambers. Therefore, I believe the focus should be on finding key individuals and gaining access to their ideas and personal networks. Every conventional establishment possesses its share of free and forward thinking minds willing to actively question conventional wisdom and it is these professionals who should be actively sought out and welcomed into the greater community whenever possible. Not enough can be said for the power of personal and intellectual relationships across institutional divides and this networking between influential individuals will eventually grant greater access to more mainstream circles of thought and media sources. The Occupy movement has been already been instrumental in bringing some of these new concepts to the forefront of conventional discourse even if only for brief moments at a time and more effort should clearly be spent in bringing more diverse groups of people into the discussion while along the way always striving for the maximum diversity of ideas and experiences. There is no sense in breaking an echo chamber only to build another one in its place.
Develop a Counter-Narrative…
As more and more minds enter into the discourse, effort should be directed towards finding actual solutions to the problems presented by the current situation. You cannot break an echo chamber without having ideas to counter it. And a system cannot safely be brought down until a viable and operational alternative comes into existence. Thus, a counter-narrative based on a positivist outlook and focusing on solutions rather than problems is absolutely essential. This will likely not be a clean affair due to the great diversity of minds and ideas at play but until differences can be resolved and key ideologies and concepts expressed the movement will remain disjointed and ineffectual. While some core concepts will have to be firm and unshakeable, the counter-narrative must also allow for maximum cooperation with established powers and flexibility in its operational strategies. Again, I recommend refraining from engagement in party politics as these are likely to only corrupt and polarize the movement although systemic political transformation will be an essential part of the counter-narrative discourse. Politics will one day have its place, but it will not be until better systems and ideas are well established that political activity can be put to good effect. And all must beware of political saviors arriving on white horses with great promises.
Master the Transition…
Change is an inescapable aspect of mankind’s reality on this planet. And as we continue along the present course I can only expect to see great systemic changes both planned and unplanned occurring in our societies. Our current elite discourse tends to characterize these changes as the “New World Order” but I’m afraid if we continue the course amid our current echo chamber that our reality is likely to exhibit quite a bit more chaos than order. Regardless, we must find ways of adapting as our times and realities change. We must find leaders within our communities who can offer guidance and coherence during difficult times. And we must establish methods and concepts for turning our dreams into reality amid the constant friction of real-world change. Nobody can say what surprises time, circumstance, and coincidence or complex causality have in store for us in the coming years and thus we must maintain the flexibility necessary to not just adapt, but to thrive amid very different sets of circumstances. In the end though, the transition stages are likely to be among the most dynamic and exciting of times for human beings on this planet and I can only describe it as a great honor and privilege to be alive at this time and capable of contributing to the greatest transition in human history. Despite all the challenges and adversity before us, the transition times are where we will all prove our worth and finally earn the future our children deserve. We just have to master them.
To put it quite simply, this will be a very long process. I fully expect this to be a generational struggle and understand that I may never truly see the end of our human transition during my brief stay on this planet. Patience is absolutely critical although a select and relatively small set of circumstances will require decisive and immediate action. And we must remember above all else that we are seeking evolutionary and not revolutionary changes. Even though future historians will likely label our work as a revolution in human affairs our goal is to bring out the changes as smoothly and peacefully as possible. Along the way there will surely be calls for more violent and direct revolutionary actions possibly even from key members of our own communities but these temptations must be resisted to the fullest extent possible. Violence and rapid change generally only create opportunities for the less ethical among us to seize power and control for selfish purposes and it must be clear from the beginning that such is not the course we seek. In order for transformation to be complete it must be a long process. Our current challenges are far too complex to succumb to any other course or temptation.
Focus on Scientific Reality…
We live on a finite planet with a finite set of resources. For years however we have thrived and existed on a process and discourse based mostly on the competing concepts of universal scarcity (value) and infinite growth. Yet as we continue to destroy and degrade many of our natural resources and fragile ecosystems we are coming close to the physical limits of planetary growth at the same time that we are finding so many of our fellow humans living impoverish and destitute lives as a simple byproduct of our systems of scarcity. From this perspective, it is quite clear that this course cannot be continued indefinitely…at least as long as there are over 7 billion people on our planet. Therefore our entire process of discourse and discovery must be grounded on the scientific method and based upon the physical limits and human capability and discovery amid a complex and dynamic environment. An approach to understanding based upon the scientific method will also require us to maintain a critical eye towards our ideas and concepts forcing the humility of admitting our own failures and mistakes into our discourse. As our scientific and technological community continues to expand and adapt, I firmly believe that we will find solutions for many of our complex human problems, but we must remain vigilant and approach any answers we find with a critical eye for poor assumptions can have disastrous results especially if we allow the false incentive of profit to continue trumping the incentive of human discovery.
The process of breaking the echo chamber is not going to be easy or simple by any means. It will likely require a collective intellectual and social effort on a scale without much parallel in human history. The days will be long. The nights will be longer. And at times we will wake up and just wonder where all the years of our lives have gone. But the path to the next human evolution is ours to take and the future is ours to create. But first we must be able to dream it up, discuss it, and figure out how to make it work. I’ll see you along the journey.
2 JUN 2012, 1315(L), Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan