The Logic of the System

    Over the past 30 or so days, Francis Berger has written multiple posts about freedom.  Freedom is an essential concept for these times because so much of what happens now and has happened in the modern world is based around freedom and its absence.  This post will be the first of two posts on freedom.  First, I want to discuss the underlying logic of the System that has co-opted so much of the West and by means of the West, the rest of the world.  In the second post, I will discuss the spiritual freedom which should be our goal.  Contrasting these two will aid understanding of both of them.  

    One way to think of the System is as one big Chinese Room, where Chinese Room refers to John Searle's famous thought experiment, which he used to argue that understanding and algorithmic rule-following are not the same.  In the experiment, a person who can speak English but not Chinese is placed in a room and given a set of instructions which explain how to manipulate Chinese characters according to certain rules.  Communications written in Chinese can then be slipped through a slot into the room.  The instructions tell the individual in the room how to respond, but the instructions never translate the characters into English, so the operator never knows the meaning of what he writes in response, only the form of the characters.  

    The operator is merely following a step-by-step process: no undestanding is required.  Certainly, if the operator can read and write Chinese, then he would do a better job than someone who can neither read nor write the language.  But, that person would be able to respond as he wishes rather than according to the program of the designer of the room.  And this is what we see in the system.  Many jobs have been gradually changed to become rule-following procedures.  Human beings are encouraged to think and act mechanically.  This has happened very quickly, especially accelerating over the past 20 or so years.  

    In previous times, a task depended on the competence of the person performing it, but now the goal is for someone to be minimally competent to follow instructions.  There have been many economic, sociological, or technological reasons put forward for these changes, but none of them are really satisfying explanations.  For one thing, most of them argue in some form or fashion that these mechanizing changes are inevitable.  But they clearly are not.  Indeed, in many cases they make things worse and less efficient and lead to silly errors that human beings who are thinking like humans would catch easily.  What is really happening goes deeper than this.  It's something happening in the consciousness of the managers who have implemented these changes.  An idea has taken control of their minds.  And the idea has to come from somewhere.  

    This level of coordination for things that make no sense and that everyone can see make no sense lends some credence to the idea of Rudolf Steiner that a being named Ahriman is the motive force driving the mechanization of the modern world.  In a lecture, Terry Boardman has said that he thinks Ahrimanic spirits are influencing people to invent technologies that ordinary human consciousness would not conceive of.  There may be something to that.  Whatever is happening, the standard explanations are not sufficient.  Indeed, Rudolf Steiner in a different context made the point that typical modern thinking cannot understand the true causes of events initiated by changes in consciousness.  The modern explanation simply describes how what is later came from what was earlier, but never says why in this way and not another.  

    So, the System consists of a large number of people following micro-specialized algorithmic tasks that are linked together into a larger design.  A good concrete example of this, with respect to VW, is shown in this post from the Brief Outlines blog.  

    And no one is supposed to think while performing their tasks or think about how the pieces fit together.  Even at what are supposed to be (though I do not believe they necessarily are to the extent they are portrayed) intellectually elite locations, such as Harvard and Silicon Valley, people are not supposed to think.  I have never been to either of these places, but reading about them gives one this impression.  

    In contrast to Emerson and Thoreau's day, when Harvard was about giving a liberal education, the education of a free man, someone meant to think for himself, a Harvard degree is now a certification of extreme conscientiousness and high intelligence.  But the intelligence isn't to be used to evaluate and understand for oneself; it's just to follow complex instructions.  Likewise, I have read that many technical professionals in their 30s have a difficult time being hired by Silicon Valley firms.  On the one hand, this seems surprising because one's 30s is when people who have been working at something for many years start to deepen their understanding, when they start to become experts.  But, it makes sense if you realize the companies do not want understanding.  They want to hire people in their 20s because they have the energy and the lack of obligations to work long hours.  These companies want high intelligence in the sense of quick learning, but only to be used inside the box they construct.  

    This restriction of thinking goes along with the idea of Ahrimanic forces as described by Rudolf Steiner.  In this post, Bruce Charlton quotes Steiner who says: 

"The Ahrimanic beings want to keep humans bound forever to earthly existence.  This is why they want to mechanize everything.  By doing this, they would transform the earth in their way.

They do not have the desire to rob human beings of action; indeed they want them to be as busily active as possible - so long as this is all done in a routine and stereotyped way. 

Ahriman is a great fan of convention!  He, it is, who inspires the constant compiling of statues.  Whenever Ahriman sees a committee at work compiling statutes, he is in his element! 

Point 1, Point, Point 3 ... First this will be done, then that; thirdly this member has these rights, fourthly that member out to do such-and-such.  The member would not dream, of course, of respecting these rights, nor doing what it says at all ... 

But this part of it does not matter.  The important thing is to compile the statutes and cultivate the Ahrimanic spirit. Then, you can point to paragrph so-and-so.  

Ahriman would like people to be active, but everything should be run along programmed lines.  Everything should be forced into legal terms ...

Every morning, a person should (as it were) find a list lying on his bedspread telling him what to do throughout the day, and he should do it mechanically ..."

    An important insight of Steiner's is that it doesn't particularly matter what the tasks are, the mechanistic form of the tasks is what imprisons people's thinking.  

    In addition to restricting thinking, the system also views everything as abstract.  It views all work as commensurable because it can all be converted into money.  Though of course we all know you can't really convert, say taxi driving to cooking by some sort of financial alchemy.  And money has become abstract because it has moved away from cash to electronic transactions.  Joe has a good post about this titled "Postmodern Vertigo."  He writes: 

    "Everything we interact with is just the surface layer and beneath it are layers upon layers of abstraction, and the vast majority of people, if not everyone, don't know all the layers between the concepts we have in our heads that let us interact with it and the physical reality around us tht we can see and touch.  There are entire fields of knowledge, entire communities of individuals, complete layers of reality that mostly everyone is unaware of."

    Not only is money conceived abstractly, but even the goods produced by the System are thought of in this way.  In reality, everything produced is produced for some reason and people must do work to produce it, but the System is viewed as a perpetual motion machine that produces and distributes goods.  

    In many posts, Bruce Charlton has described how the industrial revolution and the developments since have led to astonishing abundance never before seen in world history.  These developments all came from people made technological and scientific breakthroughs and then those others who undestood, improved and worked with these breakthroughs.  Yet, according to mainstream public discourse, all these things "just happen."  

    Ultimately, this will be the downfall of the rulers of this world.  They believe their own propaganda.  They think that the System really is a perpetual motion machine that can be entirely controlled by financial manipulations.  But of course this is not true.  For instance, research can be funded but this does not mean it will be successful.  Claiming that some technology will happen and spending lavishly will not actually cause the technology to be invented.  

    Likewise, the stregth of the System is that it can organize people according to abstract categories, such as by economic manipulations.  It takes no account of family, religion, community, any of the deeper bonds of humanity.  So, the System can control vast numbers of people without taking account of any human factors.  But, none of these abstract categories is fundmentally real.  They cannot last forever, they are not deeply ingrained in human beings.

    Thus, the System, which views everything as abstract and which restricts thinking is the enemy of freedom.  Everything is accounted for by its preordained place in the system, not based on what it is internally.  Hence, there is no place for freedom in the system.  

    In the next post, I will discuss the freedom which exists beyond the system.    

2 comments:

  1. "Thus, the System, which views everything as abstract and which restricts thinking is the enemy of freedom. Everything is accounted for by its preordained place in the system, not based on what it is internally. Hence, there is no place for freedom in the system."

    That is an excellent encapsulation. This abstraction coupled with restricted thinking and emphasis on the external rather than the internal is what I've begun referring to as objectification (inspired by Berdyaev). There truly is no space for freedom in an objectified System (all systems are inherently objectifying to some degree), which speaks to the underlying anti-spiritual motivation to leave no space for God or, at the very least, create conditions in which people feel extremely alienated and distant from the Divine and their own innate spiritual nature.

    I liked the Chinese room example you used in this post; very illustrative.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Objectification is a good word to describe what's going on, especially in contrast to the subjective, where freedom and consciousness take place.

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