Trump isn’t the problem, he is a symptom

[ 29/6/20 on Jim’s Facebook page]

Hi Jim,

In 2006 I had a business trip to the US that started south of Austin Tx, then took me to Manchester Newhampshire, then to Washington DC, then to Seattle Washington. I had one free day in DC, and I spent about half of it doing a very rapid tour of the museums, then spent the other half walking the streets, reading the inscriptions on sidewalks and buildings, and talking to people. The number of homeless people on the streets amazed me, and most of them were very happy to talk, as most US people simply ignored them.

I actually ended up in tears that day.

It was easy to see the great ideals of individual life and individual liberty that the place was founded upon, and it was also easy to see how those ideas had been corrupted and turned into something almost the exact opposite in reality.

Dad had several sayings that he used often and have served me well as well. One of them was “never ascribe to intention that which can be adequately accounted for by incompetence”.

That saying seems to sum up the USA.

They ended up becoming extremely wealthy essentially because of their involvement in two world wars without having any of their productive capacity bombed out of existence. Then they got trapped by a series of mistakes in thought stemming from oversimplifications of what is an extremely complex reality.

And in their defense, we must all simplify reality, we have no other choice, it seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that it is too complex for any computational entity (human or otherwise) to deal with in detail, and it contains too many aspects of fundamental uncertainty and fundamental unknowability, to ever be entirely predictable by anything (eternally).

And American culture has made some fundamental errors, and Trump is just a symptom (rather than any sort of cause).

Probably the biggest error (and there are large sets of errors, and many are very context sensitive), is equating markets and competition with freedom. And much of that comes back to using an overly simplistic set of assumptions when doing their Games Theory calculations, and John von Neumann has to take responsibility for a chunk of that as he was exceptionally good at exploring and expanding games theory, but he failed to do the work to check the underlying assumption sets, and the ones he used were not valid. That resulted in insanities like MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), and some foundational flaws in economic theory.

And to be fair to John, he wasn’t the first nor the last to make that mistake. Quite a bit of responsibility has to lie with Thomas Huxley for his oversimplification of evolution, and failure to appreciate the fundamental role of cooperation in the evolution of complexity, and an over emphasis on the role of competition in evolution. That mistake continues through most institutions even to today.

And it is a very complex suite of issues, as it has now been clearly established beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that many aspects of reality are complex, and that we all necessarily simplify it down.

This has many levels to it.

It happens at the level of sensing, and perception, and then at several levels in the model building systems of brain that lead to what we each get to experience as reality.

So we all get to experience our own personal virtual realities, and each of them is a simple model of whatever is out there, and each is influenced to some degree by whatever is actually out there in reality.

And they are all context sensitive, so the more threatened we feel, the more simplified our experience, right down to simple binaries like:

Reality is always far more complex and nuanced and uncertain than such notions allow for, yet the demands of reality to make rapid decisions on limited and uncertain information have led evolutionary forces to deliver us brains that automatically adapt to rapid decision making.

Thus stress leads to conflict. Necessarily.

In times of stress, markets provide positive feedback to stress, and thus lead to conflict and reductions in both security and freedom.

Markets and competition are not the friends of liberty that economic dogma would have us believe, they are in fact the enemy of real liberty.

Real liberty can only exist in cooperative environments, and cooperation demands multiple levels of responsibility from all of us.

The myth that liberty can exist without responsibility has no basis in either logic or mathematics.

All complex structures must have boundaries to maintain their levels of complexity, and for things as complex as us, that means multiple levels of morality and responsibility (in social and economic and ecological contexts).

So Trump is just a symptom of a rot at the intellectual heart of the American system, the idea that liberty can exist without responsibility and cooperation. That idea is simply False. It comes from an overly simplistic understanding of evolution and complexity theory.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
This entry was posted in Nature, Politics, understanding and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Trump isn’t the problem, he is a symptom

  1. Rich Smith says:

    Thank you Ted, my thoughts on the US are much the same. Sadly I don’t see a ‘solution’ and I think really for the foreseeable future it is pretty much broken. I have thought for many years that they are, and represent, the best and the worst of humanity. It’s extremes of diversity across all aspects of life to me seem irreconcilable.
    And yes Trump was inevitable and possibly the President they had to have.
    You get the leaders you deserve in the end.
    All the best to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

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