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If we wish to change the person we find ourselves to be, we must change our thinking.
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June 8th, 2019
Read Part I for a full context of this episode.
Part I began with a quote from Jung that refers to a demonic dynamism. It comes from a part of an essay called The Will to Power, and it’s important to see in what way this demonic dynamism crescendos with Jung’s intended meaning.
The quote continues:
“The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature.”
What Jung is talking about here is group-think, and the best way to illustrate group-think in this context is to visualize a buffalo jump. When the buffalo were numerous and stampeding, they could be naively lead to run straight off of a cliff. The whole herd would go over, and it was primarily because members of the herd could not see ahead of those in front of them, and when the edge of the cliff came, it was already too late, along with the fact that there were usually buffalo running right behind and to the sides, forming a trap. Sadly, this sort of thing happens with groups of people.
We need only think of the ordered precision of Nazi Germany during the 1940’s to realize that:
Regular people are totally capable of being similarly trapped inside of a system that does not easily allow thinking and behavior that is different from the group at large.
Climate Change poses another sort of buffalo jump, but this time, it is all of humanity running towards the edge of the cliff. Absolutely everyone is stuck in this system which is pushing the planet into a fever state that will kill off many of us if we don’t drastically change the direction of our herd.
It’s important to remember that Buffalo Jumps were formed by corralling stampeding herds into a specific direction. Native Americans riding horses, would steer the herd from outside of the herd, having a much more expansive awareness and knowledge regarding the situation and the geography. This example makes something very important extremely obvious: it would be useless not to mention suicidal to try and steer the herd from inside the herd.
In order to have a hope of altering the herd’s direction, we need to think outside of the group’s behavior and ideas. We do not need to physically leave humanity, as the Native American’s were physically outside of the herd, but rather, expand our knowledge and awareness of the situation so that we have a larger, fuller picture of the situation, and then make productive moves with that perspective to see what dangers are ahead and what it would take to change direction.
The stampeding herd is just going about it’s natural business, just as we do: driving cars, buying imported foods, leaving the heat on and all other manner of behavior that ultimately stresses the climate. From an individual stand point, it would be useless on a global level to attempt living a carbon neutral life. This kind of thinking is akin to a single buffalo trying to run in a different direction while deep in the herd. That buffalo is going to have a hard time and ultimately make little change in the larger picture. Someone with a larger perspective and understanding who can identify the key forces that are bringing us in such direction, can then make strategic dents in the movement of the herd. We might think of someone like Elon Musk who sees an end to the use of fossil fuels by rapidly pushing the electrification of transport with the aim of capitalizing on the effectively infinite resource of the sun.
If we recall the discussion of writing on paper in Part I, we can see that renewables offer the same hack that digitization offered to writing. By using fossil fuels, we are rearranging the planet’s composition, moving compounds that were formerly under ground to the atmosphere, and like a monk writing in the first century with very limited paper, we are running out of space in the atmosphere where carbon can comfortably fit, consequence free.
If however, we switch our energy source to exclusively renewable technology, we can keep moving our cars, trucks and ships for a very long time, in just the same way the monk would not have to worry about running out of paper if we gave him a laptop and a fat hard drive.
Carl Jung’s quote that describes people as part of a monster’s body, doing terrible things need not have all the scary language attached to it. Driving a car around while doing errands has no obvious scariness attached to it, and yet it is contributing to humanity’s drive towards a monstrous direction.
What we are talking about here is a system built of routine behaviors and habits. Our brains are geared for this kind of thing. In fact some people surmise that all of our actions boil down to some nuance of habit.
Whatever new behavior or action that we undertake that ultimately has a repetitive nature will eventually yield compound effects once given enough time. For a long time these compounding effects are nearly invisible making the exponential nature of such compounding very unintuitive. The systemic habit that we have is adding to an atmosphere that has a finite resource of capacity before climate starts to change.
Creative hacks that come about, like the effect digitization had on the limits of writing, are crucial points when a system changes by changing the traditional limits of a finite resource. Renewables have the potential to offer an identical freedom from traditional finite limits by invoking the sun.
Our attention should draw to the systems of repeated action that we create, and what sort of editing process we can unleash on these systems. Left to their own devices, these systems, whether on the global scale of a planet, or on the scale of the individual with personal habits, can lead us to monstrous places. Habits, once in place most often become self-reinforcing. The more it is done, the more likely it will be done again. Inevitably, an addictive quality rises in anything that we repeat often enough, making such behaviors innately attractive.
If this habit happens to have negative consequences, then our only defense is to Pause, and reflect deeply on the nature of the system we have built that is our life repeated day in and day out. Without such mindful reflection, we slip in deeper by virtue of the compounding effects of our repeated behaviors that continually gain more and more sway over our conscious ability to change.
There is nothing inherently evil about this process, it can be applied to produce incredibly good results or incredibly bad results. Episode 386 of Tinkered Thinking, entitled White Diamond explores more fully the structure of this process and the different directions to which it is applied.
More importantly, this editing process that we must apply to our own personal systems and to the global systems is something that can never rest. Because circumstances are always changing, we must always ask:
Exactly what and where should we add and subtract?
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