Take Another Look

It looks like a religious war. Muslims of all stripes, secular and fundamentalist, railing against the United States hegemony (and its Israeli partner), willing to do desperate, suicidal acts to force everyone to read the Q’uran and to stone Debby the next time she does Dallas.

But it’s not. It’s a war over mental protocols that’s as old as life on earth. In Global Brain, My (unwitting) mentor Howard Bloom describes two kinds of personalities: Conformity Enforcers and Diversity Enhancers:

Conformity Enforcers are the key to any successful life form: bacteria, slime mold, rodents, and humans. They’re also the key to successful superorganisms – bacteria colonies, rat nests, human families, tribes, nations, Republicans and Democrats. Without 99.9% conformity, nothing would be stable enough to work – physiology, language, economics, traffic, software, TCP/IP, HTML.

Diversity Enhancers are the key to progress (sometimes called evolution – ssshhhh) – why we no longer walk on all fours, how the individual cells of slime mold learned to come together to be slime mold, but only when necessary. How so many Americans learned to loath racism and why Islam fundamentalists can read better than their ancestors could before Muhammad told them the Qu’ran was important.

It’s a weak argument if you’re a fundamentalist because you don’t believe in evolution, so why take an interest in a distinction based on it? We can address their objections later. The rest of us seem to need some intellectual footing in this quandary over whether to colonize Iraq. Like quantum states, both viewpoints are valid and both must be present for our culture or any superorganism to thrive.

Like any blog, this writer and my one remaining reader have agreed to conform to rigid protocols. Twenty-six specifically shaped symbols are arranged according to ancient rules and interspersed with modern symbols (“<b><i>symbols</i></b>”) and then moved across glass and wires according to rules so strict that only computers can enforce and carry out the requirements.

If you tire of all this rigid discipline and escape to a virgin wilderness, you’ll find yourself conforming to rules even more rigid, imposed by elements and predators so exacting that a single misstep can be deadly. So the next time we congratulate ourselves on our radical non-conformism, we might remember that the most edgy behavior is played out on the thinnest margins of our collective habits. Mike Moore has more in common with George Bush II than he has differences.

Conversely, the self-satisfied suburbanites, businessmen and politicians who insist on their narrow vision are blind to the radical inventions that make their existence possible. Most of us, if transported to 1776, would side with the British, as did most of the successful people of that time. Like heirs to industrial age fortunes, the beneficiaries of past innovation resist most innovations.

All of that is biological, enforced by our ROM-based DNA and reinforced by our RAM-based upbringing. The only thing interesting about those distinctions is that so few of us are willing to acknowledge our need for conformity and diversity. Until we collectively get behind both needs, there will be no constructive engagement.

On Wednesday, John Robb pointed to a terrific video of Bill Clinton addressing a group at Berkeley. After the predictable love-in stage of the award ceremony, Clinton spoke of the greatest current threat to the world – the insistence, by people who know they have all the answers, to the right to change everybody else, or subjugate them. Because of the zip codes I’ve known, I’ve met a lot more Christians like that than Muslims. Such fundamentalism is their threat, not their ideologies, which are just details.

Clinton suggested that we need to emphasize what we have in common rather than our differences. Jay Leno would probably point out that he may mean that no politician should be outraged at lies from another politician, but the point is valid. Civilized people understand that they don’t have all the answers and it pisses off their own people. He cites the fact that Gandhi was killed by a Hindu and Anwar Sadat by an Egyptian. Much abuse is domestic, raging at the diversity enhancers.

The only problem is that such appeals don’t work and never have, since we’re wired to discover and attack differences.

However, where jawboning is useless, economics has a chance. Sellers are willing to ignore their differences with buyers and buyers are grateful to those who solve their problems. Those are functional relationships, so we should concentrate on them, rather than their opposite which are, I suppose, dysfunctional relationships.

Perhaps that distinction lies at the heart of the rage that patriarchs, fundamentalists and conservatives feel toward people who question their rigidity in the bright light of the Agora, as Socrates did. Out there, you can’t yell, “Because I said so!,” which works so well with family members who don’t go to school to think for themselves. That’s the real problem fundamentalists have with scientific education, television and the devil’s own work, the Internet. The catalyst is satellite TV, not religious beliefs. Get a bunch of Christian and Islamic fundamentalists together and they’d have the rules written and the world carved up as speedily as did Hitler and Mussolini.

So naturally, I see an Internet-based peer-to-peer economy as a candidate to get the patriarchal fundamentalists’ followers to admit that they were just mouthing the words so they could get the attention of the influential patriarchs. Once the hierarchies are marginalized by open source transaction web forms, people will do directly what they thought they needed the patriarchs for – reach better markets for their energy and engage their genes for usefulness.


11:05:38 PM    

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