Updated: Apr 21
Maybe it’s how we’re wired; I just don’t know. Think for a moment when reminiscing over what should have been. What do you think about? If we’re being honest with ourselves, we tend to think about mistakes which prevented us from having a better life than the one we currently live. We often focus on individuals; the individual of the opposite sex that got away, or the bully you wish you had retaliated against. Our failure in bettering our own existence takes the corporeal form of an actual individual along with our own inability to overcome the barriers separating us from the individual concerned. Putting a face to an emotion is natural and reflective of human thought in general, but the failure to go behind the face and confront the deeper reality behind it can lead to emotional destruction and social chaos and cause us to ignore the fingerprints imposed by the system.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the individual who blames everybody and everything for their misfortune but themselves. It is the individual who can’t get over a breakup or a divorce and insists on making the life of their former partner a living hell out of pure spite. Petty, selfish, and childish are just a few of the words that can be used to describe such behavior. What we’re able to see in the individual concerned is a bit of ourselves. We recognize those times when we are engaged in the same type of behaviors, though most likely not to the extent discussed here. Hence, our ability to recognize and condemn that which we see in others and through our own struggles enables us to see the value in overcoming such petty behavior and see a bit of ourselves in everyone around us. What we’re able to recognize is an ideal beyond that which centers around those who are close to us. We learn that life does not center around a loved one, a best friend, or a parent. This is not to deny the legitimacy of the feelings for those individuals, but through recognizing our self in others, we begin to see the reality behind those feelings being composed of thoughts and ideas which are universal and have been around much longer than us and will continue to survive for as long as humanity exists. More importantly, the connection is made between the well-being not only of ourselves but of the community in general and to the extent to which we express fidelity or the lack thereof to those same ideals. It’s at this stage that the pettiness of a life centered around individuals becomes apparent as our fidelity becomes centered around ideals.
The Enlightenment brought the desire to leave the confines of the prevailing restricted Church ideology and make life physically better. To understand its materialist essence means understanding its immediate prior history. Already, the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) had started this break. People could transform their own lives, both materially and spiritually. For example, Leonardo da Vinci (1415-1519) drew in detail inventions potentially liberating persons from laborious physical work. If material transformation, why not spiritual? Martin Luther in his 95 Theses (1517) argued people's ultimate settlement with eternity rested with their personal relationship to God. This all set the stage for the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries). Arguably, the most indispensable philosopher was Descartes with mind-body dualism and understanding a whole only by dividing it into pieces. The Natural Philosophers further eroded the dominance of pure Church idealism. From the Enlightenment emerged modern scientific and technological development. More complexity emerged at an ever-increasing rate starting, with the Industrial Revolution (mid-18thto mid-19th
centuries). Hence, we have the ideas of materialists- that the foundation of reality is material. An equally fallacious notion is that reality is composed of only ideals in themselves without individuals being conscious of or partaking in them through everyday action(s).
By the end of the first quarter of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution produced horrible working conditions, and humans increasingly became cogs in an indifferent social machine. Correspondingly, a reaction of idealism came about, represented by the "Romantic Period" (late 18thto mid-19th centuries). This was an attempt to return to idealism, as exemplified by Hegel, Kant, and Schopenhauer.
Materialists and idealists confronted each other, each side thinking it had "the answer". Yet, Idealism, albeit a different character than that of the Medieval Church, still was idealism. Materialism was immediately gratifying, in front of the average person, with all of its science and technology.
An ideal absent its human intermediary is a chimera, a pure abstraction. It’s impossible to conceive of a reality that can’t be thought. The abstract exists because of the material, and the material exists because of the abstract. Each cannot exist by itself. Love, courage, sadness, all must have a protagonist, the originator of the emotion and an antagonist, the individual towards whom the feeling is directed. The development of ideals within the individual is a process, as he/she encounters other antagonists throughout life as these ideals change in shape, form, and importance. Through repeated interactions, however, we come to a point where ideality begins to take the form of reality as individuals, while retaining their importance as self-conscious thinking beings, appear to be parts of a system, with their existences seeming to fulfill the rational purposes of that system. Love, courage, and duty begin to appear as goals in themselves, things to strive for; to create a greater reality for not only ourselves but for others. Our interactions with others become the means to realize these higher ideals.
To a large extent, the idealization of reality is recognized by many people in their everyday lives. Often, we choose not to shop at a certain location due to, for example employing sweatshop labor. This is an example of letting ideals guide our lives. However, we as a civilization have failed greatly in this undertaking when it comes to the political realm. Within the last four years, we’ve seen one of two major political parties embrace a cult of personality style politics, while the other has become infatuated with an accusatory style of political dialogue wherein reality is composed of an Other defined by an ambiguous description of fascism.
Conspiracism is no longer relegated to the fields of UFOs and ghosts but has made its way into all facets of life. As I’ve referred to in previous articles, the reality before our eyes is the reality generated behind our eyes; reality is internally generated.
Each one of these concepts refers to the inability of humans to get outside themselves. Otherwise stated, we see ourselves through ourselves. Whether it is the "ultimate reality" may be debated, but, for sure, it is our reality.
The process, the systematic nature of our thoughts and feelings, and our ideality guide us. They are easily recognizable but ignored in the political realm, substituted by a belief in fairy tales and a superman theory of history. Adherents say history is made by select individuals. Hence, without Hitler, the Second World War would have never happened. "People make history" has always been more reminiscent of a sci-fi movie, meant to entertain and not slog through theories or systems. But our reality is that in which we live and not the product of our fantasies or desires.
Conspiracism is not simply wild ideas resembling sci-fi more than reality, but a worldview that sees individuals at the heart of social change. Conspiracy theorists assume a dramatic theory of history, viewing institutions like the Federal Reserve as the product of individuals meeting secretly in back rooms negotiating the spoils to be earned, always at public expense. Wars are always the products of wealthy bankers and financiers attempting to enrich themselves. There were those who thought that Barak Obama was the coming of the anti-Christ. And who could forget the accusations in circulation during the 1990s that FEMA was establishing concentration camps to imprison patriotic Americans? The building blocks of all of these are similar, they rely upon either an individual or a small group of individuals acting in secret to take away the liberties of ordinary people. They rely either upon an individual or a small group of individuals acting in secret to take away the liberties of ordinary people. They also rely upon a dramatic interpretation of events, which, other than being dramatic, are always portrayed as being dark. More importantly, there is an element of blind faith in them. Accusations surrounding Obama’s birth certificate or the electoral results of 2016 and 2020 have been conclusively proven as false, but adherents to these conspiracies choose to accept any evidence to the contrary as an article of faith, never bothering to question the fallacious nature of that which is right in front of them. The most egregious example of conspiracism is Holocaust denial, despite the testimony of those who worked in the camps and were imprisoned in them. The ability to disregard evidence and personal testimony is the hallmarks of conspiracism and anti-systemic thought.
Have you ever tried to look behind the mask and discover the heart of political dialogue? Have you ever wondered why otherwise rational people can all of a sudden turn on a dime and become conspiracy theorists? Let’s go through some examples to find out why seemingly innocuous sayings/accusations are actually much more toxic than we would otherwise think. Take the notion that the future depends on who will be the next President. There are doomsayers every four years who like to portray the future of the country as resting on the Chief Executive. “If Trump wins, we’ll be that much closer to Fascism." Or, “If Biden wins and Trump loses, our country is doomed.” These were several, among many, outlandish declarations made during the last election, and several similar periods can be seen throughout our history. Underlying such thoughts, as previously mentioned, is the importance given to individuals at the expense of ideas. Imagine if Carter had beaten Reagan in 1980 or Bush had beaten Clinton in 1992. Would the world be a hugely different place? I think most of us would deny any potential significant change in our own social environment. At a deeper level, we realize that individuals put into a particular setting must conform to function. Those of you who own your own businesses recognize the same problem. No matter how altruistic you desire to be, you still must act according to rules and norms to remain competitive. While changes can be made, they can only nibble away at the present structure, not alter its very nature. As an objection, the growth of legal protections for the LGBT community can be referenced, given that these protections increase under Democrat administrations and stall under Republican presidents. It’s important to keep in mind why and how this phenomenon is a product of a system and not determined by who holds elective office.
Political science has come a long way since Aristotle and his Politics 2500 years ago. Mathematics and logic reached an incredible level of sophistication by the early 1990s. Science was following a similar course with Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy (19 September 1901 – 12 June 1972) an Austrian biologist and his 1928, Kritische Theorie der Formbildung, Borntraeger. In English: Modern Theories of Development: An Introduction to Theoretical Biology. Today, he regarded as the founder of systems theory. Political and social science courses adopted his methods to describe political systems, David Easton's 1953 The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science, a classical and seminal work. Now, the scientific way of analyzing societies is systems analysis, even the military relying on simulating models created from systems. Accordingly, personalities, ideologies, and specific structures are elements, or characteristics, to be simulated, not the system, itself. Later will be discussed some characteristics of systems.
American democracy, at its core, is about the value of an act in itself. Absent the State, the lack of restraint by a governing force is looked upon as a good in itself, hence the value put upon our supposed right to “freedom of speech”, regardless of the content or volume of the speech concerned. The importance and emphasis are given to expression, even if the consequences of that expression prove destructive. Negative results are looked upon as being the product of choice and not the concerns of others. As a result, the evolution of American society can be seen as the development in extenso of this idea. The various movements and personalities achieving influence through opposition to these social trends have been able to achieve no more than a limited rear-guard action, slowing down but being unable to reverse that which they oppose. Systems produce issues, and if we do not question the foundations of the system, those issues will remain. The issues being the products of a system of thought, and governing ideas, the lack of will to challenge those foundations means that they will continue over time.
(1) It’s amazing how our interpretations of history come so close to resembling fairytales. Take, for example, the idea that wars are the products of particular individuals and not a cumulation of events. WWI is often blamed solely on the Kaiser and German aggression. This theory lacks perspective. For example, all countries involved had formed alliances previously with each other and established two opposing and equally hostile camps throughout Europe. The slightest spark was liable to lead to war, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand provided just such a spark. Attempts to prevent the outbreak of hostilities were already too late, because mobilization took place almost instantaneously. From a systems perspective, all wars result from alliances to counteract the actions of another country or countries deemed hostile, creating an adversarial situation, which will lead to hostilities. Other instances of war, such as the two Gulf wars, are undertaken to acquire natural resources or maintain a balance of power. The idea that a Darth Vader-like figure swoops down and starts a global catastrophe is not reflective of real life. Napoleon, Hitler, and the Kaiser didn’t make systems; they were made by systems.
(2) The most outlandish claim of conspiracists is there is a cabal of Jewish people who throughout history have attempted to undermine nation-states by making their leaders subject to the wealth and power of those in the cabal. Ignore for a moment the obvious, that there has never been produced direct evidence of such a thing ever happening. Conspiracists say Jews are over-represented in certain fields. By default, as a people, they are implicated in negative events in those fields. Bankers start wars and undermine national sovereignty. Because Jews are "over-represented" in banking, they are by default implicated in the so-called crimes of bankers. The idea of a Jewish conspiracy has even less validity than other conspiracies because while (1) and (2) can be drawn from the direct actions taken by particular individuals, with (3), no such actions exist. The perpetrators of the conspiracies rest content with creating tall tales, hence the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a proven forgery. All the while, not one bit of scientifically-established data emerges backing any conspiracist's claim.
Unfortunately, the leap from contemporary American political dialogue to the three examples above is not a far one. The difference between an elite of wealthy and powerful individuals manipulating politics and a secret cabal bent upon enslaving the world is not a giant leap. Both reject a systematic interpretation of life for a dramatic fairy tale-induced interpretation. The undue influence of special interests on the political process is toxic to government, but eliminating those special interests would change nothing. The system we exist in is built upon the premise that the State is an evil that should be limited and weak. To sustain this view, the organs of government were organized to be inefficient. Factions arose, influential political parties opposing each other to cancel each other out. Proposed changes, a major one like public financing of campaigns to lobbying reforms, would do nothing more than re-route the problem into different avenues. The several states which have instituted changes - take term-limits - have not seen reductions in corruption but simply changes in its shape and form.
Despite everything, we are not purely products of a system; human agency always manifests itself within whatever system we must live with. The outcasts, rebels, and contrarians exist, and their voices vie to be heard. During great social upheaval, when systems break down under changing social conditions, yesterday's voice in the wilderness can transform into a representative of a new way of thought and life. As mentioned earlier, the reality in front of our eyes is a product of the reality behind our eyes, so let’s look at some of the systems we live with daily. In our places of employment, there are standards and rules, such as showing up to work on time, completing tasks delegated to us daily, and so on. This is a system, to survive and prosper we must work within the system. The system dictates our behaviors. However, systems, unless they adapt, tend to decay and break down. A business can lose customers, the costs of doing business can increase beyond the company’s capacity to support itself, and employees can leave. Either businesses adapt under such conditions, change the system, or cease to exist. One activity which all of us are familiar with, driving a car, is also based upon system premises. All participants operate under the same constraints and rules. Without such mutual understanding, driving would be too dangerous, and the system would break down. But what happens when a population increases to such a point that the transportation infrastructure cannot support the vehicles on the road. At this point, alternative transportation options become fashionable, and more roads and freeways are built. The system changes to suit changing conditions. Failure to change leads to a decline in infrastructure and living standards.
Government, as well, is based upon systemic principles. Unlike the fear-mongering from conspiracists we’ve become accustomed to from both the Right and the Left, bad guys just don’t come out of nowhere, subvert a system, and seduce a people. Donald Trump didn’t destroy American democracy; he was its product of it. It is easy to say that ideologies such as National Socialism and Communism were nothing more than pure evil, but that fails to explain why they appealed to so many. From our personal experiences, we can see that systematic change comes about through necessity. For a social system, starving people, the unemployed, and those unable to support their families result from a broken system that either changes or dies. The deeper the social fractures, the more radical the systematic change will be. So went the outdated systems which underwent revolutions in the 20th century and their bloody consequences.
None of this is a fait accompli, however. Communism was not destined to dominate. Hitler was not an inevitability. Always within a system undergoing fracturing do a variety of options and alternatives present themselves. Voices in the wilderness today become tomorrow’s great social movements. While living within a system is an inevitability and abiding by capitalism’s norms is a must to support oneself, only through constant chipping away at the system and revealing the rottenness underneath can change be expedited. These have a better opportunity for success than the more toxic alternatives. Thinking in terms of systems may not be as exciting as conspiracies, but systematic and systems thinking does keep individuals within a context of truth and honesty and more likely to influence any forthcoming social change. Through a focus on truth as its own reward, we can see the romantic quality of not only social but individual growth and development, a reward which in the end is much more fulfilling.