Yuri Tarnopolsky ESSAYS
Essay 42. Credentials and Credo
Essay 42. Credentials and Credo
Intending to focus on politics in a few next essays, I feel powerless to prevent another confessional Essay from hatching.
My interest in politics is non-political. I am driven by intellectual curiosity to intimate mechanisms of evolution and human history. It all comes from my childhood interest in the hidden reasons of things.
I am politically unaffiliated. I am not a liberal. I am not a conservative. I am not in the middle. I am not at any extreme. The ideology, methods, and the Party-of-God style of Republicans, however, trouble me very much. My Democratic sympathies are strong by default because the Republican ones are nonexistent.
I voted for George W. Bush the first time and considered him a great national embarrassment the second time. Moreover, I believe the midterm elections of 2006 signaled a kind of political autoimmune disease when the nation slides toward slow self-destruction by attacking its own flesh and blood.
I have not yet studied the anatomy of American political system, and I expect no pleasure in that, but I know that its blood is green.
Politics is in the air, on the table, in the gas tank, in the wallet, and under the skin. I am not interested, however, in what can be seen and felt. I do not go into details of dates, names, facts, and sequences of events. The Web has it all. I am interested in the yet invisible new trends of history and deeply buried fundamentals.
I do not know the answers in advance. I do not even believe in answers. I believe in asking questions because questions lead to understanding and I believe in understanding more than in knowledge.
I see politics as a class of X-systems (X = ECS = Evolving Complex Systems, exystems). X-systems usually start from simple and small formations and gradually achieve a great size, complexity, and sophistication. Examples are: biosphere, life, mind, society, economy, technology, science, culture, art, media, language, ideology, i.e., everything from molecules to ideas, or, in terms of outer limits, from biosphere to noosphere (sphere of reason). Any X-system requires a not only a constant supply of energy convertible into work but also a cool environment absorbing the dissipated heat. The largest X-system includes everything between the upper crust and upper atmosphere, with eyes and tentacles turned toward space. The rest of them are nested, interwoven, and overlapping.
There is very little new I can tell, if anything at all. I am not an expert in humanities. I do not claim any credibility in those matters. I am certainly not a source of any hard scientific knowledge. The only thing I really want to contribute is a chemist's view of the world, which, I believe, is significantly off the beaten track. My world starts with molecules. It is the world of structural complexity where I am looking for simplicity.
For a chemist's view of the world, see http://spirospero.net
I am not a historian. My profession—chemistry—is far removed from humanities, my lay knowledge of American history is inadequate, and my American experience has been very limited: nineteen and a half years, to be exact. True, I have read selected books on modern problems. I have been a reader, listener, and viewer of a few magazines, programs, and shows still struggling to hold the head above the rising water of mediocrity by surrendering to the flow the rest of the body.
If my background has any advantage in that can compensate for my limited knowledge and experience it is that my life in the Soviet Russia could be described in exactly the same terms as my American life: as vita contemplativa, contemplative life, although with some elements of vita activa (I use Hannah Arendt's distinction) at the end. Most of it was spent in trying to understand my native land as if it were a foreign world.
In Russia, even some most important and mentioned in school textbooks sources for studying national history were under the lock in secret storage rooms and had to be tricked out through friendly librarians or just fished out from translations, footnotes, commentaries, or, most often, from between the lines. Therefore, my observation point has always been neither from within nor from without, but through a peculiar vision of an alien who came from an extinct world. Remarkably, I, an alien, immediately felt at home in the new world.
The Soviet Russian world ceased to exist for me in 1989, when I crossed its border for the first and the last time. A few years later it ceased to exist for everybody. Kiev, the place of birth of Russia, is now outside Russian borders. Only the emigrants still carry the original memories not overlaid by the subsequent impressions. The memories of immigrants who do not come back for a visit have the value of photographs from the Stone Age made with a modern camera.
Advancing in age, I found two unexpected gifts waiting for the moment I would reach sufficient maturity: grandchildren and the sense of the past. It turns out that every old person is rewarded for the loss of physical and mental capacity—loss of the future—with the raw physical sense of history, although not everybody claims the reward. My personal gift package encloses a long stretch from the pre-WW2 early childhood, first German bombardments of the war, life as refugees, return home, to Stalin's cult and death, and further to the Cold War and subsequent break-up of the Soviet Empire.
My experience of history is multi-dimensional. I traversed Russia along and across, from the extreme west on the Hungarian border to the farthest Pacific coast and from the Polar Circle to the deep south, not far from Afghanistan. I lived in the warm Ukraine and cold Siberia. Moreover, I explored Russia in the fourth—social—dimension, descending from a university professor to a prisoner of a labor camp. Finally, I crossed the border between two worlds: totalitarian state and capitalist democracy. That was the fifth dimension: the lineup of civilizations.
In America, the two spatial dimensions—from Boston to San Francisco and from Chicago to New Orleans presented no eye opener. The time span from the last year of Ronald Reagan to the full blown Cold Civil War, intertwined with the hot Iraq war, looks like a leap backwards from the Moon landing to the burning of Atlanta by general Sherman. My social dimension in America turned out to be very compact: between employment and unemployment. The last dimension—along the wealth scale—remains uncharted. But the nineteen years of my American life seem longer than the half century of my Russian past. This life is extremely dynamic and my coming to America at the age of 50 was like a second childhood: the time was packed tight with discoveries and weeks seemed endless.
What we see can be masked or enhanced by the background. Black against black or white against white is invisible. Black and white are the colors of the printed page intended for fast reading. My personal vision retrieves the Soviet red background only when I see the indigenous American Red. Paradoxically, it makes the American Red most visible against the now archived but still glowing in my memory Russian red. I am over-bullish on red. See, however, my credo.
1. I believe that societies have a limited repertoire of stable political structures (patterns) and are capable of transition from one to another, depending on conditions. The transition consists in the change of the types of building blocks, their weight, and the way they are arranged. When new blocks appear (for example, digitalization), new structures are possible. When new arrangement of old blocks appears, a different structure comes to existence.
This is a very chemical idea because chemistry is a science of transition from one stable structure to another through an unstable one.
Chemistry is a natural science never designed for any other use than handling atoms and molecules. But Pattern Theory (Ulf Grenander) in the eyes of a chemist like myself is a generalized chemistry applicable to practically everything, from molecules to organisms and from machines to ideas.
2. I believe that history consists of unexpected turns. The future has a nasty habit to lie in wait around the corner.
Hannah Arendt remarks in a letter to Martin Heidegger that the futurologists see the future as extended past, while it is always the opposite. There is some asymmetry of good and bad: we always know what is good for us, but the bad can take unfamiliar forms. Probably, this is a basis for the divergence between conservatives and liberals. Nevertheless, there could be pleasant surprises, usually short-living: mad money at the stock market nearing 2002, extraordinary low interest rate by 2004, or incredible around $1 gasoline price in 1999. As recent history shows, the only thing we have to fear is pleasant surprises.
3. I believe that the future cannot be predicted, but could be examined for likelihood as an incomplete list of alternatives.
For example, I either die tomorrow or not. If I die tomorrow, it can be either in an accident or of heart attack. To compile a tree of alternatives, we need a combinatorial representation of the future, for which a complete list of components is needed. This is not so hard. For example, if I forget the alternative of a death by a stray bullet, its likelihood (i.e., its weight in the balance of the future) is negligible. If, however, a new combinatorial component appears as a new social or technological phenomenon, the yesterday's list of alternatives becomes incomplete. The problem with the new phenomenon, such as, for example, global warming, Internet, or suicidal terrorism, is that some time is required to evaluate its weight. By that time the new becomes the old, as it is the case with mixing the matter of politics with antimatter of religious faith on the present scale.
What matters for understanding the future is the rarest and largest events, not the small ones. Whether I die of a heart attack at home or on the street does not matter. Fortunately, there is a practical rule: is something is really really really new, you can be sure it is important.
4. The generation after a historical turn never misses what it does not personally remember. Who today bemoans the fall of the Roman Empire?
This acceptance of the natural death of the past is my kind of fatalism. It has nothing to do with historical determinism. It means acceptance of any future because it is destined to die as a past. If we accept our death, we can accept the death of the habituated way of life. I see it as an optimistic fatalism: a belief in survival and adaptation, but not in personal or collective victory, success, and triumph over adversity. "If you really want it, you can do anything" is the biggest well-intended lie that can be told to a young person. In America, however, a young person can do a lot.
Civilizations are destined to be born, age, die and to be reborn. We need courage to live and to face history.
5. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
I am not sure that Liberty is a natural right, except as the freedom from physical restraint. I believe that there are only partial freedoms and nobody is completely free. Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness are basic human needs. As part of nature, we do not have rights: we have needs. Society cannot change our needs, but can manipulate our rights.
Successful democracy is geographically, historically, and biologically such a rare and fragile thing that it needs a constant maintenance, checkup, and care. It can be preserved only at a great price in the currency of physical and intellectual energy, as well as of human sacrifice. As the daily food has to be eaten by the sweat of your brow, you liberty has to be earned by daily toil. For millennia, the natural state of things on earth has been war, conflict, domination, submission, contrasts of wealth and poverty, peck order, control, cruelty, intolerance, selfishness, and a hierarchy of power with a ruler at the top. Of course, there is a starry sky of examples to the contrary over the earth.
History has not yet ended, whatever one might think. I believe we have to be concerned about American freedom. How can we monitor it?
I agree with George Lakoff that the American freedom is progressive: it is something that can increase. If it shrinks, it is utterly un-American.
Following Lakoff's concept, I believe that we can measure not the absolute amount of freedom but the change of freedom whether from yesterday to today or from the USA to North Korea by comparing the mere number of restrictions.
We can become the slaves of Liberty, as we can become slaves of any abstract idea that is pursued at the expense of basic human needs. This can be the idea of God, Communism, Capitalism, Protection of Life, Animal Rights, The Good of the Nation, Family Values, Justice, Moral Purity, Economic Growth, The Right Way to Break the Egg, etc., and Freedom itself. According to my personal decades long observation, the root of totalitarianism is the primacy of an abstract idea over basic human needs.
6. I believe, however, that such progressive rights as well-paying jobs, benefits, public health, consumer protection, and good affordable education belong to the category of Pursuit of Happiness rather than Life and Liberty.
The capitalist idea does not promise happiness to anybody. Neither does it guarantee life to soldiers, astronauts, and even presidents. As for justice, the case of Mary Kay Letourneau seems to me flagrant medieval barbarity. Nevertheless, America looks like a remarkably happy society, contrary to some research. Its happiness is either earned or within reach. I believe little in the happiness which comes in rare short bursts, but more in overall satisfaction and optimism.
Unspecified freedom is an abstract idea. Every abstract idea is subject to various interpretations. Irrationality, paradox, and contradictions accompany all ideological uses of freedom. The American Civil War was as much for freedom as against it. Post factum, the Iraq war is an example of the ideological use of freedom to justify violence.
I do not believe, however, that we could achieve any logical consistency in dealing with freedom. Freedom is so vague and controversial because it has a whole spectrum of opposites: slavery, detention, necessity, scarcity of choice, legal restrictions, peer pressure, customs, rituals, and control are some of them. Therefore, there are as many freedoms.
We cannot live our lives by any theory. We just pursue life, liberty and happiness as we understand them and see what happens to us along the way.
7. I believe that freedom, the most American phenomenon of all, originated from:
abundance of land under generous sun,
abundance of human resources,
geographic isolation of the United States, and
the insular mentality: everybody is an island, contrary to John Donne.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, in the age of globalization, the original sources of American freedom are limited. The open frontier has been built over with fences and watch towers. There is an overwhelming national drive, which is neither life, nor liberty, nor pursuit of happiness, nor even a matter of choice. It is production: making things and services for sale, growth, expansion, and profit. Most of the production has nothing to do with basic human needs such as good health, good food, good air, good family, good education, good future, and good rest, although the rest of it serves the above purposes. We live longer, but complain about poor health, plastic tasteless tomatoes, pollutants in air and water, the breakup of family, laughable public education, nonexistent job stability, and short vacations. As if it was not enough, we have the worst government money can buy and are engaged in a Cold Civil War. Yet we are basically happy as a society, which I derive not from TV or World Index of Happiness, but from personal observations.
If we are happy, why should I care?
WHY DO I WORRY ABOUT AMERICA?
I care because for 20 years a small American flag has been sitting on my desk. I do not want to be tempted to move it to a darker place.
1. I love freedom as I love life. America is the largest reservoir of freedom on earth. If it dries out, there is nothing comparable in sight.
Like the level of water in the ocean, freedom depends on historical climate. Independence, however, is more like lakes and rivers: they rise and fall after a recent rain or drought. Dependence can be a free choice. Freedom can be preserved among dependence. In the see of freedom, independence is a desert island.
2. American freedom is supported by high consumption of energy. America is the largest consumer of energy on earth. It could be the first to die of caloric thirst and hunger. Or the first to adapt to it.
I see the industrial civilization is a giant bonfire, ignited by the Industrial Revolution, in which the coal and oil are burning at increasing rate. This fire plays the same role as the sun played in emergence and evolution of life on earth: it is the source of energy for sustaining the short and ever shrinking life of man-made things and institutions.
The fire initiated the life of disposable things and metabolism of money that cannot be controlled by human desires anymore. Economy is a separate life form, similar to biochemical life that we know. Humans serve as enzymes in the biochemistry of technology.
There is nothing in the laws of nature that contradicts the concept of green civilization. The way of life of humans can be balanced against the supply of energy, as the life of animals and plants was before the advent of man. The unrestrained production of things is already suppressing human procreation, creating conditions for limited growth.
Nevertheless, the price for equilibration can be the global extinction of democracy and middle class and a return to more energy efficient vertical authoritarian social structures.
The things (i.e., Technos: life forms based on technology instead of biochemistry) may have an evolutionary advantage over wasteful, expensive, and prone to malfunction humans. When humans and Things begin to compete for resources, the situation may resemble a version of the War of the Worlds.
With modern digital technology we have created an invasion of unusual aliens. Things and us are moving toward the joint digital genetic code but still have different means of its expression. As result, we, humans, are becoming more thingish, programmable, intellectually downsized, standardized, reined in by debt, and controlled, while things become more human, sly, devious, and they develop their representation in the government. The US Government represents things and humans, while the ratio of priorities constantly moves toward the prevalence of things. At the same time the tribal societies fuse humans with weapons, creating the most apocalyptic approximation of the invasion of aliens. The old European societies are under the double pressure from both.
3. I value stability. It is believed that wealth ensures stability. America is the largest reservoir of wealth on earth. I see this as a source of instability, however. Throughout history, the largest and richest countries of Europe initiated most of the wars.
I believe that the ongoing enormous accumulation and concentration of wealth can have only one result: further accumulation and concentration of wealth. The results of the application of a concentrated wealth to a personal goal can be good, bad, unpredictable, or uncertain. Once we are beyond basic human needs, good and bad lose boundaries.
I believe that the ongoing unlimited concentration of wealth can mean only an increasing instability of the nation. Social unrest has been historically a very probable result of inequality and internal friction. In times of instability, the country saturated with weapons in private hands is sitting on a powder keg. Weapons may mean a hot civil war.
Money is the measure of energy to be applied to either good or evil ends. Wealth feeds charity. Wealth saves lives. Wealth also hires and equips an army to fight for a cause. Moreover, big wealth can maintain two private armies. Further, the army needs a general. The general wants a victory at any price: the private victory. The general and the society may have different visions of what victory is.
My intuition tells me that like the initial accumulation of wealth created fertile soil for capitalism in the past, its further accumulation may lead us to a new stage which we cannot fully understand until it arrives. In short, it means that the popular vote loses its historic significance because the concept of vote is based on the assumption that the voter knows what the alternatives are. While ideas have always been regarded as the opposite of material things, in the world saturated with money, ideas are padded with the monetary backing of their sponsors. There will be weak and flaccid ideas, as well as fat and bullish, regardless of what they mean.
4. I believe in the great and unique dynamism of the American system and I am anxiously waiting for the next proof of it. I hope to celebrate America's bootstrapping out of the current slump.
I have great reservations about the dynamism of the American system because the important matters submitted to the voters are too complex to be understood by most of them and, moreover, by many elected leaders. This is the major threat to democracy in America, where ignorant and dishonest people can be elected presidents and where enormous power can be concentrated in the hands of private non-elected cliques. American anti-intellectualism today, in a different and mostly hostile world, is the worst autoimmune disease of the national body.
Science becomes a kind of magic for common people and they turn from it to the magic of religion, which at least speaks the sweet mother tong of humanity. It does not speak, however, the language of reason when common people have to decide the fate of other people and their own.
The resurgence of religion is the direct consequence of the degradation of education because of the rising complexity of science, but there are plenty of other reasons. If anything needs a revolution in America, it is education. The basic picture of the world can and should be unified and simplified.
Common law also speaks inhuman language, but can be at least translated by lawyers for good profit. Science is not translatable. I believe, however, that anything of crucial importance can be explained. The difference between scientific knowledge and general understanding comes to the foreground.
5. I regard independence a much better synonym of Liberty than freedom.
"To raise the question, what is freedom? seems to be a hopeless enterprise. It is as though age-old contradictions and antinomies were lying in wait to force the mind into dilemmas of logical impossibility so that, depending which horn of the dilemma you are holding on to, it becomes as impossible to conceive of freedom or its opposite as it is to realize the notion of a square circle. "
Hannah Arendt. What is Freedom? In: Between Past and Future, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1993, p.143.
Freedom and independence are two different things. It is very hard to define the murky freedom because the word free is used in a dazzling array of meanings and nobody and nothing in the world is completely free. Just think about the free stock market kneeling before the Federal Reserve Dominatrix. Independence, on the contrary, is always transparent. We can trace bonds between entities, as well as their absence. Thus, I believe that the media that depend on the money of advertisers and donors are not independent by definition. I believe that any company or author who depends on a large customer base is not independent.
I believe that the freedom of choice from a menu is the most miserable kind of freedom.
1. Hannah Arendt on courage:
Courage, which we still believe to be indispensable for political action, and which Churchill once called "the first of human qualities, because it is the quality which guarantees all others," does not gratify our individual sense of vitality but is demanded of us by the very nature of the public realm. For this world of ours, because it existed before us and is meant to outlast our lives in it, simply cannot afford to give primary concern to individual lives and the interests connected with them; as such the public realm stands in the sharpest possible contrast to our private domain, where, in the protection of family and home, everything serves and must serve the security of the life process. It requires courage even to leave the protective security of our four walls and enter the public realm, not because of particular dangers which may lie in wait for us, but because we have arrived in a realm where the concern for life has lost its validity. Courage liberates men from their worry about life for the freedom of the world. Courage is indispensable because in politics not life but the world is at stake. (Hannah Arendt. What is Freedom? In: Between Past and Future, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1993, p. 156).
2. Condensation of wealth
We argue that the history of economies is paved with wealth condensation dynamics which start slow and often lead to social unrest. Understanding stabilizing factors on a global scale are crucial.
Links : Dieter Braun. Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics of Wealth CondensationDieter Braun, Physica A 369, 714-722 (2006)
Page created: 2006 Revised: 2016
<<< Essay 41. The Morning-after Questions Essay 43. The Cold Civil War in America >>>
Website: spirospero.net To contents email
Essays 1 to 56 : http://spirospero.net/essays-complete.pdf
Essays 57 to 60: http://spirospero.net/LAST_ESSAYS.pdf
Essay 60: http://spirospero.net/artandnexistence.pdf