Symptoms, Understanding

UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES
REFLECTIONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
WHO WE ARE, HOW WE GOT HERE
WHERE WE CAN GO FROM HERE (IF WE CHOOSE)

(am working on this – July 2013 – am saying so in case you arrive here and find sentences incomplete, etc. my computer crashes from time to time, what I’ve saved at crash time may include ‘mid-thought’ passages – or – as this revision is a big project – I may leave it aside while tending to other responsibilities!   Links at bottom of page will stay – they are available to you right now.)

The 21st Century is a time for us to apply greater knowledge to human social, political, and economic structures. A key understanding is that everything about human society is a matter of dynamics.

First, we need to educate ourselves. Two kinds of knowledge are critical.

(1) We need knowledge of ourselves – individual and group dynamics. This may sound like ‘two’ kinds of knowledge. In a sense, it is, but the individual-group dynamic is a ‘single’ constantly unfolding reality. To understand the dynamic, we need to be able to ‘see’ how the individual works, and how the group works. But we must keep in mind they are inseparable. We each have unexamined beliefs and biases: What are mine? What beliefs are ‘everybodys’ (broadly held by many as cultural beliefs)?  We need to ask ‘what are these’, ‘how did we ‘get’ them, ‘how do beliefs shape choice’, and so on. Late 20th Century psychology is a rich body of understanding to explore for knowledge about ourselves. Neuroscience contributes additional information – immensely valuable so long as we don’t let it oversimplify and treat human behavior as ‘chemically driven machinery’.

(2) We also need knowledge of  human social structures and organizational systems – current and historical.  Every one of these structures is developed out of ‘who we are’ – which we learn by answering questions to (1), above. Human social structures include informal group interactions (a family or a culture’s ‘unwritten’ ways) and formal systems, (economic, political, and other institutional social structures and policies.)

All we are – as individuals and as groups – develops through very complex dynamic systems.  We can’t ‘map’ all the variables at play. There are too many. Even for one individual to ‘pin down’ all factors of his/her own beliefs and choices is beyond doing. But we can come to understand  enough to recognize key factors – while also recognizing we may not yet understand enough. We can learn to be honest with ourselves that simple statements such as “that person (those people) *always* behave that way” is oversimplified, stereotyped, judgement. This is true whether we worship or dislike a person or group.

The human mind needs to simplify and draw conclusions. We can’t function in daily affairs if we’re overly aware of complexity in individual and group behavior.  So we have to do both – we have to simplify and draw conclusions, and we have to know we’re not seeing ‘the full picture’. A meteorologist does the same thing – weather is ‘impossibly’ complex. The meteorologist reduces prediction variables to a few key influences, (existing cold fronts, warm fronts, which direction they’re headed). This allows an informed ‘guess’ as to whether we’ll have rain or shine. But the meteorologist knows full well an unconsidered – or even unknown – factor might develop. Computerized models allow considering more factors; short-term weather predictions, and longer term trends are impressively accurate compared to 50 years ago. The farther out the forecast, the more unforeseen factors can come into play – this is the nature of complex systems. My point is not that we should turn understanding human dynamics over to computer models (advertisers, campaigning political candidates, and policy planners do indeed do this).  My point is to compare human society complexity to weather complexity in order to emphasize immensity. As individuals and groups, we are factors within a complex dynamic of humanity moving across time. Individuals and groups carry effects from attitudes of generations past. And for the most part, we make our most important decisions without keeping this complexity in mind.  We can better guide our choices, can create more informed policies, if even ‘ordinary’ people are more informed on ‘who we are and why we do what we do’.  Furthermore, top-policy makers know very little about their own belief systems and choices. If we know we’re at risk . enough knowledge of these systems so that we can ‘see’ how they are playing out. historical lets us see unexamined dynamics and patterns; current lets us see  dynamic patterns still at play.

Dynamics – forces at play. This is what we must understand. To guide ourselves wisely, we must be aware of many of the factors that ‘feed’ the dynamic.

We must understand the dynamics as fully as reasonably possible. Everyone. The most complex dynamics can never be fully ‘mapped’ – there are too many factors, too many variables.  But we can be aware of much, much, more than we are. Simplistic statements and beliefs, about ‘why’ a person or a group behaves as they do, are useless if we genuinely want to design better human systems.

The 21st Century is a ‘window’ we can use to turn  humanity toward its promise.  Sincere study of human history shows we’ve mis-managed ourselves for centuries – with huge populations suffering as one result, the other result has been trashing Earth. Both may be reasonably explained by ignorance. But we’ve no longer got that ‘excuse’. Late 20th Century psychology makes it clear our ‘beliefs and choices’  are not logical, not rational; when we know this, it is our responsibility to gain skills and awareness that prevents our ‘auto-pilot’ behaviors.

Items listed below are high quality presentations on human societal issues. Each reveals greater understanding of who we are, how we got here, including pitfalls and unfortunate unintended consequences. Viewers learn of symptom and underlying cause in social structures as we find them – with significant flaws. Where we go from here is more promising if we understand what is shown.

In addition: This page can’t list all that is available. I invite and encourage blog visitors to explore sites listed in ‘blog-roll’ for in-depth articles, interviews, documentary, authors and titles on social/economic/political conditions.

Also: locate full lectures by  individual thinkers by browser search (‘name’ video lecture) or similar entry; check YouTube and colleges and universities for uploaded lectures.

*****Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 23 minute recording. Dr. King’s words ring strong and universal; a most clarion call of any from the second half of the 20th Century. Any recorded speech of his is powerful. I find his “Vietnam War Speech” near perfect, word-by-word. If for any reason, link does not work, run browser search with key words along lines of ‘Martin Luther King, Vietnam war speech, war speech’. Recommended as a meaningful listen and challenge, on any national holiday, in any nation. Not for its “Christian” influence, but for its universal power as a reminder of who we humans might be, could be, if we understood ourselves better.

*****Go to societal documentaries at FreeDocumentaries.org.
View all episodes of “Century of Self” (BBC – personal and cultural psychology, economic and marketing developments throughout 20th Century.) NOTE – August 6, 2013: there are ‘blocks’ on most web offerings to “Century of Self”!  I’ve learned what I can and have posted possible sources in a new post today – found here.)
View “ all episodes of “The Trap” (BBC – late 20th Century philosophical enthusiasms built around Cold War ‘game theory’ – impact on domestic economic policy in UK, the US, and elsewhere. From what I gather, game theory” enthusiasm and economic ‘fall out’ is still in play, even if soundly criticized as stunningly simplistic and devastating in effect­.

*****Listen to 25 1-hr lectures for course Intellectual History of the United States Since1865: (Begins before 1865, including founding days – key philosophical enthusiasms, impact on social policy.) If link does not work, go to Berkeley webcast page, click ‘courses’, on ‘courses’ page use small upper right ‘semester selection’ to choose ‘fall 2010’. Course is “American Studies”, at top of list.

*****PBS’s The Warning: ‘The Warning gives specific details of American late 20th Century domestic economic policy as it operated without oversight.  It reveals insider American mover/shak­er elite power struggles, plus matches, compliments, very nicely some of what’s in The Trap. One American economist, Brooksley Born, gave valiant effort to prevent the huge potential crisis she identified. She was overwhelmed by powers favoring deregulation, (by turf war and intention).

*****Universal (multi-nation) Insights on Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives; “Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. In this eye-opening talk, he pinpoints the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most.”  (note: I can think of a few questions, qualifiers, on Haidt’s findings as presented. I find them somewhat oversimplified, but as a ‘starting point’  they seem valid and valuable.)

***** See links for Dan Airley, and for Alfie Kohn , located as references on my Merit Pay Research page. Each explores psychology, our irrational decision making, the nature of our motivations.  Both researcher/writer/speakers are highly relevant to knowledge of self, and of individual-group dynamics. 

*****Interesting, entertaining, gently put challenge to practice independent thinking based on review of Socrates: his lifestyle, questions, teachings. Socrates asked questions to nudge everyone – living high-profile or ordinary lives – to think. He gave 5 thinking steps (see video) by which we can discover what we believe and why. BBC documentary, Alain Botton: “Socrates on Self-Confidence (25 minutes).  Note: I have summarized the 5 steps (paraphrased Botton’s summary) and posted them on my “Critical Thinking” page.

*****Supplemental: How Societies Transform : History: entertaining, informative, to-the-point; insights of how societies organize themselves, and why. Run browser ‘video’ searches for ‘history bbc’ and select from a range of documentaries on history of Britain or other historical documentaries, using ‘bbc’ in the search assures list of hits of quality documentaries. If search has a filter that allows  for ‘longer than 20 minutes’, you can use it to avoid brief clips and excerpts. Full programs (most are 1 hour more) are recommended. (2) At YouTube or similar, run searches using the word ‘lecture’, as in ‘lecture on French revolution’. There are excellent lectures available.  Lectures of quite a few entire courses have been posted by universities. You can use the filter at YouTube to narrow a lecture to ‘playlist’ and bookmark one link to access a full semester course. If visuals the professors use not essential; the lectures can be treated as audio, making them more convenient.

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