2013-10-29, by John Ringland
"... for some reason it appears we’ve given up our freedom to varying degrees in exchange for something. But in exchange for what? Security? Acceptance? Ease? It sure appears that way. But how did this come about? ... Looking at the contrived and extremely controlling political and economic structure of our planet’s various societies and the miserable state of most of its inhabitants, it’s clear something is seriously wrong." (Does Humanity Even Want Freedom? [link])
It is clear that in countless overt and subtle ways we are losing our freedom. Why is this happening? And importantly, how far might this proceed and how can we *effectively* resist it?
A useful perspective on this is: it is happening via the process of social meta-system transition (social MST).
"A metasystem is formed by the integration of a number of initially independent components, such as molecules, cells or individuals, and the emergence of a system steering or controlling their interactions. As such, the collective of components becomes a new, goal-directed individual, capable of acting in a coordinated way." (Wikipedia [link])
This is a general systemic process that operates on all systems and from which emerge the successively higher levels of complexity (levels of the holarchy). For more on this see the article in Principia Cybernetica ([link]).
A "social MST" is what we think of as the "growth of civilisation"; i.e. the self-organisation of myriad humans into societies / organisations that then control the individuals from the perspective of the collective and in pursuit of political agendas.
This perspective sheds light on the fundamental forces at work, which explains why this process has been proceeding for thousands of years despite numerous regime changes, paradigm shifts, revolutions, etc. It is more than just the work of some ruling elite or even some ruling idea. Thinking only on the level of human beings and their actions and ideas leads us to misunderstand the deeper forces at work and thus makes our attempts to retain our freedom ineffective.
To clarify this further I will briefly draw a parallel between the main biological and social instances of MST.
A relevant example of a MST occurred around 550 million years ago (called the Cambrian explosion), when single cells self-organised into multi-cellular organisms. For billions of years cells were whole, separate, free, individuals. However then the Eukaryotes evolved. Their greater capacity for complex communication allowed them to self-organise in complex ways for mutual benefit. These collectives began to experience things from their own perspective and took on a life of their own - thus becoming multi-cellular organisms.
After the Cambrian explosion Eukaryotes were no longer free individuals, instead they became fully integrated parts of multi-cellular organisms. The Eukaryotes still live their individual lives within the organism but they are totally bound, dependent, conditioned and manipulated into performing the various roles that are required for the functioning of the organism and the pursuit of it's agendas.
Because cells are relatively simple and unaware they became totally enslaved by the collective.
A similar process has been occurring at a higher level of complexity (higher level of the holarchy). For hundreds of millions of years multi-cellular organisms were whole, separate, free, individuals. However then we humans evolved. Our greater capacity for complex communication allows us to self-organise in complex ways for mutual benefit. These collectives are increasingly experiencing things from their own perspective and taking on a life of their own - thus becoming multi-human organisms.
As civilisation grows we lose our freedom and increasingly become integrated parts of society (including various forms of organisation such a religions, nations, corporations, sub-cultures, etc). We still live our individual lives within society but we are increasingly bound, dependent, conditioned, manipulated, seduced, deceived and coerced into performing the various roles that are required for the functioning of society and the pursuit of it's agendas.
Most of the oppression we face in our daily lives (surveillance, coercion, the growing plethora of intrusive regulation, etc) is due to social systems seeking self-control. Most of the propaganda and manipulative distortions are due to social systems asserting their perspective over our individual perspective. Most of the suffering (poverty, over-consumption, war, etc) is due to social systems competing amongst themselves in pursuit of their agendas.
Cells totally lost their freedom, thus the cellular MST progressed to an extreme level; the cells effectively ceased to be individuals, thus allowing multi-cellular organisms to develop a strong sense of individual existence and self-control. However it is unlikely that we will lose so much of our freedom and individuality thus the emerging multi-human organisms won't develop as strong a sense of individual existence and self-control. There is something in the human spirit that cannot tolerate total slavery and this places fundamental limits on the potential growth of civilisation. At some point the pervasive personal suffering leads to an eruption of social tensions that destroy the oppressive social structures. These tensions may manifest as a violent revolution or if that is suppressed then an epidemic of depression / suicide / drug-abuse or non-compliance / minimal-compliance leading to generations of wasted potential and wasted resources spent on intimidation and coercion or any number of other social pathologies.
Somewhere between total freedom (anarchy) and total slavery (totalitarianism) a balance will be found. It is the myriad power struggles between individual needs / perspectives and collective needs / perspectives that will determine how and where this balance will be found. It is not the absolute amount of power that is relevant, but the relative power between the collective and the individual. If society's power over us becomes as great as an organism's power over cells then we too will eventually become totally enslaved and lose all individuality, thus allowing organisations to become the new dominant life form.
Because we human beings are more aware than cells, the details of this systemic process will unfold differently. We are more capable of valuing our freedom, experiencing our slavery and holding our ground in the face of increasingly intrusive incursions from society. However most of us have no idea that we are in the midst of a social MST, this leads to many misconceptions such as conspiracy theories or many flawed strategies (such as terrorism). These misconceptions and mistakes make most of our struggles for freedom ineffective or even destructive (giving the authoritarian systems more justification for intruding into our lives).
The more conditioned (by the mass delusion), confused, fearful or apathetic we become the weaker we become and the stronger the collective becomes - thus shifting the relative power balance against us. Our greatest weapon in our defence is our awareness and capacity for understanding the situation, which enables us to interact in ways that respect our individual perspective and undermine the authoritarian perspective - thus shifting the relative power balance in our favour.
If we understand the situation we can act effectively and retain / regain many of our freedoms. Even once achieved, the systemic forces won't disappear so constant vigilance is required lest the spectre of authoritarianism rears its ugly head again.
Note: this perspective is not anti-society or anti-organisation. We do need to cooperate for our mutual benefit. However when our social systems become oppressive to the human spirit this is not only destructive to individuals but also to society as a whole. If we mindlessly drift in the direction of totalitarianism there can be no hope for humanity on any level. A workable balance must be found, within which individuals can flourish and cooperate for mutual benefit without creating oppressive structures that will only self-destruct due to growing social tensions.
I have previously discussed these and other related issues at length in the ebook: "Gaian Ego Hypothesis: Systems Analysis of Organisation, Ego, Control and Authoritarianism" [link]
Regarding a solution, the project STriking At the Root (STAR) never got off the ground but I believe that it does point in the direction of a solution: [link]