革 (Ko) Revolution

I Ching Hexagram 49 - 革 - Ko - Revolution

When I sat down to write today I wanted to change gears for a moment and shift away from my usual strident social criticism and angry deconstruction of dysfunctional ontologies, and instead provide some more positive constructive solutions.

I've been consulting the I Ching frequently lately, so I decided to throw the coins and see what the oracle thought I should write about. I threw Hexagram 49 with no changing lines – 革 (Ko) Revolution.

First of all, I'd like to offer some nuance on my interpretation of the I Ching. In my conversation with Monk Yun Rou, author and lay Taoist monk, he was quite explicit in his belief that the I Ching is not a tool for divination. The I Ching and Taoism are often seen as inscrutable mystical traditions in the west, so there is an inclination to dismiss them as superstition.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) of the Human Brain

Monk Yun Rou is explicitly secular in his interpretation of Taoism. I have a tendency to be more agnostic in my perception of Taoist principles, there may be some imperceptible force at work, or not. I don't believe it is necessary to believe one way or the other for Taoist principles to work in everyday life. You can believe in a supernatural force, be agnostic, or secular, they work just the same. Without any mystical interpretation, it is my belief that the I Ching that allow us to hear our true, and usually sensible, inner self. The I Ching refers to this as the "Sage." That's not a bad way to see it, it's like we all have an inner wise old man, or woman, who offers good counsel in difficult times. I suppose whether or not there's anything a secular western mind would call "magic" would depend on to what you attribute that inner sagely voice, a connection to some universal force, or an unverified phenomena yet to be documented by neuroscience.

Over the last two years, my partner and I interviewed dozens of therapists, philosophers, theologians, religious leaders, and spiritual practitioners. The intent was to survey how these various traditions defined the nature of consciousness. As I mentioned in my previous essay, the development of generalized artificial intelligence (AGI), a truly conscious computer, is of great interest to me. While there is plenty of discussion about what defines consciousness in the fields of computer science and neuroscience, I specifically wanted to reach outside the confines of the secular, rational, and scientific. By suspending disbelief in order to open a dialog and see how other cultures and traditions defined the nature of consciousness and self. One of my underlying premises was that the scientific method does not prove anything, it only disproves hypotheses. It is possible to believe in something without a body of supporting evidence. If with mounting evidence it becomes less and less likely this belief is accurate, it becomes harder and harder to defend. However, it is also possible to hold a belief for which there is little evidence, and for which there is little evidence to the contrary, and for that belief to be confirmed in the future by means that are not currently available.

My early assumption was that there would be a very few key elements in most of these traditions and those traditions would contain the as yet unmapped areas of scientific research that would allow us to create a truly conscious artificial mind. What I found interesting was that once I suspended my disbelief and spoke at length with leading minds from these diverse traditions, there was almost no disagreement between them on anything of substance.

Despite the fact that the followers of many of these traditions are perpetually at war with each other, ideologically or literally, most of the people who are actually deeply steeped in the tradition and have encyclopedic knowledge of it, see no such divisions. There are some hard-line sects of some religious or spiritual traditions who prescribe exclusionary doctrine, up to and sometimes including a requirement for their followers to convert nonbelievers or destroy them. If you deconstruct the philosophies of these traditions in a systematic way, you will find those hard-line sects have to go out of their way to ignore large portions of their own alleged ideology in order to justify their violent tendencies. I've come to view these people as otherwise unapologetically violent people who simply use convenient ideology to justify what they would do anyway.

What's also interesting to me is that this extends beyond the spiritual and religious to secular ideology as well. Speak with a Marxist or a Republican, and you'll often hear the same sentiments expressed in terms of what they would want from a better world. It's begun to appear to me that there are a small percentage of jerks in every ideological group, religious and secular, who are violent and destructive. Those individuals will cherry-pick their ostensible ideology for justifications for violence against their perceived ideological opponents. They will ignore violations of the same proscriptions among their own ideological camp, and to a degree within the camps of allied ideologies.

This led me to the conclusion that while most people may perceive an ideological split between warring factions, in actuality it is a small percentage of instigators who are perpetually inciting otherwise peaceful subscribers of various ideologies to violence. For example in American politics, the perception is something like 45% Republican versus 45% Democrat with 10% in the middle that can swing either way. In reality, it's more like 90% who just want to get on with their life, take care of their families, enjoy their leisure time as much as possible, and not die violently. The other 10% is split between left and right wing extremists who are compelled to destroy the other by any means necessary. They will as easily attack members of their own wing who are not radicalized enough as they will their ideological enemies. They will violate the tenants of their own ideologies for what they see as a greater good of ideological victory once their ideological enemies are annihilated, which never actually happens, it just begets a cycle of unending violence.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

The word "revolution" is a highly charged one. To some, it summons images of the Founding Fathers of the United States rising up against the tyranny of the British monarchy. To others, it summons the image of the downtrodden working class rising up to smash the oppression of imperialist capitalism. To others, it represents the genocidal bloodshed that followed such a working-class uprising. So when I say that we are indeed in need of a revolution, please allow me to articulate myself before leaping to any conclusion about what I mean with that word.

To return to my previous thread, if we can agree that most people want to simply live in peace and that at the deepest levels there is very little disagreement between religious and secular ideologies of all kinds. If we can agree that most people, probably more than 90%, never want to commit an act of violence, nor do they want to be victims of violence. If we can agree that it is a narrow subset of society, that crosses all ideological, socioeconomic, ethnic, and other distinctions between populations, who do want to use violence to "defeat" their perceived enemies and that the majority of conflict and strife in the world is the result of this tiny minority. Then we can agree that in order to create a more peaceful, sustainable, content, thriving, world we must neutralize the effect of this tiny minority of violently inclined individuals. The primary barrier to simply wrapping this up in a couple months is our resistance to admitting the people who need to be neutralized might be our own family member, neighbors, they might attend the same church, or work in the same office. They might be fans of the same sports teams, or volunteer with the same service club. A man next to you wearing the same religious necklace at you is putting you and your family in more danger if he is participating or promoting violence against the other, regardless of whether or not he says he's doing it for your faith. I call these individuals "chaos agents." It is important to remember despite their surface appearances and stated ideologies, they are the real danger. They are the only danger. The revolution I would like to see, is people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, from all ideological camps, secular and spiritual, coming together to neutralize chaos agents in all their many forms.

Akido, a modern Japanese martial art, emphasizes self-defense without harming one's opponent

Let us define the next problematic term, neutralize. As a martial artist who has managed to avoid using harmful force for 40 years, nearly all confrontations can be managed without violence. If it was the vast majority of humanity against the narrow minority of chaos agents, we probably wouldn't need to use harmful violence at all.

Once their ability to do harmful violence is carefully removed, these chaos agents should be ethically and humanely contained. I have pointed out the example of the Norwegian prison system as a model system for containing violent extremists. They take every conceivable step to make prisoners comfortable, and focus all the resources they can on rehabilitation. The number of chaos agents with physical or biochemical neurological problems that prevent rehabilitation is a relatively small subset of the total number of chaos agents. I oppose euthanasia, but an argument could be made that the potential risks of containing chaos agents who cannot be rehabilitated is too great. Either way, the vast majority of chaos agents are suffering from maladaptive behaviors induced by traumatic stress that can, given the right resources, be overcome.

I have described myself as an anarchist, but again that is an emotionally charged term. The way I interpret the term, I try to remain ideologically blank, to see ideology as something separate from myself. This allows me to look at solutions to problems independently of what ideology favors them. Most solutions are tied to a specific ideology, either by their members or by their opponents. This forces strict adherents of an ideology to reject sensible solutions based on ideological opposition. Anarchists are not inherently violent or destructive, if we can return again to my previous thought, chaos agents who claim to be anarchists are violent and destructive. The moment you decide to use or promote violence to forward your ideology, or lack of an ideology, you become a chaos agent.

Not to diverge into a thesis on anarchist thought, but the another aspect of anarchism is a belief in an ideal stateless society. Let me be abundantly clear, while I see that as a long-term goal for the world I do not think we should abandon the concept of governance or distinct nation states at this time. We've go a long way to go and a lot to work out before we will be able to live as a stateless, self-governing species. I've got some ideas about how that might be eventually implemented, but I won't digress here any further. I simply want to express unequivocally that I not only believe in the necessity of governmental structures for the time being but wholeheartedly support the principles of constitutional liberal western democratic republics. The United States is not perfect, and we've done some pretty horrible things, but before we had this we had kings and emperors. Again, not to digress, but I believe the creation of generalized artificial intelligence will facilitate a decreased need for clumsy, inefficient, and often unjust governmental hierarchies.

So how do we separate solutions from the ideologies that typically promote them? Giving homes to the homeless is contradictory to the ideology of mainstream Republican conservatives in the US, they have a value placed on individualism and responsibility. However, many homeless are not capable of behaving responsibly or will not behave responsibly. The average homeless person costs the American taxpayers $35,578 per year. The cost of providing no-strings-attached housing for the homeless is $12,800 per year, with a net savings in reduction of costs to the public of $4,800 per year. It literally costs the taxpayer less to house, feed, and clothe the needy than it does to let them slowly starve to death and die of exposure. The State of Utah, a highly conservative red state, chose to give this solution a try and eliminated homelessness completely. This is just one example of how stepping back from ideology and looking at pragmatic solutions to specific problems can make the world a better place.

We do indeed require a revolution. A calm, methodical, nonviolent, revolution. We need to calmly and rationally engage with the machinery of the state to facilitate this process. That machinery is often dumb and reactive, sentiments about destroying it provoke more violence. It's beyond the control of any individual or group to prevent these automated responses, it is very much a machine with preprogrammed responses to specific types of behavior. We need to work together to identify and neutralize the chaos agents. When we don't have them in our midst firebombing attempts to build solidarity we will find the process of reforming the machine fairly effortless, but it will be hard work at first.

Chinese Characters for "Effort" or "Hard Work"


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