“Did he really say that?” he asked, looking at me. We just happened to be sitting next to each other, very interested in the speaker and his words.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Is that really what’s needed, risking arrest to simply be heard?”
The speaker reaffirmed his statement. “Not just arrest, but possibly physical danger.”
Tim and I self-introduced each other after the discussion. He was an economics undergraduate at the University of Utah (the U). I said I am a professor of engineering, soon to be retired, concerned about the planet. That was all.
Mike, a rural Utah legislator, is 20 years younger than me. We argued several times – at hearings related to the Legislature’s efforts to ‘outlaw’ CO2. “CO2 is a plant nutrient,” he said. “How can it possibly be harmful?” I was surprised to learn of his BA in botany or zoology – from UC-Berkeley.
Hans, a now emeritus professor of economics, organized a session on climate change at a national meeting at the U. Hans asked me to speak briefly at the session.
The issue is NOT Science. … the issue is BELIEF. If you choose to Believe in something very strongly and you choose to adopt a position very strongly – no amount of science will change your Belief. It takes a private revelation … to really change .… We must understand that rationality is quite rare … We must identify those totally irrational legislators…and get rid of them.
That was the real beginning of my interest in ‘politics’ – and the evolution of State Change.
Tim went on to become bidder number 70, the man who protested George Bush’s last minute energy lease auction in late 2008. He ended up serving nearly two years in prison for ‘disrupting’ an auction which was later declared illegal by Obama’s new Secretary of the Interior. Tim served his time – and continues to be an exemplary and effective environmental and climate change activist. The film Bidder 70 documents some of the actions, events, and repercussions of that time.
I ran for U.S. Congress in 2012 – unaffiliated, no party, no hidden agendas, no dollars. A progressive idealist in the most conservative state in the country. I learned about campaigning, messaging, debates, discussions, and the lack of public and media interest – all summarized in The RUN – My One Year Experiment in Democracy. My ‘platform’ was very close to Bernie Sanders’ current platform.
I lost and did not run again. It’s too slow. The public is so apathetic, ill-informed, ideological, and worried about immediate survival that democracy is seriously compromised. Gerrymandering has made a very bad situation even worse. Our democracy has become too distorted to work. The planet will ‘die’ long before we rescue democracy and change Congress via traditional politics.
More active and direct action is needed – beyond petitions, banners, and non-violent protest.
Expanding a bit from Edward Abbey – we need to ‘monkey-wrench’ politicians directly. We need to get the worst ones out, by whatever means, in the hope that they will be replaced by more reasonable men and, preferably, women.
John F. Burns, after 40 years with the New York Times, said:
I carried back…an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises. … there is no limit to the lunacy, malice and suffering that can plague any society with a ruling ideology.
Ideologues don’t listen, thus they rarely learn – and they almost never change. Most men, particularly ideologues, live in mental ‘caves’ or ‘tunnels’. William Blake said ‘…man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his caverns’.
The philosopher Thomas Metzinger says we exist in an Ego-Tunnel, constrained in part by our own mental development. Some of us have windows or semi-transparent walls in our tunnels – so we can perceive a bit beyond our constrained ideologies. But even those windows are generally barred by society, custom, laws, and expectations. Most of those bars are virtual – self-imposed. Revelations, epiphanies, Eureka! moments remove some of the bars on some of the windows – or even open doors.
Most Congressional ideologues are elected from now heavily gerrymandered GOP districts, guaranteeing them easy re-election. Running against them doesn’t really help. Trying to educate their constituents only marginally helps. Karl Rove said – now many years ago – ‘He who controls redistricting can control Congress’. And they did.
Getting ‘rid’ of the incumbents is unlikely to help, as other ideologically polarized candidates will be elected to replace them in the gerrymandered districts.
Compounding the problem is money – dollars. Most conservative ideologues are supported by – purchased by – plutocratic dollars. The Koch brothers, the deVos empire, the Adelsons, and many others spend enormous resources on sponsoring, supporting, and purchasing Congressmen and candidates, who then work to replicate the rigid, ideological mental states of their sponsors.
These many considerations led to my own recent revelation: since we can’t get rid of ideologues, can we ‘change’ them? Can we soften the walls, remove some of the bars – open some of the windows – even doors?
Revelation is a word and process very dear to the ultra-conservative Mormon majority in Utah. Although normally referring to direct input from ‘God’ to the ‘prophets’, Mormons as individuals are expected to seek and receive their own private revelations – a significant change in personal understanding, belief, or perspective.
How might we ‘engineer’ private revelations for Congressmen and their staff, for candidates and their supporters, and for voting constituents – and for others who ‘need’ such insight?
And that became The Plan: the ‘engineering’ of revelations…
What is the genesis of ideology? Why do people believe rather than think? There’s an old Buddhist saying: ‘Every belief system is an illness waiting to be cured’.
We seem to be ‘wired’ to believe. We claim to be independent, but we want to be told what is right and wrong, black or white, good or bad – simply, easily. We don’t like complexity. We distrust complicated solutions. We distrust the scientific and highly educated. We want simplicity, clear directions, and leaders who profess simple solutions.
Our patriarchal, male-dominated, testosterone-laden society underpins and reinforces such simple-minded thinking and actions.
I’ve pondered these issues over the last 25 or so of my nearly 75 years.
Our big brains don’t like uncertainty or mystery. We use stories to explain what we don’t know. And we develop new stories for new mysteries or concerns. Where did we come from? Why must we die? What’s after death? We developed stories and myths about creation, birth, death, and beyond death.
We tell those stories, we expand them, we write them down; they become comfortable. We print and distribute them. They become accepted. And many of those stories – in many cultures – are codified and some become ‘sacred’.
Myths are common stories with little or no evidence, like why the Universe was created – and why you are here. Myths are non-scientific becauses – fabricated by our brains to help minimize uncertainty and discomfort.
Myths develop – and the stories are told and retold so often they become believed; we assume they are indeed fact. If we hear something often enough, we generally begin to believe it.
If we’re used to the myths and the stories, then when we do get more evidence or more information, we often refuse to consider the new, more rational, story. We’re used to the old myth – it’s comfortable; it’s become ‘hard-wired’.
Religion comes from myth – to deal with why we were created, why we die, and what lies beyond. Those are tough questions with no answers. Religion helps many of us deal with the uncertainty and confusion of death – and other things we need or want to know but do not know. Religion is an elaboration of brain-created myths and stories. Religion is a way of dealing with the unknown – of dealing with ignorance.
Once we are hard-wired about something, it’s very difficult to change that wiring – to change our mind. So stuff that’s been told, written, and accepted as ‘gospel’, as dogma, as religious ‘truths’, is resident – hard-wired – in our brains. Much of that stuff makes no sense in today’s modern, science-based world. We know better. But we continue to accept and even worship those ancient stories and teachings – that ancient dogma. And we continue to preach and teach it.
Science is always probing and expanding – shining ‘light’ on the unknown. So science advances today into areas which represented ignorance yesterday – pushing into those areas which were – and still are – in the domain of religion.
We have a 250,000 year old brain ‘wired’ for hunter-gathering in small tribes and for dealing with fear and ignorance. That same brain is curious, inventive, experiential, creative. Some brains tend to be more creative and curious than others. And some tend to be more fearful and myth-bound than others.
The really curious ones often tilt toward science – and other rational, objective approaches to knowledge. The more fearful or less curious ones tilt toward belief and religion. We are all different. Believers tend to be politically more to the right – rationalists and objectivists more to the left. The ‘right’ tends to be more rule-based, wanting certainty, and looking for it in ‘sacred’ texts (including the Constitution).
I live in Utah. Some forty five years ago one of the local papers (now the Deseret Morning News) had the masthead: ‘We believe the Constitution is divinely inspired’. (It doesn’t say that anymore).
The ‘left’ tends towards equality, group decisions, community, grassroots democracy. The ‘right’ tilts to individualism, independence, rules, ultra-capitalism, and Ayn Rand.
Education used to be about learning to think for ourselves – learning fact from fiction, reality from fantasy, right from wrong – learning to become functioning, responsible participants in a representative democracy. ‘Education’ today is often far more about acquiring skills for specific jobs.
Generally we begin as infants and children with an authority figure (parents) telling us what is good or bad, right or wrong. That’s comforting, for a while. Then, particularly as we enter puberty, we begin to question that authority – we begin to consider our own identity and self. In good colleges we get exposed to philosophy and history and courses and discussions related to intellectual and personal development.
For many hard-wiring is difficult to undo – to rewire. Those often find it convenient and comfortable to stay with the hard-wiring they know. Others, perhaps those not so far over on the Believe Spectrum, do change their wiring – and many begin to think for themselves . And that can be uncomfortable.
We have special words for the rare times and situations when a very deep, solid belief is drastically changed or reversed: Revelation, Eureka Moment, Epiphany, …
Some people never get beyond child-like primitive beliefs – beyond Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy! Some migrate to the far other end of the Believe Spectrum – questioning everything and believing nothing – the non-thinking non-believers. They often think they are very open-minded, but unaware of the old quote: ‘I believe in an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.’
Ideally most of us strive for an open mind, but also a critical one. If we are not critical, rational, objective – then we cannot think or judge for ourselves. When there’s enough evidence, enough reason, then we can accept some fact or idea – we can begin to ‘believe’ it (our brains haven’t fallen out!).
Scientists are trained to be objective and open-minded and – at the same time – highly critical of very new ideas or criticisms – unless those new ideas come with a great deal of evidence. The key is to develop a balance between being critical or skeptical and being too believing. Pure belief just doesn’t cut it.
The economist John Keynes:
When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?…The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.
Those on the other end of the Believe Spectrum – the strong believers – are often the most vulnerable in our society. Someone offers them a special ‘deal’ or ‘opportunity’ to provide riches – or salvation – or fame. They don’t know how to ask critical questions, or how to seek and evaluate evidence or ‘facts’. They want to believe. If it’s a trusted friend, family member, or even a priest, bishop, or preacher offering the deal, they want to believe even more – and so they get swindled, scammed, victimized. They are subject to Ponzi schemes, ‘pyramid’ schemes, and ‘multi-level’ marketing (especially in Utah).
Simple dogmas and ideologies are comfortable, requiring no thinking or decisions. The problem is those simple ideas, beliefs, dogmas, and religious texts simply do not work for complex issues and problems in this 21st century.
How might one ‘engineer’ a revelation?
The most common way is via education and awareness – good teachers, good books, open-minded experiences. After seeing, hearing, and learning about something many times – over some period of time – we finally ‘get’ it. We develop a new perspective and level of understanding. We have a Eureka! moment – an epiphany. We’ve expanded our mental tunnel.
It doesn’t just happen in rational or objective directions. It can indeed go the other way. Religion-based missionaries work to ‘engineer’ revelations among the faithful – the believers. Sometimes it’s from un- or non-believers to believers; sometimes from one believer affiliation to another. Some people don’t relate to what they see out the window – or through the door. They want to close the door, close the blinds, even narrow and strengthen their tunnel. They want to believe in a more rigid or narrow ideology. We call them believers.
There are many types of practitioners and facilitators who work to empower spiritual and even mystical experiences, with the goal of facilitating epiphanies related to perceiving and understanding. Faith-based approaches strive for a God-based mystical/spiritual ‘awakening’. Some faiths even use food-based, herbal, or drug means to enhance ‘awareness’ and responsiveness. That’s all legal.
As I come from a science background and perspective, I’ve always been skeptical of God-focused or supernatural spiritualism or mysticism. But I am learning that there are approaches in those traditions which can be helpful, including fasting, meditation, mentors, gurus – as well as simple education and awareness.
For many – perhaps the half of the population that are at least receptive to reality, to science, and to at least some critical thinking – continued exposure and awareness does work, albeit very slowly. Small, multiple insights can chart a path in the brain, making it more receptive to future experiences, suggestions, even facts.
Experiences can help establish a brain ‘path’ that makes it easier for later events to trigger mystical experiences – or even a change in perspective or outlook. I like to call that revelation via incrementalism. That’s why basic thermodynamics is presented in many different courses in undergraduate science and engineering curricula – it takes many exposures over several years for some students to finally ‘get it’.
Special, very unlikely, events can also work. Most surviving victims of a sudden heart attack have near-instantaneous revelations about food, nutrition, exercise – general habits of healthy living. Ditto for smokers who get severe lung cancer. Near death experiences can be very effective. Steve Jobs, after his own near-death experiences, said: ‘Near-death experiences can help one see more clearly sometimes’.
Experiencing severe storms related to climate change, or terrible fires related to climate change, or malaria or cholera due to climate change-induced migration of disease vectors – these can help the onset of a revelation – but only if the individual is already aware, somewhat rational, and receptive – and is responsive to Keynes’: ‘When some event shows me that I am wrong, I change my mind’.
Close family members and friends are sometimes effective. One example is former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis’ climate change revelation via his 18 year old son’s question. When Inglis received the Kennedy Profiles in Courage award recently, he mentioned the encouragement from his five children.
But such events happening to existing Congressmen and candidates are rare. And most affected individuals are too ideologically bound to even recognize the connections. The denier and doubt industry, so well studied and presented in The Merchants of Doubt, is constantly – and very effectively – reinforcing the reality-escaping ideologies. Those ‘merchants’ tell the ideologically-prone community exactly what it wants to hear: the science is doubtful, the risk is minimal, the government will over-regulate, your freedom to choose will be constrained, etc.
It is very difficult to engineer rational revelations for urgent and complex problems and issues like climate change, population, justice and prisons, taxes and budgets, etc. Congressmen need to be informed. They need to be objective, realistic, and effective. But we don’t have the luxury of taking many years to ‘educate’ them and their staff. Incremental revelation engineering is just too slow.
We need an efficient, effective, rapid, simple revelation engineering process – not just for one or two people, but for many, perhaps most, of our 535 Congressmen and for their opponents and potential replacements. We also need revelations for Supreme Court justices, world leaders, religious leaders, corporate and financial leaders, and the other powers in our planet-wide society.
Genes are somewhat effective. According to recent research, some of us are more genetically prone to rational and objective thinking, others much less so. But it is difficult and probably illegal to genetically modify (GM) existing Congressmen and candidates (GM Congressmen – interesting). It is certainly illegal to try to induce their heart attacks or cancers – or set up other events or near death experiences which might be revelation enhancing.
It is clear (to me) that a revelation – a significant change in perspective or understanding, especially one which is counter to a hard, firm ideology – requires a ‘rewiring’ of parts of the brain. It requires the removal of ‘bars’ or the opening of doors. Although that can be accomplished temporarily by certain types of electrical and magnetic stimulation, we don’t know how to use such tools to ‘engineer’ politically pragmatic and useful revelations. And even if we did, they would be – or would soon become – illegal.
Nature ‘knows’ how to modify parts and processes of the brain and neurosensory systems. Adults have been through puberty – a chemically induced and chemically maintained state. Our anatomy and physiology changed, our brain changed, our perspectives changed. We transformed into adults. Metamorphosis is well known among insects and other organisms. It tends to be genetically and, of course, biochemically driven. Perhaps some additional chemical encouragement could help us transform into more reasonable and responsible adults.
Drugs are the basis of a major industry – and one with great political and plutocratic impact. The purpose of legal drugs is to facilitate, improve, and enhance individual human health and wellbeing. We also use chemicals (including drugs) to facilitate and improve public health (water treatment, fluoridation, disease resistance, etc.). Our society consumes enormous quantities of drugs to ‘improve’ and enhance behavior, social acceptance, attention, education, and performance. Drugs to enhance your sexual potency are legal and very profitable, but drugs to enhance your performance in Olympic events, World Cup soccer, and other regulated sports are banned for such use. Many such drugs modulate or interfere with our neurosensory systems.
We also have substances which are widely used but are not legal, although they may be legal in other nations. There are substances illegal for many, but legal for some, such as special herbs or drugs for specific religious use. Some substances which were once illegal, like alcohol, are now legal, albeit regulated and controlled. Some substances which are illegal nationally are now legal in several states (marijuana in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington). What is legal or illegal can change via city, county, state, or Federal legislation and enforcement – and court decisions.
Some behavior and performance enhancing substances are natural hormones and other chemicals, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, oxytocin, cortisol. Although ‘natural’, and administered by clinicians to patients with recognized and measureable deficiencies, it may be illegal to take or administer them beyond ‘normal’ levels, such as testosterone and its precursors for performance athletes. And what is legal or illegal changes with measurement and analytical technologies and methods. Many substances are illegal today because we can now detect and measure them.
In addition, our health, behavior, and performance is affected by chemicals in the environment, resulting from pollution, additives for special purposes (flame-retardants), herbicides, pesticides, fumigants, perfumes, dyes, etc. For all we know, our collective social and political behavior may change as a result of exposure to environmental chemicals and drugs. Indeed, many of the drugs we take, legally and illegally, are excreted via waste streams into water supplies and into the general environment.
Chemically-induced experiences, perhaps resulting in ‘rewiring’, is one approach to revelation engineering. Both Aldous Huxley and H. G. Wells referred to the ‘Door in the Wall’, where the ‘Door’ is opened via particular chemical agents. Passing through the Door results in new awareness, new perception, perhaps new openness. As Huxley said at the end of The Doors of Perception, echoing William Blake:
…the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.
And that became The Beginning…