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12. The Anatomy of Contradictory Ideas, from Alternative Economics 101 -Tax Your Imagination

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We know more than our ancestors, but knowledge makes the mystery larger, not smaller. We use reason to form a hypotheses, formulate experiments and search for evidence to support our logic. Reason is scientific method, regardless of the conclusion. The abstract category refers to thinking.

Emotions, in contrast, deal with the result. Is what we have good or bad? Politics is the social category and refers to feelings. Emotions do not ask how something arrived, but only register pleasure or pain. Is it something to keep and cultivate, or something to avoid and prevent? The political realm is where those goals are debated and determined. The social realm is subjective and problematic, because what one person enjoys may be suffering for another person. If people are at emotional opposites, then they can be working for an opposing result. Should the government conduct stem cell research? Should the government defend or abolish slavery? Emotions determine the scientific goal. Hitler, for example, wanted to use genetics to prove that whites were superior to satisfy his emotional need. 

Action falls under the physical category. This is scientific practice. Applied science tests the causality that reason develops, and discovery is then applied for its best impact: to bring pleasure and avoid pain. Unity and consensus are important for scientific goals, but scientific action tests for accuracy. Is something true or false? Can we build a machine that works as intended? 

Balance and accuracy are critical in all areas. If we mistakenly believe a falsehood, then good can result only by accident. The best choices are balanced and will result in more balance. Balance is understanding cause and effect, choosing good over bad, and true over false.

When Jesse Owens won the 1936 Olympics, it shattered Hitler's claim that non-whites were inferior. Not only did Germany fail, but all aryans failed, too. Hitler twisted scientific reasoning and goals. In the death camps, he would go on to twist scientific action. It was absurd to tattoo numbers onto people that you intended to kill. What was the purpose of all the record-keeping? His distorted spiritual connection, an extreme self-love and hatred of others, led to many distorted scientific practices, including where humans were cruelly used as test subjects. He was unique because of his success in leading a nation into an extreme misdirection, but the paths he traveled to get there are well worn. Scapegoats are created by false reasoning and emotional separation. Every realm also has a matching virtue and vice. In politics, they are humility and pride.  The results speak for themselves.

Ideas (abstract realm) and emotions (social realm) are both self-centered phenomenons. Science cannot "prove' what is right or good. It can only test for true or false. Many questions are beyond the boundaries for science to test. In the hierarchy of the human condition, religion should be at the top. If we fail to respect cause and effect, then we believe a lie. Unfortunately, how we feel effects what we reason. This is a subtle but important condition when it comes to recognizing dissonance in ourselves. When our emotions mis-register reality, there is an opportunity for error. The error can be as huge as World War II, or as local as a disagreement with a friend.

Theories, empires and organizations are just like the people that created them. Ideas, emotions and actions are inseparable. Balance can only be achieved through consistency. The world is a reflection of humanity's success or failure to think, feel and act in harmony. Balance is in everyone's interest. 

Heroes and Villains

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The myriad of personal choices and opportunities are overwhelming. A hierarchy of priority is developed based on the role we occupy. For a parent it may be family; for the breadwinner, their job; for a student, their studies; for a church, the services; for government, the laws; for a business, sales. We are all familiar with these roles. The only way to fully understand any choice is to make it. Once we do, we are able to define heroes and villains based on how they interact with our roles. We enjoy our supporters and are displeased by our detractors. Cause and effect, good and bad, true and false all combine when we make a judgement.

Our choices are our ambition, and ambition is a double-edged sword. People discover that it is lonely at the top, if they manage to make it. Others lose their desire, want to get off the path they chose, but are stuck. Whatever next choice we make has all the same issues. We cannot escape the human condition. Life is too brief to experiment with many choices. What people need most is balance, but that is difficult to achieve in a system that is structurally imbalanced. Economic volatility intrudes upon everyone, and sets off many conflicts.

As a result of faulty reasoning and unfortunate experiences, some people develop one-dimensional personalities. They become full of hate, rage and anger and live life on the offensive. For them, the fault of history can only be the one target to which they have dedicated themselves to oppose. This blame can fall on anything. It can be a person, a business type, a political party, an organization, a belief, a skin color, a nationality or an ethnicity. In a world of tremendous size, diversity and activity, there are plenty of opportunities to rage against straw-men, near or far. We follow our misjudgments as far as we can go, and when we get to the end, we embrace a change that we previously felt was impossible or ridiculous. Epiphanies are fair-weather friends.

Sometimes the one-dimensional personality can be the emotional opposite of anger. They are not full of hate and rage, but of concern and sympathy for a specific group of people that they wish to help. The target group may suffer from illness, ignorance, injustice or a social condition. 

The one-dimensional person can be either an extreme pessimist or an extreme optimist, a demagogue or a prophet, a destroyer or a philanthropist. Given the nature of dissonance, there are often elements of both. One person's hero is another's villain, but more importantly, creating a victim requires a hero and a villain. We elevate ourselves as we condemn others. Triangularizations are common.

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The best epiphanies are when the right hand and the left hand discover what each other are doing. The hand that loves heroes discovers the hand that hates villains. Suddenly, scapegoats and straw-men are not the enemy, but our own faulty reasoning. What somebody loves and hates defines how they understand the world. We create our heroes and our villains based on how we interpret roles and ideas. When we discover that our heroes and villains share the same characteristics, then we discover ourselves. That is the central idea that the Big History model hopes to illuminate. The drawing is a mirror of our prejudices and experience.

Mapping Anger

All anger can be mapped within the Big History diagram. For example, when an employee who is angry at his boss over wages.The disagreement is located within the for-profit business empire. The boss is at the top of the pyramid, and the employee is at the bottom. The complaint is that the boss is being unfair or greedy, which is a complaint with moral right/wrong intonations (which falls under the abstract/religion realm), but the boss is making decisions for the business empire, where profit is the defined virtue. His job is to keep expenses down, not make people happy. Fairness may be the virtue in politics or religion, but not in business. A fair business is open to overlap. An unfair business is not. 

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Steve grew up in a family business, was a history major in college, and has owned a small business for 25 years. Practical experience (mistakes) have led him to recognize that political rhetoric and educated analysis often falls short of reality. (more...)

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