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

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Another indicator of cognitive dissonance is the sense surrounding the relative importance of certain issues. The description that people "make a mountain out of a molehill' is true. The lack of comparative analysis is also lack of perspective. A power-monger uses force disproportionately to the situation. For example, firing an employee for disagreeing, or violently silencing criticism by smashing a printing press. Electoral politics constantly seize upon minor issues as a means of attacking an opponent. Businesses take small design differences between themselves and their competition and cast them as huge advantages of their product. Olympic athletes are stellar performers, yet we are to believe a half-second of speed is a mark of significant superiority. 

Before power corrupts, the lust for power distorts. Enlightenment is a world undivided into heroes and villains, or winners and losers. Socrates, after being found guilty, was required to propose a just punishment. His accuser recommended death. Socrates felt he should be housed and feted like the athletes. The molehill was worshipped, and the mountain of wisdom was destroyed. There are millions of petty squabbles over insignificant things. Money is a big one, but not the only one. True equality is the world's most radical idea: to see ones enemy as oneself.

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Know Thyself

People are ignorant about their dissonance, which is why Plato advised "Know Thyself." (Yes, Plato was ignorant of his own dissonance). We need to explore our own prejudices to find ourselves and one another. Everybody is exactly the same. We all share the capacity to mix up cause and effect, good and bad, true and false. We have all been indoctrinated into a unique set of half-truths that form our prejudices. Our heroes and villains reflect our unique challenges with dissonance. To be truly free, then we need to recognize the equality of mankind, regardless of skill, learning, position, pedigree or possession. Just as the planet is rich in resources and climates, we all have diverse gifts and temperaments, too. The challenge before us is, "How do we exchange these gifts, that we fashion from the Earth and our community, with other communities?' That, ultimately, is what the study of economics encompasses. Politics is supposed to make that process easier, not harder.

Big History Goals
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Big History Goals by Steve Consilvio

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While a certain degree of simplification is necessary to understand the world, including these models, it is important to remember that everyone was, is, and will be tethered to the same 24 hour day. Our heroes and villains were both using comparative analysis in the best way they knew. They both sought to fix a problem, even if that put them in opposition to one another. They met with varying degrees of success over their lifetime, the same as us. We can do better. We have their experience to draw from.

Evolution is incremental. Just as we change everyday, so too do the ideas and institutions represented in the model. Time can appear to be like a pendulum in a repeating motion, swinging back and forth, but the pendulum is always moving forward as a single line. The line may intersect on each swing, but it does not repeat. You are you, and everyone is themselves. However, the virtues that we ascribe to are timeless and accessible. A clock measures time, but it has no effect on time. Everyone is fully capable of living a virtuous life, but we need to ask, "What is virtue?' Virtue does not change. We need to hold ourselves, our heroes, our villains, and victims to the same standard. 

We can start anywhere. Every point on the model is a definition of virtue. From there we can test it in every direction. Every idea is the center of the universe because ideas are a web. No idea is an island. 

The virtue model

The qualitative difference between opinions is how well they have been tested. Virtue is something that is true logically, emotionally and physically. Virtue works because it is in balance.

The Big History model is not in balance. It is a state of extreme imbalance, with the individual in the center of the confusion. A model in balance would have all three circles perfectly stacked one upon the other. There would be no difference between the ideas, the organizations and the individual. Perfect harmony. 

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Balance by Steve Consilvio

In the current model, all of the organizations within the empires exist while ignoring the virtues of a particular philosophy. For example, politics excludes religious virtues, it is non-religious. Religion says do not kill, but governments decide life and death, and kill any challenge to its authority or threat to its citizens. Businesses are non-political. Even though it overlaps with religion, it makes no judgements. Businesses sell anything to everyone. Governments try to restrict businesses from trading with its enemies, and religions try to prevent immoral commerce, but both have little success. Churches are non-profit. They do not try to produce or sell anything, but the non-profits enjoy some of the oldest and largest hoards of wealth. Every empire tries to impact the other empires, while enjoying the virtues that the other empires supply. 

In practice, no organization is as cleanly separated as the model, but that is the point. The model attempts to expose the priority behind certain choices, the resulting struggle for success, and the dissonance trap that exists within all endeavor. Reality is similar to chaos theory. Humanity, like the Sun, acts like a flame, ever constant, yet never-repeating. Our fire is the interaction of solid matter, abstract ideas and emotions. New lives form the new embers. Time burns perpetually generating light and warmth, but it can just as easily flame out of control and burn, or reduce almost to the point of being extinguished, bringing cold and darkness. Ash and dust are generated during the burn, representing the discard of error, and the end of our lives, but the memory of light and temperature lingers onward. Just as the first chicken is an ancestor of every egg, so too is all light part of the same first fire, regardless of how or when humans became sentient. All is one, and one is all. We should not put man into boxes or stereotypical categories. The purpose of using this model is to explain and illuminate, not to categorize and condemn. 

None of the empires are pure or logical, by any set of standards. If the goal of politics is to create order, the governments are constantly at war. If the goal of economics is to efficiently create plenty, businesses have created waste and poverty, too. If the goal of religion is to offer moral clarity, hope and salvation and brotherhood, it has created division and self-righteousness, too. Within themselves and between themselves the empires are full of contradictions. That is true generically and specifically for any organization. Everyone is in a constant state of difficulty. The virtues that they espouse (the real ones) are diluted by contradictions and the multitude of other forces that do not recognize their virtues. 

As individuals, we all have our own sense of what is correct, which is usually slightly different than the organizations that we join or that employ us. This is not surprising, since none of the empires can address the complete needs of a whole person. The more the ideas are exclusionary in the model, the more it resembles a prison, rather than an organic machine. Separate but equal, like the division of church and state, is an intellectual farce. The empires have evolved to be contradicting what people need most: balance.

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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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