Is it possible we’re acting out a Global Strategy for self-defeat, creating a world of such complexity that we’re finally overwhelmed and destroyed by it? The possibility makes sense considering the human capacity for folly and self-defeat.
Science fiction has certainly explored the theme of artificially created life-forms acquiring power over us, either through hostile takeovers (cybernetic revolts) or through our passive corroboration with artificial intelligence.
Instead of losing our autonomy to androids and robots, we’re talking here about being defeated by the complexity of global operating systems such as the ones that govern economics and finance. Such self-defeat may already be upon us. The global economic system is dependent on energy sources that produce global warming. It’s a system that’s contaminated by arcane financial derivatives that make up galaxies of debt. We’re also economically dependent on jobs and profits from the production and proliferation of high-tech weapons, which makes the road to world peace increasingly complicated. Complexity is growing exponentially. As Stephen Hawking says, we have entered “the century of complexity.”
What agency representing our common well-being has the power and resources to oversee and understand, let alone regulate, all the offshoots of this labyrinthine activity? Even in health care, the prescribing of drugs has become a complex calculation and guessing-game involving potential side-effects, contraindications, and questions of efficacy. Is the U.S. government, as a central intelligence constitutionally charged with practicing wise oversight, the last bastion of national and global protection? The U.S. government, however, has been discouraged from prosecuting possible wrongdoers in the 2008 financial collapse because of the complexity involved, which includes political and economic fallout. Such paralysis not only fails to reform the system but can obviously be damaging to the values and morale of society.
We get little guidance from our brightest people. Highly specialized experts are breaking down our knowledge-base into smaller and smaller units. They become experts in tiny slivers of information, and we start to lose focus on the bigger picture. “You can see this retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every academic department across the country,” writes author and activist Chris Hedges.
A deep menace hovers over this question of how we appear to be creating unmanageable complexity. All of us, not just the managers of our social and economic operating systems, contribute to the self-defeat. We all possess a psyche that’s familiar and comfortable with feeling passive. We can, for instance, quickly become passive to any new technology, meaning we become enthralled or enchanted with it to the point that the new systems or devices intrude to a pronounced extent into our consciousness in a manner that is potentially self-defeating. This behavior is identified in the book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2012). Ideally, we want to keep such objects or systems in perspective. They’re just curiosities, delights, and tools to ease our way along destiny’s path, the pursuit of evolving consciousness. We need to know that egotism, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement encourage us to create operating systems that mirror our grandiose self-image.
In Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril (Walker and Company, New York, 2011), Margaret Heffernan ponders the perils of complexity:
As I’ve watched BP [British Petroleum] wrestle with its operational issues, I’ve begun to wonder whether we now have organizations that are simply too complex to manage. There’s a whole army of complexity consultants who seem to revel in the sheer difficulty we have created for ourselves. After John Browne left BP and the company sat down to try to analyze what had gone so horribly wrong, a kind of intellectual hubris that, incredible as it may seem, saw the ability to manage internal complexity as a source of competitive advantage. This is Daedalus gone mad. Instead of worshipping complexity, we need to challenge it.
BP is not the only company in love with complexity, Heffernan writes. “Many organizations view their own impenetrability as a feat of fantastic intellectual curiosity. In reality, it’s a huge cause of blindness and explains why, when such companies get into trouble, they can’t find their way out of it.”
Such complexity produces an impression of being overwhelmed. This feeling of being overwhelmed is a painful symptom of unresolved emotional associations from childhood of being helpless and at the mercy of the world around us. We’re induced to replay and recycle this old feeling because our emotional attachment to it (and identification with it) remains unconscious and unresolved. An axiom of depth psychology holds that we act out whatever is unresolved within us, however painful and self-defeating. To some degree, then, we would be unconsciously tempted to produce that effect of feeling overwhelmed.
As long as we’re managing “to ride the wave” of a complex system, we can feel intoxication and grandiosity. We’re identifying with the alleged magnificence of the complex system. Our inner weakness, particularly inner passivity and its accompanying self-doubt, makes the intoxication so appealing. This arrangement is unstable. Since we act out what’s unresolved, we’re fated to dip back into a state of helplessness that produces fear, panic, and painful self-defeat.
Self-knowledge is the best compass to navigate our way forward. With self-knowledge, we understand that the quality of our consciousness far surpasses in satisfaction and value the playthings of the world. Just as an intelligence agency needs good information from its sources, we need the scoop on the underworld of our psyche.