I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Quite the contrary, I believe in accident, in self-organization. If I sound like advocating any form of conscious conspiracy I have failed to communicate my message. So here is the disclaimer:
In the absence of enough evidence, I refuse to believe that a secret society made of few individuals have succeeded to gain control over the rest of mankind, and with a plot so seamless that no body could get any direct evidence of.
I am not however saying that the effect is not there. I just argue that tracing the cascade of causes and reducing the root cause of an effect to a bunch of folks around a table sounds a naive explanation to me. Though if we want to believe in something like that, sure we will manage to fish for enough false positives from the pool of complex world around us to support any theory. But indicators are not always proofs and imposing non-existing patterns upon the reality is a human talent. Just like designing a crosswords puzzle, search for pieces of evidence and put them together and create the pattern you are willing to see or believe in.
So if a conspiracy theory wants to pass the test of time it should be convincing that randomness is not the root cause of a spotted pattern, and thus some intelligent design, albeit of human nature must have caused the observed effect. In that sense many of popular conspiracy claims deem quite unlikely when considering the difficulty of not only doing the impossible, to execute, predict and control a chaotic system such as the modern human society, but to not leaving a single trace behind.
So the good news is that the all-powerful secret lizard people well-organized to harm us are for the most a product of our imagination, but sorry to be the bearer of the bad news:
Even the purest and most innocent intentions can collectively cause purposeful evil outcomes.
The Sandpile experiment
There is a simple physical experiment during which grains of sands are dropped one at a time on a conical pile of sands and as a result once in a while there is a sudden avalanche. It was a Danish experiment in the 80s and was replicated by Norwegians on piles of rice in the 90s. These are the first physical experiments to demonstrate a phenomenon called “self-organized criticality” which is an “emergent property” of a complex system:
“Emergence: The larger entities that arise through interactions among smaller entities can show properties the smaller entities do not exhibit.”
The occurrence of an avalanche is an emergent property for the sand pile. it is extremely unpredictable to the local sand grains and also to the experimenter. But metaphorically speaking, if you could ask the local sands somewhere in the pile, what they would make out of their experience of an avalanche or its cause, they could probably blame few sands somewhere on top of the hierarchy. In fact no single grain of sand has control over the behavior of the whole pile. Even the experimenter who is God-like to the grains by having the whole picture fails to predict when and how the next avalanche will take place.
We humans are the sands in a complex sand pile, our civilization. Based on our limited view of the local neighborhood we tend to believe that there must be a designer behind every human phenomenon around us. We tend to connect big events such as wars, revolutions, scientific discoveries and historical breakthroughs to certain leaders or public figures. Such good simplified stories makes sense to our little monkey brains, cause we can never get even close to comprehend the complexity or the nature of such phenomena. Our civilization is much more collective than it is portrayed in the narratives of history books or newspapers.
When an unpredictable social or political event of a large magnitude – and usually a negative one – takes place, sometimes even if it had a natural cause such as an earthquake, our tribal brains still tend to point the finger at other humans; If we didn’t see a war, epidemic or a revolution to come, somewhere out there has to be someone who knew about it.
But things don’t have to be explained that way. Political events are the collective behavior of our actions, but since we can’t comprehend the details, we tend to believe that there should be minds, and indeed minds of our own type, behind them all. There should be an intelligent designer with some form of team work behavior behind them, like a scrum master!
The conclusion is that secret organized societies with God-like predictive power and flawless control do not have to be the explanation for the political or societal evil that we face. Illuminati doesn’t exist in that naive sense.
Except that it actually does! And I tell you, it is in fact me, it’s you, and is all of us combined. Illuminati is our emergent property.
What made us different from other animals?
We are the building blocks of a complex partly hierarchical society and we have achieved the current state of our civilization due to two sets of factors that separated us from other animals: Individual and collective. Collectively the advent of language and the power of communications which helped us with preserving our knowledge and building up a system of advanced tools by simpler tools. And individually due to the power of our thinking organ; the human brain. None of these two had to be extraordinarily different from other animals, but combined they passed a critical treshhold that redefined our nature and turned us to something entirely different, in such a short time.
In the past fifty thousand years we have transformed our lives from an animal in a tribe to interconnected socioeconomic beings embedded in an advanced technological society. Respectively the size of a human network has grown from hundreds to the size of the global economy with some 6 degrees of magnitude scale up. Meanwhile, our brains has not changed much and we have arguably even become slightly dumber. Our brains, including the brains of our powerful decision makers, celebrities and politicians with a broad range of influence, is still tribal. This organ grew from 0.5 to 1.5 kg from three million years ago to some fifty thousand years ago, so two third of that brain, one kilogram is tribal stuff! Our bodies and brains have not changed much since then, but our collective environment has, drastically. We tend to think that we do things for truth and reason, though we only do what we do for one reason: survival.
The red button
Back in the tribal times the “red button” did not exist. Symbolically put, if Adam and Eve would push a button, at most a fruit would fall off a tree. Now there are buttons around us that if we push we could somewhat blow up things out of your sight; lives can be affected by a minor task of us. Now we can simply make changes by pushing a like button, ordering an item from a restaurant menu, buying a share from stock market, or deploying a code.
We do it all for the sake of our survival, indeed with our kindness and affection towards our local tribe. The people for which we naturally have capacity to care, are only a couple of hundred people who are around us, socially or geographically. We can never affectively reach out to seven billion people out there, and not in fact to zillions of animals and beings. Nature has simply not given us the empathic tools to do so. Despite that, in order to increase the power of our influence, we have redefined our environment and hacked the natural resources around us. Just like any other animal we do it for our survival with disregard to other beings. The difference is though we do it beyond our natural habit, systematically and technologically.
This already started from the first man who made a tool; the manifestation of grabbing and touching an object, using it, and leaving it NOT unchanged. Animals don’t do that. They either eat or kill the thing and destroy it permanently, or they let it be. We grabbed things around us with our hands and left them changed, still in our service. We made the first tools and then tools made more tools and that escalated. And well with an ultimate disregard to the nature and things that we touched, or things that we touched touched, we set up this advanced system. And now the complexity has reached a level that the mentioned disregard may come back to ourselves.
We tend to put our animalistic tribal behavior in a divine and holistic light. We are proud that we have made judiciary systems and rules, democracies and beurrocracies, technologies and computational systems to be soft and civilized and avoid the downsides of our wild tribal behavior. But are we still not let by apes like ourselves? Is the wild animalistic behavior limited to third world dictatorships and underdeveloped tyrannies, or to the ancient kings and emperors?
Now check this out. Apes and ravens are extremely social animals. As a group they sometimes team up to attack an isolated victim who did not play with the rules or to project a group failure onto that individual. When you see that for example 160 republicans (about the natural size of a human tribe) in a group act stop supporting Donald Trump, do you expect some of them to be brave enough and admit that this was not a calculated act independent from the truth of Donald Trump, and that was simply a tribal act of mimicking a group to conform? When you see such an animalistic behavior in such high levels or power hierarchy, do you really need to believe in conspiracy theories to explain evil? Let us not our problems on to the political parties or even broadly politicians. These are normal people like me and you. This is not about political parties or the individuals. It is about all of us and how rapidly and blindly we scaled up. This is what Hannah Arendt argues introducing the term “The Banality of Evil”.
Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism (empathy) accordingly has been going on in waves since the prehistoric times and in each round the wave collapsed and taught us a new lesson on how to scale. Ever since we united in bigger groups than a tribe, an external force was required, after a collapse, to teach us how to scale in numbers while being in peace with each other. Depending on the size of the human populations we learned that we need to synchronize with music or stone idols, we need to invent language or religion, and that we need to set rules, judiciary systems and bureaucracies. The problem with our age is that we have never experienced the connectivity to this level, ever before. This is historically is not a good sign cause we don’t know what kind of collapse we will get after this and sadly it does not seem that predicting a collapse is enough to take measures to stop it. We need to see it with our eyes to reverse some of the aggressive and self-destructive aspects of our scaling.
Getting connected from a tribal to a global level, from a couple of hundreds to a few billions, is in fact a scale-up of a 7 to 8 orders of magnitude. Yet our amygdala has remained the same size as a hundred thousand years ago. What do we expect from such dynamics except for a catastrophic apocalypse? How can we theoretically see any other sustainable horizon in the near future when the scale-up is still going on and no one is trying to adjust it or advance it a bit more mindfully?
You see, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a fatalist to warn others that The Doomsday’s Clock might be ticking. You don’t need to spot and blame some conscious master minds or group for every disaster that comes along our way. The evil is not always one of us. It is bigger than us. It is our emergent property.
To put it intuitively, this video sums up the politics of our era. One doesn’t need to know more than this about politics: Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism, empathy, accordingly.
We are not completely helpless though. There are solutions ahead of us. We can in fact take advantage of our destructive connectivity and design a data-driven system for functional empathy to avoid its collapse. This is not what we are doing. Nothing but a “technological self-consciousness” (interpret it in anyway you wish) can possibly save us from an exponential over-exhaustion of our limited resources and an apocalyptic breakdown.
Should we do something about that, or should we let the system collapse and wait for a new order to rise from its ashes? What’s right to do?