18 November 2020

Polarisation is an inappropriate frame

Like pretty much anything that gets widespread media push, "politics is becoming polarised" is not helpful.

Firstly, there's only one issue.

Agriculture breaks in this generation.  The agency to address this is concentrated in a tiny group of people who are actively and resolutely in favour of agriculture breaking.  (Which is equivalent to "current policies are to be extended until at least 99% of the population is faced with a choice between  abject submission and starvation."  Those current policies are a problem, but they're not the issue.  The issue is the goal constructing society as a machine for producing submission serves.)

This is an outside-context-problem; it's never happened before.  (Years of dearth are not the same thing as agriculture breaks; years of dearth occur and end.  Years of dearth can be address by transportation, because they're local.  Agriculture, once broken, stays broken for anything resembling a human time scale.)

An outside-context-problem means no one has a suitable cultural response.  It also means that nigh-every available cultural response is inappropriate.

Secondly, money is a means of rationing agency.   This does not have to be passively so; it can be actively driven as policy, as we presently observe it to be.

The confusion between wealth and virtue serves a narrative that those who are not wealthy deserve their fate, whatever that should happen to be.  It's possible to presume wealth is certain evidence of divine favour and to tangle all of politics up in discussions about how much virtue attaches to wealth and whether anyone's fate should be altered and if so, who, and thus prevent any discussion of the actual issue.  We observe this absolutely everywhere across various mechanisms of government.  (Which tells us a whole lot about the degree of meaningful difference at this scale between modes of government.)

Thirdly, any suitable cultural response -- any construction of society, law, politics, etc. -- will in a meaningful sense have to be new in order to address the outside-context-problem.  That's what "outside context problem" means in operational terms; a new solution must be devised, existing systems cannot solve this.

That people retreat to rigid views under threat and high levels of stress isn't surprising; that advertising and grift culture increase stress levels is obvious.  What is less obvious is that no one has any idea what will help, and the closest available approximations -- ideas like uniform justice and egalitarianism -- are intolerable threats to the folks with all the agency, who do their best to make these ideas inexpressible.  What gets lost is that no one has any idea what to do.  This is a lot closer to panicked flailing than polarisation.

Calling it polarisation allows a "red sweater or blue sweater?" narrative, though, leaving aside any mention of it's both hot and raining and no sweater will help.


Moz said...

it's never happened before

... to humans, on a global scale. I reckon the last ice age was pretty savage globally, for humans, but we didn't have agriculture then (as far as anyone knows...)

But luckily we know from local experience how to deal with it. Civilisation in the affected area collapses, most people die, then "barbarians" from outside recolonise and slowly work their way up to civilisation again. This is why Elon is so keen to get a Mars colony working, so that in 10,000 or 50,000 years his descendants can thaw him out to recolonise the old planet.

Sadly future eaters have huge advantages over sustainable approaches in the short term, and when the short term are cannibals that's all that matters. But it is entirely accurate to call the disagreement between the two approaches "polarisation". IMO the problem is that it's incorrectly presented as a disagreement between two ways of life when it's more accurately a disagreement between suicide and survival.

Graydon said...

+Moz --

There's indication of cultivation down on the (now drowned) continental shelves during the last peak glacial according to some plant geneticists. But that's still hypothetical; the stuff out of the scope of the hypothetical has plant domestication happening somewhere around ten thousand years before present.

And here we are now dependent on five crops with a population well beyond anything a non-industrial culture could possibly sustain.

The core problem has always been how to consistently win a fight with an open-loop system without being one yourself. It's a challenging problem.

Polarisation still isn't accurate, unless you want to go all physics about it and talk about polarisation as throwing away most of the stuff trying to get through the filter. Survival has a very large majority by population. It's not presented that way, and it's not presented that way because agency is not evenly distributed over the population.

Moz said...

Survival has a very large majority by population

That might be true, but sadly it's almost completely the opposite in democratic countries. Unless you want to make the argument that ~90% of eligible voters would literally rather die than vote for their own survival.

That's an argument I first heard made about racism: people *say* all sorts of nice stuff, but when it comes time to vote the best you can say is that racism isn't a vote-changing issue for them. Ditto in this case with survival.