POEM: Unemployed Stat

Unemployment hit a 5-year low
Still, Bob remains 100% unemployed

This short poem highlights the difference between statistics and people.  Statistics can estimate probabilities with some accuracy of how a large group of people may act, or be affected by something.  Statistics cannot reliably predict stuff on an individual level.  The farther we get away from individuals, the greater “power” statistics wields.  Of course, we could compile all the statistics in the world and estimate what the average or typical human would be like, yet never actually know anything meaningful about any individual human.  That typical human being would be a 27-year-old, Mandarin-speaking, Christian, female agricultural worker.  Those researchers might well learn more about humanity by going to lunch with their other researchers.  To take a simpler example, suppose researchers measured the foot size of every person in the United States and calculated the average value.  If leaders used this information to provide everyone with a pair of average-sized shoes, there would be a lot of shoes thrown at such foolish leaders.  Except for the exceptional genius of baggy pants, one-size-fits-all often doesn’t work well. In many cases, the truth is closer to one-size-fits-none.  The point is that the farther we get away from knowing individual human beings the less we know about humanity.

Statistics is impersonal.  Statistics knows nothing of intimacy.  Statistics treats human beings as deterministic objects.  Only by studying huge numbers of people can statistics succeed at sufficiently washing out individual differences.  Granted, most human systems are very complex and many of these differences are, in fact, “material” or deterministic differences.  Nonetheless, the grandest fallacy or illusion brought by the power of statistics is that human free will is insignificant and can be ignored or rounded down to zero.  The greatest fact that can only be ignored only at the peril of losing our humanity is that human freedom is the very reality that most defines humans.

Bob is not a statistic.  Bob is not simply something to be tallied up, or experimented on for other people’s edification.  For those who actually care about Bob, statistics provide little human warmth and limited meaning.  Without human caring, which is ultimately rooted in intimate human relationships, statistics serve to dehumanize us.  The issue is not whether to abandon statistics as a human tool to help understand the physical world around us.  The issue is whether our humanity will wield tools for our betterment, or such tools will wither our humanity.

People who seek great power need to scale up their individual power through tools.  If the scale of power sought exceeds one’s ability to exercise their humanity, by growing their own humanity and the humanity of others, then tools become weapons against humanity.  The exercise, and even threat, of such power exceeding a human scale can tempt others to react in an equally inhumane way.  This “self” defense is often justified as an equal and opposite reaction.  However, unless inhumane treatment is met with humane treatment, then the interaction is nothing more than physics — every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.  If humanity doesn’t respond to inhumanity out its own higher nature, humanity, then it is reduced to inhumanity.  Part of human existence is physics.  However, if we don’t recognize and live into our higher nature, in the realm of metaphysics, then humans will closely resemble billiard balls, albeit very complex billiard balls.  The ability to react in a humane way to any situation is, in fact, what human response-ability is!  Newton’s third law of motion, that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, is not adequate to explain human behavior.  Though, ironically, the less free we become, the closer this seems true.  I don’t know about you, but for me, as a free range human being, that’s not the way I roll!

Sadly, the temptations of great power, whether to secure great power for oneself or to react in “self” defense against such dehumanizing power, seem to be an everyday reality for most humans.  Modern-day success often seems to rest on either wielding dehumanizing power over others, or, at best, reaching a form of detente, where we react in equal and opposite ways, hoping not to reduce humanity any further, but not willing to risk our humanity to up the game.  Unfortunately, any slightest miscalculation will degrade humanity.  And the calculating humans required for even the best detente have already sacrificed their humanity to play a game of billiards.  In fact, without higher aspirations, people become tools — or at least begin to appear as tools.  Yet, people are not tools.  Hope springs eternal.

Reintroducing human scales, necessarily smaller and decentralized, resting on a rich and robust foundation of human intimacy, is the greatest challenge humans face in responding to globalization and cancerous capitalistic and consumer culture.  We need to get over the notion that modern civilization’s institutions are too big to fail.  We need to get over the notion that wee, the people, are too small to make a difference.  The truth is the opposite.  Western civilization is deeply dependent on dehumanization and continues to race unabated past natural limits, most notably by destroying the very environment we depend upon.  Humans depending on dehumanization and doggedly insisting that we “shit where we eat,” is unsustainable.  Either humans transcend such dehumanizing dependencies or we will descend into fascism.  Either humans learn to live in harmony with nature or nature will “select” us, or at least our cancerous globalized civilization, out of existence in some Darwinian extinction.  Nature may be kind enough to simply scale us down a bit, doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves, in a Newtonian third law of motion tour de force.  We can do better.  Not through hubris and ever more precise power grabs.  I suspect the seed of a successful human future will be rooted in personally nurturing Bob and singing songs of humanity rather than bowing to the steady hum of a wickedly efficient bureau of labor statistics.

Anarchism: Cooperation, Decentralization, Social Cohesion

David Morris writes in On the Commons, regarding the anniversary of the death of the Russian Peter  Kropotkin, an article: Anarchism Is Not What You Think It Is — And There’s a Whole Lot We Can Learn from It:  The word anarchism has been so stripped of substance that it has come to be equated with chaos and nihilism. That’s not what it means:

I am astonished Hollywood has yet to discover Kropotkin. For his life is the stuff of great movies.  Born to privilege he spent his life fighting poverty and injustice.  A lifelong revolutionary, he was also a world-renowned geographer and zoologist.  Indeed, the intersection of politics and science characterized much of his life.

His struggles against tyranny resulted in years in Russian and French jails.  The first time he was imprisoned in Russia an outcry by many of the world’s best-known scholars led to his release.  The second time he engineered a spectacular escape and fled the country.  At the end of his life, back in his native Russia, he enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the Tsar but equally strongly condemned Lenin’s increasingly authoritarian and violent methods.      

In the 1920s Roger N. Baldwin summed up Kropotkin this way.

“Kropotkin is referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as “the noblest man” they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had ever met…In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands–“notre Pierre” the French workers called him. Never assuming position of leadership, he nevertheless led by the moral force of his personality and the breadth of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with a fine mind and passionate social feeling. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes–the whole scientific world, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all schools, and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution.” 

Kropotkin took on the social Darwinists of the day.  As a leading scientist, he countered the often accepted notion that competition is the primary driving force in nature and natural selection.  We need spokesmen like this today as the social Darwinists of our day tear at the fabric of society with the destructive notions that inequality and concentrations of wealth are somehow ordained or inevitable.  Kropotkin enlightened those of his day on the advantages of cooperation, decentralization, and social cohesion.  The evidence from his scientific study showed that these factors drove natural selection.  Furthermore, these factors actually enhance not degrade what most people would accept as behaving humanely.  Darwinism is one of the nominally understood religions of our day.  Unfortunately, Darwin’s groundbreaking work has been co-opted, ironically, by statist forces, who have little interest in the elevation or evolution of humanity.

David Morris’ article is a clarion call for all to learn more or revisit what anarchism means.  Anarchism is not about chaos.  Anarchism is about order, a humane order. Kropotkin was a leading advocate of how we must relate to one another in order to achieve a humane order.  I’ll give my proverbial vote to this leaderless leader!

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