To better comprehend the Trump phenomenon, I need to examine it from a symptoms point of view (1). After all, judging circumstances at face value easily perpetuates ignorance and exasperates things. First off, I see Donald Trump as mostly symptomatic of the devolution of the cooperative politics essential to maintain a stable civilization. Secondly, cooperation and compromise have become dirty words in recent decades, and naturally, each side here blames the other. Digging deeper, I assume economic dysfunction accounts for the political instability.
The need for political stability has been critical ever since we gave up hunter gathering ways for agriculture, and the civilized ways that makes agriculture possible. Civilization is a man-made work-around to manage the large populations necessitated by the Agricultural Revolution—a task the egalitarian nature of the hunter-gatherer way couldn’t manage. (See The Tradeoff for a comprehensive look at this transition.)
Civilization, unlike the hunter-gatherer way, has a predominantly hierarchical structure. This pyramidal form has a broad base of ‘worker bees’ ascending upward to the narrower strata of ‘queen bees’. When there is sufficient faith and cooperation between the strata, the hierarchy has the Mandate of Heaven, as the ancient Chinese used to put it. When ‘top’ and ‘base’ lose their ability to trust each other the status quo crumbles and the ruling class loses the Mandate of Heaven. Nothing disturbs a harmonious status quo more than economic dysfunction. In a hierarchical structure, the responsibility necessarily rests on the ruling class, the ‘top’ as it were.
The ‘Mandate of Heaven’ in democratic civilizations is more multifaceted. On the surface, the ‘top’ are still the politicians on every side — left or right! However, when the ‘Mandate’ is lost, it is not only that the ‘top’ and ‘base’ are at odds with each other; there are also large ideological schisms in the ‘base’. This makes compromise between politicians at the ‘top’ less possible. After all, they take their cues from the ‘base’. To top this off, every faction is certain that it knows the truth of the matter. This exemplifies the disease chapter 71 warns us about: Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. What a mess!
Not knowing this knowing augments natural ignorance
Natural ignorance is the ignorance of not knowing what the future holds. This natural ignorance plays a role in keeping the ebb and flow of life in motion. For example, the fortunes of a species will switch from surplus to scarcity when that species ‘overeats’; it will then suffer as circumstances rebalance. This is true, from a virus so aggressive that it decimates its host enough to threaten its survival, up to fishermen that decimate their fisheries.
The cognitive disease chapter 71 points out exacerbates our species innate ignorance. This disease confers on us a sense of certainty — we know what we know. That certainty keeps the fear of the unknown at bay and gives us what is often a false sense of security. Chapter 16 hints at the results of such endemic blindness.
We’re now in the Anthropocene. (i.e. the current geological age beginning around 1700, and viewed as the period during which human activity began being the dominant influence). It is reasonable to assume that the advances in civilization and technology increase the role innate and augmented ignorance plays in human destiny. The Great Depression, Hitler and WWII, global warming, nuclear bombs, the Cold War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, invasive species, and drug use, are some negative consequences that quickly come to mind. Increasing human longevity is one major positive consequence — long-term anyway. (See Don’t trust anyone under 60, And Then There Was Fire, Counterbalancing I.Q., and The Trade Off for more on the positive side.)
Back to the Mandate of Heaven
The tribal instinct drives us to align ourselves to a group. In ‘cleaving’ to our tribe, we bolster our self-identity. As Buddha said, The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. The more insecurity we feel, especially economic insecurity, the more our ‘cleaving’ to some ideal or thing increases to safeguard ‘the illusion of self’.
This “cleaving” is only problematic in civilization. Civilization is actually an assemblage of numerous sub-tribes: sports, occupations, arts, religions, politics, etc. When people align themselves intensely with their sub-tribe, competitive instincts surge, and relationships to people not in their tribe often suffer dreadfully. Indeed, history abounds with examples of competition gone wild!
Politics is the glue that holds a civilization’s sub-tribes together. For us, this is the Yin and Yang of a two party system — Democrat and Republican. Picture that classic Yin Yang symbol; each side is connected to its opposite, and indeed revolves toward that opposite side. In life, when someone becomes utterly attached to one side of anything they lose their ‘Mandate of Heaven’, imbalance follows naturally along with forces that drive re-balance.
Revolution and war have historically been the main way civilization rebalances economic dysfunction and the ensuing political imbalances. America has had a few ‘rebalancing’ episodes already — the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Let’s hope the Trump phenomenon is a sufficient wake-up call to nudge Democrats, Republicans and everyone else in between back to political sanity. Alas, much of that hinges on economic realities. It feels like a vicious circle; economic dysfunction causes political dysfunction, and political dysfunction does nothing to resolve economic dysfunction. Again, what a mess… made worse because the underlying dynamics are more profound than we can fully comprehend. Nature is in charge.
Economics and survival; survival and nature
In my view, the Mandate of Heaven metaphorically addresses primal economic influences. For example, the fall of Rome and its economic instability opened the door for Christianity; the economic disaster of post WWI Germany opened the door to Nazi ideology. Economic realities probably opened the door for a Trump and a Bernie too. Indeed, Trump and Bernie embody the fears and frustrations spawned by the shifting sands of global economics overall. Clearly, the recent Great Recession aggravated this decline… A Great Recession brought about by rash behavior, as chapter 16 warns, Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results. Economics is survival; survival is nature. The idea of a heavenly mandate is simply a poetic way of speaking to natural processes (2).
In the 25 years following World War II, household real income doubled. From 1975 to 2000 it remained fairly level. For the last 15 years it’s been dropping. Of course, expectations play a big role in economic perceptions. The post WWII quarter-century boom set the stage for the current ‘American Dream’. The last 15 years have seriously threatened that dream.
For our ancestors, the ‘economy’ was merely hunt and gather. It was the ‘economy’ of survival. The Agricultural Revolution made for large populations participating in an economy that was more complex. That meant replacing the hunter-gatherer’s egalitarian social structure with a more hierarchical structure; populations were too large to hold together naturally. That pressure created civilization. In civilization’s hierarchical social structure, religion and then politics arose to keep society and its people on the same page, so to speak.
No matter how far removed we civilized people become from our hunter-gatherer origins, the ‘economy’ of survival is still the bottom line. As a result, economic disharmony and dysfunction lie at the heart of all social ills and political disruption. History shows that unequivocally to be the case.
The economic disruption of the 21st and late 20th century is profound, and the computer lies at the heart of this change. Naturally, politics reflects the socioeconomic disruption that rapid and profound technological change causes. We are readjusting ourselves to socioeconomic reality. Incidentally, next to come will be religious change to adapt to the new post computer paradigm. Actually, I feel it is already under way.
In our 2016 election, it seems rational that the population would elect businessman Trump to bring the economy back to their liking. Judging from Trump’s history, he is not an ideologue… in fact, far from it. Therefore, his beliefs don’t dictate his decisions. With an ego as dominant as his, and not being an ideologue, I’d imagine whatever makes him come off looking ‘Good’ will guide his decisions in the end. Right now, he yearns to look ‘Good’ to his base. I’m guessing that eventually he’ll yearn for wider acclaim. A pragmatic ego will guide his actions, which is much safer than when an ideology based ego guides action. Unfortunately, Trump may shoot himself in the foot by what appears to be a deep ignorance of both science and global politics. His overdeveloped ego may also complicate the path to success.
Nevertheless, who would you rather have dealing with economic dysfunction, an idealist or a realist? Bernie or Trump? In a way, this may be like the dysfunction in Russia when it shifted out of the Tsar – surf paradigm. The ideologues Marx and Lenin won the day, yet failed in the end, given that their solutions were based in idealism not on any socioeconomic survival reality of nature. Yes, Bernie is no Marx, but his in an ideologue and That which is not of the way ends early as chapter 55 reminds us.
However all this ends, it does seem to have started out as one of the most practical political readjustments in history. It is just unfortunate that it wasn’t a wiser businessman running for President. C’est la vie!
In the end, who won the election doesn’t matter. Rebalance is what needs to occur, and for that to happen, economic expectations have to line up to reality… whatever that reality turns out to be. The democracy that we know and love is merely a natural result of long-term economic realities that arose after, let’s say, Columbus discovered America (just to keep the view tidy). The most awe inspiring side to all this is how the population overall appears to be losing faith in its form of government. That could portend the entire governing system losing its Mandate of Heaven — goodbye democracy, hello what?
Trump and Truthiness
Trump’s crackpot assertions may be good example’s of truthiness! His beliefs come ‘from the gut’ and without evidence or intellectual examination. I have to admit, I pity him really. The interesting angle here is how belief ties into the more bizarre aspects of Trump’s views. Trump is not a nuanced thinker, nor does he bother verifying the facts. He seizes on what feels like reality to him and stubbornly holds his ground despite provable facts to the contrary.
I suspect that belief (see Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves?) + ego (see Cultivating Ego) accounts for this. His ego won’t permit him to back down, and his belief that he is right provides him rational support for standing his ground. His belief produces his sense of truth; that truthiness verifies his belief — it’s a virtuous or vicious circle, depending on one’s point of view. The fact that he is particularly idiosyncratic in his more off-the-wall views leaves few people — Republican or Democrat — sharing his point-of-view when it comes to his wackiest beliefs, e.g., millions voted fraudulently, thousands of Muslims celebrated 911 in New Jersey, Obama isn’t a US citizen, to name a few.
However, the same blindness of belief can be seen everywhere; it just doesn’t stand out when millions of people share the same point-of-view. This is especially true of religions. I think of Trump as adhering to a ‘religion of one’ — his ego I suppose you’d say. On the plus side, it may take a ‘religion of one’ type character to stir up the status quo sufficiently — a cultural revolution of sorts.
Back toward a lighter side of this…
Trump could possibly be rebooting the Republican Party. Let’s not forget chapter 65, Of ancients adept in the way, none ever use it to enlighten people, They will use it in order to fool them (3). I admit, I’m being facetious. I am not saying here that Trump is ‘adept in the way’! However, he is adept in being Trump! Furthermore, who truly is adept in the way? In judging the virtue of others, either positively or negatively, we actually are projecting our own core emotions and preferences, not ‘Truth’. To paraphrase chapter 1, “The truth possible to think or express, runs counter to the constant truth.”
The most straightforward way to view this is that Trump is without free will. Like all of us, he is a result of his genetics and his circumstances, which since the Agricultural Revolution are the circumstances of a hierarchical social system — civilization.
Many people seem to value Trump’s blunt and politically incorrect style and his naive statements. From a symptoms point of view, that tells me the political pendulum has swung too far towards hypocrisy and political correctness. In addition, the public overall feels government doesn’t work. His supporters are revolting against all this, as well as being strongly attracted to his simplistic answers to the complexity of changing times brought about by the Electricity Revolution. (See Who are you? Part III, The Good Old Days, and The Tradeoff for more on this tectonic shift — the Anthropocene.)
There is a rational utility in offering simplistic answers to irresolvable issues. History shows that no one truly knows what they are doing, or how the future will unfold. Humanity makes it up as it goes along. Nonetheless, people fear uncertainty profoundly. People crave answers, yet there is no true answer. If no answer suffices, I imagine the simplest wrong answer is the most palatable, which is why we see no shortage of those. Whatever the case, this ‘dynasty of democracy’ requires two stable parties with an economy that reflects people’s expectations (or vice versa) to retain its Mandate of Heaven. Only when expectations synchronize with reality can we stumble along as amicably as possible.
Why look deeper?
Personally, I can’t help but look deeper; every ‘answer’ evokes a deeper ‘question’. Nevertheless, I must ask myself, why bother going public with such observations? After all, we can only understand what we already know, so I’m not going to change anyone’s mind — left or right. I suppose I hope that offering a non-partisan angle to this Trump phenomenon might help the less partisan of us have a more impartial and compassionate understanding of the situation. Nature is impartial. Accordingly, the more impartial our view, the closer to nature we can feel… I call that peace. 😉
(1) To be clear, comprehension is far more subtle than learning. We learn our worldview and its biases from the stories we hear around us from infancy onward. Comprehension… especially Right Comprehension, as Buddha called it, is the cognitive journey to impartiality, as the Tao Te Ching hints… Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial. I find bringing a symptoms point of view to everything I ponder brings me closest to the impartiality I seek.
Similarly, science relies on questions (symptoms) instead of culturally learned answers, albeit, far more informal. For example, in the ‘past’, people learned via the cultural story circulating at the time that homosexuality was an abomination. Gays could be stoned to death as a result. With any glimmer of impartial comprehension, biological realities begin to overpower such learning and outcomes mellow. In short, we begin in ignorance and learn enough to think that we know. After that, we either cleave securely to that learning, or relax enough to contemplate life more deeply. Which path one travels is not a matter of free choice, but rather of fear. Insecurity pins us down in our cultural paradigm.
(2) Looking back a little further in time, we can see how the advent of the Iron Age was a strong catalyst for the main religions of today. Looking back even further, we see how the advent of the agriculture itself brought about civilized ways of life we have followed for some 10,000 years now.
Civilization is an evolving organism, but our stake in it blinds us to this process. We get caught up in the drama and blame or praise others for the circumstances we hate or love. Our personal lifetime and its affairs cripple our sense of time. Think of how long it takes a species to evolve to its current condition through natural evolution. Civilization is no different in its evolution, time-wise. Strictly speaking, civilization’s evolution is not biological evolution, at least on the surface. Nevertheless, in the ‘big picture’ it most certainly is just that! You could say we are merely cells in the meta-organism of civilization.
(3) To fully understand what this means, it should help to think of this in context of the bio hoodwink.