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 leaves out all the underlying causative forces at play, and this just perpetuates my ignorance. First off, I see Donald Trump as mostly symptomatic of the devolution of the cooperative politics essential for maintaining a stable civilization. Cooperation and compromise have increasingly fallen out of favor in recent decades, with each side blaming the other. Secondly, I assume economic dysfunction accounts for much of this 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 make agriculture possible. Civilization is a man-made work-around for managing the larger populations that settled agricultural ways involved … a task the egalitarian nature of hunter-gatherer ways 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 top 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 put it. When top and base lose trust in each other, the status quo crumbles and the ruling class top loses the Mandate of Heaven. Nothing disturbs a harmonious status quo more than economic dysfunction. In a hierarchical structure, responsibility for all this rests on the leadership of the ruling class, the top. You know… “The buck stops there”.
The ‘Mandate of Heaven’ in democratic civilizations is more multifaceted. On the surface, the top are still the politicians — 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. Each faction believes it knows the truth. 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 may hold. 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 generally gives us a false sense of security. Chapter 16 hints at the results of such widespread 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). The exponential technological advances occurring during this time greatly increase the role innate ignorance and our disease play 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, quickly come to mind. Fortunately, increasing human longevity should counterbalance this somewhat — long-term anyway. (See Don’t trust anyone under 60; And Then There Was Fire; Counterbalancing I.Q. and The Trade Off for more good news.)
Back to the Mandate of Heaven
Tribal instinct drives us to align ourselves to a group. This ties in with Buddha’s point, “The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things”. In “cleaving” to our tribe, we bolster our self-identity. Moreover, the more insecure we feel, especially economic insecurity, the more we “cleave” to some ideal or thing to safeguard “the illusion of self”.
“Cleaving to things” is only problematic in civilization. Civilization is actually an assemblage of numerous sub-tribes, e.g., 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. Indeed, history abounds with examples of such 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, as it were. 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, 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
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 Donald Trump and a Bernie Sanders 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, and 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.
Our ancestral ‘economy’ was essentially hunting and gathering. It was the business of survival. The Agricultural Revolution produced 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 clearly shows that is the case.
The socioeconomic disruption of the 21st and late 20th century is profound, with the computer at the heart of this change. Unsurprisingly, politics is simply reflecting this rapid and profound technological disruption. We are readjusting ourselves to a new socioeconomic reality. Incidentally, next up will be religion as it struggles to adapt to humanity’s evolving post-computer paradigm. Indeed, I assume this is already under way.
In our 2016 election, it seems rational that the population would elect businessman Trump to return 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, or rather great, to his base. Perhaps he’ll eventually yearn for wider acclaim. A pragmatic self-interested ego driving one’s life is often saner and safer than an ideology-based ego driving one’s life, e.g., Hitler, Mao, Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, Trump may shoot himself in the foot by what appears to be a profound ignorance of science, history, and global politics. Trump’s king-size ego arising from a deep underlying insecurity must also complicate any path to success.
Nevertheless, who would you rather have dealing with economic dysfunction, an idealist or an ostensible realist? Bernie or Trump? In a way, this may be like the dysfunction in Russia when it shifted out of the Tsar – serf 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 he is an ideologue. Chapter 55’s That which is not of the way ends early probably applies to both these men.
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 and more competent businessperson running for President. C’est la vie!
In the end, who wins the election doesn’t matter. Rebalance is the name of this game, 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 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). Now the general population appears to be losing faith in this form of government. That could portend the entire governing system losing its Mandate of Heaven — goodbye democracy, hello what?
Trump’s crackpot assertions are an example of ‘truthiness’! His viewpoints come ‘from the gut’, without evidence or intellectual examination. I have to admit, I pity him. 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, believes it, and stubbornly holds his ground despite provable facts to the contrary. The question becomes, is he just serving up ‘Kool-Aid’ for others or drinking his own ‘Kool-Aid’ too? I assume both.
I guess that belief + ego accounts for this. (See Belief: Are We Just Fooling Ourselves? p.591 and Cultivating Ego, p.473) His ego won’t permit him to back down, and in believing 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 vicious circle. The fact that he is particularly eccentric in his views leaves fewer people actually sharing his wackiest beliefs, e.g., millions vote 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 wacky point-of-view. This is especially true of religions. Here, Trump is holding fast to a ‘religion of one’ — his ego. Perhaps it takes a ‘religion of one’ personality to stir up the status quo enough to instigate a cultural revolution.
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 appear to value Trump’s blunt and politically incorrect style. 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 buying his simplistic answers to the complex cultural transformation brought on 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, 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. Perhaps 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 cultural 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 any deeper sense of time. Think of how long it takes a species to evolve to its current condition through natural evolution. Why would the cultural evolution of civilization be any different? Obviously, evolution of civilization 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.