THE SYSTEM

chapter nine

REALITY CHECK

© Andy Turnbull, 2005

glossary

The System is real and it rules the world and we all know it in our hearts, if not in our minds. It has given us modern civilization, modern technology and modern medicine; and with them disease, war, crime and the threat of global famine.

It dominates our lives and we can't live without it but it threatens to wipe out our civilization and perhaps all mankind. If we survive we can look forward to the kind of world George Orwell predicted in his novel 1984 -- a world of brutal tyranny and constant war. A world of mass entertainment, in which we will relate to media images of movie stars and sports heroes rather than to families, friends and neighbors.

The System doesn't care, one way or the other. It can't, because it has no brain.

Individual people may see the danger but most decisions are made by managers who are paid to maximize the growth of the systems they manage, not to care about the future of humanity. If they see what's happening to the world they don't think about it, because that's not their job.

In fact most of them think systems are an unqualified benefit to humanity. Most western people think the modern world brings us wealth and leisure, but that's an illusion.

Electronic toys are cheap but other goods are not and, in most industrialized countries, real incomes have been declining for at least 30 years. According to one calculation the average American had to work 245 more hours a year in 1991 than in 1973, to reach the same standard of living.[1] The average Canadian has lost about 20% of real purchasing power since the mid-1970's.[2] In the world of the future, we will work longer hours for less reward.

BOILED FROG SYNDROME

Most of us don't notice the decline in our standard of living because it's hidden by the 'boiled frog syndrome.'

Because they are 'cold blooded' frogs' physiological processes operate over a wider temperature range than ours and frogs do not appear to notice small changes in temperature. Physiologists say that if you drop a frog into a pot of hot water it will try to get out. If you drop the same frog into a pan of lukewarm water and then heat the pan gently the frog will not try to escape, and it will apparently not notice the change in temperature as it is literally cooked alive.[3]

We humans can adapt so quickly to many changes in our environment that we barely notice them. People who live in big cities may not notice the noise and the air pollution and people who live in rural areas don't notice the quiet and the fresh air. Most of us don't notice that our standard of living is deteriorating.

We don't notice the way The System changes our world because we are part of it. is that we are ourselves products of The System and we live in the world it has made. We might like to think that people made the modern world, but that scenario doesn't stand up.

Fully-human people have been around for most, if not all, of the past million years and in most of that time the world did not change much.

But in about 10,000 years since the first beginnings of The System much of the flora, the fauna, the face and now even the climate of the earth has been altered.[4] The System is by far the most powerful entity on this planet and it has just two functions. One is to control people, the other is to grow.

And it does control us. Just as human farmers have used selective breeding to develop modern domestic animals, The System has used the same technique to develop a race of domesticated humans.

A DIFFERENT TYPE OF EVOLUTION

Most people believe that modern humans are exactly the same as the humans of 20,000 years ago, but that is an illusion. Many people believe that evolution takes a very long time but it took only a couple of thousand years to develop our 'domestic animals' from wild stock. Human generations take more time than the generations of dogs and cows, but we're not looking for the kind of major changes we have seen in domestic animals.

And evolutionary change may not be obvious. Many modern mosquitoes are immune to DDT, but the only way a scientist can test for immunity is to expose a mosquito to DDT and see whether it dies or not. Most entomologists agree that ants have not evolved physically in the past 100 million years, but very few would suggest that no ants have evolved new behavior patterns in that time.[5]

All living things have two distinct aspects which we might describe as structure -- the physical shape of the plant or animal -- and behavior.

We don't often associate behavior with plants but everybody knows that sunflowers turn to follow the sun. Some plants open their flowers in the morning and close them at night, the strangler fig strangles trees and some flowers, like the Venus flytrap, catch and ingest insects that land on them. These are all examples of behavior.

Among plants and perhaps some animals behavior seems to be a function of structure and we could compare it to the operation of a machine. The behavior is determined by their structure, and the only way to change the behavior is to change the structure. Let's say these life forms are controlled by mechanisms.

In more complex organisms most behavior is controlled by another factor, which we call instinct. Instinct teaches birds and bees to fly and fish to swim. It teaches caterpillars to spin cocoons and spiders to spin webs, and termites and bower birds to build complex nests.

Instinct could be compared to the bios program that determines the basic operations of a computer. An animal cannot change its instinct and a computer cannot change its bios but if the program is changed the behavior of the animal or the computer will change, even if the physical structure remains the same.

In still more complex organisms we see learned behavior. A bird learns to fly on its own but some migratory birds must be taught, by their parents, to migrate. Foxes have an instinct to catch mice, but they hunt better if they are taught by their mothers.

Learning can over-rule instinct. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase and kill sheep, but a dog can be trained to herd and protect sheep.

I once knew a Newfoundland dog that was afraid of water. He had been swept over a dam and through a rapids when he was a puppy, and he might have drowned.

He did not but, as a 180-pound adult dog, he knew that water was dangerous. That was a problem because his owner ran a motel beside a river and when guests of the motel wanted to swim Charlie had to be chained because he could and would drag people -- even adult men -- out of the water. As far as I know he never hurt anybody, but he scared some people.

If we compare instinct to the bios program of a computer we might compare learning to an exe program because it can be changed at any point in the animal's life, but it must be changed from outside the computer.

A computer cannot write its own exe program, and we learn only from external stimuli.

Beyond learning we have a fourth level of control which we call reason. Human beings and some other animals are able to assess a situation for which we have no instinctive or learned response, and plan new modes of behavior to deal with it.

If we follow the computer analogy we could compare reason to the user files in a computer, which are created by the interaction of an EXE program and input.

In the human computer our learning and our reason interact to create a rationale. As we change the rationale, we change our nature.

Compare, for example, Doctors Albert Schweitzer and Josef Mengele. They were physically members of the same species, they were raised in essentially the same culture and both studied both philosophy and medicine -- but one became world famous as a medical missionary in Africa and the other as a monster who experimented with human beings at Auschwitz. The difference was the rationale.

We humans are a combination of physical and mental characteristics and a bottleneck can change any of them in a surprisingly short time. The baby of a nuclear physicist, born in a high-tech modern hospital, might appear to be physically identical to a baby born in some prehistoric cave but as they grow they will develop in different ways.

Very soon the modern baby will develop resistance to diseases that would kill the neolithic baby. This is partly because the modern baby will be exposed to the diseases and will develop antibodies, but that's not the only difference. We know that the modern baby is descended from people who developed those antibodies easily and, because of that, it is possible that people of different races may differ in their ability to develop antibodies to specific diseases.

The Indians of the Americas were nearly wiped out by the introduction of smallpox, to which they had no resistance. Europeans who had not been exposed to smallpox would have no antibodies to it but, because many of their ancestors had been exposed to it, we can assume that most Europeans of that era were descended from ancestors who had been able to develop antibodies when they were exposed.

As they grow the neolithic and the modern baby will also develop different skills, physical and mental abilities, and attitudes. Some idealists say that the only difference is culture but that presumption has never been proved.

We are not all the same and I suspect that some of the people who say we are may be closet racists. If I believe that I am the peak of creation then I have to assume that anyone who is different from me is inferior. If I actually believe that but do not want to be seen as a racist I have to say that other people, who may have skills and talents that are different from mine, are exactly the same as me.

If I am rational I have to accept the obvious fact that a cockroach is better adapted to survive than I am, and that some humans might be quite different from me without being inferior to me. Whether the different skills and talents of other humans are 'higher' or 'lower' than mine depends on the situation.

In a major city an urban North American or European might have an advantage over a 'savage' and in the jungles of New Guinea a 'savage' might have an advantage over an urbanite, but the advantages might not be what most people would expect.

Jared Diamond, Pulitzer prize winning author and formerly professor of physiology at UCLA school of medicine, suggests that the urban man's advantage in the city may be greater resistance to disease and that the advantage of the 'savage' in the jungle may be superior intelligence.

Diamond argues that for the past couple of hundred years the most common cause of death in 'civilized' countries is disease and, therefore, natural selection in 'civilized' countries must have been biased toward resistance to disease. Through most of that time the most common causes of death among 'savages' in New Guinea have been accidents, wild animals and even homicide; and natural selection there would have favored intelligence.[6]

Further, he argues that where youth in 'civilized' countries is raised with television and schools that dull the mind, 'savage' children are raised in a real world where there is a great deal to learn and very good reasons to learn it. Under those conditions, it is reasonable to suspect that adult 'savages' are probably, on average, more intelligent than urbanites.

A 'savage' in New York city might succumb to disease but, even with training, a 'civilized' man might not be intelligent and/or observant enough to survive in the jungle.[7]

I like Diamond's argument and I accept it but, at the same time, I offer an addendum. I suggest that nature may select for disease resistance among urbanites, but The System selects for obedience. As we noted earlier people like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and others might be unemployable in the modern world but, as we all know, an aparatchnik can rise to the top.

SELECTED BREEDING

Whether it's managed by men on a farm or systems in society, selective breeding is accomplished by a series of bottlenecks. On a farm the farmer chooses the characteristics he prefers, and decides which animals will survive and breed. By their nature systems set up bottlenecks which select the type of person best suited to the systems' purpose.

The System has had plenty of time to do this because there were only a few million people alive when it began, and all the six billion who now inhabit the Earth are descended from those few millions. In fact we can assume that most of us are descended from the first few people to be taken over by The System because, as we have seen, systems encourage rapid breeding. By the time of Christ the world population had increased to about 225 million people and anthropologist Marvin Harris estimates that nearly 80% of them lived in three systems -- the Roman empire around the Mediterranean, the Han empire in China and the Gupta empire in India.[8] The System was several thousand years old by that time, and we can assume that most of the people who lived in those empires were adapted to its demands.

The first bottleneck created by The System was the formation and growth of armies. If an army grows by accepting defeated enemies as soldiers then, in time, it will be made up largely of men who have surrendered at least once. Some of the leaders may be undefeated but, given that the first band was probably small, most of the soldiers have surrendered. All the villagers who survive a take-over have surrendered.

Is this important? Perhaps not, but it is a bottleneck because most soldiers and villagers who fought to the end came to an end. This may be a factor in class consciousness, and the popular belief that nobles are prouder and harder to control than peasants. Considering that most nobles are descended from conquerors it would be reasonable to suspect that they may have fewer surrenders in their family history. The difference is probably the result of many factors, but the bottleneck still exists.

An army's takeover of a village was an obvious bottleneck because villagers who did not submit died. The taking of slaves and the establishment of farms created a third bottleneck, for two reasons. One is obvious -- that slaves who refuse to obey orders are killed. The other is breeding.

Farmers and zoo-keepers know that when living conditions are not suitable, animals will not breed. We can postulate that even some people who could be enslaved might not breed as slaves, and we can be sure that some slaves would not be allowed to breed. Either way, we can assume that slaves who did breed were somehow suited to be slaves. When you consider that at some times and places most of the population were slaves, this may explain the malleability of modern humanity.

The development of cities presented another bottleneck. We know that among hunters and gatherers few groups include more than about 150 people -- still a convenient size for a human community -- but early cities contained tens and even hundreds of thousands of people. We have no proof that the development of cities was a bottleneck but we do know that even today some people have trouble adapting to city life, that people in cities are more likely to be un-mated than people in rural areas and that the average rural family is bigger than the average urban family. It seems reasonable to assume that people who raise large families in large cities are adapted to city life.[9]

As we look to the future we can be certain that very few of us will ever know the security and even fewer will know the leisure that our distant hunting and gathering ancestors took for granted. Around most of the world average incomes and standards of living have fallen as The System gained power and in the few modern countries in which some incomes are rising, the people whose incomes are rising are working longer hours than ever before.

That should be no surprise because The System has no use for human leisure; and it uses wealth only to control some humans who can then be used to control other humans. As The System takes over, the lives of humans will become more and more like the lives of ants and termites.

RECAP

We started this book with a question about the origin and nature of civilization, and the observation that most of the "civilizations" of history have been more savage than any "savages."

We commented on man's inhumanity to man, and cited the popular myth that the average human is self-centered and un-cooperative.

But the game of "prisoner's dilemma" that sociologists once thought would prove that we are un-cooperative has in fact proved the opposite -- that human nature must be cooperative. Further, we have seen evidence that people get actual physical pleasure from cooperating.

That raises the question of why we act the way we do and I argue that much of what we see as "man's inhumanity to man" is actually the work of the metaphysical entity that I call "The System.

We looked at how natural systems control the behavior of ants and bees and termites, and we saw how other systems tie some amoebas together into a single entity that we call a slime mold and marine animals into the entity we call a "Portuguese Man of War."

These are lower animals and we might question whether humans could be controlled by a set of rules but I argue that while we can use reason, we live most of our lives by rules and instinct rather than reason. Further, we have evidence that most of us seem to be willing to suspend our own judgment and to obey orders, even highly questionable orders, given by someone who appears to be an authority.

Our nature is a product of evolution and we looked at some of the factors that control or influence evolution. We usually think of evolution as a factor in the development of life forms but we saw how the concept originated to describe the development of tools, and that our technology and especially our social systems are also shaped by evolution.

We saw that systems can organize themselves, and that social systems can apparently come to life and take control of the people who comprise them. We saw how the entities that I call metasystems develop and we considered the nature of systems and metasystems.

We looked at the lifestyles of our hunting and gathering ancestors, the development of the neolithic axe and some scenarios for the development of villages, trade and treasure, armies and slavery. We looked at one scenario of how human society might have changed after an army occupied a craft village, and how the root metasystems of the military-industrial complex, religion and trade developed common ground in the metasystem we call the Establishment. We saw that this eventually led to land ownership and farming.

We saw how governments might have developed and that whatever the form of government, the actual ruler is The System. We saw that metasystems such as the law, religion, and education, are actually components and agents of The System. We saw that the metasystems of advertising, propaganda and the media are the true rulers of the world, even controlling the people who think they manage them.

We looked at some of the problems created by propaganda and advertising, the barriers they create between people and how they tie us all to The System. We saw how evolutionary pressures tend to drive businesses to serve The System rather than humanity and that this trend is stratifying the world, condemning billions to a life of poverty and quite possibly threatening the future of the human race. Even now, The System debases the quality of human life around the world.

It is responsible for wars and slavery throughout most of the Middle East and in dozens of countries in other parts of the world. Politicians who pretend to be civilized order the use of land mines and cluster bombs that maim and kill women and children, and the invasion of other countries with weapons that will cause pain and suffering for generations yet to come.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100 million land mines are still buried in at least 62 countries, and that they kill or maim an average of 100,000 people -- many of them women and children -- every year.[10]

The Agent Orange defoliant that American forces used in Vietnam and the Depleted Uranium munitions that both British and Americans used in Iraq are each responsible for thousands of birth defects every year. A few years ago the U.S. National Academy estimated that fallout from American nuclear testing would kill at least 400,000 Americans by the year 2000.[11]

Tens of millions of people live in fear of terrorist attacks which may be mounted to avenge a military action which was launched to avenge a terror attack which was mounted to avenge military action, ad infinitum. In the Middle East tanks and armored bulldozers ravage unarmed villages and, in retaliation, suicide bombers attempt to kill people the tanks pretend to protect.

We know that we are in grave danger of a plague that could and probably will kill tens of millions of people. Governments don't warn us of the danger because they fear panic, but we can see their reaction to the SARS scare in Toronto and Asia in 2003, to the bird flu in Hong Kong and to the threat of West Nile Virus. This is a very real danger that is a threat to humanity but -- because it provides opportunity for expansion of existing metasystems and the Establishment of new ones -- a benefit to The System.

In some countries The System supports priests who order women stoned to death for 'sin.' In the year 2002 15 teen-aged Saudi Arabian schoolgirls burned to death because, when their school caught fire, religious police decided they were not properly dressed to appear in public. The girls were not allowed to leave the burning building and firemen were not allowed in to fight the fire.[12]

Under the rule of The System tens of thousands of Americans are jailed for the 'crime' of using a relatively innocuous drug that is, in effect, advertised by a legal system that pretends to counter the drug trade but in fact sustains and lives off it. American citizens have been robbed and/or murdered by American policemen who are legally entitled to confiscate virtually anything they can pretend has been connected with a crime.

Even where it appears to work for us, The System degrades our lives. I live in a relatively peaceful and supposedly wealthy city but our streets are full of potholes, water mains and sewers are breaking up, our transit system is old and creaky, schools, hospitals and swimming pools are being closed and thousands of homeless people beg in the streets and sleep in parks.

In their efforts to raise money governments license and even manage gambling corporations that trap thousands of people into a destructive addiction.

Politicians tell us they need more money to maintain our infrastructure and services but they collect more taxes than the administrators who built the infrastructure and established the services. The difference is that while earlier administrations used public money to build infrastructure and operate services, The System devotes more and more resources to support an ever-growing bureaucracy -- the physical aspect of The System -- and less is available for human needs.

We send our elders to molder in nursing homes and look to the government to raise our children. In place of human friends and peer groups we have fictional families in televised soap operas

Around the world economic benefits trump human needs. We know that we are running out of oil and that our consumption of oil is already causing serious ecological and health problems, but advertisers teach people to take pride in their use of more and more wasteful motor cars and governments that pay lip service to ecology encourage our consumption of fuels.

In most of North America children play barefoot on lawns that are sprayed regularly with pesticides that are known to cause developmental problems. These same pesticides permeate our drinking water, and are found in many foods.

Some of the biggest and wealthiest corporations in the private economy are firms of lawyers and accountants who serve The System rather than humanity, and advertising agencies that sell us material goods we don't need. Professional 'sports' and entertainment conglomerates reduce millions of people to a mindless mob and entertainers and athletes serve the dual function of proxies leading the lives that most of us can only dream of and as reminders of our helplessness as individuals in the world of The System.

The global market enslaves millions, creates poverty and spreads pests around the world. The pests and disease are no problem for The System, of course, because their increase justifies the growth of existing systems and the development of new ones, but they are a very real threat to the happiness and welfare of humanity.

As the system gains power we will see technical progress replaced by more and more predatory marketing and advertising. Ever-bigger and ever-more-repressive governments will offer ever-more subsidies to the rich and less and less services to the poor. Endless wars and 'security' scares will justify more and more restraints on human freedom.

More and more the care of children will be turned over to the state and, eventually, all children will be taken from their parents and raised by The System with no opportunity to develop inconvenient human emotions or standards.

We can look forward to more and more bureaucratization of our lives and more and more regulation by governments. We will see more and more stress on paper qualifications for jobs, especially in government and the civil service, and less and less on actual ability. The cost of living will continue to increase but real wages -- especially for people who perform useful work -- will continue to decrease. As The System gains power we will find more and more need for lawyers to interpret regulations and to defend us from other lawyers.

And we can expect more violence, crime, terrorism and war. I do not suggest that the people of North America are deliberately trying to raise a generation of psychotic killers but, if they did, it would be hard to improve on the regime of day care, violent movies and anti-social computer games that provide much of our children's education.

We can already see the rage. In its mild form it is expressed in rude behavior, graffiti and petty crime but it can escalate to terror attacks by suicide bombers or by people who take a high-powered rifle to the bell tower of a university, to the office where they used to work, to school or to a fast-food restaurant.

In Toronto, as I was writing this, one man expressed his rage by throwing his five-year-old daughter from a bridge onto a freeway and then jumping to his own death.[13]

In the spring of 2005 the news included the murder conviction of a teen-aged girl who was one of a gang that beat up a classmate. When the battered girl tried to go home the murderess and a teen-aged boy followed her, pushed her into water and held her under until she drowned.[14]

A few days later 13-year old Nina Courtepatte was beaten to death by a five 'friends' -- including a 19-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, on the Edmonton Springs Golf Course.[15]

Also in the news was the impending release of Karla Homolka, the sweet young lady who, among other crimes, helped her boy friend, who she later married, rape and murder her own sister.[16]

A few days later we heard how a teen-aged girl helped with the torture, rape and murder of 16-year-old Robbie McLennan in Dragon Fly Park, near Orangeville, in April of 2002. The girl and two boys -- one 16 and one 19 -- burned him with cigarettes, raped him and shoved sticks of wood up his anus before they crushed his skull with a stone.

The 16-year old girl kicked Mclennan so hard she ruptured one of his testicles, and stamped on his face so hard she left a footprint.[17]

That's the world we live in now and personally I don't like it, but is there an alternative?

Maybe not. We can't beat the system because we can't live without it.

Ten or 20 thousand years ago a few million people could live in comfort as hunters and gatherers but now there are billions of us. Even if the world could support us all as hunters and gatherers we don't have the skills or the knowledge to live that way and, even if we had the skills, systems control most of the world and they will not allow free humans to occupy their territory.

Robin Hood and his men were robbers but their more serious crime, and the reason their story has been told for so many years, was that they lived free in Sherwood forest. Freedom has been a dream for most of mankind through most of history and if that has changed in recent years, it's because we have lost the dream rather than because we have gained freedom.

Like it or not we are all bound by The System and it will rule the world until, and probably even beyond, the end of civilization. That may not be too far off because, as history shows us, human-based systems grow until they eventually collapse under their own weight.

Through history dozens of large human systems have developed, and every one has failed because it rotted from the inside.

Vandals sacked Rome, but when Rome was strong the only vandals who saw the city came in chains. The barbarians were not conquerors, they were scavengers who picked over the corpse of a system that had collapsed under its own weight.

Evidence shows that some of the early American empires outgrew their food supplies. The final collapse of the Aztec and the Inca was assisted by gunpowder and smallpox but small forces of Spaniards were able to conquer huge empires mostly because those empires were already on the verge of collapse.

The failure of earlier systems was not a global catastrophe because up to now no system was global. The collapse of Rome was a disaster to people around the Mediterranean but the Aztec, the Inca, the people of Japan and the Gupta empire, Great Zimbabwe and the rulers of Angkor Watt didn't even hear about it. It was important to European history, but not to the world.

The System that is now evolving is global and when it fails, the collapse will be global and quite possibly final.

And, to use a hackneyed phrase, the end is near. We are told that some Americans look forward to Armageddon and the second coming of Christ, but we don't have to be religious fundamentalists to predict the end of the world as we know it.

There is no question that the world's climate is changing and that our resources are dwindling, and we know how systems react to shortages. Powerful countries will take what they want, the way the United States took Iraq, and will leave the rest of the world to starve.

But when they have nothing left to lose the starving billions will fight back, with terror attacks. Americans have good reason to fear the proliferation of nuclear weapons, because the time is coming when poor nations will not hesitate to use them against the United States and its allies.

In a world at war the United States will develop a regime of repression that will make the Nazis of the early 1940's look like the flower children of the 1960's. When the American empire collapses we will fall into a dark age and, after all our resources have been consumed, we will replace technology with slaves.

And that's our best hope, because if The System survives long enough it will develop a human society analogous to those of the ants and the termites.

One or the other future is inevitable if we allow The System to rule the world. We know that, because The System has no brain and it will do again what it has done before.

But if we can learn to understand The System we may learn to make it work for us rather than for itself. That will be difficult but it's also essential because if we do not control The System it will control us. Ants and termites have lived with their systems for 100 million years and I concede that they do well, but that is not a future I want for humanity.

If you thought this book was going to offer a solution to everything I'm afraid you will be disappointed, because there is no single answer to the ills of the world.

But if we understand what causes our problems, we can start to change things.

If we blame our problems on people or politicians the answer is easy -- wait for them to die (or perhaps help them along) and everything will get better.

But it never seems to work that way. Even if we change a whole government, our problems persist. That should be no surprise because we know that a system continues through a change of management and/or personnel.

The key to real change is to change or control the system that controls whatever we want to change. To do that we must understand it, and that's what this book is about. When you see that something is wrong don't look for someone to blame. Look for the system or -- more likely -- the metasystem that causes the problem. If you can change or control the system, you can solve the problem.

And let's hope we can do that because, as we have seen, we have a lot of problems to solve. War, terrorism, crime, tyranny and the threats of cataclysm, global plague, global famine and, eventually, the destruction of civilization.

I know there have been warnings about all these before and I'm not going to put a date on them, but we know that they are all serious threats and that the systems and metasystems of governments and private business will do nothing to prevent them. They can't, because systems have no brain and they can't think ahead.

But individual human beings can and if we can take control of the world, even now, we can probably save it

- end -

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