Value System Disorder

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A 'value system disorder' could be termed as such when a person experiences an irrational impulse to accumulate goods and possessions. An insidious thought process which elevates personal, excessive financial gain over those less fortunate than themselves.

"I believe that greed and competition are not a result of immutable human temperament; I have come to the conclusion that greed and fear of scarcity are in fact being continuously created and amplified as a direct result of the kind of money we are using...The direct consequence is that we have to fight with each other in order to survive" Bernard Lietaer

Thought Genes

Given the relatively slow rate of change of the human being with respect to biological evolution, the vast societal changes that have occurred over the past 4000 years of recorded history have occurred due to the evolution of knowledge – hence “cultural evolution”. If we were to search for a mechanism for cultural evolution, the notion of the “meme” is useful to consider. Defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”, memes are considered to be sociological or cultural analogues to genes, which are “functional (biological) units controlling the transmission and expression of one or more traits”. While genes basically transmit biological data from person to person through heredity, memes transmit cultural data - ideas - from person to person via human communication in all forms. When we recognize, for example, the power of technological advancement over time and how it has dramatically changed our lifestyles and values and will continue to do so, we can view this overall, emergent phenomenon as an evolution of ideas, with information replicating and mutating, altering the culture as time moves forward. Given this, we could gesturally view the human mental state and its propensities for action as a form of program. Just as genes encode a set of instructions which, in concert with other genes and the environment produce sequential results, the processing of memes by the intellectual capacity of human beings, in concert, create patterns of behavior in a similar way. While “free will” is certainly a complex debate to be had with respect to what actually triggers and manifests human decisions, it is fundamentally clear that people's ideas are limited by their input (education). If a person is given little knowledge about the world, their decision process will be equally as limited. Likewise, just as genes can mutate in ways that are detrimental to their host, such as the phenomenon of cancer, so can memes with respect to ideological/sociological transmissions, generating mental frameworks that serve as detriments to the host (or society). It is here where the term “disorder” is introduced. A disorder is defined as “a derangement or abnormality of function”332. Therefore, when it comes to social operation, a disorder would imply institutionalized ideological frameworks that are out of alignment with the larger governing system. In other words, they are inaccurate with respect to the context in which they attempt to exist, often creating imbalance and detrimental destabilization. Of course, history is full of initially destabilizing, transitioning ideas and this ongoing intellectual evolution is clearly natural and necessary to the human condition as there is no such thing as an “absolute” understanding. However, the differentiation to be made here is the fact that when ideas persist for a long enough period, they often create emotional connections on the personal (“identity”) level and institutional establishments on the cultural level, which tend to perpetuate a kind of circular reinforcement, generally resisting change and adaptation. Recognizing our intellectual evolution, as a process with no end and being open to new information to help better align ourselves for sustainable practices, is clearly a core ethic needed both on the personal and social level if we expect to keep adapting for the better in the context of cultural evolution. Sadly, there are powerful cultural forces that work against this interest in the world today. Structures, both ideological and encoded in the current social infrastructure333 actively work against this critical necessity of cultural adaption. An analogy would be the starvation of our biological cells by removing oxygen from the environment – only in this case we are restricting our vulnerability to learn and adapt, with knowledge being the “oxygen” by which we as a species are able to solve problems and continue progress. This disorder is, as will be described, inherent to the market capitalist tradition. It is not only the actual decisions being made against the interests of adaptation, knowingly or not, that perpetuate detrimental effects on many levels – it is also the value system – the employment of “identity” and a normalized sense of custom, which bears a powerfully problematic force. This is compounded even more so when the purpose served (or appears to be served) by such intents directly ties to our survival and existence. There is nothing more personal to us than how we identify ourselves and the economic system we encompass is invariably a defining feature of our mentalities and worldview. If there is something wrong with this system, then it implies there is something wrong with ourselves, given that we are the ones who perpetuate it.

Value System Disorder

Just like cancer is, in part, an immune system disorder, sociological traditions which persist with ever-increasing problem generation for society could be called a value system disorder. This disorder has to do with a kind of structured psychology where certain assumptions have been given credence over time based merely on their cultural persistence, coupled with an inherent reinforcement of itself in operation. The larger the social context of the disorder, often the more difficult its resolution, not to mention the difficulty of its mere recognition itself. On the scale of a social system, it becomes very difficult as the society as a whole is constantly being conditioned into the dynamics of its own framework, often creating powerful self-preservation reactions whenever its integrity is challenged. These, what could be called “closed intellectual feedback mechanisms”, are what comprise the vast majority of arguments in defense of our current socioeconomic system, just as they have in generations prior. In fact, it appears to be a general sociological trend since, again, people's very identity is invariably associated with the dominant belief systems and institutions they are born into. In the words of John McMurtry, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Canada: “In the last dark age, one can search the inquiries of this era’s preserved thinkers from Augustine to...Ockham, and fail to discover a single page of criticism of the established social framework, however rationally insupportable feudal bondage, absolute paternalism, divine right of kings and the rest may be. In the current final order, is it so different? Can we see in any media or even university press a paragraph of clear unmasking of a global regime that condemns a third of all children to malnutrition with more food than enough available…? In such a social order, thought becomes indistinguishable from propaganda. Only one doctrine is speakable, and a priest caste of its experts prescribes the necessities and obligations to all...Social consciousness is incarcerated within the role of a kind of ceremonial logic, operating entirely within the received framework of an exhaustively prescribed regulatory apparatus protecting the privileges of the privileged. Methodical censorship triumphs in the guise of scholarly rigor, and the only room left for searching thought becomes the game of competing rationalizations.”

Such reactions are also common with respect to established practices in specific fields. For instance, Ignaz P. Semmelweis (1818 -1865), a Hungarian physician who discovered that puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of simple hand washing standards in obstetrical clinics, essentially foreshadowing the now fully accepted germ theory of disease, was shunned, rejected and ridiculed by his finding. It wasn't until long after his death his now very basic realization was respected. Today, some use the phrase, “The Semmelweis Reflex” as a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms. Overall, once a given set of ideas is entrusted by a large enough number of people, it becomes an “institution”- and once that institution is made dominant in some way, such as existing for a certain period of time, that institution could then be considered an “establishment”. “Institutional establishments” are simply social traditions given the illusion of permanence and the longer they persist, often the stronger the defense of their right to exist by the majority of culture. If we examine the institutional establishments we take for granted today – from macro system attributes such as the financial system, the legal system, the political system and major religious systems – to micro system attributes such as materialism, marriage, celebrity, etc. – we must remind ourselves that none of these ideas are actually real in the physical sense. These are temporal meme structures we have created to serve our purposes given conditions at certain points in time and no matter how much we emotionally attach to such issues; no matter how large an institution may become; no matter how many people may believe in such institutions - they are still impositions of thought and transient by nature.

So, coming back to the context here of the value system disorder, market capitalism, while arguably being deeply decoupled from physical reality and a root source of the vast majority of the social woes in the world today, keeps itself in place through a set of culturally reinforced values and power establishments upon which the society is ultimately conditioned and generally inclined to defend. This is made increasingly powerful in its persuasion since the dominant value system disorder at hand today is born out of assumptions relating to critical human survival itself.

Characteristics of Pathology

In order to critically evaluate an existing framework of thought, a basic, mutually accepted benchmark needs to be generated. “Cultural relativism” is an anthropological notion that refers to the fact that different cultural groups generate different perceptions of “truth” or “reality”. “Moral relativism”, which is a similar notion, has to do with the variance of what is considered “correct” or “ethical”. Over the course of human history, these distinctions have become increasingly narrow since the scientific revolution of causal thought, from the Renaissance onward, has increasingly reduced the “relative integrity” of various beliefs.

The fact is, beliefs are not equal in their validity. Some are truer than others and hence some are more dysfunctional than others in the context of real life. The scientific method of arriving at conclusions is the ultimate benchmark upon which the integrity of human values can be measured and this modern reality demystifies the common “relativism” defense of subjective human belief. It is not about “right” and “wrong” but what works or doesn't work. The integrity of our values and beliefs is only as good as how aligned they are with the natural world. This is the common ground that we all share. This concept ties in directly with sustainability in the broad context of human survival itself, as a sustainable social system naturally must have sustainable values to facilitate and perpetuate the structure. Unfortunately, the evolutionary baggage of our cultural history has maintained value structures that are so powerful, yet so clearly decoupled from reality, which our personal and societal assumptions of happiness, success and progress itself continue to be deeply perverted and exist in discordance with the governing laws of our habitat and human nature. The human being indeed has a common nature and while nothing appears 100% universal across the species, certain pressures and stressors can generate, on average, serious public health problems. Likewise, if our values support behaviors that are not in accordance with our physical sustainability on the planet Earth, then naturally we can expect ever-increasing problems on that environmental level as well. The dominant value system, which the capitalist socioeconomic model perpetuates, is arguably deeply pathological to the human condition as the mechanisms related to survival and general reward compound emotional attachments and forms of self-preservation which are essentially rooted in a kind of primitive desperation and fear. The fundamental ethos is that of an anti-social, scarcity driven pressure, which forces all players of the game to be generally exploitative and antagonistic both of others and the habitat. It also has built-in pressures to avoid socially easing interests due to a resulting loss of profit, furthering this stress-induced emotional disparity. The result is a vicious cycle of general abuse, narrow-minded selfishness, and social and environmental disregard. Of course, historically, these caustic characteristics are usually defended as simply “the way it is” - as though our evolutionary psychology must be stuck in this state. In fact, if the touted psychological doctrines of traditional market theory hold true (“neoclassical utilitarianism”) regarding our apparent limits with respect to a “workable” social structure, then imbalance, environmental destruction, oppression, violence, tyranny, personality disorders, warfare, exploitation, selfish greed, vain materialism, competition and other such divisive, inhumane and destabilizing realities are simply inalterable and therefore the whole of society should do nothing but work around such inevitabilities with whatever “controls” we can put in place to “manage” these realities of the human condition. It is as though the human being is deemed to have a severe, incurable mental disorder – a firm retardation - that simply cannot be overcome, so everything in society must be altered around it in an attempt to deal with it. Yet, the more we live as human beings; the more history we are able to see of ourselves over generational time; the more we are able to compare the behaviors of different cultures across the world and across history – the more clear it becomes that our human capacity is being inhibited directly by an archaic reward and survival structure which continues to reinforce primitive, desperate values and while such values might have served a positive evolutionary role in the past, the present and foreshadowed future arguably lays these behavioral patterns bare as detrimental and unsustainable, as this overall text has expressed at length.

Self-Preservation Paralysis

While each of us generally wishes to survive and do so in a healthy state, naturally prepared to defend that survival when need be, self-preservation in the current socioeconomic condition unnecessarily extends this tendency in ways that severely inhibit social progress and problem resolution. In fact, it could be said that this short-term preservation occurs often at the cost of long-term integrity.

The most obvious example of this has to do with the fundamental nature of seeking and maintaining income, the lifeblood of the market system and, by extension, human survival. Once a business succeeds in gaining market share, typically supporting employees along with the owners, the business naturally gravitates to an interest to preserve that income generating market share at all costs. Deep value associations are generated since the business is not just an arbitrary entity that produces a good or service - it is now a means of life support for everyone involved. The result is a constant, socially debilitating battle, not only with the competitors who also seek the same consumer market, but with innovation and change itself. While technological progress is a constant, fluid progression on the scientific level, the market economy sees this emergence as a threat in the context of existing, currently profitable ideas. Vast levels of historical “corruption”, cartel and monopoly generation and other defensive moves of existing businesses can be found throughout history, each act working to secure income production regardless of the social costs. Another example has to do with the psychological neurosis built out of the credit-based reward incentive inherent to the market system. While it is intellectually clear that no single person invents anything given the reality that all knowledge is serially generated and invariably cumulative over time, the market economy's characteristic of “ownership” creates a tendency not only to reduce information flow via patents and “trade secrets”, it also reinforces the idea of “intellectual property”, despite the true fallacy of the notion itself. On the value system level, this has mutated into the notion of “credit” entitlement and hence often “ego” associations to presented ideas or “inventions”. In the world today, this phenomenon has taken a life of its own with a tendency for many who contribute often seeking status elevating “credit” for the idea, even though they are, again, clearly part of a continuum larger than themselves. While appreciation for the time and labor of a given person working towards the progress of an idea is a productive social incentive and fundamental to our sense of purpose in action, the perversion of intellectual ownership and all its contrived attributes extend this operant satisfaction into distortion. In fact, on the largest scale of knowledge culmination, such acts of “appreciation” inevitably become irrelevant in the memory of history. Today, for instance, when we use a modern computer to assist our lives, we seldom think about the thousands of years of intellectual study that discovered the core scientific dynamics related, nor the enormous amount of cumulative time spent by virtually countless people to facilitate the “invention” of such a tool, in its current form. It is only in the context of manifest ego and monetary reward security that this becomes a “natural” value issue with respect to the market system. If people do not claim “credit”, they will not be rewarded and hence they will not gain survival from that contribution in the market. So, the condition has compounded this neurosis that is invariably stifling towards progress via the sharing of knowledge. Furthermore, disorders associated with market “self-preservation” can take many other forms, including the use of government as a tool, the pollution of academia and information itself 344 (since educational institutions are supported by income as well), and even common interpersonal relationships.345 The fear inherent to the loss of livelihood naturally overrides almost everything and even the most “ethical” or “moral” person, when faced with the risk of non-survival, can usually justify actions that would be traditionally called “corrupt”. This pressure is constant and is the source, in part, of the vast co-called “criminality” and social paralysis we see today.

Competition, Exploitation and Class Warfare

Building on the prior point, exploitation, which is inherent to the competitive frame of mind, has permeated the very core of what it means to “succeed” in general. We see this “taking advantage” rhetoric in many facets of our lives. The act of manipulation and exploitation for competitive gain has become an underlying force in modern culture, extending far beyond the context of the market system. The attitude of seeing others and the world as merely a means for oneself or a particular group to “conquer” and keep ahead of is now a driving psychological distortion to be found in romantic relationships, friendships, family structures, nationalism and even how we relate to the habitat we exist within - where we seek to exploit and disregard the physical environment's resources for short term personal gain and advantage. All elements of our lives are necessarily viewed from the perspective of “what can I get out of it personally?” A study performed at the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011 found that: “...upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals...upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize, and endorse unethical behavior at work than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.” Studies of this nature are very interesting as they reveal that the common human nature argument in its extreme context, that of people inevitably “being competitive and exploitative”, when defending the current social system, is bypassed. Class relationships are not genetic relationships, even though the nuances of individual propensities could be argued. This study expresses a cultural phenomenon overall since it is axiomatic to assume that the general attitude of disregard for external negative consequences, or so-called "unethical behavior" expressed by the upper class, is a result of the type of values needed to achieve the position of actually making it to the “upper class”. In common poetic rhetoric, this intuition has held true for centuries, with the observation that those who achieve “success” in the business sense, are often “desensitized” and “ruthless”. There appears to be a general loss of empathy by those who achieve such “success” and it is intuitively obvious why this is the case, given the value system disorder of competitive disregard inherent to the market system psychology. Overall, the more caring and empathic you are, the less likely you are to succeed financially - no different from a general sport where you are not going to help an opposing player achieve their goals for it means you are more likely to lose. Overall, the lower classes are found to be more socially humane in many ways. For example, it has also been found that the poor give a higher percentage of their income (4.3%) to charity than rich people (2.1%). A 2010 study found that: “...lower class individuals proved to be more generous...charitable...trusting...and helpful...compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. Implications for social class, prosocial behavior, and economic inequality are discussed.” A study conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy using tax-deduction data from the Internal Revenue Service, showed that households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year give an average of 7.6% of their discretionary income to charity. That compares to 4.2% for people who make $100,000 or more. In some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, with a large share of people making $200,000 or more a year, the average giving rate was 2.8%.350 351