Framework

I did, however, begin to gather some broad generalizations that describe human behavior at a high level. These thoughts can best be considered as a framework within which to contemplate human behavior and therefore the evolution of human institutions. These thoughts revolved around the following principles.

 

Before I detail the principles, I would like to list fundamental, underlying axioms about the physical world:

 

  • Resources are scarce.

  • Over a reasonable timeframe, life is, at best, a zero-sum game. The ecosystem is bounded and the second law of thermodynamics exists. Until and unless we can incorporate other planets into our resource base, we are depleting a closed system. (We will be depleting the new system that incorporates planets; it will just be a bigger system so that the depletion is not as obvious. Like the US in the 1950s, for example.)

  • Life is not fair. There are outsized returns to the strong, the swift and the cunning. And to the small and numerous, such as viruses and bacteria.

  • Humans have increased in numbers and in their ability and inclination to consume and transform resources to the point that they have become a plague species – a proposition we will explore in detail in Part II of this book.

 

An extraordinary amount of physical resources and energy are required to keep reality at bay.

 

Now, my “laws” that provide a framework for thinking about human nature:

 

  • Humans are very creative, but will take all trends to their extremes. In pursuit of progress and novelty, each chain in a trend or process becomes the foundation for building the new and the novel in an endless progression. These extremes are not sustainable and facilitate the destruction of cultures, institutions, countries and empires. This profound tendency is captured in quotes, such as Eric Hoffer’s “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket,” and Karl Marx’s “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”

  • All human endeavors and creations have “good” attributes and “bad” attributes. When creating a culture, it is important to determine what its values and goals are and to understand the implicit and explicit tradeoffs required in the decision-making toward achieving those goals. There is no decision that does not include tradeoffs.

  • The average human has an IQ of 100; half the human race has an IQ of less than 100. According to the Myers-Briggs classification of human communication (which may or may not be entirely valid, but is indicative), approximately 40% of humans think employing an analytical component, approximately 27% includes a conceptual component and 10% include both. Not only do the vast majority of humans not understand complexity and nuance, they cannot understand complexity and nuance.

  • You cannot do just one thing. Every decision can affect multiple people and institutions. Unintended consequences of every action are inherent in most human decisions.

  • The most important question in decision-making is, what are my goals and objectives? The second-most-important question is, compared to what?

  • Contrarianism is a useful rule of thumb. Whenever a large majority of a group strongly holds an opinion, it is either wrong or will change significantly.

  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Humanity’s desire for the good and the nice – for puppies, unicorns and rainbows – is at odds with the “brutality” of nature, variations in human behavior and the reality of the laws of thermodynamics.

  • Humans will not agree, and are genetically and culturally disposed to be different in a significant variety of ways. This sets up a perpetual, unstoppable dynamic of change in culture and institutions and disagreement among its participants. This change is well expressed in the Hegelian, thesis, antithesis, synthesis (however, as a process, without teleology). Or in the concept of yin, yang and the resolution of opposites. At times, it is expressed in riots, revolution and war.

  • Because humans have differing and often opposite opinions, there is a social and political version of scientist Isaac Newton’s third law. His third law of motion is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The social / political equivalent is, every political or social act will meet resistance; the larger, more forceful or more meaningful the act, the greater the magnitude of the resistance.

  • History unfolds in cycles and not in straight lines. However, as Mark Twain is said to have noted, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” This rhyming is the expression of human nature in the context of a changing history, technology and social structure.

  • One of those historical cycles is from rational to romantic and back again. We are in a romantic age during which justification is primarily based on feelings and not facts.

  • Humans require and make myths. Myths are stories that need not be factually true, but which embody eternal truths. (The loss of traditional myths in the modern age and their replacement by politics represents a profound change in the foundations of human behavior.)

  • A quest for novelty becomes an increasing component of human motivation as income, security and leisure time increase.

  • In the short term, and often in the medium and long terms, denial and reality avoidance significantly contribute to peace of mind and quality of life, making them dominant in human thinking and behavior. Reality avoidance is primarily facilitated by wealth.

  • There are times when things fall apart and humans fall into dark ages and world wars. Although homo sapiens is a violent species, extreme collapse and widespread, extreme violence are the exceptions.

  • Not every problem has a solution.

 

The point of these thoughts is to lay the foundation for a discussion of why capitalism is past its sell-by date and to consider what comes next. Capitalism is, after all, a human institution, subject to these “laws.”