If we were to summarize the time period from The Enlightenment™ until the end of the twentieth century we might call it The Age of Human Intentions.
Previously, Western Civilization organized itself around the idea of a natural or divine order in which each person had a place, but that place was secured by duty and came with privileges that were unique to it.
However, after Mongol and Muslim invasions, many plagues, peasant revolts, and the rise of commercial trade creating a new middle class, Western Civilization had become prosperous and thus, like the Greeks and Romans before it, began to bloat and lose sight of its goal, values, and purpose.
At that point, it became a dark organization, or one dedicated to the individualistic pursuits of its members instead of a shared goal. Civilization was the shared goal; now, it was self-gratification.
It has taken centuries for this decay to shake out. As Plato noted long ago, civilizations run in cycles, starting young and gradually aging into a dark organization state, then being possibly rebirthed when they reject the mental and cultural state of individualism that comes with senescence.
The Age of Human Intentions reflects what happens when people are able to impose their will on the order around them through making others act as if those intentions were actual reality. This is a method of control, or obedience by using only approved methods in order to protect the power structure.
Control takes advantage of human herd behavior. In groups, humans settle on whatever lowest common denominator thought pleases the largest number in the group, and then act as if it is law. When your ancestors talked about “freedom,” they meant the ability to break away from this herd behavior hive mind.
Human intentions generally fail because they are based around how our minds work, not the more complex mechanisms of cause-and-effect at play in reality outside our heads.
For example, to a human, an ideal order is a grid. Many equally-sized boxes, laid out in a uniform arrangement, following a pattern of squares, seems to be orderly and easy to navigate, like shelves at a grocery store. Humans love this kind of interface because it makes them feel powerful or “in control.”
Humans also love linear thinking. This means pretending that a complex activity can be conducted one detail at a time, isolated, and somehow add up to a coherent order. That creates events such as when the police start arresting people for drunk driving to prevent accidents, then are amazed at an increase in domestic violence when people drink at home. We worry about global warming, so we cut off power sources that we need. We fear warfare, so we give in to seemingly trivial demands that later on become causes for war.
Arguably the greatest thinker in Western history, Plato, argued that we should think in terms of patterns (or “forms”) instead and use cause/effect thinking to determine what parts were necessary for any part of our reality to manifest. What we see are effects, and only when we know the causes, do we know the full pattern.
However, the human mind does what is convenient for it, and what is emotionally convenient for its owner. It likes nice square, evenly divided, uniform arrays. Those, it can easily manage, but more complex orders baffle it because they are not easily stored in human memory or expressed in language.
Contrast this with an ecosystem. If you walk into a random patch of forest, it will not be square, nor even. Instead it will be a varied topography with different contents, as if someone is setting up a landscape for the creation of epic stories. No two parts of the forest are alike, although all are similar.
Linearity has no utility here. Everything occurs for multiple reasons. If a mouse dies by the hands of a hawk, it is to both increase the quality of mice and hawks, which simultaneously keeping a balance between the number of seeds of the type the mouse eats, the quality of soil through hawk droppings, and the relative populations of mice and hawks.
Unlike the human world where the human mind appears obvious in all construction, here the wisdom hides. It attempts to vanish behind layers of complex interactions, revealing not a need of its own but a genius that can adapt to anything and manage infinite complexity. In contrast, human thinking simply seems limited.
The big point is, however, that this means that whatever we feel we innately desire… is wrong. Humans, left by themselves and asked what “should” be done, will reinvent the dual threats of Communism and consumerism each time. That is: they want to live in anarchy with free hamburgers and lots of television.
We are our own worst enemies. Our brains can appreciate things larger and better than what we design for ourselves, but when left up to our own devices as a group, we always invent the same stupid dream with the same lugubrious conclusions.
Notice how addictive Leftism is. We could blame the suburban white women who squeal and drop their pants whenever someone mentions how “everyone” or “all” will get food, fun, education, whatever suburban people desire. However, the same affliction hits groups of male geniuses. The problem is the group.
When left on our own, we are accountable. If you have to, like in the classic Jack London story, make a fire before the sun goes down, you find out how to do it or die trying. The group however appeals to human rationalization. You can blame someone else, or at least are blameless yourself because you did what everyone else did.
This shows us the problem with human beings. We are self-rationalizing animals; that is, we act from instinct and then justify it with elaborate mental gymnastics in order to feel good about ourselves. When that happens, something curious results: the symbols of “feeling good” replace the results in reality that we need.
We do this in order to make ourselves stable:
Why? In a 1988 paper, the Stanford psychologist Claude Steele proposed the existence of “a self-system that explains ourselves, and the world at large, to ourselves. The purpose of these constant explanations (and rationalizations) is to maintain a phenomenal experience of the self — self-conceptions and images — as adaptively and morally adequate — that is, as competent, good, unitary, stable.”
In order to understand our egos as being in control, we have to assume our acts are deliberate, which requires us to invent stories or narrative that explain our reasoning. This means that the currency of our heads is justification, not actually formulating cause/effect analysis and through it, a sense of pro-active affirmative purpose or goal.
This in turn leads to us confusing our narrative for our purpose and goals, which causes us to begin living in a narcissistic fantasy-land where we are the center of all activity and our intentions matter more than the results of our actions. This pathology confuses symbol for reality and produces a profound inner emptiness:
Problems arise, however, when objectives are confused with indicators. A similar confusion occurs in other areas. In economics, it is known as ‘Goodhart’s Law‘: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
When this happens, we have no choice but to form a Crowd because we need others infected with our sickness to avoid having our narratives evaporate. This converts any organization into a dark organization, dedicated to protecting its members by ratifying their rationalizations in the form of narrative, and we become corrupt in our thinking.
As humanity emerges from a profoundly unpleasant time which has been ruled by Crowdism, in which all public statements are deceptive and all people are hiding their bad behaviors by pretending to be empathetic altruists, it becomes necessary to clean our thinking first of all.
We cannot latch onto something like religion, a system of government, or even a sense of purpose without finding some better way of understanding our world than the solipsism that comes from believing our own rationalization narratives. We will simply infect whatever it is with our assumptions and destroy it.
For us to rise again, we must first become honest, and then see ourselves not as the whole of the world but as small parts in a vast structure where we gain meaning from performing our roles. This allows our individuality to shine by suppressing our individualism, or the “me first” thinking that contorts reality and makes us pathological narcissists.