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Priorities

Our modern age is an age of science. Despite the nobility of science as an endeavor, to a degree that will only become clear later, this age of science has culminated in an era of spiritual violation. This is not the fault of the scientific process. Science is simply an application of respectful rational inquiry to convert magical thought into understanding. Our spiritual difficulties are a consequence of the order of priorities faced by our forebears.

To anyone who has faced the force of a natural disaster, it is obvious that life is a fragile gift. For various reasons, our urge to master the management of energy requires that we commit ourselves to the preservation of life. First, each person is a chance to achieve mastery. In some sense, they are an experiment. Unplanned interruptions of an experiment limit the understanding that can be gained from it. Secondly, we are Lamarckian creatures: we benefit to the degree that we share our journey. Disrupting that participation robs us of the chance to accomplish our goals.

Obviously, there is much to respect and admire in primitive cultures. In many cases, they manifest a lost balance with the earth that sustains us. But they were fragile, precisely because they could not reliably manage the natural tyrannies. The elements, disease, hunger, and predation were all terrifying and imminent realities that have faded dramatically in the consciousness of advanced cultures.

It is hard to argue that magical thinking did not play a significant part in how ancient peoples responded to the natural tyrannies. We know that sacrifices of wealth and life to propitiate the gods were a normal practice by ancient peoples. The diversity of the pantheons among ancient cultures would lead us to conclude that whatever basis those practices may have had in reality, the implementing mechanisms were not understood clearly by the practitioners. One significant problem, perhaps the overwhelming one, was the difficulty of training competent practitioners and channeling their intentions. Consequently, their activities produced unreliable results.

Science was the response to that difficulty.

The scale of the problems represented by the natural tyrannies has certain social implications. The complexity of reality meant that, even with the benefits of Lamarckian evolution, any individual investigator could achieve only an incremental increase in understanding over that of his instructors. Specialization was required simply to achieve mastery of what was already understood, much less to participate successfully in advancing knowledge. Finally, the effort involved in building systems for controlling the effects of natural tyranny requires the energy of many individuals. For all of these reasons, significant progress was predicated upon the development of institutions to organize, coordinate and sustain effort across cultures and generations.

By nature, successful coordination of these activities limited efforts to those aspects of reality that are almost universally apprehensible. (We commonly call this “objective” reality.) In fact, the necessary cultural focus was so narrow and intense that today we relegate to “mental health” providers all those that are unable to conform their perceptions.

Our current mental health “crisis” is one manifestation of the problem of optimization. The driving goal of science was to allow society to successfully evaluate and respond to the life experiences of its members. In part, the compact between members of society was that the experience of successful members would be transmitted to their fellows. But if society is so fragile and narrowly focused that experimentation must be controlled to avoid disruption, does the compact still survive?

On the other end of the scale, as institutions grow, the complexity of their internal working goes up as the square of the number of participants. Unfortunately, the number of managers only increases linearly. At some point, the skill of managers is overwhelmed, and organizations must be “restructured”.

In what follows, the reader will be introduced to techniques, until now largely misapprehended by science, for negotiating and optimizing the relationship between the individual and society.

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