Revolution Now! with Peter Joseph | Ep #26 | July 24th 2021
Russell Ackoff: Data, information, knowledge and understanding are all concerned with increasing efficiency with which we pursue our ends. But they don't tell us anything about the ends that are being pursued. They're in a sense value free. Wisdom makes the transition between efficiency and effectiveness because it evaluates the end which we're pursuing efficiently.
The distinction is contained in a wonderful statement by Peter Drucker, who once said, "There's a big difference between doing things right, and doing the right thing." You see, we are very largely devoted to doing the wrong thing, right. That's very unfortunate because the righter, you do the wrong thing, the wronger you become. When we do the right thing wrong, we make a mistake which when detected allows us to improve. So the distinction is absolutely critical. And we are a society which are simply drowning in the pursuit of the efficiency, concerned with the pursuit of the wrong ends.
One simple and obvious example is our current concern with the healthcare system. It isn't a healthcare system. A moment's reflection will make it apparent that it isn't a healthcare system. What do the servers of the healthcare system get paid for? They get paid for taking care of you when you're sick or disabled. It's a sickness and disability care system, not a healthcare system.
Now, if the income of the servers derives out of taking care of you when you're sick and disabled, you can be damn sure they're going to keep you sick and disabled. They're not going to keep you healthy. If they did, they'd be out of business. Now what they say and what they declare is irrelevant. It's what they will do even if unconsciously, because the system is so constructed to focus on the maintenance of sickness and disability. Peter Joseph: Good afternoon. Good evening.
Good morning, everybody. Welcome to Episode 26th of the Revolution Now! Podcast. It is July 24th, 2021. My name is Peter Joseph. Sorry for the delay in this episode. And in general as I've had a lot of postponements these days, including my upcoming lecture which was originally slated for a few months ago. Unfortunately, and from many angles, this has been a rather complex and difficult year in terms of familial, professional, and general health complications. In fact, 2020 was supposed to be everyone's worst nightmare, right? Because of the COVID misery lockdowns. But for some reason, 2021 has been far more disheartening and frustrating in my world.
And I hope that is not the case for the rest of you nice folks out there. So it goes, such as life. And speaking of the delayed lecture, I'm not going to give an exact date until it's a hundred percent with all the auxiliary materials and elements developed. But most likely at the end of August. And people keep asking about Culture in Decline. Don't worry I'm still working on that first script to be released before the end of the year. I really actually am excited about that. I'd
like to get into more playful educational approaches as I think there's certainly a place for that. And it's just a little bit more lighthearted and doesn't have to be as dark as the actual reality of things. Anyway, enough of that. Let's get into it. The opening audio was an excerpt from a talk given by systems theorist, Russell Ackoff broadly touching upon two things worth considering. Ackoff first reminds us that, especially in our increasingly advanced technological age, our means are only as good as our ends. More than ever we live in an endless flow of data and information, forming knowledge and understanding. And people
locked into specialized vocations, embracing specialized worldviews, largely a result of our fragmented educational system combined with being bound by scarcity-based competitive and hence unintegrated fragmented economy- have pioneered in specific fields with increased efficiency, reinforcing their specialized approach, but not properly understanding the merit of their ends or realizing potential long-term negative ends that could be highly consequential. A lack of expanded context in these pursuits and hence a lack of wisdom. We have compartmentalized scientific and industrial actors, each doing their own thing with little systemic recognition of the larger order ramifications. Which once again,
going back to the foundation of systems science and a systems worldview- is expected. It's expected given the "analytical reductionism" as it's termed that dominates the world today in contrast to the need for "synthetic holism," as it's termed, which seeks larger order context. Sorry for any jargon here, but it's an important contrast that few seem to consider when it comes to how we view the world. Hence how we view our individual behaviors and vocations; our incentives, and so forth. People today operate so myopically in their pursuits, particularly their professional pursuits, guided by the compartmentalized proxy system of monetary reward and business. And
hence they don't see the larger implications of their actions or inventions. They're really not trained to, in fact. The great difference between systems thinking and the reductionist approach is regarding the latter, we define and characterize things by reducing things into parts. We see an automobile and define it by the engine, the steering wheel, the seats, the doors, and what have you. That is analytical reductionism. It's an analysis of reducing things down.
Synthetic holism is about putting the automobile into a context. An automobile inevitably is part of something larger, both in conception and utility. Regarding conception, an automobile could be classified as a car, a truck, an SUV or some category. But more
importantly in the sense of utility, it's part of course, of a transportation infrastructure. And once you take that kind of view, especially in regard to utility, considering intent and purpose of a transportation infrastructure, it may very well be found out that the use of automobiles is actually inferior to other forms of transportation when accounting for efficiency and so forth. This is all very fundamental and I suspect most listening have already given thought to this, but it's worth noting that modern education and the nature of our economy specifically limit this manner of thinking. Limit our ability to consider broader contexts. We are still stuck in a largely abstracted void-based individuated, highly reductionist way of thinking. And the world you see around you in all of its disjointedness and dysfunction is the result. So today we are advancing science and technology without truly considering larger order contexts and ramifications. Since we are in a proxy commercial system, governed by money, income,
and profit, that kind of thinking always remains in the background. The primary incentive of markets is to sell. The secondary incentive is to have function with the goods or services. The secondary incentive is always an afterthought, assumed to be integral to the primary incentive. But that's simply not true. Hence the nature of Wall Street for example, where you have literally
a widget that might as well be as meaningless as a pet rock. And yet you have this vast dynamic movement of money and exchange, all based on nonsensical, non-utility instruments. Now I've covered this kind of stuff before. I'm sorry if this sounds a little redundant or repetitious, but I'm trying to show a different angle. You know, we don't make things
to have purpose. We make things to sell. And in that distortion, we never consider the larger order context and ramifications and long-term consequences. And this is why technology is both great; it's obviously pivotal to modern society standard of living for whatever that's worth. And we could go on a big debate about what that even means, given the fact that we actually are in a trap of infinite growth, where people seem to believe their standard of living will infinitely increase. And that seems to be the motto, which is wholly distorted, needless to say. So there's a value system distortion there, which I will not go into. But I will say we have become
cogs in the machine of the capitalist system and not the other way around. We are not in control. And we have taken on values that support it, not values that support sustainability. But the point here going back to at Ackoff's introductory statement is we are deeply void of wisdom when it comes to our advancement of science and technology.
It's frightening. Albert Einstein apparently once said, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." Probably an apocryphal quote, but the point is sound. Carl Sagan similarly often talked about a factor in considering the potential for intelligent life off of the earth. Reinforcing the point that given our own behavior, how many civilizations may have existed prior, but no longer exist because of the very destructive technological pattern humanity appears to be on now? Improving technological efficiency for the wrong ends, eventually destroying civilization. Between our weapons of mass destruction and environmental pollution and resource overshoot crisis and beyond, much of our use of technology has not been wise, to say the least. Our goals
are simply too distorted. Locked into dangerous habituated traditions. And fear-based loyalties, pinging the most fearful, thoughtless and impulsive areas of our brain and nervous system, due fundamentally once again to the social condition we have fostered in our scarcity-based exploitative, competitive, and dominance-driven economy, that was born and evolved and emerged from the neolithic revolution. And we have to get out of this kind of system if we expect any of these negative trajectories to change.
And one more example of all of this before we move on in regard to our lack of wisdom in favor of specialized, power-oriented, self preservation, which is an explicit byproduct of the kind of economy we have, the capitalist economy, has to do with the energy industry. Years ago, theorists were talking about something called peak oil, meaning the depletion of conventional hydrocarbon resources that would need at some point to be replaced because of the scarcity. The United States and other regions officially peaked in conventional oil production in the 1970s, in concert with an emerging understanding that began in the early '80s of just how destructive the burning of hydrocarbons are, with the release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And you would think that research and investment given those two aspects would have quickly moved toward renewables long ago. But obviously that's not what happened. Instead we have experienced one of the most common characteristics of the capitalist model once again, market capture. Market capture, and my use of the term is about industries or
sectors of the economy. In this case, the energy industry that are so homogeneous, the rational shifts don't occur. At least they don't in any respectable timely manner. In stark contrast to libertarian theory, government is inherently underscored and guided by commercial power. Once again, as a integrated system between business and regulation and policy. And hence no such industry and the corporations that comprise it are going to
wake up one day and change the source of their profit and survival. Either it is fought as we have seen with say bogus climate science funded by oil companies. Or, or in addition to such a transition move is so incredibly slow due to the interest to shift market share incrementally, keeping the power structure, the company, or the cartels of companies relevant. And of course by the time true crises occur, which we'd think transition would happen before, it's usually too late. Point being all the money that should have been invested in renewables back then and all the money that continues to not be invested in renewables right now, has fostered non-conventional means of hydrocarbon production through fracking, extreme deep sea drilling, and other mechanisms. Utilizing the efficiency of science and technology
in the wrong direction. The same efficiency and technology that mines have wasted, trying to figure out how to pull more hydrocarbons out of the earth should have been applied to a huge litany of sustainable renewable methods that are at our disposal. So keep that in mind as it's just one example of the hindrances that are inherent to the system. Institutions do not want to change. People speak of creative disruption as if it is a natural flowing corrective feature of market behavior. It isn't at all. From the standpoint of institutional
preservation, employment, income, and economic growth, no profit seeking institution, and generally no national economy as a whole, on the face of the earth has a proclivity for such change until things get usually really, really bad. And that's why year after year, after year of all the ecological conferences and environmental meetings, not just about climate destabilization, but all the other ones have accomplished absolutely nothing. Biodiversity, resource overshoot and so forth. And speaking of institutional paralysis and the fortification of establishment coming from many different areas. Let's now think about the second part of Russell Ackoff's comment when he talks about the healthcare system and how we don't have a healthcare system, we have a sickness and disability care system. And one of the more interesting things about this comment is the fact that he points out something that is structurally rather clear, but intuitively quite challenging in understanding, especially when we think about ethics and agency. And that if people are getting paid, if their livelihood depends on others being sick and disabled and hence being able to service the sick and disabled, we realized that there was a kind of dark shadow incentive that seeks to keep people sick and disabled for the benefit of those servicing the problem.
And this could apply to anything. Now this is kind of spooky complex territory and speculative in a certain sense, which I'll get to when it comes to dynamics. But first I want to introduce the term I just mentioned, "shadow incentive," a term I coined for the purpose of this discussion.
The shadow incentive is the incentive for self-preservation or gain, which necessarily requires the acceptance of others being exploited, taking advantage of their relative suffering or lack of ability. Structurally and non-speculatively the shadow incentive is an undercurrent in all market interaction as it's part of the game. A disabled person with only one leg works to your advantage if you a two legged person find yourself in a foot race with them. A person who just got out of college who is $40,000 in debt,
trying to make money to perhaps send back home to an ailing mother is perfect for instance, in their vulnerability to be exploited by some company, willing to accept lower wages and less benefits than from other companies. And while one doesn't like to talk about this fact, pretending that you can, in libertarian philosophy, reduce all market trade down to the abstraction of simply two people, willfully acting for their own self-interest. Hence the trade wouldn't exist. The entire engine of market behavior to one degree or another is built around this interplay of disadvantage.
It's sought out. Which is why having an economic system that naturally creates class division and poverty and inequality, that is based upon the pursuit of cost efficiency and strategic competitive advantage in all types of transactions, is a system that actually creates its own dynamics, its own inequality and hence disadvantage. Disadvantage that then systematically exists in terms of the structure to be exploited, keeping the machine going. I'm sorry, if that sounded rather convoluted. Think about the gaming logic of outsourcing. For example, some shoe company like Nike could pay
minimum wage in the US to make shoes or they could outsource to the Global South or other regions, pay a whole lot less exploiting the disadvantaged victims of multi-generational colonialism that exist in destitute poverty in places like the Global South. If prior patterns had not existed that made those regions of the Global South vulnerable, such advantage naturally would not occur. Which means indirectly the source of disadvantage behind such future exploitation, at least tacitly is accepted as positive by the future exploiters. No one would ever admit that, but this is what I mean by a shadow incentive in terms of structure. It is by the very nature of the systemic unfolding of abuse, instability, imbalance, inequity, deprivation, harm, and other generally considered unwanted characteristics by your average, moral, ethical fellow - are actually on the system level positive forces. Mobilizing features of market dynamics, largely serving of course, the interests of the ownership class that run these large businesses. While also of course, more broadly assisting the
need for constant cyclical consumption between actors, which any kind of imbalance facilitates. So I hope you can see what I'm driving at here as we're going to get a little more complicated as second. And by the way, it isn't just the labor system you see this dynamic. More broadly, our entire economy is based upon and fueled by the servicing of problems from a consumer angle. The more we resolve problems, the more inefficient things actually become economically, as less money circulates, less jobs are created or maintained.
And the root necessary function of growth is stalled, if not reversed. Servicing problems is a good thing. Solving problems is a bad thing. And remember, long ago upon the neolithic revolution, which was the great shift once again, that set modern society in motion, the simple idea was to meet human needs. Get people shoes, clothes, build domiciles for protection from weather, clean food and water. And it makes sense that I will grow some corn, you will make some tools. We will trade in a networked effort
to share our specialized skills and resources and meet the needs of survival as a community due to the relative scarcity, consequential by the way, to the new agricultural paradigm. But that essence of market trade being a reciprocal process of meeting actual needs turned around and reversed in fact, once efficiency increased. Again, true technical efficiency is the enemy of market efficiency. Rather than work to erode the system, to free up time, to work less, and make things cheaper if not free.
The system consciousness spearheaded by the resulting power structure, which links class to control, locked in and said, "No. This is what the structure is defined as. The rules of the game are you have to work to survive. Jobs are a prerequisite, and hence you must have demand for jobs. Hence demand for goods and services to maintain and create those jobs. Distributing purchasing power to keep the machine going."
So the entire focus reversed, and instead of seeking out producers to fulfill demand, demand is now sought to fulfill the needs of producers to keep the power system and again, the cyclical consumption system going. Hence, of course, the dawn of advertising and the consumer vanity materialist nightmare we endure today. Which brings us to yet another level, a psychological level of deficiency, of disadvantage, of deprivation, which may have nothing to do with something physical or related to survival. And hence the adaptation of culture to have irrational wants. Socially driven needs born from wants, which has absolutely no end. Someone who buys a $5,000 handbag effectively has psychological problems groomed by a sick culture. Whether they know it or not,
whether you see it when talking to them, it is a distortion because of the irrational nature of the need to have it. The Veblen good as it's called. Status driven, artificial cultural constructs that have merged with the consumer economy for the sake of social communication and identity. They have generated a need that requires satisfaction. Oddly enough, in the same way that if you cut yourself, you need something to sew it up or get a bandage or what have you. Forging psychological needs out of arbitrary wants. In fact,
for the sake of social communication due to the status class relationship, born from the economy, at least on many levels it is. I'm not saying it's entirely that way. Now back on point and sorry about the mild tangents here, understanding the structural role of the shadow incentive. Let's now explore it more in terms of dynamics or possible dynamics. And this is where things get a bit more speculative and complicated. As expressed
the shadow incentive is a different angle of looking at the fact that our society needs problems. Our economy needs problems to service in order to generate economic activity. They can be common, tangible problems like the need to fix the plumbing in a house. Or they can be psychological problems dealing with needs and wants and neuroses, addictions, and all sorts of other things that are common to our consumer culture. There is nothing more beneficial to the capitalist economy, especially in the contemporary age, than a deeply emotionally insecure culture. So once again, the shadow incentive of accepting, allowing for, or facilitating asymmetry in people's abilities, access or opportunity, assists either in the present time or at a future time strategic, competitive, exploitation for someone's advantage. It
not only allows a preconditioned in the system for agents to take advantage for their own gain, but also assists the very survival of the system, as it needs that asymmetry to work as touched upon before. Given of course its structural foundation and cyclical consumption and growth once again. Now returning to the context of the healthcare system or lack thereof, as Russell Ackoff commented upon. Part of the exploitation in the shadow incentive has to do with the lack of efficiency in keeping people actually healthy. Given the fact that the entire system is institutionally fragmented and epistemologically fragmented, meaning that the disciplines are perceived as generally separate. There is rarely any kind of holistic approach taken to our appreciation of the human being.
And while we do have general practitioners, you're still dealing with highly specialized fields, such as an orthopedic versus an oncologist versus a dentist versus a therapist and so forth. But also once again, in the kind of intellectual tradition of it all, where there's no really feedback-based holistic approach causality is deeply myopic. For example, there are numerous kinds of influences that can create phenomenon that are not readily apparent in a given discipline. Assumed discipline; context- such as in mental health.
You can have depression, anxiety come from places that are not necessarily typical of the approach of the psychiatric and traditional psychological therapy community. There are actually biological forces, hormone forces that do that, but in our specialized world, you would typically not think about that because it's too interdisciplinary and the traditions of therapy are what they are. So that lack of integration ensures a certain level of inefficiency. Another example but from a different angle. During COVID, I remember commentary about the United States, which has roughly 40, over 40% of the population currently obese. And that trend keeps growing and how obesity was clearly linked to higher levels of fatality and suffering if they got COVID. In that regional public health understanding, did you see one news report
that told people to stop going to McDonald's or to stop eating bad things that would increase their probability of obesity, which of course increases your probability of heart disease and cancers and so forth? Which as an aside, when you think about the shadow incentive, it becomes really spooky in that way. You know, if you do have a whole subclass of the population that's eating horrible, fast food by tradition because it's plastered on all the advertisements everywhere. And then all those people eventually gets sick on average. And then they have to go into the healthcare system, generating millions of dollars worth of services: Suddenly you have a synergy between keeping people sick and one side and having to get them a little bit better or servicing their illness specifically on the other side. Boom, you have a positive feedback loop in the economy, helping economic growth.
That is the most spooky part of the shadow incentive as I'll talk about a little bit later. But no, you didn't see anybody talking about general health during COVID because that's not the way we think about things. And hence, that's why we really don't have a healthcare system because no one's actually taking care of things or each other holistically. And I think everybody gets the point. I don't want to go on any kind of prescriptive tangent about what a true healthcare system would be. But obviously it would require an environment that's
fundamentally healthy on multiple levels, not to mention education, understanding of nutrition, and the reduction of say stress. One of the most misunderstood attributes of our health. Which fortunately is rising to the surface a little bit in public awareness. And as a related aside, socioeconomic inequality is one of the largest drivers of public and biological health distortions that we know of. It causes a kind of stress, which links to
all sorts of disease factors. So if we're going to take a healthcare system approach seriously, well, what about the social system that by its very structural design producing all of these negative public health outcomes? Go back to the work of Richard Wilkinson, if you want to review such things. So I think you see my point about the lack of holism or consideration. Now I wanted to give... Yes, a more simplified example of a direct conscious engagement with the shadow incentive, first dealing with direct manipulation. Dishonesty in the purest sense.
Imagine a car mechanic, you bring your car in and needs a particular repair. The person fixes the repair, but then deliberately messes with another part making you come back later after a few months when that part fails. So you can spend more money. There's no objection to the lack of ethics there, but what about passive neglect? What if the mechanic doesn't willfully alter things but chooses not to act on other things they see, knowing that they will get worse and will be better for them in the long run financially when you finally bring the car back, once again? That's certainly dishonest in terms of ethics, but less severe. Now let's get even more subtle. The mechanic has to replace a part and has the option to use a superior replacement or an inferior one and figures out that the margin of profit is better if they use the inferior one, meaning there will be less lifespan on the replacement part. And hence,
you will have to come back a little bit sooner to spend more money at their establishment. This last example gets into what's called planned obsolescence, which has been talked about before. Planned obsolescence is the willful disregard of efficiency for the sake of repeat purchases, expressing the shadow incentive very explicitly. But what you'll find is that there's a threshold
of rationalization when a person or a company doing inferior work or production conduct themselves in such a way that they don't see their own behavior or decisions as unethical. There is absolutely no argument that it has been in the strategy of industry to time the expiration of their goods. Planned obsolescence isn't some conspiracy theory. It is annotated in certain industrial design commercial approaches. But I think the real damage isn't the intended, but the kind of subconscious rationalization process where people don't realize they're actually doing something destructive or inefficient because they justify it through other mechanisms and hence they sleep perfectly fine at night. That's what frightens me more than anything else.
Look at electronics and the outstanding waste we have. E-waste largely attributed to certain small component parts that were inefficiently designed, probably for the sake of cost efficiency. But also as these engineers should know, will shorten the lifespan and probably increase purchases in the cyclical consumption process. Little batteries in the back of cell phones that are not designed to be gotten to, that will void your longterm warranty if you try to replace them. So therefore people throw their phones away when they could just change a simple little battery that was probably poorly designed to begin with. And so on and so on and so on. Now to finish this episode from the standpoint of systems dynamics, something that truly bothers me as a hypothesis, this is speculative and you may not agree. This may completely be wrong.
But something about the dynamics that I touched upon earlier, where across society different institutions serve different functions in harming health, in disturbing balance that effectively cause problems. Where in feedback consequence, other institutions of society kick in and at cost, for the sake of cyclical consumption and economic growth, try to help service those problems that have been created. The example I used prior was fast food. If you have a whole culture like in America, that eats a great deal of extremely toxic food on a regular basis, you are doing just good service to the medical establishment that is in charge of dealing with the heart disease and diabetes and cancer that will arise from those poor health habits, which are routinely reinforced. Think about
all the other kinds of interplays. What about putting a bunch of kids into debt, thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of dollars into debt. They are perfectly ripe to be exploited by the time they get out of those educational facilities. Hence once again, the shadow incentive. How many examples can you think of across our society, where different institutions' feedback with themselves to create this perpetual interplay of sickness and disorder, only to be serviced by other elements of society almost as if it's one working system? And the hypothesis I have, or the fear I have, which I have no evidence to prove, is that there's something happening in the subconscious interplay that is much deeper than the subtle rationalizations I've just touched upon that. That we are purposefully in some distorted way, collectively manifesting disorder for the sake of turning around and servicing that disorder simultaneously, as yet another psychological, social psychology value system transference from the social system, the economy itself. I hope that makes sense. One of the core attributes of systems behavior is that we produce outcomes that are not intended by the essential parts. The question becomes: the requirements of this system to work,
market economics, market capitalism, which has been described repeatedly on this podcast, what if it's even deeper and how has become entrenched in our actual psychological behavior, even subconsciously? And we continually engage in a kind of pursuit of inefficiency and hence self-sabotage without intending it, or perhaps even knowing it. Leading to the consistent disorder we see. The market system of economics doesn't care what happens. It only cares about cyclical consumption and growth and having something to do. And I know once again, it sounds spooky to deify the system when it's really the result of all of our collective behaviors. But our collective behaviors also come from somewhere.
And that's where the real problem of agency and the dilemma of agency resides. So I leave you with that spectrum of the shadow incentive. I hope that's kind of helpful looking at all this from a different angle, moving from the consciously obvious to the spooky subconscious. And yes, I know what I just posed as a system level, subconscious reinforcement of imbalance in feedback loops that are entirely unconscious and driven by collective behavior is absolutely unprovable as far as I know, and completely hypothetical. I still think it's
very interesting pondering and food for thought. When we begin to come to terms more and more with how we tend to serve the system in our social psychology, than working to serve our own health based upon our actual intellectual understandings. Which always seem to have a back seat to what we're doing to help the economy and so forth.
All right, everybody, I appreciate your time and patience. I'll talk to everyone soon.