Goldilocks and the Two Anthropic Principles


“Big History is an emerging academic discipline which examines history from the Big Bang to the present. It examines long time frames using a multidisciplinary approach based on combining numerous disciplines from science and the humanities, and explores human existence in the context of this bigger picture.”  Wikipedia.

When seen through the framework of Big History we can define our various domains of study as Thresholds. We can consider that in some measure each Threshold requires “Goldilocks” conditions where the context and constituents of an environment are “just right” for the spontaneous emergence of fundamentally new and novel forms of self-organising complexity.

If we look back at the conditions which generate the emergence of any specific Threshold we may interpret those Goldilocks conditions as predetermining the conditions which allow for a new form of complexity which emerges at that historical moment. Looking back retrospectively to claim that the emergent properties of a specific system at a specific time are an inevitability is a little like looking back at a map that we have been drawing as we are travelling through unknown terrain — of course any significant geographical features will appear in retrospect to have been inevitable as, having now been recorded in the map, they clearly come into (intelligible) existence at the moment of being recorded.

Looking back at the history of the Universe in this way and from the privileged viewpoint we possess (i.e. we exist and have the technical and intellectual capacity required to know the conditions required for us to do so), we might presume that our own arrival on the cosmic stage is a self-evident inevitability. The belief that our own existence in the Universe is in some sense probable or even inevitable is known as the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle comes in two flavours: weak and strong.

Definition of Anthropic Principle

a) : conditions that are observed in the universe must allow the observer to exist — called also weak anthropic principle

b) : the universe must have properties that make inevitable the existence of intelligent life — called also strong anthropic principle


In the context of Big History, we are examining a historical thread-of-pearls measured by a sequence of Thresholds which culminate in the arrival of sentient creatures who develop the scientific wherewithal to look back into the conditions of their origins. The very specific series of events, coincidences, emergent properties, parameters of natural laws and any number of contributing factors seem to form a vast tapestry of directed probability towards our existence.

The weak anthropic principle is a reflection on the fact that if things were otherwise than they are or if the multitudinous coincidences had followed anything but the specific causal path that they have, we would not be here to observe it — that the “(…) observed values of all physical and cosmological quantities are not equally probable but they take on values restricted by the requirement that there exist sites where (…) life can evolve and by the requirement that the Universe be old enough for it to have already done so.” [Source.] Otherwise said: the Universe has conditions that allow you to exist and this is why you do exist.

The strong anthropic principle is much more ambitious: “The Universe must have those properties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history.” [Source.] This is to say that the parameters and tendencies written into matter and energy and expressed through the laws of physics must inevitably result in the existence of life and this is why you exist.

In regards to the Thresholds of Big History, the weak anthropic principle characterises our existence as being a kind of “happy coincidence” and convergence of probabilities over vast time scales. The strong anthropic principle states that our existence (or something or someone similar to us) is an inevitability. There are different interpretations of the strong anthropic principle, see this link.

If Goldilocks conditions are required for a Threshold or a causal sequence of Thresholds to occur, I think that we are more likely experiencing a weak anthropic principle — that we are the results of a fortunate sequence of random accidents that have blindly led to our existence. That the parameters of physical reality are apparently finely-tuned [see recommended text “Universes”, below] to what is necessary (i.e. Goldilocks conditions) for any number of Thresholds to have just randomly fallen out of history is a fact which we can never be in a position to affirm as a process that has been in any sense directed or inevitable. From within the system of the Universe we can probably never successfully prove any statements which require a “meta-” or external, Archimedean viewpoint to justify.

In the light of the pure naked fact of our existence in the Universe, it may not ultimately matter which anthropic principle we choose to believe in. The consequences lie in the reflection that a weak anthropic principle supports more of a daisy-chain of entirely random and coincidental events which allow for the arrival of fertile Goldilocks conditions and their subsequent (and retrospectively fortuitous) Thresholds. The strong anthropic principle states that the arrival of sentience is inevitable. Probable or inevitable, which bowl of porridge do you choose ?

Suggested Readings: 

        The Cosmological Anthropic Principle, John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler, John A. Wheeler, Oxford University Press, 1988 – link.

        Universes, John Leslie, Routledge, 1989 – link.

Other Resources:

Crash Course Big History YouTube Playlist

11:47:30 – Doomsday Clock

In case you missed it,  a couple of days ago the Doomsday Clock was moved 30 seconds closer to Global Armageddon, catastrophe, destruction, devastation – pick your best adjective.  The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face that has been maintained since 1947 by the The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board.  The rise of extreme nationalism, the potential consequences of the election of Donald Trump, rising nuclear tensions and climate change are all reasons for the resetting of the clock from three to two and half minutes to midnight.  An arrival at midnight represents Armageddon and Global Catastrophe.

Much might be made of numerous factors: political insecurity, leadership recklessness through a distinct lack of foresight or comprehension of the consequences of statements and policies, an inadequate display of responsibility appropriate to political roles, North Korea, the complex and proliferating problems of Russia and US or China and US symmetries, the accelerating race into a potentially irreversible climate-altered future.  Climate Change represents a vast unfolding disaster which is being boosted by a rampant head-in-sand denialism of those for whom the very concept may be beyond comprehension, imagination, or the ability to recognise something beyond their limited ideological silos of comforting self-reflective narrative, of a psychologically-soothing fiction or politically-oriented mythology of self and nation.  It is all quite clearly a complete mess.

On the topic of the denial of climate science: a person (or group) holding a strong belief on the topic just because they fundamentally doesn’t understand it or because its revelations are unsettling, uncomfortable or fundamentally question the ideological world and beliefs they hold most closely – this is akin to a child’s tantrum.  This is the childish belief that refusing to accept reality as it actually exists because you want something else to be true will actually change reality, that the world will shape itself to ultimately selfish and fundamentally self-interested motives and desires.  The thing about science is that it remains true regardless of whether or not you believe it.  While it is true that science remains incomplete and is forever progressing towards its object of study, it is still the best description of reality that we have.  Only a spoilt child will unremittingly continue to behave the same way when confronted with a fact that they do not accept.


Climate Change is one of the most consequential revelations science has ever made and the existential shock which should be acknowledged in reception of the message is only trumped by the fact that a human political and social order under the extreme stresses of unremitting climate-induced disasters and extreme weather events will be much more prone to international conflict.

We now live in an era where the mass manufacture of biased and untrue “facts” is becoming an accepted part of the global information economy and media landscape.  This is actually where the most simultaneously interesting and discouraging feature of the recent adjustment of the Doomsday Clock can be observed.  In an information environment of ubiquitous over-supply and proliferating white noise, there is a diminished likelihood of significant numbers of people becoming politically or socially activated around an issue such as looming global disaster.  The message of burgeoning cataclysmic tragedy is swept away by the rising tide of home-improvement TV shows, sports and entertainment news, celebrity piffle, game shows and distractions.  The received message of the sobering statement that we are all that much closer to annihilating ourselves becomes indistinguishable in value from the latest Marvel movie extravaganza or celebrity stunt.

There is currently a genuine sense in which the not necessarily well-planned 140-character statements of a US President have the ability to set in train a sequence of events which escalates rapidly and ends with every major city in the world becoming dark glass, twisted steel and radioactive ashes.  An era in which the information over-supply have devalued the received significance of meanings has reflexively led to a world in which anyone can construct messages to gratify themselves or to irritate others.  There is a maelstrom of information and confused meanings and interpretations which has led to a majority of participants in the information economy to desensitise, to switch-off their critical faculties.  This is not purely about the construction of safe information spaces and the acquiescent acceptance of personal filter bubbles, this is about a large number of people not noticing the critically important events taking place in the world around them because they are distracted by trivial narratives and commercially-biased media content of no lasting significance.

A general semantic devaluation and flattening of the topography of significance attributed to the meaning of any particular communicated message has meant that serious and world-shaking news, scientific discovery or political revelation all becomes about as important on statistical average to the global media audience as does celebrity gossip.

For example: a tale of two media narratives:

Donald Trump: receives nuclear launch codes.
Rob Kardashian: looks exactly like his daughter.

What matters to you ?  What is more important and deserves to be shared and discussed ?  Take your pick.

Alternate Facts: Fake Realities

Wow.  It didn’t take long for that to escalate.  “Post-truth” has now found itself instantiated as “alternate fact” in popular media discourse.  Trump’s press secretary did not (strictly speaking) lie, he expressed an “alternate fact”.  Not only have we gone beyond an investment in the integrity of at least partial credibility or claim to verifiable truth but we have sidestepped into a parallel Universe in which “alternate facts” might just become as meaningful as genuine, verifiable facts and their actual Truths.  The current surreal (and not just a little bit Orwellian) situation is not in some respects surprising: falsity in rhetoric and political misdirection have been around for as long as politics itself.  This current American spectacle certainly resonates with other historical moments; in a similar context we can find Umberto Eco making a salient observation about the role of responsibility in the rise of Berlusconi:

History is rich with adventurous men, long on charisma, with a highly developed instinct for their own interests, who have pursued personal power – bypassing parliaments and constitutions, distributing favours to their minions, and conflating their own desires with the interests of the community.

But these men haven’t always achieved the power they aspired to, because society did not always permit them. If society has permitted him, why should we blame the man rather than the society which has allowed him to have his way?
(Source: Don’t blame Silvio Berlusconi, says Umberto Eco, it’s the fault of all Italians.)

It is uncertain the degree to which “charisma” could ever possibly apply in the current American monodrama but the bluster and boorish behaviour which has seen Trump become so successful clearly resonates with a large demographic; notable also is the sheer (or apparent – perhaps also fake) self-confidence he seeks to project at every opportunity.  We could certainly ask of a country in which the narrative of self-determination and freedom is so prominent and highly celebrated, why is it that only 58% of the population actually voted in 2016’s election ?  It might be possible to say that American society has allowed this to happen in some respects, or even in some respects that American society had been skating in this direction for some time and that the thin cultural and political ice was bound to break sooner or later.

The most interesting thing about the Trump presidency is not the Trump presidency itself but more what this political arrival has to say about the culture and historical moment from which it has emerged. 

Trump has not arrived because he was allowed to emerge as the figure he has become, he has arrived because the culture and narrative of America has been preparing the way for this kind of event and political figure for many years.  This situation is no one’s fault, it is more the inevitable endpoint of one particular solution to the equations embodied in a simulated reality that has managed to suspend itself by its own bootstraps; it has done away with the requirements for a bedrock of fact or truth and now finds itself free-floating, directionless and seeking meaning while professing to have already found it in a revisionist fantasy of historical self and greatness. (Any notional “greatness” or superlative value is always already something to be journeyed towards, not to be in any sense revisited or resuscitated; retrospective fabrications of self-importance are purely wishful thinking and represent an anxious denial of the realities and complexities as they actually exist).  The real, true, verifiable and (actual) factual world is still there but it has lost its attributed popular value and meaning in the current information economy; there are many Americans who see this political theatre for what it is but they may have waited a little too long to do anything concrete about it now that it has fully emerged from its cocoon.


“I said, ‘Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women,’ but the media took that totally out of context.”

US media as a whole has been flirting with fake realities and pseudo-news for some time.  Fictional narratives are often enough the staple diet of a diverse and healthy cultural vocabulary and the burgeoning dependence on moral allegory through a shared culture of mythology, literature and film has perhaps taken a singularly unique form in the USA.  Fictional and mythological narrative as generated by mass culture and media is a necessary element of cultural or national self-definition.  The fantasy and simulated reality constructed around a world, around an actual reality, embeds the (often harsher) realities and truths of that world in a simpler and friendlier narrative, made intelligible by its simplicity and proximity, sanitised by financially  opportunistic and ideologically-biased fictions.

From sit-coms, through soap operas (themselves now largely supplanted by so-called “reality TV” and it’s tributaries), to major movie franchises and the associated mythologies of celebrity and wealth – the story being told is of a fabricated world.  This is where a threatening frontier wilderness of Unknowns and Others which can be made safe through the production of the superficialities and trivialities of commercial television (or other similar communications media).  Through this representation the shared, cultural reality acquires a superficial gloss with all the sophistication and insight of a kindergarten pantomime in which the audience and the actors are largely indistinguishable and their roles are shared.  The larger part of the commercial culture-machine, being driven as it is by investment and profit, seeks to produce what will sell over what is real and what will sell is usually the artificial and improbable, while reality and concrete documentary or journalism is perpetually starved of resources and devalued.  Facts and their truths  have been made destitute and homeless by this commercial impulse.

Even science and verifiable fact is fabricated in a sense and is always aspiring towards its object.  Fact is that towards which it is directed – it accepts its limitations and progressively refines its maps and images of the territory represented by the consensus and verifiable reality.  The culture of false realities orbits and observes only itself and is held together in some sense by the enormity of its own mass, its own consequences, its attributed values and self-referential meanings – all of its maps were once based on a real territory but are now shaped by wish and by desire more than truth – it is a map drawn from a fictional world.


A popular culture is that most readily accessible system of images, narratives and concepts through which a culture knows itself: it is the self-representation of a culture.  The channels and vectors of that self-representation are manifold and dynamic – they include media, entertainment, news and communications technology or social-media, and they include all the ongoing rapidly evolving technologies, economies and social conventions available to a population.  The culture of hyper-reality and celebrity, the merger of spectacle and fiction – from wrestling, through Jerry Springer (that more recent iteration of the Punch and Judy idiom), the machismo of the gun and the hero who wields it, the monster-trucks totally devoid of actual utility (and a million other fantastic and entertaining absurdities) and now devolving into the “pussy-grabbing” bragger of the President who’s associates and advisors are so besmirched and enamoured of a fictional ideal of their country and its reincarnation that they have managed to almost completely devalue the international image and reputation of a country they believed they were making stronger.  This has been an arc of narratives and of narratives transformations which has found itself unravelling rapidly, perhaps – embarrassingly and at the whim of a medieval court royal family.


American popular culture is a special case or instance of popular cultures more generally considered because for any number of reasons (historical, economic, artistic or creative) it exists as an immense gravitational center of gravity for the production of entertainment, information, news and associated technologies.  There can of course be many cultural or political gravitational centers at play at any one time (both between and within countries), many divergent and antithetical assertions, fabrications and narratives.  The ability for so many diverse opinions and beliefs to coexist and to not implode the culture or political existence of a country is what democratic success looks like – the buzz and hum of difference is just as important as the representation and proliferation of sameness.  This healthy diversity of opinion and belief only truly becomes extreme and problematic (in essence – unhealthy, pathological) where one interpretation of reality, one fabricated narrative becomes more prominent than any other.  History (itself a narrative not without significant bias or fiction) has no reason to look favourably on the self-destructive extravaganza of a nation which sealed its borders and introspectively denied the importance or significance of anything beyond a particularly narrow self-representation and interpretation.

Having relied so heavily on falsity and outrageous scandal for the popular impact and success of their campaign – they now find themselves unable to control the (media) system that propelled them to power.  The irony is staggering.


There are of course many Americas and many American narratives.  There is the narrative that America shows itself, in the mirrors of its popular culture and the unfurling disaster of the blossoming autocracy.  There is the narrative that America has projected to the rest of the world and of which economic, technological and military power are clear aspects.  There is the narrative that other cultures and peoples construct around the image they have of America.  Then there is the Real America and this is the most difficult conceptual arrival of all – the Real America has now been portrayed, remade and projected as a concept free-floating and without basis in fact.  The spectacle of the simulated Real has folded back and engulfed the notional bedrock of actual reality that it was built upon, it is a signifier without signified – or at least there is only other signifiers and nothing beyond them, just smoke and mirrors.  Where the image is of the image, the simulation is of the simulated, there can be no depth other than layers upon layers of misleading, free-floating opinion and belief-based assertion.  There is no greatness to be found in falsehoods and a successful campaign to sell what is fundamentally an isolationist plutocracy as the solution to Everyman’s problems is a guaranteed devolution to a probable political, economic and environmental catastrophe.


Fragile World

Most of this was written in a mild heat-induced delirium at the tail-end of a gruelling heatwave.  I’ve been thinking about authoritarianism and fascism on the rise from the US to Europe and beyond.


Life is really very fragile.  There shouldn’t be much more to say than that as a general observation of our reality but there’s so many self-obsessed fools hell-bent on running this world and everyone in it into an early grave.  They’re waving great banners of stupidity and cruelty at each other in dark festivals of greed and vainglorious pride and when the old clichés and generalisations which adorn those banners fade, when the cloth greys and eventually disintegrates into dust – they start beating each other bloody with the flagpoles.  Meanwhile, everyone is standing around recording it for TV news and on their mobile phones, swept away by the spectacle of it all.

The rapid rise of the extreme right and it’s co-evolving fascism and the viral strains of authoritarianist psychosis across the world are indicative of the insecurity, instability and volatility of the current global information ecology.   Of course, the anger and angular psychological simplicities of emerging right-wing agendas are not new nor are they unprecedented – it has just happened to pass that for any number of complex probabilities and facts of historical contingency that they are in assumption at the present moment.


Not entirely dissimilar to the eternal dichotomy of democracy’s pendulous swing from one pole to the other, fascism and its associated bleakly authoritarian regimes rise and then – after a time (and ample opportunity to more or less incoherently disassemble and hack away at a perceived threat in the existing antithetical World Order) they will go into decline – this is an observation of the inevitabilities and symmetries of complex social, cultural and political systems.  The opposite of authoritarian parochialism, or perhaps whatever Synthesis emerges from the great Spiral of history (and with this we can be as specific and precise with about as much teleological certainty or predictability as a long-range weather forecast), will roll out with just as much relentless energy as the next breakthrough technology, financial crisis or global pandemic.  The oceans of rippling information and patterned trends or emergent movements and ideological or politically inversions – these are unstoppable.  The best someone could ever do is to try to influence the path of change, like nudging the path of an asteroid or comet but accepting that it is locked into a trajectory that is only ever moderately effected by volitional acts.

Handing over and giving up control to the authoritarian ideal is a paradoxical situation.  If in my own need and seeking for certitude, closure, completeness, security and direction, I willfully absorb or otherwise ingest the notion of the superiority and authority of an idea or person or movement external to myself, I am concretely and freely giving up the personal control and freedom that it is actually the main selling point of an authoritarian system.  “We will make each of you significant and powerful but only by taking that power from you and for ourselves”.  Handing over control to a demagogue who weaves promises of greatness and certainty (and who uses little more than a limited and repetitive vocabulary as a qualification for their ideological assertions) is a losing bet.  The one thing that the infantile fantasy of control embodied by authoritarianism (in fascism, socialism or any other ideology) can not control is the inevitability of it’s own eventual evolution and change, and this on ever-indeterminate time-scales.  Earth’s magnetic field undergoes periodic inversions and it appears that political systems undergo similar polar reversals.  Ideological self-seduction and myths of perpetuity usually end in failure when the world and its many, many minds move on to a new idea or interpretation of reality.


Left or Right-Wing authoritarianism: a place for every thing and every thing in it’s place.  The world does not actually function that way.

Part of the rich vibrance of holistically-considered political systems is their ability to simultaneously co-exist with contrary assertions and ideologies.  The elemental psychological fact of one mind (or idea) as existing in a gestalt figure/ground relationship to it’s antithesis illustrates this symmetry.  One thing requires its opposite to be defined, to be definable through its difference and distance from that Other thing.  An irony of this is that the greater and stronger the one idea or movement appears, the more insecure and paranoiac it is bound to become; when self-definition is intrinsically performed as in opposition that which the self is not – a seeking for constancy and armouring of the boundaries of the definition create anxiety and hysteria.

Cultural worlds positively buzz and hum with the vibrant harmonies and dissonance of this irony – the strength of one assertion or position relies in an essential way on the existence and constant maintenance of the constructed fantasy around that thing, or things, which embody the threat and possibility of self-extinction to the ideology, political theory, social movement.  One system of thought needs an opposite, an enemy or threat and if it does not actually have one, it will eventually materialise it through the certainty it itself requires.  We unwittingly construct the monsters of our world – the narratives and resonant fields of culture and information (or energy) flows which create by inversion and psychological projection those things we fear and which threaten us, psychologically or materially.


Authoritarianism and extreme right-wing ideologies are a response to insecurity, instability and uncertainty.  They seek to provide certainty, continuity and control; or at least to provide political power through simulating the appearance of these ideals.  The worlds that extreme right-wing agendas create are fundamentally unstable and tend to reflexively create (through displacement) the uncertainty and instability that they have attempted to supplant.  Extreme left-wing agendas fare little better and for similar reasons.  The only real takeaway is that a middle-path of flexible, adaptive and responsive ideology more closely approximates to the actual way the world works and before human beings attempt to control through projecting self-serving ideologies upon it.  Systems which are unable to adapt and change are bound to failure, so it follows clearly that adaptation and change are a sound conceptual basis upon which to construct the approximate stability, predictability and continuity of large-scale ideological solutions but, even then, these should be fundamentally adaptive and open to internal and external change.


On the Uses of Myth

Caveat: Mythology is not purely a matter of historical fictions and partial-truths or parables told to instruct in moral or ethical ideals.  Mythology is also the overall cultural narrative which attaches to, or emerges from, any system or set of concepts or ideas – generally of an influential or persuasive scale and of indefinite complexity: ideologies, political theories, religions and historical constructs.  These thoughts below are brief and primarily in response to some reflections which appear here: We Are Not Safe and Never Will Be.

The myths we create, or accept and absorb, around our heroes (or heroic narratives and ideologies) and their antagonists are so very often far from truthful representations. It seems that human beings prefer a fairly simple narrative and caricatured portrayals of both the Good and the Bad – this likely aligns closely to the widespread use (and overuse) of generalisations; generalisations which, regardless of their inaccuracy, may be necessary  for, and implicit within, large-scale social communication systems and their successful function. This allows us to insert our own contexts, to decorate and embellish the mythology with our own ideas and concepts – often to the point of such significant departure from the original idea that it is unrecognisable: religion, politics, moral philosophies, various -isms and -ologies on a spectrum of translation and interpretation from attempted faithful adherence through to rampantly corruption of the original concept, person or narrative for purely selfish purposes. To some extent we psychologically require the anchor of a caricatured narrative (in whose reflection the Self is reflected, although perhaps more as in the fairground trick mirror of biased perception which warps and twists the image in response to our needs and desires).

If a literary or intellectual hero does not meet the mythic perfection we have attributed to them or their ideas, we shouldn’t be surprised. The greatest myths and mythic figures are those that have just enough credibility and just enough pure fiction to give us something solid to hang our own beliefs and interpretations upon. The extent of fiction or uncertainty allows for a simpler acts of retrospective denial of stated beliefs and political or ideological positions if we discover something unsavoury or unpleasant in a hero or something noble or heart-warming in a villain.  There is very likely something deeper going on here.

An ideological investment in heroic figures at least partially represents the externalisation or projection of an ideal self, tainted by the biased interpretations of enlightened self-interest or other potential narrative corruption Industries of interpretation and translation of mythic texts inevitably arise and the role of the interpreter assumes the hallowed saintliness of the hero, as though by cultural osmosis or narrative associationA high-priest of interpretative narrative analysis usually ends up in politics or academia.  Academia is generally a less harmful source for creative reinterpretation of mythic narratives.  Politics is a self-perpetuating social meta-system which professes to be concerned with the society from which it emerges as a priority but in essence is more concerned with its own self-perpetuation.  Reinventing and recycling the mythic heroic narratives of favourite ideologues and intellectual figures rapidly becomes a game of Chinese Whispers in which the preferred interpretation, translation or other narrative corruption is more closely aligned to the translator’s goals than the original narrative and myth.


Dr. Manhattan is Atlas, revisited ?

On Writing, Rewriting and WordPress

Iterations: Use reality, politics, news, media, history, literature, art, relationships, experience and other people’s ideas, words and comments to inspire your own words.  (I often write comments for blog posts, (other) social media, YouTube, etc. and sometimes find that it is something that may be worth sharing elsewhere.)  Read widely.  Then read more.


PreparationsWrite, edit, re-write and post.  Panic that there are errors and then spend the next 90 minutes or so going back over your post trying to work out what in the hell you were trying to say in the first place.  Update your post.


Depressions: Come back later to find no likes or comments and, feeling somewhat dispossessed and undervalued, proceed to rewrite your post as an epic dramatisation of a family lost on an Australian Outback camping trip and their unexpected saviour “Brian”, the uncannily clever  pet koala with a mysterious talent for conducting emergency surgical procedures in survival situations.


Reparations: Two days after writing your post come back and then return it to something vaguely resembling the original whilst continuing to reassure yourself that someone actually reads what you write and people don’t just follow you so that you will look at their writing.  Return three weeks later to rewrite significant sections of the post and ensure that all those irritating grammatical and spelling errors are finally under control.


Expression: Summarily forget everything that you have written in preparation for later rewriting exactly the same thing in a different way.


Reflections: The fear of meaningless existence, of not leaving a ripple on the surface of the deep waters within which we swim, of inevitable decay and death without impact or attributed value (i.e. meaning) from others.  I suspect it is a not so stealthy nor cryptic fact of the blogging culture that other than being among other things a long-form social media experience, this is where we may suspend our disbelief in the existential void we suspect to be lurking behind appearances, where we come to weave beautiful semantic tapestries and admire (like a fish to a dancing, sparkling lure) the minds we are and the vocabularies and mental worlds we share; the rich creative realities we have woven (like some meta-mathematical enigma or material world conjured from naked axiom and logic) out of the pure nothingness of this void.


Fear Factor: Damocles

It doesn’t take much, perhaps a tragic organisational miscalculation or an inflammatory remark in the wrong place or at a critical moment, for international conflict to blossom and careen out of control. Physicist Brian Cox once expressed an opinion that it may be that our technological advancement has far outstripped our political maturity, our ability to successfully navigate the complexity of a world we have created. This particular dissonance between technological capacity or ability and political (and its related psychological) stability and maturity represents a very real existential threat for Homo Sapiens. The potential and omnipresent horror of nuclear apocalypse where sabre-rattling, for instance – in the South China Sea, by accident or design rapidly escalates to the insanity of a plutonium-fuelled nuclear inferno is one scenario that remains a very real candidate for global catastrophe and perhaps is more real now than at any time in the past. The looming titanic climactic shifts of global warming, still in their nascency but clearly and by all evidence actually occurring, may actually represent a greater long-term existential threat than does nuclear war. The global international political system is in many regards resilient but is in other ways fundamentally brittle and fragile and appears to have only just managed to have survived to the present day, somewhat dishevelled and withered.

The effects upon international political stability of what may become an unremitting rising tide of extreme weather and environmentally-induced events emerging from climate change remains to be discovered.

Where opposing nations possess the power to almost instantaneously turn hundreds of their antagonist’s cities into ashes, dust and molten glass but not the wisdom or maturity to recognise this zero-sum game for what it ultimately is – this is where meaning, purpose and sanity cease to exist. I can not believe that as a species we would ever willingly do this to ourselves. It is more likely that we are subject to impulses and actions which we not only do not understand but which are ultimately also beyond our conscious control. The self-beliefs and ideological assertions upon which we construct and maintain our personal identities (and, by extension – our societies, political systems and nations) are not necessarily as cut-and-dried or as simple as it may at first appear.

It generally requires an extensive academic study of history and social development to develop the skills required to be able to at least begin to understand the complex emergent patterns of evolving subjectivity and personal identity that underlie political, psychological and social or cultural structure and change. For a majority of people it is probably not all that important to understand why this history and evolving complexity is the way it is and how it is has developed. While we don’t generally need to understand the molecular structure of the air we breathe to continue successful respiration, medical professionals and physiologists may find it indispensable in some contexts. Politicians are those who genuinely comprehensive understanding of the complexities of human reality and they are also very often those with very limited overall comprehension of the large-scale consequences and contexts of their work.

Politicians and policy makers are the contemporary professionals who find themselves in positions where they would be particularly well-served by acquiring a complex understanding of the subtleties of human psychology and the cultural influences upon, and effects of, political ideologies and policies. On the contrary, there exists an almost complete lack of understanding of the subtleties of human psychology and culture by politicians (and their associated administrators). At the same time as there arguably exists an enormous void of applied intelligence to understanding the contexts and consequences of their activity, politicians and their motley apparatuses are the bearers of the economic and international-relations destinies of the nations they represent. The very people who are tasked with preventing conflict and nurturing economic and political stability often possess a very limited appreciation of what the deep causes of such conflict and instability actually consist of.

The central problem in this professional mismatch of politicians with their roles is that playing the game of being elected and of rising to positions of power is fundamentally not the same thing as actually playing the game of governing well.

Arriving at a historical juncture where more than ever before the ideologically-induced and diminishing intellectual horizons of the people who actually hold our collective fates in their hands (and minds) are incapable of comprehending the consequences of their activity (and inactivity) – we find ourselves internationally and globally directionless. The arrival of a supremely unqualified businessman into the White House represents a victory for bluster and confidence at the expense of actual experience or competence. It also represents what may be the apotheosis of Capitalism – supplanting an aggressive and occasionally successful businessman in place of a seasoned and intelligent politician at the head of the most powerful economic and military country in the world.

I’m not that interested in discussing Donald Trump and his consequences because I find the whole situation to be rather unfortunate and potentially ill-fated. Unfortunately, it is not possible to ignore that coming storm of international uncertainty and instability which is now almost upon us. Much is made of Trump not possessing or expressing any comprehensive ideologies of his own but he very much finds himself in a situation where he does not require one: he has embedded himself in a cabinet and advisory environment deeply influenced by the ideologies of big money, conservatism, protectionism, jingoistic nationalism and a deep economic obligation to the old world of coal and fossil-energy. An ability to comprehend the underlying reasons for the beliefs and ideologies people hold would be of much use to this new President but is unlikely to emerge.

I do not know if there is any successful strategy to rewiring and restructuring our democratic systems so that competent, effective political players can be guaranteed to emerge – indeed, an intrinsic part of complex emergent systems such as nation states and their large-scale cultural and social systems is that the uncertainty is fundamental and reflects predictive successes not dissimilar to those of long-range weather forecasting. I suspect that while the pendulum of political ideology is swinging far into the right-side of politics at the moment, this is a temporary affair. Right-wing politics and politicians make a litany of errors and then the pendulum swings back to the left where a different but similar suite of errors and confusion emerges before moving on to another iteration of the cycle. Politicians who do not understand the gravity of their role and the great responsibility of their assumption to power place their nations and the international order into non-trivial risks.


The pendulum swings.

The Sword of Damocles is a reminder to those who seek political power that the burden of responsibility is not easily carried. If an individual assumes power but does not perceive the true gravity of this burden – the threat, stress and danger is displaced to the people they are tasked to represent. The threat of international conflict and environmental catastrophe are clear and present dangers which, if not managed effectively at the executive level will still come to negatively effect the vast majority of human beings who themselves have no influence on political and economic directions. This underlines the democratic responsibility of intelligent political evaluation and voting thoughtfully and carefully – of understanding what political candidates say, and why, and of not being carried away by populist slogans and impossible fantasies and mythologies of control or the cult of personality that our current global information economy is so easily influenced by.

It remains an irony of the current rise of conservatism and right-wing politics and politicians that the mind-set of the modern conservative is likely to support economic and political systems which will increase the financial insecurity and political instability of the world – this generates cultural and psychological responses to insecurity and uncertainty which lead people to invest their political capital back into what are perceived to be strong or powerful leadership figures. The apparent or projected psychological security of the authoritarian or right-wing leadership is itself based upon an illusory fantasy of control which trends towards psychosis at its extremes. Some systems – both cultural and psychological – appear to have their own free-floating methods of self-perpetuation above and beyond the volition of those who participate in them. It appears that the insecurity, fear and chaos instilled by international conflict and environmental catastrophe will strengthen the perceived truth of right-wing ideologies and these are the very ideologies which may successfully, recursively induce the situations which lead to such conflict and catastrophe.


When leadership fails to successfully engage with risk and responsibility, this causes the epistemic burden of stress and worry to be displaced to everyone else.