You Can’t Hide from Futility

One of the defenses of denial is that if we were to begin to accept what is in store we would fall into despair. Better to be busy than desperate.

This ignores the power of Futility.

It continues to amaze me the way the most self-declared pragmatists; political, military, and business leaders; remain by all accounts caught up in their silos of concern; chasing after stability, security, and profit; when their efforts are continually wiped out by the futility induced by their narrow focus.

Let’s take the fantasy of Unlimited Growth and follow it through their prisms.

To a politician, Unlimited Growth means that the cycles of dissatisfaction and expansion that keep their bosses happy – see business below – can continue. There is no reason to try to actually resolve anything since this would only lower GDP and lessen the “need” for their power.

To the military, Unlimited Growth provides them with a blank check to run down every conceivable fantasy of overt control through the projection of institutionalized violence; ignoring that this keeps us in a cycle of escalation that takes us further and further from a tenable – and therefore arguably secure position – towards increased and compounded levels of risk. By ignoring the factors that show us the current path is leading towards ecocide on the grandest scale since the Permian Extinction, they can profess to improve our security vis-a-vis threats that can at most kill some of us and most tellingly inconvenience the powerful.

To business, both the owner class and its enablers, Unlimited Growth is the force that drives the Ponzi Scheme of Capitalism and of the exploitative civilization that underlies it. Since wealth, measured in money and power, can only increase through the destruction of value, the only way not to be caught “holding the bag” is to continue the charade as long as possible.

These rationales drive their behavior, not only maintaining their tunnel vision; but fueling self-destructive harm, as well as, violence towards others. People who have been captured by these ideological traps – in all of their convenient and colorful flavors – take cues provided by anxiety driven by an instinctive sense of futility and use the fear this generates to blind themselves to the wider situation, holding them entrenched within their particular displacement activity. This feedback loop derails warnings provided by a sense of futility and uses that fear to act in ways that degrade our chances while keeping them unaware that they are only making things worse, for themselves as well as for their “enemies,” “opponents,” and “competitors.”

Unless we put effort into untangling this dynamic we will continue to have the most powerful and potentially most capable among us not only resisting helpful changes, but working at their utmost pitch of capacity to make matters worse and worse.

Something like this happens in aviation. A pilot becomes convinced – viscerally through an uncritical acceptance of untrustworthy physical sensations – that he is upside down, or in a turn, or straight and level; when he’s not. He adds the wrong input, often the inverse to what should be done, and persisting in his delusion, takes things from bad to worse until impact with terrain disabuses him of his error. In a situation like this, no amount of persuasion, or even force, will change his mind or stop him from trying to “save” himself by doing all the wrong things. Self-preservation is hijacked by delusion.

This is where we find ourselves.

We have so many studies looking at every conceivable fantasy of a technological “fix.” Is anyone putting resources to bear on this?

The more we raise the emotional pitch; the more we appear to struggle to force change from those in power; the more we attack them, either verbally or physically; the more we set their opposition into a rigor only to be sated by mortis.

This is not meant in opposition to any resistance to authoritarian tyranny. It is a call to look at what has to come after. The pattern in place is for one oppressed group to oust another and then impose its own fantasies leading to a continuation of oppression. Meanwhile these “human” dramas do nothing to halt the destruction of the ecological underpinnings of all life. Each case of resistance needs to stand on its own merits, but we cannot be seduced into thinking that any one of these examples will affect the overall conditions unless we look into how these dynamics play out.

There are disjointed clues as to how to break free. What is needed is a concerted effort. This requires us to look inside at how these same mechanisms work in each of us. We who decry the errors of others have been trapped in a cycle of diminishing returns just as deadly as the one our “adversaries” are in. None of “our” strategies have worked to change our course either.

Having a clearer view “out the window,” or at our “instruments,” has convinced us that they are making things worse. But, our actions haven’t materially changed the workings of this feedback loop. This puts us in the same situation, pushing harder and harder on all the wrong buttons and wishing this time they will work.

I was raised as an ameliorator. I learned to catch sight of toxic dynamics so as to try to sidestep or defuse them. The problem with this as an individual comes from being stuck in the childish habits of mind that confronted us at the time of our earliest traumas. The incident that awakened our particular compensatory trait also froze our reactions at the level of our immaturity at that time.  Now, when we are confronted with a similar situation, we not only have our “powers,” but we are still trapped in those childhood responses. While our power might work if combined with a mature outlook, so long as it’s trapped within a childish perspective it is doomed to continue to be ineffective. This is as true of an ameliorator as it is of a chief, or a warrior or an entrepreneur.

The panoply of possible childish perspectives are all subsets of the unexamined egotism of the child. We either blame ourselves for what is beyond our control, or we blame others as a way to keep from blaming ourselves.

If we don’t recognize how this affects us, we can’t get anywhere. On each “side” we build up a psychic “opponent” to cover our own blindness and give us a vent for our frustrations. None of this cuts through the traps of futility.

I don’t know what the next step is. I’m caught up in my own psychic dramas, as much as I try to transcend them. Brené Brown’s talk on Vulnerability is a clue as to how to proceed. As much as we might laugh at the thought that she became a convert from the dark side of control – especially when compared to any of our current bogey-men in politics, military, or business garb – but she is a convert from the world of measure-and-control, reduce-and-deny. Her journey is an example of what is possible.

Futility is not tied to the unlikelihood of a behavior being successful. It is tied to a certainty – no matter how deeply buried – that a particular course of action has never worked and will only fail again and again. Futility is a response to the certainty of failure. This is one of our few certainties. They are all linked to destructive outcomes. We can certainly kill, we can never certainly create. So, when we remain attached to a need for certainty we latch onto the comfort of maintaining a course that assures us certainty – even when that certainty is one of failure and destruction and death.

The path beyond this dynamic requires us to clarify these conditions and begin to loosen their death-grip over us. The process of maturation this requires is not a duty or a privilege, it is a necessity if we are to survive. There is no other way to de-link self-preservation from the toxic reactions it is currently trapped in. Not only for the “bad guys,” but for all of us.

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5 thoughts on “You Can’t Hide from Futility

  1. Hi,

    when you write

    “Something like this happens in aviation. A pilot becomes convinced – viscerally through an uncritical acceptance of untrustworthy physical sensations – that he is upside down, or in a turn, or straight and level; when he’s not. He adds the wrong input, often the inverse to what should be done, and persisting in his delusion, takes things from bad to worse until impact with terrain disabuses him of his error. In a situation like this, no amount of persuasion, or even force, will change his mind or stop him from trying to “save” himself by doing all the wrong things. Self-preservation is hijacked by delusion.”

    it is spookily reminiscent for me of what Keith Stanovich wrote in his book “What Intelligence Tests Miss.” In the bit where he was talking about successful and unsuccessful attempts to use our brains rather than our instincts he talked about “override failure”, using the example of John Kennedy Jr. Flying in the fog, going up and down seeing if he could find a horizon (of significance!) and break through the cloud, when what he should have been doing was relying on instruments. Well, of course, he should have NOT been flying in conditions like that, especially so inexperienced, but you know what I mean….

    We are going up and down trusting our lying eyes instead of our instruments. And our instruments are telling us really really bad news.

    Like

  2. […] My last post began to break into what may be new ground, at least for me, a realization that my own attempts either to awaken the “sleepers” around me, or at least warn us off the dangers of following the “haters,” has left me in a profound sense no less captured within a cycle of denial and the repetition of failed strategies than those I’ve derided. If they are stuck in “self-preservation hijacked by delusion” then so am I. If I continue doing the same things expecting a different result, I am no more “sane” than they are. If I prefer to wish they could be convinced by my arguments or wowed by my eloquence, then I am as delusional as anyone. […]

    Like

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