It's time to throw some Greek philosophers under the metaphoric bus. More apropos would be some exotic form of Spartan chariot but those are hard to come by these days. My speech on Friday at TEDx DelrayBeach highlighted the paradoxical conflict of the cognitive duality that we inherited from guys in togas. Not surprisingly for TEDx, there were references to the social evolution that we're supposed to celebrate as we transcend the analog age for an ascent into the digital. Digital? Have we drunk so much hemlock as a society that we actually think that binary code is the best descriptor of the universe, of knowledge, of communication, of truth? Are we really so blind that we think that the cosmos can be plumbed using a series of on-off impulses on a chip? Is there any part of reality that we've ever experienced that actually shows up as binary?
In part, I blame Archimedes' flippant "Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the Earth," for our duality fixation. He was probably inspired by the Egyptians or the Hittites who celebrated the idea of balance as a binary ideal and merely framed a inspirational poster cliché long before inspiration or posters packed self-help seeking conferences. The 19th century woodcut that shows the 17th century clad Archimedes with a knee on a plank moving a globe is probably a good idea as you'd see a little too much Grecian virility if he was pictured in a toga in the same pose.
Duality - good vs. bad, rich vs. poor, educated vs. ignorant, sacred vs. profane - is the progenitor of our consensus observational framework. From this myopic space we gather and celebrate "heroes" who "move the world" and hear motivational speakers "cracking the code" on "empowerment". The bigger the "problem", the more magnificent the "solution". From the existential bribe transacted by religion - be good and bathe in riches, fluffy bunnies, and effervescent light; be bad and roast on a pointy spit over a smoldering fire - to the post-modern Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, the pervasive nature of duality serves as the opiate to the masses.
We like duality because we've been taught to love levers. Not surprisingly, we've been taught to love levers by those who wield them. Pass your exams and get a job. Evidence competency and get promoted. Good wins. Bad loses. O.K., or it least is should work that way, right? We obsess about duality because we want to know cause and effect. Our economist alchemists want to stimulate for growth. Our governments want to decimate liberty so we can be safe. Not surprisingly, from early education, our mathematical curriculum conditions us to favor duality bluntly indoctrinating the not-so-subtle ideal of equation before we know that we're being drugged. It starts so simply with arithmetic and before long we're wallowing in regression predicting our own observations with the "scientific method". Before we know it, we've subordinated experience and perception to the altar of digital models.
The manifestation of our social contagion may be most evidenced in our most celebrated social causes. Millions "Occupied" Wall Street and called for a return to the nostalgia of 1932-33 Glass-Steagall Act paying no attention to the fact that it was default products traded in Chicago that were eviscerating the economy and transferring trillions of dollars from the public to a select few highwaymen. Oh, and by the way Occupites, well done. Your call to reinvigorate the powers of the Federal Reserve - yes that's precisely what your calls to bring back Glass-Steagall actually meant if you read the law you celebrated - were heeded and, since your protests, the Fed has expanded nearly 3 times! Well done there! Millions pushing on a lever to move an obstacle only to find that all their energy actually increased the opacity and momentum of a system they didn't know they were empowering. Millions of people calling for armed response to genocide in central
Africa while letting
mining and munitions companies fill their 401(k) portfolios.
Let's pull off the toga on this duality / digital idol. Archimedes, like many other teachers and philosophers may have been misquoted. The story of places to stand and levers moving the world may not be verbatim. Because Archimedes spent a lot of his time describing geometric complexity too. And in his defense, I might suggest that the real story he was trying to communicate - the one conveniently erased by those who wanted to pedal the perversion of digital levers - was actually about fulcrum.
You see, the closer you move the fulcrum to the perceived moveable mass, the less the application of force at the end of the lever. Yes, that means that to achieve the lever's greatest effect, the fulcrum placement has to get close to the thing it seeks to move. In short, you can't merely get a wise (or idiotic) crowd massed at end of a lever and accomplish anything other than empowering the lever unless you've first discerned the nature of the mass from up close. Oh, and moved the fulcrum near it without it knowing! In a world in which we celebrate loud social calls for action, justice, equality, and the like - all laudable in their own right - if there's not a priori evidence of a discerned fulcrum placement, there's no chance that the desired outcome will succeed.
But better still is the realization that the fulcrum of greatest consequence doesn’t move a digital dynamic at all. The ideal fulcrum is not external to the desired inertial mass requiring change but actually slightly off the center of gravity within the very behemoth. You see, the most consequential transformation of intractable incumbent inertia comes when you introduce a wobble within the spinning mass. First imperceptibly and then with growing effect, a wobble harnesses the very system in need of transformation and uses its own mass and inertia to actually undo its thoughtless motion. In near effortless consequence, the mass, now subtly imbalanced tips itself.
Rather than protesting the bad and celebrating the good, let's consider discerning objects in motion. Then let's consider how we might embed ourselves and our ideas within the systems we seek to modify, change, transform, enhance, or destroy and from within use the existing inertia and mass to achieve the desired consequence. That means that you have to understand the system, assimilate that which allows you access to the interior, and perceive the momentum throughout. Having thus discerned the system, you then become the anonymous wobble agent - the ultimate fulcrumage - and the system tips itself. No fingerprints. No hero. Just change!