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Decisions and strategy

While my intention is mostly to cover technology in my two topics, as an ordinary person trying to be free of ideology I will also cover anything I can find that increases the chances of implementing what I consider to be wise decisions. In particular, since I live in one of the few remaining regions of North America where independent bookstores are cherished enough to sustain them, I will sample and review their non-fiction tables, and in particular anything that seems to contribute to our understanding and possibility of improving decision-making, from the personal through the political to the cultural. The same goes for radio: here in the borderlands I have the unusual choice of two different public radio systems, each with some world-class coverage. Since I grew up with one ear listening for the warble of Junkers bombers and the other tuned to the BBC, and have had a lifetime largely innocent of television, radio has a place in my life perhaps closer to that of people in poor countries than it does for my western peers where it seems to serve just to make commuting tolerable while out of the orbit of TV.

In my lifetime the microprocessor, programmable descendant of the relay (which put my father out of work in the 1920s) has helped give us a very different model of the brain. (I think the preceding analog was of an entire being, forged by the great Smith in the sky, with Mind–virtuous or not–as merely implicit in the quality of this hammered and tempered weapon. In this view, some of us were just put together on a Friday). While the mystery of consciousness still eludes us, we have learned a lot about wetware and both its strengths and limitations. And some of what we have now learned is very germane to my particular quest here. Should we find a way strategically to implement the new knowledge, the brainbugs that prevent us reconstructing our toppling pile of kluges do not have to kill off our civilization in the manner of all previous ones.

Looking at decisions implies examining the idea of power, which I understand largely as the capacity to have other people act upon the decision of one. But there are two distinct kinds of power: the power of coercion through fear or directed greed, and the power of example and creative, largely-joyous energy–the magic of resonance with others, especially in overcoming personal thresholds of fear.

Competent managers concentrate on the “What, Why and How” in a context of hierarchical organization, with the express purpose of maximizing that particular organization’s viability. Leadership, on the other hand, is about sensing, amplifying, and focussing human spirit in the service of a shared vision, which may or may not involve any kind of organization, hierarchical or otherwise. As is the case of the single terms “power” and “ideology”, pairs of profoundly different things are here commonly discussed as undistinguished interchangeable entities.

In the same generation that discovered mirror neurons, our understanding of psychopaths has become much better focussed. We now know that a measureable aberration, the inability of about one percent of us to feel or be influenced by anything from the mirror neurons, is not limited to the population we try so hard to confine as criminals: it is even more often, and by their own celebration, a defining characteristic of people who seek, and largely achieve, decision-making power, preferably in hierarchical organizations. I do not find it a stretch to conjecture that such people over time influence the culture of their organization to reflect their own values, or rather lack of them. We saw this under the Church, with the influence of the Inquisition, and we all know of even more ghastly recent examples. It would not surprise me if this process, whereby over time the inhumanity of this one percent becomes the norm of the majority under their thrall, is one of the major factors in the collapse of civilizations.

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