Path of Least Resistance

Nothing expends more energy than it absolutely has to, the path of least resistance is the reasonable default setting needed to conserve energy and resources against an unknowable but often predictable future.

This can be characterized in the 80-20 rule – in any business, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Achieving 80% of a task or thing is often good enough, because the effort required to achieve the final 20% exceeds the energy and effort needed to achieve the 80%.

Perfectionists, who seek to achieve 100% of a thing, end up achieving fewer things and expend more energy to do so overall than those of us who minimize effort for maximized outcome/output. Work smarter, not harder. Working smarter, is working less to achieve the same or good enough result.

There is also a cascade of folded 80/20s to consider when accomplishing a task – to deal with all aspects is too much, when dealing with 80% of items and 20% of people is sufficient – take care of the larger aspect and the smaller parts fall into alignment of their own accord. Remember that each of us has a span of control, and when we move beyond, the centre does not hold, leaving you on the stable edge, with a collapsed centre ring.

In concrete terms, if two movies have an opening box office weekend of $10 million dollars and one movie cost $5 million to make and the other cost $1 million – while they achieved the box office, the cheaper movie made more profit: nine dollars per one dollar spent, while the more expensive to produce, made only two dollars per dollar spent. Of course, the formula becomes more complicated when you also factor in how many screens each movie played on, the fewer screens, the lesser distribution costs and the profit margin increases – there’s always a second simple formula to complicate the original simple formula.

In terms of people and our energy and effort, our brains use approximately 20% of the energy used to operate our bodies. That’s a very expensive organ to operate, energy wise 20 for the brain and 80 for everything else. Well, not the full 80, some is held back in reserves, be it in fat cells which are energy storage bins, or in less than total exertion, so that when we need to run a little faster, that there is still something to draw upon, when absolutely needed. It’s this reserve energy that is misunderstood as the 10% when we say give 110%. We can only give 100% and normally, we are giving no more than 80%, so giving more effort is to push the output to 100% of total possible energy and effort, not excess of the total available.

Much of the energy the brain uses works on an autopilot, operating our lungs, digestion, hormones and processing inputs (audio, visual, smells, tastes, tactile touch), all folded into awareness of our environment and everything and everyone one, including ourselves, in said environment, but also our waking and dream states, memories, our variable perceptions (why time feels slower or faster depending on circumstances, our understanding of the environment, drawn from experiences, cultural values and personal preferences).

It’s the understanding of our environment that is of particular interest and concern, because we are at a time in our history where we are having to decide between competing views of understanding the world, and the view we collectively or at least as a majority hold, will determine the future of our species.

It comes down to which view do we hold of ourselves and our place in the universe – a religious view or a naturalist view.

If we cling to any religious views, we are simply doomed to continue on as we are, until we’ve overpopulated and polluted the earth so badly that it won’t sustain any form of life that includes humans – or at least, not humans in our present form.

If we move to a naturalist view, and understand that we are part of the natural world and order of things, then we can begin to set nature back to a balance, with sustainable energy sources, sustainable economies and with growth offset by reduction. We would not continue on the collision course of civil strife, but we would intentionally be changing direction toward a balanced sustainable existence, harmonized within nature.

But this, is going to take commitment and effort of a majority of people to make the switch from a religious worldview that posits that there are deities or a deity who rewards and punishes based on conformity to particular behaviours or not.

The attractive quality of religion, is that embracing (fundamentalists), accepting (moderates) or at least not questioning too hard (apologists) the premises of any given religion, is that your thinking about a worldview and your place in the world, has already been done for you. You don’t have to think, in fact, you explicitly can’t think about it, otherwise, you’ll notice all the flaws, inconsistencies, and sheer ridiculousness of the idea and understand that religion is largely about soothing fears of dying while providing a rationale for taking life (other people’s usually, but martyrs and saints hold a special place among the special group of believers).

Religion takes away all personal responsibility and replaces it with an obligation to follow a set of rules that benefit a ruling elite and keep the impoverish masses poor in life in exchange for an afterlife reward – so overthrowing the ruling wealthy elite is a no-no if you want to get to the rewarding afterlife, and to add insult to injury, we’re supposed to believe it’s harder for a rich man to obtain afterlife reward than a poor man. Yet, every few rich people trade their material wealth for poverty, so one has to wonder, how much can the wealthy religious elite truly believe in heaven and its rewards when they hedge reward and have it now and later?

Proponents of religion often cite that more people believe in a religion than who do not believe in any religion. As if by sheer numbers, or first past the post voting if you will, religion wins the mantle of being correct as opposed to merely being more popular. And, as anyone who went to high school knows, no one really likes the popular kids – which always made me wonder, how is it that they are popular?

That more people believe than don’t isn’t relevant to the quality or correctness of religious belief, but rather to that path of least resistance. Not that long ago, to declare yourself a non-believer was a death sentence, socially if not literally. In some countries – theocratic ones – it still is in some parts of the world.

So that most people believe is partly owing to personal safety and social pressure, a preference for conformity – the social application of the path of least resistance, and because religion is a social mechanism of being a stabilizing influence in a society. There is a beneficial role that religion plays in society, otherwise, religion would have died out and been replaced by something else – but religion is merely a social construction of organizing and sorting people into groups and hierarchical structures – that it provides a social framework validates religion as social organizing mechanism, it does not validate the beliefs or ideas of religion, nor does it confer a measure of goodness, only functionality.

Goodness is a measure determined by sustainability and outcome – the staying power.

What I look to as hope for humanity is, shockingly enough, China. Not as the current corruption of communism regime in charge, but as China the civilization. China is the oldest continuous civilization in human history – many civilizations have risen and fallen, through conquest, dispersal or disaster. China, because of their long standing xenophobia, has resisted the influx of migration and limited the emigration of it’s peoples and retained a core identity and characteristic.

China, long ago, abandoned the shamanistic, spirit and deities centered religions, in favour of mystic rationalism. They have community rather than individual focused moral and ethical system, with old time mysticism used to understand the  forces  of nature. They are neither good nor bad, but rather, all things in balance.

China is out of balance and in disharmony, allowing the mystical to override the rational in some regards, and these leads to ideas of saving face (honour) as more important than continued existence – but, I can see the case to be made that existence without honour, is not an existence worth having.

So what the world need is more rational thinkers, mysticism sifted out – and to shift to a rational – naturalist framework, there does need to be a critical mass to where clinging to the religious ideas cost more energy than switching to the alternative – science, the study and understanding of nature.

In a way, when believers cite that there are more people who believe in one religion or another than non-believers, they are resisting the critical mass and basically admitting that they change their thinking when the majority changes. People will change when following the majority means following something else.

The effort to make naturalism attractive is huge, it means universal education. This is why fundamentalists seek to control education, to prevent their own ousting and to reinforce their narrow values and ideas.

But, before we can implement education, people need to have their basic survival needs met – clean water, food, security of their person and shelter. Again, this is where religionists – missionaries and their alleged charitable endeavors have the edge, by doing outreach and provided access to or these things, they create an obligation of gratitude, they obtain converts, who then  would be resistant to education in opposition or in exclusion of religion.

Before rational naturalist thinking can forge a new direction for a sustainable communally global future, we have to undo all the unsustainable outcomes of the past millennia of religionist thinking and doing. A daunting task indeed.

But the call to the greater good of long term sustainable existence, complete with individual human rights, and avoiding the pitfall of scapegoating groups of people and avoiding genocidal reduction in global population, improving the quality and quantity of life through education and sustainability, means having to overcome the path of least resistance.

It means confronting said resistance head on, unflinching, to stare into the abyss and declare yourself to not be a monster and then turn your back on the abyss, roll up your sleeves or tug on the bootstraps and get to work.

How Individuals bring social change

From my current experience within an existential existentialist crisis (what meaning can a life of meaning have when societies are not durable and civilizations rise and fall); I have come to understand that there are absolute truths. They are beautiful and boring, both at the same time.

But what the specific truths are, are in fact clichés – and they fall flat for the majority of us as trite and as bumper sticker caliber and resonant as simple truth – for an absolute truth is the distilled essence, and it is elegant and beautiful – which is why truth is beauty and beauty truth and that is all we know or need to know as Keats wrote – and thy do not need to be defined in relationship to a third factor to qualify theme as is endlessly debated in literature classes – which makes truth is beauty so simple and elegant and absolutely true in and of itself – therein lies the beauty!

The clinches are conveyed to us in poetry – which very little that is claimed to be poetry actually is – for poetry is extremely structured and economical, highly compacted phrases and words with multiple nuances – and not, as o called modern poetry is, lacking reason and rhyme and tends towards randomness and chaos – for in this state, there is no truth as everything is equal, with the same and no meaning at all.

Structure is a framework for understanding, and people who avoid mastering structure in favour of making their own story telling – which is about the construction, the structure – cannot convey meaning to their audience, with whom, the structure is the framework of understanding and meaning.

Knowing what forms denote a sonnet, we can understand the form and the meaning within and be able to determine the success or failure of the sonnet to achieve it’s ability to convey meaning and the value or beauty of the meaning.

Much like a sport has meaning from the game rules and conventions – one can enjoy any sport where the rules are understood and followed – and watching a game with an uneven number of players in widely diverse uniforms, on an unfamiliar field and equipment and inconsistent plays and referee calls would make little sense and be frustrating – even on a pleasant weather day with an alcoholic beverage and no place else to be. So does poetry and story telling derived meaning from the rules and the framework of the rules.

Our culture, our civilization, our beliefs and everything else that generates meaning – which is to say, anything that communicates meaning to us – is dependant on the framework, the rules of the framework and the resulting actions, relationships or objects.

Self esteem is no different – when we derive our self esteem from an internally sustaining source of self worth – we truly have boundless energy. What throws us out of kilter and lowers our self esteem are external messages that demean or deny our value.

But we are an object in a larger structure – each acting independently in a social structure that has conventions and rules – which are derived from the social framework.

So, if your self worth comes from within, but your society does not recognize your individual value – then you have to question the validity of your value or the values of society.

When enough people question the values of the society – social change occurs. Women got to vote. Slavery was legally abolished. Civil rights are enshrined and as more people accept that change in the social framework, the civil rights become enforced and over time, just part of the framework.

This way, it remains possible for a person to deny marriage to gays and lesbians, but cringe in horror at the suggestion that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

People who are amendable to change are those who’s personal framework of self value is inconsistent with the social rules and framework – or, they are people who’s personal framework has only recently been accommodated within the social framework and are still feeling the rejection keenly enough to empathize with other groups who are out of sync with the social framework.

It’s all fine and good for gays and lesbians to have civil rights enshrined in law when white gay and lesbians are then able to move about the white mainstream, while non-white gays and lesbians – who often worked to achieve the advancement, inclusion in the social framework, but who continue to be second class in the social framework because they are not white, they battle a compounded out of sync as non-white gays and lesbians. They are faced with mainstream discrimination as non-white members of a largely white society and discrimination as a gay person in a mainstream heterosexual society, and as a non-white gay person in the smaller non-white sub culture of the mainstream society. So, a white gay person in a largely white society faces the single level discrimination as gay in straight-world, but the non-white gay person faces two counts of mainstream and one count of subculture discrimination.

The characteristic that you value – yourself, your sexuality, your beliefs, every factor that makes you you – when it is not tolerated or even criminalized by the larger society – you face only two options. Change yourself or change society.

You are an agent of change.

What opposes you are the people, and their larger groups, who dominate society and make the rules within the framework. The framework is very influenced by religion or political agendas – which is why societies that are more homogenous are more harmonious – the majority is accommodated in the existing framework and there are very few minority groups or individuals seeking accommodation and inclusion.

That the Scandinavian countries have the highest standards of living and the least amount of social discord is not because they are Scandinavian, but rather because the majority of individual members share the same primary group identifiers.

This is why it is almost funny that the Nazi party idealized tall blonde and blue eyed people – they appear to have the best society – but, this is a ideology based on a faulty premise that it is the characteristics, rather than the degree of a set of characteristics that are shared. What makes the Nazi ideology is laughable is that the Scandinavian countries largely rejected Nazi ideology and the highest ranking Nazis were not at all Scandinavian.

So, back to societies in general and away from the evil that happens when political or religious ideology corrupts absolutely when that political and religious ideology is not kept in check and balance with the larger society.

The reason that social advances arrive in fits and spurts is actually a numbers game. Change literally does start with one person standing up and challenging the social conventions. When enough other people stand up and demand change on their own or on behalf of other people, then change occurs – first in law, and as people acclimate, then in practice – the change then becomes the convention, which people then defend the convention from further change – when the changes are not consistent with their own self value in relationship to the social rules and social framework.

This is how a religious person who is convinced that a person’s value is based on their compliance with god’s will – whatever that is currently defined as – will claim to be loving of all people while opposing a legal change that recognizes that person’s social value. AKA love the sinner, hate the sin. Which means, it’s tough love and tough noogies for being socially accepted you sinner.

The religious person will resist social change that means that a person they do not value – ie ethnic, sexual and belief minorities (beliefs being religions other than ones’s own, political views other than one’s one, or worse, non-belief) – suddenly has social value – because the one thing that a religious and political fundamentalist believer values above people, is compliance with the rules of the framework. The framework being their religious or political (usually their religious and political beliefs)  beliefs.

So, it is not the case that the Republican Party – you know, Lincoln’s party that freed the slaves – is being highjacked by the Christian religious right who oppose further advancement of rights of other and specifically sexual minorities – but rather that the party has been hijacked by religious fundamentalism that is unable to see that there is a difference between religious law and civil law. When you listen to the religious fundamentalists – how they define what is it to be an American – conformity, my country right or wrong, god first and country second – this is the very framework of theocratic nations; which are seen by the American fundies as a special kind of enemy for failing to share the values of what America stands for individual sovereignty and rights and freedoms – which if you exercise them, you are not a good American.

It truly does do your head right in if you think too hard about it.

But, this is why the fundamentalist are so driven to force everyone to comply, because then you don’t stand outside of their logic and see the obvious flaws. That they have no internal self worth and can only feel and having meaning within their preferred framework (their religion)

Fundamentalists are agents of status quo – they oppose change because change means that they have less personal value, and worst, if people who fundamentalists see as less valuable (women and other ethnicities) are deemed by the larger society to have value – then it calls into questions the fundie values who value the rules of society above all values. Largely because they expect to be able to be the primary if not only source of what those social values and rules and framework are.

Fundamentalists, individually and collectively, to retain value, have no option other than to oppose change. Reformers, individually and collectively, in order to gain value, have little option other than to create change.

So, we have societies that are currently dictatorship under religion (theocracies) or under an individual (political ideologies personified by a personality cult – ie Hitler, Stalin, Ghaddfi, Mao, etc) and we have societies that have stabilized under a duality of a two party system – then, we have more multicultural societies, as countries with alternative systems with a multiplicity of parties and often are democratic in other than first past the post systems.

The countries, and by extension the populations that enjoy the highest standard of living – with respect to life span, wealth distribution, health care, crime rates, economic participation and all the other measures that make life meaningful and enjoyable – are the countries where the population’s defaults are homogenous (ie: Scandinavian countries) and are xenophobic as a result – or countries which have a multi-party and more complex than first past the post systems of government and with a diverse population where, the majority of groups within the culture are deemed to be equally valuable both as group and individuals in relationship to one another.

Part of being a reformer, is to not be content with the social framework until all groups within the society achieve that equilibrium balance – which is why here is a sequence to the establishment of rights.

So, in the USA, Ethnic minorities had to be equal to the mainstream ethnicity in law before gender rights with respect to women being able to vote could occur. When gender rights become enshrined in law, the social convention of sexuality necessarily becomes a public discussion – as each of us in turn, compares and contrasts our sameness and differences – and, as each of us individually determine value, we align in shared value groups, who then align in interest with other groups and eventually social change becomes a juggernaught.

Society, becomes a perpetually sustained cycle of  change, as the unconventional becomes the convention.

Thus, the cliché of conventionality resonates with truth and is tiresome; both at the same time. And ain’t that beautiful?