The Impact of Illusion on Change Strategy

Wall with the word change on it. An elephant and a donkey are using red and blue paint to change the color of the word
Illusion of Change

The core of the BBC documentary, “Hypernormalisation” was that falsity is being used on a global scale to facilitate various policy, political, and economic outcomes. I think this is a true but inadequate formulation, and it is leading to a variety of tactics (various attempts to detect and publicize falsity, or an organized focus on electing saviors, for example) that will be ineffective at undermining this core global system flow.

Imagine that this flow of falsity is a river after spring snow melt. The river is producing chaotic waves, eddies, general unpredictability. Chaos in one part of the river triggers change in other parts of the river, but the local changes it produces are lost through interaction with the various sources of chaos in the river flow over time. Any local victory is temporary.

You have a canoe or kayak paddle. If you are skilled, you might well be able to steer your canoe or kayak through the river by using the paddle to make a local change in your path so that you can navigate even in a river that is very chaotic. But, you would never delude yourself into thinking that you were fundamentally changing the river flow, that you were “conquering” the river by not sinking. Instead, you understand that the paddle allows you to make use of the local flow to reach your local goals.

Now imagine that there are 7 billion paddles in the river. Some of the paddles are quite large (say a government or international corporation), and most are small and personal. None of the paddles will alter the fundamental flow of the river, even though large paddles allow larger local change. Even if you watch the impact of all the paddles at once, you will find that each is operating locally and the river flow dominates the interactions of all those local efforts to produce change.

So, I don’t think this raging river of falsity is going to change in any basic way anytime soon, and energy put into changing the entire flow of the river won’t do that, but could even add to the total burden of illusion in the system through small local apparently controlled changes.

In addition, the people or organizations that have large paddles actually believe that the local changes they produce with their big paddles are controlling the flow of the river. So, they support and drive falsity additively to increase what they believe is their top-down control. Not only are they deluded about the extent of the chaos in the river, they are adding to it, believing all the while that the additional falsity they create increases their control, and not seeing just how local that increase in control is until some form of local system disintegration occurs. Part of the point of “Hypernormalization” is that it becomes increasingly difficult to make delusions coherent as they become more complex. “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

The most illuminating recent example of this was the economic crash in 2007-8. When Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, 670 billion dollars in wealth disappeared, and the total for the crash was somewhere in the vicinity of 30 trillion dollars. Most of this “wealth” was illusory, but the impact of its loss was real. The proximate causes of this disaster were many, but I am interested in two of them because of their deeply delusional composition:

  • Derivatives: Put much too simply, the derivatives used during the housing bubble were algorithms that bundled transactions (say mortgages) as single units aggregating the risks of the mortgages, so that the risk of individual mortgages could be ignored. The points of this were much faster transactions and much quicker profits. The people who developed the algorithms were very smart about aggregating the risk but very dumb about the actual consequences of their use (the basic one being that everyone who used them lied about their composition).

    This pattern is general. People who are very bright think that creating something sophisticated is a sign of their personal power. But, like all humans, however smart, they are poor at anticipating the future use of their creations. I have also observed that if they are trying to make money off their creation, they don’t care what the future consequences are. The victims of those consequences are much like the ants you kill when you are traveling down a sidewalk in summer. You just don’t think about them.

    I suspect that at some point in the next few years, there will be various combinations of blockchains and derivatives touted as the brand new ultimate solution to solve the problem of trust (i.e., the delusion of trust) in finance.

  • Bubbles: Economic bubbles are social illusions about wealth and value. People ignore or lie to themselves about the illusions so that they can make money over short periods of time and space (like the paddle in the river). ┬áThe wealth isn’t real, but the illusion nonetheless has a real economic impact when the bubble bursts. The game of winning in a space of illusion is to make someone else pay the price for your errors. See the behavior of banks and mortgage companies for how economic impact is passed on to others.

Now, the global flow of delusion covers many more interconnected bubbles of meaning than just the economic. And, as in any complex system, these various arenas of meaning mutually interact with inevitable, extraordinary, and unpredictable consequences. No aspect of modern human life anywhere on the globe is exempt from this complex interaction of aggressive delusions.

Corruption, as the use of system resources for a personal or social group aggrandizement, is another general delusional system. While drugs, trafficking, and arms sales show this delusional quality clearly, all corruption produces unintended consequences, some that support the delusions, and some that undermine them. And so do all the small, petty forms of corruption that are increasingly a part of our daily lives.

The delusions of global falsity are possible in their extravagant hubris because we have gotten good at using available resources and relationships for our small human purposes. I am not saying that our small human purposes are personally evil. They aren’t. But in the aggregate and socially, they are becoming increasingly evil in their impact. And again, no social component of the global falsity flow is exempt.

So, there is no way to control the entire flow of delusional meaning. That doesn’t mean that we can’t develop a strategy for operating more or less successfully within such a flow. It does mean that we can’t impose any top-down strategy that will somehow eliminate or even dramatically reduce the delusions over the short term.

Next Post: Principles of Effective Change in a Space of Delusion


Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts

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