Humanity’s Greatest Challenge

Philadelphia Magazine's Sunday edition featured a cover story on fixing Comcast's relationship with its customers.

Philadelphia Magazine’s Sunday edition featured a cover story on fixing Comcast’s relationship with its customers.

In a remarkable turn of events, the cable giant Comcast has given up on its merger with Time Warner Cable. The plan simply could not get past regulators in Washington who were flooded with complaints about the creation of a single company with a 57% share of the broadband market. A former head of customer service for Comcast, Frank Eliason, wrote a piece about it for BillyPenn, suggesting the problem was Comcast’s disregard for its customers:

Here’s what killed the deal: Outrage from people like you and me. There has been overwhelming opinion against the merger, and it’s just a click away. It is not often in today’s world that I think our opinion matters, but in this situation I believe that was the driving force.

I’m sure people inside Comcast have a different view of where the opposition lies. But I’m convinced most of the opposition to this merger came from Comcast’s own customers. They finally had a chance to voice their opinion about the service they have received over the years, and how much they trust their provider.

So now, it’s imperative that the company hear those voices and respond in actions that change this view. Because if you want to change hearts and minds, to win over the political establishment, you must first win over your customers.

Eliason is correct is stating that it’s “not often in today’s world that…our opinion matters,” but all of that is changing – and fast, for the “world” to which he refers is not today’s but yesterday’s. Not only is it morally repugnant to disrespect your customers, but today, it seems, it’s also bad business. Why? The Comcast decision is bubbling evidence of the great revolution of the 21st Century.

Regular readers here will recognize an old cliche regarding world history: “In war, the victor gets to write the history.” This statement has been attributed to many sources, including Napoleon, Orwell, and Churchill, but it’s become more an axiom than an actual quote. Likewise, the statement “In war, the first casualty is truth” is attributed to dozens of speakers, most of whom are quoting yet another unknown source. As a deconstructionist, I’ve found these ideas to be quite true in my reading of history. Goodness knows that my own history is but one narrative of a very multi-sided reality. Challenging my own assumptions, therefore, has become a regular part of my daily routine.

The danger is that if you play the deconstruction game long enough, you can effectively reduce to zero the cause and effect nature of any narrative pertaining to life and/or the origins of any event. The chicken or the egg is a very old metaphor for the problems of this postmodern practice. This includes everything from the stage of conflict in the Middle East to the Big Bang theory and all that’s in between. Darwinism? Freud? Einstein? Gravity? Flat Earth? Yes, and the very stars in the sky. Walk, don’t run. Do not cross. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Yes, yes and yes. Lying has become such an integral part of culture today that we simply wouldn’t recognize life without it. Whether it’s Comcast’s claims about customer service, a major TV news anchor exaggerating his experiences, a police officer claiming murder was self-defense, a political party creating its own “facts,” or an advertiser saying my opinion matters, we are an egomaniacal society of falsehood with a deserved inferiority complex. We all wear masks of one form or another.

Deconstruction’s role is vitally important in a networked world, because we’re never going to reach the accord necessary for an entire connected race until we are ALL able to drop pretense from our behavior. This won’t happen overnight, of course, but we would be well-advised to begin thinking about it. We simply will never find a common internal governor without such knowledge and understanding. The governor must be internal, for any mechanism from without demands obedience, and that opens the door again for manipulation by those higher up in the hierarchy.

A mind conditioned to deconstruct is not going to follow dictated rules without on-going participation. Understanding, in the new order, will precede tolerance only at levels where experience has gone before, because we humans just don’t do what we’re told very well. I’m not even sure we should, especially if the grand narrative containing those rules favors one human over the other. The path of life will never be the same. Disrespect for institutional authority will continue to blossom and hierarchies will tumble, because life will not seem alive absent the connection.

Everyone will appear to lose at first, but the real losers will be colonialist doers who’ve bought their way – regardless of the currency – to higher levels within the hierarchy. Naturally, those at the top will lose the most. Chaos will be the norm until we select other hierarchies based on our networked needs. These hierarchies will not go to the powerful few, whose actual existence, we will have come to learn, is, at core, self-centered.

The path to utopia for the human race must pass through the hills and valleys of deconstruction, for the end product of self-centered control is always dystopian. You may slice and dice that any way you choose, but the volumes of creative energy expended in predictions of tomorrow all seem to end badly. From the Bible to Mad Max to science fiction (the Terminator series), the future is so bleak that anything even remotely resembling paradise is left to mythology, life beyond the grave, or the stuff of dreams. Why have we given up so easily? Eastern religions look to the West and ask, “If humans are corrupt at birth, how can you trust anything conceived or written by humans?” It’s a good question, but the theologians get around it by insisting their books weren’t written by humans but by God Himself!

In human history to date, two eras stand out that demonstrate what happens when power rests only with the few: The Roman Church after Christ through the 14th Century, and Colonialism, an end product the modern era brought about through the invention of the printing press. Both are under fire as a result of the personal media revolution.

bibleI love to discuss religion, especially Christianity, with those who believe so deeply that they’re able to by-pass all logic and reason in defense of the faith. I’ll write a book about it some day. One of my favorite debates involves a single thought expressed in Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “All scripture,” he wrote, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” These verses, written in the early First Century, clearly reference the Torah, for that was what Paul and other First Century followers of Christ knew to be “scripture.” The institutional church, however, declared that the word applies even to Paul’s own writings, because God knew when they were written that they would one day be sanctified. This changes completely the meaning of what Paul wrote, for “the church” needed Paul’s instructions in those letters to be considered “scripture” in order to apply the rules set forth in them to Christians everywhere. It’s a great thought exercise to wonder what Paul would say about all of that.

This is what happens when a group of people with authority get together to create a hierarchy that will control those who do not have such positions in society. Wherever “the church” set its mark, it created order through the manipulation of the masses over their ultimate destiny, heaven or hell. These same elitists then kept to themselves the book that they said gave them their authority. Who could possibly challenge that? The dark ages then followed.

This is why Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible was such a culture-altering event. Along with John Wycliffe’s common English language translation, the holy book was suddenly available to all, which meant they could decide for themselves whether the laws and customs of Rome were absolute. The reformation of “the church” followed, and “justification by faith” was birthed, sending those with an evangelical message and their own sense of manifest destiny into the new world to plunder its riches and subjugate its people in the name of God! A colonialist worldview traveled with them, led by the remarkable slogan, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the Gentleman?” As God Himself ruled over Adam and Eve, so the “superior” gentlemen (as opposed to savages) of business, industry, the crown, and the church would rule over those of lesser standing. This is how Colonialism worked its mischievous magic in the centuries to come.

Black Sails is a television adventure series on the Starz Network based on a plausible narrative of the pirates of Nassau in the early 18th Century. In other words, it’s a very counterculture view of Western civilization during its formation on the continent of North America. This is perhaps the major reason why I love the series so very much. Creative artists have forced their way back into the heart of what the West has always defined as anarchists (pirates) to create an alternative view of life from the very bottom of colonial culture. It is utterly fascinating. Here’s an example:

Thomas Hamilton, courtesy Black Sails Wiki

Thomas Hamilton, courtesy Black Sails Wiki

The final two episodes of season II told of an attempt by the protagonist, pirate captain James Flint, to negotiate pardons with England for the pirates of Nassau. This scheme came from Flint’s history as a highly decorated officer in the Royal Navy prior to becoming a pirate captain. During those years, his best friend and lover Thomas Hamilton – a high ranking member of British society – birthed this pardon idea for which he was later publicly vilified by his own aristocrat father, Lord Alfred Hamilton. Thomas was banished in shame to an English insane asylum for his homosexuality, where he later committed suicide. For his participation in all of this, Flint was stripped of his commission, disgraced, and escaped to Nassau along with Hamilton’s wife, the story of which became societal gossip among the elites in England.

Flint & Lady Hamilton meet with Ashe

Flint & Lady Hamilton meet with Ashe

After years of piracy, including the brutal revenge slaying of Lord Alfred Hamilton, Flint, accompanied by Lady Hamilton, ventured to Charlestown, South Carolina to meet with Lord Peter Ashe, who was also a close friend of Thomas Hamilton’s and the only other aristocrat who supported his pardon idea at the time. Ashe is now governor of the Carolinas and one of the most powerful people in all of the colonies.

Lord Peter Ashe

Lord Peter Ashe

At the meeting, things go terribly wrong, and we discover that Ashe was not the friend they had supposed and had actually betrayed Thomas to his father, an act that boosted him to the colonial governor position. Outraged, despite Ashe’s claim that he was blackmailed, Lady Hamilton screams at Lord Ashe over his betrayal, which prompts a remarkable line from him that is relevant today. “You wanted civilization,” he screamed back. “This is it!” The reference, of course, is to the hierarchical behind-the-scenes manipulation by the elites required to produce a civilization of law and order. She’s immediately shot dead for getting too close to the governor. Flint escapes with help from other pirates and, in raging fury, kills Ashe and utterly destroys the city with his ship’s guns. It is truly remarkable television.

In order to write such a powerful story, the creators had to deconstruct this civilization’s view of 18th Century pirates, which I wrote about in my essay Deconstructing Pirates: Why Black Sails is More Than a TV Series. Even though this is fiction, it beautifully lays out how power in a colonialist culture is used to maintain a narrow view of civilization, one that benefits those capable of manipulation. Who does the law represent, if not those who are law abiding? It turns out they may actually be in it for themselves.

Of course, a television series is fiction, but the previously obscure flip side of Colonialism’s grand narrative globally is becoming increasingly transparent today. As a result, the arguments supporting it are weakening and will continue to do so. I would argue that even the writers of a complex story like Black Sails were affected by their research. The nature of the Net allows everyday people to participate in an ongoing act of this deconstruction, because source links lead to other source links and so on. It is less and less easy to manipulate from the top people who are able to link horizontally and share what’s happening at the ground level. The Comcast decision is the latest evidence of this.

I don’t care what you choose to call it, but Western Civilization is about to undergo an upheaval of Biblical proportions, and it’s going to be very difficult and ugly. Those who present only a dystopian view of this will be self-justified, for they are the ones who will suffer most. Those who currently live at the pyramid’s bottom, however, will view what happens with optimism that their lives will get better. After all, status quo for them simply means more of the same. Of course, nobody can predict this stuff with any degree of accuracy, so I haven’t a clue as to whether this will include bloodshed. There’s nothing in my view to suggest violence, although the ruling class historically hasn’t given up without a fight. In a networked world, however, it would be hard to pull that off without the effort being exposed as self-centered and self-driven. Absent the ability to secretly manipulate the masses, Colonialism’s seemingly universal logic falls apart, and that’s the point of this essay. It’s hard to make a case for elitism of any form when the lower class can’t be fooled into believing that what’s good for the ruling class is actually good for them.

I call this new age “postmodernism,” because I believe the corporate modernist mantra of the West is shifting from “I think and reason, therefore I understand” to “I participate, therefore I understand.” Others have labeled the cultural paradigm shift as post-colonialism, postChristian, the second Gutenberg moment, the 5th wave, and a host of other titles. Clearly something is abuzz, and tangible evidence is there for those who are “on the vibe,” a metaphor for having an intuitive sense of “where things are heading” that I wrote about five years ago:

Being on the vibe stirs passion and ideas, but it also reveals the insanity of clinging to the status quo, not so much because it’s foolish, but because it’s so dangerous. Sometimes I honestly don’t think there’s time to lead people to the light, and that makes me nervous and fearful.

If you allow yourself to drift down this thought stream, you’ll encounter all sorts of obstacles, both visible and hiding beneath the surface. Just to name a few, there’s identity, privacy, incentive, economics, law and order, commerce, and, most importantly, power and influence.

The point is that conflict lies ahead for institutions whose influence is derived from protected knowledge or any other authority resulting from modernist power, including banking, medicine, the press, and the law. This encompasses any institution with the ability to pull the wool over the eyes of those over which they rule serve, especially via mischievous means. The selfishness of such institutions will be revealed for what it is, and that includes both the public and private sectors. They will simply not be able to hide from the watchful and connected eyes of the people formerly known as the suckers.

The brilliant Kevin Kelly told me once that tomorrow’s internal governor would be brought about by education, to which I responded that human nature is too powerful, and it’s what truly governs our hearts anyway. His reply was simply that “we’re going to have to deal with that, too.” As simple as that might seem, it is the core challenge of humanity in the 21st Century, and I don’t see any real change coming without it. Modern authority understands it well, but the masses at the bottom of our cultural pyramid don’t. Perhaps that’s where we should begin.

In so doing, however, we must never forget that it’s easy to spot selfishness in others but damned difficult to see it in the mirror.