They Both “Jumped the Shark”
From the Wikipedia article on the TV show “Happy Days”:
"Jumping the shark" The term “jumping the shark” arose from a fifth season episode that aired on September 20, 1977. Fonzie (clad in swim trunks and leather jacket) jumps over a shark on waterskis. “Jumping the shark” describes an outrageous stunt designed to boost the ratings of a dying show, which has the opposite effect, essentially killing the show. Though in the case of Happy Days, the show actually continued for another six seasons after it literally “jumped the shark”.
Yeah, but without Ritchie!
I think the current government of the United States has jumped the shark not once but many time in recent history. The Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidents, at least after Kennedy (and excluding Carter) maybe, have all had their jumping the shark exploits. Right now the Congress' popularity ratings with voters is at an all time low. Hardly anyone thinks they are worth the salary we pay them. The “Super committee” and its failure (at which no one was surprised) was a jump over Jaws itself. I could hear Harry Reid say to Nancy Pelosi, “We're going to need a bigger set of skis!”
The Supreme Court just last year validated the idea of corporations as people with free speech rights meaning they can talk with their money to influence voters to vote against their own interests (see:Corporate personhood and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) . That was a doozy of a jump. And it is easy to visualize those large corporations, especially big Wall Street banks and brokerages, as sharks these days. The whole financial industry feels like shark-infested waters where the lower classes are the prey.
And presidents? Boy what a bunch of jumping episodes they have had. Nixon with Watergate, Clinton with Lewinsky, Bush Jr.. with Iraq (remember WMDs?), and then Obama with his choices for his economics team, a group of people devoted to Wall Street and a corrupt financial system. They carried forward with Bush's bailout plan with the result that the banksters could pay themselves outrageous bonuses while the rest of the country got a whole lot poorer. He has basically not done (or even tried very hard to do) what he promised to do on many fronts. Ineptitude is like jumping a whale shark; it is a really huge shark compared with a human, but it eats plankton! Obama jumped the whale shark everytime he tried to make nice with John Boehner and appease the Republicans. He thought it would look good, but actually be pretty safe! And never learning from a mistake? He made that jump many times.
And every single one of these jumps has moved the nation closer to the death of whatever passed for democracy once upon a time. The show is about to be canceled folks.
What Did We Really Expect?
The nation as a whole, though, has jumped the shark in terms of its over-the-top borrow-to-keep-consuming-more-and-more culture. The ratings for our education system, our trust of corporate governance, our confidence in the future or the so-called “direction” the country is going in are all in the tank. And that doesn't just apply to citizens of the US. The rest of the world has lost trust in this country. They no longer look to the US for global leadership and with good reason. We are as lost in the fog as everyone else. But many people in the rest of the world have lost trust in their own governments as well. Arab Spring. Greek riots. The spreading tensions in the Eurozone, rumored riots in China. People are pretty unhappy about the way governments are handling things and they are starting to show it.
In my last blog I pointed out that to have a truly sapient (i.e. functional in light of high complexity) government you need to have a sapient citizenry. Where humans are right now in terms of average sapience is simply too low on the scale to provide that kind of citizenry for our kind of civilization. Our brains (or specifically parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for higher level judgment; see: Working Papers on Sapience if this term is new to you) need to undergo additional evolution to boost the average sapience level to a point that citizens would grasp the ways to live wisely (which, in my not-so-humble opinion is exactly the opposite of the ordinary American lifestyle). The sad part is that the seeds of brain structures that would need to be expanded are there now. That is why we do call ourselves sapient in the first place. But the structures that evolved were only competent for life in smaller, less complex societies. Our cleverness was good for building very complex large societies and we did. Now we find we are not generally wise enough to manage those societies or our own roles as members of the Ecos.
Ideally a sapient government would be comprised of men and women of above average sapience (and wisdom, where that average is far above the current one - see below discussion on sapience distribution) elected to those positions by a sapient electorate that would be wise enough to recognize the greater wisdom of those people. What we have today is so NOT that kind of system. We have neither a sufficiently sapient citizenry nor does the citizenry we have value wisdom in leaders. So it is no surprise that we get the governments we have. The only thing we can do is try to get some entertainment value out of everyone jumping sharks (and thereby killing the show even more quickly). Rupert Murdoch is there to make sure we all see the many shark jumps going on around the world.
Once Again an Impossible Vision
There really isn't a whole lot more to say about our situation. We are what we are and that is simply not sufficiently fit to maintain our presence as a species given the kind of environment we have created. That part is pretty simple. I guess you could say the species, Homo sapiens has jumped the shark (our wowy-zowy high tech, pop cultures) and as it happens the ski boat is running out of gas and a stormy sea is ahead!
I think some readers still hold onto the hope that sapience can somehow be instilled in the current population, if only we had the right words or right approach (say in education). But that is not how sapience works. It can't be learned since it is an inherent brain capacity. What is learned is wisdom. You need to have sapience in order to be able to learn from your life experiences (from your own successes and mistakes as well as those of others that you observe). Sapience guides the process of maturing into a wise adult/elder. In this regard it is very much akin to intelligence in which your brain is genetically programmed to have a basic capacity (general intelligence). The more you have the more you can learn, especially of explicit knowledge. Through mental exercises, like a stimulating education (not what passes as education in the US today, of course), you can boost your intelligence a bit. The brain is a lot like a muscle in this regard. But you can't really learn how to be more intelligent. People are born with a range of basic capabilities and that is what they have to work with in life. Intelligence appears to be normally distributed (as measured by, say, IQ tests). Levels of sapience are also distributed in a similar fashion in the population. Only sapience may not be normally distributed (by a Gaussian function). Rather there is reason to believe the “peak”, representing the bulk of people in the population, is skewed toward the low end of the scale with a thin tail out to the right (the high end of the scale). There are basic evolutionary reasons for this likely distribution. This would account for what we observe, that most people have poor judgment and seem to be unaware of how reality actually works; they are foolish but clever. Only a very few people ever demonstrate what we would call wisdom. Generally it emerges later in life. And it is rare. I personally think Gandhi was a fairly wise man, but how many are there like him? And, especially, how many leaders in our world would we think of as wise?
So that is our predicament as a species. There are so few highly sapient people out there and an overwhelming number of low-level sapients. Being clever is not the same as being sapient, so you can't really tell who is a candidate simply by observing their cleverness. Clever people can actually understand these arguments and even agree with them. But that doesn't mean they will live wisely (basically in balance with nature). Very clever people in government and business do understand the situation with human induced global warming. But they can't do anything about it because that will destroy the economies of the world and they choose the current economic situation over the future climate situation. It is fundamentally a deeply unwise choice.
Once more let me project the most likely scenario. We have sealed the fate of Homo sapiens. The future world of limited energy supplies and devastating climate change will put extraordinary selection pressures on humanity. The most likely outcome is the extinction of the current species (say in several thousand years). The question remains, will a new species emerge from a small population of those who are more adaptive to the future world and thereby fit enough to continue? If so what kind of sentience will it be. I've put my money on Homo eusapiens, a species that arises from H. sapiens eusapiens, a subspecies of us comprised of the higher sapients in our populations. I've explained many times why.
I no longer think it is a question as to whether this scenario will play out, but just how dramatic, and traumatic it will be. As far as I am concerned the only reason to have a basic government that is not spending its time jumping sharks, and is comprised of people who are at least a little bit more sapient (and wise) than those who seem to be the denizens of Washington DC is so that they can guide the rest of us through a more managed decline. It should be possible to find ways to deal with both declining energy supplies and changing weather patterns to minimize the pain and suffering that would otherwise ensue. Everyone will be poorer, there is no getting around that simple fact. Less energy means less wealth production and that means less creature comfort for everyone. What the government could do is organize our food production systems in order to assure there is at least enough to eat. I actually doubt that a national level government will be able to do much along these lines, but it could play a role in maintaining a basic communications and education infrastructure (I, of course, mean a real education system). Local governments will have to take the leadership in food and basic supplies (water, what fuel there may be, etc.). The degree of localization will probably come in a set of stages. Large nations like the US, Canada, China, Russia, etc. will likely devolve into regional jurisdictions as the energy problems start to bite. Later, states, then counties and cities, will become the focus of governance. Eventually the scale will be that of villages in locales where climate conditions permit..
The governments that are currently in place are failing miserably because they are trying to bring back the old growth-oriented vision of an economy. Materialism equals happiness in this vision. They are bound to fail because it takes a lot of high-power energy to make that system work, and we are running out of that commodity. But they will continue to try because the general population doesn't grasp what has happened and also believes that we should be able to get back to that prior Nirvana. So they expect the politicians to promise them that they will succeed and we keep voting idiots into high offices because most of us maintain that belief. Two things would have to happen to change this futile approach. One: the people would have to garner enough cleverness to begin to see the reality of their changing world. Unfortunately that takes (probably many) catastrophic events before they start questioning their given assumptions. Two: some wiser people will need to step up to the plate when the people are ready for them. They will need to tell the people the truth and provide them with ideas for how to make the decline much less painful. Can these two conditions be met? I don't really know the answer to that question. I hope so, but I must admit, based on what I have seen so far it is more likely that the people and the politicians will simply look for bigger sharks to jump.