Chapter 10


Why is Switzerland prosperous and Bangladesh impoverished? Why do previously peaceful countries destroy themselves with civil wars? We need a model to explain why groups of people behave the way they do. This chapter presents a paradigm for understanding society.

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America is a highly addictive nation. We are getting better; we are facing the issues. But we still have a long way to go. Almost a quarter of the adults in the United States are addicted to cigarettes. Ten to fifteen percent of Americans, at some point in their lives, deal with alcoholism. Seven percent will abuse, and very likely become addicted to, hard drugs such as cocaine, crack, or methamphetamine. Each year 400,000 smokers and 100,000 drinkers would rather die than quit. Or, in the case of drunk drivers, rather kill than quit. Fifteen million people live in violent families. Six million Americans are on antidepressants, and untold millions more are addicted to prescription drugs. This is most prevalent, and perhaps least noticed, in the elderly, an estimated two million of whom are alcoholics.

But this isn't the whole picture. To say we are addictive misses the point. Our world is incoherent, and anything is possible: war, famine, poverty, epidemics, environmental devastation, technological disaster -- any one of these could eliminate meaningful life for a region and even, perhaps, for the world.

The current approach to creating a better world -- set up institutes and research universities and have our best minds work to solve national and global problems -- has failed. Military interventions have also failed -- again and again. Individuals, governments, and international organizations, including the United Nations, are unable to radically change the world. Getting out there and "helping" isn't working. If there is chaos in the social structure, you can't get to the people who need help. Consider the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s. The international community offered good intentions, as well as actual food, but people starved because political unrest -- incoherence in the region -- disrupted food convoys. The 1990s were marked with a dozen similar examples, such as starvation in Somalia and ethnic war in Yugoslavia.

The United States faces the same situation with substance abuse and violence: everyone wants to change the situation, but we can't do it -- our good intentions are effectively blocked by incoherence pervading the collective consciousness. If you had any doubts, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center should have made it unmistakably clear that no one is safe in an incoherent world. And more violence, no matter which side (the "good guys" or the "bad guys") uses bombs to further its agenda, will not solve the problem. It will only make things worse, as a careful study of U.S. foreign policy and post-World War II history will reveal.

We need new knowledge: how to treat society as a whole. We need a new model for societal functioning, and we need practical procedures to change the overall behavior of a nation...



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