Taichi Sakaiya’s luminous work, The Knowledge-Value Revolution, advances two premises:
· people readily consume abundant resources, and
· they treasure resources they consider rare.
Societies experience alternate states of awareness as they resonate between these two impulses.
When some new abundance appears, society organizes itself to consume it. Intellectual sophistication, objectivity and logical reductionism regulate stepped-up consumption. The more copious the resource, the more commonplace become literacy, industrial efficiency and promotion by merit. These industrious habits reinforce the rule of law, whose near universal acceptance justifies a more consistent distribution of labor, responsibilities and obligations. Complex accounting techniques sustain a frenzy of transactions based on elaborate indices of exchange. Art becomes more widespread, skill-based and expressive. We consume more and more resources, heedless of their depletion. Over-consumption becomes its own reward, its future penalties and unforeseen consequences ignored.
When an interval of poverty begins, our perception of abundance wavers. Hoarding, corruption, political reaction, disaster and warfare replace the prerequisites of enhanced distribution. The boasts and lies of bully leaders displace rational discourse and problem-solving. As hectic productivity deteriorates into induced poverty, society abandons it objective production criteria. Its members stop appraising things and deeds for their objective value and accept more and more subjective knowledge-value instead. Eventually, this new value system replaces objective appraisal entirely.
I’m speaking of our perception of abundance rather than of abundance itself.
You might find yourself stranded in a desert and distressed by its sterility that is on the verge of killing you by thirst and hunger. On the other hand it might bloom with proper care or contain enormous riches (petroleum, for instance) beyond your awareness and thus reach.
Every cubic inch of dirt, of ocean and of the vacuum of outer space hides an abundance of energy vast beyond imagining. We have merely to reveal it without disturbing its natural hiding place: a task at which we’ve become expert through painful trial-and-error.
You might evaluate a wristwatch by its accuracy, its durability, the raw materials and skills needed to make and distribute it. The price for a similar watch might rise and fall somewhat, but under normal circumstances it would stabilize along some predictable pricing curve: a dynamic equilibrium.
This type of value assessment might appear to be objective and “real.” While most of us would describe it that way, Yuval Noah Hariri affirms, in his fascinating book Sapiens, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2015, that bedrock social constructs are to a great extent shared myths. We share such concepts as faith, justice, the divine right of kings or equality, even though they have no basis in fact. He is especially certain of this with respect to money: a subjective construct based on mutual trust in a shared exchange rate reinforced by so many cultural norms, officials and conventions that it seems to be grounded in fact when in reality it is not.
Money allows the members of a complex society to carry out many mandatory transactions more or less magically and smoothly. It induces ties of loyalty and cooperation among large groups of strangers, on a scale that would be impossible if family or village intimacy had to be invoked instead. But it also corrodes the interdependencies of family, community and religion, relationships we consider extremely important. For hundreds of thousands of years, those dependencies served as our primary sources of trust and support. Thanks to their recent replacement by the all-powerful dollar (or ancient Roman denari, or cowry shells, or medieval Chinese paper money), we can procure almost anything we desire without the need to develop the personal connections, skills and talent required to actually produce it.
Otherwise, you could give the watch described above a special coat of value-paint, a supplementary knowledge-value. You could call it a Cartier watch, the ten millionth watch ever made, a “lucky” watch, your grandfather’s, Franklin Roosevelt’s, or one that stopped on some momentous occasion. Subjectively, you could assign more or less value than what strict consumption criteria would dictate. These criteria might transcend the importance of money and replace it with something even more ephemeral (think of religious relics).
This subjective “paint” can have any shade of meaning people agreed to share among themselves. These subjective “colors” can shift in dramatic and unanticipated ways, baffling the supply and demand reckonings of communist central planners just as much as the “free market” of dollar democrats.
Knowledge-Value eras evolve during periods of consumption decline and retrenchment later known as Dark Ages. These are inception stages of new empires, mass religions and revolutions: periods of insecurity, arch-conservatism and perceived scarcity.
On a planetary scale, cyclical meteor/comet bombardments or volcanic/tectonic disturbances might have initiated such Dark Ages. They might have propagated disasters of geoseismic, climato-agricultural and epidemic proportion. Relatively minor disasters could have triggered this transition locally, provided the locality in question remained isolated from outside help.
Otherwise, we could simply run out of cheap petroleum. Given our laughable state of preparation for this inevitable outcome, it would be just as great a catastrophe for us.
Knowledge-value societies can embrace new beliefs with the fanaticism of an inquisitor. Once old elites have been dismissed with prejudice, weapon societies raise new nobilities based on illusions of bloodline purity and memorable ancestry.
Such nobles derive their “honor and respect” most often from terrorist brutality. A peaceful society would handle such “nobles” with criminal ostracism, peaceful resistance and well-deserved contempt—the same way the Balinese treated their Indonesian military elites and European colonial “masters” both before and after the post-colonial transition. The same way militants and militaristic extremists will be marginalized on PeaceWorld, reversing WeaponWorld’s habit of empowering them and marginalizing the pacifists.
Knowledge value practitioners expect prices to vary wildly for the same object in different settings. Such societies crave splendid nobility, romantic deeds and magical mementos. Their chroniclers despise accurate accounting and ignore bean-count tabulations in favor of epic exaggeration. As a rule, the best leaders withdraw from the hectic minutiae of day-to-day politics into monastic contemplation and deep philosophical discourse. In their absence, petty tyrants take over with their trivial, self-serving priorities. The less enlightened they are and the greater their hunger for power, the more turbulent their rivalry becomes. You may kiss ancient freedoms and liberties goodbye under their tender care.
Knowledge-value seeks balance, survival and security in periods of economic stasis and decline; objective criteria encourage discovery, risk-taking and growth in times of plenty. Such risks might have impaired survival during more rigorous periods of knowledge-value.
A benign Learner Commonwealth would deal even-handedly with the convictions of knowledge-value and the efficiencies of objective consumption, denying neither one its proper place in the scheme of things. Peace technology would balance cooperation and competition, reapportion stability and risk. It would induce a placid economy with few surpluses and penuries (as in hunter-gatherer communism).
Objective criteria ratchet two clicks forward and one click back, with incremental inertia, whereas knowledge-value would ebb and flow as smoothly as the rollers of a flood tide.
The ideas written up in Learner lend themselves to knowledge-value dissemination. Our present mind-set fixates on weapon values, but peace-values might over-paint this flawed awareness in an eye-blink. Almost overnight, amazing social transformations could sweep away current barriers to progress. Knowledge-value fervor could advance the goals of peace much more readily than some ponderous Gant chart could track the clumsy demilitarization of every institution and the grudging conversion of way too many weapon technicians and weapon stalwarts into honest Learners.
The Western World boasts more or less well-organized pacifists who date back at least three hundred years. Humanity has nurtured the idea of universal peace since the first bright child was smacked by some dullard for no reason, (whether an impatient elder or a clique of brethren bullies). It has always been a question of how slowly and carefully we would be allowed to approach universal peace so impractical and unrealistic by current standards.
The flow of time does not seem to flow in a constant way. After something has been sought after without cease for quite some time, its approach may seem to accelerate with exponential wings and it might suddenly appear in a flash, from our stunted perspective.
Rather than prescribe some sweeping dogma, Learner proposes a more gradual, non-linear approach. Our assessments of gradualism and spontaneity have become null and void. The time for peace had not yet come and we were not yet ready for it; at present, it has and we are. From a feeble beginning followed by incremental infusions of peace mentality, info politics could overwrite the we've grown accustomed to.
A Learner course correction would require no führerprinzip (principle of weapon leadership: “unrestricted authority downwards and unrestricted responsibility upwards” – A. Hitler). No charismatic war leaders need apply—even though they might have presided over every other significant transformation in the past, sometimes for the better and usually for the worse. The leaders we require will awaken of themselves, tribal-wise at peace and not weapon berserkers.
My municipal library displays hundreds of linear feet of books on the art, the science and the history of war, and less than a handful on those of peacemaking. Multiply by two or three times, taking into account satellite libraries in town and so on as this geographical inventory spreads out, until the proportion approaches a thousand to one across the nation. The war books are packed into two or three subject areas, whereas the few peace books are scattered throughout the library in ones and twos.
In Afghanistan, the State Department could never scrape up the skills, personpower and funding it needed to make an adequate job of peaceful reconstruction. It had to go hat in hand to the filthy rich military to beg for additional warm bodies and cold cash. But there you go again, the necessary skills could not be found. With respect to making war and making peace, this is the typical proportion and focus of our cultural priorities.
The more people who examine Learner and peace texts like it, and the more often they bring up these topics in common conversation, the faster this knowledge-value will take hold. As Learner tenets become commonplace, a Commonwealth of Learner peers will emerge as if from nowhere. It will surface like a new continent, tectonic and unstoppable, from the surrounding dead sea of apathy, stasis and inertia.
In the past, when the thesis of weapon orthodoxy collided with its anti-thesis of weapon revolution, their explosive synthesis produced a deadlier outburst of weapon technologies.
This time around, we should brace our feet, focus our thinking and replace dominant weapon mentality with a brand new one of peace.