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Trimtabs, Great Men and the Collapse of Society as we know it....

Buckminster Fuller was fond of an arresting analogy. He likened himself to a trimtab- a micro rudder on the side of the huge rudder found on a tanker or other large ship.The trimtab alters the pressure on one side of the rudder allowing the giant forces of the boat moving forward to be utilised in turning such a heavy craft. If you tried to move the whole rudder from its 'ahead' position without first having a little help it would be impossibly hard.

Bucky saw himself as a trimtab.

A tiny change in pressure allowing for the utlisation of massive societal forces.

One might argue that so called 'great men and women' are also trim tabs. They intuit the currents, interests and concerns of the populace and focus them, use them, ride them to prominence.

In return they have little control over what they do. If you've ever seen a popstar start singing stuff other than their famous hits you'll know how fickle 'diehard fans' are. A leader is controlled by his followers just as much as he controls them. Hitler- the archetypal authoritarian- was actually afraid to commit the German economy to a total war footing until A YEAR AFTER Churchill did- because he thought it could be too unpopular....

Success - if this means prominence, weath and status- comes from identifying trends, organisations, jobs, movements, social currents that are on the rise. You then learn to surf them...

Going against the crowd may guarantee a certain amount of attention, but history will forget you. In the grand scheme of things- human things- you are an irrelevance...

Harsh? Maybe. And of course in the really grand scheme, of which we know very little, something of only slight interest.

But render unto Caesar what is Caesar's....we all need to live in the world even if we aspire to not being USED and ABUSED by it...

As a writer on self-help type issues, I am often asked about how to solve the eternal modern conundrum between 'doing what you like', 'making a difference' and 'making a living'. By younger people mostly, or those who haven't found a cosy niche in the developed world.

It's a peculiarly modern problem because many institutions- education, the law, government, the military are no longer perceived as sane, fair and just places of employment. In the past all of these could have offered a career with far fewer moral compromises.

The social currents are different now. It may well be that we are on a major downward trend in terms of societal cohesion. The growth in polarised politics, soft authoritarianism and corporate sociopathy is perhaps an indication that we are in a cycle leading to eventual collapse.

Idries Shah once made a gnomic comment that such concepts as 'the 11th hour' were tame...more truthfully we were now living in 'the 8th day of the week'. In other words, we can STILL use our old concepts but they simply don't make sense, exscept to point out how far out on a limb we are.

It is quite possible that society has already collapsed much further than we imagine. One obvious benchmark is mental illness- rising in an epidemic fashion, maybe, but just as interestingly (being objective here) with nothing indicating that it will get any better. One can only foresee greater stress, greater mental health problems in the future.

Grim news maybe...

So the question becomes: after you have analysed the social currents in your current era, what do you do if the direction is DOWN. 

Imagine you are in Nazi Germany in 1944 or Soviet Russia in 1980....your best option is surely to flee. But what if you can't? Do you just keep your head down as people have since the beginning of time and make the very best of close friends and family and useful but not earth shattering work?

Well, that's one option which works. It's certainly better than getting incinerated by the implacable forces ranged against you.

However we have other options. Travel is one. By travelling a lot we gain a unique and valuable perspective on the world. Things may not be as bad as we imagine.

We can also start our own steerage committees. By this I mean a group, which ranges from two to several people, maybe more, who can all take the wheel at the same time. In the days before super tankers and trimtabs, the giant rudders of the old sailing ships sometimes needed two or three hands to turn them. The ships were smaller and the limiting idea that a helmsman should be a lone individual not widespread.

Being an outsider figure, a lone voice in the wilderness is not conducive to mental stability. On the other hand, a support group that is just a random collection of nice people doesn't function any better than friends and family. To 'make a difference' you need to get a group going who are in tune with each other and the currents of society.

If that current is one of societal disintegration the group should work on building self-reliance, teamwork in everyday situations, the ability to spot those who have enough perspective to realise the state the world is in, clever ways to make money without losing too much soul or energy, the ability to 'pose as normal' without being part of the meat grinding system...keep a suit and tie ready to deflect attention away from the fact that you don't obsess over your next work promotion. The origin of secret societies in former times was a way to maintain value in cultures where the main currents were toxic. Oddly enough, we live in such noisy times, no secrecy at all is now required....being ignored is the default setting.

But beyond pointing this out, what then? What do these little groups of know-betters do? What everyone else does but with a lighter touch, a different spin maybe...but mainly to learn and instruct and inform others of how to live in a completely non-institutional, informal way. Oh sure, institutions can be used- to get money or training on a short term basis, but they will exact their pound of flesh eventually. It's a fantasy to imagine you can change the world in any direction except the one it is already going- but you can learn to observe that direction, and like the voyager space craft use the pull of other planets to speed you on your way without being trapped in any one orbit...But you won't be alone, assemble your team, your gang, your non-negative pals, plot that course, build that ship...

As a former school teacher I know that the character of a class of 30 children is dictated by three or four kids. Of course you can over-ride them with authority, but if you leave that class to it's own devices then a small number will set the tone.

Set the tone.


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