Doublethink Traps

Rules of Learning
Learning to do better while using much less will involve endless messy issues, from large scale to small. Understanding threats like endocrine disruptors depends on technology known to few. In addition, issues are loaded with values clashes, conflicting interests, and misinformation – “wicked problems.” Regulation and politics-as-usual often bog down in game playing and doubletalk. Working through such issues is no light matter.

Coping with this is a major aspect of Vigorous Learning using Compression Thinking.

If never done before, just developing a value stream map of a process opens eyes. No two people see the process the same way, and some perceptions are like, “I pass it to Virginia. She knows whose buttons to push to get things done.” Process mapping is a first stage of simplification. It is apt to reveal human confusion and mixed motives, whether the process is just workflow inside a building, or ocean acidification.

People’s eagerness to improve messes – or even to acknowledge their existence – depends on how the changes they first imagine will affect them. If we fear wrecking our jobs, homes, or companies, some will resist; most of us will fake enthusiasm. Science based tools for problem solving do not mix into a culture of self-protective fear. Much about deceptive human behavior is now known through experimentation. Some of it is entertainingly explained on YouTube videos like one on lying. However, examples from fiction like Orwell’s 1984 and Heller’s Catch-22 may be more enlightening.

In 1984, George Orwell coined the term, “doublethink.” Now many similar phrases also allude to holding contradictory ideas in mind at once without resolution. Heller’s Catch-22 lampooned self-contradictions in the interpretive vapors rising from bureaucratic rules. His core example: if a combat pilot is insane he cannot fly, but if he tries to avoid flying, he is considered sane; therefore compelled to fly. To think clearly, all of us must elude entrapment in such nonsensical conundrums, although we are never completely free of them. Vigorous Learning to address 21st century perils must cope with this. (Vigorous Learning isn’t training. It’s the people involved investigating and intervening in processes important to them.)

Doublethink is going along to get along, switching mindsets to lie convincingly when you think you must, as when selling a product you know to be inferior because you desperately need to earn a commission or to keep a floundering company afloat. Orwell described Big Brother as spewing nonsense propaganda. Followers used doublethink to dutifully echo the party line and stay in Big Brother’s good standing. As doublethink became habitual, few people remained conscious of it, having learned to “doublethink their own doublethink” so to speak.

Russians have endured centuries of autocratic rule by different ideologies. In each regime, self-contradictory bureaucratic rules could drum up a reason to arrest anyone at any time. To cope, Russians affirmed the prevailing ideology in public while habitually living by informal webs of relationships called “systema.” Doing this has been described as like adult children living with an insane parent, pretending strict compliance while circumventing insanity by wink and nod processes, trusting others not to rat on them.

Cursory overviews rarely reveal how complex processes really work. We all have observation biases, seeing what we seek, using measurements designed to highlight them. Vigorous learning using Compression Thinking begins by representatives of all stakeholders exploring real systems in all their human complexity as well as their physical and natural aspects. The murky webs of human participation in a process – or non-participation in a process – may be the most difficult to ferret out.

In either commercial or community processes, wise intervention comes after this systemic exploration. Project the limits to future resource use, and determine the responsibilities of all stakeholders as well as their interests. Outcomes may not what any stakeholder had in mind in the beginning, so dialog must address fairness issues. If neglected, fairness disputes trump intentions to assure long-term community resiliency.

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