Toxic Assets (Video 3 minutes)
by Doc Hall
The basic thinking behind our system of business is piling up problems faster than we can resolve them. It is has become so toxic that neither money nor magic technology can sustain it. We have to detox human thinking and rethink what we must become. To start, we have a few guidelines in a Question Template, but everyone must detox personally; no shortcuts; no easy outs; no kidding. Work organizations should engage in rapid, active learning toward a new “business model,” one that works more like nature.
In business, a toxic asset is a money loser, still on the books, but with no hope of return. A loan that a borrower can’t pay is toxic. In big doses, toxic assets poison the whole system. For example, in 2008 toxic sub-prime loans choked up the global financial system.
Suppose the whole economic is poisoning the environment as one big toxic asset. Could we detox by devising business models patterned more like nature and compatible with it?
Toxins in Nature
In nature, organisms employ a huge variety of toxins in small doses to help themselves. They help keep nature in balance. Toxins in small doses are part of life – and life’s paradoxes. For example, bee venom contains many antivirals and antibiotics that could be beneficial to health. No two organisms are exactly alike. For example, that’s why peanut allergies are mysterious. Few people are deathly affected, but peanuts aren’t food for everyone. However, early exposure to peanuts helps build tolerance to them.
So factor the adaptation of immune systems into the complexity of toxins. All organisms have immune systems, not just humans. That’s why bacteria are constantly more immune to formerly “miracle” antibiotics.
But in large doses, like the herbicide dicambra sprayed on 25 million acres, toxins are a big-scale gamble. Superweeds will evolve, as with RoundUp, but dicambra’s first effect was toxic behavior, tiffs between users and non-users because of wind drift. And why dicambra? Weeds were becoming too tolerant of RoundUp.
How long can bioengineering stay ahead of nature? The CDC knows that microbes will inevitably evolve tolerance to old antibiotics, so health care systems are now fighting infections the old-fashioned way – quarantine. New agents attacking microbes by different pathways are promising, but how long will they be effective if they prove out?
In high dosages, non-nuclear as well as nuclear radiation is toxic too. 185 researchers have petitioned to halt 5G technology for the Internet of Things. 5G would saturate us in Electromagnetic Radio Frequency Radiation (RF-EMF fields. Petitioners cite 30 years of cumulating evidence that pervasive) harms human health and probably all life – in addition to not being able to assuredly vaccinate software against cyber attack. This debate is classic: the Precautionary Principle versus economic growth. By commercial logic, caution overreaches when it inhibits economic growth. A new economic “theology” is needed.
Have business beliefs become a mental toxin? They are addictive. In an economy where doing almost anything takes cash, daily living requires staying hooked on its logic, while possibly unaware of our addiction. Seen from the view of the environment, is this unseen addiction its deepest threat? However, seeing a much bigger view than independent transactional parties is a major transformation. Liken it to a religious mystical experience, as described in Neurotheology.
From a holistic environmental view, much of what makes sense within an advanced human economy makes little sense to either humans or the environment. For example, what can we learn from gorillas?
To keep their body chemistry tuned, gorillas, like many animals, distinguish toxic temptations from essential tidbits. In the wild, gorillas are picky eaters. For instance, mountain gorillas consume only selected parts of 142 different kinds of plants, things that their bodies tell them they need. They graze lightly and move on, so plants regrow quickly. From our view, it’s a tough life, but gorillas stay in balance with their ecology.
For years, keepers fed gorillas in captivity high starch, high sugar, high vitamin diets – much like highly concentrated human food, and presumed to be optimum nutrition. After one died of heart failure at the young age of 21, researchers discovered that captive gorillas were overweight. They switched the gorillas to a high fiber diet, more like eating in the wild. The gorillas lost weight and appeared much healthier. (They also spent 60% of their day eating, one reason why humans don’t eat this way.)
Would humans fare better on a more gorilla-like diet? Some toxins act fast; others act slowly, and perhaps in combinations, slowly accumulating into a toxic effect. How can we know what is toxic to us, or not? If not, do we really have a sick belief system?
We learn to crave, or are persuaded to crave, things that are bad for us. Drugs. Junk food. Food companies formulate recipes to a “bliss point,” so we favor their stuff over a competitor’s. Makes competitive sense, but collectively are they making us sicker so that the health care industry can keep us alive longer? A future with a sick environment may not concern us, but a future with a sick body should. And these conditions are connected. All you have to do is look from a different point of view.
Toxic behavior, toxic communication, toxic media, toxic consumption, toxic technology, toxic ideology, all fueled by toxic persuasion. All these toxins are artificial irritants stressing human or natural systems beyond their tolerance.
Toxic behavior feeds all other human toxicities, me-centered behavior that is hard to modify. Treachery; then distrust; then violence; a familiar pattern. If we don’t trust each other, finding common ground is formidable.
We try to civilize behavior with social codes that most people abide by. Some are based in religion; some not. Work organizations often have internal codes of behavior. Public servants take an oath; most try to live up to it. The rest are a social canker every society has to deal with.
Business ethics has been called an oxymoron, but many business organizations do try although it constrains short-term profit maximization. However, any organization honestly trying to serve both mankind and the environment can no longer center on itself. Trust that an organization will try to benefit everything becomes crucial, no longer subordinate to persuading people to buy.
Toxic persuasion promotes self-damaging habits. Persuaders may be unaware of downside consequences, or if they are, ignore them. Americans are besieged by perhaps 4000 brand images a day. Most are buy signals. Few full ad messages are remembered.
Persuaders must creatively stand out in ad clutter. Many have turned to micro targeting, the lifeblood of companies like Google and Facebook. Micro targeting compiles and analyzes the personal characteristics of users. Internet companies interpret this data to predict what will attract you and target the persuasion. Spotify, for instance, analyzes your favorite music to pull in tunes that you haven’t heard; its hit rate is more than 90%.
That’s the core of the “unicorn” business model. Ad buyers favor social networks that prove that they are superior influencers. Psychologically designed ads based on message efficiency have a higher ROI. For example, Instagram markets to influencers with a payment schedule scaled to number of followers. Micro targeting is opening niche markets for micro brands. It’s a disruptive growth model, but as the uproar with Facebook illustrates, does it mess with minds to manipulate positive responses.
Is Nature’s Business Model an Antidote?
Despite the fakery of some critters in nature, it’s as close to reality as we can ordinarily experience. Micro-targeting usually delivers a psychologically tailored inducement to buy something. Investigative journalists train their crosshairs on government meddling, but commercial messages pervading our lives seem normal unless they are outright scams. Profit motivated messages may include fake news. For example, peel though some ads and infomercials for diet and health advice. What’s fake and what’s real? Content is less important than message’s persuasive success.
Perhaps nature and nature’s “business model” can detox human addiction to consumption. We see nature differently from abstract financial business models. It’s real and it’s complex, resistant to being warped to our desires, but rewarding if we embrace it and work with it, rather than against it. It’s worth carefully observing how nature works – asking why – and modeling human endeavors to be a part of nature.
Financial incentives are abstract, focused-goal artifices. They fail when goals are diffuse, as when farming to maintain ecological balance. Another example is that investment advisors paid by commission have incentive to churn accounts and chase returns, while advisors paid a flat fee have been sued for “reverse churning” – doing too little. Same with medical doctors: Fee for service creates a bias to over treat; a flat fee to keep patients healthy creates a bias to under treat. Doing your best for the patient is a complex, empathetic relationship. Sneaky targeting, like egging patients to suggest a treatment, opens the doctor-patient relationship to suspicion – and perhaps distrust.
Nature’s business model has no financial incentives, and no bias for endless growth. Despite exceptions like long specie migrations, ecologies primarily balance locally, at environmental speed, everything constantly adjusting to everything else. Technical advances racing faster than nature’s pace of adaptation risk keeping nature way off balance.
Sooner or later all our artificial advances have to live with nature. We might not like it at first. We’d have to admit that nature is more powerful than our technical prowess.
For decades, perhaps over a century, we have been advancing too fast for nature to adapt. This progress intrudes on nature. It appears to be robotizing us as humans too. Time for a reset; sooner or later, nature has to rebalance, locality by locality. We have to help this process. If we are wise, we will guide technical advance in directions that aid nature, not just humans.
To do that, we must transform humanity by shifting our basic aspirations, becoming much less me-centered and much more at one with the ecology around us. We certainly live in a time when cultural norms are scrambled. If you’ve not been part of troll wars and internet subgroup cultures, check out Kill All Normies. If nothing else, you’ll grasp how untethered many me-centered people are from social moorings. And ecological issues had as well be on another planet from their artificial world.
Maybe the time is ripe for Andrew Newberg’s vision of a “megatheology” for all mankind. It merits the investment of our time, imagination, and energy. Perhaps our Question Template moves the needle a tad in that direction.