Our economy is unstable, authoritarian politicians reign unchecked, and interest groups replace communities for our primary allegiance—the causes are embedded deeply in how we have been misinformed. Systems out of Balance: How Misinformation Hurts the Middle Class, by Kirk D. Sinclair, PhD, serves as both a guidebook for an informed citizenry and as a polemic calling us to take back control of our social systems. The middle class has been both the misinformed victim and the gullible villain; we must shake both roles to become the necessary vanguard for restoring balance.
Kirk Sinclair applies empirical criteria for good and bad data to form a citizen’s guide for information and misinformation. Based on a lifetime of studies, research and instruction related to science and epistemology, Sinclair brings a new approach to “Social Science,” analyzing our social systems—economic, political and cultural—as an ecologist would analyze a natural ecosystem. Through this approach Sinclair reveals how our social systems are out of balance, and how misinforming the public is the ultimate cause.
Systems out of Balance explains why:
Free markets reward merit, but our economy reinforces greed.
Democracy serves wisdom, but our politics promote authoritarianism.
Communities seek harmony, but our culture features idolatry.
Misinformation steers us towards greed, authoritarianism and idolatry.
The use of vanity, cynicism and fear benefits a few at the expense of many.
Kirk Sinclair distinguishes between what is natural about human social systems and how culture changes that for better and worse. He draws from his experiences with fifteen thousand miles of wilderness backpacking expeditions in addition to his research. From these experiences, Sinclair makes important distinctions between truly natural rights and those liberties that can be provided only as government entitlements, wielded as tools of persuasion.
Systems out of Balance contrasts:
Independence of labor with an entitlement to property.
Independence of thought with an entitlement for security.
Free will to belong with an entitlement of privacy.
If the invasion of Iraq and the market crisis of 2008 taught us nothing else, we must learn the importance of recognizing when we are being misinformed. Sinclair approaches complex and initially overwhelming concepts with the clear and thoughtful mind of a scientist. He scrutinizes, untangles, and exposes the issues, banishing doublespeak designed to make us complicit and encouraging us to step up and take responsibility for the systems that so dominate our lives. Sinclair provides tools for us to think critically, sifting through the information that bombards us daily and separating fact from misinformation. With this collection of intelligent, comprehensive essays, Sinclair has broken down the problems many of us did not even know we had. Systems out of Balance will arm you with valuable knowledge and an increased understanding of our social systems, how they affect our lives, and what you can do to resist misinformation and restore balance to both life and country.
Interview with Kirk D. Sinclair author of “How Misinformation Hurts the Middle Class”
What do you mean by claiming we have systems out of balance?
Nothing remains constant in life, sometimes bad things happen. Our healthy response is to try and make bad conditions better. For example, the stock market has crashed several times but recovered because stock market indicators encourage us to respond and to determine whether our responses are working. Responses that don’t work are discarded over time until the remaining responses serve to improve the stock market. Things are out of balance when bad conditions become harmful trends, perpetuating themselves without drawing responses. My book documents improper responses or inattention paid to harmful economic trends since the seventies, harmful political trends since colonial times and harmful cultural trends since the Enlightenment.
What harmful economic trends have occurred since the seventies?
Since the seventies we have trended away from an economy that produces goods towards one that produces services and capital. The financial sector of banks, stock brokers, insurance companies and real estate has outperformed manufacturing and retail by an expanding margin. This contributes to many harmful trends since the seventies, including increased wealth disparity, increased debt, elimination of savings, increased work hours per family and skyrocketing housing, health care and education costs per family income. All these trends started in the seventies, not just since the 2008 crash.
What harmful political trends have occurred since colonial times?
The highest purpose of democracy is collect wisdom from the diverse experiences of an involved citizenry. Our country started out on this wise path with a federated democracy producing the Constitution, to this date still our finest document. Unfortunately, not long after the Constitution was ratified we began our long trend away from federated democracy and towards party democracy. In lock step with this political trend has been a trend towards greater paternal democracy, with greater authority bestowed to fewer people that have access to wealth and power elites. Just as disturbing as either of these trends has been one towards centralized news and information provided to citizens, through the increasing consolidation and conglomeration of corporate media. These three trends together nurture a fourth: increasing groupthink from the middle class.
What harmful cultural trends have occurred since the Enlightenment?
The crowning achievement of the Enlightenment was the return to empiricism that fueled the Scientific Revolution. Unfortunately, neither economic nor political disciplines became grounded in this empiricism, this return to experience and experiments as the foundation for knowledge. Instead, economic and political scholars and schools of thought seek to entrench dogmatic beliefs. Enlightenment philosophers also had unenlightened views of natural man, based on observations from their armchairs. They may have been great thinkers but they were not competent cultural anthropologists, who paint a different picture of natural man. Over time our allegiance to cultural dogma spawned by the Enlightenment has trended towards alienating our understanding of who we really are as a species and what social goals best adapt us to our environments.
How has misinformation hurt the middle class?
An economic system based on free markets should reward merit, but we have been misinformed that free markets function best with greed. A political system based on democracy should collect the wisdom of a varied citizenry, but we have been misinformed that government runs best with a few “best and brightest” authorities given maximum control at the helm. A cultural system based on pluralism should seek to harmonize diverse beliefs and behaviors, but we have been misinformed that we should idolize particular parties, interest groups, ideologies and leaders. We have grown more vain, cynical and apprehensive, particularly since the seventies, because those have been effective tools used to misinform us.
Why do you label the middle class as both victims and villains?
It takes two to tango. Misinformation works because we are gullible. In defense of the middle class, humans did not evolve naturally to interpret misinformation in order to survive. “Buyers Beware” is purely a cultural phenomenon, but now that we are stuck with being bombarded by misinformation the middle class needs to adapt accordingly. Corporations, politicians and interest groups are not going to change; our social systems currently select them to do precisely what they are doing. Restoring balance to our social systems will have to come from the middle class, but this will happen only if we understand our complicit role in throwing them out of balance.
Do you have suggestions for what the middle class can do?
I give some suggestions for restoring balance in the final essay of Systems out of Balance. While promoting the book I will focus on what I call three big ideas for restoring balance. The first idea is a meaningful pursuit of free markets, which requires the complete abandonment or overhaul of the business corporation model. Experience and experiments should guide this change, rather than indoctrination of the dogmatic beliefs held by economic schools of thought. The second idea is to strive for a return to federated democracy, using a grassroots approach to decision-making with communities as the foundation, rather than a top-down approach driven by political parties, paternal authorities and corporate media. The third idea is to alter the saying “Think Globally, Act Locally” to “Think Locally, Act Locally.” We need to attune ourselves to the experiences that surround us and shape our beliefs and behaviors accordingly. Behind these three ideas is a unifying message: we need to choose people and communities as the targets for our belonging, and our own experiences as the focus of our knowledge, rather than trust in idols, ideologies, corporations, political parties or interest groups.